Wednesday, October 28, 2009

LunaFest - Special Report

By Moira Sullivan

I have seldom attended a film festival so well organized and in brilliant spirits as the 9th Lunafest, a traveling program of short films by women that were screened at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco last month. A VIP reception preceded the program and Lunabar, a sustainable health nutrition bar business, hosted the entire event. The networking and outreach that produced an amazing turnout allowed community leaders, activist and citizens alike the opportunity to gather for a good cause and see films which empower women and take up women’s issues such as learning to overcome cultural differences and living within your limitations at any age.
Lunabar sponsors screenings in over 100 US cities between October and May and provides materials and tools for the creation of successful fund raising events. The Lunafest event actually assists local non-profit fund raising, which in San Francisco is the Breast Cancer Fund. The films featured in the 2009-2010 Lunafest are multi-ethnic primarily stories from set primarily in the USA and the filmmakers received $1000 dollars each. Courteney Cox was one of them who makes her directorial debut in The Monday before Thanksgiving starring Laura Dern. The film is about a single woman whose mother has recently died. She is happy being single too but everyone wants to pair her up.

Another film by a San Francisco filmmaker is Roz (and Joshua), a 3-minute film by Charlene Music that she made as part of her MFA at Stanford. The film focuses is Roz, a homeless woman who is trying to get back her son Joshua. Music came up on the stage with Roz, who is now training to be a massage therapist and no longer homeless. She is still trying to get back her son. Music told the audience she was interested in making socially relevant films.

© 2009 - Your Name - Air Date: 10/28/09
Movie Magazine International

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good Hair - Movie Review

(click any image to enlarge)

By Jonathan W. Wind

"Daddy, why don't I have good hair?"

So queries Chris Rock's daughter's after school one day, sending Chris upon a quest.

"Good Hair" is directed by established Hollywood comedy writer Jeff Stilson, and produced by Chris Rock for HBO Films. Now, Chris Rock is someone I watch with the remote in one hand, just in case I have to mute it right away or switch channels. He's funny in a mealy sort of way. But this time Chris Rock is a gentleman, a court jester with a research degree and an agenda, letting his subjects laugh at themselves and each other without rancor.

Without pandering he chats up everyday people asking their opinions, listening intently and relying on the irony in their own words. He cracks a few cultural jokes, but seems saddened by the spectacle of young African American women intent on beating the odds by by achieving the admired "good hair" through any means possible. The hair industry in black culture dominates the beauty scene even more than clothes. In conversations in barber shops and salons Chris eeks out the truth.

And what about my own hair you may ask. .When I was a youngster I had camel-length eyelashes and thick curly hair my mother's friends all loved. But my unpartable springy hair drew ire and spit from my smooth tressed friends. Steve could run his stumpy fingers through his hair, jack his head sharply to the right, and every strand would flutter perfectly into a rakish pompadour. Touching my hair merely pushed it into tufts, resistant to breezes and even gravity, there it would stall unflatteringly until pushed back into place. So I know something about wanting good hair.

"Good Hair" tells the story of the black hair industry, it's beneficiaries and victims. Starting in Atlanta, where, Chris suggests "all major black decisions are made, " he attends the Bronner Bros. Hair Show, where thousands of black hair products and all manner of hair dressers compete for the multibillion dollar black hair market. Chris points out that black hair products are used 100% by blacks, yet 80% of the black hair care companies are owned by white and Asian interests, go figure.

Unsurprisingly, money is at the core. First Chris concentrates on the hair relaxer industry. Pointing out that Oprah, Rianna, Whitney - some of our favorite stars undergo this straightening process to some degree, men too, how about Prince, and on some girls as young as 3. Michelle O, curiously, is not mentioned, perhaps somehow the cultural implications are too great for the scope of this movie. The relaxing process is smelly, dangerous and corrosive, the white cream can burn through a tin can in just hours; but the results are silken locks, that is until the roots show - then its cough up a few more Franklins. Then there's weaves. Chris jaunts off to India where hair is collected from women who donate their hair to the gods in colorful religious rites, estimated at as many as 10 million shaved heads a year. The hair is gathered and processed for sale to US markets, mostly in LA. A good weave can cost up to $4,000, and needs to be replaced three times a year. For too many black women and their families, the cost of good hair effects their relationships and their bottom line.

