Saturday, March 28, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER"

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)

Director: John Badham
Screenplay: Norman Wexler based on the magazine article “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn



I recall my first viewing of “Saturday Night Fever,” exceptionally well. I was about 10 or 12, about the age my mom was when she first saw it. Keeping in mind John Travolta was still only a teen idol playing Vinny Barbarino on “Welcome Back Kotter,” and hadn’t even done “Grease,” yet. Plus, I had gotten all these images of the film beforehand of Travolta’s great dance sequences and the music of the Bee Gees, had all but solidified this film for me as, to use a documentary word, the zeitgeist of the disco era. What I found however was a very different film. A dark movie, with a tragic and ambiguous ending that I could see coming a mile away, but felt more tragic because I could. I, at about 12 years old had been more observant of the world around these depthless characters than they were. Yes, there are quintessential scenes of dancing that are unforgettable and the music makes the album undisputedly one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all-time, but also being one of those albums that absolutely solidifies a particular era, almost as much as some Beatles albums do. But by god, gangs, gang-rape, misogyny,... this is the movie that defined a generation?  This is the movie that defined my mother's generation? Turned Travolta into the iconic star that he is? 


John Travolta in an Oscar-nominated role, (The film's only nomination, no not even one Best Song nomination, shame Academy) plays streetwise Tony Manero, a Brooklyn kid, not much older than a teenager, who still lives with his parents, has posters of Sylvester Stallone and Farrah Faucet in his bedroom, where he patiently and deliberately collects good shirts and tights pants with his paint store clerk money and probably a blow dryer, to suit up for Saturday Nights at the local disco club, 2001 Odyssey. He hasn’t graduated high school, and has no real technical skills other than his dancing abilities. He pales in comparison in his family’s eye to his older brother, a priest, and has almost as bad a Madonna-whore complex with women as Jake La Motta would have in “Raging Bull.” I describe his character excessively, but he is, in my eyes, the entire film. He’s in every scene, and is therefore who we follow. As much as the film represents an era, the movie is about this truly unlikable character. He has a few buddies who he hangs out with at the disco, who can be equated to a gang, particularly in the way they will all attack when one of them is attacked, although it’s unsure they went after the right guys. Tony is the leader of this group because, as the female teachers of my Uncle Billy would say, they all liked him. His women, not including the typical departures from the dance floor to the backseat, include Annette (Donna Pascow), a girl who likes Tony, but can’t seem to get him to notice her, and Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a Manhattan secretary by day, Brooklyn dancer by night who Tony is attracted to almost as much as his desire to use dance as a way out of Brooklyn. He yearns so much to leave that he’s memorized statistics about the Brooklyn Bridge hoping to cross it. Despite obvious differences between the characters, two different for them to ever be together, which this film correctly knows, they combine to train for and compete in a disco dance contest, which actually is slightly played down a bit in the film than it is in our recollections. The events of that night lead to the Brooklyn Bridge with a couple of Tony’s friends, Annette and a couple of misguided and accidentally-on-purpose incidents occur. Annette desires Tony for all he is; Stephanie tears down Tony seeing all he isn’t. All these people and directions pulling Tony, eventually shows him the harshness of a world where the Saturday Night discos become the center of your world. They’re dark, but with many lights, and more than enough beautiful women ripe for sinning, and enough young men, who’re plenty capable of many sins. I seriously doubt Tony is capable of having a better life, but by the end of the movie; he has at least come to desire it. One step closer to crossing that bridge. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA"

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Director: David Lean
Screenplay: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson based on the writings of T.E. Lawrence



You know something funny? I actually don’t really know that much about T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole). Seriously, I honestly never even bothered looking up the accuracy of the film. I’ve seen “Lawrence of Arabia” six or seven times over the years, but I actually don’t even really understand all the intricacies of what’s happening in the film or the historical events that they’re based on, nor the history really. It’s not that I’m not interested, I am, but oddly I realize now that, that wasn’t exuberantly important in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Yes, Lawrence is a legendary and complex character, but the movie uses his life and events from it to express ideas. Filmmaking ideas. 

There’s a reason why the British Academy Award for Best Director was once named after David Lean, and the secret of his films, they are epics most of them, but normally not in the way we think. They’re not big in the stories actually, they’re big in the ideas. The building of a single bridge only to then destroy it in a marvelous explosion in “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, or even in something small like “Brief Encounter”, the idea of two strangers sharing a private, secret moment in time before never seeing each other again, a lifetime of what could’ve been.  Take his best and most celebrated work, “Lawrence of Arabia,” the essence of the film is not just in it’s flamboyant title character, but in images and emotions. Actually more the images. When I think of this movie, I don’t think about the story of this renegade flamboyant soldier T.E. Lawrence, I think about him in Arab clothing, walking along the train, those long, long landscapes shots of just, sand, with two mean on camels walking across it, the epic rows of Arab soldiers running as they bombard a train that Lawrence has just dynamited, there’s dozens of shots like these.This film was shot on a 70mm widescreen, most movies toady are 35mm. Imagine this huge screen big enough to put many amounts of images onto a screen, but instead we get a landscape view of an endless sand desert, and nothing but that for minutes on end, and then a single solitary image. A dot, barely-visible dot right in the middle of the screen that slowly is getting closer and closer and closer…. Trust me, it takes a creative mind to consider such thoughts, but secondly it takes an audience viewing the film correctly, and by correctly I mean on the big screen, in a theatre, on a widescreen. No pan-and-scan for television, in fact don’t even watch it if you’re screen isn’t at least 27inches. (I’ve done it, you don’t know what you’re truly missing; I’d argue that no movie needs to be seen on a big screen more than “Lawrence of Arabia”) Probably bigger than that even that. On the list of things a filmgoer’s should experience in a lifetime, watching “L.O.A.,” on a big screen in a theater in probably in the top 5, next to watching “2001,” on a big screen, viewing the entire collection of Charlie Chaplin shorts, at least one viewing of “Un Chien Andolou,” one viewing any Steven Speilberg action movie on a big screen, preferably “Jaws,” or “Raiders…” and one viewing of “Ishtar.”(Ok, I made the last one up.)

That’s not to say that their isn’t historical accuracy either. T.E. Lawrence was a poet/warrior, this unique British soldier who helped Arabs drive the Turks out of Saudi Arabia and then he himself would become a god-like creature to some as he stayed in Arabia for years afterwards. An American newspaper writer would make him a hero by telling his story across the world, and Lawrence was more than willing to fulfill the role as a hero, although what role and how big a role he played is subjective even in the films beginning where he’s being honored posthumously and he’s referred to an great hero and then in the next sentence, is referred to as the biggest showman since P.T. Barnum. That man is probably correct on both. (And although it’s never noted, although heavily alluded to that Lawrence was homosexual, keep in mind this film takes place in the 1910s, and if you notice, there’s no women in the entire 4 hour movie.)

As you may have also figured, there isn’t as traditional a structured plot in “Lawrence…”, as most biopic shouldn’t, and in this case, they really shouldn’t, cause most of the film is based on the emotions we get from the shots, not the story. Even the glorious battle sequences have this strange feeling that they aren’t filmed for violence but filmed solely for the pleasure of the eye. It’s a pure directorial achievement that ironically just happens to be arguably the greatest  insight into the ways of the  tribal nomadic culture in the Middle East still works.  In my younger days, I once wrote that if Bush had seen this movie, he would have done a lot of things differently, and hopefully nothing at all, it’s unfortunate that to some extent, I still feel I can say that sometimes without any sense of irony. Nowadays however, I’m not interested in the political lessons. “Lawrence of Arabia” has twice been named on AFI’s Top Ten Films of all-time list, one year reaching number 5, and strangely, I think  more people simply admire this film from afar, they admit it’s greatness, they don’t really see or understand the joy in the film, just how amazing and how unique a cinematic experience this is. This film should be revived in theaters every ten years cause as great as a widescreen is on TV this should be viewed in its proper format. It’s had trouble over the years doing that. It’s been cut from its original length numerous times for re-released and one the point the entire second part of the film’s image was reversed for some reason, and of course, television screenings don’t do this film justice. Plus there’s a general dismay towards these grandiose classic Hollywood epics. In some cases I can understand; I actually think Lean’s next film, “Doctor Zhivago” doesn’t hold up at all and is frankly a complete bore, but you gotta also realize that when it’s done right, great epics take great big ideas of the mind and of the camera. Few films reveal this more than “Lawrence of Arabia”. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

WHY AREN'T MORE SITCOMS LIKE "CHEERS"?



