Thursday, December 18, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #100: "THE LEGO MOVIE", "MALEFICENT", "LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON", "WE ARE THE BEST!", "KORENGAL", "TRANSCENDENCE", "MOEBIUS", "HAPPY CHRISTMAS", "GOD'S POCKET", "SEX TAPE" and MORE!

It's a milestone day for us today, it's our 100TH EDITION of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

(Balloons, and confetti drop from the ceiling as Offenbach's "Can Can Music" play, as a multiple rows of showgirls start appearing and dancing in unisom Rockettes-style, and a seven-tier cake arrives, along with a dog balancing on a multi-colored beach ball, while Cirque de Soleil dancer do tumbling passes through a ring of fire while Grindergirl sets off sparks on the other side of the stage. Just as the naked girl pops out of the cake, wearing nothing but a sash that say "Happy 100!" and a Tiara. She's helped out by two of the showgirls, who have now switched to performing the Cancan, as fireworks go off in celebration in unison, right after the Blue Angels fly overhead of the arena, but not before Bono from U2, is parachuted out of the plane, and lands onto the stage, his parachute, also has the number 100 on it, and as the song climaxes, all the performers, including the dog, line up, from a perfect 100, with Bono at the front of the one, the naked cake girl at the center of the second zero, and the dog, jumping back and forth through the ring of fire that the Cirque performers are holding up in the center of the first zero. Song ends. They hold for ten seconds, then everybody gets down, and slowly leaves, and unremarkably, exits the area and goes home.)

So that was it. Two minute song, a 100 or so performers, and nobody cleans anything up! How much did that cost us? You know, I don't even want to know, just fire whoever set this up, and find me a broom.

(I shake and dust off the confetti out of my hair and body. A balloon, then pops right behind me, scaring me, making me more frustrated)

Well, so much for that. Anyway, I'm glad we got to 100 of these, and when we do our next 100, I'll make sure to make it a more low-key affair. Anyway, it should low-key considering the state of the film industry right now, with all this crap regarding "The Interview" and supposedly North Korea being behind the attacks on Sony. Look, I'm not gonna pretend I understand how real or not, these threats were that they made, and I have no idea whether Sony's making the right decision by pulling the movie again, I really just don't know. I have friends who are hackers, good ones, not the evil ones that do all these crazy-ass things, and anti-government, assholes, and I'm talking to them constantly, to just find out more about this. If you want a quick thing though, Steve Gibson, who, like invented Security software of whatever- I'm not computer literature but he's an incredibly important and knowledgeable in the world of electronic security, he has a weekly podcast on Twit.tv called "Security Now", and he talks about some of these recent hackings, like Target recently, and last week, on his show, he talked about exactly what these hackers, whoever they are did, with Sony, exactly, and if you really want to kind learn about this world and the whole amount of information that's they've pulled right now, from Sony, seek out that podcast from the ninth I believe, and watch him, in general, I think as long as this keeps up, and I think it will, for awhile, all the repercussions from this, and we're not close to it ending, so I highly recommend seeking his show out. And I know we all have opinions, about their actions and reactions to all this, you know, Aaron Sorkin wrote a great piece, condemning the media for publishing the Amy Pascal e-mails and everything else that's trickling through slowly, and god knows what it is, and he's right. Shame on the media for publishing all this, shit, most of which, yeah, it sounds bad, but it's sausage-making folks, this is nothing unusual other then producers and studioheads talking to each other, trying to each get what they want; it's part pissing-contest, part chess game, it's a little "Entourage", but guess what, that's kinda how it is sometimes. And besides that, don't read them. They're stolen property, I know everything's out now, but still exercise free will, you don't need Lizzy Caplan's social security number or anything else that comes out from this, let's at least, be able, to temper our excitements over that shit, which hopefully none of you are really excited to hear about anyway, and frankly, you shouldn't be.

Anyway, we got a lot of movie reviewed, a lot of big ones, our 100th edition, it's award season, (And the OYL NOMINATIONS will be NEXT BLOG folks) let's get back to the actual movies! So here are this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) Directors: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

✰✰✰✰1/2



I must admit that I wasn't exactly looking forward to "The Lego Movie" until the somewhat shockingly positives reviews for the film started pouring in. Especially in film school, you have no idea, how many bad, really bad, short little movies I've seen, staring and about Lego's. (Legoes? Legos? Hmm.) Give me a second. [Please stand by. Simple Minds's "(Don't You) Forget About Me", musak version plays for about 45 seconds] Huh, interesting. Where was I? Ah,.... the bad, short little movies I've seen, staring and are about LEGOs. I mean, really stupid ones too; I know a few of them are pretty good, but a lot are bad and the worst of the worst, the most immature of filmmakers, really didn't make the idea of a feature-length LEGO movie appealing to me. Anyway, thankfully the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, are hitting a creative peak right now, after they took "21 Jump Street", and completely reinvented that franchise into one of the funniest movies of the year, and they were given LEGOs, and they built something very sharp and funny out of it. (Which btw, I could never even build a house with LEGOs, so I'm impressed.) In a way, they kinda take the ideas behind most of those somewhat decent LEGO movies, quick parody of other films, and really take it to the extreme here. Our main character is a lowly construction worker, Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt), who doesn't quite realize how lowly he is. He's euphorically excited for life, happily reading books about how to make friends, and watching joyous goes about his day, saying hi to all the neighbors and co-workers, enjoying the popular sitcoms and music, ("Everything is Awesome" is definitely one of the most surreal and strangely brilliant comedy songs I've heard in a while.) and is fairly gleefully thoughtless about how empty his life truly is, until he runs into Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) a rebellious gothic-y girl who's searching for the famed piece of Resistance, which legend has it, would stop the Kraggle which long-ago, Lord Business (Will Farrell) got ahold of, and subsequently started kidnapping and eliminating all the master builders in order for the rest of the Lego universe to be and run exactly perfect as he sees it. (Master Builders were the innovative and creative artists of the Legoverse, of whatever it's called, who can quickly build anything from all the pieces around them, which often comes in handy) Now, he's President Business, and he has taken over all aspects of society, and plans to use the Kraggle to keep the LEGO worlds, in step with his own ideals, and Emmett, has accidentally found the Piece of Resistance, and as deemed by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), he is the most special person alive, and will lead an end to President Business's reign of terror. President Business's actions of taking out the Master Builders, reminded me of how when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and Pol Pot, immediately eliminate all the people with glasses, and all other people with sort form of education, in order to start a civilization fresh, which of course led to The Killing Fields and his reign of genocide, and I'm almost certain that I'm the only person who's gonna mention Pol Pot in his review of "The LEGO Movie", but honestly, it was something that occurred to me. Meanwhile, Wildstyle and Vitruvius, as well as many other Master Builders like Wildstyle's boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett) Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and Unikitty (Alison Brie) , who've all gone on to other secret Lego worlds to hide, start trying to train Emmett to be a Master Builder in time before Taco Tuesday where President Business plans on releasing the Kraggle, but Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) is on his tail, although he is a bit conflicted at times about President Business's actions. I know how ridiculous this story sounds, but that's fine, it's the kind of ridiculousness that you should expect when playing with something like LEGOs. I used to run a pretend professional wrestling organization with my plush animals. Mickey and Bugs Bunny would rarely fight, but when they did it was epic, Roger Rabbit and Snoopy had a long back-and-forth rivalry for the World Title that lasted years, Baby Doll would always be good until she's lose one of her limbs in the match, stuff like that, I know, it sounds stupid, but I still remember the great matches I put on; that's the kind of joyous freedom and fun this movie has, that purity of just playing and imagining, and it's also got that kind of carefree comedy in it. Now, I wasn't as big on the big reveal at the end, about "The Man Upstairs" and whatnot, I thought that was cute but it took away from the movie a little bit for me, and there was a few other minor criticisms here and there for me, and while I liked plush animals, I was never a LEGOs guy; I would've made a horrible engineer, but if you have memories of LEGOs that are more than simply, being barefoot and stepping on them, then I think this is the movie you'll want. If not, it's still, eh, really good. I won't say everything is awesome, but "The LEGO Movie" was very good. An enjoyable send-up of both little toy building blocks and of movies in general.


