GALAPAGOS. David Clark III and Al Giddings, 1999. 40min.
My first foray into the world of 3-D Imax and the uncomfortable goggles they force you to wear to experience the true depth of dimension. An amazing technology (though somewhat confusing since you're locked into the focal point of the camera, its use in the nature filming of Galapagos is stunning. While the narration (courtesy of Kenneth Branaugh) is fairly run of the mill nature special and the commentary provided by one of the marine biologists is less than stellar, the images more than make up for any shortcomings. In fact, I would have been happy with 40 minutes of just the flora and fauna above and below the water. The clouds of irridescent fish swarming around the biologists was enough to make me want to take up scuba diving. I do wish that more information could have been given about the islands and their significance, but that somhow seems beside the point. And the point? Massive 3D images that seem to envelop you even as the sound pounds into your brain. 03.30.01
GALAXY QUEST. Dean Parisot, 1999. 102min.
As five characters wander the existential landscape searching for meaning in their past theatrical lives, the ultimate fans greet them in the form of aliens who have used their television show (known to them as historical documents) as a basis upon which to model their society. Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, and Sigouney Weaver star in this diverting sci-fi tale which brings characters from a 70s sci-fi show (Star Trek, anyone?) back to figurative and literal life (Search for Spock?). While there are no great surprises in the film (some early scenes seem rote) the territory is explored well, offering a number of laughs. Of course, your mileage will vary in relation to how into the genre you are, but if you are, then prepare for an evening of somewhat mindless entertainment and be entertained.
GATES OF HEAVEN. Errol Morris, 1978. 85min.
When Errol Morris proposed to make a documentary about pet cemetaries, his then professor Werner Herzog declared that if a successful documentary could be made on the subject he would eat his shoe. Morris did and Herzog, true to his word, sauteed and cooked a pair of leather work boots with garlic and spices and served himself his meal, a process which was shot by Les Bank and made into another documentary, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980). Morris's film proves to be a meditation on the nature of existence, using the idea of the pet cemetary to focus the ruminations of his subjects and then allowing their stories to expand into a larger discussion of life and death. Morris shows great restraint as he allows his interviewees to talk and then expertly edits the monologues into the over-arching narrative, juxtaposing thoughts and views to offer a rounded view of each story. Unafraid to let the camera linger, he captures people as their ruminations on their pet or their position in the industry of animal remains launches into the personal analysis that elevates the film above merely a documentary about the failure of one pet cemetary and the rise of another. Morris's camera frames its subjects perfectly, as they stare at us or look askance as their lives unfold before them, sharing more of themselves than they might realize. A fascinating film and one which would seem to offer more upon each successive viewing. In fact, as soon as I finished seeing it the first time I wanted to rewind the tape and see it again, to mine the images and reflections for more, or maybe to ponder the powers of positive thinking. 02.21.03
GEORGE WASHINGTON. David Gordon Green, 2000. 89min.
An extraordinary independent film, George Washington quietly observes four pre-teen friends and the people around them as they grow up one summer in a small southern town. Using predominantly non-actors, the film allows the story time to develop, submerging the audience in the atmosphere created around its character's lives and their surroundings. Boasting cinematography that shames films with budgets ten times the size, the film owes much to Terrence Malick, and the opening sequence plays as an homage to Days of Heaven . Perhaps because of the writer/director's North Carolina film school background, the film unspools as few others, though in tone and care of observation it brings to mind the equally moving Our Song [Jim McKay, 2000]. Both films content themselves with watching the lives of children on the verge of gaining further understanding about themselves and the lives around them, or of losing it; both to enormous effect. [Incidentally, looking at the release dates of OUR SONG and George Washington, both would have made my top 10 favorite movies of 2000.]
GHOST IN THE SHELL. Mamoru Oshii, 1995. 82min.
Going a step beyond the questions posed by Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (1982), Ghost in the Shell presents cyborgs who are searching for their souls in order to become human. Beautifully rendered, in a way more meticulously rendered and visually arresting than Akira (1988, Katsuhiro Otomo), Shell won a number of animation awards the year it was released, and it's not hard to see why. Boasting a script worthy of any sci-fi film, the movie only disappoints in its ending. The question of identity are at the heart of the movie, with the cyborgs caught in an existential dilemma of self, asking themselves who they are, and wondering who they were. Gorgeous sets and action sequences further the plot of the film, but when a resolution appears to be reached, the film ends too abruptly, leaving the audience with a conclusion which opens up even more questions, seemingly ripe for a sequel. 04.02.01
GIMMIE SHELTER. Albert & David Maysles, 1970. 91min.
When the Maysles brothers set out to document the Rolling Stones' north American tour in 1969 they documented the end of an era. Focusing the film around the tragedies at the final concert of the tour at Altamont Speedway, the film is presented both to the audience and to the Stones simultaneously, as the camera pulls out into the viewing room where the members of the group are gathered around a monitor. As such, it's as if we're sharing in the discovery of what occurred, from a triumphant Madison Square Garden to the organization of the Altamont concert to its tragic conclusion, the fatal stabbing caught on film. Early in the film it is said that four people died and four people were born at the speedway. Those born would be the first children of the seventies, no longer innocent, no longer flower children. 3.21.03.