You know, this has been bothering the hell out of me when it comes to the modern-day sitcom. Actually, let's specify slightly more, the modern-day, 3-camera sitcom in particular. You know the standard I use to compare a sitcom to other shows? It's not "Seinfeld", it's not "All in the Family", it's not even "M*A*S*H" or anything like that, it's "Cheers". Yeah, "Cheers", and you know why I use "Cheers", 'cause A. I grew up with it, but also because it felt so real. Not that it wasn't artificial, it was clearly a set and whatnot, and you rarely get set-ups and jokes as funny as "Cheers", ever, but "Cheers" was so rich in character and setting. It actually gets deeper the more you watch it. All the characters are distinct and occasionally quirky, but it was placed in a reality where, it actually seemed reasonable that I could go to the bar down and have it be like "Cheers", hell, I know places like it, I know people like Sam and Diane and Rebecca and even a few Norm and Cliff. (Oh, hell, I'm Cliff to be honest; I was voted most likely to blow a big lead on "Jeopardy!".) That's the thing though with the really great sitcoms, you never once felt like this wasn't a real place. WKRP felt like a real radio station, "Welcome Back, Kotter", felt believably like a real high school, "Family Ties" felt like a real house and that a real family lived in it, hell, "M*A*S*H", looked like the fucking Korean war. It's not aesthetic thing though, it's also an acting choice. All these sitcoms, there's this sense, there's this hyper-awareness that this is a sitcom. Or even worst yet, "Oh, it's just a sitcom, so it's to do (Insert whatever stupid thing "2 Broke Girl$" has done lately here) Hell, I don't even think "Married... with Children" do this much winking at the camera or being self-awareness. People seem to think that's because it's a three-camera sitcom and that the old-style of audience laughter or god-forbid a laugh track takes you out of the reality. Well, what, do all those guest actors on "30 Rock" in unexpected places not take you out it? Or Ron Howard's voiceover over everything. Or actually, everybody's voiceover over everything, what-the-hell is with all the voiceover narration in sitcom's now? I get it, it works sometimes, and it kinda goes with the single-camera format set-up byyyyyyyyyyy- Quick trivia question folks, which single-camera sitcom started that trend. You have 15 seconds?

A) Arrested Development
B) Scrubs
C) Dave's World

If you guessed A., you're wrong, "Scrubs" came out first. If you guessed B, "Scrubs", you're wrong too. If you guessed C., and you actually remembered "Dave's World", then you would've remembered that it was a 3-CAMERA SITCOM!

No, Answer, D) "The Wonder Years", they started that. And you know what, hardly a single-camera or three-camera sitcom has come around and felt more believable and realistic that "The Wonder Years".

You know, that's the other thing that this has brought on, the first-person perspective. Yeah, I know, history of literature, first you learn third person than you learn first person, and there's been versions of that, over the years, from Doogie Howser with a computer to "Blossom" with her video diary to "The Office", "Parks and Recreation", "Veep", "Modern Family", "The Comeback".... with their pseudo variations on mockumentaries, but still, it's kinda ruining the sitcom. Really, For every "How I Met Your Mother", there's a "Manhattan Love Story", where frankly the only reason you have this voiceover is to have this single-person perspective. Actually, it's not even the voiceover, most of television nowadays really, basically amounts to all of these single-vision sitcoms, like "30 Rock", "Girls", "The Mindy Project", all these shows that are basically following the "Seinfeld" idea where we get somebody funny and have them create a show and what we're getting now is the world from their perspective. Even something like "Family Guy" is essentially that, the world from their perspective. And there's nothing wrong with that per se, but it's leading to these more stylized shows that don't have the longevity and classicalness that something like "Cheers" had. It's not like "Cheers" was formed in a committee, but Glen and Les Charles, two Mormon brothers from my hometown of Henderson, Nevada, and frankly that fact amazes me; they created a show about a bar and focused around an alcoholic former pitcher in Boston, Massachusetts. That doesn't seem much like their viewpoint, and yes they worked on and borrowed the style of other shows like "Taxi", but still,... Anyway, it's because we're now looking for this distinctive single-visions and first person perspectives however, what we're ending up with is this more stylized form of humor. Where we're seeing a show mainly from a single character's perspective, and not much else. This allows for things like aberrations and stopping your essay in the middle to give the readers a pointless multiple choice question that doesn't have the right answer just to yell at them, despite the fact that the real answer probably isn't correct either and that TV shows have been experimenting with voiceover and first person format years long before even "The Wonder Years", but don't we have enough of this? I think we do.

More importantly, why does seem like the only thing a sitcom writer can do now? Their own singular vision and perspective? They can't create something a universe or a world that isn't just the way they see it? Did everybody just wake up one day and go, "We would rather come up with their own kind of "Seinfeld"? This is where modern-day sitcoms really start losing me, especially network ones. Because it's either somebody singular vision, which has a better chance of success than other shows, but it's still pushing it somewhat, or it's the other extreme, everybody trying to recreate, "Friends". Yeah, Tina Fey nailed this one, I am so sick of seeing the same actors and actresses in bad sitcom after bad sitcom, because they happen to be young and good-looking. No wonder networks are getting rid of pilot seasons, but you know, when they do try to create a sitcom, why is it that they are so insistent on these young good-looking actors? Many of which, probably weren't alive when sitcoms were primarily where ugly people went to act. Alright that's mean, but seriously though, "Friends" was the exception to that rule, and even then, that show kinda had a base of reality to it. Yeah, it did. The original concept of that show was that it was about how in your early twenties, you were surrounded by your friends after you leave home and that becomes your family support while you struggle to find your place in the world. (That, and it was the first show that didn't have a star main character and each cast member was an equal part of the cast, so two things that were truly unique to that show at the time) All these other shows, well, they're not really knock-offs of it, but they're still more influenced by having this idea of this single unique vision of a show and trying to, I guess they'd call expand the horizons of a sitcom from something that wasn't just, a couple rooms across the hall an a coffee shop, but you know, how many people, places and things do you really go/do? Not that many. That's what you're surrounded by. That's why so many of the best TV shows have focused on some way about the behind the scenes of television. "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "30 Rock", "Murphy Brown", "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", etc., they're writing what they know, but also creating a world around their characters, not showing their character's perspectives on everything everyone, including themselves. The best shows know that, and like "Cheers" they also know that the more stronger characters a show has in them, and surrounding their show, the better the series is and that it can actually survive even after say, a major character leaves the series. Lena Dunham drops dead tomorrow, there's no "Girls" coming back, and I huge fan of that show so I hope it doesn't happen, but still, that show's nothing without her.

Why isn't that, we need single-camera sitcoms in order to create that world too? We never needed that before. I never watched "Cheers" because it was funny, I watched it 'cause it was good, and it could've been a drama if they wanted it too, it was that strong a show. It was that based in a reality that it could be like that. Most of the great shows were like that, "Family Ties" had a studio audience that never cheapened the show or made it less believable. That show seemed like a believable family. Where did this stigma come from that shows had to be fun and over-the-top if they're gonna be 3-camera? "Friends", alright "Will & Grace" but again, that was an exception, not the rule, and the exception worked and was what made to show the distinctiveness between those characters and archetypes.

This is the problem, not enough people look closely enough at shows anymore to see why they work or why they don't. People think sitcoms with 3-cameras need to be big and full of caricaturish over-the-top characters then they think that's what they need and now, nobody wants to do that show because nobody will believe it. Or if you want reality, do mockumentary to let the audience know this is how it's really happening, but if you're a particular distinctive vision, do single camera, and maybe have a voiceover of some kind, so you can do anything at it'll all workout okay. That's seems to be the idea, with the only real exceptions, for some being CBS shows like "Mike & Molly" and....- well, everything else is Chuck Lorre really, but at least worked on those "Roseanne"-like shows that understood that establishing a first base in reality can be done with a 3-camera sitcom and then you can even expand and extend beyond that if you want.

Anyway, this is why more people need to study "Cheers" and not "Seinfeld" to really look at just how powerful a sitcom can be. "Cheers", "Roseanne", "The Wonder Years", all those great sitcoms, see what really makes them stand out and why those shows will still be powerful years after all these shows will practically be forgotten. Shows that are representatives of the creative mind and that alone are cool and all, some of them are even great, but they're still basically limited to the talent and mindset of the creative mind behind them. No matter the tricks one possesses, that's all we're really getting, and because people see Tina Fey or whoever's vision work so well they're convinced now that they must also create in that image. The best thing to really do is to seek out shows that aren't just predicated on that single solitary vision however and could still work. Sure, there's places for a Seinfeld-like mind or Tina Fey or Lena Dunham or Seth MacFarland or whoever, on the television dial, but look at the level of the person creating those things. You think anybody's gonna put Elizabeth Meriwether on that list in the future. (She created "New Girl", and 2-1 you didn't know that.) Doesn't matter whether it's a sack of losers in a bar or survivalists circumnavigated a world of zombies, drama or comedy, the more believable a base a series is, the more interested we will be in it, and the stronger that show will become. If anything, it's actually more important in comedy; comedy works best in a real world and skewers it in some way. not necessary because it's important to satirize reality, but because the best comedy is always based in tragedy.

