Saturday, February 25, 2006

Hustle and Flow by Craig Brewer

"There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don't talk at all, 'cause they walkin'. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin' for them." - Key

In Hustle and Flow, DJay, a down-on-his-luck pimp, has an epiphany one evening: he should have applied himself to the music business years ago, like his estranged schoolyard buddy who stuck with his dreams of stardom and made it big. Terrence Howard (whose long awaited breakthrough after 22 film roles came this year with Crash - see our previous review), plays DJay's earnest determination knowingly, sympathetically and without compromise - warts and all.

The film opens with our hero struggling in various attempts at hustling for cash. The problem is that DJay is trying to make the most of an endlessly losing situation. At the center of it all, of the three girls he pimps around, one is bored to tears, one is fiercely independent (despite having a baby to take care of), and the other is in the late days of pregnancy. As things go from bad to worse, DJay realizes something has to give and decides to throw himself headlong into telling his story through music. With an ensemble of supporting friends and hangers-on, the act that follows, not unlike that of Eminem's 8 Mile, charts the challenges that a street rapper faces in his rise to stardom at any cost.

Excellent supporting roles are provided by Anthony Anderson (Key), Taraji P. Henson (Shug), and DJ Qualls (Shelby). Less convincing support is provided by Ludacris (a successful rapper himself, who plays the estranged buddy come superstar, who was also a co-star of Crash), who should be able to play a rapper in his sleep, but seems distant. Isaac Hayes is a welcome face as the club owner Arnel. But the lot of the film seems to play like rehash of so much we've seen before in the myriad storylines that play this trope year in year out. Thank goodness for Terrence Howard's stellar performance - which is seriously worth the effort in this otherwise tepid affair.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

The award season looks promising for this film. Hustle and Flow won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Terrence Howard, in role of DJay, was just nominated for best actor at the upcoming Academy Awards, while the inescapeable central song of the film, "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp," was also nominated for an Oscar for best song.

[After a rather interesting performance of the song, featuring the story of Hustle & Flow told with expressive interpretive dance, it won its Oscar] -edited 03/07/06

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Crash by Paul Haggis

"It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something." - opening line of the film

My wife and I finally had a chance to sit down uninterrupted and see one of the most talked about movies of this last year: Crash. Writer-director Paul Haggis uses the film as a vehicle to explore our culture's multifaceted racial tensions (be they real, imagined or perceived), set amongst an outstanding cast of characters (Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, Thandie Newton, Matt Dillon, and Nona Gaye), whose lives intersect shortly before Christmas in post-9/11 Los Angeles.

And while I see great cause for it being "one of the most talked about" recent films (few films dare to go to such lengths to explode the topic of racial stereotyping), I can't seem to reconcile which of the two camps I fall into: love it or leave it. Without spoiling the plot for those who haven't seen the film, and without going into too much detail, the reasoning behind my position lies wholly in the field of objective potential. The film has tremendous potential to generate thoughtful conversation about one of the most difficult topics to discuss, but in the process of laying all its cards on the table, the film may be defiantly adhering to the further establishment of our already deeply entrenched biases (even if the film offers a small resolution here and there). There's no question of the film's merits. My doubts are only levelled against the ability of the viewer to actively engage with the topic enough to come to a lucid awareness of the core. This is where I feel Haggis takes a tremendous leap of faith.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

[Of course, I might be wrong: Crash just won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Picture - you don't have to take my word for it!] -edited 03/07/06

Roger Ebert wrote an excellent review of the film that touches on the criticism that one could level against the film, while upholding all of the film's virtues (of which there are, in fact, many). Still more criticism can be found on Metacritic.

For more information, see the film's website.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Perfumed Nightmare by Kidlat Tahimik

Our next film discussion and screening will feature the following film on Wednesday, March 1, 2006 at 7:00pm :

Filipino filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik both directs and stars in Perfumed Nightmare. As the film opens, we see him in three stages of life (symbolized by toy and then real "jeepneys," the elaborately recrafted and decorated vehicles that have their origins in the Jeeps left by the Allies in World War II) crossing the bridge - "the bridge of life" - to his village. Narrating in voiceover, Tahimik explains the patterns of daily life in the village. He has a fascination with the Voice of America broadcasts, and particularly with the NASA space program. He longs to be part of the developed world, and forms a Werner von Braun fan club. When an American arrives for an aborted international conference, he gets his chance. The American asks him to come to Paris, to run his chewing-gum-ball machine concession on the streets. In Paris, and on a trip to Germany, he makes friends and discovers that progress in the developed world sacrifices values important to his cultural heritage.

The film has a delightfully spontaneous home-movie quality - quite literally so, since it was lensed in Super 8mm on a budget of less than $10,000 (basically the cost of the film stock). Truly a one-of-a-kind experience, Perfumed Nightmare was the winner of the Berlin Film Festival International Critics Award in 1983 (six years after its completion, and wholly six years before its general distribution).

March Film Discussion

As the Film Group meets every month on the first Wednesday, it seems inevitable that there will be a scheduling conflict. Next month is no exception, as March 1st is Ash Wednesday. After some discussion with group members, we've elected to go forward with our regularly scheduled meeting date, and time of 7:00pm in the library meeting room.

We will be screening a little-known gem called Perfumed Nightmare, directed by Filipino filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, under the auspices of directors Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios and Werner Herzog (who included Tahimik in his film Every Man for Himself and God Against All). The film, which is semi-autobiographical, profiles one man's fascination with Western culture and its influence on life in his small village. I'll post a more thorough introduction here shortly, and update the Film Group's website to include the film guide for this documentary in the coming weeks.

See you then,

Saturday, February 11, 2006

F for Fake by Orson Welles

Last night I had the opportunity to review the Criterion Collection's latest DVD version of Orson Welles' long forgotten final film, F for Fake (1972).

A singular combination of documentary, essay, narrative, broad comedy, hoax, and cinematic vaudeville, the film began as a BBC documentary about legendary art forger Elmyr de Hory. Welles was asked to narrate, but instead, he took over the project, transforming a straight documentary about art forgery into a freewheeling extended meditation on Hory, real-life Hory biographer and notorious fellow faker Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, and the complicated relationship between creativity and larceny, art and theft. The film inevitably swoops back to two early touchstones in Welles' early legend: Citizen Kane, a fictionalized biography of William Randolph Hearst that echoes Irving's fictionalized autobiography of Hughes, and Welles' notorious radio production of War Of The Worlds.

3 1/2 stars out 5

I've read many reviews of this film, including an outstanding blog entry, but the most concise article I've read can be found here.

Should you find occasion to view this film yourself, for the most rewarding experience, I highly recommend screening the concise Peter Bogdanovich introduction first. The film itself is nonlinear and dizzyingly fast in both narration and editing which makes it difficult for one to hold onto the denouement while simultaneously being introduced to the characters and subject. However, with this short explanation, the film reveals itself as pure magic.