Monday, May 30, 2005

MADAGASCAR




Animated cartoon

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Chris Rock: voice of Marty, a zebra at the Central Park Zoo
Ben Stiller: Marty's best friend, Alex the lion, who is the zoo’s top draw
David Schwimmer: Melman, a hypochondriac giraffe
Jada Pinkett Smith: Gloria the hippo, the zoo’s most sensible character
Sacha Baron Cohen: King Julien
Cedric the Entertainer: Maurice's right-hand man
Andy Richter: Mort, the smallest member of the lemur tribe

REVIEW
This is a fun movie with more than a few chuckles. It is bright and colourful. So are the four main characters (well maybe some of them aren’t all that bright) who share an adventure started easily enough with a “what if?” question.

After a slow start, things get going once they leave Grand Central Station. Although the target audience is certainly kids, there are some things only the adults will get. Several recreated scenes are from movies such as Chariots of Fire and Saturday Night Live that were playing in theatres 25 - 30 years ago. As a refreshing change, the movie is completely devoid of any crude humour or bad words. The only swear word comes about when a couple pieces of the big bamboo sign fall off.

CLASSIFICATION


P.S.
Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island, about 1,000 miles long and 360 miles wide. It is located 250 miles off the south-east coast of Africa.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

THE SYRIAN BRIDE




Original title: Ha-Kala Ha-Surit
Drama
In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles

BACKGROUND
Arranged marriages are practised all over the world particularly in Muslim countries. The parents negotiate the union between two prospective spouses although the extended family sometimes gets involved as well. Depending upon the circumstances, the bride and groom might meet for the first time at the wedding itself.

The Druze people are a small and distinct religious community residing mainly in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. They follow a life style of isolation where no conversion is allowed, neither out of, nor into, the religion. When Druze live among people of other religions, they try to blend in, in order to protect their religion and their own safety. They can pray as Muslims, or as Christians, depending on where they are. They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to the Arabs of the region. Most are small landowners and engage in agriculture, with apples being the dominant crop. They also raise goats, sheep and cows. The religious elders wear white stubby “stove pipe” hats and most let their beard grow long. Traditionally, the Druze are loyal to the current government of the region where they reside. Before 1967,the Druze in the Golan Heights area were loyal to the Syrian government, then became residents of Israel with no official nationality. They remain torn between their desire to unite with their families in Syria, and their wish to remain under Israeli administration and enjoy its democratic and economic advantages. The villagers practice tribal loyalty and insist that all male offspring continue to live there.

Throughout history the Golan Heights region has been an important trade route. During World War I, England took over control of the Golan from the Turks. When Syria became an independent country in 1945, this area became the extreme south-western tip of the country. For the 19 years that Syria ruled the Golan, the area was used as a military platform for continuous attacks against the settlements in the Hula, Galilee and Jordan Valleys. The Syrian army engaged in the daily shooting, shelling and bombing of innocent settlers who did nothing to them.

In 1967 the Arab-Israeli conflict known in the Western world as the Seven Day War (in Arab states, The June Aggression) resulted in Syria losing the Golan Heights to Israel. The Syrians all fled leaving behind the Druze to live in one of only four villages within the Golan. Since the war, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has controlled a buffer zone between the two countries. In December 1981 the area was officially annexed to the State of Israel. The Red Cross (the Red Crescent in Muslim countries) assists with the passage across the area of separation, most of whom are students, but also pilgrims and future brides. Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over the return of the Golan Heights but nothing ever comes of it.

President Hafez El Assad is the chief of state of Syria. Following the death of his father in July 2000, he was elected by popular vote with 97.3% of the vote for a seven-year term.

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Mona, the betrothed bride
Her older sister Amal
Their father Hammed
Their playboy brother Marwan
Their brother Hattem who is married to a Russian wife
Amal’s controlling husband Amin
Amal’s eldest daughter Mai
Simon, the betrothed groom

REVIEW
The movie is much more than just the story of Mona, a Druze bride-to-be, living in the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Quite a few controversial themes are touched upon including the politics of occupation, feminism, ethnic favouritism, tribal customs, and patriarchal domination. The acting throughout is excellent and adequate time is given for character development.

