Movie Project #35 and #36: Grave of the Fireflies [1988] and Crash [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Grave of the Fireflies [1988]
Grave of the Fireflies [1988, Isao Takahata]
Starring Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi.

Grave of the Fireflies is unlike any other animated film I have ever seen. It is simultaneously beautiful and devastating as it shows life in Japan near the end of World War II. The movie follows two orphaned children, 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko, as they struggle to get by in their war torn village. They find temporary solace in the home of a distant aunt, but she makes it clear that they are a burden on her and her family, and they are hardly welcomed in the household. Later, the children attempt to live on their own, but it is obvious that Seita is not in a position to take care of a young child. It’s heartbreaking to watch the two children fend for themselves as they struggle to acquire even basic nourishments.

This is an incredibly sad and tragic film, one that is made even more powerful because it is based on a true story. Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience, to say the least, and it may very well be one of the best anti-war films ever made. An absolute must-see. 10/10

Crash [2004, Paul Haggis]
Crash [2004, Paul Haggis]
Starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton.

Out of all the movies in my project, the inclusion of Crash is what garnered the biggest reaction. The initial response from commenters was mostly negative, but then it started to get some vocal support as well. It’s clear that this is a polarizing film, and that’s why I wanted to see it. As the credits began to roll, I had just one question: How the hell did this movie win Best Picture???

There really wasn’t much I liked about Crash at all. The film tries so hard to tackle the touchy subject of racism, even going so far as to incorporate at least a half dozen different races, all of whom make derogatory comments to each other. There are no likable characters, and they all act irrationally. The whole movie felt artificial and forced to me, as characters found ways to incorporate racist remarks into *EVERY* single dialogue exchange. Look, I know there are a lot of racist fucks out there, but I still have a hard time believing people speak this way all the time. Some of the character behavior was simply ridiculous, too, such as that of Terrence Howard’s character, who exploded into a fit of rage that was completely out of character considering his past actions. The entire film had an air of pretentiousness to it, right down to the pompous soundtrack that tried to make everything more dramatic than it really was. With hackneyed writing and dozens of pathetic stereotypes, Crash is an embarrassment that should not have even been nominated for Best Picture. 4/10

Movie Project #10: Hotel Rwanda [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Hotel Rwanda [2004]
Directors: Terry George
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Language: English/French
Country: USA

Going into Hotel Rwanda, I kept hearing the same things.

“That is a real tearjerker.”

“That movie is so sad. Make sure to have a box of tissues nearby.”

Well, after watching it, I can certainly understand these sentiments.

The movie is about a horrifying time in the African country of Rwanda. The year is 1994, and a major civil war has broken out between two ethnic groups: the Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutus have pushed the Tutsi out of power and are now concentrating their efforts on mass genocide of the Tutsis.

Caught in the middle of this brutality is Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) the manager of the four-star Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines. He is Hutu, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) is Tutsi. As the violence worsens, his hotel becomes something of an oasis for nearby refugees. Paul’s role quickly becomes that of a diplomat, carefully negotiating with rebels and military figures in order to obtain rations and maintain the safety of those staying with him. This becomes a thin line, as he struggles to maintain a balance between all of this.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Paul’s appeals for help reap little rewards. The UN has peacekeeping forces in the area led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), but they can offer little help. They have guns, but are ordered not to fire them. Oliver and his men do all they can, mainly by attempting to transfer refugees to “safe” locations, but it is clear that they have little support from those outside of the warzone. The president of Paul’s hotel chain, Mr. Tillens (Jean Reno), is mortified by what is going on, but again, his hands are pretty much tied. It’s a giant clusterfuck, as everyone is aware of the atrocities being committed but nothing is being done about it.

This is all very much a true story, and the end result shows that nearly one million people died during this genocide. Paul was able to save over 1,200 people with his hotel, which is absolutely remarkable.

Rather than focusing on showing us the countless murders, Hotel Rwanda demonstrates the power of men who want to do good. As a respected man in the area, Paul has chances to leave with his family, but he opts to stay and try to save some lives. I was pleased that the movie took this route, as it was not necessary to show endless moments of brutality in order to convey its message. This is about the power of humanity, and those who did everything they could to help in a terrifying situation.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Not enough can be said of Don Cheadle’s performance here. He is absolutely fantastic, perfectly portraying the despair and anguish his character is feeling, while at the same time showing the strength necessary to help his fellow people. His Oscar nomination was well deserved. Sophie Okonedo is excellent as his wife, and the rest of the cast is strong as well, even including a small role from Joaquin Phoenix as a news cameraman.

In short, Hotel Rwanda is a powerful and moving film that sheds some light on a massive genocide that most people either didn’t know about or didn’t care enough about. It’s depressing, yet also uplifting in a way thanks to the fact that one man was able to help save so many lives. Just incredible.


9 Songs [2004]

9 Songs [2004]

9 Songs [2004]
Directors: Michael Winterbottom
Genre: Drama/Music/Romance
Language: English
Country: UK

Sex, drugs and rock & roll. Literally.

9 Songs is a British film from director Michael Winterbottom that has received some degree of notoriety due to its excessive and graphic sex scenes. In between the increasingly more hardcore endeavors, the movie shows concert footage from Brixton Academy and other music venues. Basically, the movie is half-concerts and half-porn.

There isn’t much of a story here. A guy (Kieran O’Brien) and a girl (Margo Stilley) meet at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show, hit it off and then embark on a frantic fling that is equal parts sex, drugs and rock & roll. The movie jumps back and forth between random concert footage, sex, and the occasional shots of Antarctica (because the dude is a glaciologist). That’s it. As mentioned earlier, the scenes become more graphic as the movie goes on. Most of these scenes are short in length, and would really only be offensive to prudes. There is a scene of male ejaculation, allegedly the first “mainstream” film to show this, and later on there is actual penetration shown, but there really isn’t anything exciting about all of this. Some consider it “art” and I suppose technically it is, but that doesn’t mean it is good and/or entertaining. Without any real context to piece everything together, I found it difficult to maintain my interest.

To be fair, there were two things I did like about this movie. One, the actors used were not gaudy porn star-types — they were normal looking folk who certainly wouldn’t be out of place at the concerts they frequented. Two, there was a lot of good music from bands like Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals. Unfortunately, the concert sequences were often aborted early, and in general, the pacing used throughout felt rough overall.

I have only seen one of Winterbottom’s other movies – 24 Hour Party People – and I quite enjoyed it. I respect his decision to try this experiment, but it just didn’t work. Even with its short length (69 minutes – how appropriate), I would advise you to ignore your curiosity and either A) watch a concert film, or B) just go all the way with real porn. 9 Songs is an interesting idea in theory, but it just comes across as a half-assed mashup of music and sex.