Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fabulous Foreigners

Before I talk about the “fabulous foreigners” I want to thank everyone that attended the screening of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” on Saturday! We are getting an excellent turn-out (although there is always room for more!) and I am glad that the earlier films of Johnny Depp seem to be a crowd pleaser. The next film is “Ed Wood” and will be screened on July 14th (mark the date!).

Now on to those fabulous foreigners and by that I mean, of course, foreign films!! Last year was a spectacular year for foreign submissions for the Academy Awards. All five films are truly worth your time. Last years Foreign Language Oscars were notable on two counts: first, it was the first year that countries were officially allowed to submit movies in languages that were not indigenous to the submitting country. This allowed Canada to submit a Hindi-language film for the first time. And second, it was the first time that all of the foreign films had U.S. distribution from a major company. It is a “good thing” that more Americans seem to be appreciating foreign films and with films like these, how could you not!

After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet ) – Denmark
Jacob Petersen (the wonderful Mads Mikkelsen) has dedicated his life to helping street children in India. When the orphanage he heads is threatened by closure, he receives an unusual offer. A Danish businessman, Jørgen, offers him a donation of $4 million dollars. There are, however, certain conditions... (available at HBPL)

Days of Glory (Indigènes) – Algeria
During WWII, four North African men enlist in the French army to liberate that country from Nazi oppression, and to fight French discrimination. This film won the best actor award for its four key cast members at Cannes and ignited a debate about whether France had done right by these soldiers. The result was a change in French government policy bringing foreign combatant pensions into line with what French veterans are paid. Movies do make a difference! (Available at HBPL)

Water – Canada
The director of Water, Deepa Mehta, went through quite a bit to get this film made. Production was continually disrupted by religious fundamentalists who staged demonstrations, torched the filmmaker's sets, and threatened her life. Fortunately for us, she was not thwarted! This film examines the plight of a group of widows living in a temple in Varanasi in fundamentalist Hindu society in 1938. When a woman is widowed, she has three options: (1) to throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre, (2) to marry his brother (if he has one and it is permitted by the family), or (3) to live in poverty in a group home for widows. (Available at HBPL)

Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno ) – Mexico
Ofelia's mother tells her young daughter that she's getting too old for the fairytales she loves so much. But for Ofelia, living in the uncertainty of 1944 Spain and suspicious of her new stepfather, Captain Vidal, her books are more than just stories. They are a refuge from the grim everyday world, and as she and Carmen move to a remote military outpost to live with the captain, the books are a portal to her escape. (Available at HBPL)
Pan’s Labyrinth was really expected to take away the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year. Its’ international nominations were extensive as were its’ many wins. (see the IMDB for a list of wins/nominations http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/awards). And in another year it might have won…but it had the misfortune to be nominated the same year as:

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen ) – Germany
This film is set in the East Germany of 1984, five years before the Berlin Wall collapsed. It was a time when the terrifying Stasi, the secret police, made it their business to use an extensive network of spies and surveillance to know every secret thing about their citizens. Stasi Capt. Gerd Wiesler, is a true believer in the system. That is until he starts empathizing with those upon whose lives he is required to eavesdrop. (Available at HBPL on 8/21/07).
This Academy Award winner is worth the wait!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Low Browin’ with the Guilty Pleasures

I was browsing the new DVD titles in our Media section this week to find a worthy film to fill an evening. My eyes scanned the titles, seeing such great titles as Blood Diamond, Children of Men, Bobby, and The Queen. We DO have a great collection of current DVD’s here at HBPL!! Unfortunately, I had already seen all of these but then a title caught my eye. Something I hadn’t seen. But should I take it home? Would my film festival-going friends forgive me? What the heck! I lowered my expectations and took home Epic Movie.
If you saw and enjoyed Scary Movie (which is a parody on all the scary movies ever made), then this is the film for you. If you saw the Chronicles of Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the DaVinci Code or Nacho Libre; then this film will mean a lot more to you. Each of these shows up as major parts of this film parody.

Yes, it does have some risqué bits in it. Yes, it is certainly low-brow humor. But the moment I recognized the delightfully creepy Crispin Glover portraying “Willy Wonka”, I knew this film had something going for it. Which was only confirmed when I realized that the talented Darrell Hammond from Saturday Night Live was behind the pirate make-up of the Captain Jack Sparrow want-to-be. (and if you are a fan of SNL’s Lazy Sunday digital short, prepare for the pirate version!). And if Crispin Glover and Darrell Hammond weren’t enough, Epic Movie also has Kal Penn. Some may know him from his dramatic roles as the Indian son in my fore mentioned film The Namesake or his recurring role as a terrorist on the television show 24. But I know Kal Penn because he stars in one of my favorite guilty pleasure films: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. (available at HBPL!)

So check your brain at the door, be warned that this film can be rude and crude but prepare to spend an evening laughing at Epic Movie.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Hurray for Bollywood !

Every year India produces almost 1000 films, which is twice the number that comes out of Hollywood. The local film industry is called Bollywood (the B being for Bombay; before it changed its name to Mumbai). Bollywood movies often are quite long; 3 hours or more of dancing and singing around love as the main plot - although the screen quickly fades to black when there is a kiss eminent. More than 4 billion movie tickets are purchased in India in comparison to the 3 billion here in the United States (of course, the cost of a movie ticket is quite a bit lower in India! The average ticket price is about a dollar!).
But India cinema has more going for it than the mass produced Bollywood films; India gave us Mira Nair.
Mira Nair was born in Bhubaneswar, a city on the east coast of India. She was educated at Delhi University and at Harvard. Her debut feature film, Salaam Bombay! was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988. She is definitely a director whose films are worth discovering and also someone whose future bears watching. She has just begun to direct!
Mira Nair films available at the Huntington Beach Public Library:

Salaam Bombay! : The film chronicles the day-to-day life of children living on the streets of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Despite the movie's often dark subject matter, Salaam Bombay! is ultimately a tale of hope and perseverance.

Mississippi Masala: An Indian family is expelled from Uganda when Idi Amin takes power. They move to Mississippi and try to find a new life in America. When the Indian daughter falls in love with a black man (played by Denzel Washington) the acceptance of the couple by the respective families is complicated by family issues and past prejudices.

Monsoon Wedding (the most Bollywood-esque of Mira Nair’s films): Combine a stressed father, a bride-to-be with a secret, a smitten event planner, relatives from around the world arriving to attend the wedding, lots of music and festivities and what do you have? A fun and touching film that creates much ado about the preparations for an arranged marriage in India.

Vanity Fair: Growing up poor in London, Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) defies her poverty-stricken background and ascends the social ladder alongside her best friend, Amelia. Mira Nair uses her unique touch to create this version of the Thackeray classic.

Her current film is The Namesake. It is a beautiful film based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel of the same name. (This is one of those rare times that the movie is almost as good as the book!) You can still catch this in the movie theaters but if you miss it, hopefully it will be released on DVD later this year!

Palme d’Or 2007

It was a proud and unprecedented day for Romanian cinema. Romanian director, Cristian Mungiu, has won the Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. His movie Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days beat out 21 other feature films, including those by big-name directors like the Coen brothers (No Country for Old Men) and Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof). Felicitare Romania!