And really, when it comes to tragedy, what's sadder than having so much struggle in your life that you would like to get away, to a bar where everybody knows your name?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #105: "GONE GIRL", "FORCE MAJEURE", "JODOROWSKY'S DUNE", "HATESHIP LOVESHIP", "BORGMAN", "ELSA & FRED", "CESAR CHAVEZ", "NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET", "CAPITAL", "1" and MORE!

Alright, hopefully, in the near future some of these reviews and a few other will be posted on Watch This Space Film Magazine's website, at www.watchthisspacefilmmagazine.com, as well as possibly some other appropriate commentary posts commentary posts. I'm looking forward to that, and once it's more established, I'll add an official link onto this front page.

In the meantime, whew. Eh, I will be busy in the few weeks working on this blog, I'm still catching on all the things I had to push off for the Oscars, and now the Emmys are getting into the news. If you haven't heard their latest ruling, "Shameless", "Glee" and "Jane the Virgin" won their appeals to be in the Comedy Series categories, still no word on "Orange is the New Black" or any of the other shows challenging the new rulings, so we're keeping that updated.

I'm also gonna make an effort to try and watch more series on streaming sites if I can. I actually did the first season of Tina Fey's new series, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix, and it's unbelievably funny, I was addicted instantly, couldn't wait to watch the next episode, just a really funny, really great show. Love Ellie Kemper, loved her on "The Office" love her more now. Incredibly funny series,- like, I have been so annoyed at sitcoms lately,that basically I watched "The Big Bang Theory" and nothing else lately, especially on Network, especially after "Parks and Recreation" went off the air, (In fact, one of my future posts will be some of the things that make these bad sitcoms bad in a little bit) but, aaah, I can breathe, I can laugh, there's so much fun in that show. It's definitely still Tina Fey, easily the most fun, best new thing I've seen in a long while.

Anything, that's enough from me. Onto this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


GONE GIRL (2014) Director: David Fincher

✰✰✰✰1/2



I guess I'm not particularly amazed that "Gone Girl" is so heavily discussed and that there is some debates on the interpretations and motives of the characters, particularly one character, but, I don't know, this felt more like such a classic thriller to me that somehow it seems that some are just taking this movie too seriously. The "Gone Girl", of the title- boy that's awkward. The missing gi- woman, is Amy Elliott (Oscar-nominee Rosamund Pike). She's a housewife in Missouri who's somewhat of a celebrity because her parents, Rand and Marybeth (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) wrote a series of children's books loosely based on her called "Amazing Amy", which as she described almost were, like, child-shaming in inspiration, like everything the real Amy couldn't or wouldn't do, Amazing Amy excelled at. She became a magazine writer and married another writer, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and after both of them loss jobs, Nick then moved them to Missouri after his mother got sick. He's now a professor who co-owns a local bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), where he is hanging out when he goes home to find his home ransacked and his wife missing, on their anniversary coincidentally. Now, I'm gonna discuss the editing of this film from Kirk Baxter, 'cause, the movie cuts back and forth between numerous time periods, there's some flashing back, there's some flash forwards and multiple points of view, a voiceover narrator, cutbacks to what we learn is a diary that Amy has written that has some suspiciously damning material in it,...- there's a lot going on, and how it's told to us, and the order it is told to us is just as important as what's happening, and while I'm trying to give anything away, the way this film is edited is really the key to it's suspect. I suspect that the novel adapted by it's screenwriter Gillian Flynn, also has a similar disjointed structure. Trying to narrow the main stories, first is the investigation, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) which continues to indicate Nick and possibly even his sister somehow in a coverup. There's the flashbacks to the marriage before Amy disappeared, starting with their whirlwind romance and through the troubled marriage. Another thread follows Nick through the media coverage of the event, led by a Nancy Grace-like reporter, Sharon Schreiber (Sela Ward) who's over-obsessing over every little piece of video, cell phone photo from a groupie, new piece of information that comes up from the police, witnesses, Amy's best friend/nieghbor, Noelle (Casey Wilson) and Nick's struggles to both prove his innocence with the police and the press, making him look for consul from a high-profile lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry, surprisingly really good here) who in one sense is really a press agent/media consultant and on the other is looking into Amy's past, including tumultuous relationships she's had in the past with suspicious boyfriends, one in high school boyfriend, Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) and one as an adult, Tommy (Scoot McNairy). There's a lot of balls in the air, but the way these fall, inevitably is what the movie is about and how these characters really have to manipulate people, each other, and the media to their advantages. I think, in hindsight, it's a little over-the-top and there's a little too much going on. There's a few threads that don't get picked up or explored more and then others that really turn this thriller almost into a dark comedy. It's almost too dark a look at the media, but it's rather strong overall. I was entertained and genuinely wasn't sure where this film would go. It's a good mystery-thriller, with some strong performances carrying the film.


FORCE MAJEURE (2014) Director: Ruben Ostlund

✰✰✰✰✰




I truly believe that until you're actually in a situation, you really don't know how you're gonna react. I know there's this great sense of assurance that people have about such things, but I've never found that to be true. The timing, the exact moment, the exact situation at play, are you completely sure? The only way to test that is to actually be in it, without any preparation or foreknowledge and then maybe one can be certain of their own instincts, and even then, the next time it happens, it might be different, 'cause now you have the knowledge of having gone through it once before. I know it sounds like I'm speaking in circles right now, but consider the situation in "Force Majeure", this was Sweden's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar category and it made the shortlist at one point but I can understand why there were some people upset when it didn't getting nominated. Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) are taking their two kids, Harry and Vera (Vincent Wettergren and Clara Wettergren) to the French Alps for a week-long skiing vacation. At first, everything seems fine. There's photos, there's some skiing, there's the whole family sharing the bed in their matching pajamas. Then, on the second day, in one of many striking scenes, there's an avalanche that descends upon them while having breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the lodge. It's sudden and unexpected, and while the avalanche scares everybody it blankets them in white smoke. It seems everyone's alright, but at that moment, that flight or fight response kicked in, and one of the parents grabbed for the kids, while the other one bolted and ran off the deck. Worst yet, when confronted with this accusation, he denies it, This isn't a film about perspective btw, we see exactly what happened. Was this a simple difference in the flight-or-fight instinct or there something more going on. When they have a double date later with Mats and Charlotte (Kristopher Hivju and Karin Myrenberg), the story gets retold and the facade they had been putting up for the kids and everybody else is shot down. The other couple snickers as they worry about how they'll need therapy, and they're not necessarily wrong, and they also end up going through their own issues in this psychological debate. The story is through the guise of this troubled couple, but the movie is really about this look between our hopeful desires and our instincts and whether or not we're actually in control of either of them. This isn't the only scenario in the movie, the avalanche is only the catalyst of it. I'll speak about a couple others, both happen late in the film, one involves their kids. They see a parent who's normally in emotional control, stoically to a fault in charge of their emotions and suddenly, in the middle of the night, they see that parent on the floor bursting in tears. Watch exactly what their two children do when they're woken up and see the situation. The other happens on the last day, as all four of them are skiing and while there's no avalanche the sky if snow-fogged and you can barely see what's in front of you (And we can barely) see. All four of them go down the mountain, only three do we find at the bottom. What happened, what do you do now? If something happened, you can't know if you don't go up, but if you go up, do you bring the other two with you, and if you do find them, are you going to find your way back? I won't reveal what happens, but the movie is constantly looking at the ways we react to the differing stimuli and how we react to other's reactions, and each of these change us. Force Majeure is originally French for a superior force, that's usually a reference to an act of God, but I think the movie that sometimes it's the force within us. This is really a great film, makes you think and makes you truly wonder about, other such nightmare scenarios, exactly how would your fight or flight or if you would act correctly or not. It's a thought I have a lot on my own so this is a bit in my wheelhouse but this is really a thoughtful and observant new look at it.


JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2014) Director: Frank Pavich

✰✰✰✰✰



First thing's first, I don't know Frank Herbert's "Dune"; I'm planning to see the David Lynch film, very shortly, but I haven't at this time seen it, but I've now seen "Jodorowsky's Dune". I've seen some of Jodorowsky's films though. (You can find my Canon of Film review of my own website, which you can look up afterwards under my name.)  I had heard about this abandoned project before and thought this film might be a new twist on the other great documentaries about filmmaking, like "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse", "Burden of Dreams" or "Lost in La Mancha", but only, told in flashback about how great this movie could've been. Essentially it is, but this could've easily just been boring, like talking heads referring back to the moment that wasn't, but you get more and more entranced as the film goes on and more pieces of the puzzle come together and our brought this project. And then Salvador Dali got involved and I just blurted out loud, "No fucking way!" That's because this isn't about that; the movie is really about Jodorowsky's vision and passion and how and why he was able to convince and acquire so many people to devote themselves to this project. Jodorowsky had made some successful films, pretty much out of the main stream including "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain", and "Dune" is one of those legendary great pieces of science fiction, and here's one of those few eccentric great directors, willing to go all out for it. I can listen to Jodorowsky read the phone book, he is just a full-of-life interesting figure; he doesn't get the credit he really deserves, and he brings this incredible cast of actors and artists of all kinds from Pink Floyd to H.R Giger to Dan O'Bannon to all these other artists, who get together in Paris and create this incredible storyboard book that was sent everywhere in Hollywood, documenting every single shot of what "Dune" could've or should've been. It was out-of-this-world and ahead of it's time, technologically, thematically, and cinematically. There's supposedly two known original copies of Jodorowsky's "Dune", but it floated around Hollywood and the people who worked on the project would take the ideas and inventions of Jodorowsky and begin adapting them to other projects when they ran out of money. The visual effects would win some of the people Oscars, for "Alien", the shots would be stolen from everybody to George Lucas to Spielberg to James Cameron; to Moebius who worked on the project and would reinvent comic book artistry with the images. Jodorowsky imagines one day that somebody might be able to take this book and turn it into an animated feature, so somebody could eventually film his recognized vision in it's fullest, but it's clear that his vision has it's imprints all over Hollywood sci-fi and numerous other areas of the art world for decades now. (I'd like to see Katsuhiro Otomo take a shot at Jodorowsky's "Dune" myself) There's this amazing passion that you get in Jodorowsky's work, that whatever the fuck it is, (And that's usually the reaction to his films, "whatever the fuck that was") but all so over the top outrageous, but lovingly so, with passion, and yes, it's over-the-top and maybe unrealistic and Matt Zoller Seitz's review on rogerebert.com calls him a bit of a charlatan at times, bringing all these people in on something that maybe was over-ambitious and just impossible to actually make at the time, but you know what, all great filmmakers are charlatans in that way. You have to be; you have to be so passionate that you fool yourself into believing your vision to even get people on board with something like this, that's the only way a film like this can ever get made, or even get this far into being made, Director Frank Pavish, really shows us exactly how that was possible. If you look at this on paper, there's something I like to call "fantasy filmmaking", where we hypothesize who's the ideal people you'd want on a film project. Who's script, who's the director, who's playing the role, etc. etc., I think it's fantasy football for cinema nerds like us sometimes, and usually I only like to think about things like that as though they were plausible, and this movie could've just been that, This "hey, here's this guy and this guy...," but because it kinda happened for real...- and it's not that it happened, it's the way. The inspiration, the idea, this is, ironically how films, should get made, with this kind of passion and devotion to an image an idea, a reinvention even, 'cause he does from the original novel and that's some amazing artistic creativity. "Jodorowsky's Dune", is the kind of movie that shows the kind of people who get into film and more importantly who should be getting into film. This is one of the best documentaries of the year so far. Few films have made me so pleasantly and euphorically happy to see, especially from a perspective of making a movie, this can easily be in that "Hearts of Darkness...", "Burden of Dreams" stratosphere of these kind of documentaries.


HATESHIP LOVESHIP (2014) Director: Liza Johnson

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I'm not completely positive I understand all of "Hateship Loveship"; there's definitely a tragic slice-of-life aspect to this character study and for that aspect, I think I like the film enough to recommend it. Plus it was slightly,- I wouldn't say unpredictable but it definitely went into a different direction than I thought it would. This was based on a short story by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Munro and I get a sense that this might've worked better in that format than it does as a feature; there's definitely something Raymond Carver about the film. Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig, strong in a rare dramatic performance, and along with this and "The Skeleton Twins", she had a really good year) is a longtime healthcare worker who has spent most of her adult life going from job to job taking care of the elderly, until calling 911 when she's the one who discovers that they've passed on. This time though, she's hired on as a nanny for Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) the granddaughter of Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) and Iowa man who's taken care of her granddaughter after his daughter was killed in a car accident when her husband and Sabitha's father Ken (Guy Pearce) was drunk behind the wheel. He's visiting when Johanna starts working and she begins to develop a small crush on him. Wiig's character here, is a bit tricky to describe. She's very unworldly and quiet. Mousy almost. There's a scene where she tries to use the computer in the library and is impressed when she's asked what she wants her password to be. She's had very little that's her own, and most of her life has been spent in quiet desperation taking care of others, except no really, 'cause she's never really thought deeply enough to be desperate for anything, or had much to really care about herself. When Sabitha and her friend Edith (Sami Gayle) play a joke on her by sending her emails they claim are from Ken, she begins to get inspired. She takes a lot of money out of the bank, and travels to his place. At first they're unsure what to make of the situation. He actually kinda has a girlfriend Chloe (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who's just as screwed up a junkie that he is. It's not that Johanna isn't completely unaware that Ken is certainly not Prince Charming and is definitely flawed, but she's not quite aware of how to handle it, until she handles it,and to both their credit, they decide to stick it out. They have more in common then it seems these two wayward souls that have been dismissed or ignored by society. I think the movie's more hit-and-miss than some, but I think there's enough here to recommend. It's a bit of a strange relationship and that dynamic is intriguing, one character who's so unknowing that when she does take a chance on an emotion that it's a leap of faith, and the character who's been through too much in life that he's struggling to rid himself of emotions as much as possible and only until that's challenge by someone who actually knows how to care about him does he begin the long struggle to better himself. I think there's a lack of drama that this film misses however. Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is barely onscreen enough to have an impact for instance, and I think the resolution with the daughter feels unnatural and forced at the end, and there's some other interesting choices with the grandfather too that also feel slighted. I think that's the idea of the tone of the film, but I don't know, I think some material could've been stretched a bit more, but even still, "Hateship Loveship" works as a unconventional love story.


BORGMAN (2014) Director: Alex van Warmerdam

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I'm sure there's some kind of strange religious parable that I'm just missing here, but after realizing that the movie was just gonna to be one fucked up thing happening after another, without much explanation or recognition even, I kinda tuned out and just let the movie happen. I suspect that's the best way to approach the material in "Borgman" as well. This was The Netherlands' submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year and it begins with a bible quote, "And they descended upon Earth to strengthen their ranks," but the rest of the movie seems to be a literal assault on suburbia, particularly for those who choose not to heed Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet). When we meet Borgman, he lives underground. Like literally, there's earth and ground above him, and has somehow managed to build a living situation underneath it until hunters fall into his hiding spot. Somehow he escapes. He then knocks on the door of a neighbor, Richard (Jeroen Percev asking for a bath and the neighbor beats the crap out of him on his front lawn. Why is he beat up? (Shrugs) He mentions knowing his wife Marina (Hadewych Minis) who eventually decides to hide him in the house behind her husband's back. Other than that, it's hard to say what the film is. Seriously, I could literally say what happens and I still wouldn't be able to make it sound like it makes logical sense, but basically, one person after another gets killed by Borgman and what I believe was about six other Borgman followers, at least it should have been six at one point when they go through the woods during a late scene which had to been a "The Seventh Seal" reference. "Borgman"'s fascinating because of this surrealistic element, but I don't think this would hold up on multiple viewings. Even if you do find some kind of interpretation of the material, it basically falls into a strange pattern where suburban stuff happens and then someone's killed and the more stuff happens. It's taking some shots and it's well-made and definitely worth watching to judge for yourself but it's hard to draw that line between the events of the movie are supposed to be aimless and whether or not it the movie is actually aimless.


ELSA & FRED (2014) Director: Michael Radford

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I don't know what happened to Michael Radford, who I normally think of as a great and special director, and it's not like "Elsa & Fred" is awful or bad, but it's such an average film. This guy's told special films about the power of poetry like "Il Postino" and tackled Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", even "Dancing at the Blue Iguana", has there ever been a more intoxicating and luscious film about strippers than that one? And here we get, "Elsa & Fred" (Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer) two old people living out their last days at a couple small apartments that's conveniently located for both their children and for any caregivers the children hire to look out over them. This is actually a remake of a Spanish film, and it does feel like a movie that would've been more interesting and newer ten years ago. Fred is moving in at the behest of his daughter Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden) and has hired a caregiver, Laverne (Erika Alexander). The events that eventually leads to the inevitable romance is Elsa crashing her car into Lydia's husband's (Scott Bakula) car and insurances are exchanged sorta and money changes hands but it gets the two in the room for the long on-again, off-again rom-com cliched plot. Fred's an old curmudgeon, a former musician who's mostly uninterested in people after his wife's passing while Elsa's a little more wishful and free-spirited. Her biggest wish is to reenact the Trevi Fountain scene in "La Dolce Vita" just like Anita Ekberg. (I've had that wish too once in a while, but still I would've shot a little higher on the fantasy foreplay scenarios but alright.) There's good performances all around, including some nice supporting work from Chris Noth and George Segal among others, but it's so boring. We know essentially every beat of this going in, and I've never seen the original either. There's a few of these aging romances going on among independent films lately, they don't always work. It seems nice and touching on first glance, but you still need more than just the gimmick of the characters being old. It's uninspiring, it's un-interesting, you only get, a glimpse or two what maybe with more inspiration could've been something good, but I've seen these actors in so many amazing roles and films over the years, I don't know they're wasting time with this one. I especially don't know what Radford is either; this film is so uninspired; made without passion or interest. How do you get people like James Brolin and Wendell Pierce and everybody else in this movie in a room together give them absolutely nothing interesting to do? "Elsa & Fred" just fails the Gene Siskel test of would you rather see these actors sitting at a table talking over lunch/dinner or see them in this movie; it's just that simple and it's sad that it's that simple. What a missed opportunity.


