Thursday, February 28, 2013


It seems that this is becoming the time of year I fall behind. Just around the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. The good news is, unlike last year, I am not nearly as buried as I was last year, and so should be catching up much faster this time. Stay tuned.

Regardless, here are films I did manage to review in February, including work for my new gig at the Oregonian.


* Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, a documentary about a tragic night in Portland's recent past. Currently doing the festival circuit.

Jack the Giant Slayer, the fantasy adventure picture from Bryan Singer never grows into being what it really wants to be. Or so it would seem.

Side EffectsSteven Soderbergh caps his career with an efficient and entertaining psychological thriller.

Oregonian columns:

February 15: I cover a shorts program featuring local African American directors, as well as a screening of the first Best Picture Oscar Winner, Wings.

February 22: The ethnic drama Bless Me, Ultima and the amazing Eddie Pepitone documentary, The Bitter Buddha.

March 1: The Arrow Awards, a compilation of commercials from the UK that won industry accolades, and Koch, a new documentary about the legendary New York mayor, completed just before his death.


Beauty is Embarrassing: The Wayne White Story, a fun documentary about one of the pop artists responsible for some of the sets and puppets on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse."

The Boogie Man Will Get You, a slapstick flop from 1942, starring Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, both playing on their image as villains.

Hello I Must Be Goingan indie starring-vehicle for Melanie Lynskey that is rich with emotion and possessed of a raw honesty.

* The Hour: Season Two, the second cycle for the entertaining suspense soap from the BBC. Sadly, it has been cancelled, making this the de-facto finale.

How Green Was My Valley, John Ford's nostalgic look at a working village in Wales at the turn of the 20th Century. Winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1941.

I Wish, a heartfelt and heart-warming portrait of childhood from Japanese director Hirakazu Kore-eda.

A Simple Life, a surprisingly moving portrayal of old age from Chinese director Anne Hui.

The Vertical Ray of the Sun, a lyrical Vietnamese film telling a tale of three sisters, originally released in 2000. Directed by Tran Anh Hung.

White Zombiethe Bela Lugosi cult hit that is credited with starting off the zombie genre.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

PINA (Blu-Ray) - #644

Pina, the long-gestating personal project from German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire [review], Paris, Texas [review]), is a documentary/performance film that reverberates with emotion and wows with its technical wizardry. It is a time capsule, a museum piece, a preservation project, recording many of the famous modern dance pieces choreographed by Pina Bausch; yet, unlike most museum pieces, Pina is not stodgy or covered in dust. The only glass this vibrant recording belongs under is that of your television screen, and maybe the lenses of a pair of 3D glasses.

Pina was a film that had been on Wenders' docket for years, but footage of dance performances shot by other directors had convinced both him and Bausch that a standard set-up would not truly convey the power of Pina's artistry. She was against having too many cameras onstage, breaking the point of view, and changing the audience's perception. He was against setting up at the back of the auditorium and shooting the performance over the seats. Both approaches had been tried before, but with few successes. Carlos Saura took his tangos out of the performance space and entered the rehearsal area [review]; and, of course, there are the various films of Martha Graham at work [review]. But Wenders couldn't just repeat what they had done.

As the story goes, it was seeing U2's 3D concert film that changed everything. Released in 2007, U2 3D was the first example of the new technology in practice. I remember seeing it in IMAX and imagining I could jump from my seat and land on the drumkit and being tricked into thinking different elements in my peripheral vision were real, not projections. And I can barely stand U2. Wenders was so impressed by the stereoptic effects, he saw what Pina could be. The tech was still new and unwieldy, but in a couple of years, it would be there...

Unfortunately, he didn't have enough time. Pina Bausch died in 2009 without Wenders ever shooting a single frame with her. Rather than let this project die, however, he carried on, turning Pina into a tribute to his friend. The final film gathers her dance troupe, past and present, and has them perform some of her signature material. Some of the dances are set on the stage, some are taken out into real environments, both urban and rural. Amidst this, Wenders shoots portraits of the dancers, having them talk in voiceover about how Pina inspired them and what her work means in their lives.