MALEFICENT (2014) Director: Robert Stromberg

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I have to confess here that I've never been big on "Sleeping Beauty". Easy as a kid, I always thought the original animated film was overrated, and actually not good, it was never a favorite of mine, and from that perspective, I do like "Maleficent" as a film overall, but I still have some issues with the film. The main one, and it is, an interesting take on the material, a better one that the original Disney film, and considering this is Disney, it's actually a bit of a dark and complex twist for them, but it still feels like a force to me. Disney, lately has been, probably correctly so, trying to get away from these classic, prince and princess fairy tale images of true love, these very old-fashioned and idealized images, and in some case they've done a really good job at breaking from this, like last year's "Frozen", a great film about two sisters essentially, or probably a better comparison would be "Brave", about the complex mother-daughter relationship, and that's sorta the relationship they're going for here with Maleficent, (Angelina Jolie) and Aurora (Elle Fanning). Maleficent is, the most powerful fairy in the world of fairies, and she befriends Stefan (Michael Higgins when he's young) as a young human who wandered into the land of the Moors where young Maleficent (Hannah New as a kid). However after Maleficent fell in love, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) as an adult is now a gung-ho soldier out to get Maleficent, at the promise of the King, who's asked for Maleficent's head in exchange for his kingdom. Stefan manages to poison her, but only cuts off her wings, leaving her grounded, although still powerful, and he puts a curse on the King's daughter Aurora, which will leave her in a coma on her 16th birthday, after the infamous prick, unless she gets love's first kiss, which both Stefan and Maleficent, now believe doesn't exist. In the meantime, she's living with, the  three most annoying characters in the story, Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistlewit (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple respectively), the three fairies, who are constantly a second or two away from a fairy fight in the kitchen. The most intriguing relationship is actually between Malificent and her faithful companion Diaval (Sam Riley) who's a raven she has turned human, or into whatever she wants at that moment, and he sorta acts like Maleficent's conscious as Maleficent herself, struggles between her more two-sided nature. I think the problem is mostly still that, while I think this a far better version of "Sleeping Beauty" than I'm used to, it's plot is a bit of a force, but it does make Maleficent a much more interesting and complex character than any previous version of the film. It also looks amazing; the director was Robert Stronberg, whose base is in production design, and he actually makes a decent directorial job here, the special effects are quite special, he knows how to take these visuals that he's good and use to tell the story, so that's impressive. Like I said, for me to recommend "Maleficent" is basically 4 STARS, from everybody who likes "Sleeping Beauty" so keep that in mind, but I did enjoy the film.


LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (2014) Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu

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After watching Deepa Mehta's "Midnight's Children" last week, "Like Father, Like Son",  is now the second film in as many weeks that I've seen that's about children separated at birth, but the two films couldn't be any more different. Hirokazu Koreda's film, which a more Japanese translation of the title I'm told would be "And I Will be His Father", begins with an upper class set of parents, Ryota and Midori (Masaharu Fukuyama and Machiko Ono) who, with they're son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) being interviewed for a prestigious school. The scene, is almost comically symmetrical, as the small but loving and caring family tries to impress the headmasters. They find out during later bloodtests, that their kid was switched at birth with the parents of Ryusei (Shogen Hwang), Yukari and Yudai (Yoko Maki and Riri Furanki), a couple lower class shop owners who have multiple kids. Midori isn't capable of more children, and the realization that her real kid has been living with another family this whole time is devastating to her, and Ryota's struggles to accept his son afterwards. The movie is slow and deliberate, and little is outwardly explained, a lot has to be inferred, from just a scene, or a glance. Things often get left hanging. The movie is about the clash of ideals and cultures between the families, as they first, have to get to know each other, and their kids, and the emotional conflicts and heartships and heartaches they're suffering now, and in the past. As the courts struggle, to figure out what happened, they begin to go through the long process of inevitably exchanging the two kids, if they can. The "Nature vs. Nurture" debate, is one of the most constant ones that's been the base of influence for films since the beginning of film it seems, but it never does feel like it gets any easier to confront that realization. Koreda has often made films about kids, being the center of complex emotional struggles with his characters. This is the first film of his I've finally gotten around to watching however, and his style takes some getting used to. I'm already going throught the film for the third time, and it's not easy to do that given the approach to the subject matter he takes.It's clear that "Like Father, Like Son" is a great film, but maybe it's detriment is how much it truly doesn't let up. We see, Yukari, despite being older, and hardworking, be so naturally playful with his all his kids, generous and nice, just like Keita is, which they originally thought meant he took after his wife, and his inner struggles isn't whether or not he's emotionally connected to either of his kids, it's whether or not he's able to be a good enough father to either. These are just some of the numerous complications and conflicts that come up between all these adult characters. It's all feels the surface in approach, but it's at the forefront of the entire movie, a mood and tone that populates it, like a giant hive of bees, swarming over and surrounding them that they and we, can't get out of. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year, and it's easy to see why. "Like Father, Like Son", it truly a special film, one of the best of the year so far,