CESAR CHAVEZ (2014) Director: Diego Luna

✰✰1/2



Cesar Chavez is definitely a hero of mine and I always recognized how important it was to tell his story, but at the same time, I also always recognized exactly how difficult that could be to tell his story. It never really comes across even in the history books. If maybe the Catholic Church would call him the Patron Saint of Farmworkers maybe more would understand, but then again, now you've made him a saint, and saints aren't typically entertaining film characters. I recognized these with "Cesar Chavez" this new biopic about him, and for awhile it didn't bother me that it was a straight-up hero-worship film of Chavez (Michael Pena, very good). He was born in Yuma, Arizona of Mexican immigrants who worked as migrant farm workers. After he co-founded the NFWA, he began organizing the migrant workers into a Union and began promoting boycotts and really forcing the growers' hands. When they started to sell more of their grapes and wine overseas, he traveled to Europe to get the products banned there. He's usually looked upon as somewhat of a Martin Luther King for the Latino Community, but his priorities weren't as based in race as they were in class. His goal was to make sure the poor had a say. We can use more people like Cesar Chavez out there now. I'm not sure how those hunger strikes would work or not nowadays of his, but, he was media savvy, although the growers and the police were against the workers. There's some good performances here, especially from Pena but Rosario Dawson is good as strong as Dolores Huerta, his fellow Union organizer, America Ferrara played his wife, she was quite. The family sequences were very erratic though and there really weren't too many nuances with any of the villains, not enough to make them anything more than villains. This is the second directed by Diego Luna, the great Mexican actor, his first film "Abel" got a lot of Ariel Award nominations, which is the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars, but "Cesar Chavez" is a noble effort but not much more, ultimately. It was entertaining for what it was for awhile, but I eventually just got too bored by it. There's a good film there somewhere, but it lost it's way, and just became a generic, forgettable biopic.


NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET (2013) Director: Raul Ruiz

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The great Chilean director Raul Ruiz's last feature before his passing was "Night Across the Street" and unfortunately this is only the second feature film of his I've seen, the other being his previous film, the 4 1/2 hours "Mysteries of Lisbon", his previous film, so I'm in a strange position where I'm not quite sure I have a grasp or sense of what he was all about or if I have only a sense of how good how he was nearing the end of life. Both films are mosaics of images that work when you take them as you experience them, not-so-much as plot-based stories that you follow but as a random of sequence of events and experiences. Moments in time. "Night Across the Street" seems almost built to be Ruiz's last film. It's plot is simple, John Giono (Christian Vadim) is going back over his life, experiences, flashbacks, memories, even fantasies as he believes, either literally or figuratively, a stranger is coming to kill him. Hell, I'm not even positive that's the whole plot come to think of it, perhaps the parts in the beginning were also parts of his recalling, like going to see a movie in a cinema for the first time, questioning why one would go to a movie if one doesn't know what it's about. I like one of the last scenes, where he's and a couple other characters are ghosts having fun at a seance by messing with their friends. There's some other conversations from youth, from adulthood, some seem like they're hypersurreal like from a movie, but apparently the film was based on short stories by Hernan del Solar; I'm sure they're mostly inspiration as oppose to adaptation though. "Night Across the Street" is fitting end to a film career and legacy. I just hope that I'm getting as good a sense of him as I can with these last two films of his. I get a feeling that there's more that I'm missing.


CAPITAL  (2013) Director; Costa-Gravas

✰✰1/2



Somewhere in between, "Margin Call," "Arbitrage" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" is Costa-Gravas's version of that story, this one's called "Capital" and while it's a little more international in it's scope and ambition, but it didn't feel like it had a real insider perspective on the world like those other films do. Costa-Gravas is a legendary Greek filmmaker who's most known for his great political thrillers "Z", and "Missing", although there's more variety on his resume than one would think, That said, when I looked back on the film, and it's certainly confusing and convoluted, but I also realized that this film, could've taken place anywhere in any industry really. Maybe it would've been better to do something, in this case, maybe a historical piece like Claude Berri's "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring" which are two films that are just as relevant to the financial crises. Well, the movie is centered in Paris and the CEO of Pheonix Bank has dropped dead on the golf course. Marc (Gad Elmaleh) is eventually placed in charge as CEO, as the other higher-ups figure he's young and possibly easy to manipulate. Marc recognizes this too though, fully aware that their underestimating him. Honestly, that's basically all you really need to know about 'Capital", Marc is a greedy entrepreneurial newly-high-positioned CEO of a bank, and everything else that he does happens is basically a long out-maneuvering chess game, only taking place in the lap of luxury. The wife who's more interested in how much more money he's making than the job itself, the mistresses and affais, the hedgefund owners, the stockholders, it's basically another story of Wall Street excess gone amuck. And it's not really an entertaining one either. Like Elmaleh's performance, it's cooly trying to be outside the world while also being inside it, and because of that, very little is of interest to us. We know we're watching bad people do bad things and that's about it; that's the only real point that Gravas is making. Oddly, it makes the movie surprisingly dull. In a way, it's so generic that's a weird word to use, but this literally could be anywhere any place and what makes some of these other recent features of the world so special is that they are looking for thoroughly and deeper and unfortunately, that's where "Capital" completely fails.



1 (2013) Director: Paul Crowder

✰✰1/2



I guess it's fair to say that I have an interest in Formula-1. (Shrugs) In theory at least. It's not a sport I follow or even know that much about personally, but it's basically consider the world's premiere international open-wheeled racing league? I guess it's a league or an organization of some kind. I know about NASCAR, and I know about IndyCar or the IRL, a little bit more and I'm aware that there's this other league called Formula-1, and they have numerous minor racing leagues below them, Formula-2, Formula-3, etc. I know they're the highest level of that, and the most expensive; that teams have to build their own cars, and I know a few of the races like the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. And I know some of the history from other recent movies, like the documentary "Senna" and Ron Howard's "Rush" made my Ten Best List the year it came out. So I'm intrigued, I do like racing, and I guess, "1", is sort of a tutorial "Formula-1 History for Dummies" version, but honestly, what that really means more or less is, a history of, death. Death by driving. I don't think there's any long-lasting racing league that didn't deal with death, especially in the early days, but there is something legendary about Formula-1's history. Racers, died, maybe 3-4 times a year, multiple ones a month and on the same tracks, survival was practically what won. It gets into some of those nuances, how each automotive brand had their own competition within the racers' competition and while it was an international sports organization, it wasn't well-run. It thrived on it's image of the renegade, and the safety of the races and tracks were secondary to everything else. In fact, part of the appeal was the risking of the lives, and the danger and the constant threats of death. It's an interesting history, but I would've thought other aspects could've been more interesting. Like getting inside the upper levels or Formula-1 and those real discussions of how the organization was run (or wasn't) in the beginning. The movie ends with discussion with Ayrton Senna's fatal crash in '94, which is the last time a racer died during a Formula-1 race. He's hardly the last one to die racing anywhere, I knew people who went to the infamous abandoned 2011 IZOD Indycar World Championship IRL race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car crash considered the most violent many have ever seen, on a track that was not built or adjusted accurately for IndyCar racing and frankly they shouldn't have been racing at. Even under the greatest and most ideal circumstances though, and I'm sure Formula-1, maybe more than some of the other racing leagues is as safe and as safety-prioritized as possible and takes the most effort to make sure these truly amazing athletes stay alive as anybody, maybe moreso, but this is high-speed open-wheel, auto racing, and I couldn't help but think, "Well, they're due." Hopefully I'm wrong, the current Formula-1 season is underway right now, but the best you can hope for is that, anything and everything they can do or even think about doing to make sure it doesn't happen again, they're doing. So, I don't know, I wasn't particularly crazy about "1". I think there were other angles to pursue regarding the early years of Formula-1, so, I don't know, if you're really interesting I guess it's worth a watch, but I wouldn't be shocked if there were better and more in-depth of learning about the history of a sport such as this. I might seek one or two out but I really can't recommend "1" as a film.

Note: The film debuted on the internet in 2013 in America, but didn't theatrically get released 'til 2014.


