A better movie than Flags of Our Fathers? Yes.

Most Famous Current Japanese Actor In Hollywood Ken Watanabe is the new commander on Iwo Jima and commands the troops to entrench in the mountain instead of the beaches, so they can blast the Americans from above when they roll in, a decision that made the island much harder to capture (as seen in the hit film Flags of Our Fathers). His horse-riding bud Baron Nishi (star of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) is in charge of the mountain while Ken is stationed elsewhere making big decisions.

But most of the story is told through the eyes of Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya from Pika*nchi Life Is Hard Dakedo Happy), a regular guy who gets drafted and has no particular allegiance to the war, just wants to survive and see his wife again. Saigo is the “regular guy just caught up by circumstance” who all the film critics are cheering for putting a human Japanese face on a Hollywood depiction of WWII. True dat, but his “war is hell” attitude of just wanting to get home is almost pro-American in how little he seems to care about his own side… would’ve been nice to get more of a balance within one character. I mean, the two elder traditionalists have both dealt with Americans before, and respect them, so there’s a little of that, but during the actual battle they are all-out willing to die for Japan, and our Saigo all-out refuses to die at any cost. So there’s little internal struggle.

It’s still a very good, well-done war movie, and an interesting twist for a Hollywood (Clint Eastwood!) flick. But as I was saying to Katy (who missed the whole Eastwood saga), after The Thin Red Line, it’s not enough to just make a capable war movie. That one set my standards unreasonably high.

Flavor-of-the-last-couple-years Paul Haggis (Million $ Baby, L.A. Crash, Walker Texas Ranger) helped write these flicks, Spielberg produced, and Tom Stern, Clint’s only cinematographer since Blood Work, shot ’em.

Famous Ken:
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Our hero:
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White man:
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From the writers of Planet of the Apes remake, Unfaithful remake, Casino Royale remake and The Last Kiss remake…

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An okay movie. Story of the guys who raised the flag on day five or six of the 30-40 day battle for Iwo Jima in WWII. Flashes back and forth at fucking random, but at least once it’s flashed, it stays on a single story for long enough to get a sense of what’s going on. Someone’s narrating about his dead father here in the present, the three surviving flag-raisers are out on a promotional tour, and meanwhile the war’s still on and they’re still in it. Oh and after the whole promo thing raises lots of money in war bonds, our guys are forgotten and left to crap jobs and suicide. But they were never heroes anyway, just some guys fighting for their buddies who got asked to put up a flag. War is stupid. And the US shits on american indians, that’s another theme.

This land is… my land?
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I never did figure out who’s who in the war scenes because all soldiers look the same, but maybe after Jesse Bradford (My Sassy Girl remake) and Adam Beach (Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things remake) get all famous, I’ll be able to watch this again and tell them apart from Ryan Phillippe.

Already famous: T-1000 formed his liquid metal body into the shape of a Colonel in the early scenes, I somehow missed recognizing Jamie Bell in any scene, Neal McDonough from Ravenous was Captain Severance (heh), and Barry Goodboy Pepper got blown up by friendly fire.

The high hat:
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Clint Eastwood wrote the music, which sounds a lot like “Hey Jude” and the cinematographer wants to remind us of the old photo at Iwo Jima by making the whole movie look like an old photo. Nice. Spielberg produced, whatever that means.

Katy didn’t watch it, but if she had, she probably would’ve paid better attention and then talked about stuff I missed and I’d pretend like I was following her.

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Rabbits! Eight episodes of rabbity nonsense, with Laura “Rita” Harring, Naomi “Betty” Watts, Scott “scenes deleted” Coffey, and Rebekah “Del” Rio.

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The rabbits seem to be having an actual conversation, but all the lines are out of order. So if you try to remember the dialogue in an episode, at the end you can piece it together, sort of. Or it probably doesn’t matter. And thrice there’s an episode where there’s just one person singing.

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And sometimes this happens.