WE ARE THE BEST! (2014) Director: Lukas Moodyson

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One of the more interesting filmmakers around is Swedish director Lukas Moodyson. His film "Lilya-4-Ever" is often listed as one of the best films of the last decade; I haven't seen that one yet, but his debut feature "Show Me Love" about a lesbian relationship between two teenage girls, is one of the smartest, most observant, and frankly most entertaining films I've seen about teenage homosexual romance, and it had a fun flippant attitude as well. I mention the tone of how exciting and gleeful that movie was, and how that declaration of romance and love, and "We are the Best!" starts with that. It also starts with two teenage girls, around the age of 13, Bobo (Mira Barkhammer) and Klara (Mira Grosin), both of whom, are naturally rebellious, both of whom still influenced by punk rock. It's '82, in Stockholm, and they're constantly annoyed at the constant refrain about how punk rock is dead, Klara is particularly annoyed, and decides that it's time to start a punk rock band. Neither of them play any music, or have an instrument, but that doesn't stop them, although Klara wins out the battle to play bass guitar, relegating Bobo to behind the drum kit, and start to formulate songs while being thrown out of P.E.. and sign up for times at the Youth Center to practice. Practice is actually inaccurate for awhile, it's more like, banging loudly, but they soon recruit a young mousy guitarist, Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne) who's an outsider at the school, for being a little too Christian and quiet, but she happens to be a classically-trained guitarist, and begins to show the two tommyboys a little bit about arrangement and melody, and she let's her hair get chopped and shaped to a pseudo mohawk, over her parent's objections. I knew a few great musicians at 12 or 13, but like all bands, even punk teen girl bands, troubles start brewing, especially when Klara and Bobo start to get the attraction of other local punk boys, Klara's control issues start kicking in, and as they get marginally better and start trying to pickup gigs, and write more songs, their friendships start going more and more in the coming-of-age directions, but that's okay. It's such a cool and fun way to go about, and all three lead girls are quite believable in these roles, and the movie is equal parts, funny, absurd, and intrinsically entertaining. Most everybody interesting goes through some kind of music phase in high school, thinking they can be the next whoever, in this case, Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten's right at the wave of New Wave or course, but still, hopefully Klara and Bobo will inevitably evolve enough to really enjoy the feminist fanzine rocks of Bikini Kill, and have that eventually fold itself into grunge. The movie's actually based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Moodyson's wife Coco, about her first band, and it feels that way. It's that carefree, blissful spirit many youngsters have where they really infectious; you want to cheer for these characters, who as pre-teens where we're at our most insecure, are putting themselves out there in ways that people 3x their age, wouldn't dare try. It really is so immensity to capture that jolliness on film, especially with kids, really special film,


KORENGAL (2014) Director: Sebastien Junger

✰✰✰✰1/2



There's something about soldiers, especially, these soldiers, my generations of soldiers who've fought and still fight in the Iraq and especially in Afghanistan War, and how strangely eloquent they can discuss their time and battles in the dreaded Korengal Valley, and yet, still find this camaraderie in this more gung-ho attitudes that, frankly I despise. They exist, some even discuss these things, like the one African-American soldier for instance, talking about he knows people look at him, and despise him behind his back, and yet, I've come away from "Korengal", very much the same way I came out of "Restrepo", with a fascination with the soldiers themselves, as much as the dangers of their missions and the locations. And their missions are dangerous and deadly, and we get right into that action. Sebastien Junger originally made the Oscar-nominated documentary "Restrepo", about this valley and these shoulders a couple years ago with his co-director Tim Hetherington, who unfortunately was killed while photographing the bombings in Libya. Hetherington, more than a filmmaker, was a war photographer, and like many, he became collateral damage doing the dangerous job he loves. Junger's started out a novelist, but has learned from Hetherington and went back into that outpost named after the fallen soldier, and back to that brigade, to see the war again, and how it's still being fought but through this new prism or a couple years gone. The Korengal Valley, is the Afghan province, outside of the Pech District, and it could very easily pass for somewhere in the lower Rocky Mountains, but is actually along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and while the locals, are somewhat more use to the soldiers, the firefights go on. The locals can seemingly fly across the vines is barely more than Ghandi-like loin clothes, while carrying around 125 pound surface-to-air missiles, and their tripods on their backs, like it's  nothing, especially with their families; women and children often used as shields, knowing we won't shoot. Death seems, a little less common, and there's more time, slightly more time, for the soldiers to consider their place, and frankly consider anything that simply passes the time. "We talked for six hours about who would win in a fight, George Clooney or Fabio one time," one soldier reflects. It's the soldiers themselves that are more fascinating then the war, the way they think about their experiences, and how the "Korengal" has become life for them. There's such a clarity and focus in how they reflect and talk, but still with this weight on their shoulders, this matter-of-factness about everything, so calm and collected, it's almost eerie, not just in the interview section either. It's so hard to describe, but it's almost like the trappings of the modern world, the ones that we think about like television and computers that most think are scrambling our brains are in fact, making them more educated and better equipped to handle the rigorousness of  being soldiers. They know the military is an outdated institution but it's still the best way to fight, and the best way to serve, even if that means being sent to the deadliest place on Earth, and told to wait there and don't shoot unless you're under attack.


TRANSCENDENCE (2014) Director: Wally Pfister

1/2



Of all the things I can think of to do with Johnny Depp, (As an actor! Don't- I heard it too, that's not where I'm heading.) why would you, put him into a, computer basically. I mean, I get conceptually, the idea, that in order to create artificial intelligence, you need an actual sentient intelligence, so a human, and have they're memories, someone implanted, into a-, in case, well, basically, it's just computer; it's not even- I guess it's kind like a holographic image, but it's not even that really, it's basically Johnny Depp in front of a green screen, and he's not even doing anything interesting. "Transcendence", is Wally Pfister's feature directorial debut, he's mostly for one of the best cinematographers in Hollywood, most notably for his work with Christopher Nolan; he even won an Oscar for his work on "Inception", and he's clearly a talented and capable director, but I think the story let him down more than anything, and although it's hot really well, I didn't get the sense that he really could figure too many ways to make it more intriguing either. Depp plays Will Caster, a leading scientific researcher in artificial intelligence, which means that he's often villified, and scorned for his work, and after a brief introduction, he's a victim of a poorly-executed terrorist attack. He's shot, but he's not what he once was, and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) decide that instead of him just passing away, they'll try and, implement his mind into the artificial into a machine, and if all goes well, his presence will then infiltrate the machine. It succeeds, and from there, he starts manipulating the stock market to make sure Evelyn has enough money to hide out and build their own lab in the middle of nowhere, to continue the research. Meanwhile, a leader of the anti-A.I. group, Bree (Kate Mara) is trying to convince a fellow A.I. researcher Max (Paul Bettany) to join their side and eventually take down Will. He's coming to the conclusion that while his personality and memory made be uploaded into the computer, it's possible that he's not exactly sure it's the same Will they knew. There's some other good work from Clifton Collins, Jr., Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy as well, but the film, is really about Evelyn and Will and her willingness to believe Will still exists within the computer, and Will's insistence on trying to make sure she knows it is him. The film's told in flashback from this apocalyptic modern world, so we know this is not only the future, but something went wrong, but it also doesn't even approach the  nuances of realism or even really consider these days, or modern A.I. studies, it's basically a storytelling device and not even a good one, and it's not done well. "Transcendence" doesn't really explore the possibilities of A.I., it just mostly hypothesizes worst-case scenarios and then, decides that it must go there; it's almost arbitrary. Yes, we can put a human into a computer, yes, people will be pissed off about it enough to orchestrate worldwide attacks, yes, it's gonna lead to the end of the world as we know it,... fill in, fill, in,- I guess the appeal is the relationship between the two scientists, but even that's not done in a particularly way. The more I thought about "Transcendence," the more I started disliking it. It's one of those movies that acts like it has many ideas, but when you really look at it, there really isn't anything there. I mean, Johnny Depp, inside a computer, who would've thought that would've been boring?


