All posts by Dennis Hartley

SIFF 2017: God of War ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 3, 2017)

http://i2.wp.com/pmcvariety.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/god-of-war-res.jpg?crop=0px%2C79px%2C1152px%2C641px&resize=670%2C377&ssl=1

Hong Kong action maestro Gordon Chan’s war epic stars Sammo Hung as a general with an under-trained “people’s army” desperately trying to get the upper hand on a sizable coterie of seasoned Japanese pirates who have been wreaking havoc up and down the coast. Chan has his Japanese cast members speak in-language; it’s unique for a Chinese film, and enhances the verisimilitude. Sections of the story line get murky and confusing, but colorful, rousing (and frequent) battle scenes make up for occasional lulls.

SIFF 2017: Ears **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 3, 2017)

https://i0.wp.com/www.filmlinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/1469096031585-1600x900-c-default.jpg?resize=474%2C267&ssl=1

This entry from Italian writer-director Alessandro Aronadio is a deadpan dramedy in the Jim Jarmusch vein. Filmed in stark B&W, it follows the travails of a sad sack protagonist who awakens in his girlfriend’s apartment to a ringing in his ears and a cryptic, scribbled note on the fridge. This kick-starts an increasingly bizarre and surreal day in the life. At times, it recalls Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, but unfortunately, it’s not as compelling. A few good chuckles here and there…but this film goes nowhere, fast.

SIFF 2017: Boundaries **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 3, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/cdn2.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/08/Boundaries_Still_1.jpg?resize=474%2C267

Have you ever heard of the tiny island-nation of Besco, which is located “50 km off the coast of Labrador”? Me neither. I sheepishly asked Mr. Google, and found out that it is from the mind of writer-director Chloe Robichaud (next thing you’ll tell me is that movies are totally make-believe). I admit, she really had me going for 98 minutes (oh, those Quebecois film makers!). The film is a feminist parable about an emergency summit called for by the newly-elected female president of “Besco” to negotiate possible foreign investment in the island’s iron ore. At its best, it reminded me of Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero; at its weakest, it’s uneven and ultimately too “inside” for anyone unfamiliar with Canadian politics.

Soldier’s things: a Memorial Day mix tape

By Dennis Hartley

https://i1.wp.com/images.military.com/media/benefits/memorial/vietnam-memorial-600.jpg?w=474

Memorial Day, like war itself, stirs up conflicting emotions. First and foremost, grief…for those who have been taken away (and for loved ones left behind). But there’s also anger…raging at the stupidity of a species that has been hell-bent on self destruction since Day 1.

And so the songs I’ve curated for this playlist run that gamut; from honoring the fallen and offering comfort to the grieving, to questioning those in power who start wars and ship off the sons and daughters of others to finish them, to righteous railing at the utter fucking madness of it all, and sentiments falling somewhere in between.

  1. The Doors- “The Unknown Soldier” – A eulogy; then…a wish.

2. Pete Seeger- “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” An excellent question. You may not like the answer. When will we ever learn?

3. Tom Waits- “Soldier’s Things” – Behold the power of a simple inventory. Kleenex on standby.

4. Bob Marley- “War”– Lyrics by Haile Selassie I. But you knew that.

5. The Isley Brothers- “Harvest for the World”Dress me up for battle, when all I want is peace/Those of us who pay the price, come home with the least.

6. Buffy Sainte Marie- “Universal Soldier”– Sacrifice has no borders.

7. Bob Dylan- “With God On Our Side” – Amen.

8.  John Prine- “Sam Stone” – An ode to the walking wounded.

9.  Joshua James- “Crash This Train” – Just make it stop. Please.

10. Kate Bush- “Army Dreamers”– For loved ones left behind…

Posts with related themes:

A War

The Kill Team

The Messenger

Stop-Loss

Tangerines

Waltz with Bashir

Sir! No Sir!

The Deer Hunter

The Monuments Men

Inglourious Basterds

The Wind Rises & Generation War

City of Life and Death

Le Grande Illusion

Paths of Glory

SIFF 2017: Finding Kukan ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 27, 2017)

https://i0.wp.com/4.bp.blogspot.com/-yZ8pBUuEZJc/UZxUrA232MI/AAAAAAAAEJM/5mkz__zedRs/s1600/KukanDuo+-+Copy.jpg?resize=474%2C367&ssl=1

The first documentary to win an Oscar was the 1941 film Kukan: The Battle Cry of China. There are two unfortunate footnotes. 1.) The film, a unique and historically important “front line” document of Japan’s 1937 invasion of China, has since all but vanished from the public eye. 2.) The female producer, Ling-Ai Li, was not credited. With two tantalizing mysteries to solve, film maker Robin Lung had her work cut out for her. The director’s 7-year quest yields two separate yet convergent narratives: a world-wide search for prints of Kukan for possible restoration, and the fascinating life of a previously unsung female film making pioneer. Lung nicely ties the threads together.