THE GOLD RUSH. Charles Chaplin, 1925. 100min.
Classic Chaplin. What more is there to say? Featuring the dance of of the dinner rolls and eating the shoe, the film tells the story of the Tramp as he searches and finds gold, and of his search for companionship. Some very touching scenes (including the scene involving the dinner rolls) and dramatic stunts. While not as funny, perhpas as Modern Times (1936), nor as charming and sweet as City Lights (1931), The Gold Rush holds its own in the classic Chaplin library as a delight from cold lonely start to happy finish.
GOLDEN DEMON. Koji Shima, 1953. 95min.
A somewhat melodramatic conclusion marrs this otherwise well-made film that explores the depths of human depravity. When a man's engagement to his lover is broken, he forsakes his friends and studies to become a wealthy money-lender, ceasing to be human, striving to attain the wealth he assumes his betrothed had spurned him for. Each character suffers his or her own degredations, whether at hte mercy of money or a spouse, leading to the aforementioned melodrama at its end. An entrancing film, the quality of the color evokes faded posters of a bygone era, bringing an even dreamier quality to the picture.
GOOD MEN GOOD WOMEN. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1995. 108min.
Good Men Good Women balances the story of an actress preparing for the role of Chiang Bi-Yu, a Taiwanese revolutionary active in the anti-Japanese resistance in the 1940s China, and a Communist party member in 1950s Taiwan, with that of Bi-Yu herself. The film operates on three levels, as the actress is also confronted with her own past as a man who has stolen her diary faxes her pages daily. These pages telll of her tumultous past with a Taiwanese gangster. Hou Hsiao-Hsien slowly weaves these disparate threads slowly into his film, offering no explanation and forcing the viewer to piece the stories together. The character of the actress, and the character for which she prepares to play, are juxtaposed, as the actress sees herself in the recent past, and herself in the role of her character in the more distant past of Taiwan's history. A fascinating film, Good Men Good Women, while slow, rewards patient viewing, and is worth seeing again from the beginning after the final frame to see how the stories influence each other, building towards the final few frames. 02.01.04
GOODBYE DRAGON INN. Tsai Ming-liang, 2003. 82min.
Tsai Ming-Liang's new film is a elegy to the movies, where the theater itself becomes a character caught longing for an audience. Set on its last night before closing, a small crowd gathers to watch King Hu's epic Dragon Inn on the soon to be dim screen. Characters enter and leave the frame like the ghosts with which the theater is supposed to be haunted, sometimes watching the film, sometimes watching each other. The camera places us in the same position, occasionally behind the characters as if we're in the theater, occasionally as an observer to those observing. Ming Liang exhibits his trademark patience and humor, but while the film is brilliantly composed, the controlled filmmaking makes it hard to reach an emotional core. The characters are almost too abstract to be human. It's a thought-provoking and beautiful film about film, but it just doesn't quite resonate the way his other films do. Near the end, two older actors meet outside the theater. One has brought his nephew. They have just been watching themselves on screen. One tells the other that it's good to see that he goes out to the movies. The other answers that there's not enough time to see them. Goodbye Dragon Inn is not long, but it can feel that way. It's an interesting film, but one that requires patience. 06.05
GRAND ILLUSION. Jean Renoir, 1937. 111 min.
A stirring indictment of war, and a fascinating study of class and chivalry during what could be considered the war that ended the "gentleman's war." Scenes in this film would be recast in many films later, including the singing of La Marseilles in the face of German soldiers [reused in Casablanca (1945, Michael Curtis)] and the dispersion of dirt dug trying to escape prison through the prisoner's pants pockets [most recently used in "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994, Frank Darabont). The film follows three French characters as they are caught photographing the landscape behind Germany lines, their subsequent escape attempts and finally escape. Each of the characters is well-drawn and portrayed. Note also the performance of Erich von Stroheim as a German commander of a fortress prison. Even he is enormously sympathetic. A film not to be missed.
GREY GARDENS. Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer, 1975. 94min.
In the mid-70s, the Maysles trained their camera on the Beales, a mother and daughter living alone in a crumbling mansion in the east Hamptons who happen to be the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. An example of their "direct cinema" techinque, in which the camera is to become a fly on the wall, the film actually benefits from the relationships the Maysles forged with their subjects, as little Edie confides to them in whispered asides. Early in the documentary, she comments, "It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present," but it's unclear where that line is drawn as mother and daughter retell the same stories with varying results, eventually building towards a psychological breakdown near the end. It's unclear at first where their lives exactly went wrong, as pictures show the two as very attractive in their youth, and obviously from famous families. As the film progresses and the fighting becomes more vicious, one starts to wonder if their lives were ever any different, as their co-dependency consumes them, and the question of exploitation begins to creep into mind. However, in the end, the Beales need an audience for their infighting, and the Maysles manage capture and shape all its morbid beauty. 02.23.03