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Whores’ Glory (2011)

24 Mar

Whores'_Glory_(US_dvd_cover)Any documentaries involving real sex are going to draw in and intrigue viewers. Rather than being a gratuitous nudy romp, Whores’ Glory, directed by Michael Glawogger, shows the human side of the sex industry in three international cities: Bangladesh, India; Reynosa, Mexico and Bangkok, Thailand. The film focuses mainly on the women involved in sex work, their lives inside -and in some cases outside of- the brothels, and their motivation for working in this dangerous and usually degrading work. This movie is an interesting counterpoint, or perhaps more of a missing puzzle piece, to The Great Happiness Space, which focused on male escort clubs instead of female brothels.

I have studied about women in sex work before, (see Sex at the Margins by Laura María Agustín), so I was not surprised at the various factors that led these women to the sex industry. Nonetheless, the movie is a great sociological exposé about the men who receive their services, and the society that creates the contradictory climate where sex work is stigmatized and shunned, yet in high demand, as it has been since the beginning of civilized society. This film is a geographic and social dissertation in movie form, and yes, that means it gave me an academic boner. (Pun intended).

I found India to be the most eye-opening chapter in this three-part documentary. The caste system at play and the words of the informants in this chapter highlighted some key societal elements that lead to prostitution, at least in the case of Bangladesh. Though I would argue that the message extends far beyond those borders and sheds light on not only prostitution, but on a prevalent rape culture in many nations across the world. You may have noticed that we are beginning to open up dialogues about rape culture, most recently in the fore due to the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that has made headlines across the world.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned 2-digit number.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned number.

The madame of one of the Indian brothels talks about the vicious cycle that befalls women in sex work there:

This is our whole life. What else do we have? Think of my daughter. Because her mother is a whore, no one will marry her… When I am very old, I won’t be able to support her. She’ll have no choice. She’ll become a whore. The outside world pushes us out of the way to make room. Those people are our clients. Outside they are disgusted by us; in here, they love us and our bodies.

A barber in Bangladesh speaks out as an advocate of the brothels and an apologist for rape culture in India:

Without the… brothel district women couldn’t go out in the street without being molested. Men would be so horny they would rape them. Without those women, men would be screwing cows and goats.

A fascinating slew of vignettes make for an enlightening documentary for those viewers who still have an image of a crack-addicted street walker when they hear the word “prostitute,” Whores’ Glory is certainly worth the watch.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2002)

8 Mar

VZ movie posterI have a particular interest in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and revolutionary movements of Latin America, as you may already know if you read my review on South of the Border, an Oliver Stone documentary on the topic of Chávez and Venezuela. In that review I also mentioned that there is a better doc out there that gets a little more down and dirty into the details of Chávez’s rise to power, from the 1989 Caracazo (Chávez’s failed military coup) to the 2002 political and media climate surrounding the now-deceased Hugo Chávez Frías. That documentary is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (a.k.a. Chavez: Inside the Coup). This movie is a must-see for novices and experts alike, especially in light of Chávez’s death, and the inevitable turmoil that will come of this.

I would like to do something a little different in this post. It is less of a movie review and more of a reflection on Hugo Chávez. Just know that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is, in my opinion, the best documentary out there on Hugo Chávez, and it is available online for free (link below), so there is absolutely no excuse not to see it. Of course as the holder of a Latin American Studies MA, I am somewhat partial to keeping yourself informed with Latin American politics. But Hugo Chávez has reached throughout Latin America and beyond, right to the US and George W. Bush’s dumb face to deliver a bitch slap. His death spells uncertainty for the future of not only Venezuela.

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

I traveled to Venezuela on a Witness for Peace delegation. That short, 10-day trip, was an eye-opener and, dare I say, life-changer. We spoke to Venezuelans from both ends of the political spectrum, to Chávez supporters and dissenters. My overwhelming conclusion was that Chávez has done much more for Venezuela than any other president ever has or could. I will try to keep this brief, but I want to throw my two cents in on an on-going and heated debate between the pro- and anti-Chávez masses…

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. The political elites of the nation had enjoyed the profits of this wealth for decades, leaving the majority of the marginalized poor in the mire of poverty. For the most part, these old school elites are the ones who speak out against Chávez because he messed with their money, and they didn’t like that. What he did was use this oil revenue to help bring the poor out of their horrific conditions. This money was filtered into Chávez many “Misiones” or Missions, social programs that were benefactors of the Venezuelan poor. These

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

missions have provided free education to children, the illiterate, and college students. They have reforested areas of the country, built and re-built ramshackle settlements in the mountains of Caracas, and brought FREE healthcare to anyone and everyone in the nation. One sight that will stay with me forever was the in-progress mission involving the lighting up of the poor hillside neighborhoods of Caracas. We landed in Caracas at night, and on our trip to our hotel we could see these communities in the distance. They started out as a speckle of yellow lights nestled in the hills. As we approached the city center, the lights became bluer and denser. The government had been providing free compact fluorescent bulbs to these communities, and along with that, electricity to many houses that did not have it previously. It was a beautiful sight that summed up the changes happening because of Chávez.

We spoke to those who had been helped by Chávez, many of them in La Bombilla, one

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

of the poorest communities in Caracas (much like the favelas of Brazil). Many of these people had framed and hung photos of the President in their homes because they loved him so much. They spoke of him as if he were family. They showed us the parts of their house that used to be made of cardboard, homes that just recently received plumbing and electricity. We visited the schools and health clinics in these neighborhoods which helped keep the community healthy and children off of the streets and put them into the classroom. I heard them sing the praises of Chávez with tears of gratitude in their eyes. Compared to the elites who spoke out against Chávez, these people seemed so much more thankful for their happiness, for what little they had all thanks to government assistance.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

Conclusion: Critics of Chávez were (and still are) afraid of him NOT because he is a heartless dictator who stole elections and power in Venezuela. They fear him because he took away their access to oil wealth and reallocated these riches to the nation’s poor. The US fears him because he refused to be a third world puppet to their demands. They fear him because he is not afraid of them, not afraid to call them out. I will conclude with some of my favorite Chávez quotations. Que descanse en paz, Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías.

In a 2006 speech at the UN, he said the following of George W. Bush:

“The Devil is right at home. The Devil, the Devil himself, is right in the house. And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world”

On Condoleeza Rice in 2005:

“She is sexually frustrated. I could invite her on a date to see what happens between us”

Stroszek (1976)

1 Mar

Stroszek coverIt is a pleasure to review one of my favorite foreign films by one of my favorite directors, Werner Herzog. Stroszek is a poetic Herzog take on the American Dream as an unattainable myth for immigrants to the US. There are many subtle laughs along the way, but overall the movie leaves you with heartache on behalf of the title character and his attempt to improve his life by starting anew in the US.

While it is not a documentary, Herzog based this story on Bruno S., the actor who plays the title character, and there are several scenes that are shot in his actual tiny apartment. Herzog has a knack for picking out interesting human subjects to showcase in his movies. And although not based on the true story of one particular German immigrant, it isn’t hard to imagine the story that unfolds as one that is based in the reality of those who immigrate to the US these days.

The film introduces us to Stroszek as he is being released from jail where he was serving a short stint for some drunken misconduct of stroszek-Brunosome sort. He is released and heads straight to the nearest bar to pick up where he left off. Stroszek is motivated to leave his native Germany when he and his lady-friend, Eva, are both tormented and abused by her pimps. The two of them set off for Wisconsin with Bruno’s elderly neighbor, Mr. Scheitz, in search of the American dream. In the states, however, they are met only with obstacles and people who either take advantage of them or simply don’t understand them.

"Can't stop the dancin' chicken."

“Can’t stop the dancin’ chicken.”

I have a penchant for melancholy movies, and Stroszek is one of the best. This is a must see in my book; it is a movie that graces my current Top 10 list.

P.S. If you listen to Ratatat, you may recognize a sample from this film in the song, Drugs. ^^^Please watch that music video, it’s hilarious. It practically had me in tears of laughter when I saw them perform at Camp Bisco 10.

Biutiful (2010)

22 Feb

BiutifulOne of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu’s newer films, Biutiful is not for beginners of his work. I recommend starting with Babel and working your way through to 21 Grams and Amores Perros to decide if you like his style. Like these other movies, Biutiful delves into the dark and unpleasant corners of humanity by focusing on themes like death, clashing cultures, and the gritty realities of life.

In this film, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a single father,  (’cause Mom’s cray),who makes his living through black market dealings and illegal immigrant labor. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Uxbal spends most of the movie confronting his wrong-doings and getting his affairs in order so that his children will be taken care after he is gone. While slow-moving at parts, this film really picks up momentum as it goes, much like an impending countdown to one’s own death.

An interesting dynamic comes through as it is revealed at the beginning that Uxbal is also a medium who can communicate with the recently deceased. It led to some incredibly haunting scenes that had I couldn’t shake, even long after the movie was over.

Klown (2010)

15 Feb

klown coverI wasn’t a huge fan of Klown for several reasons, but I think that it’s because this is more of a dude’s movie. If you know me at all, you know I thrive on awkward, uncomfortable movies with weird sexual undertones or that break social taboos. This does all of that, but in a way that even makes me uncomfortable. I know! I thought it was impossible, too! But at least it is a comedy, and as such it comically exaggerates uncomfortable situations in a way that make me laugh half of the time, and cringe half of the time. The “pearl necklace” scene? Uncomfortably hilarious. The alleged rape references, uncomfortably upsetting.

But if you are not sensitive to hyper-masculine conversations, and you enjoy crass, awkward humor that is much akin to British humor, this movie will be right up your alley. The story mainly revolves around friends Frank and Casper who plan a “Tour de Pussy” canoe trip with the ultimate goal of spending an evening at a famous and exclusive brothel. Right before they leave, Frank finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and she is having doubts about Frank’s fatherhood potential. In order to prove he can be a good father, Frank drags his nephew (Bo) along for the trip, which severely pisses off the main proponent of the Pussy part of Tour de Pussy, Casper.

So ladies, despite this pink movie poster, it’s not as much a movie for us. Let the menfolk have their private sexist male bonding. I didn’t hate it, but it just wasn’t for me. And dudes, take note: this movie contains very informative instruction regarding “man flirting.”

Adrift- À Deriva (2009)

8 Feb

Welcome to my new feature: Foreign Film Friday! I had been having a lot of trouble getting into foreign films as of late. I’m often multi-tasking while watching, which means I miss crucial bits of dialogue all of the time when I look away from the screen. Even in Spanish movies a couple of lines slip by me, which is unacceptable because I am a Spanish teacher.

So, I got an elliptical trainer a couple of months ago, and got it all set up in front of the TV. I started twerkin’ that ish after throwing on Brick when I realized I couldn’t hear anything over the whir of my badass workout. (It’s an old, rickety elliptical machine I got off Craigslist). Then it hit me. This is the perfect environment to start chipping away at all of those foreign films in my Netflix queue!

So far I have ellipticized my way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Biutiful, Whores’ Glory, and The Red Balloon, but it wasn’t until I watched Adrift (À Deriva) that I thought I should use this as new routine as fodder for a new feature. And thus, Foreign Film Friday was born!

With that long-winded explanation of the genesis of FFF, I don’t have much breath left to write about Adrift, (and I’m sure your patience is running thin as well).
I’ll make it snappy…

adriftAdrift is a beautiful film set in a beachy Brazilian paradise. Perhaps the combination of a welcoming summer atmosphere, the nostalgic ’80s feel and the melodic sounds of Portuguese are what got me smitten on this film. I have to assume that all of the allusions to photography in the film are not by accident, as the cinematography often takes on an etherial, Poloroid, spilling-out-of-the-frame quality. And maybe they’re overdoing it with the amount of times they played it in the background, but I love this song.

You might like this movie if you: love Portuguese, beautiful Brazilian people and/or seascapes; were ever a 14 year old girl (as is the main character); enjoy movies that showcase the effects of infidelity; or would like looking at Vincent Cassel in a Speedo from time to time.

Oh, and, by the way… If you decide to watch Adrift, and no one is speaking Portuguese in the film you put on, it’s probably Open Water 2: Adrift, and definitely not the movie you should be watching, under any circumstances or at any time, I can assume.

Also, there are no subtitles in the trailer, so you can just stop here if you’re not up for that type of thing.

I Am Love (Io sono l’amore) (2009)

26 Nov

Visually stunning, but a very slow start. Perhaps my first mistake was having such high expectations. I am certain that someone who has studied film, particularly Italian film, may get more out of the movie than I did, and might see my commentary as blasphemous. But I have to say that I just felt that it dragged on, especially in the first half, and it felt rather pretentious. Nonetheless, I do have some good things to say about this film as well.

In I Am Love, Tilda Swinton plays Emma, who begins to feel unfulfilled by her life in a well-to-do Milanese family. This isn’t verbally expressed, at least not in the beginning, but you begin to pick up on her distance from the rest of the cast as they toil over the Recchi family business they inherited from the late patriarch, Edoardo. When Emma tastes the dishes that her son’s friend Antonio prepares, she is brought back to her passions for cooking and her longing for her Russian homeland. Finally the film begins to take off in the second half as desires take form and tragedy befalls the family. In the end you realize that although the men have all the power and money through their tight control of business, the women of this family are the true subjects of interest, following their own passions and not just looking at bottom lines and profit margins. Add to this a dramatic score, comparable in some ways, to Jonny Greenwood’s arrangements in There Will Be Blood. (Although this film’s score still pales in comparison to Greenwood’s). There is promise to this film, and I will definitely admit that I enjoyed it, and certainly became entangled in the story by the end. But it was a slow climb that I am willing to bet many do not have the patience to take in order to reach such a summit.

The beautiful cinematography is the saving grace for I Am Love, as I was unfortunately a bit disappointed in the way it crawled through events and character development. I don’t know why it had to start out so slowly. Maybe so that the passionate love-making to follow in the second half would be that much more explosive. Unfortunately, Tilda Swinton reminds me of an android, and attempts to make her seem sexy and seductive were lost on me. However, as a postscript: I found out that Ms. Swinton learned Italian specifically for this role, and she did not previously speak the language. This is overwhelmingly impressive, the entire film is Italian and from the looks of things, so is the cast. I want to know what method she used (Rosetta Stone??). Maybe I can apply some of her techniques in my Spanish classroom. Oh shit, maybe she is a robot!

Although I complain about the slowness of the movie, I Am Love is like photography in motion, it is art as a film. This comes through in the way the lighting is played with, the style of the film’s flashbacks and fantasy sequences, which are definitely above and beyond many movies I have seen. And as it happens while observing art, it is hard to critique or analyze it without at least minimal background knowledge of the craft. I obviously love film, but I know very little about cinematography, the complexity of lighting and editing. While watching it, when I started to get bored with the way the plot was moving, I would try to put on a new set of eyes and observe why particular shots might have been chosen, what was unique about the lighting, or what emotions were being conveyed subtly by the actor that may not have been apparent at first glance. So it was a nice exercise in considering style, especially since that is about all I got out of the first half.

I would probably give this movie a B/B- because even the titillating parts that made the slow parts worth sitting through eventually became exaggeratedly dramatic. And so it swings like a pendulum from absurdly boring to over-the-top. But it still gets sexy. Passionate love affairs and  and the music tries to keep you with the emotions of the film. If you are in the right mood, I think this can be an excellent film. And when I feel more in that mood, (whatever that mood may be), I will watch it again.

I think in addition to the letter-grade scale  that I have been giving movies on Medicinema thus far, (can you tell I’m a teacher?), I will add the would-I-watch-it-again and would-I-buy it grade. Because ultimately this is what I think at the end of every movie I watch, no joke. So…

would I watch it again: yes
would I buy it: I’m thinking no. I’ll let you know if that changes after a second viewing.

Let the Right One In

4 Nov

This entry is part of what I hope will be a weekly review of a film available on Netflix Instant Queue. I think that Instant Queue films are the same across the board whether you are watching them on your Nintendo Wii, iPhone, Xbox, Roku, etc. but in case they differ, this is on the Wii instant queue.

Let the Right One In

Oskar and EliBoy meets “girl.” “Girl” is vampire. They still fall in love. A mutually protective bond ensues. In Swedish. That is pretty much the gist of the 2008 horror/drama, Let the Right One In. Not necessarily a movie to write home about (although is that what I am doing right now?), this movie is endearing and eerie enough to be worth a watch, at least if you’re bored and not in the mood for the other titles on your instant queue. Be prepared for subtitle reading, it’s not really a movie you can multi-task to, though it isn’t like many of the foreign films I am privy to in that you probably aren’t going to lose an important point to the plot if you miss a line or two.

This movie reminded me a little bit of Powder, probably because the young protagonist, Oskar, is a pasty-pale boy who gets ridiculed, bullied, and abused by classmates; a tad bit of Fucking Åmål (American release title: Show Me Love), probably because it is Swedish and deals with unconventional and not necessarily hetero- young love; and a lot of Nói albínói (Noi the Albino) because of the Powder reasoning plus being an Icelandic film, it is snowy or snowing the entire time.

In general, I am not a fan of vampire movies. If you are, I have a feeling this movie will be one of your favorites. I’m certain this film is better than Twilight. We break from the Twilight/vampire-movie formula in Let the Right One In because Eli, the vampire, is a “girl” in this case, but not necessarily an evil, conniving woman as female vampires are often portrayed. So there isn’t a weak and innocent Bella main character that needs to be protected. Eli, herself, shows her own weaknesses and limitations. The film does, however, still follow the vampire movie prescription in that the main mortal character is more of a weakling and hopelessly infatuated with his vampire love interest.

The title of the movie was what drew me in, and the fact that Netflix thought I would give it 4.5 stars, which is a pretty hefty rating. I might give it a 3 or 3.5 to be generous,  just because the violence was pretty good without being over-the-top. It wasn’t too tacky except for a cat attack scene which was totally over-the-top. The child actors are pretty good, slightly creepy, yet endearing. I know that suspension of disbelief is the name of the game with such movies, one thing still bugged me about this one. Although Eli looks twelve, she is probably thousands of years old, being a vampire and all. With all of that worldly experience, what does she want with an actual twelve-year-old boy? And if it is to have another man-slave like Jocke, it totally takes away from the loving elements of Oskar and Eli’s relationship that you are kind of rooting for.

Like I said, you might get something out of this movie, and it is probably worth catching at least once. It got overwhelmingly positive reviews (98% on from critics and sources that are not mainstream and Hollywood-loving. If you want a touching, foreign-language, and out-of-the-ordinary vampire film, Let the Right One In is your flick.

Here are some scenes that made the film:

  • Both hospital scenes (with Jocke after the face-defiguration and Ginia after her transition into vampire)
  • Oskar sneaking a peak at Eli’s girlhood. Which doesn’t exist because “she” is a vampire! Duh!
  • The pool scene at the end.

Next time I promise, no more horror for real…