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Film Clips: 'Naqoyqatsi', 'All or Nothing', 'The Way Home'

A Roundup of New Releases

Friday, February 07, 2003


RATING: Unrated but PG in nature for a few mildly violent images.

DIRECTOR: Godfrey Reggio

The only thing more foreign to mainstream movie-goers than Godfrey Reggio's films are their titles.

"Naqoyqatsi," the third in his trilogy of image-fests with Philip Glass music, takes a Hopi Indian word for "war as a way of life," or "a life of killing each other." Parts one and two of the trilogy, it may or may not be recalled, were "Koyaanisqatsi" (life out of balance) and "Powaqqatsi" (life as sorcerer).

All this sounds pretty grim and daunting. But it isn't. Like its predecessors, "Naqoyqatsi" is a ravishing, non-narrative event -- a pure visual-musical extravaganza of an experience, devoid of words and characters.

Opening with the Tower of Babel, it takes us on a journey through the real and phantasmagoric techno-universe (micro and macro) in which computer chips are God. Tinted waves in a storm mix with Reggio's signature cloud patterns, peppered with Einstein's algebraic equations and obligatory mushroom clouds.

This equivalent of an "allegro" movement in symphonic terms is followed by an "adagio" of a more sweetly human type, highlighted by a huge field of happy, squirming babies -- mankind's greatest (if not sole) hope: Hail to the perfect symmetry of athletes in slow motion -- and a series of perfectly asymmetrical human smiles.

During the final "movements," nature and technology merge as well as clash in what Reggio does best: terrific juxtaposition.

As Dali taught us, it's all about juxtapositions -- and the frenzied crescendo thereof. The many iconic astronaut images are tragically timely and poignant in view of the Columbia's demise.

I was not too enamored of the first Reggio opus, nor of its maddeningly repetitive soundtrack by serial composer Glass. (The two musicians on either side of me in the audience fell asleep.) But this time around, both the visions and the music seem much more coherent, synchronized with one another in a mesmeric, compelling, almost Wagnerian way.

The notion of war as a perfectly acceptable option in international conflict resolution is particularly relevant -- and odious -- today. But no political polemic accompanies this "life as war" cinematic event. We are left to our own stream-of-consciousness devices in drawing our own emotional and intellectual conclusions.

Bottom line of "Naqoyqatsi": a uniquely mesmerizing treat for the eyes, ears and brain alike.

Barry Paris

The Monday screening of "Naqoyqatsi" at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont will be preceded at 7 p.m. by a live performance of the duo "Life in Balance" (Steve and Ami Sciulli), who play the ancient Japanese Shakuhachi flute and quartz crystal "singing bowls." That screening will be followed by an interactive audience discussion with the musicians.

'All or Nothing'

RATING: R for pervasive language and some sexuality.

STARRING: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville

DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh

You could hardly blame Phil for wanting to get into his taxi and drive to the water's edge. And then calmly walk into the waves like the husband at the end of "A Star Is Born."

In "All or Nothing," Phil (Timothy Spall) is a taxi driver who scrounges for coins in the sofa -- around Rory, his lummox of a son who is overweight, out of work, uncommonly angry, foul-mouthed and rude. Phil's daughter, Rachel, is a quiet, heavyset young woman who escapes into her books and spends her days mopping floors, scrubbing tubs and scouring unpleasant stains at a home for the elderly. Phil's common-law wife, Penny (Lesley Manville), works as a supermarket cashier and seems as devoid of joy as the rest of her family.

They live in a South London housing project where the neighbors include another taxi driver and his alcoholic wife, a single mother who learns history is about to repeat itself and a strange young man who skulks in the shadows and expresses his love by carving a girl's initial into his chest. Where's Montel Williams when you need him?

A health emergency brings the day-to-day drudgery to a panicky halt and serves as both test -- who will rise to the occasion, who cannot -- and wake-up call. Words and resentments that have gone unspoken are unleashed, and people are forced to face some hard truths.

"All or Nothing," opening today at the Harris Theater, is from writer-director Mike Leigh, who is famous for developing his scripts with his actors and for getting under the skin of his working-class characters. He allows you to settle -- actually sink -- into the routine of these people before he turns things upside down or, more correctly, slightly askew.

Leigh extracts wonderful performances from his actors. Spall's Phil seems dazed and beaten down by life and low expectations. His hard-working, exhausted wife doesn't even realize how dismissive she can be. Rory is angry at the world and Rachel seems to have chosen to hide from it, not that anyone's even noticed. One of Penny's co-workers seems to find joy in the small pleasures of life but she's had her share of hardships.

It's real life and usually the reason we escape to the movies. But Leigh, in his customary fashion, delivers a bracing reminder about love, loneliness and the fragile, fleeting second chances that can come our way.

Barbara Vancheri

'The Way Home'

RATING: PG for thematic elements and language

STARRING: Kim Eul-Boon, Yoo Seung-Ho

DIRECTOR: Lee Jeong-Hyang

For a while, the Korean film "The Way Home," now at the Denis Theater, seems as obvious as it is simple.

Thoroughly modern Sang-woo (Yoo Seung-Ho), a 7-year-old from Seoul, finds himself living with his grandmother (Kim Eul-Boon) while his mother goes off to look for work. Grandma lives in a remote mountain village without electricity, running water or a convenience shop carrying batteries for his hand-held video game.

Deaf and mute, she walks stooped over almost 90 degrees. But she bends over backward for Sang-woo, who returns the favor by refusing to eat her meals (he brought Spam and soda pop from home), calling her a retard and squalling about everything.

Surely, we think, the boy will learn to appreciate grandmother's traditional virtues and the quiet beauty of the countryside while she learns that things go better with Coke. But the kid goes on being an unrepentant brat while Grandma keeps on giving him unconditional love, spending money she can't afford and walking miles out of her way for the privilege of enduring another tantrum. Then again, she is deaf and mute.

Director Lee Jeong-Hyang thankfully avoids additional histrionics, observing telling details in the relationship from such things as how the characters face each other when they sit. Because Grandma doesn't speak, much of the film unfolds like a silent movie and builds its emotional moments through its visual touches -- the old woman slowly but indomitably climbing hills, the boy rearranging wash on a line after a rain.

Grandma's patience and his own mistakes ultimately do wear away at Sang-woo's impertinence -- even a rock erodes if enough water flows over it. By film's end he does realize what he's put her through, but we may not be as patient as the old woman. For its 90-minute running time, this seems a long way home.

Ron Weiskind

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