Tuesday, May 5, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "AMELIE"

AMELIE (2001)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenplay: Guillaume Laurent and Jean-Pierre Jeunet



Audrey Tautou is one of the best actresses alive. She’s made movies other than “Amelie,” like Stephen Frears “Dirty Pretty Things,” Ron Howard’s “The Da Vinci Code,” and the famous French comedy “The Spanish Apartment.” Jean-Pierre Jeunet has also made other movies, most famously probably “Delicatessen,” “Alien: Resurrection,”  and “A Very Long Engagement,” the latter also starring Tautou. Yet, I don’t think either of them are ever going to top “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain,” the full title which translates to “The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain”. Jeunet is one of those filmmakers whose style is instantly recognizable. His films are almost always beautifully shot, but he performs one of those tricks that few filmmakers can do, make the difficult and impossible to shoot come off as breathtakingly insouciant and whimsical. I don’t even want to count the number of shots and locations that he would’ve had to get in the movie. You can make whole movies on the number of scenes, locations and shots that he uses in the first ten minutes of the movie. Yet, the way he edits so freely, it feels effortless, and as carefree as his main character. 

Amelie (Tautou) is a shy and very quirky waitress in Montmartre, which is a district of Paris historically known for being the home of numerous artists. She was born to an unsociable father and a stubborn schoolmaster mother who died during a suicide attempt. (Not her own suicide attempt, someone else's) One day, Princess Diana dies, and in her shock, Amelie drops the top of her perfume bottle which rolls along her bathroom floor, letting loose a piece of wall tile, where Amelie finds a small private toy box left by a previous tenant. Amelie decides to find the owner of the box, but being Amelie, she can’t just go about it in a straightforward manner. She’s quirky, but also anti-social, and must go about her missions from strange angles and corners, creating puzzles for other people to find and solve. I just realized I explained Amelie similar to the way I’d explain Jigsaw for the “Saw,” movies. Obviously, Jigsaw did his puzzling for terror, Amelie does it because she’s incapable of doing it any other way. Or actually, she’s unwilling. That's the most intriguing thing about her, in she purposefully chooses to forgo her own bliss and happiness, so that she can only use her own quirky skills to make other people’s live better. Making old notes from long-gone lovers to appease their widows, joining together two people who are obsessed with their own lovers that they don’t realize how perfect they are for each other, for a little while anyway. The most famous one involves her father, (Rufus) who after retiring now finds himself unwilling to travel like he and his wife had planned, but somehow, his garden gnome seems to be sending him postcards from a new World Capital every week. (The gnome would later get a spokesperson deal from Travelocity.com. Okay, maybe not that gnome, but this is where they got the idea of the roaming gnome mascot) 

Finally, Amelie appears to have met her match with a local sex shop cashier, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) who has the same quirky tendencies as Amelie, obsessed with a mysterious man who continually gets his photo taken at local photo booths around town and then tears the photos up. Tautou is the perfect muse for Jeunet, she is the only actress alive who coud’ve played this role. She’s has that quirky look that tells us that something is going on in her mind, that she’s in her own other world, hiding a childlike secret that only she knows. She may very well be. Worldwide, people are obsessed with this film and this character. It broke the top 75 on imdb.com film ranking list before it appeared in America, where it earned five Oscar nominations. It’s one of those movies that no matter how many times you see it, you see something new, whether a small detail or a plot point you forgot earlier, almost as though Jeunet wanted to throw everything he could think of onto the screen. Things that fascinated him. Things he liked, things he didn’t like, and just things in general, all wrapped around this strange fairy tale of two people who eventually find each other by helping others find their own happiness. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #10: COMBINING OF SKETCH AND TALK, AND QUALITY ANALYSIS



(Annoyed sigh)

Morning Class. Hey, now! I know it's been awhile since our last class, I know some of you turned in your homework's already, to the rest of you, pass it up, if you did it. I hope you did. And, you all know that this classroom session was shot to hell a few months back.

For those of you just joining, you're ten classes behind so you might want to catch up, but basically we're finishing up our section on Variety programs and I had separated that into two classes previously, one on talk show variety shows and one on sketch comedy variety shows and we were going to then discuss how both of those genres were combined to form the modern Primetime Variety Show. Until the Primetime Emmys announced, they're not two separate kinds of Variety. So, there goes that class.

(Throws away folder of notes into a nearby trashcan)

I know, I know, Whomp-wa. Well, it makes sense actually, part of the reason I thought they needed to be separated was because of how different they can be, so in that sense not that unforeseeable. The thing is is that Variety in some aspects is still a bit of a combination Talk and Sketch. I've probably mentioned "The Jack Benny Program" a few times, because it really is sorta somebody was just given a half-hour of television and carte blanche to do anything he wanted and he took advantage of it. On that show, much of the time, he used a more traditional Variety Show format where he would bring out a guest for that week, and there was always a guest star, and they would have a conversation about the star and maybe if they were a singer or a comic they'd perform a bit, and then, you'd see them show up in a sketch, oftentimes making light of their career in some way. It seems like the perfect bare combination of sketch and talk, and you still see variations of this, for instance, on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon", when a musical guest will perform a famous song of there's using classroom instruments instead of more traditional rock/pop instruments. (This is usually before they come out for the interview section) However, if you take a closer look at "The Jack Benny Program", you'll realize something else about those interview segments. They're not always interviews actually. In fact usually, they're just as scripted as the full-fledge sketch acts that are performed. Sometimes it's more obvious than others, and certainly if you had somebody like Bob Hope guest appearing, there might be more ad-libbing, but guest aren't always great at that.

Even on Variety Shows, today. Every talk show has a talent booker that does pre-interviews with all the guests on the shows to come with interesting topics of conversation that could make the guest look good, engaging, entertaining and keep the show moving. You ever notice how on "Saturday Night Live", how, when there's a host with only a limited background in comedy, especially if it's somebody who isn't an actor, perhaps a famous athlete, how they sometimes resort to doing the "Questions from the Audience" monologue? Yeah, that's not just an homage/parody of Carol Burnett that's done as a way to hide the host's lack of abilities and to move the attention onto their more seasoned sketch performers. This is why you'll notice that certain people will show up on those kinds of shows more often than others, some are more natural variety show guests than others. Smart celebrities actually prepare for it, Adam Sandler always does stand-up before being a guest on a talk show and actually hones the material that he'll talk about as a guest. It'll be a little different since it'll be told in a different context, but he's more-than-talented enough to adjust and improvise with someone. James Corden's introduced this more British style of a talk show structure, where instead of a one-on-one interview with his guests, he brings out all his guests at once and let them play off of each other as well as him. Graham Norton is probably the most famous for doing this across the pond, although Dick Cavett did that a version of this as well although when he did it, it took more of the form of a roundtable discussion, it seems more like "Washington Week" than variety. (Although Larry Wilmore's got some success at this so far.)

Until sketch comedy started breaking out into it's own new genre, well, not entirely new, but basically starting breaking away from the traditional talk or classic variety format, (By classical variety, I mean something like "The Ed Sullivan Show", which really was mostly a variety of different kinds of performers and performances) and just started very strictly focusing on sketch, the was always this combination of talk and sketch, some more sketch, some more talk, but both skills were basically needed. It's partly because of how "SNL" really inevitably ended up the last real variety show that showcase the sketch comedy, at least in America that the backlash to this primarily sketch-based programming started taking shape. There's definitely other influences, especially from other countries, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" for instance from England, and Canada had "Kids in the Hall" and "Bizarre" that would air on pay cable in America, but I think most would agree that the real first shot in this was actually "In Living Color". That one had guests performer, rarely if ever, did it have a host and the only musical performances it had were dancers known as the Fly Girls and they were marginalized as the show went on. It also showcase the Wayans Brothers, and Damon Wayans in particular, was infamous at that time for having been fired from "SNL", after switching characters during a live performance. The show also famously switched the typical predominately white cast format of "SNL" and went with a mainly African-American cast, but even more than that, what it really showed was that it was possible for more unique artists out there who might not be ready for Primetime, to create their own little niche of sketch instead. This is where "Key & Peele", "Broad City", "Portlandia",  "Inside Amy Schumer"'s have come about and there were quite a few before too, especially in recent years they found a home on cable. Curiously except for "In Living Color" and for a while on "MADTV", this idea of more unique voices doing sketch, just didn't work on network television in recent years. It always had before of course, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Sonny & Cher, even Donny & Marie had success with their own brand of sketch variety and to be completely honest, those were the bottom of variety barrel, but "The Ben Stiller Show" last 13 episodes and frankly nobody saw them until they caught on years later and that's the most successful of this group. You remember "The Dana Carvey Show"? "The Paula Poundstone Show"? "She TV"? "Cedric the Entertainer Presents" "The Colin Quinn Show"? No? I guess you could blame those failures on the lack of publicity or frankly the fact that these shows weren't particularly great or even good, although I thought some of them were, but I think it was also difficult to publicize a variety show, particularly sketch, on Network, that's not on Late Night, at least anymore. Arguably, "SNL"'s most successful competitor was a show called "Fridays", that actually beat in the ratings in 1980, but when the show moved to 8:00pm after being bumped by what would become the show "Nightline", they fell off. That's the other way "SNL" changed the game, they didn't just go after a younger crowd and demographic, since they were edgier in their material and from there on in, sketch comedy itself is now regarded as an edgier form of comedy than the sitcom. It's always been satire, going back to Sid Caesar, but there weren't too many people who did imitations of Nixon, for instance. Even something like "Laugh-In" was silly and referential, while sketch became more confrontational than any other form of comedy. Dana Carvey can do a lot of voices, sure, but that's not really enough for an alternative to "SNL".