MOEBIUS (2014) Director: Kim Ki-Duk

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Oh, the perils of being a film critic. In order to, even try to explain Kim Ki-Duk's latest film, "Moebius", I would basically be giving away plotpoints so major, that you're gonna basically know too much of the movie, after I finish this review, that arguably you would have probably made up your minds over whether or not you should see or would like it. However, if I don't explain at least, some of what happens in the movie, and just tell you guys to go and watch it, then, I'm gonna get some complaints, from people who are going to look at me going, "What the hell did you just make me watch?" Somehow, I'm gonna have to thread this needle, so here it goes; first thing you need to know is that "Moebius" is a great film, possibly a masterpiece, a great combination of the best of the Asia Extreme movement style that takes the elements of horror, and thrusts them into an pure art and singular-visioned idea of filmmaking. Kim Ki-Duk has experimented in the past with the use of very limited sound, like in his romantic-comedy, "3-Iron", (Well, we'll call that film romantic-comedy, for lack of a better term) and with "Moebius", which is titled after the notion of a moebius strip, here's a film, that's completely without dialogue, only the actions most of four characters are used to tell a disturbing circular and revolving story about a family. The Mother (Eun-woo Lee) and Father (Jae-hyeon Jo) are having some sort of personal problems with each other, although whatever it is, isn't revealed to their Son, (Young-ju Seo) Later, we find out, that he's been having an affair; his Mistress (Also played by Eun-woo Lee, in a very peculiar double-role casting) runs a small supermarket, and both the Son and the Mother catch him one night. (IF YOU WANT TO GO INTO THIS FILM BLIND, STOP READING NOW, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED)

The Mother, then takes a knife, and attempts to castrate her husband in his sleep, but he wakes up in time. While he's fought her off, she then attempts plan B, and ends up castrating her son instead, determined to punished her husband, if not him, then his bloodline. She even injests part of the appendage, so he becomes a eunuch. This makes him the victim of ridicule, and eventually joins a street gang, which lasts until they actually gang-rape the Mistress, who's tried to bare herself to the Son, for forgiveness, as she's guilty of all he's caused him. This is only the beginning btw, and the actions and the emotional, both personal and sexual involved between these four characters, and three actors, get so intertwined in uncomfortable ways that Oedipus and Madea's family would start to wonder if they both got off easy. I've read some who think that this was a dark comedy, and it's comedic moments in but I don't think that was the primary goal, but it's blatantly metaphoric that it might as well be. It's one of those films where you just keep watching as you're afraid of what's gonna happen next, but you can't make yourself turn away and not watch. It's utterly compelling, you can't turn away no mater how over-the-top "Moebius" becomes. Even if you guess how it turns out, you want to see how it gets there. This is real artistic accomplishment in film, this from an established great artist already, but still, this might be among his best.


HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014) Director: Joe Swanberg

✰✰1/2



There has become a fairly recognizable pattern of story amongst many of the mumblecore filmmaker with their stories. Essentially they almost always seem to be about a character who, enters an environment and changes the dynamic, which a lot of movies, but since it's mumblecore, it's always, modern day, essentially, it' usually a couple, and it's usually a relative, or an old friend they've outgrown, it's starting to become this repetitive theme with this genre. Joe Swanberg has been one of the most prolific of these mumblecore filmmakers, not counting shorts and TV, he's directed 16 feature films, including this latest one, "Happy Christmas", in just nine years, and he's only 33 years old. Probably the best of the bunch is "Drinking Buddies", which left a lot of room for interpretation as it's script on a subtextual level, left us with a lot of questions about the characters' objectives, motives, and knowledge and forethought of their own actions. There's some interesting stuff in "Happy Christmas" too, but none of it's nearly that level, by any stretch of the imagination. Anyway, the couple in this one is Kelly and Kevin (Melanie Lynskey and Mark Webber), and it's Kevin sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick) that's the disruptive influence, and she is fairly disruptive. She's an aimless 20something who spends most of her time her getting wasted, either at home, which inevitably becomes their basement, or whenever she's out at a party or bringing home a guy, and lighting up there. Kelly and Kevin have a little kid, and Christmastime is around the corner, so they're getting ready for that. Kevin's a filmmaker who's busy during his career at the moment, Kelly's a writer who's feeling more like she's a stay-at-home Mom than a novelist at the moment, and is in the middle of a writer's block, and is overall uninspired. Basically what happens, is that, in between everything else, Kelly begins to get inspired to write again, through Jenny's pressuring, gets a room/office, and basically, they start working on ideas and talking with each other back and forth, pitching ideas, working on, this, basically a Harlequin novel idea, and Jenny's friend Carson (Lena Dunham) is also telling stories too, and really, that's the most interesting and fun part of the movie, hearing these characters talk, and that's about it. That's really the best parts of the movie, in fact the movie ends with a scene like that, an improvised conversation scene like that, and that's fine, those were the parts that were actually funny and interesting, and not-so-much, the, waiting Anna Kendrick to forget she's cooking a frozen pizza 'cause she was stoned, and she's ostracized because she smoked up the house, and can't be around Kelly and Kevin's kid, 'cause she's not responsible. You know, I was gonna recommend this movie, 'cause I did think about those conversations, between the girls, but Gene Siskel's thing is back in my mind now, is the movie better than listening to a conversation between the actors having dinner? And, frankly there wasn't enough of them having these conversations, which was much more interesting than anything else, so; I was only half-kind of recommending this film anyway, but it's not really good enough to recommend. Too cliched, not much of a story, good actors being wasted really in what's really just half of a movie here, this could've been a lot better.