SONG OF THE SOUTH (1947) Directors: Wilfred Jackson and Harve Foster

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Before anybody asks, I won't get into how exactly I got ahold of a copy of "Song of the South". It's well-known that this film, as I like to joke is somewhere buried under the Disney vault and hasn't been released in America in any manner since the mid-eighties. Scarce VHS copies of the film go for as much as $50 on Ebay, sometimes more. This film is also strangely one of Disney's most beloved works. One of the first films to believably combine live-action and animation, it's very much enriched in the tapestry of Disney. Space Mountain, I learned is apparently inspired by this film. "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da", the Oscar-winning song is from this movie. The Uncle Remus (James Baskett, who was given a special Oscar for his performance) character would've at the time been regarded as sort of an American version of Aesop's Fables and the tales of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear would've been as well at the time of the film's release as say, the Tortoise and the Hare remains now. It's always been a fascination for me, because my family has these references, but I was born just outside of them. From them, they're sorta disregarded like ancient stories like say, "The Velveteen Rabbit" or something like that, while all I ever really heard about was this strange Disney film that seemed to promote slavery and has since been banned. Well, the movie doesn't promote slavery, in fact it actually takes place during Reconstruction, and in all honesty, nothing much happens. Little Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is struggling with his father's recent departure, and he's told some stories by Uncle Remus that are these animated fables that most of us,- well, most of us back then were familiar with.(Shrugs) I guess I can understand not telling about the tar-baby to kids these day, although ironically most of us would actually just think that that meant a baby was made of tar. Anyway, it's nice to have finally seen "Song of the South", to know exactly what we were missing, but it's still mostly a film that's of a historical note than it is a seminal essential viewing.


ALL OR NOTHING (2002) Director: Mike Leigh

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Going back through Mike Leigh's filmography, I've finally come around to "All or Nothing", and it's a powerful look, at, well, at this particularly lower-class group of families. That's, all, in a way. It's not something deeper or more meaningful than that, but the lives of quiet desperation in a South London housing project. It's hard to describe the movie much more than that and to just say, "Trust me guys, this is a very good film." but, I'll give it a shot here. While there's a few main families, I think the main focus is own the Bassett's Phil and Penny (Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville). Phil is a taxi driver while Penny works at a supermarket. Both of them deal with the public but Phil is the one who's probably more effected by the encounters, witnessing all aspects of life going on in his backseats. Phil and Penny have been together for 20 years, and have two kids, They're daughter Rachel (Allison Garland) cleans houses, with little prospects more than that. They're son Rory (James Corden) an overweight teenage luff that mostly lounges on the couch. During the days, Phil tries to gather money between paydays, often from his family. Penny is a little more active. She has her kareoke friends Maureen (Ruth Steen) a single mother to a teenage daughter Donna (Helen Coker) who's pregnant from an abusive boyfriend and Carol (Marion Bailey) whose daughter's in a relationship Samantha (Sally Hawkins) is a rebellious teenage flirt, who spends some of her day teasing another local kid who she knows is in love with him, but isn't really mature enough to deal with it. Most of the movie, is slice of life, very typical of Mike Leigh, who has this beautiful approach to filmmaking where he gets some regulars in his troupe together and spends months shooting improvisations based on his bare idea and then takes that footage to create the script. The movie turns when something major happens late that I won't describe here, but what's importance is learning and observing these characters before and after the incident. Just learning the characters and their lives at all, the way it observes them. It's quite a beautiful and emotional feature. One of my favorite sequences involves Phil's speech at the end, his explosion is after a long time of reflection and being and seeming aloof. It's emotional, powerful and exactly what this character would say and how he would express it. There's so many moments like that of simple observation of what we think are just simple people that are far more than that. "All or Nothing" is sorta the forgotten Mike Leigh film, it came in between "Topsy-Turvy" and "Vera Drake", two of his more revered and powerful recent films, even the Academy avoided this one, but it's hardly a bad film at all. It's just as amazing, well-acted and poetically beautiful as all his others.


MEET THE FOKKENS (2012) Directors: Gabrielle Provaas & Rob Schroder

✰✰1/2



I'm probably being a little meaner on this film than most others, and I guess this really depends on how truly interesting you find the Fokkens to be. Oddly enough, I didn't find myself caring much. "Meet the Fokkens" introduces us to Martine and Louise Fokken, identical 69-year-old twins who have spent most of their lives as prostitutes. Legally, they're Dutch and live in Amsterdam. Martine still works as a prostitute but Louise has retired 'cause of illness, sighting that she can no longer put one foot over the other. I guess Martine enjoys it, she seems like it, as do the few clients we see her entertain but she also does it because she doesn't quite make enough on her pension alone to survive. They're relatively jovial and outlandish, somewhat garish in their appearance. They have led interesting lives, often sad lives and after awhile we hear some of their early, which wasn't that great or pretty. We're not quite sure how they ended up choosing prostitution as an escape, but- I don't know, after watching the movie, I think they're interesting gals but not much more. I just don't know if that's enough for a movie. If was a documentary short I probably would recommend it, but just a couple interesting prostitutes that'd be fun to hang out with at a bar to hear stories about their lives-, well, being in Vegas, I've done that a few times, but still, "Meet the Fokkens" just doesn't quite feel full as a documentary.


SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS (2012) Directors: Annie Howell & Lisa Robinson

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"Small, Beautifully Moving Parts", kinda has the randomness of a journey to a family that something like "Five Easy Pieces" had, but with a more pronounced subtext of modern technology instead of music. Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) is an expert in electronics. Able to fix any computer that gets peed on, or dissect any new-fangled gizmo and gadget, almost instantly. Her boyfriend Leon (Andre Holland) is more interested in the fact that she's pregnant, while she's fascinated by the mechanics of the pregnancy test. Her sister Emily (Sarah Rafferty) throws her a bachelorette party and it's full of friends and family, most of them mothers themselves, and her father Henry (Richard Hoag), but she wasn't brought up with her mother, who left the family years earlier and they have in fact barely talked. Usually she's at least known where she was but now she's gone "Off the grid", and now that she's pregnant and fairly incapable with human beings, so much so that she basically interviews them with a camera whenever she comes around, fascinated, she figures it's time now to go see, what if anything her mother can tell her. Other than a pit stop in Vegas to meet a friend for a bit, she then begins to goes deep into a desert, away from people, and more importantly away from working electronics and GPS. It reminded strangely of how the further out, Robert Dupea went from his life and back to his rich, cultured family, more and more music would be heard and present, the more into the world he became. Here, another different kind of otherside of the world comes as she finally reaches closer and closer to her mother, Marjorie (Mary Beth Pell). "Small, Beautifully Moving Parts" is a reference to the little parts of all machines that essentially make them run, and how when they don't whole things collapse. I might've made that last part up, but it's a beautifully little independent film, filled with good performance, beautiful direction from the team of Annie Howell & Lisa Robinson, you don't see too many female duo directing teams out there, and it's a great little tale about a girl who can fix anything, struggle with things that can't be fixed so simply. I enjoyed "Small, Beautifully Moving Parts", immensely.



Monday, March 16, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "ANNIE HALL"

ANNIE HALL (1977)

Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman



“I would never join a club that would want me as a member.”
                                                            ----Groucho Marx

At the beginning of movie, Alvy Singer tells us that joke saying that it describe his life in terms of relationships; by the end of "Annie Hall", Woody Allen's greatest achievement, we agree with him. Of course, Alvy Singer, like all Allen characters is basically a slight variation of Woody Allen himself. He's a divorced New York-based stand-up comic who used to work in television who might be a little eccentric. Every time I rewatch the film, I start to analyze my love life and begin to feel that, maybe I have the same problems as Alvy/Woody. I'm about as likely to break up with a perfectly fine individual over the 2nd Gun Theory of the Kennedy assassination as he is. I talk about Bergman and Fellini as though everybody knows automatically who they are, and get frustrated and contemptuous when people don't know what they're talking about. There's a great scene in a movie theater where a guy behind Allen is loudly talkingabout Fellini and when he switches to Marshall McLuhan, Allen has had enough and produces Marshall McLuhan from behind a wall to argue with the guy. "Don't you wish you could do this in real life?" (Yes, yes we do.)
           
Anyway, as Woody Allen did in that scene, I got distracted. He gets distracted in many of his films, and in Annie Hall, he can chase after runaway lobsters and hit on a cute lounge singer who dresses in a pant suit and tie to a tennis match right on cue. There could be a bug as big as a Buick in the bathroom, and he could talk about how etymology is a fast-growing field. Annie (Oscar-winner Diane Keaton, playing a role loosely based on her [Keaton's , the only person in the film who can keep up with him, knows this means that he doesn’t want to move in, and besides, she could always check the subtitles to see what he really means to say.
           