CLASSIFICATION
for some sexuality and nudity.

P.S.
Due to their lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, anybody with an Israeli stamp on their passport is denied entry to Syria, and vice versa.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

STAR WARS EPISODE III:
REVENGE OF THE SITH




Science fiction

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Hayden Christensen: Anakin Skywalker
Ewan McGregor: Obi-Wan Kenobi
R2-D2
Christopher Lee: Count Dooku
General Grievous, droid general
Natalie Portman: Anakin's wife, Padme
Ian McDiarmid: Chancellor Palpatine, leader of the Republic
Frank Oz: Master Yoda, member of the Jedi council
Peter Mayhew: Chewbacca
Samuel L. Jackson: Mace Windu
Anthony Daniels: C-3PO

REVIEW
A little long at 2½ hours, it has most of the trademark features of previous Star War films: great special effects, lots of action (including quite a few lightsaber fights), stilted acting by some of the cast and conflicts galore.
Unlike the others, this one is not a happy-go-lucky outing: there are several tough moral situations that come up about good and evil, right and wrong. How these are dealt with makes for interesting viewing.

CLASSIFICATION
for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

MYSTERY OF THE NILE




IMAX documentary

REVIEW
They say this is the first time it’s ever been done: a group travelled along the Nile by boat from source to sea. The source is Lake Tana in Ethiopia and as the longest river in the world, the Nile surges more than 3,000 miles to the Mediterranean Sea.

While primarily documenting the rafting adventure of the group, along the way we are treated to some of the most stunning aerial shots ever seen of the African countryside. With frequent stops during the four-month adventure, we get to see pyramids and people, religion and river.

However it’s a shame the producers chose to skim over several historically important areas along the Nile such as Luxor, the Valley of the Queens and Cairo. Each is given but a minute or two, hardly adequate recognition of their importance to the world’s culture.

CLASSIFICATION

THE YEAR OF THE YAO




Sports documentary

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Yao Ming, a 22-year-old 7'5" basketball player
His rookie translator, Chinese-loving 28-year-old American Colin Pine
Shaquille (aka Shaq) O'Neal, the NBA's former tallest player at 7' 1" and 325 lbs

REVIEW
The rookie year of a basketball sensation from China is documented in a straightforward chronological order. Along the way we get to see the contrast in Eastern and Western cultures as Yao works hard at acclimatising to the American way of life. Although centred on sport, the film is more about the human capacity of dealing with adversity.

CLASSIFICATION
for some mild language.

ENRON
THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM




Documentary

BACKGROUND
Since 1997, mark-to-market (MTM) accounting has enabled companies to change the tax status of their earnings from capital gains or capital losses to ordinary income or losses. This occurs on the last day of the year, at which time they tally all of their open holdings as if they were selling them at the market price that day. In other words, the holdings are "marked to market".

On January 1st, they re-tally their holdings as if they were repurchasing them at the current price. The basis of each holding is then adjusted to reflect these hypothetical gains and losses for tax purposes.

The MTM method of accounting also allows companies to include as current earnings the profits they expect to earn in the future from energy-related contracts. At the end of each quarter when companies typically have these type of contracts on their balance sheets, their CFOs then estimate the fair value of the contracts, based in part on their forecasts for market conditions.

These quarterly changes in noncash values subsequently show up on income statements. Corporate managers have wide discretion in how they can interpret this rule. The independent Financial Accounting Standards Board debated this technique for the past three years, but ultimately decided to leave the interpretation to the individual companies.


PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Kenneth Lay: Enron Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Jeff Skilling: President
Andrew Fastow: Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
J. Clifford Baxter: Vice Chairman

REVIEW
The movie provides an insight how the executives of Enron (one of America’s biggest companies, seventh largest at one point in time) exploited loopholes in existing business law and created new business models to defraud the public. But beyond being an entertaining, informative and complex financial story, the movie is about human fallibility, greed and arrogance.

Along the way new facts come to light: the involvement of the Bush family in this endeavour and how the company exploited deregulation to manipulate the California electricity crisis and the effects it had on the people living out there.

CLASSIFICATION
for language and some nudity

Saturday, May 14, 2005

CRASH




Drama

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Don Cheadle: Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective Graham Waters
Jennifer Esposito: Ria, his girlfriend and partner
Brendan Fraser: Rick Cabot, LA District Attorney
Sandra Bullock: his wife Jean
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges: Anthony, a young black
Larenz Tate: Anthony’s friend Peter
Michael Pena: Latino locksmith Daniel
Matt Dillon: LAPD Officer Jack Ryan
Ryan Phillippe: Ryan's rookie partner Hanson Thomas
Terrence Howard: TV producer Cameron
Thandie Newton: his wife Christine
Shaun Toub: Farhad an Iranian immigrant shop owner
Bahar Soomekh: his daughter

REVIEW
Probably no other movie explores the subject of racism as deeply as this one. We get to see seven groups of people living in Los Angeles, and how everyone has their own prejudices and intolerances. How they handle them makes for interesting comparisons. The acting throughout is uniformly excellent.

CLASSIFICATION
for language, nudity and violence

FOR NITPICKERS ONLY
Near the end of the movie, a fender bender occurs when one car rear-ends another. Both drivers get out of their cars which are still within a foot of each other. As they argue about whose fault it is, the camera angle changes to an overhead shot. The cars are now four feet apart.

P.S.
Never did figure out how the LAPD Internal Investigation fit into the whole scheme of things. Seems like an unnecessary diversion.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

THE EXILES




Original title: Exils
Drama
In French and Arabic with English subtitles

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Zano, a young man living in Paris
His girl friend Naima

REVIEW
Although it could be considered a “coming of age” type movie, it seems more like a travelogue. As the two principal characters make their way to Algeria, we get to see the Andalusian part of Southern Spain and Morocco. The dialog is kept to a minimum, replaced in part by music of various sorts. But the whole thing at two hours is far too long. Unless you are a big fan of Algerian music, the fifteen minutes devoted solely to one dance sequence near the end is enough to make you get up and leave.

CLASSIFICATION
for some sexual content, brief nudity, mild language and some drug references.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

THE INTERPRETER




Original title: L’Interpr├Ęte (France)
Thriller

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Nicole Kidman: Silvia Broome, a UN interpreter
Sean Penn: Tobin Keller, a Secret Service agent
Dr. Edmond Zuwanie, dictator of Matobo, aka the Teacher

REVIEW
Too long, too complicated and too boring. At 2 hours and 9 minutes there is a need for some serious editing. And the story is very convoluted. Perhaps the reason it’s so confusing is because five writers collaborated on it? The movie also suffers from being slow and dull in spots. But it’s the acting, or should I say lack of acting: the roles the two lead actors are given requires very little of them. In fact, they could probably do it in their sleep.

CLASSIFICATION
for violence, some sexual content and brief strong language.

FOR NITPICKERS ONLY
Silvia gets slightly injured and winds up with blood on her left cheek. Sometimes it almost touches the corner of her mouth, while most of the time it is much shorter.

TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS




Original title: Dzongkha chang hup thengi thruel nang
Drama
In the the Himalayan dialect of Bhutan with English subtitles

PRINCIPAL CAST MEMBERS
Dondup, a restless university graduate working as a government officer in a remote rural village
A Buddhist Monk
An old apple seller
An old papermaker
His beautiful young daughter, Sonam
Tashi, a restless farm youth studying magic in a remote rural village
An old recluse named Agay
His beautiful young wife Deki

REVIEW
This is a movie about two men taking separate but similar trips with more than one theme: “we do not always get what we aim for” and “is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?” But it takes far too much time to deal with them, almost two hours. Everything evolves at a snail’s pace and a lot of patience is required to stay focused.

CLASSIFICATION
for some sexuality and violence.

P.S.
Some of the scenery is absolutely stunning.