Showing 41 - 50 of 262 Performing Arts annotations

Waltz with Bashir

Folman, Ari

Last Updated: Apr-19-2010
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

An animated documentary is the unlikely category assigned by producer/director/writer Ari Folman to this distinguished film.  In broad strokes the film is a memory-recovery narrative, the director’s pursuit to fill in the "black holes" in his recollection of the days, during the 1982 Lebanon War, surrounding the massacres at the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Sabra and Shatila by Christian supporters of the assassinated Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayal.  While the film finds its climax in the Palestinian genocide, along the way it examines the experience of ordinary Israeli soldiers in richly provocative storytelling –as these accounts are textured by a twenty-year time lapse, which offers perspective, insight, telling gaps, and small revelations, as, for example, when we learn that one character abandoned his ambitions to be a scientist after the war, left Israel to grow wealthy selling falafel in The Netherlands.

Folman recounts the soldiers’ narratives of disorientation, terror and loss by representing not only their experiences, but their dreams, hallucinations, distorted memories –all of which are rendered with exquisite power, mostly in vividly nightmarish cut-out animation. Added to these narratives are interviews with a psychologist, a trauma expert, a reporter who was on the scene at the refugee camps and others –adding texture and commentary to an already multi-layered story.

This films provides a fresh engagement with issues of memory and trauma, and explores the dynamics between the trauma of a nation –not only a war but the deep unexamined scar of “indirect responsibility” for a genocide— and the trauma of an individual soldier.  Representing the soldier’s war as a lonely, companionless and even passive experience, the film works to undermine a host of cinematic conventions. The viewer becomes alert to the paradox that the animation has the estranging effect of making what it recounts more “real” through its access to characters’ interior states.

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The story centers on Tsotsi (meaning thug), an adolescent in Soweto, the shantytown slum of modern Johannesburg, South Africa.  There Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagai) leads a loose-knit gang of menacing thugs.  When gang members are first encountered, Butcher reveals his disturbing and sinister nature; Boston (Mothusi Magano), except for his alcoholism, represents a potentially thoughtful but ineffective source of goodness and decency; Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), a simpleton, is devoted to Tsotsi; and Tsotsi seethes with, as yet, inexplicable rage. 

As the story unfolds, a petty crime leads to senseless murder and an old wheelchair-bound man is threatened and cruelly abused.  Finally, Tsotsi, without gang participation, shoots a woman during an auto theft.  When he drives recklessly away, he discovers an infant in the stolen car's backseat.  Rather than killing the baby, his first inclination, he puts it into a paper bag and takes the baby home.  This new relationship--and responsibility becomes the harrowing twist in the story.   

Throughout, short and disturbing flash backs of Tsotsi's childhood reveal unimagined beginnings that have led to the boy's simmering rage and the string of unforgiving actions.  While concerns about vulnerable children within a context of social injustices are foremost in the minds of film viewers, the overwhelming circumstances and complexities frustrate thoughts about realistic interventions. 


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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film opens on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation -- called "the rez" by its inhabitants -- in 1998. Immediately there is a flashback to July 4, 1976 when the community was celebrating "white man's Independence Day" in drunken abandon. Accidentally Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer) sets an uncontrollable fire to his neighbor's house, killing the couple who live there. But Joseph catches the baby, Thomas, when he is thrown out of a second story window from the burning house. The rescued Thomas (Evan Adams) is brought up by his grandmother and along side of Victor (Adam Beach), Arnold Joseph's son of about the same age. Joseph keeps on drinking but is in despair about the conflagration and its consequences.

12-year-old Victor watches sullenly while his parents drink until one night he smashes all their beer bottles. This action is a wake-up call for Victor's mother, Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal), who insists that she and Arnold both stop drinking. She chases Arnold out of the house; he leaves, never to return, while Victor watches, sobbing. These elements of the story occur in flashbacks while the 20-year-old Victor and Thomas travel by bus to retrieve whatever they can of Arnold Joseph, who has died outside of Phoenix. The remaining story unfolds in that forsaken spot where Joseph lived in a trailer and befriended Suzy Song, a young Indian woman originally from New York.

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While the film is clearly, unequivocally about families, family relationships, families in crisis--here, as experienced in the Grape family, it is also a film illuminating other human issues in astonishing ways. The family focus is on Momma (Darlene Cates), whose 600-pound frame shakes the rafters of the house in those rare moments she is able to rise; she eats on the sofa (the children bring the kitchen table to her), sleeps on the sofa (a bed is made up there every night), and watches television and her family the rest of the time.

Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is the oldest son who takes care of everyone, especially his eighteen-year-old brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is mentally challenged in some way and requires constant attention. Two sisters round out the family.

Becky (Juliette Lewis) comes to town in an Airstream with her grandmother--we're never quite sure what they do other than criss-cross the country in Airstream caravans--and changes Gilbert's life from one of resignation to one of possibilities outside the dailiness of caregiving and stocking shelves at the local grocery store. The climax of the story, the death of Momma after Arnie's eighteenth birthday party (he wasn't supposed to live that long), frees each family member in life-altering ways.

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This film documents the quiet devastation of Alzheimer's disease from a daughter's perspective. Using home movie clips and up-close footage of conversations with her 84 year old mother (Doris Hoffmann), a skilled film maker/daughter (Deborah Hoffmann) provides a sustained and poignant documentary of Alzheimer's devastating ability to transform a vibrant and intelligent woman's life.

Interspersed with conversations that reveal her mother's disoriented recollections of the past and the glitches and confusion of daily life routines, home movies and other artifacts provide a contrasting impression of this woman's family and life then and now. Captions and clever title cards are used to organize events and to add gentle humor.

Frances Reid, the camera woman, is mentioned from time to time as someone known to both Deborah and Doris; eventually and without special emphasis, we learn that Frances and Deborah have a lesbian relationship and how Doris adjusted to the couple over the years.

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The title refers to a Veteran’s Administration hospital regulation concerning the withholding of full medical benefits if an ailment is not specifically related to military service. In an oftentimes comic battle between the forces of good--physicians and vulnerable patients--and those of evil--the administrators and their minions--the story has currency and direct appeal to viewers.

The Darth-Vader-like administrators are self-serving, inhumane bureaucrats with emotions that run the gamut "from A to B" (Dorothy Parker). Physicians, especially the character played by Ray Liotta, but also his dedicated colleagues, are imaginative and non-rule abiding in their central concerns: the patients. They listen to stories and sympathize; in addition, they turf, lie, steal, and do whatever is necessary to protect, serve, and treat their patients. When the government denies a heart bypass, for example, the docs schedule prostate surgery for the official record and do, instead, the needed heart surgery.

At times, it’s as if the Marx Brothers or the Keystone Cops have donned white coats to sneak around the hospital with patient-centered antics. In the absurd bureaucracy, viewers, perforce, must cheer enthusiastically for the merry band of renegade docs.

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Four doomed characters illustrate the downward course of drug initiation and addiction. Aronofsky's innovative portrayal is arrestingly brutal and compelling; many viewers will be disturbed by penetrating and darkly lucid visual effects guiding the descending spiral--from spring to winter, from life and hope to destruction and death.

One character, Sara Goldfarb, played courageously and brilliantly by Ellen Burstyn, becomes addicted to diet pills prescribed by a despicably careless physician. The other characters--her son, Harry (Jared Leto) and his two friends (played by Marlon Wayon and Jennifer Connelly)--are heroin addicts and dealers. In separate ways all move toward the same abyss.

Although graphic and, at times, extremely difficult to watch, the frightening nightmare of addiction should be required viewing for those who might yet succumb and those who think that just saying "no" works. The grisly and unbearably sad storyline and its explicit horror recalls the 1989 film and novel on which it was based, Last Exit to Brooklyn, also written by Hubert Selby, Jr.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Rob Morrow of "Northern Exposure" fame portrays Lyle Maze, a very sweet artist/sculptor with Tourette's syndrome. Even though early scenes demonstrate the challenges presented by involuntary shoulder shrugs, arm twitches, popping sounds, and vocalizations associated with Tourette's, the story quickly evolves into a fairly predictable tale of love. Mike (Craig Sheffer) is engaged to Callie (Laura Linney), but spends months of time incommunicado--practicing medicine in Burundi and other remote locations.

For different reasons, both Lyle and Callie are cast into lives defined by isolation and loneliness. Shortly after Mike has left for his most recent assignment, Callie learns that she is pregnant. Alone and confused by Mike's long absences, she turns increasingly to Lyle for friendship and support. Not surprisingly, they fall in love.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This unusual story, beautiful and overwhelmingly sad, is set in Sicily on the craggy and barren island of Lampadusa surrounded by the bluest of seas. Everyone in the small fishing and canning village may be related; certainly, this is a place where secrets are not possible. Grazia (Varria Golino) appears to be the loveliest and most loving mother and wife, although her carefree, even childlike behavior is foreboding. The camera loves her and so do viewers who are ravished by her beauty and innocence.

With children positioned on the back of her Vespa, she and they escape to a deserted beach where she swims topless with her children; later, she releases hundreds of howling stray dogs from their inhumane confinement. Not surprisingly, spied-upon actions such as these produce critical response from more conservative neighbors whose norms are less capricious.

When signs of instability and manic depression become apparent, the community joins together to suggest hospitalization to her very supportive and heart-broken husband (Vincenzo Amato). She, like the caged-up dogs, seems to deserve the kind of freedom epitomized by her trips to the beach and will not, we sense, survive medical "imprisonment."

At this juncture, just as her wings are to be clipped, the story’s unexpected turn forces the mourning village to wonder about human frailty and reality. The ending, ultimately unclear and haunting, is a celebration of imaginative madness and ephemeral beauty. Visually stunning.

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The story is based on an actual 1950's trip by two university friends, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna). Guevara is studying medicine, Granado biochemistry. They plan to travel from Buenos Aires across the Andes Mountains to Chile, Peru, and, then, to Venezuela. Before too many miles their derelict 1939 motorcycle fails, and the two young men continue by whatever means is available. The journey intent is one of adventure--drinking, meeting women, seeing the world.

The young men do discover South America's impressive natural beauty but more strikingly, their eyes and sensibilities are directed to abject poverty and shocking injustices. These blatant inequities, as well as an extended period of time in a leper colony, contribute to the reframing of their original happy-go-lucky adventure and explain, in part, the impulses that eventually would shape Guevara's role in the Cuban Revolution.

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