SIFF 2017: Lane 1974 ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 27, 2017)

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57e05e534402434aa0f846c2/t/58c71d39e3df28e446d7b167/1489444228302/

This episodic road movie/coming of age story may be too episodic for some tastes, but for those of a certain age (ahem), it hearkens back to the quietly observant character studies that flourished from the late 60s through the mid-70s  like Scarecrow, The Rain People, and Harry and Tonto. Writer-director SJ Chiro adapted her screenplay from Clane Hayward’s memoir. 13 year-old Lane (Sophia Mitri Schloss), her little brother, and their narcissistic hippie-dippy mom (Ray Donovan’s Katherine Moennig) adopt a vagabond lifestyle after they’re kicked out of a Northern California commune. Schloss delivers a lovely, naturalistic performance as a budding adolescent coming to the sad realization that she is the responsible adult in the family, and that her mother is essentially the self-centered child.

SIFF 2017: Godspeed **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 27, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/sbccfilmreviews.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/GODSPEED_01.jpg?resize=474%2C237

This neo-noir “buddy film” from Taiwanese writer-director Chung Mung-Hong concerns an aging, life-tired taxi driver (Hong Kong comedian Michael Hui) who unwittingly picks up a twitchy young drug mule (Na Dow). Blackly comic cat-and-mouse games involving rivaling mobsters ensue as the pair are pushed into an intercity road trip, with their fates now inexorably intertwined. If the setup rings a bell, yes, it is very reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Collateral, but unfortunately not in the same league. It’s not the actors’ fault; the two leads are quite good. The problem lies in the uneven pacing (an overlong and gratuitous torture scene stops the film in its tracks). Likely too many slow patches for action fans, yet too much jolting violence for those partial to road movies. It does have its moments, and I’m sure there is an audience for it, but I’m just not sure who.

SIFF 2017: A Life in Waves ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 27, 2017)

https://i2.wp.com/www.onscenes.com/uploads/9/8/6/5/98654918/published/ciani74nyc.jpeg?resize=474%2C356

While her name isn’t a household word, Suzanne Ciani is a musical polymath whose work has been heard by millions…from New Age fans to pinball enthusiasts. Brett Whitcomb’s film is an inspirational portrait of this innovative artist’s 40-year career. An early electronica pioneer, the classically-trained Ciani was in one respect too ahead of her time, because she hit the glass ceiling fairly quickly (the late 60s synth scene was a boy’s club). Undaunted, she reinvented herself as a “sound designer”, making a ton of loot devising ad jingles (and effects, like the Coca-Cola “pop and pour” sound), theme songs, game sound effects, you name it. She kept composing, eventually founding her own New Age record label and becoming a genre star. A fascinating look at a creative genius who’s managed to ride the wave at the crest between art and commerce.

SIFF 2017: Endless Poetry ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 27, 2017)

https://kultguyskeep.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/endless-poetry-2.jpg?w=474

Ever since his 1970 Leone-meets-Fellini western El Topo single-handedly redefined the meaning of “WTF?” for cult movie aficionados, Chilean film maker/poet/actor/composer/comic book writer Alejandro Jodorowsky has continued to push the envelope on all creative fronts. His new film, the second part of a “proposed pentalogy of memoirs”, follows young Alejandro (the director’s son Adan, who also composed the soundtrack) as he comes into his own as an aspiring poet. Defying his nay-saying father, he flees to Santiago and ingratiates himself with the local bohemians. He caterwauls into a tempestuous relationship with a redheaded force of nature named Stella. What ensues is the most gloriously over-the-top biopic since Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers. This audacious work of art not only conveys that its creator possesses the soul of a poet, but stands, in and of itself, as an almost tactile evocation of poetry’s soul.

SIFF 2017: Angry Inuk ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 27, 2017)

https://i1.wp.com/boxoffice.hotdocs.ca/images/user/hdff_2315/2016/Angry_Inuk_2.jpg?resize=474%2C266

Canadian film maker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril hails from an Inuk community near Baffin Island, where locals rely on traditional subsistence seal hunting; not only to literally put food on the table, but to earn a living from commercial sales of sealskin products. In 2009, the European Union banned commercial trade in all seal products except for those from Indigenous hunts. While that seems a reasonable concession, the director and her fellow Inuk activists feel that the legislators and animal rights groups miss the fact that the ban has all but killed the market for the products-thus putting the Inuk people in dire economic straits. Aranquq-Baril’s documentary is wise, witty and thought-provoking, offering up a unique perspective on this controversial issue.