If I’m making this film seem like a disjointed analog of thoughts and moments, well it actually kind is. This was originally a murder mystery comedy, with the Annie Hall character and relationship being a subplot, but in the editing room, all that was thrown away and somehow they found a 95-minute romantic comedy that won the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as two Oscars for Allen, and his only one for Directing. (The film didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for Editing.) The murder mystery plot would be reworked by Allen years later and turn into "Manhattan Murder Mystery". It's actually easy to see that the movie is mostly this disjointed cobbling together of thoughts and ideas but it's so quick and funny most people simply overlook it. Maybe it's because a relationship when looking back, especially a failed one, is mostly an episodic quagmire of scenes, or maybe it's so good that, it doesn't matter that it looks feels and really kinda was just thrown together. It breaks the 4th wall, it has an animation sequence, Woody invades his own childhood flashback and kids are talking like adults in them, this was pure anarchy on screen, even as Mel Brooks was creating the best comedic films of the era, "Annie Hall" when you look at it, is pure abandonment. People are confused, for some reason now, why it beat out "Star Wars" for Best Picture, and earned Allen two of his four Oscars, including his only win for Directing, every romantic-comedy in film and television since, owes a debt to "Annie Hall".

On the other hand, despite all this, you'll notice that the movie is little action, and mostly just people talking. Taking about life, talking about sex, talking during sex… For Woody Allen, he can’t be happy unless he can talk about how depressing everything in life is, no matter how happy he is. He knows he can complain more when the happiness ends. To have your life undone is one thing, to consciously know you’re the undoing it, and know one has the ability to stop, but the unwillingness, is another. Maybe it is abandonment but it's also pure mental masturbation, and we get in our own way sometimes.  Oh well. La-de-da, la-de-da.

“Don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love.”
                                                                             ----Woody Allen

Friday, March 13, 2015

EMMYS SNEAK IN RULE CHANGES, and THEY'RE MOSTLY GOOD. Some thoughts on the newly-defined TELEVISION LANDSCAPE!



Some of you readers, who have been paying particular attention to this blog over the last couple will not that I have discussed, even before it was a point of commentaries and editorials of most entertainment news sources that the confusion and maneuvering of the Primetime Emmys and the practice of placing television shows in particular categories should be reformed. How often have I made this point?

Here's my article about what the definition of a miniseries is/should be:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-long-form-tv-shows-if-its-canceled.html

Here's my Mixed Bag Blog that included a section involving the Golden Globes decision to alter the Miniseries Category to "Limited Series":
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/08/mixed-bag-blog-9-james-corden-named.html

Here's my letter to the Television Academy where I insisted they make guidelines in order to stop TV shows from being able to randomly switch categories at will:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/03/dear-television-academy-tell-us-what.html

Here's my post...-, well, you kinda get the idea at this point; this has been a subject I've discussed in one way, shape or form for awhile. I do it, because, while I think it's difficult to say that the Emmys are the be-all and end-all of television prestige, they are in essence an authority in how we distinguish television shows and series. They are representative of the entire television landscape and a way that we define that landscape is based partly on the way the Academy defines that landscape. So it disturbed me when shows the Academy was really, more letting the shows define themselves instead of taking control and defining the landscape itself. So when, right in the middle of the Oscars was going on, and nobody was paying attention except me and a few people at Gold Derby when this happened, but the Emmys finally got their act together and did what I've been telling them to do. Have them be in charge of defining exactly what category a show should be put into, plus a few other category rules and awards were changes, as per usual with these shows. Plus they also expanded their round of voting, as well as an the amount of voters per round as well, that's something that might come more into effect later, but let's take a look at the award they made.

First off, the 30-Minute vs. One-Hour rule. Basically, they're drawing a line, in that, if a show is 30 minutes long, then it's in the Comedy Series categories, and if it's an hour long, than it's in the drama series categories. I know some have complained about this, as the length of show shouldn't be the determining factor between what the genre, but it's not technically. What they did, ironically, what I said they should do, create a panel that, if a show really wants/feels like they belong in a different category then the one their placed into because of their time-length, then they can appeal to this nine-person committee selected upon from industry leaders appointed by the Academy Chairman and the Board of Governors. If the show can convince a 2/3 vote to allow a show to switch categories, then the show can officially enter in the other genre.

For those wondering, only once has an hour-long show won the Best Comedy Series Emmy, and that was "Ally McBeal" back in '99, I believe, maybe 2000, so there's precedent for it to win, but it is rare and these dramedy shows that fit somewhere in between, they have a decision to make. And we haven't seen a show yet that we know of, has filed an appeal to the body, so we're keeping a close eye on this. That said, since there's a few shows with precedents like "Orange is the New Black" and "Shameless" that have been able to jump or choose a genre against their natural time fit before, they will likely, if they choose to appeal probably get grandfathered, I suspect anyway. That's the only part of this that's up in the air and who knows how controversial or not some of these choices, both by which shows choose to appeal and what the appeals would end up being we'll have to dissect, especially in the next few months, but I gotta be honest, this is such an improvement that I am not bothered at all. What we needed was what we got, a system put in place where the Academy has top control over it's award show, alright there's flaws in the 30-minutes, 60-hour divide concept, but it wrote in an out, it didn't make it too easy for shows to switch but it made it possible and it made a show have to prove it's case that it is something outside of either the simple comedy or drama that it's labeled; I'm greatly in favor of this. Who knows how it'll play out, but that's gonna make this Emmy season interesting. It's already intriguing and it's only March right now.

And let's get to the other controversy, the Drama Series vs. Miniseries ruling. Well, first of all, there's no Miniseries anymore, they've eliminated that and brought back the delineation, "Limited Series", which used to be what they were called, but strangely those traditional miniseries that we tend to think about with that delineation, they aren't around anymore and have been by these series that are these one-year-long anthologies. Now, besides that, the big key here is that they defined "Limited Series" more clearly. They define a "Limited Series" as: "programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons.So, basically, "True Blood", "American Horror Story", those shows are Limited Series now, "Luther" and "Downton Abbey" is in the Drama Series category now/permanently, no last season "The Big C" or "Treme" finally miniseries anymore, although producers may petition, just like for Drama and Comedy Series. This could also hopefully eliminate "The Starter Wife" or "Political Animals" scenarios where canceled series would then submit as miniseries, that's happened the last couple years as well, hypothetically anyway. Although, what happens when a show starts as a miniseries but then the next season becomes a regular series, like a "Downton Abbey" did? Eh, we'll see, but overall good rule. Stops shows from submitting where, they probably shouldn't, leaves it open for some wiggle room and interpretations.

There's an interesting new re-definition of Guest Actor/Actress awards, where, in order to be considered a Guest Actor, you must have appeared in less than half of the episodes of that season's shows. You see, usually a Guest Actor, was just that, a guest, somebody who shows up for maybe as little as one episode, maybe two or three and have an impact but wouldn't be heard from again. However, a few shows really started blurring the line a bit. For instance, last year a character who appeared in, most every episode of the season and was essentially a regular would be nominated for Guest Actor/Actress, in fact three of last year's winners in Guest Acting were in over half the shows' episodes they were in. It's hard to tell exactly when this practice started but I'd say "Dexter" was probably the show that started this. For a while there, each season would have a new guest actor/actress who would be in the show for the entire season, but that season only. They wouldn't be continuing on in the series as a regular, and their storylines would essentially be over, so, it's hard to call someone a regular on the series since they were only on that season, so those actors would submit in the Guest Actor/Actress categories instead. Of course, there are example of people on a show for one season and then being submitted as a regular though. Robert Downey Jr. on "Ally McBeal" or Joe Pantoliano for "The Sopranos" comes to mind for instance, and to make it even more confusing, Margo Martindale won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for "Justified" despite only being in about half of that season; you could easily argue that she might've been better suited in the Guest Actress category, especially since her character was only in that one season. So, the rule has been change to an actor or actress requiring to be in less than half the episodes of that season's series in order to be eligible. If they are in more than half the episodes, then they are a regular, even if it is only for that season.

That's a minor shift of clarification purposes, other changes were fairly minimal. The Series categories are now guaranteed seven nominations, that's a new change, but because there's more shows out there than before. Still, up until now, these were all basically things that Emmy fans/voters/watchers were in some respects or another calling for. The last change, really kinda came out of nowhere, although in hindsight it does seem like somebody could've or should've foreseen it. The Variety Series category, well just by it's title, has often been a bit of a Variety of different kinds of programs in the past. There's never really been a need to clarify much further, even when some of the aspects that were common once upon a time in variety shows like musical and dance performances were taken up by reality and reality-competition series. Yet, there's been a huge variety lately of sketch comedy series that have taken up on the air, something that, was always apart of sketch and even talk shows, but now, there's enough distinction between them to separate Variety Sketch and Variety Tale. Variety Talk will be presented on the main show, Variety Sketch movies to the Creative Arts Emmys, (Sorry "SNL") This does sorta make sense though, there's been a slew of many sketch comedy series lately like "Key & Peele", "Inside Amy Schumer", "Little Britain", I'm sure that last one's off the air now, but there's definitely more options for sketch comics than ever before, more viable ones at that too. Plus, more than that, the Late Night Talk Show carousal, well, we'll talk about the latest goings-on with that on a future blog, I promise, but there's so much talk about the Golden Age of Dramas, but we're definitely in the Golden Age of Late Night Talk, and how it's continually transforming the television landscape. So, in a way this makes some sense. Except for the part where it's still called "Variety" though. Seriously, if this genre is still called "Variety", the catch-all word for whatever didn't fit into the other categories, then they should just be Talk and Sketch, shouldn't they?