Well, talk, sketch, Variety, whatever you want to call it, how can you tell when they're good or not? And which ones are the best, or more importantly why are they the best? Especially with talk shows, it's a far more blurred line than ever, because there's more of them out right now. But let's approach it some other way. How can you tell when someone's a bad talk show host? Obviously some people are more adept at it than others. John McEnroe didn't last long, did he? You probably didn't know he had a Primetime talk show at one point, did you? Well, he's not overly charismatic, he's not a natural comedian, he's not known for interviewing people too often, although it is apart of his job when he's commentates sports, something he does know, but yeah, it's not that surprising he wasn't that good at it. It's a tricky thing to determine, 'cause everybody is different. People questioned Jay Leno's interview skills at one point early in his reign as host of "The Tonight Show", but even at his worst there's numerous differences between his interview skills and David Letterman's style of interviewing his guests. Leno became more adept according to most but neither approach is more or less correct than the other. A full set of skills is needed, knowing how to use them is second and then the third is probably the ability to mold and shape the show into their own. A representation of the host that's both natural and comforting that also fits the show's style and is entertaining. This rarely happens immediately. Even Carson's early months are painful to watch sometimes. It's a skill and it requires practice. It's a lot of preparation to make it look that natural, or in some cases, unnatural like Craig Kilbourn would go for at times. Meanwhile, sketch comedy might only require now a visionary and talented artists' mind, matched with a unique and singular vision. Hell, you can basically just get your friends together pretty much and now you've got a critically-acclaimed sketch show. That's why it's still hard to knock "Saturday Night Live" off it's pedestal. When Dave Chappelle quit, there was no more "Chappelle's Show". You can't replace him. This is why it's hard-to-believe in some ways that Sketch has managed to succeed in separating itself enough from Talk to warrant a new Emmy category. "Saturday Night Live" is not based around one person's unique vision. Yes, Lorne Michaels is still the man in charge and giving the show it's final say, but even he left for a couple years there, but now there's been numerous head writers and there's certain more-than-enough acolytes of Michaels out there to believe that if/when he does ever exit "SNL" that the show will live on in the current structure and format he intended, and that format is also intended to evolve over the years. The kind of humor in "SNL" in the late '70s is very different than the humor that they use today. With so many options, preferences, and styles out there right now, it almost has become a matter of preference. There's a reason why there's so many Variety Talk and Variety Sketch shows around and it's not just because there's more options and avenues out there for them to exist, it's that for the most part, they're funny. At the top of their game, good, in their own ways and able to carve out a spot that's a clear visual representation of their own image and the freedom to do, mostly whatever to them seems funny. It's a bizarre thing to really think about, but for the most part, these are all funny shows. Some more than others, I would question anybody's judgment who thinks "Mind of Mencia" was a great sketch comedy series, but even then, that's probably as great a depiction of his style of humor and strengths as anything else he could've done. (And lord knows what anybody saw in Tom Green that made him unfortunately famous.)

The thing that hurts shows like these, especially when compared to a behemoth like "SNL" in particular for sketch is that since they are the visions of a particular comic mind(s), they then end up becoming dated rather quickly. Satire itself is pointed and much of it at the culture and events of the time. Out of context that doesn't mean these shows, especially some of the more political ones, they don't always hold up over time. This is one of the reasons why "The Carol Burnett Show" still remains relevant, she's funny, but she's not really satirical. Mostly, she's famous for doing parodies of movies and broadway shows and most of those are still relevant in our culture. There was a character-based humor in that show's sketches. "The Family" sketches, that some of you might refer to as "Mama's Family", the sitcom that was spun off from those sketches, there's not an actual joke written in them. Sure, Tim Conway might always improvise something, but the humor comes from the characters and the situations, what they do and how they react. They play it seriously and it comes off as funny. (If somebody would tell Michael Patrick King that that's how "2 Broke Girl$" should work,- uh, nevermind.) Because she was able to be hilarious without going after the more obvious political and cultural characters of the day, her show holds up more. More than any other genre really, Variety, both talk and sketch, are time capsules, representations of the moments when they were occurring. Doesn't mean they aren't still funny and sometimes the comedy can transcend the time period, Dana Carvey still performs George Bush, some 20+plus years after his presidency ended, but it does mean that the material has a tendency to exist in a vacuum. Have any of you ever heard of Vaughn Meader? Probably not, but he became one of the most famous people in the world because of his comedy album "The First Family", last I checked, you can listen to it on Youtube and it's in the National Recording Registry. The whole album is of sketches where he played President John F. Kennedy and it took place inside the White House. He was renowned as having the best Kennedy impersonation ever and for a couple years he was the biggest star in comedy. Then, well, you can figure out what happened from here. After Kennedy's assassination, he spent much of the rest of his career aimlessly trying to seek out that fame again through numerous other avenues, and none of them particularly succeeded. Not only was material dated, but now it was tragically dated and nobody wanted to listen to it. Only really recently has his comedic genius really been rewritten into the comedy history books as we're not far enough away to look back at his most famous works. It's still incredibly funny if you ever want to give a listen and I highly recommend you do, but this is the risk you take regarding sketch comedy, especially satire.

It's cliche to say, but the best barometer of comedy, especially variety sketch and talk, is, well, timing. After you realize how talented you have to be to pull it off with even a modicum of success and eliminate those who aren't capable of doing it, everything else is timing. Remember how the Hugh Grant interview turned the ratings from Letterman to Leno, he had the perfect guest at the perfect time and with Leno as talented as he is, he didn't let the perfect timing slip by. This is why "Laugh-In" wouldn't work now, but did work then. Arsenio Hall tried again recently to recapture what he had in the late '80s and early '90s, but the timing was not there anymore. Maybe he lost his touch a bit, but still, that's why there's so few Johnny Carson's out there and why there's a bunch of Dennis Miller's. A lot of "Mr. Show"'s but just one "Saturday Night Live". Hell, "Sabado Gigante" finally got canceled recently, one of the last remnants of the classical variety structure on network television, sure Spanish Language television, but still.... Some are time capsules, others are mosaics of modern recent modern history, like a bound collection of a news magazine one of those ones that the library has with every copy of Life or something like that.

Alright, I know hasn't been a normal class and we've been way late with everything, so no homework tonight. Study up for the test. If you want extra credit, take a variety show, talk, sketch, classical, one that didn't last too long or hasn't lasted that long, if you want to do a modern one and talk about why it didn't or whether it won't or maybe it will, have the long-lasting legacy of say Carson, Letterman, SNL, etc., or ponder a show that could've had that legacy and ask why it didn't. Again, that's if you want extra credit. Keep an eye on your e-mails and Facebooks and whatnot and I'll let you know what we'll be studying next class.

Alright, see you all next class. (Tug on ear)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

BY POPULAR DEMAND! THE TOP TEN WORST PLOT TWISTS OF ALL-TIME!

Okay, I give up, I have nothing to talk about today, I've been staring at this computer for, I don't even know how many days now, debating between writing a TV Viewing 101 blog, or another rant about how being a fan or a fanboy is the worst thing in the history of time, but fuck me, I'm getting bored of that rant. Frankly, I think that's partly why I nothing to talk, because that's all that's out there in the entertainment world right now. I know people who are, not even Gold Derby people, just regular trying to discuss the Primetime Emmys, right now! Like 4 months early, the network finales haven't aired yet! I cannot believe that I had no internet for like a month and as far as I can tell, nothing happened that I have any particular viewpoint ON. I can't pretend to care who's cast as what superhero or super-villain this week, or for whatever fucking Marvel sequel is out now,- I got pissed off at the Daytime Emmys this week and I didn't even watch them! Or care, there was just nothing else going on. The-eh, the Musician's Guild is suing a few studios, for something, there's a couple people dying, that's tragic and I'm sorry for Jayne Meadows's and Andrew Lesnie's family and friends, but that's not really a blog subject, not a good one. Oh, Verne Gagne too died, sorry for your loss, and that's another thing, you know just how much nothing is going on right now, I've gotten about six different trending updates in like the last three days regarding WWE news and results on my Facebook newsfeed and trending thingy. Like, alright, I've noticed Ring of Honor is back to being entertaining-, oh dear God, I'm watching ROH regularly again, ugh, but I- there has to be something else going on other than the King of the Ring tournament. Alright, the Nepal earthquake, that's frightening actually, especially if you the history and geography of that area, of how the Himalayas were actually formed but again, there has to be something else?! Right? Anything? Anything, really? Please, oh here we go, a producer is going to jail for defrauding money. Peter Hoffman a "True Detective" producer, mail and wire fraud related to his New Orleans based company, alright a Hollywood Producer took more money than he should've, and defraud-ed, peop-le.... (Voice trails off) What else, Bravo has a scripted series, good. Um, hope it works out. What else? Oh, another death, Don Mankiewicz, one of the Mankiewicz's died. Okay, sorry for your Ben, and the rest of your clan. Riots in Baltimore, eh-, yeah, I can't add anything depthful about that. Ooh, Beth Hart has a new album out, I love her. (Singing) "Man, I gotta get out of this town, man, I gotta get back on my feet. Man, I gotta get out of this town..." half of you don't even know that song do you? "Out of this town, and out of L.A.". 

