Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The vastly different worlds of Mardi Gras and Chinese factories meet head-on in Mardi Gras: Made in China. Asking the question where do those beads come from, director David Redmon captures the insane atmosphere of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where thousands and thousands of strings of beads are bought and given away to revelers. More common than just handing out beads is the ritual that started in the 70s of women flashing their boobs in exchange for a single string of beads.
The doc gives a down-to-earth view of a Chinese factory that makes the beads, showing the ins and outs of the workers’ daily lives, struggling at work. The factory owner is interviewed quite extensively as well, proudly stating how happy the workers are and that they don’t mind doing overtime or being penalized for failing to meet superhuman quotas or talking. Yes, talking. The film also shows he is full of shit.
Director Redmon does a great job dispelling that annoying myth that “oh its okay, ten cents an hour over there is a lot.” The factory is making millions as the workers (ironically, all female) plan strikes to be treated better and have the more apt saying, “its very hard to make a living.”
What I didn’t expect was a humanizing of the revelers – Redmon pulls a great move as he shows footage of the Chinese factory to the people partying on the street. While many partiers “don’t know, don’t care” where the beads come from, many realize the disparity of the two worlds. When the Chinese workers see photos of the New Orleans streets, they have a great reaction you should see for yourself. The doc is modest and straight forward, and all the more powerful for it.
The DVD also contains a 48-minute educational version of the film that is appropriate for PG audiences. A booklet contains a short diary from one of the factory workers. Deleted scenes add even more poignancy to the workers, as well as footage of the revelers you love to hate.
DVD is available from the filmmaker through carnivalesquefilms.com at $24.00 for individuals and $305.00 for educational institutions – the latter version contains many more extras, including commentary by David Redmon and Assistant Producer Ashley Sabin and additional interviews with Noam Chomsky, Michael Hardt, Saskia Sassen, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Mike Presdee; and more....
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Saturday, July 26, 2008
With word that Quentin Tarantino has FINALLY begun work on a remake of Italian director Enzo G. Castellari's EuroCult classic The Inglorious Bastards, Severin Films has put together a remastered three-disc release of the original, the first time it's been available in the States (though there have been numerous incarnations -- you may recall Deadly Mission and G.I. Bro).
An homage to war films before it like The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes and Peckinpah's Cross of Iron but with a little more edge and a Spagheti Western feel (not to mention one of the best film titles ever created), Bo Svenson and Blaxploitation icon Fred "The Hammer" Williamson star as part of a rag-tag group of U.S. military convicts who are sent off to prison until an air raid gives them the opportunity to escape. But in their trek to freedom in Switzerland they find themselves thrust back into the war when they agree to take on a mission to hijack a train.
All the testosterone-filled '70s war film touchstones are there -- outcasts and loose canons who turn out to be the best solders America has, a no-way-out finale and violence in slo-mo.
I mean, the tagline says it all: "Whatever the Dirty Dozen did, THEY DO IT DIRTIER!"
Features include Tarantino interviewing Castellari, which has a fun back-and-forth on Taratino's hopes for the remake and Castellari explains how he had to get creative in some of the scenes after the Italian government confiscated all the guns in the production in fear that they would get into the hands of the Red Brigades (what they would do with prop guns is anyone's guess). There's also a featurette on the making of the film that includes all the principles and another where Castellari goes back to some of the memorable locations from the film (like the waterfall where the men come across a group of naked, gun-toting, female Nazis). The third disc only has the film's soundtrack.
In stores this week, the 3-disc goes for $29.95, and the single disc is available for $19.95.
This is an essential for your Grindhouse library.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I gotta admit, I had no clue who Daft Punk was when I got a DVD of their first film, Electroma, in the mail. Now, I did vaguely recall the title because people were telling me that it was a bore (it premiered at Cannes in 2006). But after watching it I strongly disagree.
A beautifully shot, intimate story with no dialogue, Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter & Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) creates a touching commentary on life and the loneliness of being an outcast. In Electroma, we follow two robots -- decked out in matching jumpsuits with "Daft Punk" spelled out in rhinestones on their backs -- as they roar down the endless desert highway in a '87 Ferrari (almost a twisted homage to the video for "I Can't Drive 55") in search of being human...
What's the deal with the robots? Here's some backstory for those, like me, are Daft Punk novices: Legend has it that Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were in their studio on 9/9/99 when an explosion occurred at exactly 9:09 a.m. and when they gained consciousness they were robots. Now, back to the film...
Though most of it is just straight up bizarre, the imagery is gorgeous and at times plays with your mind. In one of the most meorable scenes, the robots walk down a long dark corridor and when they appear in a white room, everyone else inside has the identical white tone and the only time we can see them is when they walk in front of the dark clothed robots.
This is where the robots are turned into "humans," which doesn't work out well as once they get outside they're chased back into the desert. Then there's the conclusion, a disturbing yet touching finale of the robots fate that was all the more haunting by the piece of music they use to close with: the Jackson C. Frank song "Dialogue," one of the few times words are spoken in the film.
Electroma certainly has the makings of a Midnight Movie classic, and in no way is this a self-serving venture to build the Daft Punk brand. In fact, none of their music appears in the film and they aren't even the ones in the robot suits.
I'm excited to see what Bangalter (who also shot the film) and de Homem-Christo come up with for their next film. But in the mean time there's a lot to digest with Electroma. And I don't mean just the film. Currently on shelves through Vice Films (which brought us Heavy Metal in Baghdad) for $17 (on Amazon), there's a 40 page booklet of film stills. Talk about going all out on your first project.
You can read more about the film in our interview with Daft Punk.
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Monday, July 21, 2008
A town waits for two exiles to come home. The two (con-)men were leaders of a sort in the old days, then a social experiment of a farming community. Now abandoned, the townsfolk are almost ghosts, wandering through their daily lives. A bar offers some insanity to them. Even the children are harshly treated by the world. Upon their return the men have lofty ideas.
In the world of film, there are those titles that carry sixteen tons of weight when spoken about out loud. Sometimes it’s about the visuals. Sometimes an extreme run time. Or an even more extreme story or intense scenes. Bela Tarr's Satantango is legend for all these attributes.
Get past the geek factors of long single takes and a 7-hour running time – Satantango is a stunning film, in its visuals, in its story, and with its actors, all taking the audience on a unique ride. A shot of the men walking down a windy alley is breathtaking. An interrogation scene of the two con-men is deadpan funny. A bar dance is taken so far that you start to feel drunk. A teenage girl dealing with the world is gut-wrenching, but you cant look away.
Of course, if you really want to experience the film, you will need to watch the first 2 hours, then take a 15-minute break, then the middle 2 hours, then eat a quick meal, then the last 3 hours. In a recent screening in Los Angeles, hundreds of folks braved the day with the film. I’m used to seeing a bunch of films in a row at a film festival – but the effect of seeing a single film over a day is incredible. The scenes are longer than average, so in essence you are not barraged with a longer story or more events in a film than “normal.” Rather, you spend more time with the characters.
Tarr is a master - establishing characters within the strict style of long takes. You laugh by some scenes as much as you are completely shocked by others. The atmosphere is thick but realistic, that kind of poetic feeling you get walking through new cities and landscapes. Although whatever city this is, their tourism board is closed. Fans of Bresson, Cassavetes and Tarkovsky should definitely come knocking. Sociology/political majors and anyone in the mood for a new film experience will be thrilled as well.
Satantango is the rare film that stands up to its big expectations.
The booklet for the DVD unfortunately does not have an interview with Tarr. But it does have a great discussion about Tarr from three of the best writers around, David Bordwell, Scott Foundas and Jonathan Rosenbaum.
Three discs for the film with an extra disc, which contains an hourlong television version of MacBeth that Tarr directed – consisting of only two shots; Journey on the Plain, a nice video of main actor and composer Mihaly Vig returning to the film’s locations (in color), and the short film Prologue, a beautiful piece Tarr made for the film Visions of Europe.
Available from Facets Video for $79.95.
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Friday, July 18, 2008
Nominated as one of the "Best Films Not Playing at a Theater Near You" at last year's Gotham Awards, Jeremy & Randy Stulberg's Off The Grid: Life on the Mesa examines a group of people who have given up the amenities we all take for granted to live an existence that includes little food, water and no electricity.
In the middle of the barren prairies of New Mexico, a small community of war vets, hippies and runaways live "off the grid" in what they believe is the last strand of the American Dream, but the Stulbergs find it more often resembles the Wild West. After getting over the sensationalism of these people's lives the directors delve into the society they have created with elders settling disputes and Marshall law deciding the rest (one resident puts it bluntly: "We don't dial 911, we dial 357... 357 Magnum."). Residents trade stories of being harassed by cops, or giving the reasons why they're living there, and though halfway through the film you're just thankful you have running water and an AC to help cool down, by its finale it changes to a respect for these people who are capable to live off the land and want nothing in return but to be left alone.
Disc includes deleted scenes, interviews with the film's subjects and director commentary. DVD is available through Indiepix for $24.95.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Knee Deep tells the story of Josh Osborne, who has put his entire life into the family farm. Not just philosophically – he stopped school after 6th grade, he’s never taken a vacation, he has never been to a doctor. So after his Father dies he is shocked that his Mother wants to sell the farm and move on. With a cooperative girlfriend and friends with suggestions, he considers killing his Mother and taking the farm back. Odd thing is, much of the local community supports the idea. Even odder – someone does try to kill her. Now Josh is in the middle of a huge court case to figure out if he really did it.
Here’s the real kicker for the mystery film: Knee Deep is a documentary, not fiction. Balancing honest, first person interviews with Josh and everyone involved (except the Mother), director Michael Chandler tells the incredible story with an unobtrusive style. All the viewpoints are presented, and although the hard-to-believe facts are occasionally shown with some humor, each person is treated as a human being.
It’s just that the story is so incredible at points. Josh's girlfriend fell for him when she is 4 months pregnant with someone else's baby. Josh admits all along that he wants to kill his Mother, and most people support him. Yet someone else might have shot her. When the Mother shows up during the court case she sends it in a whole new direction.
Director Chandler also wrote and edited the Academy Award-nominated Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey, the Emmy Award-winning Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven, and directed episodes of PBS’ Frontline. Knee Deep is as entertaining as any film noir, equal parts humorous and humanistic. It captures family pride and commitments as well as the crime story. Errol Morris and Herzog would be big fans.
DVD available from the official website, www.kneedeepthedoc.com for $24.95.
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