GOD'S POCKET (2014) Director: John Slattery

✰✰1/2



"God's Pocket" is actually based on a Philadelphia neighborhood called "Devil's Pocket", although in the movie, it's regarded as small town in of itself, complete with it's own newspaper, complete with it's old-timey Hunter-Thompson-influenced newspaper columnist who romanticism the rugged, hardworking townsfolk of "God's Pocket", so much so, that they all turn on him, thinking he's insulting them, unable to recognize the poetry in his words. This character is Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins) who's one of the few people around it seems, who is not from God's Pocket, but has been a local celebrity for about twenty years or so. Also from somewhere else, is Mickey Scarpato. (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles) He's married to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) who is from there, and when her construction worker son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) suddenly dies on the construction site, she believe that it wasn't as much an accident that it's first claimed. She's right, and Mickey does go to his friend Bird (John Turturro) who knows some local tough guys to do some extra investigating. Meanwhile, Mickey is struggling to raise the money for the funeral. He's trying to cut corners every chance he gets in order to make it look decent and not be in too much debt to Smilin' Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan) who runs the funeral home, but things go from bad to worst for him, as Murphy's Law keep happening, and inevitably, due to some of these strange circumstances, eventually, this leads to Leon's being declared dead twice. Meanwhile, his wife, begins having an affair with Richard, and everybody in God's Pocket seems to know it, but Mickey. Or maybe he suspects, but doesn't really care either. "God's Pocket" is the directorial debut from John Slattery, the great character actor you might know as Roger Sterling from "Mad Men". He's got some talent, and he's directed a little bit for that show, but this is clearly a first effort, and it's mostly average. It's a decent first attempt, but the tone is erratic, we never really know what to make or think of any of the characters,- I mean, we get a sense of the town, but, it never really feels that believable, So, it's a tough one, I wanted to like it for Hoffman, and he is- well, he always really good, and he is the best thing in the movie, and that's with some good actors here, but overall, "God's Pocket", it's otherwise interesting, but mostly forgettable indy.


SEX TAPE (2014) Director: Jake Kasdan

✰✰1/2



(After 45 minutes of trying to think of what to write, most of which involve finding other work busy work to do first while thumbing around the internet, and about two and a half minutes of actually thinking about what to write.) Um, oh yeah, I saw "Sex Tape" as well. Oh, it's um-ah, eh. Yeah, eh. Do I need to write anymore? I do? Shit. Um, well, there's really not much to talk about here. I could go on a rant about how, Cameron Diaz's nipples are never shown, despite about eight or ten different sex scenes she has with Jason Segal in the film, and frankly that's just annoying, for a few reasons, (Mostly 'cause it's such an obvious contractual that part of her not be shown completely naked, [She probably had a body double anyway, but doesn't that make it worst; she could've had one for her tits too, couldn't she?]) I'm not trying to be a dick about it, honestly, and I do love Cameron Diaz, but she should really know-

(Another 55 minutes later)

Oh, shit, I'm sorry; I forgot I was writing this. Um, where was I? Anyway, uh, Annie and Jay (Diaz and Segel), met in college, and had instant sexual chemistry, and would fuck anywhere they could, and probably a few places they shouldn't have, but they couldn't get enough of each other, and they decided to get married. (I felt like making a GGG Dan Savage reference here, but I couldn't get it in naturally, strangely.) However, we fast forward a few years later, and they've got two kids now, and they keep trying to recapture their sexual spark, but life gets in the way. Their latest idea is to record a sex tape, using, some new flattop screen Apple made that apparently is cheap enough for Annie to give away to everyone. Jay forgot to erase the video after they realized in the clear light of day to do that, but now they got to go all around L.A., collecting those laptops, hoping their friends, including Robby and Tess (Rob Corddrey and Ellie Kemper) as well as Hank (Rob Lowe) who's trying to hire Annie as a spokesperson for their brand. (Oh, I forget, she's written an extremely popular blog about parenting and being a mommy.) It's, not the greatest premise, but it's fine, decent, there's a few chuckles; it's harmless really. Well, about as harmless as a sex tape can be frankly. Even that point gets made by an interesting cameo by Jack Black as a Redtube-like porno site producer that they tried to break into once they realize their take had been uploaded. (They didn't realize that a simple phone call or e-mail to them, and they would've just taken the tape off.) "Sex Tape" was directed by Jake Kasdan, and he also directed "Bad Teacher" with Diaz and Segal, but there was an interesting character at the center of that film that made it watchable despite some of it's major flaws. Segal co-wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller and Kate Angelo, some of his regular co-writers too, but this could've been really raunchy, sharp and funny, but this movie kinda falls limp, bad pun intended.


2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (1967) Director: Jean-Luc Godard

✰✰1/2



There's no better example of film as pure art than Jean-Luc Godard sometimes, and sometimes there's no worst example of it either than Godard. "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her", apparently originated as a reinterpretation of "The Big Sleep" of all things, and although I guess it's as much a meandering non-sensical sprawling mess as that film is, there isn't much else they have in common. This film, was not only experimental in the style of filmmaking, it was shot experimentally by Godard, as he actually made "2 or 3 Things..." and "Made in U.S.A." at the same time,  shooting "Made..." in the mornings, and then "2 or 3 Things..." in the afternoon, just to see if he could. "Made..." is better, although neither film would rank by me as great Godard films. Some may admire "2 or 3 Things..." as being one of the first films in which Godard chose to abandon traditional narrative completely, and steer more towards this film essay approach to filmmaking that he's done for much of his career since, and I have in the past expressed positive leanings towards those films and later styles of his, but I also think, like a essays sometimes, they're often just different ways of saying the same thing. The film takes place in the high-rise suburbs of Paris, and there were many high-rise suburbs that were built outside major cities at that time, most of which, like the Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis for instance, we underfunded and basically fell apart years later as the middle class would turn into the poor in those areas. (The film "La Haine" would be shot, about thirty years later in that area.) Our many character is a housewife and mother named Juliette (Marina Vlady) who often talks to us during the film, other times talking to others or to no one, and she fumbles through her day, which involves being a temporary prostitute. This is something that, when said out loud seems strange, but actually it is a practice that's surprisingly common in France, although the point that Godard is making is that everybody has to prostitute themselves in Paris in order to survive. The counter images, to the droll banalities of the homelife and the prostitution world, are the abundant amounts of advertisements that are everywhere, especially in this movie. Godard loves nothing more than pop imagery, and I'm sure he was going for something more Warholesque with his point about them, but frankly, watching a bunch of adds really isn't that interesting either. The "Her" in the title by the way is not the main character but of Paris, and there is this sense of modernization that has swept the real postcard image of Paris; it's not done, say to the extreme like with something like Jacques Tati's "Playtime", but the film does reveal a different side of the city than we had usually seen in film. Overall "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her", I'm a little surprised this Godard has become so highly regarded in recent years. It's an interesting bridge between certain parts of his career, but as a film, maybe he should've been making one at a time, it's just a little too aimless really. I actually was somewhat bored, or as bored as I can be for a Godard film. Can't quite recommend it, honestly.


