Saturday, July 31, 2010

DVDebuts: Clashing Titans, Lightning Thieves & Hot Tubbers--not bad at all

Three films made their DVDebuts recently (two just this week) that are better than many of the critical establishment might have you believe.  Better, that is, in terms of simple -- but not stupid -- adventure or comedic entertainment.

CLASH OF THE TITANS, based on the old gods-demi-gods-and-mere-mortals movie, is the best of the three, thanks to Luc Besson-trained Louis Leterrier, who gave us the first two Transporter movies, the clever Unleashed and the best Hulk film so far, and who here wisely decided to make an action film that happens to be a fantasy sporting some very good special effects.  Most films in this genre descend into bloated spectacle, but for a change, Titans' running time is a mere 106 minutes, all of which move quickly. The effects are eye-popping and fun, and the acting never gets in the way of the adventure. So the movie-makers change the original myths a lot -- so what?  The myths were just stories, after all, and the one shown here, if no great shakes, has its merits. In the very large and somewhat starry cast, many better-than-average performers get lost, and lead actor Sam Worthing-tonplaying our hero Perseus, for instance, is his usual buff-cipher self. Only Mads Mikkelsen manages to embue his character with enough strength and gravity to stand out from the rest.  I suspect the Blu-Ray edition is even better than the "after-thought 3-D" version that hit theaters. Give it a try and become a kid again.

PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF is another of those dumb 'n lengthy titles that make marquees cringe, but the movie itself proves some fun, for awhile. The story is actually a better one than that of "Clash" (probably due to Rick Riordan, who wrote the novels upon which the film is based), but the execution of same by Chris Columbus, a director we once thought showed promise (Adventures in BabysittingMrs. Doubtfire), is not.  It goes mostly for the obvious, and its pacing is often off.  This one finally is too long for its own good. But the young cast is game enough, and the older actors -- Catherine Keener, Pierce Brosnan, Steve CooganJoe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman (as Medusa!) -- are fun. That story idea is quite clever: Seems the old gods are still up to their usual tricks: siring children via mortals (you just can't keep a good deity down!), and these kids are sequestered away in a kind of "forever summer camp" where they learn to battle and bond. At its best, the movie combines youthful insouciance with adult caring and concern.  If you watch, stick around for a funny (if not too surprising) "revenge moment" inserted into the end credits.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE did get some decent reviews, but as it probably looked to many of you like a CCC (crass, commercial comedy, which it is), you may have left it alone. There is a lot of fun to be had, however, especially from an actor who deserves more attention: Rob Corddry.  This guy has been funny and effective in a number of smaller roles (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Heartbreak Kid, What Happens in Vegas) though his best (in Lower Learning) was barely seen (it's on video for those who want to sample).  Here, Corddry aces the part of a loser adult who gets his second chance but has trouble facing up to it.  The rest of the cast is fine, and the time travel situation provides the usual number of laughs, along with moments of surprise, charm and even a bit of feeling.  Maybe the most memorable moment is the initial one: seeing Leo the Lion in all his Blu-Ray splendor. Are his days finally numbered, as MGM sinks deeper and deeper into the muck?
We hope not.

Friday, July 30, 2010

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS gets its theatrical release; short filmmaker Q&A

TrustMovies first reviewed this film when it had its official, public world-premiere last August, courtesy of The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Independents Night series at the Walter Reade Theater. As it is finally receiving its deserved NYC theatrical opening, here's that post again:

The question “What’s the matter with Kansas?” should immediately bring to mind Thomas Frank’s best-seller on the subject. That’s good, since the documentary film of the same name is based on Mr. Frank’s book. I have read only selections from this book, which uses our great state of Kansas to make clear how the Republican Party, in tandem with the evangelical Christian movement, has boondoggled Americans into believing that it today represents the common man. I'll let Mr. Frank's sterling words speak for themselves in the three paragraphs below:

The strategy by which they have won this triumph is instantly familiar and yet so bizarre it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s actually happened: Think of Richard Nixon extolling the virtues of the “silent majority,” or Ronald Reagan shaking his head at those crazy college professors, or George W. Bush sticking up for the “regular Americans,” or the army of pundits who have written so eloquently in recent months about the humble folk of the “red states.”

And then think of the political changes that this sappy stuff has helped to sell: Privatization. Deregulation. Monopolies in every industry from banking to radio to meatpacking. The destruction of the welfare state. The beatdown of the labor movement. The transformation of the Midwest into the rust belt. And, shimmering in the heavens above all this, the rise of a new plutocracy, a class of overlords so taken with their own magnificence that they are moved to compare themselves to the Almighty.

What we are observing, then, is a populist movement that has done irreversible harm to the material interests of the common people it professes to love so tenderly -- a form of class animosity that rages against a shadowy “elite” while enthroning a new aristocracy of bankers, brokers, and corporate thieves.

How, in god's name, has
all this
happened? That's what Mr. Frank's book and now this movie, directed & edited by Joe Winston (shown, far left) & produ-
ced by Laura Cohen (near left), help make clear. The filmmakers accomplish this by offering us -- up close and personal, in some detail, and with the blessing of the people themselves -- how certain Kansans think, feel, believe and behave.

Here comes Angel Dillard, a gung-ho-for-god mom and churchgoer with a lovely family, a beautiful voice and a backstory that pulls the rug right out from under your preconceptions; M.T. Liggett, an artist from Mullinville, KS, and a crusty, speak-out kind of guy who, I believe, has been seen in at least one other documentary (though not at the length he is shown here: That's he above, right, during the actual filming); Donn Teske (shown below), president of the Farmer's Union, a former Republican who turned independent due to the arrogance of the Bush administration; the Pastor Terry Fox (together with his flock), who manages to use the most bizarrely inappropriate (or maybe it's quite appropriate) "snake" metaphor to describe his church; Brittany Barden, a young girl from an Evangelical family who makes her quiet way toward admission to the country's premier religious school, Patrick Henry college; and many other Kansans of both right and left leaning views.

Because Mr. Winston uses no narration nor commentary, we only hear what the characters on view have to tell us. This is plenty, and we can draw our own conclusions. Filmed over several years, the movie takes us up to and just after the 2006 elections, at which point the leftward swing begins to be felt. Although the film spends more time with its Republican, Evangelical participants, we do get to hear and see some of the state's populist champions, one of whom explains that our country's radical/populist tradition began in the Midwest states. In the 1912 election, Kansas actually went for socialist Eugene Debs, and some of the work of Margaret Sanger was first published here. Who knew? Not this particular "lefty."

Although the movie ends after the 2006 Republican congressional routing, there is no feeling of relief or sense of closure in store. We spend our last minutes with Brittany Barden (shown above, center) at her college, where the fight for Christian control of the USA continues apace. With, as usual, blithe disregard of our country's founders' insistence on separation of Church and State, the good pastor explains, "The only hope for America is for the righteous to get involved in politics." And if the "righteous" happen to be wrong? Yet there's not a shred of doubt in the mind of any of the evangelicals we see here. This alone should scare the pants off intelligent viewers -- those, at least, who do not imagine themselves to be the recipients of god's word.

What's the Matter With Kansas opens today at a brand new New York screen: IndieHouse Cinema on Manhattan's West 44th Street. You can check location and screening times here.

TrustMovies heard from Joe Winston via phone just after the latter had landed here in New York City for the Lincoln Center premiere, and since the director had a few free moments to chat, that's what we did.

TrustMovies: What is Thomas Frank's feeling about your finished film?

Joe Winston: Tom has been with us the whole way. We knew Tom a little bit because we were all in Chicago, at least when he wrote the book. Then he moved to D.C. We optioned the book from him, and he gave us all his contacts, and we have now spoken to pretty much everybody that he spoke to. We still had to do our own research, though, and the main characters in the movie we found on our own.

The FSLC calls this the "world premier" of your movie. This is really the first time it's been seen? And will it have a further life here in NYC and elsewhere?

This is the only NYC screening we have lined up. And, in a sense, it is a world premier because all earlier screenings have been works-in-progress. This is the first public screening of the finished film -- which will also play in Chicago for one week, September 18-24.

My next question may have more to do with me and my hugely anti-religious feeling than with the film itself, but I was left at the end of the movie with a real pit in my stomach due to the final things we see and hear at the Christian University.

Well, our movie captures a snapshot of a moment in time when the the coalition of the American Evangelical movement and the Republican Party was beginning to come apart at the seams. We wanted to remind audiences that these people are not going away, just because they have lost a couple of elections.

I can understand why the people who were in your film could then watch the film and believe that you were on their side. Because you simply let them speak and say what they want to.

We told everyone that we were interested in them. In what they thought -- and why. And we were. We assured them we would not use any voice-overs nor commentary nor any extra narration. And so every spoken word in the movie comes out of the mouth of one of its characters.

I was also surprised at some of the things I leaned from the film: the state's liberal/progressive history.

In fact, the Midwest is the seat of some the nation earliest progessive movement.

Do have a distributor lined up for your film at this point?

We are in talks with several distributors now, which is one reason we're here in NYC. But, you know, the new wave of independent filmmakers is no longer that dependent on outside distribution. If we need or want to, we can self-distribute.

What's your film background prior to this documentary?

I have edited a lot of documentary TV shows. And I also directed and edited The Burning Man Festival movie.

You asked earlier what Tom Frank thought about this movie, so if you want to hear and learn more you can do it most easily via this site at YouTube.

(All photos are from the film itself,
except that of Winston & Cohen, at top, which is by Jim Newberry.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brigitte Berman's HUGH HEFNER bio-doc succeeds (pretty much in spite of itself)

Extremely enter-
taining: That's the first thing to be said about the new documentary HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST AND REBEL (other than what a hyped-up mouthful that title is). German-born film-
maker Brigitte Berman (shown just below) has whipped together quite a mix of past & present, using terrific histo-
rical footage of the young Hefner, his early magazine work and especially the at-home-with-Hef TV show that was supposedly shot in his penthouse apartment atop the Chicago Playboy Club (two photos below).  There is so much here of interest -- about the time periods (the 1950s through the present) and American attitudes toward culture, race, religion and sex -- that this easily trumps Hefner himself.  Despite (or maybe because of) Berman's seeming to lavish him with the praise of so many of the interviewees she has chosen, this billionaire playboy swinger still comes off as a one-dimensional boychick who never grew up.

I admit to knowing little, prior to viewing Berman's film, about all the agitating for social justice that Playboy's own playboy managed to engage in over his nearly sixty-year career (he's now 84): fighting against censorship and for sexual freedom while knocking down racial barriers.  Of course, most of this was done in the course of fighting to keep his magazine and sex empire alive and prosperous, but so what? Healthy self-interest has often been part of positive social change.

Yet, although the man claims to love women (and has always had a posse of beautiful hangers-on to prove it), no thinking person can come away from this movie without seeing how sexist Hefner and his magazine, clubs and mansion all are.  Or were.  I think only one of the clubs now remains -- in Las Vegas, 'natch, which pretty much makes up the "cultural" center of our great nation.

En route during this lengthy movie (it runs over two hours, including end credits), we meet Hef's grown daugh-
ter, visit the early days of his first marriage (and just what did happen to that first wife, who simply disappears along the way?), see him grow from a smart drone for other people's publishing ventures (he began his career at a children's magazine: yikes!) into the man who founded an entire publishing genre that is still going strong.  We hear and see friends and performers -- from Tony Bennett to Sammy Davis, Jr. (below, performing on Hef's TV show), Joan Baez to Gene Simmons (will he ever take off those dark glasses?  You'll find out); from a couple of women who still remain unconvinced of his sexual sainthood (how dare they?), Susan Brownmiller (two photos below) and Gloria Steinem. The former gets some licks in, but the latter is relegated to only a mention -- this, after her ground-breaking story of  how she posed as a Playboy Bunny!

We learn of Hef's adorable and devoted secretary, Bobbie Arnstein, whom the government appears to have harrassed into suicide, and another tale about the Vietnamese war orphans that he and his "bunnies" rescued via the official Playboy airplane.  And did you know that Mr. Hefner once received the NAACP Image Award?  Neither did I.

Yes, Dorothy Stratten (below) makes an appearance -- which has me wanting to see again the under-rated, oddball Peter Bogdanovitch movie They All Laughed -- and we hear from a few of Hefner's ladies, with enough not-quite-nasty little barbs that add to the "geriatric Peter Pan" image of this man that Berman continues to build throughout.  Former playmate and sex goddess Shannon Tweed tells of her time with Hef, who simply keeps moving from young woman to young woman to young woman.  "I don't share well," Tweed says succinctly.

Toward the finale Dr. Ruth, clearly a longtime friend and fan, tells us, "People don't take Hefner seriously."  Well, yes.  Someone else mentions that "Love is his 'Rosebud',"  and though we get the Citizen Kane reference, what the hell does that silly statement actually mean?  It finally becomes so clear that this man is simply clueless on a certain human level that this calls into question everything that Ms Berman has done.  And yet, maybe not.  Can it be that the director does not herself already realize this?  It is almost easier to believe that she knows damn well what a fake (in some ways) Hefner is and so, in order to complete the documentary and keep in his good graces, she plays by his rules, while showing us, not so much the conflicting evidence, but instead piling on the good stuff to the point to which it all begins to seem suspect. Most intelligent viewers will easily be able to read between the lines and make their own judgment, though it may take awhile (the film and its events are just so interesting!) before this realization kicks in.

In any case, the end credits sequence is a must-see, revealing a great sense of humor on the part of the director, along with further sophistication and understanding.  So don't leave before the entire film is over.

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, from Phase 4 Films, opens Friday, July 30, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center.  And perhaps elsewhere, now or later -- though I have not been able to ascertain any details because Phase 4's website is rather paltry.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leon Gast's SMASH HIS CAMERA: the wonders of a particular paparazzo

For those of you old enough to recall the burgeoning days of the paparazzi -- the Italian slang word that came to fashion internationally and described the hordes of photographers that surround celebrities like gnats, mosquitoes or other unwanted flying insects (this also constitutes the word's derivation) -- the name Ron Galella should also ring a bell.  First seen, by TrustMovies at least, on film in La Dolce Vita, Italian paparazzi came to America via Mr. Galella, who is their most famous exponent on these shores and who is, I imagine, of Italian descent. Most famous for his stalking (and his endless array of photographs) of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, America's most famous paparazzo is now the subject of a new documentary from Leon Gast (of When We Were Kings) entitled SMASH HIS CAMERA, the title of which doubles as the directive Jackie gave her secret service watchdogs regarding how to handle the ever-encroaching photographer.

You will learn all this and more (if you didn't already know it) from Mr. Gast's film (the director is shown at left).  Though whether you will want to is another matter. We watched the film at home on a large, wide-screen TV, which certainly made the work of this "noted" photographer pop.  As photographs, however, to my eye, most of them are only so-so.  Take out the celebrity and replace her/him with Ms/Mr. Nobody, and -- that's right -- nobody would pay attention.  But in our increasingly celebrity-crazed culture (though I must say the celebrities do seem to be trending down-scale), that's all you need.

What makes the movie moderately interesting is Mr. Galella himself, whom we see back in the day (just below) and now (two photos below).  His obsession with Jackie K.O. seems exactly that, and his constant stalking/photographing could drive anyone a little nuts. In a moment of rare and rather simple-minded reflection, the photographer analyzes himself and tells us that he probably was doing all this because he didn't have a girlfriend at the time. Duh. He soon had a wife, however, one who has lasted for decades and appears to provide definition to the Biblical word "helpmeet."

Along the way, we hear from yea-sayers and nay-sayers.  Gossip queen Liz Smith is one of the former, who notes that because Jackie is sort-of smiling in some of the photos Galella took, this may mean that she secretly, maybe was kinda fond of the guy and/or his work. Hmmm.)  Artist Chuck Close is one of the later, as are attorney's who worked for Ms Jackie.  Attorneys who worked/work for Galella, of course, feel differently, and one of the more interesting moments in the film comes as they argue about the nature and legality of what Galella was (and is still) doing.

Celebrities and their "reporters" have always been with us, as one of the interviewees reminds us, suggesting that the Pharaohs probably had their own instant biographers. To my mind, the paparazzi are the equivalent of visual gossip columnists. Celebrities, after all, enjoy very privileged places in the world, so perhaps they should think of these shutterbugs as necessary evils, something to be put up with in exchange for living such gilded lives. Or a better analogy: If celebrity, as has been said, is like really good, often-as-you-want-it sex, think of paparazzi as the STDs.

Back to the movie:  it's far too repetitive.  Despite blips of other celebs (Taylor and Burton on their yacht, with Liz putting up outdoor "curtains" to block the view as hordes of tourist boats pass by; some time spent on Michael Jacksonbelow), we keep coming back and back to Jackie until -- who'd a thunk it -- even she beings to bore.  And then she's dead.  And Galella feels bad.

I don't dislike Galella, or care that much about what he does, but unless you're simply celebrity-besotted, this movie is finally too long and too much. And though it appears to deal with subjects such as celebrity & privacy, art & commerce, it really has little to say or show that proves original.

Smash His Camera, from Magnolia Pictures, open this Friday, July 30, in New York City at the Cinema Village, with no other theatrical playdates apparently scheduled by the distributor.  This may be because the film, an HBO documentary, has already been shown via that for-pay cable channel and undoubtedly will be again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

THE EXTRA MAN -- from Berman, Pulcini and Ames -- revels in urban eccentricity

American eccentrics overflow the work of film-making duo Shari Springer Berman (shown below, left) and Robert Pulcini (below, right), from what you might call the eccentric celebrity-dining pictured in their 1997 debut film Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's to their masterpiece -- one of the greatest and most original movies this country has produced -- American Splendor. Even their so-so, somewhat misfired adaptation of The Nanny Diaries was saved by the eccentricities of its lead character (and the fine performance by Laura Linney, an actress who finds the latent oddities in all her characters).  Berman and Pulcini seem more than intrigued by and attracted to the oddballs among us; they actually champion them.

So it is with their latest venture, THE EXTRA MAN, set in New York City among very possibly the most eccentric group of people I have seen in a single film (unless that film was set in a mental institution).  Our hero(ine) Louis, played by Paul Dano (shown below), is a young man attracted to but as yet untutored in the art of cross-dressing, who comes to the city from a school-teaching job in Princeton, planning to become a writer modeled somewhat on F. Scott Fitzgerald and two of his characters.   The opening scene and credit sequence, beautifully done, introduces us to those two characters with a very effective and funny jolt.

Once in New York City, Louis becomes involved with one, Henry Harrison, played by Kevin Kline (below), a prime oddball who seems to live by his wits, acting as the "extra man" of the title by escorting wealthy and eccentric (don't those two words go together more often than not?) widows of Manhattan society out and about. Aside from the boss of the "green" publishing house where Louis lands a job, and one of his co-workers (played by Katie Homes), just about everyone we meet in this strange little movie is utterly bizarre. Including Henry's downstairs neighbor, played by a bearded and bewigged John C. Reilly in near-nutcase form (shown two photos below).

All this makes for some genuine laughs. For awhile. But eccentricity can be tricky: Show too much of it and a movie begins to feel unbalanced. When it's offered up in a manner like that of American Splendor -- so integral to the characters and situations on view -- it pulls us in and deepens our understanding. We come to inhabit the world of Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner (with Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis simply brilliant in their roles). The Extra Man, for all its odd situations, strange characters, and ample humor, fails to do this. We're always on the outside looking in and seldom feeling for or understanding the people we're viewing. 

Mr. Dano makes the best of the situation, partly because he is such an intuitive actor, particularly good at playing vulnerability.  His is also the character we know the most about.  Mr. Kline, on the other hand and for all his charm and verbal dexterity, is given a role in which he remains -- the filmmakers' intention, I would guess -- a mystery and thus little more than a collection of tics and oddities. He's fun, but he doesn't make us care about his character in the least.  Which makes Louis' choice at film's end something of a stretch. While our hero's decision makes a statement about the wonders of eccentricity and what he really wants out of life, I'm not sure that I buy it.

Among the supporting cast, Ms Homes, above, registers midway on the interest scale; her character seems to exist in order to convince Louis that he is better off alone and (yes) eccentric.  One of the treats of the film is  Marian Seldes, shown below with Mr. Dano and tarted up as you will seldom have seen her (so much so, in fact, that did not recognize her until reading the end credits).  Also appearing to good use are Celia Weston, as one of the hangers-on of the wealthy, and Patti D'Arbanville as an oddly low-key dominatrix who caters to the cross-dressing set.

TrustMovies admits that he was looking forward to this movie with great anticipation, which may be adding to his disappointment -- which is unfair to the filmmakers.  Still, as writer/directors, with screen-writing help from the man who wrote the novel upon which the film is based, Jonathan Ames, Berman and Pulcini have managed to show us a very peculiar New York world, while failing to enter it at all fully.  I liked the film enough, however, to wonder if I might get more from a reading of Mr. Ames original novel.

The Extra Man, from Magnolia Pictures, opens theatrically on Friday, July 30, in New York City (of course!) at the Angelika Film Center and the Clearview First @ 62nd 7.  Further playdates, cities and theaters around the country can be found here.  And if all this does not put the movie near you, there is still hope: The film is currently showing On-Demand from many of our major TV-reception providers around the country.  Check yours for its availability.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lemkin/Sambath's ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE: again, Cambodia's "killing fields"

A political philosophy that trumps decency, intelligence and honor by allowing mass murder of its own people; and the concept of the state as all-important and the individual as next-to-nothing. These "ideas" have seldom been brought home with more force and despair than they are in the new documentary ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE, from film-making duo Thet Sambath (below, right) and  Rob Lemkin (below, left). The pair met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Sambath, whose father was murdered by the Khmer Rouge, was investigating how and why this political/revolutionary group managed to slaughter so many of its own countrymen (and women and children).  Lemkin, with no familial connection to Cambodia or the "killing fields," has his own history with genocide, via the Holocaust, during which many of his father's family died at the hands of the Nazis genocide.  Lemkin was investigating rumors he had heard about Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge, when the two men met, found they had much in common and decided to work together.

The result of their labors is an odd, unusual, homemade-looking but quite fascinating and disturbing movie that revisits those killing fields from the point of view of Sambath, who subsequently lost his mother (who, after the murder of her husband, was forced to marry a Khmer Rouge soldier and subsequently died in childbirth) and brother, who "disappeared" during a party "purge."  The young Cambodian man, who is from the countryside where so much of the killing took place, revisited the area and, over years, befriended the locals, who included some of the killers, former top brass, and even Nuon Chea, aka "Brother # 2" and second-in-command to Pol Pot.

The finished film includes various talking-head interviews with all these people who, over time and with much quiet resolve, Sambath has convinced to tell their tales.  What they know is tantamount to a confession of guilt to some of the worst slaughter of our time, and if it takes its toll on the tellers, it does so, too, on us listeners. Hearing (and then watching) a fellow demonstrate how he slit the throat of bound man after bound man is shocking and finally deadening.  And this is some of the lighter stuff.

Why didn't the populace object?  Doesn't every nation finally play "follow the leader," whether in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, or lately in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yes, I am sorry, it's all comparable -- whether one is killing one's own people at home, as in the first two cases, or going abroad to do it to both our own soldiers and those of the "aggressor" state. Sambath wants to learn why this happened, and I think he and Lemkin comes closer than anyone else to discovering the why of Cambodia.  As stupid as the answer is, it is also, most probably, to be expected.

Pol Pot and Nuon Chea (shown above, left, and below, right, with Sambath) were both utter beginners to revolution.  They saw what had happened (and was still happening) in Vietnam, via the USA, who had also bombed Cambodia.  They did not trust the Vietnamese, neither the North nor the South, and so they looked instead for help and role model to China. Yes, China -- that exemplary, historical beacon for human rights (I jest). The two Cambodians simply took the Chinese Communist philosophy and applied it to their homeland, where they found, oddly enough, much of the populace wanting in proper revolutionary zeal. This was a problem that had to be solved, and the "solution" was massacre (we hear this word used over and over by a number of interviewees who speak of killing as "solving").  "Pol Pol and Nuon Chea wanted to be more 'Communist' than China," notes one fellow.  They sure were.

Some of the most horrible events are related quietly, while the camera catches backgrounds of extraordinary beauty. Occasional bits of historic newsreel footage are interspersed among the talking heads.  What we see and hear will, of course, bring to mind the Nazi/Jewish Holocaust, but in this case, thanks to Sambath, the "perps" are willing to talk and finally to confess.  This takes some time. Early on, one man insists that he actually killed but a single person; by the end of the film, he's telling us about executing ten or twelve -- on a daily basis.  By the time we get ours heads around a little of the cannibalism, well, the game is nearly up.

For his part, Nuon Chea insists that "If you had no sinful intention in your actions, then there is no sin." Hmmpf: Was he raised as a Catholic, perhaps?  He also tells us, "If we had shown mercy to the people, the nation would have been lost!"   Again: putting the state above the individual in the cruelest of ways.  "We would investigate a person," he goes on to explain, "and then we would 'solve' him."  Of course: Just like we solve our roach or mosquito problem. But then it's really boundless, isn't it -- man's inhumanity to man?

As I write this review, an email has suddenly arrived, explaining that the first verdict was handed down literally  today in the UN-backed Cambodian genocide tribunal: Kaing Guek Eav*, alias Duch, the head of the infamous S-1 torture prison, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for charges that included crimes against humanity. Pol Pot's second-in-command, Nuon Chea, mentioned above, is presently awaiting trial as the tribunal's second case.

These are old men already, unlikely to live out their sentences.  Well, it's all part of some kind of "truth and reconciliation."  We already knew what Cambodia had wrought. And now we know a bit more about why and how. But I do wonder, what have we learned that will prevent this from happening again?

Enemies of the People, an International Film Circuit release, open this Friday, July 30, at New York City's Quad Cinema and on August 6 in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall -- probably to qualify for a possible Academy Award nomination.  Like The Cove (but long after the fact and in a much quieter manner), this activist documentary, too, goes after some murderous perpetrators. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find the film on the Academy's documentary "short list" come this winter.... 

* Already, just one hour later, this fellow's sentence has been reduced by nearly half (click his link, for an update)....