Fantasia is exactly how I remember it. A drowsy opening, some pretty business, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, some more neat stuff, then the conductor announces the halfway point and I fall asleep, only waking up for the Night On Bald Mountain segment and the closing credits.

I guess the animation purists love it, but I just find it a pleasant excuse for a nap. Sorry!

Music video director Slade does a fine job here. He should be One To Look Out For in the future. Actually-18-yr-old Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde in X-men 3!) stars with Patrick Wilson (in his second movie featuring pedophilia and castration in a single year, jeez louise), and Sandra Oh has a single scene as a nosy neighbor.

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Great looking movie, candy-bright and colorful, lots of close-ups and private-ryan framing. About a predatory 14-yr-old girl who lets herself get picked up by an obvious pedophile online only to turn the tables, tie him up, torture him, and lead him to kill himself. The spoiler twist is that she’s done this before, and that he and another guy once kidnapped and killed another girl, who may have been our heroine’s friend.

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That’s pretty much the whole thing. A great first half gives way to a not-as-great second half. The ending doesn’t exactly kill the whole movie, but it comes close. I’ll blame the writer. Straightforward. She always seems to be in control, there’s never any question that he’s a pedophile, and he is never sympathetic. The girl calling his ex-girlfriend and pretending to be a cop is the only part that doesn’t quite fit – she’s a little too thorough in her psychological profiling for a 14-yr-old.

Next up for this director, writer and cinematographer: a Josh Hartnett vampire movie set in Alaska! Can’t wait.

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Movie 1 of the Key Sunday Cinema Club. The post-movie discussion really helped, made the movie more memorable, made its intentions and plot twists more clear. Thanks, Katy!

In West Berlin: Wiesler (meticulous rule-follower) works for Grubitz (ambitious, opportunistic dullard) works for Minister Hempf (fat awful bureaucrat). Georg Dreyman is a theater writer, Christa-Maria Sieland is Georg’s actress girlfriend, Albert Jerska is his blacklisted former director, and Paul Hauser is their anti-gov’t buddy.

Wiesler bugs Dreyman’s apartment to find proof that Dreyman is an anti-gov agent so he can be locked up and Hempf can be free to sleep with Sieland. But ever-loyal Wiesler learns the motivations for his operation, as he learns that Dreyman is not anti-gov at all, but becomes anti-gov as a result of all the spying, sleeping around and other rude behavior. Wiesler becomes unhealthily engrossed in “the lives of others” (oooh) and is eventually demoted after Dreyman is provoked to write an anti-gov scribe in a West German paper, and Sieland throws herself into traffic, remorseful for having informed on her boyfriend. Tragedy! All of this proves that Germans can never be trusted.

A neat movie and a story well told. AV Club says “von Donnersmarck largely keeps the emotion at a distance, preferring to intellectualize the action rather than letting the audience fully feel what Mühe and Koch are going through… makes the meaning of every moment thuddingly clear, and doesn’t move on until he’s sure everyone’s gotten it.” At least they agree that the actors and story are great. True the film’s a little dry and long, but it’s also in the head of the very formal Stasi cop Wiesler, so it only seems appropriate. And it had a lot to say about a system that I previously knew little about, so I found its straightforwardness helpful, but I guess I’m not clamoring to see it again anytime soon.

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Rabbit is an animated children’s book (complete with labels on everything) about a couple greedy, murderous kids getting their comeuppance via death by insects.

City Paradise is a cute Japanese girl learning English and wearing flippers – very nice look to it, reminds me of the Dave McKean short Neon.

Everything Will Be OK – good Hertzfeldt short, totally different style from the rest. More “mature” they’ll probably say. Too multilayered, sometimes hard to hear, gotta see again. Makes me a lot less apprehensive to see “The Meaning of Life” cuz even if it sucks I know he’s recovered since.
I watched this again a while later.

Collision – stars and stripes from flags colliding in neat ways. Pretty, short.