(Frustrated grunt, sigh) Alright, I give. I gave it one last shot. (Calming breath sigh, calming breath sigh) I was hoping never to have to go to the last resort, but I'm out of options today, time to metaphorically break the emergency. I put a poll on Cinema Discussions's FB page and asked if there was any TOP TEN LIST, that they'd like/want me to do. I know, I have a big hate/love relationship with lists. Guys, part of why I can't stand people who basically put out lists is because, I was doing it before everybody. I still keep my list of every movie I've ever seen, and I have numerous sublists below that, most of those I don't bring up or publish. I've been keeping that, since, high school. Like, over wow, 12 years ago, way longer than Letterboxd has been around, okay. It's a habit for me, anyway that's why I don't make lists of everything, 'cause I was one of the very first people to realize how obsessed we are with lists. I watched every list imaginable started with AFI-, no starting with VH-1 "100 Greatest Artists of Rock'n'Roll", list, the first one they did. And most all the other until they became irrelevant. About ten years ago. Since, then, there's whole sites devoted to lists. We love ranking and putting together lists, I get it, believe me, and I'm only doing this because, I really don't have much else to say about anything else at the moment.

So, what won. Well, it looks like Worst Plot Twists. Top Ten Worst Plot Twists? Oh, crap. That was the option I wanted least. FUCK! Alright, well, first of all, what is a plot twist?

A plot twist, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is simply, "an unexpected development" in a piece of literature. Novel, film, television shows, etc. That's it. That can be practically anything. And frankly, that's more of a story twist if we're being honest here. A real twist would be if "The Old Man and the Sea" suddenly turned into "The Fast and the Furious", that would be a plot twist. So, it's basically a story development that's unexpected, but you want shitty ones. Well, it's not really worst ones, but just failed ones. You can kinda do anything in a story as long as we're caught into it believably enough it's possible to hypothetically get away with anything. What this really is, is a sudden shift in the tale or story that's just not believable in the world that the story exists in. For example, Fonzi jumping the shark, is not a plot twist. We'd seen Fonzi, jump 14 trash cans on his motorcycle, we'd seen him riding a bunking bronco, win a demolition derby against the Malachi Brothers, hell turning on the jukebox frankly by just hitting it, Most of those things were relatively awesome, and actually jumping a shark is not that outrageous comparatively in that world, it was just repetitive. We'd seen Fonzi do this many times before, survive and under much more dramatic and dangerous circumstances for us to really be invested in whether or not he can waterski over a shark. (Which was dumb in of itself, it was in the Ocean, how do you keep the shark staying in front of the ramp? It's not like it's a pool or something? Stupid.) A plot twist would be if after Fonzi did that, he'd then announce that he was having a sex change operation and was changing his name to Jennifer. That's a plot twist. It's a very sudden, drastic change in the story. "Sudden" being a keyword. There can be foreshadowing of course, but a deconstructionist perspective, the most effective plot twists, you don't see coming.

Actually, I am more of a deconstructionist most of the time and this is why plot twists are difficult for me to analyze and discuss, because a plot twist to me, is really just a part of the journey of the story. We're expecting our emotions to be manipulated to such varying degrees, so some twists might not come off as twists to me. Yeah, I'll probably go after M. Night Shaymalan at some point here, because he overused this device. Yet strangely, the supposed twist in "Signs", his best film, doesn't exist. There is no plot twist. The water kills them? That's not a twist, it's actually part of the story. The little girl had a lot of glasses of water, so we were paying attention to it, but, let's face it, it's "War of the Worlds". It's just a remake of it, and in the original book, just like the movie, the thing that ultimately toppled the alien attacks was their lack of immunity to Earth-bound diseases and illnesses. They died off because of the common cold, which makes sense. So, why doesn't water make sense? It's possible that aliens might not have water or if they do they might not have an ability to survive our water, which their biological bodies aren't used to. They can both be either unfamiliar or they're just not capable of surviving because of the thing that's foreign to them, it's just as logical that it's water as it is the common cold.

Plus, a bad plot twist doesn't necessarily mean that it was something unpredictable. Nearly every whodunit is usually predictable enough that you would've at least considered the possibility that the person who did it, did it, unless it's somebody who's completely unknown to the story until now, and half the time's that's a deus ex machima and half the time that doesn't really work as a storytelling device or a plot twist. Everyone is naturally a suspect, so it's more-than-likely, you should've considered everyone as the plausible perpetrator. That's a good thing that it's not about whodunit, it's about how the detective character finds out whodunit. So, it's not really important, who actually committed the crime at least plot-wise.

All right, enough stalling. I'm going to take into account film, television and any other pieces of literature that I'm familiar enough with to discuss to come up with this Top Ten Worst Plot Twists. I won't be limited to that though, I might also put on a type of plot twist in this case. Not necessarily a particular work of literature but a generally bad overused plot twists. And I'll briefly describe each of the choices and my reasons for them. So, here we go...

TOP TEN WORST PLOT TWISTS

10. "WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW"-Mae Young gives birth to a hand.



Okay, swear to God, last time I'm mentioning pro wrestling this blogpost, but as soon as I thought of this I knew I had to put it on here. The fact that we're not expecting the greatest of storytelling and inventiveness of the literary form in professional wrestling however, probably makes this that much stupider and just as pointless. Mae Young, at the time, in her mid-'70s was a legendary groundbreaking professional female wrestler, back in the days when that was one of the few options a female athlete had. She was a recurring characters on and off WWE programming back in 2000, she was "Dating" 'Sexual Chocolate' Mark Henry, a man who was one-time legitimately, the world's strongest man, he was an Olympian weightlifter, superheavyweight division, before switching to wrestling, and working a gimmick around his sexual prowess. Then, as he was dating this senior citizen, 40something years his Senior, she got pregnant. And then, when she gave onscreen, she gave birth, to a prosthetic hand. (Go back and repeat those last few sentences, very slowly) This was the culmination of a storyline, that went on for, well, not nine months, but a few months overall. Pro wrestling has a soap opera storyline structure, so you know, if we're going by that standard, Mae Young's not the first person to be pregnant after going through menopause, but ye-ah, even for professional wrestling, this is stupid and nonsensical on so many levels. The concept of the relationship was dumb, the idea of the pregnancy was stupid and then the giving birth, to a prosthetic hand. There's a few plot twists here, all of them stupid. There's plenty of stupid plot twists in pro wrestling, and they have their own terminologies with these things, and I can go on to explain this more elaborately, but, frankly this is long enough to talk about it. If you think you really want to know more, find a longtime pro wrestling fan and ask them about it, you'll probably bum them out, but you can ask them.


9. "MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA"/Historius Interuptus 



In certain situations this can work, "Gangs of New York" comes to mind, but when it doesn't really add anything, this just feels like an arbitrary plotpoint. "Memoirs of a Geisha" is probably my most hated offender and I call this the, "Meanwhile, WWII happens syndrome", which is what happens in that movie, and then for no real reason either. I mean, yeah, history, that's about it. We have to stop for history. This was really bad in "Memoirs..." when, literally out of nowhere, it's WWII, but this is more of a general thing. Basically, this causes the geisha house to quit temporarily, (Which is not that accurate to reality) and then basically happens so a character can quit and then come back later to save the day. You don't even need the war frankly. It's completely arbitrary.


8. "THE VILLAGE" 



Yeah, I had to put one arbitrary M. Night Shaymalan on here, and I'm picking "The Village". SPOILERS: It's modern time. Yeah, that was dumb. I mean, if that was maybe a Eudora Welty short story or something like that, I guess I could see a twist like that working, in written form, but in the language of cinema, it doesn't work. We're wondering when and where we are most of the time anyway, so it isn't that surprising and frankly it just doesn't make any sense anyway. Who was that for, the Amish? Alright, I don't think I need to explain more on that one; I met my quota.