The movie running time is only 95 minutes, but it seems longer when Chris defers the focus to the Hair Show beautician finalists, contestants in a bizarre hair-cutting stage show. There are several short interviews with the likes of Maya Angelou, Ice-T and Nia Long. But it's hats off to Al Sharpton, smiling and witty he reminisces about hair care tips he got from James Brown. Al asserts with resignation that black women today awaken each morning and comb their exploitation from root to tip.

A comedy documentary with a courteous tone, Good Hair is fun and entertaining while shedding light on another odd, somewhat sad chapter of Americana. I say see it, but let Netflix pick up the tab.

© 2009 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 10/28/09
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Tomb Of Ligeia - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

"The Tomb Of Ligeia", released on Inauguration Day 1965, returns us to the sort of Vincent Price fare most loved by horror movie buffs: Edgar Allan Poe as seen in color by Roger Corman. Price is Verden Fell, cursed by his dead wife, Ligeia and hoping to free himself with his new wife Rowena. Both are played by Elizabeth Shepherd, a good actress who had been hired to replace Honor Blackman on "The Avengers" and then fired before audiences saw her in action. Diana Rigg was then cast as Mrs. Emma Peel and many years later no one can imagine anyone else in the part. Certainly not Uma Thurman or Elizabeth Shepherd.

It is tricky to imagine Diana Rigg as Ligeia and Rowena, because for all her enormous talent as an actress she has never convincingly conveyed terror or vulnerability. Shepherd projects both, but she is not in the same league as her charismatic co-star. The presence of fine character actors like Richard Vernon, Frank Thornton, Denis Gilmore and a well trained black cat help, but we still miss Vincent Price during the long stretches dominated by Ligeia and Rowena. This was the eighth collaboration between Corman and Price, after which the director swore off Poe. It was everyone's loss.

© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/21/09
Movie Magazine International

The Last Man On Earth - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

"The Last Man On Earth" is among Vincent Price's saddest, scariest films. It is NOT a pretty film to watch. Photographed in stark black and white by 35 year old Italian cinematographer Franco Delli Colli, the film looks like a shoestring effort to document the end of the world as we know it. We know it isn't, because who would make such a movie?

The only recognizable human is Vincent Price's Robert Morgan. Everyone else is a vampire or a corpse. Robert's looking for a cure, but his heart isn't really in it. Everyone he knew and loved is gone. Still he forges on, in a despondent state of shock. Ubaldo Ragona directed in Italy and Sidney Salkow (who'd made "Twice Told Tales" with Price two years earlier), was responsible for dubbing the Italian dialog into English.

Two far more lavish movies of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" were later released: 2007's Will Smith version and 1971's "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston. Each adaptation has its own flaws, but for me, "The Last Man On Earth" is the creepiest and most premonitory.

© 2009 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/21/09
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story - Movie Review

