Category Archives: W

Waiting for “Superman”

Waiting for “Superman” (2010): United States – directed by Davis Guggenheim

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mature themes

An initial fear when hearing about Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on public education might be that it is one-sided, heavy-handedly liberal, unabashedly Democratic.  It is to the director’s credit that it remains centered, objective, and incisive, as it dissects a system that has evolved nearly to a point of no return.  It is clear something must be done with public schools, but he offers few solutions short of moving entirely to charter schools.  And maybe that’s what’s necessary.

I’m not an expert on public education, and neither is Guggenheim.  What he does is examine the system, and follow five families whose children are directly influenced by their public schools.  The premise is simple, but it rests upon the notion that these children will fail if left in public schools.  They will fail at school, fail at life, and be condemned to an incomplete, unsuccessful life.  To support this assumption he looks at a lot of statistics, using cute, old-school graphics to display pertinent data.

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Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone (2010): United States – directed by Debra Granik

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some language, mature themes, some violent content

There’s a sparseness to Winter’s Bone, and a tone reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [review here].  Winter’s Bone, like certain scenes in Chain Saw, is also very cluttered.  People live in run down homes, surrounded by stuff.  Stuff is scattered across their yards, into the hills and trees surrounding their property.  The inside of each home is even more cluttered with stuff.  The grown-ups stuff consists of disused cars and school buses, and they, too, clutter the earth.

This is the world of Winter’s Bone, one in which there can be silence as the wind whistles through the trees, or gunshots echoing through the hills.  Neither is strange.  It just is.  There’s a code, too, among the people who live in these Ozark hills.  Kin means something, and so does keeping your mouth shut.  Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) understands both of these concepts, and attempts to make the most of one while adhering to the other.

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The Wildest Dream

The Wildest Dream (2010): United States – directed by Anthony Geffen

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mild language, intense themes

There’s a beauty to Mt. Everest, and a brutal ugliness.  There’s a romanticism attached to the mountain, even decades after honor, glory, and adventure went out of style in favor of pragmatism and narcissism.  Conrad Anker remembers the sense of adventure that enraptured brave explorers of the past, such as George Mallory.

In 1924 George Mallory made his final attempt to ascend Everest’s highest peaks.  Perhaps he attained the summit, perhaps not.  Regardless, he did not make it back down the mountain alive.  In 1999 modern mountaineer Anker discovered Mallory’s body.  This moment set his life on a path that would envelope him for the next ten years.

The first segment of The Wildest Dream reenacts Anker’s discovery (shot on location on Everest, the mere production of this documentary would be fascinating to witness).  It then launches into a historical discourse on Mallory’s life and exploration.

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A Walk in the Sun

A Walk in the Sun (1945): United States – directed by Lewis Milestone

Not rated by the MPAA – contains a little war violence, walking

In some respects All Quiet on the Western Front hasn’t aged particularly well.  Acting as an art wasn’t that advanced in 1930, and many scenes feel, today, forced and obvious.  In spite of these small complaints, I am rather fond of the film, as the final act is remarkably powerful.  My appreciation of Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front makes his 1945 effort, A Walk in the Sun, that much more disappointing.

The story follows the landing of an infantry platoon on the Salerno beachhead, in 1943 Italy.  The squad has vague orders to penetrate inland, and a farmhouse and bridge are given as primary considerations.  In spite of this brief historical context, the film isn’t really about any historical incident or battle.  It is more concerned with the soldiers who do the walking and fighting.

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While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping (1995): United States – directed by Jon Turteltaub

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mild profanity, some mild sexual references, some mild violence, and some extreme contrivances

Rarely do you find a film that is entirely constructed out of coincidental plot contrivances, but While You Were Sleeping might be that rare picture.  Not a single element of the story transpires because of anything that a normal person would do; the entire plot is contrived and absurd.

The film is not helped by some awful dialogue.  There are maybe five humorous lines in the movie, and some truly awful ones (“I don’t drink anymore.  I don’t drink any less, either.”)  There is some chemistry between the leads, and Sandra Bullock is likable, but these small bright spots are not enough to save the picture.

While You Were Sleeping begins with Lucy Eleanor Moderatz (Bullock) delivering a short and ultimately pointless monologue about the sad state of her life and some happy times in her past.  She soon reveals that she works for the Chicago Transit Authority collecting train fares.

