Review: Manda Bala

September 7, 2007

Documentary connects rising crime in Brazil with corrupt politicians in a style more glib than enlightening.

Winner of a grand jury prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) uses fractured narrative style to address the very real problems of class inequity, rising crime, and corrupt government in Brazil. While these are worthwhile subjects, peculiar structural decisions result in a documentary that alternates between mildly informative and grossly voyeuristic.

Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong films at BAMCinĂ©matek

August 16, 2007

In its heyday, the Hong Kong film industry turned out over two hundred feature films a year, comedies, romances, musicals, and dramas as well as martial arts pictures. Last year, that number dropped below fifty. Former linchpins –stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Maggie Cheung, as well as writers and directors like Wong Kar-wai and John Woo–have either moved to other countries for work or retired outright. The industry has been in a free-fall since the handover in 1997, in part due to doubts about mainland China’s demands. But even before the handover, triads infiltrated production companies, siphoning off profits while releasing inferior movies that infuriated audiences. Piracy was simply the last straw. Movies are routinely available for download or on bootleg DVDs before they open. Even the pornographic film market has suffered.

Read the rest of this entry »


Review: Rush Hour 3

August 10, 2007

Mismatched cops Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker travel to Paris to stop a triad threat. Listless sequel marked by flat slapstick and senseless mayhem.

Back in 1998, the first Rush Hour established a simple formula: let Jackie Chan repeat some of his best stunts from his Hong Kong films, and give the jokes to Chris Tucker. The six-year gap between Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour 3 has been attributed by some to salary negotiations between Tucker and New Line, which ended up paying the actor at least $20 million, depending on box-office receipts. That amount, for what is only Tucker’s seventh starring role, says a lot about the studio’s expectations for the franchise. Sadly, Rush Hour 3 is by far the worst film in the series, and marks career low points for just about everyone involved. Even the normally hardworking Chan seems detached from the proceedings.

Read the rest of this entry »


Review: Stardust

August 10, 2007

Shop clerk enters fantasy world to retrieve a fallen star. Solid fantasy is marred by intrusive star turns.

Based on a popular novel by Neil Gaiman, Stardust is for the most part a lighthearted, entertaining adventure that works best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Directed with real flair and opulently packaged, the film stays relatively true to the novel while gently tweaking the fantasy genre. Its cast and plot clearly aim Stardust at older viewers rather than youngsters.

Read the rest of this entry »


Review: The Devil Came on Horseback

July 25, 2007

Eyewitness account of the genocide in Darfur. Passionate documentary makes a methodical and persuasive case for international action.

After leaving the service, former Marine Captain Brian Steidle signed up as an unarmed military observer for the African Union. Starting in 2004, he led a three-man patrol to investigate claims of genocide in Sudan. A cease-fire there had supposedly stopped fighting after two decades of war. But a rebel attack on an airport in Al Fashir led to the expulsion of foreigners and a strict clampdown on the western regions of Sudan.

Read the rest of this entry »


Review: No End in Sight

July 25, 2007

Who decided how to wage war in Iraq, and what are the consequences today? Troubling documentary that draws disturbing conclusions.

Author and political scientist Charles Ferguson directs his first film like a case study, trying to show how decisions were reached about conducting the war in Iraq. By sidestepping loaded questions about whether the war is justified, Ferguson can concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the war plans. His conclusions seem as accurate as they are dispiriting.

Read the rest of this entry »


Review: Vitus

July 25, 2007

Child prodigy must choose between a normal adolescence and a career as a classical pianist. Low-key drama is a beguiling treat.

On the surface a routine family melodrama about the conflicts between a gifted child and his demanding parents, Vitus is actually a lot more interesting, and challenging, than its premise suggests. Swiss director Fredi M. Murer touches on the standard elements of a prodigy story, but is after much bigger game than a movie-of-the-week morality tale. There are many ways to interpret what happens in Vitus, all of them worthwhile, most of them troubling.

Read the rest of this entry »