9 – awesome looking film of sock puppet guy with nightvision goggles, the ninth and last in a line of goggled puppets, using all his resources to defeat a giant rabbit monster. Soon to be a major motion picture by producer Tim Burton, who used up the only original ideas he’s had in a decade on “Big Fish”.

Eaux Forte – a light sketch sort of thing that I tuned out to recharge my mind’s batteries.

Overtime – funeral of a puppeteer given by the puppets, nice.

Dreams and Desires – funny, early plympton-looking drawn animation about a woman with dreams of being a great filmmaker making a horrible, drunken wedding video.

Game Over – video game scenes recreated with food, hilarious.

Guide Dog – surprisingly great plympton… I guess I like him again.

No Room For Gerold – CG animals sitting around a table having a confrontational roommate argument.

Versus – more CG, warlords on their own island castles fight over the tiny island between them, got big laffs.

TAS website says: “Versus” was directed by François Caffiaux, Romain Noel, and Thomas Salas from the French animation college Supinifocom. This is the same school that the film “Overtime” came out of. “Versus” has been one of the ‘hidden’ films in our current lineup but easily one of the better received audience favorites. More info on it soon!

Documentary about Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, pioneer in custom-cars, custom t-shirts, illustration and merchandising. Neat little movie with a fun Sadies score, but no big deal. The “talking cars” bit is just shots of Roth’s actual cars with the headlights pulsing and a celeb voiceover. Very little footage of Roth himself, just narrator and cars giving his story.

Roth’s take on Mickey Mouse in a custom car:
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Roth’s most famous creation (after Rat Fink):
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Roth:
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Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
Nice, twisty little nazi suspense drama. Watched on the plane, a little drowsy, so IMDB will help remember the plot details: “When the hiding place of the beautiful Jewish singer Rachel Steinn is destroyed by a stray bomb, she decides with a group of other Jews to cross the Biesbosch to the already liberated south of the Netherlands. However, their boat is intercepted by a German patrol and all the refugees are massacred. Only Rachel survives. She joins the resistance, and under the alias Ellis de Vries manages to get friendly with the German SS officer Müntze. He is very taken with her and offers her a job. Meanwhile, the resistance devise a plan to free a group of imprisoned resistance fighters with Ellis’ help. The plan is betrayed and fails miserably. Both the Resistance and the Germans blame her. She goes into hiding once more, with Müntze in tow. Together they wait for the war to end. Liberation does not bring Ellis freedom; not even when she manages to expose the real traitor. ‘Every survivor is guilty in some way.'” Edit April ’07: saw again in theaters – a real interesting movie. I definitely like it, glad Verhoeven is directing his talents away from stuff like The Hollow Man these days. Awesome final shot, with Rachel living in Israel, having moved from one besieged state to another. I don’t think Jimmy or George liked it much.

Jackass Number Two (2006, Jeff Tremaine)
Watched in the plane right after Black Book, when everyone around us was going to sleep. KLM didn’t censor it as far as I know. Completely awesome, hilarious movie. A masterpiece in its own way. Katy says I laughed too much/loud and annoyed my fellow passengers. Most other people watched that Kevin Costner movie with Ashton Kutcher for some reason.

Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)
After a few days at the World Social Forum, finally one evening Katy and I were both awake enough to sit through a movie. I suggested Badlands, which we both ended up enjoying. Sheen kills Spacek’s father (Warren Oates) and they go on a little shooting spree before getting captured. Another quiet and beautiful movie by Terrence Malick. EDIT: JUNE 2007: after reading a great Adrian Martin article in Rouge, I realized that Malick is the only director I’ve seen whose EVERY film I would consider great… Charles Laughton excepted.

My Migrant Soul (2004, Yasmine Kabir)
On the last day at the Forum, I found the movie tent. Watched this half hour doc about a guy from Bangladesh who got a job in Malaysia in order to send money home to his family. But the guy who sends him gives him a forged passport, and he gets hard work for short periods of time, then sits idle the rest of his weeks, unable to find other work or complain to anyone without a legitimate ID, finally gets sick and dies. Sad.