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Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler

Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (1972): Japan – directed by Kazuhikio Yamaguchi

Not rated by the MPAA – contains bloody violence and some brief nudity

With the sequel to 1971’s Wandering Ginza Butterfly [review here], the story stays rather similar, but with Sonny Chiba added to the mix and gambling taking the place of hustling pool.  Nami (played again by the iconic Meiko Kaji) is once again wandering around Tokyo and the surrounding areas.  She is a professional gambler, following in the footsteps of her wrongly murdered father.  Her first act in She-Cat Gambler is to save a girl sold into prostitution.  She rescues her and takes her back to Tokyo to work as a hostess (without the sex) at a club run by an old friend of Nami’s.

Nami also runs into a no-good gambler thug and helps him out, putting him forever in her debt.  Then she runs into Ryuji (Sonny Chiba), a different character from the first film, but with the same name.  He runs the only other prostitution ring outside of the Aoshida Company, which is the evil corporation of Yakuza.  In spite of his questionable line of work, Ryuji is a decent fellow, and very kind to his girls.

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The Wizard of Oz

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The Wizard of Oz (1939): United States – directed by Victor Fleming

Not rated by the MPAA – contains scary flying monkeys

How do you start a review for The Wizard of Oz?  It is one of the most-beloved and critically lauded films of all time and I doubt I can add anything meaningful to the tomes written on it.

But I am a big fan of the movie, and getting the chance to see it on the big screen, fully restored, was fantastic.  The experience afforded the opportunity to know what it must have felt like for those first audiences back in 1939.  The enormity of the production and the amazing special effects must have absolutely blown away audiences.

The story is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie, and especially to those who have seen The Wizard of Oz, which is often considered the most-watched movie of all time.  The story is probably one of the most often referenced plots in pop culture.

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Vase de Noces (Wedding Trough)

Vase de Noces (Wedding Trough) (1974): Belgium – directed by Thierry Zéno

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence, odd “relations,” and dullness

Note: This movie is a bit strange, and the following review will discuss some plot points that may be disagreeable to certain readers.

I had heard about this movie for years.  It continually popped up on lists of the most disturbing movies of all time.  In fact, reading the description I could hardly believe it was an actual movie.

Well, it is an actual movie, but I’m afraid the most interesting thing about it is that it was made at all.  There’s one actor (unless you count a pig and three piglets) and one setting.  There is no dialogue, just an odd soundtrack consisting of farm noises and a strange mix of music.

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Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009): United States – directed by Spike Jonze

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains action violence and some mature themes

Max is a young boy, perhaps nine or ten years old.  He lives in a fairly normal neighborhood with his older sister and mom.  He has an active imagination, but sometimes that’s all he’s got going for him.  Things are occasionally rough at home, with a sister who would rather be with friends and a mom who needs to work to pay the bills.

One day, after a particularly traumatic incident, Max, feeling horrible and misunderstood, runs off down the street in his monster costume.  The little ears and tail flap alongside him as he runs, turning toward the woods, and comes to a boat sitting at the water’s edge.  He climbs in and sets sail, not knowing exactly where he’ll end up.  A storm hits, but he spots some land and heads toward it.  Avoiding the rocks and surf he pulls the boat onto the beach and starts heading inland.

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Wandering Ginza Butterfly

Wandering Ginza Butterfly (1971): Japan – directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Not rated by the MPAA – contains sexual references and some bloody violence

This is the first time this film has been released on DVD and I am quite excited.  It’s one of the many movies that the Toei Company made in the early 1970’s about the Yakuza and various gangster activities in Tokyo.

It features Meiko Kaji, the star of numerous franchises during the 1970’s.  She was not only Lady Snowblood before Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino came along, she was also in Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and other films from that franchise, and she was Prisoner 701 in the Joshuu series.  Not to mention the various Kinji Fukasaku films she starred in.

And now the folks at Synapse Films recently put together this transfer and presented us with another one of Meiko’s films.  Be careful going into it, though, because if you’re expecting something like Yakuza Deka [reviewed here] (with Sonny Chiba, who starred in Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2 with Meiko) you might be disappointed.  This is a Yakuza film, to be sure, but it’s more of a drama than an action or gangster movie.

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