7. "FIGHT CLUB"/The Cheat Ending



Okay, for those who are unaware of this, "Fight Club" is a lousy film and a cheat. I know, some people are insistent that it isn't, they're wrong. This gets grouped together with other famous twist endings of the period,  like "The Usual Suspects" or "The Sixth Sense" but this one, isn't a twist, it's just a cheat. That's the thing a twist, has to actually do two things, one it actually has to have a dramatic input on the story, it can't be arbitrary. It kinda is in "Fight Club", but actually problem is that it's just a lie. There's numerous points in the film, including the opening shot, which specifically tells us, this is important and real, when in reality, if the twist is right then those scene we're impossible. In fact, much of this movie involves things that are just impossible. It might make more sense in novel form, but on screen, in the frame, when you create the truth and then say it's the truth, and then say, "Oh, just kidding," that's not twisting, that's flat out, lying to the audience. This is why those other films work and this one doesn't. "The Usual Suspects", Verbal Kint isn't lying to the audience, he's lying to the police. There's a difference, we're experiencing his story visually, but then there's lying to the audience, and that, you can't do. You can deceive or trick the audience, "The Sixth Sense" did that well, but lying to the audience, no, "Fight Club" from the first shot on, lies to the audience, only to say at the end, "I'm sorry, all that didn't happen." That's different than the untrustworthy or unknowing narrator. Now there's other problems with "Fight Club" too, but there's a lot of variations of this cheat ending disguised as a twist ending. "Fight Club", isn't the worst offender by any means, but I'm including it 'cause I'm amazed how many people fall for it with this film. There isn't even any good foreshadowing or subtle filmmaking techniques to hint at it. No seriously, there isn't. So we see Pitt before Norton, uh, sure, but that doesn't add anything, in fact all it tells us is that, "Ha ha, this is a much bigger cheat than we let on.", 'cause we already know Pitt's coming even before then. There's perspective shots that are impossible, there's one or two cute scenes involving Helena Bonham Carter sleeping with both of them, but they don't know they're one in the same, which is still impossible, oh, but it's okay, 'cause it's a metaphor for the Nazis, the Fight Club. Uh, no, not really. It really isn't that. There's better films with that metaphor, but still beating the hell out of each other isn't a movement, National Socialist or any kind of revolution, but I digress, even if you accept all that, the ending is still just a blatant cheat. to anybody who paid attention. Still, there's worst plot twists.


6. Most "It was all a dream" endings. 



This is very specific, I'm not talking something like "The Wizard of Oz" where it's pretty clear it's a dream the whole time, or tell you it's a dream, or something like a David Lynch where he prefers to use the world and logic of dreams as setting for the film. Or even aberrations, which you won't find on this list by the way, an aberration isn't inherently a plot twist and frankly, it's as often good character development as anything else. Nobody complains about dream sequences in "The Big Lebowski" do they? No, I'm talking when the result of the whole story, ends when the character suddenly wakes up to find up, none of it was real and it was all in their mind. That said, even then, sometimes this works, "The Woman in the Window" for instance is a great film noir that has this ending that still holds up amazingly. Hell, two of the greatest moments in television history, Bobby Ewing coming back on "Dallas" and the greatest series finale episode of all-time, the final episode of "Newhart" did this absolutely masterfully. In general though it's mostly lazy writing, and that's why I have to put it up here. Plus, it basically negates everything that came before, unless it's an aberration from within a character's mind. There's a few episodes of "Scrubs" that did this masterfully, because it didn't negate everything that happened it just put it into the context of it being from a character's perspective. I guess I could mention something like "North" that did this, or any ending that turns out to be a story being told to kids that just happens to be known to the storyteller as real. I know "The Care Bears" did that all the time but I heard recently a whole season of "Power Rangers" did that once. Not that I was ever a "Power Rangers" fan, but, I never would've thought they would never be reduced to a story told to children by a teacher, especially since when I was young, the fear was that they were too much of a negative influence on schoolchildren. It's basically the same thing, story being told, dreams, they're both just as unreal even if they feel real. It doesn't necessarily negate the events before, but still.... So, this stupid out in general, is pretty dumb, and I think needs a spot if for nothing else, even if it does work, it's lazy, lazy writing.


5. "PERRY MASON"/The Compelled Confession 



I actually love "Perry Mason"; I've watched this show all my life actually and in every other way possible, it invented the lawyer show. Everything good about the lawyer show too. He even lost a case once, don't forget, so even he did that. The rest of the time though, it's funny, that suddenly at the end of the episode, that whoever the killer actually is, will suddenly announce that he/she did it, in the courtroom, often on the stand, during the trial. The reveal of whodunit, that's always great, but the confession? That's worst than the Bond villain revealing all his plans to Bond instead of just killing him. Especially in anything when this happens now, the sudden confession at the end. At least with Perry Mason, it's almost a joke now that you can accept, but once in a while this show's up on "Law & Order" or something, the great reveals of information in the courtroom. Doesn't have to be revealing the killer, just the sudden courtroom confession, even with provocation, it really comes off as bad writing.


4. "THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT"/Amnesia



I don't know when the amnesia plot twist was started, I usually date it back, at least television-wise to "The Addams Family" (Great episode of that show actually, they did it well, probably why this plot twist is such a bad television cliche now) and there's variants on this, dating back to "A Midsummer Night's Dream", but this is really the bottom of the writing barrel, and the biggest hack writing move there is. It's fun for actors I guess 'cause they get to play something other than themselves, but it's basically a one-thing gimmick, the character forgets who they are, and then later, the remember. They always remember later, you almost never,- okay, "Samantha Who?" and the "The Bourne Trilogy" movies, but other than that, they almost always go back to themselves by the end anyway. Then there's the worst use of amnesia, "The Long Kiss Goodnight", and this is one of the few plot twists that isn't just the ending. Basically, Geena Davis doesn't know who she is, turns out to be a FBI who has for the last seven or so years, had a daughter, started a family, yada, yada, yada, and then suddenly, she instantly remembers that she's a true bad ass sexy, emotionless bitch who loves to kill. I almost also called this the Jekyll & Hyde syndrome, but he didn't forget who he was, he was just turning into somebody else. That's overplayed too, but that's not the same nor is it worst than having amnesia. It can be done well, but why do it at all? This is just a dumb, very dumb, overused plot twist. Used mostly as a device and only on very rare occasions does it actually get used in such a way to actually explore the real effects of having lost your entire identity and trying to then have to find out who you actually are.


3. "JOSHUA"/Faith




The worst single storytelling device of all-time, is faith. This isn't even really a plot twist per se, but, well, it can be, when that turns out to be the answer. Just believe for absolutely no logical reason, and then it'll be true. (Annoyed grunt) Imagine, if Santa Clause, didn't bring present every year, he just showed up at your house while you were asleep Christmas day and then, left. Maybe ate a cookie or two and drank a glass of milk, but do you think would believe if he didn't bring gifts? I don't think so. The gift is the evidence that, yes, Santa was here. This is why faith is not a believable storyline, ever. Never has been, never will be. I'm sure you can name a thousand films about how this fails, the one I always think about was this Christian movie I watched once called "Joshua". Who's Joshua? He's Jesus. There's a small town of Auburn, somewhere, and he's come in, and is a great carpenter who helps out the entire town from building the African-American's baptist church, to helping bake cookies or any other small job, almost like he's a presence and not a real person. The only person who is righteously skeptical of Mr. No Last Name, Joshua, is the town's local priest. Of course, by the end, he's converted throw the power of faith, through Joshua's hand. It ends with him getting to meet the pope in Rome, before, dissolving/vanishing into the spirits. Sorry for that spoiler. BTW, Tony Goldwyn was Joshua and the priest was F. Murray Abraham in that horrific film. Faith as a storytelling device is horrible enough, but faith as a twist, the twist being that yes, he is Jesus. That's pretty bad. Even some of the really bad religious films I've been unfortunate enough to see didn't have faith as the plot twist, although for all I know that might just be lucky me, but still, faith as a plot twist, is bad, if not worst, than faith as a storytelling device.


2. "AMANDA" 



I'm not being facetious here, this is the single-worst movie I've ever seen! I'm deadly serious, there is nothing lower than this film for me. (Under normal circumstances, we'll get to my number one, but I need to tell this story first.) I was a judge for a local film festival many years back, it was a side job just for experience and to make a few extra bucks and I was given the task up doing the write-up for the film "Amanda". If you've never heard of it 'til now, you're welcome. I did my job then. (Growling angry breath) I gave it a well-deserved, emphatic "Not Recommend," and no, it did not screen at the festival that I was judging and I am very proud of that fact. The story involves a forty-year-old bachelor, who like the rest of this movie is very shallow about women, but he finally meets the one. Amanda, and they get married and then on their wedding night, she tells him that she was born a guy. This is most horrible, horrible tragic thing that could've ever happened to him. And, if you're thinking "Holy shit, that's the most shallowest, stupidest thing ever!", this movie has more twists that are stupider and more shallow than that. The second half of the movie, after the marriage is annulled, is still the constant following of this shallow guy, as he begins to see Amanda everywhere, including in his fantasies or dreams and he wonders, "Gee, maybe I can actually grow and be accepting of this gorgeous, nice, beautiful woman who I'm in love even though she was born a man." Which he eventually does, remind you, this guy is supposed to be 40 years old at the time. But, no, there's another twist that's even stupider and more shallow than all this. He finally is willing to accept Amanda and then we find out, A. The marriage is still intact, B. She was lying, she was actually born a female and this was all a test! A test for what you ask? C. It turns out, not only is she perfect, not only is she a female, but she's stupidly stupidly rich, and she wanted to make sure that the love was real before revealing that. (Clinched fists, pounding against side of my head). Where to begin? How about "Oh, thank god, you're not a woman, and you're rich! Awesome!" Nevermind all the lying, the homophobia, the shallowness of the story, the disrespect towards females, in general in this film, but negating the whole plot in favor of "Ha ha, just kidding!" (Go back to my reasoning behind putting "Fight Club" on this list.) but, "Good news, I'm rich, it's a fantasy come true, you won the lottery! Oh my God, this movie. Could not fit more inexcusable stupid plot twists in it, one dumber than the next, and from the perspective of an asshole. It's tin-eared, it's offensive, it's everything that can possibly be done wrong from a storytelling perspective, especially for a romance. These are fine plot twists to actually use, to explore, but they're not done well at all. There's very little I can say about this, without literal steam coming from me. This movie is toxic, especially in the many ways it fails to use plot twists effectively. Basically, he has no idea how real people who aren't stupid, might respond to situations like this. Think for comparison a film like "50/50" where Joseph Gordon-Levitt finds out he has cancer and how the characters are in fact struggling to deal with all this entails. Well there is none of that here. Yes it's a bombshell, but A. She is a woman so why does it matter and B. alright, dick move on her part not telling, but still, the overreaction is not justifiable anywhere outside of "The Maury Povich Show".

(Drumroll)

And now for the NUMBER ONE ALL-TIME WORST PLOT TWIST OF ALL-TIME!

(Drumroll ends. Frustrated sigh)

Yeah, a plot twist ruining a movie, understandable. Forgivable perhaps. Ruining a TV series, tragic, very tragic. But, how bad can a plot twist really be? You see the thing is, a plot twist means that's you've started a plot already and are mow suddenly going a different direction, a different narrative perhaps and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, unless of course, you negate everything that came before. Now how bad is that, depends on, what exactly you had before. Maybe you ruin an episode, a season, maybe your whole series, but surely, you can't ruin a whole art medium by doing that. No, it's just limited to what's in the piece of literature's you're working on, you can only ruin your own world, right? Killing your babies is fine, that's part of writing, but you can't possibly kill everybody else's babies as well, while killing your own?! That's not possible, right? RIGHT!? I can't ruin my own novel with a stupid plot twist that also ruins "Romeo & Juliet", that can't possibly happen?! There can't be anything that bad?!?!


1. "ST. ELSEWHERE" "The Last One" (FINALE EPISODE)-Tommy Westphall Multiverse



OH MY GOD, THEY KILLED TELEVISION!!!!!! YOU BASTARDS!!!!!!

Okay, first off, some backstory "St. Elsewhere" is a television show more people should know about because it basically was, "ER", like ten years earlier and just as good maybe better even. It was the most realistic portrayal of a hospital ever on television up to that time and it should've been regarded like that. It lasted six seasons, had some big stars on it. Howie Mandel got his start on it, so did Ed Begley Jr., so Denzel Washington of all people, lot of other terrific actors, writers, directors, etc. It was a critical and ratings success. This was a great show, and it should be considered the groundbreaker that it was, but when the series ended, it ended catastrophically.It turns out the most realistic television show that ever took place, was in fact, all inside the mind of Tommy Westphall, a little autistic child. Now, as somebody who watches his autistic brother most days, I know about autism and I get the sentiment they were trying to show, but this was so the wrong way to do the "It was all a dream." plot twist. Yes, I'm using this twice, but there's a difference. How "Newhart" did this perfectly, "St. Elsewhere" did it horribly, beyond even the worst dream twists like this. There's a reason it's impossible to find this show in reruns, the whole show essentially negated and not only was it the wrong kind of show to negate, but somebody years ago figured out that this single act, ruined television, forever. Before the show and after the show! How the hell is this possible? Well, "St. Elsewhere" took place in reality, the modern world, and like many shows that use modern world language and references, the show made numerous reference to other television shows. It even had numerous crossovers with other TV shows and those shows had numerous references to other television shows, and there were shows in the future that indeed referenced or took place in the same universe as "St. Elsewhere". Basically, with few exceptions, and you can look up the map yourself, just google Tommy Westphall Multiverse, television is now just a figment of an autistic kid's imagination! There was literally no worst scenario they could've come up with to use this plot twist. The deeper down this rabbit hole you go, more and more television almost daily becomes apart of this kid's mind, television that's actually being created now is stuck inside this kid's mind. This without a doubt, even above the worst movie I've ever seen is the single-worst plot twist in history! I will not accept an argument for any other answer, nothing is worst than this. No other plot twist are we still feeling the ramification from, 25 years later, and we might feel that twist for decades to come.

Alright, there you go. You wanted the Top Ten Worst Plot Twists of All-Time, there they are. I guess that wasn't so, so bad. I might do more of these down the line. Not right now though, but I hope you enjoyed this little aberration of me doing a Top Ten List. Now to plan my next plot twist, where next blogpost, it turns out I've been a paralyzed lesbian vampire dying of Syphilis this whole time. Okay, just kidding about the Syphilis.

Friday, April 24, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #107: "SONG OF THE SEA", "THE BOXTROLLS", "THE DROP", "GET ON UP", "MEMPHIS" and MORE!

I was gonna write a review also of "Seven Years in Tibet" but, I didn't really want to and now since I'm under no real obligation to review everything, eh, fuck it. It was mostly boring, Brad Pitt's accent was weird, moving on. Yeah, I know I got the internet back now, but I still gotta focus my attentions elsewhere, so I'm frankly not bothering anymore, at least on things I don't want to or aren't important. I'll review important films, particularly newly-released made ones, and anything else I happen to feel like, but I'm not gonna go out of my way for everything anymore. That was a long run, 105+ sets of over 1,300 consecutive films reviewed (Under the guidelines that I decided were eligible for review, which mostly meant uncut and not movies seen on TV except for HBO and the like) but you know what, I think, it's high time to move on from the rigidness of this formula, and start to spend more time focusing on writing things that I think are really worth writing on. This is a new declaration for this blog in general really, so I'm not reviewing "Seven Years in Tibet". Or, the 1944 version of "The Bridge of San Luis Rey", which also was mostly a mess although I'm not sure the novel works that well, or the French film "Delicacy" from 2012, about Audrey Tautou finding love again after her husband's sudden death, or "Fortress" another 2012 film about the B17 Flying Fortress Bomber squad that's fighting in Sicily in WWII, and boasts on the box, that it had the special effects team behind a History Channel documentary series. "Fortress", is really, really, really, lucky I'm choosing not to review everything now. REALLLL-LY LUCKY. Like ZERO STARS, lucky. That film would've gotten destroyed by me, if I, in any way thought it was worth destroying.

Anyway, we're trying to get back to the day-to-days of the blog and my own work outside of this blog. I'm also posting a lot of my movie reviews now on Watch This Space Film Magazine's website, so go to watchthisspacefilmmagazine.com to see some of my reviews there as well as other talented reviewers. Alright, not much left to say, so let's get to this week's MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with a pair of this year's Oscar nominated Animated features!


SONG OF THE SEA (2014) Director: Tomm Moore

✰✰✰1/2




I was one of the ones that was mostly confused when Tomm Moore’s previous feature “The Secret of the Kells” got a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Even after I saw the movie, while the world was mildly amusing but I thought it went so deep into the mythology of the world that frankly I didn’t care much about anybody and while I thought the 2-D style of animation was interesting I didn’t think it was particularly impressive or memorable to me. Obviously it’s gained some fans over the years. Well, Moore’s newest feature also snuck in as a surprise nomination again, this one’s called “Song of the Sea”, and I think it’s a little more successful at combining these pieces of mythic folklore with a more fairy tale story. He switched from paper to doing the hand-drawn on computer using a program called TV Paint and it does give a more richer water-colors painterly feel to the film that I remember “…Kells” having. The story revolves around a brother and sister Ben (David Rawie) and Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell). Ben is the older brother who’s mother used to tell stories of the Selkies, an Irish legend of people who are, essentially fairies but have qualities of seals, I guess a close proximity might be mermaids. Their mother (Lisa Hannigan) passed years earlier when Saoirse was born. She's now six-year-old and has yet to talk, but now starts to when she discovers her true nature as a Selkie when strange magic lights start to appear and it one of the most intrinsically beautiful scenes, she puts on her coat and joins her kind in the sea. She’s however taken away from this, because her father (Brendan Gleeson) and his mother, (Fionnula Flanagan), a more cold-hearted Granny character decides to have them more into the city. Soon, both kids run away, determined to get back to their coastal home, right as Saoirse begins to get ill and they begin to discover other magical worlds and creatures, most of them are trapped and need Saoirse to rejoin the Selkie world, in order to save them. This is one of those films where the magical and real worlds are essentially close to each other, but on different plains I guess, but that in nature it’s all interconnected. It’s also the kind of fairy tale where the characters you meet in the magical world seem strikingly similar to characters you run into in your regular world but you might not see the similarities at first. I’m sure there’s a lot of mysticism that I’m missing; I didn’t exactly that Irish folklore and mythology class in high school, instead choosing to fail French a couple times, so I guess in some ways I’m still learning about this world, but I enjoyed this one more. The animation is better, the story is fairly routine but solid nonetheless. I suspect Moore is still a movie or two away from making a breakthrough feature, but he’s building this amazingly inventive world that is unique to him in animation and probably film in general. I don’t think it’s the more I learn about his worlds the more I’ll like it, I think it’s the more he’ll show and teach us over the next few films that will enhance our appreciation of his works. If they keep getting better like this, then I’ll definitely be looking forward to his next feature. 


THE BOXTROLLS (2014) Directors: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi





Huh? This got nominated for Best Animated Feature over "The LEGO Movie"? I-I guess I can sorta understand on an animation level, this is a Laika Production and they're stop-motion animation is usually quite special like "Coraline" or "ParaNorman" some of the most interesting and special animated films in recent years, but really? This film? "The Boxtrolls"? I'm sorry, to be so, uh, what's-the-right-word, befuddled by this film, but I'm a little stumped by this one? On the one hand, this film really is just another tale where another group of monsters is misunderstood for evil by the adults in the power and in turn, the whole town and they now have to be convinced that indeed they are not evil, by little kids who they don't listen. Oh, and the adults are obsessed with cheese. Okay, that last part is just weird, especially when you actually see how obsessed with cheese they are, like it's almost currency in this universe, that and white hats, 'cause, as far as I could tell, the white hats get to eat the cheese. 

(Rubs top of nose between eyes for several minutes of pause)

Okay, my first question is, "What the hell's with the movie?" The Boxtrolls are, well, they're not that magical or cuddly or interesting a group of characters that you'd really want to save them, but let's presume they are for the time being, they're a shy group of monsters who live in and have a habit of hiding in their boxes, which serve the purpose of a turtle shell essential, a place to live and as clothes. They're builders actually and are constantly hiding. There's one human Boxtroll, a kid named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who doesn't know about his original human origins. However, the main story thread, I think, it's a bit debatable, but I think it's based around Winnie (Elle Fanning) the daughter of Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) who I think is essentially the town's Mayor, oh the town's name is Cheesebridge btw, and it's somewhere, I guess in a Dickinsian England via Jean-Pierre Jeunet (And not good Jeunet either). He's hired Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to get the Boxtrolls who have constantly been reported to have taken more and more children, most notably the Trubshaw Baby many years earlier and now the stories about them have run rapid. I-eh, ugh, yeah, the more I think about it, the less this feels like a real movie. This is typical, by the numbers stuff primarily and the choices they do make would be too ridiculous in a Wallace & Gromit short. In many ways, this does feel like a rejected Aardman Animation idea in both look and tone. This film just frustrated me. The kids are smart, sorta, the adults are all too dumb to exist, the Boxtrolls aren't that interesting, the plot recycles everything from "The Night of the Hunter" to "The Jetsons Movie", yet none of this really comes together. It does but in this contrived way in front of all the gullible townspeople and even then it ends, strangely with, an unfunny version of the grossest joke from "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life". "The Boxtrolls" is just a mess. I'm told that this is based on a children's story, I don't know how close it was to the original, but it feels like they were struggling to extend it, at least I hope that was a problem. I don't even think kids would like this to be honest. Young kids might be entertained but I can't imagine anybody really being taken in from the world or the magic of "The Boxtrolls". 


THE DROP (2014) Director: Michael R. Roskam

✰✰✰✰✰





“The Drop” got overlooked in general last year, despite the fact that it marks one of the last major performances from James Gandolfini and it’s one of his very best too. Written by Dennis Lehane and based on his short story (His work has been adapted to such films as "Mystic River", "Gone Baby Gone" and "Shutter Island"), the movie is simultaneously a complex mobster story of characters double and triple-crossing each other while also being a fairly simple story about two characters caught in a situation they can’t get out of, without things getting violent. The movie takes place around a Brooklyn drop bar once owned by Marv (Gandolfini) but is now owned by the Chechnya mafia which uses it as a location for drop offs of large amounts of money on a nightly basis. Marv still works there as does Bob (Tom Hardy) his cousin, who tends bar, although that’s usually as much criminal activity that either of them prefer to be involved with. It’s shortly after Christmas when two things happen. One, the bar is robbed by two guys in masks. The second is that Bob, while walking home one day, finds that somebody threw a pitbull into the trash, a beat up one at that. The owner of the house, Nadia (Noomi Rapace) used to take care of animals as a veterinarian’s assistant, and she’s as shocked as Bob is at the dog, which we find out later was put there by her ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenhaerts). Eric has long-been suspected of killing a local boy that one day just got picked up in his car and disappeared named Ritchie Whelan, he was last seen leaving the bar. Now that case is being dragged up again, at the same time the police, led by Torres (John Ortiz) is also investigating the robbery. The Chechneans, lead by Chovka (Michael Aronov) also are insistent on Marv and Bob to find the money they’re owed, partially suspecting that it’s an inside job, moreso insistent that they want to punish the criminals either way, sending a message to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I would say that the film is about the ways these worlds inevitably collide, but actually, the theme of the movie is that this is essentially one world we’re a part of. Bob is just tending bar, like he claims, but nobody is just tending bar, they’re all a part of the criminal underworld in one way or another, as it simply envelopes the area. Part of the movie is how some struggle to go on about their lives, while the other part is that these are their lives. There’s definitely a James M. Cain feel to the atmosphere of “The Drop”  and while the web itself is complex, the interesting part is how we and the characters find themselves getting sucked in and how they react to it. I’m not making this sound like a character piece but it really is, and as we dive into Bob and Marv, and they reveal themselves more throughout the film. The story could take place anywhere, but it’s the world that’s created, as well as some great performances that makes it convincing. This is one of those classic hard-boiled noirs, not glitzy or glamorous, but just compelling and effective storytelling at its core. It was directed by Michael R. Roskam, the Belgian director behind "Bullhead", and he was good at creating a brutal reality of the underworld in that film, and he's actually better here. Really impressive feature. 


GET ON UP (2014) Director: Tate Taylor


✰✰1/2



I wasn’t particularly asking for a James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) biopic, not that I would be against one, but two things: First, if you’re gonna do a biopic, you gotta have a reason to do it. If you could find the reason for “Get On Up”’s existence, please inform me. I love James Brown and all, but I looked around and didn’t see one, certainly no reason in this film. The other is that-, well,- honestly, the other one is, (Sigh) well, I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll just say it, you actually have to have a story to tell, and not just, make the character into a caricature really. I hate to be mean here, but I don’t know how else to explain it. The opening scenes of “Get On Up”, and many of the scenes in this movie, feel like rejected sketches from “In Living Color”. Like, if somebody talented had a James Brown impression and they were trying to figure out ways to use it. I’m not gonna blame Chadwick Boseman completely, ‘cause I think the script had dozens of problems to begin with, but if you were trying to learn something new about James Brown going into this film, then you really weren’t gonna get anything by his performance, and I don’t think he was particularly good is part of the problem. It’s worst though than just a wrong approach to this character, Brown’s life could’ve been made into three or four different movies, you could’ve made one just on the Boston Garden concert the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. It’s not even that, there’s a sequence in this movie, with cameos by Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey, two unbelievably amazing actors, Brown and his band are in New Orleans, and they’re hanging out by the hotel pool, and these two are tourists wondering why they paid all this money and traveled all this way to have to share a pool with a bunch of- black people, and of course they used the N-word instead. Now, then the band has a rehearsal session, and the music, peels through the walls and of course, these two old white people are now dancing and funking to the music in the hotel lobby, music from the same people they were complaining were in the hotel. Other than wasting two of the best actors around, I don’t know what that scene accomplished. That’s the only time those characters are seen by the way, so don’t think there’s something else that I’m missing here, there’s not. Some of the more cartoonish stuff, I don’t even know what’s true or not from much of this film, whether James Brown ripping his pants doing the splits was really the precipice of his famous robe bit, there a few of those that just seem weird. There’s moments where he talks to the camera about some of his other ideas like forgoing local promoters to pay off unknown radio deejays to promote his shows to earn more money, those things are interesting, the way the Furious Flames, led by Bobby Byrd (Nelson Ellis) were formed and then relegated by everyone from Little Richard (Brandon Smith) to his manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) to basically his backup band which whether that was the Flames or not, he treated dismissively, that stuff was interesting. The few years in jail and the shooting and high speed chase incident, is just awkwardly put together, and they practically skip completely over his tax evasion problems. They try to shoehorn stuff with his mother and father (Viola Davis and Lennie James) but it doesn’t get us anywhere closer to understanding or giving us a new side to James Brown. The film was directed by Tate Taylor, who last directed “The Help” a movie which was popular but I still contend was awful and he’s got some of the same structuring issues here as he did with that film. This is a better film, but there’s a bunch of James Brown songs playing, how bad can it be? But really there’s this severe lack of insight into his characters that really brings the movie down. Remember in “The Help” how we didn’t see Octavia Spencer’s character’s husband at all, much less the actual realities of her being an abused wife? (Spencer btw, has a role here btw, as you may have noticed, there’s quite a few cameos from “The Help” in the film) Well, the one scene we get showing James hitting his wife DeeDee (Jill Scott) also purposefully shies away from that reality, as he hits her offscreen and we see the effects. Not that we had to James Brown beating his wife, I don’t want to see that frankly, but it’s indicative of the problem with the film. It’s one thing to not know which side of a person they want to show and dive into but it’s a bigger problem that it didn't matter, ‘cause whichever way they tried they didn't know how to do it.


MEMPHIS (2014) Director: Tom Sutton

✰✰



I guess it's difficult for the more casual filmgoer to see a movie that's not particularly the more tradition or classic Hollywood structure and you know, and really just dismiss it as meandering around, while others might argue it as artistic. That kind of movie. Well, "Memphis", is a movie that I would say is mostly a bunch of meandering around. I guess some of it's interesting, it's actually, I guess a semi-documentary, kinda. It's follows around local Memphis poet Willis Earl Beal, who is playing himself and we see him, going about his days, occasionally meandering around Memphis and some of the city's/neighborhood's more interesting personalities. Honestly, that's about all I got out of it. It's the kind of movie where occasionally you'd look up at it and find something interesting or someone saying something that intrigues you, but then they move onto something else so quickly that it's actually worth that they brought it up to begin with. I wish I kept better notes on it, 'cause I'm gonna admit that I'm pretty much scouring other reviews right now, trying to see what scenes and moments other critics focused on, but I think that's the problem. It's such a random mix that, it doesn't really focus enough time on anything for us to really care. We kinda get to know a few people, which it's more, but not really though. It's mostly akin to, a collection of interesting people you've met over the years, perhaps on a bus or some other time between other things you're doing, but then never really see again. The movie was directed by Tom Sutton, who I told is inspired by others from in this southern gothic tradition like Malick or David Gordon Green; this is my first film of his, and I'm not sure I see it here. I guess there's, something interesting about the pseudo-documentary pseudo-live action style, but ultimately I think it underlines the unfocused nature of the film as I think the film itself was more unsure of what it wanted to be. I might look up Beal's poetry, but I don't think I learned much about him or Memphis in this film, maybe a perspective of what his life is like, but I think I'd rather hear the poetry that gets inspired from it than to walk a mile in his shoes.


THE NAKED KISS (1964) Director: Samuel Fuller

✰✰✰✰✰




I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but “The Naked Kiss” is my first Samuel Fuller film. Obviously, while I’ve seen quite a few films, there are many more major films that for one reason or another just haven’t gotten around to yet and up until now, Samuel Fuller was one of the few major filmmakers who I hadn’t seen any of his movies until now. I kept trying btw, something always came up. (My local library has lost multiple copies of “The Big Red One”, right as I’m always trying to borrow it. It’s on my Netflix list, don’t worry; I’m more ashamed that I’m severely lacking in Satyjit Ray films, having only seen one of his.) Well, I hope the general consensus is that “The Naked Kiss” is a good one to start with and I certainly want to see more of his after seeing it. It’s listed as a film noir but this is a very late one, 1962, and you can tell, it’s challenging a few of the Hayes Code standards that were starting to drop around then. (Boy, the ‘60s are a really interesting decade. Like “True Grit” and “2001…” were made at the same time, just a lot of colliding of many different kinds of films and filmmakers at that time, and much of it is really good.) “The Naked Kiss” begins with an amazingly strange scene where our “hero” if we can call her that, Kelly (Constance Towers) is beating somebody us it seems, repeatedly over the head with a wine bottle. It soon becomes clear that it was indeed somebody else, she’s beating senseless, until her hair flies off, and not she’s beating us over the head with a wine bottle, in her underwear, and for some reason, bald, over a matter of $75 we find out. Kelly is a hard-wired prostitute who we meet up with two years later, arriving in a small town selling bottles of champagne, supposedly, but the town’s somewhat corrupt police officer, Griff (Anthony Eisley) nails her right away, pun intended. He sends her originally to an out-of-town brothel run by Candy (Virginia Grey) so she can become a “bonbon girl” for her, (That’s a new one for me folks, but bonbon is actually just French for “candy”,  but I guess that’s good enough for a pseudonym for whore) but instead she takes a job working at a children’s hospital for Mac (Patsy Kelly) and apparently this is the kind of town where a new girl comes in and becomes an exceptional nurse’s assistant and people hear about it. Griff finds out and eventually word spreads to Grant (Michael Dante) the son of the town’s found, I guess who’s got his name on everything in the town including the children’s hospital, one of his many philanthropic endeavors. They become lovers inevitably, while still pressured by Griff, not convinced she’s not running a con, especially considering her past. She helps out a couple people in town as well, women especially like Dusty (Karen Conrad) who she helps send away to have a child instead of getting an abortion, and when some other girl gets sent to Candy, she lays her out pretty thick as well. It’s a strange place this town, Grantville. There seems to be two worlds, the corrupt side and the side with, good will and the innocence of children I guess, usually handicapped ones. I wonder if Todd Solondz thought of this film for his “Palindromes” experiment. Inevitably, she ends up killing Grant, who turns out to be a pedophile, but no one believes her. The plot’s really not that relevant to “The Naked Kiss”, it’s quick-moving and over-the-top, stylized somewhere between Otto Preminger style at his best mixed with Howard Hawks’s enthusiasm and Jean-Luc Godard ability to not give a shit what the audience may think. Everything is pretty much a world to surround the main character of Kelly, a femme fatale who’s trying to change and improve her life while everybody else is fascinated with her. She’s caught between two worlds, the one she left, the one she’s in now, and this other world at the hospital with the children, as probably a hazard of her previously has led to her not being able to have children. An ideal she’d rather she’d at least like to help others achieve while she might not be able to ever achieve it. Also strange how the globe-trotting rich pedophile and the hooker with a heart of gold are the only two fascinated with music and poetry. Fuller is saying something here, maybe I’ll learn more as I dive deeper into his filmography in the future. “The Naked Kiss” is certainly an interesting film and a great enough introduction to the work of Samuel Fuller to make me want to seek out more of his films.  


LEON MORIN, PRIEST (1961) Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

✰✰✰✰1/2




I gotta confess something with Melville with me, I constantly find myself struggling through his films. That’s not to say they’re bad films, in fact they usually are great, but they often feel like a chore, more than that, they don’t leave you much room to breathe. I constantly have to be paying attention, and most of the time, including now, I usually feel like I’m missing something and I have to go back and rewind the DVD. Sometimes it turns out I’m not, but it just feels that ‘cause I blinked on a subtitle or sometimes, I feel like I’ve missed half an hour of the film. It’s both episodic and yet continuous, and it doesn’t help that Melville is fond of a constant Fade outs to black, which usually to me means, the end in cinematic language so the coming back from it constantly is disorienting. I wish he would used a swish cut or something once in a while instead. “Leon Morin, Priest”, is actually mostly about Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) who narrates the films which takes place in the French Alps during the Nazi Occupation. She’s a widow, with a kid and is in cohootz with other wives of communists and Jews, who are fearful that they’ll kids will be taken while they’re men are off at war. At first the movie focuses on Barny’s crush on Sabine (Nicole Mirel) her boss as the head secretary at the correspondence school she works at. I’m not completely sure what to make of that to be honest. She then meets Leon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) by going to confession, figuring she’d play a joke and berate the church as she had long left Catholicism. Yet, he fascinated her, and her him, and they begin having weekly conversations and he provides books for her. Inevitably, she ends up converting to Catholicism as the Occupation continues to grow and it becomes treacherous. Morin is actually hiding Jews and working secretly for the Resistance, which becomes a subject of great debate among Barny and her peers, what to do and how to fight back, or if they should. It tackles these subjects from a Religious and moral position, and the conflict within them. Leon and Barny are attracted to each other, Barny is in fact often seeming flirtatious with several women who he’s a go-to spiritual advisor to in this town where he’s basically the only man not killed or in the war. Barny’s questioning her beliefs as well. I’m mostly conflicted on “Leon Morin, Priest”. It’s definitely a strong film, an important look at WWII that we haven’t seen before, although it pales compared to Melville’s stronger “Army of Shadows” in terms of being just about the resistance. I think there was just too much going on however. This was taken from a more elaborate novel and I think Melville was unsure whether to tell the entirety of it, or to focus in on certain parts and while everything’s good, it does feel a touch unfocused. Maybe on another viewing I can appreciate the subtextual content more, but other than that, I just wish it was more palatable for me. 


BREAKING AWAY (1979) Director: Peter Yates

✰✰✰✰1/2



I think the most interesting thing about "Breaking Away" is the choices the movie made. The film won the Oscar for Original Screenplay for Steve Tesich, who's other well-remembered screenplay, "The World According to Garp", which I actually enjoyed a little more than this movie, perhaps I'm more intrigued by the source material but he has that same quirky sense of the world that's just this side of zany. If you really break down the material, it's basically an underdog sports story about a team of eclectic underdogs who compete against the local big shot jocks, but there's something strangely enjoyable about the way the movie ends up there. There's four cutters, which is the sland term used by the college kids for locals, are Dave (Dennis Christopher) a smart young kid who didn't go to college much to his father's (Paul Dooley) dismay in order to train to be a professional cyclist and that includes becoming obsessed with the Italian National Team, to the point where he's now sings and plays Opera, talks with a fake accent and begins doing things like shaving his legs while singing "Figaro". Mike (Dennis Quaid) a former star high school quarterback who's annoyed that the college kids in the town, the town by the way is Bloomington, Indiana and much of the movie was shot in the town. There's Cyril (Daniel Stern) who's mostly comic relief. The shortest and youngest of the group, Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) who's in love with his girlfriend Suzy (P.J. Soles) to the point where they seriously consider marriage while they're still in high school. There's a few strange attempts at either of them having a job, or choosing not to, and Dave also get into trouble with the Jocks after hitting on Nancy (Amy Wright) convincing her that he was an Italian exchange student at the college, the main one, being Rod (Hart Bochner), Nancy's boyfriend. Everything will come around when the local town is allowed is submit a team to the town's annual bike race and with Dave on the team, they know that, even with teams with major college athletes, that they have a shot, especially if they train. The four have a habit of hanging out over where the old rock quarry was which is now one of many cliff over what I believe is now a local reservoir where they get upset when some of the college kids go cliff diving and hang out there as well. I guess it's kind of a local Inspiration Point type place, but it's believable for these character. "Breaking Away" takes a rather traditional narrative but really finds a new way of telling it. I have a hard time calling it great myself, I think the newness of the approach caught people offguard honestly, but it still holds up. I wish this didn't exactly end up so formulaic, but I guess that's not the worst thing.