Words on Water (2003, Sanjay Kak)
They’re building dams in India that destroy small towns, I guess. I fell asleep in the first ten minutes, then left the movie to wander the Forum and listen to the drumming, so I can’t tell you much more than that. Got back just before the credits when some protestors from the village are being arrested. Sad.

7 Islands and a Metro (2006, Madhusree Dutta)
I was drowsy and it didn’t make a strong impression. Some overlong shots (because the longer you hold a shot, the artsier it becomes) and some disconnected stories about Mumbai/Bombay. The director came out and said the movie reflects how people from all over got together to form this big city, and now the city is splintering into smaller communities again, without a firm focus or center (which of course reminded me of Atlanta), and told many stories of displacement, of trying to make a home in an overcrowded metropolis. I was disappointed that so many of the stories were made-up, and some of the actors were really overdoing it, as if in a soap opera. Decent enough movie I guess. Sad.

Early in the Morning (2006, Gahité Fofana)
The next day we went to the Alliance Francaise, checked out an excellent photo exhibit and saw some free movies. This one retells the true story about two kids from Mali who froze to death in the landing gear of a plane to Europe, having written a letter to Europe’s heads of state explaining that they’ve got it bad in Guinea and need some help. A well done movie, underplayed, not sensationalistic, quietly calling attention to the country’s problems without setting up some overbearing horror of war. The kids don’t even experience the war firsthand, so we don’t see it either, just hear about it in a single scene. Sad.

Bamako (2006, Abderrahmane Sissako)
Next up at the French Alliance was this awesome movie, which we wanted to see all week and surprisingly made it out to. Good thing the Alliance was walking distance from our hotel. A (mock?) trial is being held in the center of town and broadcast on the radio, with the people of Africa (Mali in particular) versus the European powers (the IMF and World Bank). A plea for debt forgiveness, for Africa to maintain its identity and stop to think how it wants to deal with foreign countries without getting exploited. Meanwhile small-town life carries on around the trial, the central story being about a family with a husband who can’t work, a wife who sings at a nightclub and their sick child. Wonderfully and humorously shot, with strange collisions of culture and a much talked-about bit where a TV movie starring Danny Glover suddenly takes over the screen. Must see again.

Garden State (2004, Zach Braff)
Katy watched on our last night in Nairobi, after the safari. I was just listening to the dialogue and music, and finally watched the second half with her. It’s an easy movie to make fun of after the fact, but while it’s playing, it’s very convincing.

Fighting Elegy (1966, Seijun Suzuki)
An action/comedy from Suzuki! Extreeeeme sexual tension leads Kiroku (lead actor from Tattooed Life) to join a fight club, and finally form his own gang and have huge fights with other groups of kids. IMDB guy says “a satire of the militaristic attitude that eventually lead Japan into WWII”. Wonderful. Watched this and 39 Steps on the portable DVD player on the flight home.

The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock)
Watched twice in a row, the second time with commentary. Robert Donat, a very capable leading man, gets caught up in a plot to smuggle government defense secrets out of the country when a woman he meets at a show is murdered in his apartment. He runs all over, never believed or trusted, Hitchcock’s original “wrong man”, predicting North By Northwest in structure and the final theater scene of the Man Who Knew Too Much remake during the great ending when, about to be captured again, he shouts to Mr. Memory onstage “what are the 39 steps”, revealing the plot to everyone. Very easy to watch… one of the better Hitchcocks I’ve seen, even if completely unbelievable.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
For some reason, I thought about this one during the whole safari. Is it the boar’s head that Royal rehangs on the wall? I don’t know, but I was itching to see this again, and watched it as soon as we got home. One of my favorite movies ever.

The Lion King (1994, Allers & Minkoff)
Of course we thought about this one too, and watched it the next night. Didn’t finish it, though. Best not to.