Posts Tagged ‘Werner Herzog’

Nicole Kidman

“QUEEN OF THE DESERT”  My rating: C+

129 minutes | MPAA rating PG-13

“Queen of the Desert” is quite possibly the oddest film of director Warner Herzog’s wildly idiosyncratic  career.

A mash-up of woman’s picture, real-life biography and sweeping  “Lawrence of Arabia” images, it stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, a British adventuress, diplomat, archaeologist and feminist who became an expert on the Middle East in the years before World War I.

We first encounter our heroine in 1888. The daughter of a steel magnate, she’s being groomed for a fitting marriage.

“You will not scare the young men with your intelligence,” her mother warns, but Gertrude is having none of it. She’s too independent, too strong willed to endure simpering aristocratic society.

(Kidman, now 49, plays Bell from age 21 to 40. Remarkably, she pulls off the youthful Gertrude, thanks to great makeup and God-given bone structure.)

Her exasperated father finally agrees to let her join the British embassy in Teheran where she soon finds herself falling for Henry  Cadogan (James Franco, struggling to maintain a Brit accent), a low-ranking staff member assigned as her escort. Henry’s prospects aren’t promising, but like Gertrude he loves the desert. And he’s not afraid of her independent streak.

Daddy, however, nixes this liaison, and a heartbroken Gertrude turns her back on romance, devoting herself to travels in the Middle East, crossing vast deserts with a handful of faithful local guides.

During her travels she runs across a young T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson), working on an archaeological dig at Petra in Jordan. Years away from his exploits among the Arab tribes in the Great War, Lawrence already wears the native costume that will become his trademark.  He and Gertrude flirt innocently, but neither is looking for a relationship.

Over years Gertrude is befriended by the Bedouin. She also finds a lover — platonic — in married British statesman Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damien Lewis).

Eventually Gertrude is recognized by her government and with Lawrence is part of the commission that divides up the Middle East in the wake of the war.



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Lo-And-Behold-Poster_1200_1781_s“LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD” My rating: B 

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.

Werner Herzog’s “Lo and Behold” starts out like a nostalgic documentary tribute to the men and women who created the Internet. By the time it’s over, it’ll have you fretting about the end of the world.

This isn’t Herzog’s most sophisticated effort. It feels thrown together and random. But it gets the job done.

The unseen but very vocal director first takes us to the University of Southern California where down a “repulsive corridor” in a science building we encounter “ground zero of humanity’s biggest revolution.”

There in a basement room the university has recreated the computer lab from which, on Oct. 29, 1969 the first email message was sent from USC to Stanford University several hundred miles away.

It wasn’t an entirely successful experiment — the computer crashed after just two letters had been typed in.

One of the original computer geeks working on the project reflects that back then the names of everybody working online could be contained in a slim directory. He knew most of them personally.

But it was the start of very big things.

Then Herzog branches out a bit, giving us glimpses of the brave new world of technology.  For example, he offers a segment on self-driving cars that learn from each other’s experiences.  When one car messes up, says an expert, “future unborn cars will never make that mistake again.”

And then there’s a soccer game played by rhumba-like drones.  They learn teamwork.

All good, right?

Well, no.  Herzog then introduces us to a middle-class family whose emotionally-tormented daughter was decapitated in an auto accident — and who subsequently were hit with tons of hate email. The mother, who in all other respects seems pretty normal, suggests that the Internet is a “manifestation of the antichrist.”

Next we relocate to a rural area of Appalachia where all cell phones and radio emissions are banned so as not to interfere with the operation of a massive radio observatory aimed at the stars.  As it turns out, this neighborhood has become a mecca for individuals suffering from electromagnetically-trggered illnesses (like the Michael McKean character in “Better Call Saul”). They can only function where cell phones aren’t in use.

How about that rehab center  for persons dealing with internet addiction?  Apparently it’s a real thing. Or this tidbit:  South Korean teens are so addicted to playing video games that they wear diapers so as not to lose points by having to get up to use the bathroom.

An expert on solar flares enumerates the ways in which such regularly occurring phenomenon could wipe out the electric grid. It’s not a question of if, but of when. And if the internet does go dark, will enough of us know how to survive without it to keep civilization going?

Kevin Mitnick, the world’s best hacker, observes that we are constantly engaged in a  cyber war that most of us don’t even notice.

There are a few brief rays of hope on display here (most provided by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk), but mostly “Lo and Behold” dwells on what can — and probably will — go wrong. Good luck, everyone.

| Robert W. Butler

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Happy people 1“HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA ” My rating: B (Opening March 22 at the Tivoli)

95 minutes | No MPAA rating

In recent years filmmaker Werner Herzog has gravitated toward documentaries dealing with man’s relationship to nature:  “Grizzly Man” about an eccentric eaten by the wild bears he adored,  “Encounters at the End of the World” about the snowbound residents of an Antarctic research station…even “Cavern of Forgotten Dreams” about cave paintings left behind by Stone Age artists.

“Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” seems to fit nicely among those other titles,  but in fact it’s a weird hybrid.

This 90-minute film about the residents of a remote Siberian village was fashioned by Herzog from a four-hour Russian TV documentary directed by Dmitry Vasyukov. With Vasyukov’s input Herzog wrote his own English narration and re-edited scenes without ever setting foot in Siberia.

How closely this film hews to the Russian original is anybody’s guess. At some later date scholars may have a heyday comparing the two to show how even documentary footage can be molded to serve a filmmaker’s intent.

Any way you slice it, though, it’s an effective example of the ethnology documentary.

 “Happy People” focuses on Bakhta, a burg of 300 souls so remote it can be reached only by aircraft or (during the brief summer) river boat.

The film’s title notwithstanding, not everyone in Bakhta is happy.  Certainly not the indigenous folk who must contend with widespread alcoholism and lives of menial labor. (more…)

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