Posted on October 29, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
Written and directed by S. Pierre Yameogo
Children mysteriously die in an African village, and the elders suspect witchcraft. But the ancient traditions they use to find the witch appear to have more to do with local politics than detective work or even magic. And so Napoko, the wife of an elder and the mother of a girl forcibly married to a stranger from another tribe, is cast out from respectable society. Her daughter, Pougbila, responds to the news by leaving her husband’s village to rescue her mother and prove her innocence.
A large part of Delwende‘s charm, at least for westerners, is it’s view of village life in today’s Burkina Faso. People wear modern clothes–although they seem to prefer African-style prints. When they can get the batteries, they listen to the radio. But they live in grass huts, use wooden farming tools, and use magic to find the evil one killing their children.
Writer/director S. Pierre Yameogo offers more than exoticism. He gives us a feminist fable set in a very male-dominated world, with the pleasures of a mystery thrown in. (The mystery is not who’s killing the children, but how Napoko received the blame.) But he ends the film too soon. I would have liked another 10 minutes or so to better finish the story.
The press material compares Delwende to Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaadé. It’s an appropriate comparison in terms of settings and themes. But while Delwende is a very fine film, it doesn’t approach Sembene’s work in story, character, or sheer cinematic brilliance. But then, few films do.
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Posted on October 26, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
[B] Espionage comedy
- Written and directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
The Coen brothers are back to their old tricks, mining the dark comic prospects of a crime gone wrong. While Burn After Reading lacks the humanity of Fargo and the blazing, non-stop lunacy of Intolerable Cruelty, it still provides 95 very entertaining minutes.
The Washington D.C.-set plot concerns a couple of idiotic gym employees (Frances McDormand and a wonderfully silly Brad Pitt) trying to extort a disgruntled former CIA analyst (John Malkovich). Complicating the festivities is a married Treasury employee (George Clooney) who’s sleeping with the analyst’s wife (Tilda Swinton in cold bitch mode) and falls for McDormand’s character, as well.
I didn’t mention Swinton’s character’s career. Let’s just say it’s not important to the story but makes a very good gag.
The Coens aren’t going for realism here. No one acts like a real human being, nor wins our sympathies. The brothers want us to laugh at the characters’ well-earned misfortunes, and by and large we do. But there are moments when the laughs curdle with horror. When someone gets shot point-blank in the head in Fargo (the Coen’s best film IMHO), we’re shocked. When that happens in Intolerable Cruelty (their funniest), we laugh. In Burn After Reading, we laugh while shocked.
All the big names in the cast play their roles big, broad and funny. Once again, Clooney channels Cary Grant in his ability to make fun of his good looks and suave demeanor. On the other hand, you’d never guess from his asexual exercise nut (a bad haircut over an empty brain) that Brad Pitt built his stardom on sex appeal.
But the real movie stealer is the ever-reliable J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in the Spiderman movies, as well as Juno‘s father). He only has a couple of scenes as a CIA superior who wants the problem to go away, but he makes the most of them.
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Posted on October 26, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
- Written by Stanley Weiser
- Directed by Oliver Stone
The very fact of W.‘s existence raises an interesting and important question: Why go to an Oliver Stone movie after all the times he’s disappointed us?
And W. provides an answer: There is no good reason.
Judging from the final result, Stone didn’t know whether he was making a comic farce or a serious character study of our soon-to-be-ex, totally disastrous president. He fails on all counts, creating a film that isn’t funny, dramatic, or particularly insightful. Other than suggesting that Bush lacks the self-confidence that always seemed to be his primary asset, Stone tells us little that we didn’t already know.
Stone anchors the film with two very good performances: Josh Brolin as the title character and the always exceptional James Cromwell as the first President Bush. The cast brims with talented names, but no one else is allowed to go beyond mere imitation. Yes, the makeup folks did an impressive job disguising Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, and transforming Thandie Newton into Condoleezza Rice, but neither of them find their characters’ soul. Newton’s magnetic screen presence disappears entirely in an imitation that’s more appropriate to Saturday Night Live than serious drama.
Once again, Stone’s love of stunt casting gets in the way of the movie. What was the point of casting Daily Show alumni Rob Corddry as press secretary Ari Fleischer? I kept expecting him to be funny.
Jeffrey Wright does a fine job as Colin Powell, but he doesn’t have enough to do. The real Powell’s White House role is the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy–the hero and good man who knows right from wrong but does wrong, anyway. Reasonably enough, screenwriter Stanley Weiser treats Powell as the voice of reason, questioning the lies and predicting what the audience knows will come true. But neither Weiser, Stone, nor Wright tries to examine why this good man lied before the UN.
Stone uses songs to remark ironically (or at least to try to remark ironically) on the goings on. These include everything from “Yellow Road to Texas” to the theme of an old Robin Hood TV show. One song that isn’t in the movie is The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” used heavily for the movie’s television commercials. I’m not sure if that qualifies as false advertising.
W. has its moments. The best, near the end, being a father-son confrontation in the oval office. But these rare flashes of insight don’t add up to anything like a good movie.
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Posted on October 16, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
- Directed by Steven Sebring
Steven Sebring spent over a decade following Patti Smith around with a camera (okay, I’m not sure how much of that time he actually devoted to the project), trying to get to the core of the cutting-edge rocker, poet, and generally arty person. He succeeds–with a great deal of help from Smith herself–in introducing us to a very nice person.
He didn’t make a movie about her music. The live performance sequences concentrate mostly on her poetry, and when she talks to the camera, she’s more likely to discuss Blake than Dylan.
She also talks a lot about death. Her husband and her brother both died young, as did such famed collaborators as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Mapplethorpe. She seems to have handled the tragedies well.
By the end of the movie, most of which is in black and white, we feel as if we kind of know her, and we like her. But aside from an innate need to express herself and her strong political feelings, we know little about what motivates her to do what she does.
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