LOVES OF A BLONDE (1966) Director: Milos Forman

✰✰✰✰✰



From French New Wave, to Czech New Wave, and I've been going through quite a bit of Milos Forman lately for some reason, and I'm noticing how strikingly different his early Czechoslovakian stuff is, compared to when he came to America after the Soviets really started shutting down people, His films afterwards, came more from this rebel/outside perspective, this romantic viewpoint really, even when there's dark undertones like "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest", or something of that sort, but there's something in these earlier films of his. You get a little bit of a sense of the sharp satirical shots he was taking at the Communist regime in "The Fireman's Ball", in "Loves of a Blonde", but there's much more a sadness to this film. It starts out absurd, with this rural factory town, that's overpopulated with young women, and the factory manager and mayor, bargain with the Army to send over some soldiers for the girls. Unfortunately, they send out, reservists who are mostly, middle aged, married men, so it's hardly Fleet Week recreated in a Prague suburb, but some of the men are trying, and the women, are sort of amused at the attempts, but the prettiest of the factory girls, Andula (Hana Brejchova) shoots off the old men, but does spot and then falls for the piano player in the bar, Milda (Vladimir Pucholt). It's as the film went on, that I found myself emotionally responsive about Andula, and thought, about this poor girl. She has this beautifully romantic sequence, the most beautiful I've ever seen involving a man getting kicked in the shin, with this guy, and it's a great sequence, and we essentially know what's gonna happen, first he'll go back to Prague, and then, the girl sees both love, and a way out of her small town, so she makes the trip to Prague to surprise him. Bad enough when she's watching them, as they're sitting at the dinner table, waiting for the son to come home, but in a makeshift cot downstairs, she's crying her eyes out as all three are in endless thoughtless debate, so unaware of how she can hear, but also how much those words hurt. I felt for this young woman. It's nothing new, but it was sad and touching, and you don't always get that anymore. I was impressed with the care that Forman shows in "Loves of a Blonde",
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Sunday, December 14, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "AMADEUS"

AMADEUS (1984)

Director: Milos Forman
Screenplay: Peter Schaffer based on his stage play.



It's rather easy to look back and see the flaws in "Amadeus". The strange combinations of the more modern spoken language juxtaposed with setting and locations of late 17th & early 18th Century Vienna, as well as the fact that it's an English spoken film, with American actors, and much of the discussion of the film, revolving around what language should be appropriate for operas. On this level, the film is unlike any other period piece I can think of. Something it's so exaggerated, like the punk-like wigs that Mozart (Oscar-nominee Tom Hulce) obsesses over, with accents of pink or the ever slightest hint of a mohawk, it almost borders on parody, how the vast extravagant rooms of the Emperor's palace, can seem so empty from the right angles. In fact, it is farce really, the comic asides of Mozart being stopped at by the palace guards before entering the Emperor's (Jeffrey Jones) music room, where he's playing Salieri's (Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham) concerto he wrote for Mozart, which he masters by ear, with one listen, and then improves upon drastically, within seconds of playing it.

"Amadeus" is beloved, especially by film people. It won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it was credited with many for bringing back a resurgence of the popularity of classical music. (Although I would say classical music has always been popular in general.) Based on Peter Schaffer's play, I think there's two ultimate reasons for why "Amadeus" remains popular. One is that, it really showed the essence of rock'n'roll in the era and times of Mozart. Milos Forman purposefully chose some lesser-known actors for the majority of the parts. Tom Hulce had played Pinto in "National Lampoon's Animal House" before playing the greatest musical prodigy of all-time, and he didn't exactly have too many other credits to his name either. Mozart was the biggest musician of his time, and just because he didn't have an electric guitar available to him, didn't mean that he wasn't a party animal, a drunk, a sex fiend, or any of the other cliches of musicians, he was all that and more than that, he was unbelievably talented. That's the second and more important part of "Amadeus", it shows just how artists, and in particular, great artists work, especially when compared to some who aren't as talented. Salieri, is the Court Composer for Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones), and has admired Mozart since he was a kid. He tells the story, in flashback, in an insane asylum to a priest, brought in to hear his confession and try to save him. Salieri's been claiming that he killed Mozart. (That's actually true about Salieri near the end of his life) While Salieri's work did receive a bit of a revival from the film, he talks about how he was the most successful composer of the time; Beethoven is even listed among his pupils, and he was especially big in Vienna, where Mozart was often more disregarded, as he wasn't favored among the Emperor, and his operas sometimes barely performed more than a handful of times per run, and he would often perform works in German, or use banned plays like his great "Figaro" as inspiration. Salieri would play a role in his troubles in Austria, behind the scenes, making sure his shows would only have very limited performances, but he would attend every one, even his vaudeville works that he did when he was at his most broke. Salieri had spent his whole life hearing about this boy prodigy, only to find him, a blithering, giggling lush of a man. He was deeply in love with his wife, Constance (Elizabeth Berridge), and they would be playful and loving, even as Mozart would go out drinking, and occasionally sleep with people he would perform with, like Salieri's singing pupil Katerina Cavalieri (Christine Ebersole). Salieri was obsessed with Mozart, paying for a maid (Cynthia Nixon) to show up and clean their house, just to see what he's working on, making sure he'd be as low and unsuccessful as possible,  but he was more obsessed with his genius. Dawning a costume at a masked brothel, to hear and watch Mozart play piano and by request, anybody from ear, crosshanded and being carried upside down by the partiers. (Which is actually a trick Mozart was known for.), amazed that, when he sees Mozart's originals, and that there's absolutely no mistakes, or erasing or crossing out, he's startled by the natural talent that God has seemed to have just handed over to Mozart. This is something that people don't realize about the history of artists, it was never say, one's own expression that their art represent or presented, it always thought that they were messengers of God, and they were mediums channeling the works of God through their art. And through Mozart, not only, is it just abundantly clear, how genius a music prodigy Mozart was, but how amateurish Salieri in fact was, and worst yet, Salieri was the only one who could see and know just how spectacular Mozart was, and for that, Mozart must be damned.

Salieri's last two acts towards Mozart, represent this two-sided nature of his emotional struggle, first to show up, disguised with the infamous mask Mozart uses in Don Giovanni, to request a Requiem Mass, the infamous one that Mozart never finished, and a sickly Salieri, trying desperately to peel out the Requiem out of Mozart on his deathbed. He had hoped that he would finish it originally, so that he could pull it out after he killed him, in a crazy scheme, even he must've known wasn't gonna completely work. Still, few movies truly get to the core of the process of the artist as well as "Amadeus". It's based on a Peter Schaffer play that most people once thought was unfilmable, but Milos Forman and producer Saul Zaentz, who had teamed together for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" earlier came together to help Schaffer adapt the work, and real key to the film is Salieri, 'cause,- when you think about other musical biopics, uh, especially the ones of great artists, they're really just great artists; you watch something like "Don't Look Back" and you see Bob Dylan, typing his lyrics, kinda behaving rather insipid towards most everybody else, you don't see the genius, it's just natural to him, but it's through this prism of somebody who's talented, but not a natural, not a genius, not a prodigy at the craft, and the differences between the two and what they're actually capable of, that's the sort of thing, that we don't see portrayed well much at all. This was one of the first rebel biopics that Forman would spend most of his later career working on, his best later films were "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man in the Moon" about Flynt and Andy Kaufman respectively, and his common motif since escaping then-Communist-run Czechoslovakia, where he was one of the leaders of the Czech New Wave, has been people who rebelled against society. In a way, we get both sides of Forman with "Amadeus", the rebellious groundbreaker in Mozart, and the jealous envy of the amateur in Salieri. In the end, he didn't kill Mozart, but he wanted to and tried, and even after he died, of course, the music would live on, as great art has a tendency to do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #7: INTRO TO VARIETY/SKETCH SHOWS