The end product is far from your standard biography. It's less about the woman and more about the essence of her. It sticks to what is important, the dancing itself, rather than trying to string together significant events that may or may not have inspired it. The chosen pieces range from solo routines to larger casts. Some of the sets built for the filming are sparse, others are elaborate. All of them, after a fashion, are abstract dramas, illustrating the push and pull between men and women, personal growing pains, and the greater struggles of the human community.

I have now seen Pina twice: once in a theater, in 3D as Wim Wenders really intended, and this second time on Blu-Ray, in two dimensions. There are virtues to both (and this combo pack offers both options, though you'll need a 3D television to view that version). The 3D is immersive, creating a sense of space and movement that would not otherwise be possible. The closest you would come to that kind of experience would be to see the recital live and in person. At the same time, cinema allows you to get closer to the action, almost like you are in it but without disrupting the artists.

On the other hand, watching it at home, there were no pesky glasses, no adjusting to the multi-plane effects and the distractions that come with them. It's also easier to focus on the full performance. Even Wenders acknowledges this. You can actually see more in two-dimensions, because 3D evens out all the focal points, ironically making the image more flat even as it separates.

Either way, Pina is an effective movie. Wenders is working straight from the core on this one, driven by his gut as much as his intellect--which is also how the dancing translates. Pina Bausch's choreography takes our inner feelings and gives them external expression, turning the intangible into the physical. For most people reading this, we would likely have never been witness to any of the late dancer's work had this documentary never been made. And more would have been the pity. Pina is eye opening, mind expanding, and altogether beautiful.

For a complete rundown on the special features, read the full review at DVD Talk. Images here were taken from promotional materials and were not taken from the Blu-Ray under review.

Friday, February 1, 2013


My reviews for non-Criterion movies written in the first month of 2013.


56 Up, another seven years in the life of Michael Apted's groundbreaking documentary series.

Amour, Michael Haneke's drama of old age. Reserved and emotionally powerful.

Barbaraan enthralling German drama about one woman exiled to the country in East Germany, ca. 1980.

Gangster SquadThe low-bar for 2013 has been set. Here's your challenge, movie industry: don't do worse than this.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunter. I'm a sucker for Gemma Arterton so I went to see her as Gretel, and now I'm a sucker for this movie.

The Impossible, a good movie about surviving a tsunami, despite the ethnic whitewash.

The Last Stand, teaming Arnold Schwarzenegger with awesome  director Jee-woon Kim. It's not as good as his Korean movies, but it's better than most Arnie movies.

Mama, starring recent Golden Globe winner Jessica Chastain. She had a whole week to enjoy her win before this stinker hit.

Rust and Bone, Marion Cotillard in a dark drama from the director of A Prophet.

Dick Tracy by Brent Schoonover 


5 Broken Cameras, the Oscar-nominated documentary made from one Palestinian man's personal video diary.

Dangerous Liaisons, a 2012 Chinese update of the French novel, transplanting it to Shanghai in the 1930s and starring Zhang Ziyi and Cecilia Cheung.

Dick Tracy, Warren Beatty's ambitious 1990 comic strip adaptation was a head of its time.

Doctor Zhivago. Not the good David Lean version, but the boring 2002 TV version.

Enlightened: The Complete First Season, an unfocused but entertaining HBO series from actress Laura Dern and filmmaker Mike White.

The Good Doctorthe director who gave us Kisses returns with an ethically curious medical drama with Orlando Bloom.

Indiscreet, the Stanley Donen romance film reteaming Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman appears to be geting better with age.

A Man Vanishes, Shohei Imamura's 1967 breakthrough. In addition to the main film, there are also five documentaries the Japanese director made in the years leading up to Vengeance is Mine.

Misfits: Season TwoWell, you can't win them all. Sophomore slump?

Mrs. Miniver, sincere propaganda done as a moving drama by William Wyler, buoyed by an understanding performance from Greer Garson.

Post Mortem, a strange kind of love story form Chile.

The Quiet Man, John Ford's romantic classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara is now a stunning Blu-Ray release.

Searching for Sugar Man, one of 2012's best documentaries is also a great rock-'n'-roll story.