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Friday, October 26, 2012

Movies You Missed 61: The Invisible War

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 5:48 PM

This week in movies you missed: Rape happens with alarming frequency in the U.S. military. And most perpetrators get off scot-free.

What You Missed

Director Kirby Dick has brought us muckracking documentaries on closeted politicians who take public antigay stances (Outrage) and the MPAA ratings system (This Film Is Not Yet Rated). In The Invisible War, he sets his sights on a seeming epidemic of sexual assault in our armed forces. Twenty percent of female veterans report having experienced it, and it’s not solely women; one study claims almost 20,000 male soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2009.

An estimated 80 percent of such crimes go unreported, and the film demonstrates why. The military’s long-time policy has been to require soldiers to report all assaults to their unit commanders — even when those commanders are the perpetrators. Sgt. Myla Haider, who investigated such crimes and then became the victim of one, delivers a succinct judgment on the system. It might as well be designed, she says, “to help women get raped better.”

Dick lets the survivors of these crimes speak for themselves in interviews. There are many, of both sexes and various ages; their stories are harrowing, and their anger is palpable. The film follows a group of women attempting to use legal action to bring attention to the issue.

They failed to initiate reform — but The Invisible War succeeded. A coda to the film notes that, two days after he watched it, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced new rules for the handling of sexual assault in the military.

Why You Missed It

Aside from a screening last Saturday at the Vermont International Film Festival, The Invisible War never got here.

Should You Keep Missing It?

The Invisible War isn’t the easiest film to watch, but it’s worth it — not just to work up your outrage (though you should), but to learn more about today’s military, who joins, and how it works (or doesn’t).

Some viewers may not be happy that progressive filmmaker Dick doesn’t take a stand against the military itself. But that’s something I appreciated, because to use these women’s testimony to bash the armed forces or America’s “war culture” would not be true to them.

The interviewees are highly diverse: a married lesbian in San Francisco; a Christian mom in Ohio; a military brat (Seaman Recruit Hannah Sewell, pictured with her father, Sgt. Major Jerry Sewell) who called her dad in tears to tell him she was no longer a virgin. Some are emotional; others are stoic. What they all seem to share is a strong commitment to military service. In most cases, the commitment is still there, coupled with an astonishment at how badly the system — and, in some cases, fellow soldiers they considered their “brothers” — betrayed them.

It’s a sobering documentary that will make you think about why rape culture thrives in certain closed environments (male-on-male rape, too, we’re reminded), and what we can do about it. Is it enough to tell women to walk in pairs and men to “wait until she’s sober,” as the armed forces has been doing through its preventive campaign? Not even close. The problem, we’re shown, involves egregious and deliberate abuse of power by individuals who know they won’t face consequences. Change won’t come until they do.

Verdict: an advocacy doc that does more than preach to the converted.

More New DVD Releases

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Crooked Arrows (at last, a sports movie about lacrosse!)

Free Men (WWII tale of an Algerian in the French Resistance)

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection

Magic Mike

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (the world’s first apocalyptic rom com)

Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley directed this well-reviewed drama in which Michelle Williams is torn between her husband [Seth Rogen] and a guy she just met.)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Movies You Missed 61: Oslo, August 31st

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 4:09 PM

This week in movies you missed: a day in the life of a recovering addict.

What You Missed

Thirty-four-year-old Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) has been in rehab for the past 10 months. The morning after his first overnight leave, he wakes beside a woman in a motel, leaves, tramps through the woods and tries to drown himself in a pond.

It’s harder than he thought. So Anders goes through with the plan for August 30: He takes a cab into his hometown of Oslo, sees an old friend and has a job interview. Everyone encourages Anders to focus on the future, but as he sees his contemporaries moving past him — starting careers and families — he wonders if he has one. Has he spent too much time “partying” to start over? Will his former girlfriend, who once tried to save him, even answer his calls? Can he withstand the city’s temptations as night falls?

Why You Missed It

Oslo, August 31st, the second film from young Norwegian director Joachim Trier (Reprise), premiered at Cannes but screened in just seven U.S. theaters.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Much like an Elliott Smith song, Oslo, August 31st is an aesthetically pleasant experience that becomes incredibly depressing once you get below the surface prettiness and hear those suicidal lyrics. But the combination of visual beauty (that Scandinavian summer light!) and uncompromising melancholy has its own rewards.

Trier based the film loosely on Le Feu Follet, a 1963 Louis Malle movie (itself based on the Pierre Drieu La Rochelle novel) about a recovering alcoholic contemplating suicide. Oslo asks the question: Why would someone with so much promise on paper — Anders is, after all, still young, supported by his well-off parents, bright and well spoken — want to end everything? And answers it.

Not everyone will be satisfied with that answer. But Trier captures his protagonist’s mood of disappointment and nostalgia so acutely that it’s hard not to feel it, too. That mood is tied to the city itself: The film opens with footage of street scenes accompanied by voiceovers of several people discussing their memories of Oslo. Who are these people? It doesn’t matter, but they do indicate there’s a collective element to Anders’ experience.

That opening bears fruit in a later scene, the boldest one in the movie, where Anders sits alone in a café. As he watches passersby, we see quick montages of where they’re going (or where he imagines they’re going). Conversations in the café fade in and out as Anders overhears them. But one voice eventually dominates: that of a young woman reading a list of goals (or wishes) for her future. Her plans range from the mundane (get married and have kids) to the wildly ambitious to the weird, and she keeps going till it’s obvious that no one on earth could check off every item on this bucket list.

And there sits our protagonist, whose goals have narrowed, at least for the past 10 months, to sobriety. His friends are better off, but their prospects have narrowed, too: One spends his free time playing video games; another worries she’ll lose her friends if she doesn’t get pregnant soon.

No wonder that later in the film, when Anders meets a college girl out for a good time, he tells her she’ll forget what transpires between them that night: “It’s a law of nature.” When you’re young, every night out could be the beginning of an amazing adventure. When you’re older, you know it’s not that easy to break the patterns and start over from scratch.

Verdict: It will stick with me, for the same reasons as Beginners and The Future.

More New DVD Releases

Appropriate Adult (British TV drama about two serial killers, with Emily Watson and Dominic West)

The Cup (true story of a winning jockey, with Brendan Gleeson)

The Forgiveness of Blood (drama about Albanian blood feuding)

The Heineken Kidnapping (Rutger Hauer plays the Dutch beer magnate)

Moonrise Kingdom

Neil Young Journeys (Jonathan Demme captures Young on a road trip and in performance.)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Movies You Missed 60: Restless City

Our weekly review of flicks that skipped Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 at 5:50 PM

This week in movies you missed: the mean streets of New York from a 21st-century immigrant’s point of view.

What You Missed

Djibril (Alassane Sy) is a 21-year-old from Dakar, Senegal, who makes his living selling bootleg CDs at a stall on Canal Street. In his free time, he zips around the city on a Vespa, wearing sporty headphones that indicate his real passion: music.

Djibril steers clear of trouble, which means he avoids taking loans from his supplier (Anthony Okungbowa), who runs whores, employs thugs and generally acts like the mob boss of the immigrant subcommunity. Then Djibril falls in love with one of those whores, Trini (Nicole Sky Grey), and realizes he needs the funds to record a demo of his music. Can he achieve his American dream without being sucked into the whirlpool of urban crime?

Why You Missed It

According to Box Office Mojo, Restless City was released in three theaters for just three days.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Restless City is one of those films I can’t be objective about, because I care so much about story. When the ratio of gorgeous visuals to narrative in a movie soars out of sight, I lose interest.

Directed by Andrew Dosunmu, a Nigerian high-fashion photographer who has also shot videos for a score of artists (including Tracy Chapman and Common), Restless City looks amazing. (Cinematographer Bradford Young, working here with the Red digital camera, also did the excellent Pariah.) Virtually every other shot makes clever use of reflections and reflective surfaces, while the drab streets of Manhattan emerge in warm, ripe shades. There’s some dramatic use of the color red that had me wondering if my DVD player was defective (still not sure on that).

Both Sy and Grey could be models, and Dosunmu creates stunning urban tableaux with them. But the narrative is so basic, and so retro (especially the “redeemed prostitute” aspect), that it makes The Artist seem convoluted.

In an opening voiceover, Djibril notes that now he’s in America, his kid could grow up to be president. Hope and change, indeed. But we don’t see much of this optimism, or any real drive or can-do spirit, from Djibril in subsequent scenes. We don’t even see him perform his music. He comes across as moody, retiring and a bit moralistic, in ways that lack of cultural context may prevent most American viewers from understanding or relating to. It doesn’t help that Dosunmu often shoots his actors from a distance or with shadowed faces, seeming to value them more as physical textures than as dynamic presences.

We need more stories about the new waves of immigrants. I just wish this one had more going on.

Verdict: one of those films where every shot is a poster I’d hang on my wall, but I don’t want to see it again.

More New DVD Releases

30 Beats (Lots of sex happens in NYC over three summer days.)

Being in the World (Philosophy documentary asks if modern “masters” of various crafts can help bring meaning to our lives.)

The Courier (Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a delivery to super-assassin Mickey Rourke.)

Crazy Eyes (Lukas Haas finds his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, only she’s insane.)

Prometheus

The Raven

Rock of Ages

Shut Up and Play the Hits (Doc about LCD Soundsystem's final show)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Movies You Missed 59: Sound of My Voice

Our weekly review of flicks that never reached Vermont theaters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Changes.”This week in movies you missed: If someone told you she was a time traveler from the future and the future would totally suck, would you believe her?

What You Missed

In a basement somewhere in LA’s San Fernando Valley, there’s a young woman named Maggie (Brit Marling, pictured) who claims to be a time traveler from 2054. She’s gathering a group of followers whom she hopes to prepare, she says, for a “civil war” and other vague disasters to come.

Would-be documentarians Peter and Lorna (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) infiltrate Maggie’s group, which they see as a potentially dangerous cult, to collect video evidence of its activities. They must submit to being searched, disinfected and blindfolded. But the real test comes when Maggie begins to break down their psychological defenses, sensing in the troubled Peter someone who could be powerfully resistant to her message — or responsive to it.

Why You Missed It

Sound of My Voice played for just a week at Montpelier’s Savoy Theater.

Should You Keep Missing It?

It’s not easy to maintain genuine suspense for the length of a movie when you’re working on a budget that doesn’t allow you to use thrills and chases to distract the audience. Until the end of Sound of My Voice, his feature debut, director Zal Batmanglij does just that.

The suspense involves an existential question: Is Maggie really from 2054? Or is she a con woman, or crazy? If the former is true, then the film we’re seeing is a low-tech version of The Terminator as reimagined by futurist James Howard Kunstler. (Maggie’s message is right in line with his, and won’t surprise Vermonters.) But if Maggie is a fraud, then the film is about Peter and Lorna — primarily Peter, who has a personal reason to despise cults — and how this charismatic individual plays on their weaknesses.

The end of the film appears to answer that question, but then it just stops, without exploring the unsettling implications of that answer. According to Batmanglij (who isn’t related to Batman, but is related to the guy from Vampire Weekend), that’s because Sound of My Voice is actually the first film in a trilogy. Will we ever get to see the continuation? Uh, maybe.

Some viewers may be fine with the abrupt ending; I wasn’t. But that’s only because Sound of My Voice is so much better paced and better thought out than your average indie pic that it raises expectations.

A time-travel film like Looper can get by on visuals, star power and action, which is why director Rian Johnson made me so happy by also telling a great story. But a low-budget, high-concept film like Sound of My Voice stands and falls on its story, and false notes in the script or acting will kill it. Denham (especially) and Vicius both give strong performances, but Marling’s part is key, and, as star and cowriter, she delivers the goods. Maggie is a believable cult leader: sisterly and likable one moment, high handed and creepy the next. The scene where she sings a hit song “from the future” is the film’s high point — even if it will put an earworm in your head for the next week.

Marling also wrote and starred in the indie Another Earth and played Richard Gere’s daughter in Arbitrage. More importantly from the Hollywood point of view, she looks like a blonde young Julia Roberts, so expect her to start appearing in blockbusters as the hero’s girlfriend any time now. Then you can say you knew her when.

Verdict: See it, perhaps in a double feature with Primer or Safety Not Guaranteed. But if you see it with a homesteading friend, be prepared for smug comments about how they won't need to eat worms when the Collapse comes.

More New DVD Releases

Five (Five short films about breast cancer with celebrity directors)

Iron Sky (Udo Kier in a campfest that asks, “What if the Nazis still had a moon base?”)

The Lady (Biopic about Burmese democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi)

Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Documentary asks where all that money raised “for the cure” actually goes.)

Produced by George Martin (Doc about the legendary music producer)

Red Lights (Paranormal researcher Sigourney Weaver tries to discredit blind psychic Robert DeNiro.)

Surviving Progress (Documentary about how progress might actually suck, with Stephen Hawking)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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