By Moira Sullivan

I know, Michael Moore is cheesy. He too often milks crying victims to make his points and his theatricality is often embarrassing. But his documentaries are commanding, and Capitalism: A Love Story has to be his best work to date. He still manipulates images and sound to drive home his points, and for that reason his documentaries are considered unscientific, but let's face it - everyone manipulates imagery and sound in the documentary medium, so this can hardly be a criticism. There are Michael Moore enthusiasts that love everything he does, and there are enemies, the people that he goes after or the people who don't believe that what he says is true, at all.
Capitalism: A Love Story is not against all capitalists, just the one percent that has extorted the American people, who work hand in hand with the government, who sit on advisory committees, and who get fat bailouts, when no one else does. And he does have the facts nailed down on this. Capitalism: A Love Story shows the interconnection between corporate greed and the decline of the American way of life, of the democratic way of life. The rags to riches stories that have made the US famous and the American Dream are his targets. Moore provides historical background into how we almost had what we could have had and that countries like Canada and Sweden already enjoy : an economic system that guarantees work, housing, education, pensions and health care. FDR was going to deliver it in 1944 but he died one year after going into his fourth term as President. Can Obama take up the slack? The documentary is inconclusive for the President had barely made in office when the doc was made. Capitalism: A Love Story shows that we no longer have a democracy but a plutocracy - rule by the wealthy, power provided by wealth. Examples are given of Americans who are starting to rebel against the greed of corporate America, Americans who stay in their foreclosed homes, who strike at factories and take over control of the corporation. And perhaps in time, Americans who will stop paying their credit card debt and establish a community banking system. Its' a more than a little threatening to the powers that be, for sure, but the powers that be depend on cooperation, people looking the the other way way and compliance. According to Michael Moore it has gone too far. When he sets up a crime scene with yellow tape on Wall St and demands that corporate executives come out of their buildings or access to make a citizen's arrest, its amazing to see what this man can do to stir up trouble, and to bring important questions full frontal into our consciousness.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, San Francisco

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/08/09
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Birdwatchers - Movie Review

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By Jonathan W. Wind

Birdwatchers chronicles the land battles of indigenous Brazilians forced to find work on their own lands as seasonal laborers. In the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sol, a small band of Guarani Indians, unable and unwilling to subsist on the reserve mapped out for them by wealthy white settlers, camp out in shaky trash bag tents on the roadside fringe of a plantation intent on reclaiming what was once their holy ground.

Led by Osvaldo, the tribe's young hero, and the venerable tribe Shaman, their presence on the land creates distrust with the owners mixed with a quiet curiosity, what does the other really want? The tribe itself just stares at the fields, waiting for a miracle. Even this is better than the reserve where poverty and suicide have reduced their numbers and damaged their spirit. But they are hounded even by their own most exalted spirit, Anques, and, as ends most stories of indigenous peoples, they lose their land, their dignity and their lives.

I recalled reading "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," and how every chapter about trusting Native Americans ended in slaughter, so I knew full on that hope was a false god for the shaman and his tribe. Their ancestors, now buried in a treeless beet field, lay just yards from their roadside encampment

Performed by a mostly amateur cast in Guarani and Portuguese, the story begins with wide eyed tourists canoing through supposedly "hostile" territory - Indians, frightfully painted and armed with bows and arrows, stare down the encroaching pilgrims, even arc a few arrows in the boat's general direction - and the rattled travelers hightail it back to civilization with a great story. But, once the tourists have gone, the tribe ambles up an embankment, they change into their civvies, get paid by the tour operator, and truck on home to the nearby reserve in a Ford pickup.

Inevitably, after a protracted struggle with the landowners, the suicides continue and the tribe leaders are killed. In the end a success is claimed because Osvaldo cuts himself down before hanging himself, in a first step towards saving himself and his tribe.

Released at the 2008 Venice Film Festival, Birdwatchers was written and directed by Marco Bechis, who adds "five hundred years after the conquest, the conflict is the same as then." Punctuated incongruously by classical compositions by Domenico Zipoli, a Jesuit composer who failed to convert the Guarani in the early 18th century, the score lends electrifying depth by juxtaposing classic detail with a tribe robbed and deprived of their culture. The movie is a tender portrait of decline, brought home by an accidental bond between the landowners daughter and the young Osvaldo.

It would be easy to feel weary of the outcome of such movies, do the indigenous people ever get what they want, would it make a a good story if they did? The peculiar dichotomy of using indigenous people to play themselves in an imaginary plot itself smacks of exploitation, a kind of full length National Geographic special. But throughout it is plain that the writers had the best intentions, even providing a website to contribute money to the Guarani Indians plight. When Europeans first arrived in South America, the Guarani were among the first peoples they met. At that time, the Guarani numbered more than 1.5 million, today they number around 30,000.

I say wait for the DVD but see it, it will wake you up. Because however daft the plot the meaning comes through. The rights and lives of indigenous peoples are sidelined for profit and until people realize the extent and meaning of their loss, the situation will only continue.

© 2009 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 10/14/09
Movie Magazine International

Friday, October 2, 2009

Five Minutes of Heaven - Movie Review

By Jonathan W. Wind

Five Minutes of Heaven is a movie about revenge and redemption, bravely tackling these subjects with only mixed results, asking if the pull towards retaliation is greater than the pull towards forgiveness.
"I'll have my Five Minutes of Heaven" shouts Joe Griffin, a Catholic, as the possible sweet revenge he has waited so long for becomes ever more imminent.
Based on a true story, in Belfast in 1975, 11 year old Joe witnesses his older brother's murder and is blamed by his own mother and family for not stopping it somehow. His family is broken and his young life becomes a darkness of incrimination and remorse. The killer, 16 year old Alistair Little is caught and serves 12 years in prison for the murder.
In the sectarian conflict of Northern Ireland - it was Protestants against Catholics, Christians fighting Christians. Whose god would win?. It all seemed so Medieval, Americans seemed mostly sorry but uncomprehending; was it worth dying for? Ireland was a place where an integrated school meant it allowed Protestants and Catholics, just how could Americans relate? Northern Ireland became a hotbed of violence where enemies could only be identified by their credentials; "are you a Protestant, what about you?"
The film begins with a gruesome reenactment of the murder. Featuring young actors with strong, sometimes incomprehensible brogues, the film continues with an imagined scenario of Joe and Alistair's consensual meeting thirty three years later. A reality show production team judges themselves capable of healing the rift between the two men, Alistair is 49 and Joe is 44 as the scene shifts to the their first meeting. Joe has labored in an egg carton factory all his life, unhappy and obsessed, revenge pesters his every moment. Alistair has served his time, but he too is haunted with the senselessness of his crimes. When finally they do meet they both suffer terribly, but they are then able to move on with their lives, at last forgiving themselves, but not each other.
Liam Neeson plays the adult killer, and James Nesbitt the grown witness - they are two of Northern Ireland's most celebrated actors. Neeson actually began his career in Belfast in 1975 and is recognized for his heroic intensity in such films as Schindler's List. James Nesbitt appeared in Bloody Sunday and Woody Allen's Match Point, his nervous performance convinces you that not a moment goes by without him experiencing his anguish.
Five Minutes of Heaven took four years to bring to the screen. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel has directed four other films including Downfall, about WWII in 2002. Cinematographer Ruairi O'Brien, faced with mostly grim scenes and vistas opted for a documentary film style crossed with a smoother professional look, handcam shakeups in forgotten neighborhoods and dramatic upangle studies of impressive Irish profiles.
Screenwriter Guy Hibbert separately interviewed the two men over a two year period, and created situations using their words and feelings, Joe Griffin and Alistair Little never actually met. Hibbert has written other films based on interviews, such as Omagh, also about the conflict in N. Ireland. Original music by David Holmes helps maintain the intensity and focus, his scores include Ocean's 12 and Ocean's 13.
Labeled a political thriller, Five Minutes of Heaven is predictable and heavy-handed, and key elements of the story are revealed too early. The movie concludes that no one escapes the ravages of violence, both sides suffer and redemption is elusive.
I say see it, but wait for the DVD, you may need the subtitles anyway. It's a sad story made that much sadder by lingering madness, uninspired cinematography, a hair-brained reality show encounter, and the conclusion that the pain never really ends.

© 2009 - Jonathan W. Wind - Air Date: 09/30/09
Movie Magazine International