Eh, they'll figure it out next year. The television landscape is continuous and constantly fluid; I said something like that in one of those other blogposts. The Emmys job is to stay on top of it as much as possible. If they're gonna take that mantle of being the most prestigious of the television awards, and be the organization of peers that vote on the best in their industry, then, they definitely need to be the ones proclaim and sorting out this mess of the Primetime television landscape, and you know what, they're doing it now. Maybe not perfectly, but compared to how they weren't doing it before now, this is a great improvement. Kudos to the Primetime Emmys, at least, kudos so far. Let's see how well these rules work to see the full impact, but still, so far, so good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"PARKS AND RECREATION": THE ONE MILLIONTH CANDLE IN THE WIND BURNS OUT: ONE LAST WORD ABOUT THE MOST INSPIRING SHOW ON TELEVISION!



It wasn't intended to be the show that it became. Pulled out from writers from "The Office", and borrowing it's style, "Parks and Recreation" was a mid-season replacement for NBC that was supposed to be a satire on local government. Leslie's last name, Knope, was supposed to be a symbolic reference to the kinds of luck she would have being the sole caring government employee who was out to do good, in a department and with a crew of co-workers and friends, who expected the worst and did little more, often seeing Leslie's hope and gleeful naivete of the ways of the world and of an ungrateful public were gonna continually smash all her attempts and dreams at making Pawnee, Indiana, much less the world, a better place. Something happened though. Something I suspect happens more often than we like to think, or admit occurs, especially with people who work in government. To me, while it was gradual, it happened with an episode in the show's second season, one of the more lesser-recalled episodes oddly called "Christmas Scandal". Up until then, everybody was more or less amused by Leslie's undaunted determination, and by "everyone", I mean the other characters in the show, but in the episode, she ends up becoming part of a scandal that renders her unable to perform her duties that day, and while she has to fight off Councilman Dexhart's accusations. That's when everybody's perceptions, completely turned on Leslie, and in doing so, for the show, and in many ways the audience, when they realized exactly how much she actually did in just one day. (And  how far she was willing to go to make sure she'd get back to her job or serving the people, literally bearing her ass on television to prove the Councilman was lying.) It's the episode where suddenly, everybody would become apart of Team Knope, including us the audience. We weren't laughing at her floundering around to reach her inevitable failures, we were cheering for her to succeed, in the face of overwhelming odds; even Ron knew secretly that without her the government could not stand and that without her, despite his incredible disgust and admonishment of government, that ultimately, a few episodes later when Ben Wyatt threatens to fire Leslie as a part of the slashing of the city's budget, Ron insisted that she stay on, asking for himself to be fired. Not that he wouldn't have rather have been working for the Parks department, ideologically it makes sense for him not to work for the government, but strangely, he was doing it to make sure someone, Leslie, not only should run the department, but that she basically is the only thing that works at all.

It was that episode that I realize that "Parks and Recreation" was going to be something special. It didn't get all of it's kinks out 'til Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast in the 3rd season, and Paul Schneider's city planner Mark Brandanawicz character was written out, (Originally a former Knope love interest who became Rashida Jones's Ann love interest, her first believer as a government worker/fighter who actually did care and was willing to do whatever it took to serve the public.) No longer, was Amy Poehler a Michael Scott of the local government that we saw struggle and truly believe that she was making a difference when in reality she really wasn't, instead her idealism won people over, and like all the great pieces of government legislation, she led the fight to eventually did make real change in America. This was the episode show where would start to transition from those seemingly small issues of a "Parks and Recreation" department, like, a giant hole in the ground, to inevitably becoming a show where the characters big dreams would start to seem, attainable. That's what I found myself enjoying about the show more and more over the years, and I couldn't help to then compare it to another show that got me those stirring feelings about the role of government and the struggles between the idealism of the government workers and frustration of bureaucracy that struggles to keep them in the way. Yep, I'm sure some of you know where I'm going with this comparison, but I always did see "Parks and Recreation" as the comedic flipside of "The West Wing". It takes in a modern-day Mayberry but it is local government and all the little pitfalls and quandaries, they're the groundlings to the great theater that is the federal government, and most of them are relatively content with that, at least in the beginning. Hell, Leslie is content with that, she would love to spend her days and nights fighting city government officials trying to organize concerts and harvest festivals and state fairs and fixing park swings. That why when we see the last episode and see that she became so much more, we're more proud.

That said, why was "Parks and Recreation", so, ignored? It's been one of the funniest and smartest shows on TV for years, Amy Poehler was a breakout "SNL" star when she followed this Tina Fey path to NBC Thursday nights, especially since, it really did sorta hit both the cynical and idealists sides of government work pretty hard on-the-nose? I'm sure the lack of interest in this mockumentary style is apart of the problem (Although why "Modern Family"'s never seems effected by it, I'm not sure) It's strange that sitcom-wise, I could seriously argue that NBC, over the last decade when they've clearly been at the bottom of the rating they have far outshined any other major network and most cable networks by a mile for comedy, in terms of quality especially, It garnered the same audiences that loved "30 Rock", and "The Office" that they were looking for, except not as much. In fact, in many ways, I'm happy the show was allowed to end, frankly. It's got numerous half-seasons and was on the brink of cancellation numerous times, despite an ever-growing fanbase and creating some really iconic characters. I associate myself more with Leslie Knope but it Nick Offerman's character of Ron Swanson that was the most famous character. Yet, the show never had the best Neilsen Rating, and frankly the Awards bizarrely overlooked the show constantly as well. Amy Poehler has been nominated for an Emmy every year for Best Actress but never wins (And she's the only performer on the show that gets nominated, nothing for Offerman, Rob Lowe, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt even?)  and the show only got nominated once for Best Comedy Series, bizarrely.

This brings up another question, 'cause as great as the show was, 'cause it is somewhat difficult to determine "Parks and Recreation"'s place in television history. It's an original story using "The Office" technique, the first one in America, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's groundbreaking as it was inevitable and unlike "The Office" where the whole show was predicated on this conceit that the film was a documentary that was being taped, that kinda became inconsequential at some point. While I loved the last season, I think we can all kinda count on one hand how many shows did that jump x amount of years into the future thing successfully, and this show, almost pulled it off completely perfectly, it still feels a bit like a stretch. It did allow for the absurd and surreal to go hand-in-hand with the mundane realities of government bureaucracy. It gave a human element to it, to all the characters, we really cared about them and when the show finally got a real grasp of where they wanted to go, the characters completely fit right in and grew with the show. The show's lucky they had enough time to do that. Rod Schneider's character fell off when they figured out they didn't have anywhere to go with him. Louis C.K. had a long story arc that spread through much of season two that easily could've gone on longer, believably. This show actually had longer than most shows nowadays to really get it's rhythm together and get it's cast right and it's characters right, much more than most shows that constantly were under threat of cancellation. The show was always on and off the air sporadically, even this finale season, was limited to twelve episodes over two months, like NBC just wanted to get rid of it, like they really had anything else?

It's a shame a "Parks and Recreation" doesn't get the recognition as this comedic version of "The West Wing", most of the time, I hear "Veep" getting that, but "Veep" is just pure cynicism. "Parks and Recreation" turned cynicism into idealism. That's a tough thing to do, and they did it through a character that went from the butt of the joke and then turned her into the coach that everybody around. Leslie and the show were inspirational; I think a lot of people miss that in the translation. This is one of those shows that's works more strongly when you consider the show in it's entirety, which is somewhat tricky 'cause it isn't that clear in the beginning couple seasons where it ends up going from the beginning. That's the thing, the show itself changed from cynical to idealistic. I don't think it was planned to do that, it just sorta happened that way, but while in many ways it's a strength, it does make it somewhat more difficult to follow if you just catch a random episode, something that wasn't as problematic with "30 Rock" or "The Office" the other two shows it will forever be paired with, and I do think those shows will hold up better. It's a shame though, 'cause it really should be placed on a higher pedestal than that. It was more than just "That other show" that NBC had with the critical acclaim and cult following that not enough people watched at the time.

Hell, I considered "Parks and Recreation" was arguably the best show on television for awhile there, when it wasn't on hiatus. It took chances, it created amazing characters; it led to some really special television moments. It was the little show with the ambition to be so much more, just like Leslie Knope, and just like Leslie, it continued to succeed even when it seemed more and more unlikely that it would. On top of being smart and funny,  She wasn't inspiring in a hit-you-over-the-head "Full House" way either. A strong female character who easily could've been Tracy Flick-annoying, and here she is, making you care, and make you cheer for her to make the world a better place, and frankly, we not only believe that she can, we're hoping she does and sometimes we feel like we're helping her do it. I know I embraced it; I know Washington really embraced it, both sides of the aisle..., I hope others will in the future.