Senator Al Franken?

May 23, 2007 at 12:00 am

Al Franken: God Spoke


Can I just drop all pretenses of being objective and say that Al Franken's election to the United States Senate would be the greatest thing ever? If this documentary is any indication, C-SPAN would be Must-See TV. This testament to Franken's wit, insights and fearlessness, filmed in vérité style, covers the time from his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them book tour to his first hints of a senatorial run. It comes pretty close to being a self-serving promotional film. It hardly has the raw tenacity of The War Room, the most successful collaboration from its co-directors Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob (Doob served as cinematographer on War Room), but it's hilarious, especially if you agree with his political views — and even, I'd surmise, if you don't. Franken's humor could sometimes be dry and hacky in his 15 hours a week on the radio, but this best-of compilation reveals a wise comic messiah out to change the world, one Buddy Hackett joke at a time. The 12 minutes of deleted scenes are just as funny as the material that made the final cut. In one, we learn that Ann Coulter is not only human, she even likes the Grateful Dead, finding some common ground with her titular nemesis. —John Thomason




Takashi Shimizu got one thing right with his film Reincarnation — the title. You'll swear you've seen it before. Shimizu (Ju-On, The Grudge) grafts his cinematic influences onto Reincarnation, which is cobbled together with bits from The Shining, Dead of Night, Peeping Tom and Dawn of the Dead. A "homage," maybe, but it veers dangerously close to plagiarism with its parallel stories of two separate women drawn to the Ono Kanko Hotel where a mass murder took place 35 years earlier.

Yayoi is a student who has had dreams since childhood of being one of the victims while newbie actress Nagisa is hired to star in a movie called Memories based on the actual events. The psycho responsible for the 1970 mass murder, Professor Omori, was fixated on reincarnation and filmed his killings including those of his two children.

Shimizu and his co-writer Masaki Adachi play Dr. Frankenstein with their screenplay, but Shimizu is a savvy director who uses the movie-within-a-movie premise to concoct an audacious third act. Combining three different points of view, two from the heroines and a third from the processed film in Professor Omori's newly discovered 8 mm camera, the stories of the past and present converge simultaneously.

Confused? Good. Us too.

Anyway, eerie moments abound, particularly the trippy one where Nagisa goes from rehearsing a scene on a set made to replicate the real hotel, to actually reliving the 1970 carnage. The complexity of the multiple POVs along with the shifting timelines almost wows you into forgetting that most of this doesn't make much sense. Really, why did the professor think killing people would prove there's such a thing as reincarnation? The final revelation of just who's been reincarnated doesn't exactly play fair with the audience. At least, Reincarnation is the perfect flick for film buffs looking to play a rousing drinking game. Name another film that uses rediscovered film footage to illustrate a group of people being massacred. You nail it, you do a shot. —Paul Knoll


Violette/The Comedy of Power

Koch Lorber

It may not be as famous an art-cinema pairing as Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina, Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina or Michelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti, but the collaborative work of director Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert has produced some of the most exquisite films of both professionals' careers, through three decades and seven pictures. Koch Lorber just released both the first and the latest of this ongoing relationship, 1978's Violette and 2006's Comedy of Power.

Both films are based partially on true events, and both include more proof, as if we needed it, that Huppert is one of our greatest living movie stars and unquestionably the sexiest actress over 50. She's sex personified in Violette, the scandalous story of a 19-year-old, syphilis-carrying harlot who kills her father in 1930s France. Time Out London called this a Chabrol film for people who don't like Chabrol films, which is true of the fractured anti-chronology of the structure (which owes a debt to Alain Resnais) and the brilliantly inexpressive, Cannes award-winning performance of Huppert.

But the mechanics of murder and the allure of sex have always been prominent fascinations for Chabrol, and Violette contains them both, if a bit more languidly than the director's preferred thrillers. Like Betty, this is Chabrol at his most dour, but he does find some humor in the media circus toward the end.

The DVD transfer, however, is unacceptably shoddy. There seems to be no digital enhancement aside from the subtitles. The fuzzy image looks to be converted directly from VHS, and though I couldn't find proof of the movie's original aspect ratio, this version appears to be cropped from 1:85:1 to a full-frame pan-and-scan, rendering Chabrol's precise compositions ugly and incomplete.

There are no such problems with Comedy of Power, a sterling release of one of the director's most splendid works. One penetrating stare from Huppert and it's easy to turn to mush, particularly when she plays such a high-powered character: a Parisian judge investigating a corporate fraud case with ties to big government. Chabrol admits the film was inspired by the Elf-Aquitaine bank fraud scandal, which The Guardian called "the biggest fraud inquiry in Europe since World War II." To cover himself, Chabrol inserted a cheeky caveat into the film's opening frames stating that the story is entirely fictive and that any resemblance to actual events is, of course, purely coincidental.

But the movie is less a biographical polemic than a character study of an overworked woman whose obsession with ferreting out the truth takes a destructive toll on her marriage. Chabrol comments on how the political affects the personal (and vice versa) by deftly balancing the two, concluding the film with one of his finest anticlimaxes. —John Thomason


Meatball Machine

TLA Releasing

Lay off the salami and canned squid long before, during and after watching this squirmfest. This odd 2005 Japanese import is either the most stomach-churning sci-fi or the dumbest fun you've ever seen, depending on what side of the gastrointestinal divide you fall.

In Hollywood movie-pitch terms, shy boy meets shy girl and things progress slowly until alien parasites inhabit their bodies and turn them into "necro-borgs," — part human, part octopus in a garbage disposal — and make them fight to the death.

Fans of Tranformers will love the necro-borgs. In fact, power-tool limbs make a gladiator face-off an actual face-losing proposition. What keeps it all from being a night at Benihana gone terribly wrong is the genuine pathos between these two crazy kizzu, even after their eyes have popped out and the bloody sockets are fitted with sewer lid visors. Mama mia, that's-a some spicy (not to mention complicated) existentialist Asian meatball! —Serene Dominic

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