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Culture Dogs' Corner
by Kevin O'Toole

  2006 is here at last… and it's about time! '05 was an odd year at the movies, and it found Hollywood specifically listing, and perhaps losing confidence in big fat commercial product as usual, if only for a moment. That moment lasted roughly three months, and immediately followed the box-office failure of The Island. Of course, then Harry Potter and King Kong arrived…
  One big surprise this year was the number of films this year that approached heavily violent content with uncommon intelligence and daring. Robert Rodriguez' Sin City was a bold and splashy and massively violent noir, put together with imagination and care, with a memorable comeback performance by Mickey Rourke. David Cronenberg was unflinching in his translation of the graphic novel, A History of Violence. Viggo Mortensen gives an understated performance as the patriarch who deals with an act of violence that threatens to destroy his small town family life. Maria Bello is likewise great as his wife, along with Ed Harris and William Hurt. And the great documentaries of this year weren't all about penguins fighting a questionable war in Iraq…wait…I meant to stick a conjunction in there somewhere…
  In the Realms of the Unreal explored the mystery of so-called "outsider artist" Henry Darger and his 15,000 page stream of consciousness fantasy epic, which he worked on, quietly, alone in his small apartment, for decades. Winter Soldier took over thirty years to open in Hartford, but the film arrived with all the ugly weight of the Vietnam War, documenting the testimonies of soldiers who were ready to reveal the realities of war which many tried to conceal with the waving of their flags. Werner Herzog shared his view of the life of Timothy Treadwell, self-styled and untrained nature activist, who gave his life trying to interact with Alaskan grizzly bears. Mark Bittner didn't put his life at quite such a risk, but he befriended and cared for a flock of misplaced wild parrots in San Francisco in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Murderball turned the "extreme sports" documentary on its' ear with a remarkably in-depth look at the athletes of the U.S.Quadriplegic Rugby Association. A number of other documentaries provided a rare and well focused Western eye into Eastern traditions, particularly director Gayle Ferraro's Ganges: River to Heaven. Ferraro was allowed to spend time with Indian families as they waited with dying relatives in a hospice, and then as they bid farewell to loved ones in the revered river Ganges. Peter Sarsgaard continued a stretch of memorable roles, winding up this year with two very different turns in two very different films: Craig Lucas' thriller The Dying Gaul, as a Gay screenwriter in Hollywood in the mid-90's; and Sam Mendes' opus of the first Gulf War, Jarhead, in a major supporting role as a Marine scout sniper.
  Christopher Nolan turned out the best Batman film in that series, outstripping even Tim Burton's Batman, seriously restarting the franchise with Batman Begins. Tim Burton was having quite a good year himself, first with a wonderful and imaginative reengineering of Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then with the witty, animated musical, Corpse Bride. Of course, Steve Box and Nick Park had some fun with animation, bringing us the first full-length feature with their biggest star characters, Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
  There were some excellent Asian imports on the Hartford scene last year: the Korean horror import Tale of Two Sisters displayed rare style and subtlety to affect its' freak outs. Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle was yet another imaginative fairytale with interesting characters from an animation master. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was a true story based on the memoir about young love and friendship at a Maoist rehabilitation camp in early '70's China. Steven Chow continued to bring the laughs and the action with his period martial arts action parody, Kung-Fu Hustle. Kamikaze Girls was a blast of quirky fashion, rock and roll and silliness from Japan. The Wong Kar Wai film, Days of Being Wild, a gangster romance with beautiful cinematography by Christopher Doyle, showed up after fourteen years(!).
  Dramas packed a lot of punch this year. Gregg Araki's disturbing coming-of-age/ coming-to-terms drama, Mysterious Skin proved a tour-de-force performance for the former star of TV's 3rd Rock from the Sun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Ralph Fiennes showed vulnerability and determination as a husband searching for the meaning of his political activist wife's death in Fernando Meirelles' thriller, The Constant Gardener. Todd Solondz drew a whole character from the performances of eight actresses in a drama about teenage pregnancy and moral relativity, Palindromes.
  There were also a few films that took interesting visual trips through some interesting minds. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, two veterans of the great DC Comics series, "The Sandman," collaborated to head down a rabbit hole with a modern-day Alice named Helena in Mirrormask. Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball) sent Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling and Naomi Watts down winding paths of memory and fantasy surrounding an auto accident in Stay. And Adrien Brody dealt with a mystery, a possible relationship with Keira Knightley and a tendency to time travel against his will in The Jacket.
  Our favorite fourth year students of magic were well represented in the fourth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. A pair of British brothers deal with the consequences of finding a sack of money and talking to Saints in Danny Boyle's Millions.
  Terrence Howard brought us an enjoyable melodrama of a small time rapper and pimp on the Memphis scene with an effective and intelligent performance in Hustle and Flow. Jet Li brought back some gravitas from his time working on Hero, to portray a gentle man turned vicious martial artist dog in Louis Letterier's Unleashed.
  Other directors that did well this year include:
  John Singleton who pulled off an entertaining remake of The Sons of Katie Elder in Four Brothers.
  George A. Romero, who proved that he could still pull off a zombie movie in his style that acknowledged such more recent films as 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake, in his Land of the Dead;
  And Wes Craven, with his quite able airplane thriller, Red Eye, with Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams.
  Spain gave us two hilarious comedies this year. In Torremolinos '73, a middle-aged married couple takes on a reluctant career as porn actors and filmmakers. In El Crimen Ferpecto, an ambitious salesman stumbles into murder and blackmail at the hands of a frump-turned-master manipulator. Domestic comedy got pretty racy as well, with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan as dishonest date trollers in Wedding Crashers. Steve Carrell, formerly of The Daily Show, actually brought some heart to the sex farce in The 40 Year Old Virgin. And The Aristocrats was a documentary that deconstructed the telling of a historically offensive joke.
  And speaking of historically offensive jokes…Domino, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Goodbye Dragon Inn and Last Days. Pure cinematic pain, the lot of them!

  Look for much of the above in our best (and worst) of 2005 lists in January on CULTURE DOGS every Sunday night, your weekly video and movie news and review program from eight to nine on U-H Radio, and also on culturedogs.com. ...and Click Now for our new Pod-cast !!

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WWUH: Program Guide 2006 ©

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