FRAILTY (2002) Director; Bill Paxton

✰✰✰✰1/2



A chillingly intense horror, I, for some reason, missed "Frailty" when it originally came out although I had heard many of the film's glowing reviews and the movie has slowly grown with a cult following. I can understand, I finally saw it a week ago and it's still chilling and more than that, many of the implications of the film, depending on interpretation really make you think. The movie begins with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) walking into a FBI headquarters in a large Texas city, I'm presuming Dallas but I'm not positive on that, and he asks to talk to the lead investigator in the God's Hand Killer case. Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe) is there and at the end of the day, decides to listen as he suspects that his brother might be the serial killer that has been haunting and alluding Texas officials for awhile. In flashbacks, we see Fenton and his younger brother Adam (Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) living fairly traditional, happy and otherwise benign lives. Their father (Bill Paxton) is a mechanic who lives in a former gardener's residence in a rose garden. Everything seems normal at first until their Father wakes them up and tells them about having seen a message from God. A disturbing message that indicates that it's his job to kill demons in the name of God. Their Dad, doesn't seem particularly god-fearing or in other ways crazy, in fact, he's actually a fairly sensible and loving father, but he's seen this message and soon, God sends him names of people to kill, and he wants his kids to help him out as he believes that they're all rangers for God. Fenton is skeptical and doesn't believe this, but his younger brother Adam is a little more trustworthy. After he's kidnapped his victims he touches their head before the gruesome murders, and he claims that he can see then that they are indeed demons, Fenton however, because more combative and threatens to turn them in, believing that his father is indeed a murderer. This was Bill Paxton's feature directorial debut; he's only directed one other feature since, although it's clear he's talented behind the camera. It's a classical but intense style, that seems claustrophobic at times as it feels like the walls cave in on Young Fenton. The acting is also quite impressive here, from Paxton, the kids and McConaughey and Boothe as well, who's back-and-forth of this story is really key here. McConaughey bringing an appropriate sense of that kind of dread that's layed heavily on him as he now tells this horrific tale as history repeats itself. "Frailty" is a really different, smart and in many ways frightening take on the horror genre. Definitely worth recommending, this is a movie where, the outcome itself is secondary to the effects that having to go through such an experience, no matter from what perspective you look at these experiences you see them through, will change those involved. It gets more powerful the more you think about it afterwards.


THE RED HOUSE (1947) Director: Delmer Daves

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You know, I usually don't answer any favorite questions about myself, and if I do, it's usually in an underhanded smartass way, but I think if I actually have to pick a favorite actor, it might be Edward G. Robinson. "The Red House" is hardly the greatest film in his filmography, but it's a good little horror. For some reason, it came with the same DVD that I got "The Naked Kiss" in and called both of them film noirs, and frankly this is not a film noir. Not by my standards. Pete and his sister Ellen Morgan (Robinson and Judith Anderson) have lived in the woods for years and there's been some mysterious rumor and innuendo regarding them for years. This is brought up to them when his daughter Meg (Allene Roberts) brings home Nath (Lon McAllister) to do some work for them. Pete has one leg and is getting up in age for some of his tasks. However, there's a mysterious red house in the woods and anybody who heads towards it, it becomes haunted and something starts to cause damage to whoever goes towards it. Without giving anything away, this house will eventually explain a lot, and the rest of the movie is trying to figure out what happened. There's some high school sideplot romances as well, but mostly, it's just a good 3:00am creepy little old-time horror film and because it's got Edward G. Robinson completely convincing, you buy into it enough. That's basically all I really need to say about "The Red House".


DEAR LEMON LIMA (2011) Director: Suzi Yoonessi

✰✰1/2



I guess "Dear Lemon Lima", eh, it's not that bad, but it's not that great either. It was extended from a short film and it does kinda have that feeling of a movie that didn't quite know how to extend a story. I haven't seen Suzi Yoonessi's original short so I'm not exactly sure which parts of the movie transferred over, but I imagine it probably focused more on the competition aspects at the end than on the beginning with Megan (Meaghan Martin), our middle school heroine getting dumbed by Philip (Shayne Topp) her true love who abandoned her after deciding to be with more cooler kids, I guess. She's transfers to his school, strangely because of an Eskimo scholarship, apparently she qualifies being enough parts Eskimo, and there's jokes about it, but I don't really get those other then another way of outcasting her.  There's a few girls and boys in her clique of FUBARs they're called, which stands for "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair", they usually are the ones who only partially 'cause of their own inability to perform, constantly get sent to the weight room at Gym while everybody else hangs out. Actually, now that I'm on this part, I would've loved to have been sent to the weight room more often in Gym, I'm not sure why that was never a more common option, we went there occasionally so I know my schools had one, but also, since there's not much to do but exercise there, isn't that making them stronger by going to the weight room? I don't think that punishment was thought out too well. Anyway, Megan for some reason gets her team of FUBARs to compete at these annual games against teams of the much cooler kids and they do well with their own special. I actually enjoyed the fantasy aspects of this. I think it's too little too late. Oh, Melissa Leo is in this film as well, the mother of one of the kids. Not much else to say there. "Dear Lemon Lima", is pretty slow, and I kinda enjoyed certain aspects of it, it's quirkiness it's perspective, once I got used to it, but overall, I can't quite recommend it. Not enough there, really. Like I said, as a short this might've been better, as a feature, it's kinda lags and there's not much there. What's there is sorta interesting though. .

BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN (2011) Directors: Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley

✰✰1/2



I guess it's worth noting that, while it probably is a downfall economically for Brooklyn in the short term that, at least it seems like they're getting a lot of use out of the Barclay Arena, and not just the Nets returning to New York either. (I'll get to that in a bit, actually no, I'll get to it now actually.) You see, while this was a major battle over eminent domain, the movie "Battle for Brooklyn" from an outsider perspective, keeping an eye on this, my main thoughts regarding were about the Nets franchise and it's own curious history. You see, they originally were already from New York when the franchise originally started in the ABA, and they were terrible as a franchise and also, not particularly popular in New York. The Knicks were the popular New York team and they bounced around, almost every Borough, at one time they had to forfeit a game 'cause it flooded indoors, another time, they had to play in a high school gym, an actual game and they bounced around different venues in the city, until they left Long Island and inevitably moved to Piscataway, New Jersey until the Meadowlands was built, and they were never popular or good there either for most of the franchise's history either. In fact, it was actually dumb ended up surviving the ABA going into the NBA, because they stumbled upon getting Rick Barry for a year and then getting Julius Irving under contract (And they lost Barry due to a contract dispute with the NBA's Golden State Warriors, and they traded Dr. J to my Philadelphia 76ers, so they screwed up the two good that happened to them.) and had a couple great ABA seasons at the end of the league's run and became one of the four teams to jump to the NBA. The point I'm making is that, when Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough talks about the void and devastation of when the Dodgers left New York and how bringing back a professional sports franchise to Brooklyn will reignite the city...., and they're, bringing back, the Nets, a team with a history of not being successful in New York, to do that? Let's just say that, that always sound weird. It didn't help that Jay-Z was a co-owner of the franchise by the way. Now the original design by Frank Gehry, does look impressive as it didn't just include the stadium but also several skyscrapers over the years that looks like it would help regenerate a neighborhood. The problem is to build the stadium, they would have to take down much of the local neighborhood, were a lot of people live. One of them is Daniel Goldstein, who we follow as he fights this project for over eight years trying to protect his home. He breaks up with his girlfriend and marries and has a kid with someone else within that time. I know a little bit about eminent domain, it's probably likely that somewhere in the government documents files stored away, it'll probably show that I've signed a petition or two fighting it for, frankly similar things in my hometown of Las Vegas where, we've been constantly struggling to try and build a new sporting arena to hold a major professional sports team for decades now, actually. The latest rumors are revolving around the NHL starting an expansion franchise here, despite numerous failed attempts to keep minor league hockey franchises around. The sports fan dynamics of Las Vegas are another rant for another time, but it's clear in this movie that, the way they circumnavigate Brooklyn representative officials, who are all against the project and use the process of Eminent Domain illegally (It's only supposed to be used for government projects, not privately-funded projects) not to mention the rather unimpressive stadium design they ended up using and not building up more housing and businesses as well as disenfranchising the entire neighborhood, well, this will probably end up a failure in the end. I suspect that it will ultimately anyway, over-promising, under-developing and corruption leading to, well, a sports arena in Brooklyn and not much else. Hmm. Maybe it could've brought up the economy a bit, but well, I guess this movie is a documentation of a white collar crime on a blue collar neighborhood. I wish it was more than that, that's why I'm ultimately having trouble recommending it. I've seen documentaries that seem almost entirely of news footage and whatnot before, there was a great one last year called "Let the Fire Burn", but ultimately I didn't find the actual film all that compelling. Not now anyway, might be more intriguing years from now, when the complete ramifications of the events are truly understood and calculated.