Good, you're all here, early morning? How sw-eet it is! Alright, it's a light day, and we'll be having these classes, a little more infrequently than we were, don't get too carried away, we'll still be having them regularly, but-eh, I'm beginning to realize that, unlike TV series, Classes on how to watch TV, should probably not air once a week, at least in blog form, so we're gonna aim for doing these, every two weeks or so, from now; I may call some of you back early sometimes, maybe later sometimes, depends on, what's going on, and right now, there's a lot going on.

And now, heeeeeeeere's you homework! Did you all do it? No, hmm, you had two weeks, alright we got a few, remember comedy or drama, what are the signs of a good TV series, and why? Can't wait to read these, a few of these, seem a few pages short, you had extra time on this one! Alright, we'll put those aside, and we're gonna have a little more fun this time. We're gonna talk about Variety and Sketch Comedy shows.

In many ways, variety and sketch, are essentially the purest forms of television in it's original. Well, actually they're two different things, variety and sketch, but in modern times, we tend to associate them together, because basically, the variety shows that- at least in America, the ones that are still regularly surviving and thriving on the Primetime landscape, have some main base of their shows in sketch comedy. "Saturday Night Live" is the obvious example, 'cause that's the one that still, sorta a remnant of the earlier era of the variety show, which, when you really go back, they were variety shows. And when you look back at the origins, they really were variety shows, they were a bunch of things that they put on television, because they needed things to put on television. So, if you have an act, they put you on television. You do your thing for a few minutes, and then we move onto the next act, that's really the idea of the variety, and we have to go back to that idea, of the appeal of television, there a little moving picture in your living room, that's major appeal, number one. Just find something to put on it.

This is why, and how sketch comedy, kinda started taking over, most of the original variety show ideas, they came vaudeville or music halls, or burlesque even, and if really want to go back, these old traveling circuses that would go from town to town, and if you really want to go back through the sketch comedy route, when end up at Comedia Dell'Arte, but we'll back up a bit from there, Basically, you'd have the singer, the comedians, the dancing girls, the magician, the ventriloquists, whatever it was, very classical entertainment structure, and the most thriving part that's still relevant from this early concept was an idea, of having a Master of Ceremonies or host or ringmaster of some kind to introduced the acts, and perform if they could and whatnot, and that's survive, even today. One version of this, evolved, into what we think of as the modern-day late night talk show, which is also a genre, that grew out of the same, vaudeville-to-radio-to-television, route, but that's the staple, that these shows revolved around, and what, really ended up happening is that, those shows, would inevitably take the mold and be formed around that host and his senses and abilities. This is why Ed Sullivan, would just introduce an act and then point to them, and why Sid Caesar would basically hire the future of comedy and put them in his writer's room. Even "SNL", what do we ask before we watch it, "Who's hosting tonight?" and then they to base the show around the host that night. To give you a recent example of this, and because of the huge shift we're in right now with variety show hosts, switching channels and retiring and whatnot, but frankly I just want to look at the big one real quick, "The Daily Show". Some people don't even remember that Jon Stewart wasn't always the host of "The Daily Show", it actually started with a guy named Craig Kilbourn, and the idea of the show, it was basically a half-hour version of the Weekend Update on "SNL", (Which in of itself has changed over time too.) And Kilbourn was very funny, and very good, they'd go over the events of the day, and he would report them in a comedic way, similar to, the way a Chevy Chase or a Dennis Miller used to do on "SNL", and it would stretch over half-an-hour, there'd be a guest, and his most popular segment was the "5 Questions" segment, which became a bit, and he got so popular, they gave on CBS, (If this sounds familiar btw...) "The Late Late Show", which came on after Letterman, and he was going up against Conan for awhile, and he was popular there too as well, but then Comedy Central hired Jon Stewart, who did actually have a show at one point, on MTV that was a popular variety show for awhile, but then he started taking over "The Daily Show", and then it started evolving, and what it became, wasn't so much making fun of the news and the personalities, it started making fun of the news agencies themselves, satirizing them, as well as taking a more critical look at the most important stories instead of an overall, Mort Saul-type bit. Where Kilbourn, would basically, open up the newspaper, metaphorically, and make fun of everything, "The Daily Show", became more investigatory, had more reports than they did before from correspondence, who were other comics, and so on and so forth, it continued to evolve. Kilbourn, originally came from a news background, you see, he had some comedic ability, he actually was on "Sportscenter" originally, and "The Daily Show" became that kind of combination, but with Stewart, it evolved to the show we know now, and Craig Kilbourn, who actually was still fairly popular, in fact, he quit "The Late Late Show", after a few years; most think he was fired, but still, when you consider just how important and influential "The Daily Show" ended up becoming,- he's a footnote now, basically. He's still around; he's had a couple other shows here and there, Kilbourn, he was in the movie "Old School", he's had a few things going, but compare to how Stewart took 'The Daily Show" into a whole different place than we've ever seen before in the genre, he's kinda become unfortunately.

So when we look back at the great variety shows, not necessarily the important ones,- like I said about "The Ed Sullivan Show", that show's important as a document of history really. I think he also came from news; he was a newspaperman a reporter and columnist if I remember correctly, so his show's important because he had Elvis and The Beatles. The great variety shows, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, The Smothers Brother, eh, "Laugh-In", is kinda the one major pre-"SNL" exception where it might have been more about the image of the people behind the camera, and they reinvented the form as well, um, Dean Martin, Milton Berle, those are the ones that truly stand out, and then the ones that don't, still were molded by the host. Andy Williams, Lawrence Welk, those shows are basically, eh,- I mean, they had other things. The Osmonds, I guess, eh, well Andy Williams had the Osmonds, Lawrence Welk, was big band leader, so he had a big band, and bubbles apparently. It's people like that, which is why, the genre in that form, has not evolved too well. Although, you can, think of,-eh, some of the competition reality shows, like "American Idol", or "America's Got Talent" especially, or even "Star Search" in the olden days, as the shows that evolved from that, and those twists on it, and they're the same twist, that we haven't seen these talented people yet, as oppose to the other talented that we had seen before, and that was the thing, once you saw on ventriloquist, you had seen them all, or one dancing gorilla act or whatever it was, Even the old vaudeville stars, of old,- there's a reason that era's sometimes called the Golden Age of Television, 'cause all of these incredible, multi-talented stars, and they were,- we use the word "Triple Threat" these days, for actor/singer/dancer people, they were more than triple threat,- if you needed a drummer and Sammy Davis, Jr. needed a job that night, he'd sit in at drums, or three or four other instruments, it's a completely different era of entertainers with much different mindsets and skillsets, but those all vaudeville routine, they'd do these routines, town-to-town-to-town-to-town, 30 nights a year, and then do them on radio, then evolve them to TV, they had them mastered, they were already perfect, but, then they were on television, now everybody's seen them. Stand-up comics are dealing with this now, in the age of the internet, poor Hannibal Burress, he doesn't have his Bill Cosby joke, anymore, everybody's heard it already, and that was  just on Youtube, on Primetime television, when you only have three networks, basically, a third of country has already seen you, and the novelty wore off really quickly, and then you had to keep coming up with new routines and this is where the people who went into comedy really thrived, 'cause of how they'd evolved the ideas of these comedic vaudeville comedians and stand-ups and bits, into more elaborate sketches and routines, that were more topical and personal  and of the time.


Okay, this is a light day for most of us, so let's make it a light homework day as well. Take a look at your favorite variety shows today,- first of all, what is a sketch, actually. Well, talk more about the origin of sketch comedy and in particular, the influence of improv, on, at least American sketch comedy, you can look this up, and what isn't a sketch. Then one or two of your favorite variety shows now, and I know, we kinda loosely think of them as talk as oppose to variety, but think about what influences them. Not just other shows either, think about how the guys in charge have shaped them. Think "Real Time with Bill Maher" is very different than "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver", despite, the many similarities, two great stand-up comics, both politically inclined and inspired, but they're two ver-ry different approaches to the variety show. And if you want some extra credit, look up variety shows in other countries, 'cause some of the older approaches to variety, are still thriving there. England, they're still relevant, that format, eh, in-eh, the Spanish-language "Sabado Gigante", it's often thought of as the Latin "Saturday Night Live", it's not really a good direct comparison, and just consider, the emcees, the acts, how the show is shaped through the emcees, the vaudeville/music hall influence, how much, how little, do these things effect the genre?

Alright, that's it for today, that's "All That". Do they still have "All That"? Probably not. Don't think teens or children's shows aren't variety too, "The Muppet Show", "Sesame Street", "You Can't Do That on Television", something more modern, I'm sure, there's variety influence there too, big time. Alright, class dismissed.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

BILL COSBY: WHY THE ENTERTAINMENT PRESS AND THE PUBLIC SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE!

Oh boy. I've been trying to only occasionally talk about Bill Cosby's,- for lack of a better term- oh, you know what, nevermind, fuck the better term, or any other politically correct bullshit here; there is nothing good about the state of Hollywood right now. This dark cloud, currently revolving around Cosby, is the worst, and the latest, in a long line lately of people in the industry, being exposed as sexual deviants, predators, pedophiles, whatever you want to call it. Bryan Singer's underage sex parties, Steven Collins confessing that he's a pedophile, to his ex-wife in a divorce proceeding, Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, accused of three different sexual abuse charges, and the one that's really hurting everybody, continues to grow and grow, Bill Cosby, drugging and raping women, apparently for decades, and it seems like all of them are coming forward now, and one of them's suing, and he's denying everything, in fact, he just filed a countersuit today against his latest alleged victim, and let's not forget, that Amy Berg's documentary "An Open Secret" about the underage Hollywood sex ring, that premiere a couple weeks ago at the DOC NYC Film Festival and is seeking distribution. (I bet most of you forgot or didn't even hear about that, did you?)

Look, here's the first thing, and let's get this out of the way, 'cause I have something else about this I want to talk about, but I can't get to that, without making this point, this is not just a Hollywood problem, this is a societal problem, and Hollywood, the entertainment world, whatever you want to call it, this is a microcosm of society. I assure you, there's just as many of these sexual predators everywhere else in the country, all that fame and fortune does, is make it a little bit easier for them to exploit and entice their victims, and let's face it, easier for them to get away with it, for many reasons, including but not limited to, nobody will believe them, and they can be bought off, and if they do say something, they can be pressured and threatened from their perpetrators, as well as the modern media, of all kinds, and btw, this isn't new; you can look up Chuck Berry, Gary Glitter, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, or whoever else's exploits and scandals you want to look up, criminal sexual offenders are everywhere, and have been for, basically forever; Hollywood's no different. That said, I don't think I have to go over the dozens of ways this one hurts more than others, but here's the thing, this one kinda came out of nowhere, and has just become more and more disturbing the more we think about it and the more we learn about. Except, it didn't.

This is what's bothering me, about this,- the first time I remember hearing about Bill Cosby's supposed exploits was about a decade ago when I heard some blurb on some news report, tucked in the back of the program about him being accused by a woman, and their may have been one or two notes about it over the years, but the point being was that, it wasn't important, noteworthy, anything frankly. It happened, it was forgotten immediately or more likely dismissed immediately by the media and the public, until a moderately well-known but talented comic named Hannibal Burress, was recorded on a cell phone camera doing this routine:



Suddenly, the flood gates opened up. The thing went viral, and, people did, exactly what he told them to do, people searched "Bill Cosby rape" on google , and when the news did that and investigated, suddenly more of his victims started coming out of the woodwork, and the most influential of all TV dads, a Mark Twain Prize Award Winner, an idol for the nation and let's face it, one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all-time, was suddenly scolded for all of these allegations, and people wondered such things about, whether this beloved and stern figure who is the shining example of fatherhood and family, and everything else he represented, was simply a lie. I think, it's actually possible that somebody can actually be both/all of those things, and while that's not being talk about either, let's back up for a second, and really think about the problems with these series of events, cause, something else is bothering me about this, and it's that, Hannibal Burress was right. Let's assume Cosby is guilty of all this, and he's the world's biggest hypocrite, blah, blah, blah, the problem is that this wasn't common knowledge before, when it should have been. That's the point he's making, that this shouldn't have been a surprise to anybody. It has been eight years since the original lawsuit, other stories have seeped through here and there before; here's the real question of society, why was this ignored until now?

Ignored by the public, ignored by the media; I know there was a war going on, and we're talking entertainment and celebrities, but, that's bullshit, there is an entertain press and they reported on all of Paris Hilton's movements for a couple years, and that doesn't even break the Top 100 stupidest and pointless things the entertainment media's done in the last decade. Who investigated this? Nobody. Who reported on it? Nobody. Who tried to find the thirteen Jane Doe accusers? Did anybody, and if they did, as it was easily available on the internet, all these pieces of information, then why don't they talk more about it, and if they did, why didn't the public react? Two days after that initial lawsuit against Cosby was settled, he gave a speech at Temple University? Now, the school, which has been associated with Cosby for decades, wants nothing to do with him. