Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Video Vault: Samsara & Sugar Man

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

Here on The Mountain, we've got this imperative to see every film in the world which matters.  Today's Video Vault installment has ten features that range from things you really need to see to curios and oddities, from action to animation, from true stories to partly true stories, to ghost stories, from sci-fi to James Bond and one film that defies classification.

Let's start there.

2011 /Ron Fricke
PG-13 / 102 minutes

"Samsara" is unlike any film I've seen, taking the viewer on a global journey of image and sound as if you are an alien who has landed on Earth and begun to look around.  The sights are strange and beautiful, disturbing and eloquent.  And all presented without a single word of dialogue.

I will wager that some will turn away.  Audiences need - they have been trained to need - a narrative; someone telling them the story.  "Samsara" simply shows you things and lets your imagination provide the narrative.

At first, I thought, "These are beautiful images, but this is going to be a long movie."  But after about ten minutes I found myself engrossed.  I was providing my own subtext to the film, bringing my own wonder, incredulity and meaning to the stunning displays of this world's beauty.

The word, "samsara," exists in the Buddhist culture: "Coming into existence as a mortal creature."  And in the Hindu culture: " the endless series of births, deaths, and rebirths to which all beings are subject."  But you don't need those definitions in order to set your mind adrift in this tsunami of image.  The film acts like a poem that jars emotional responses from you.

I found myself in turns mumbling things like, "Where is that?" or a quizzical laugh, "huh!" or gasping in surprise or even shock.  It is a film for film lovers.  Please try to see this film.  I watched it by myself and found it rather meditative.  I began to watch the film again with my wife and she got pulled in.  Just don't expect to be handed your entertainment, expect to participate in it.

Searching for Sugar Man
2012 - Malik Bendjelloul 
PG-13 / 86 minutes

"Searching for Sugar Man" is the story of an obscure record, "Cold Fact," and how the mysterious artist behind it, known only as "Rodriguez," vanished.

It is a story of how his music, never noticed in America and long forgotten since it's monumental flop in 1970, somehow caught on elsewhere and became the soundtrack to white kids' opposition to apartheid in South Africa.

It is the story of how fans of the record decided to find out what happened to the artist rumored to have died by his own hand in concert.  It is also the story of the redemptive power of music and a bit of a meditation on what constitutes failure and success.

The story begins with record store owner Stephen "Sugar" Segerman who begins to wonder about the record that helped shape his life growing up in South Africa and why nothing was known about its maker.  With only the gritty, urban lyrics of protest to go on, he brings the viewer along on his journey of discovery.

Segerman paints for the viewer how the music traveled and was shared clandestinely, how it was eventually banned and, thus, grew in importance and then, years later, how he traced the music to its American roots.

And what a cool musical soundtrack it is.  The songs have a Dylanesque lyrical vibe matched with a kind of studio production that is dated enough that it resonates today.  Songs like "I Wonder," "Inner City Blues" and "Sugar Man," happily, are all available for you on iTunes today.  Check the movie and I bet you wind up with the record yourself.  

1965 - Masaki Kobayashi
NR / 182 minutes

Here is a curio that Mountain Junior discovered because of his fascination with 19th century horror stories.  The book, "Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things," was published in 1904 by Lafcadio Hearn and recounts 17 spooktacular stories from the Asian culture. 

The film, which won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1965, uses four of the best tales:  "Black Hair," about a poor samurai who divorces his true love in order to marry for money; "The Woman in the Snow," about a wood-cutter whose life is spared by an icy spirit; "Hoichi the Earless," about a blind musician who sings for the dead and "In a Cup of Tea," about a man haunted by a vision in a tea-cup.

The film is a bit stagey looking, but the color and set design are very good.   The stories, being drawn from another culture, offer something new for an American audience running thin on horror ideas.

Wreck-It Ralph
2012 - Rich Moore
PG / 108 minutes

The animated film that should have won the Oscar this year in a weak year for feature length animation, "Wreck-It Ralph" takes place inside certain video games within an old-school video arcade.  (God, I miss old school video arcades.) 

The set-up is pretty standard stuff.  Ralph is a ham-fisted "bad guy" who wrecks things in his game only to have the hero, "Fix-It Felix," come on to save the day.  Ralph wishes he could win just once, but that's impossible in his game.

Ralph runs away from his game to find a chance at glory in another game, leading to the complications that could threaten the entire arcade.  Neatly, the film goes from relying on a pixilated 80's type nostalgia which begins to wear thin to a better than average payoff.

2012 - Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
PG / 93 minutes

The animated film that did win the Oscar this year is okay if you like the standard Disney princess who's fed up with her lot in life.  This one takes place in Scotland, so there's a lot of quarrelsome Scots in kilts.  There's a witch and a wish and a curse that needs undone, but it's pretty standard fare. 

Now, the LOOK of the film is just eye-popping.  There was so much detail (There's an awesomely done horse in this pic but with nowhere near the humor of the horse from "Tangled.") that the animated movie almost looked too real sometimes...  Which is an achievement, but an achievement that had me stepping back from the world of the story to look at the pretty details.  It did not feel right to me.

When you get animation that is too "good" you have to stop and appreciate the old Disney films or the films of Studio Ghibli.  Still, the movie's decent for the kids.

2012 - Ben Affleck
R / 120 minutes

Based on the strange but true story of a U.S. / Canadian plan to get six American diplomats out of Tehran during the Iranian uprising in 1980, this triple-Oscar-winner is an engrossing action picture.  Best Picture?  Not on my watch, but it is a fine film nonetheless.  

The film gained Oscar steam, I surmise, because it made Hollywood look so good.  The plot was that a CIA "Moses" would go into Tehran under a Canadian passport and come out - right through the airport and right under the noses of the Iranian authorities - with the Americans who would pose as his production crew for "Argo," a fictitious sci-fi movie.

In order for it to work, the CIA actually had to secretly enlist Hollywood's aid to actually launch the production of the film.  They had to have a script and a cast.  They had to begin production design and they had to create buzz about the movie in industry publications.  The production company had to have offices that could receive calls all so the cover story would hold up under a foreign government's scrutiny.

It was a hair-brained idea, for sure.  That they actually pulled it off is just ridiculous.  I would rather point you in the direction of smaller films that escaped your notice, but sometimes - and today's a good example - half my basket is full of A-Titles that really are worth your while.

2012 - Sam Mendes
PG-13 / 143 minutes

I got ready for the latest (possibly best) of the James Bond films by going back to the beginning, with 1962's "Dr. No."  While this film is a modern day bang-up job of an action picture, today's bond girls cannot compare to Ursula Andress as Honey Rider.  Neither can today's iteration match the camp of some of the early efforts.  But "Skyfall" does inject new life into the Bond cannon and I recommend it especially if you are not a fan of Bond films.

The film opens with a breathless chase where Bond is trying to stop the theft of information that would expose MI6 agents world-wide.  But the aging Bond (Daniel Craig) fails and operatives around the world are imperiled while the agency comes under attack at home. 

A mysterious villain (Silva, played by Javier Bardem) has got the agency on the run and only Bond, working in the shadows, can rectify the situation.  To me, it is the best Bond film to date.

2012 - Ridley Scott
R / 124 minutes

A team of archaeologists discover a clue to the origins of human life on Earth, leading to an expedition into deep space where the big questions are supposed to get answered.

The crew of the Promethius encounters the race of giants who may have begun life on Earth but they also encounter an "Alien" life form on that distant moon that could destroy both races.

An exciting and well done prequel to the Alien trilogy that director Ridley Scott began in 1979, it bodes well for at least one more quality sci-fi adventure to come.

Hubris: Selling the Iraq War
2013 - TV Documentary
44 minutes

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, it has been of particular interest to The Mountain that the neo-conservative progenitors of said deception have been blathering all over the teevee touting their "War of Liberation."

Rachel Maddow hosts this important TV-doc to set the record straight.  The war introduced the idea of "pre-emtive war," a horrible Bush II doctrine that has now been exposed as a thin cover for war-mongers.  Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Condi and Dubya can go on the talk shows all they want, but "Hubris" - based on the book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn - reminds that these villains lied our country into war.

From the whole weapons of mass destruction to the shocking and deceitful "mushroom cloud" comment to the sorry pimping of Colin Powell on the world stage at the U.N., "Hubris" reminds us that animals like Dick Cheney never leave power.  People like that always stay around, always scheming, always looking for profit at the levers of power.
Their kind are the worst kind of criminals in our world.  "Hubris" reminds us to beware when dealing with that kind of concentrated evil.  You can watch the whole documentary right here.


HOUSEKEEPING:  In my next post I'll be featuring a story on a brilliant young artist who lives here on the mountain named Joshua Wilson.  He's got a new website up and will be putting some pieces on display at a gallery over in DuBois, Pa. soon.  We'll have all those details coming right up.

FUNDRAISER: Over here in Philipsburg, I want to let you all know we're holding a Wisecrackers Comedy Club at the Philipsburg VFW on Front Street on Friday, April 19 and you can contact the mountain in person if you'd like to buy tickets in advance.  We aim to sell the thing out to support our local soccer community here.  The show will feature two full sets by two great comedians and a dance will follow.

Now, I've tried to get a number of my good friends, "Serious Jones" and "Brand New Wings," to play the dance which follows, but they've got conflicts.  So, in case I can't find a band, I'll be DJing the thing.  You should know that I'll probably be setting up a blue-tooth system where I'll be picking music right out of the cell-phones in your pocket (if you've got your stuff set to share) but I've also got a mammoth collection of music.  ALSO also, you should know that I have long been associated with very good original theater productions and I'll be lighting this dance floor like nobody's business with my personal lighting equipment.  I just hope the VFW has heavy enough breakers to handle the light I'll be throwing.  We shall see. 

In any case, have a look at the benefit flyer and please come out to see us on April 19.  The tickets are by advance sale only, so follow the directions on the flyer, okay?  Thanks.

Shawn Inlow
Osceola Mills, Pa.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed these Shawn. Somehow I've missed every one. I tend to be pretty far behind the times on movies, but several of these are great suggestions. Sugar Man and Samsara for sure. I heard a lot of bad reviews on Prometheus, so it's good to see one that didn't bash it.


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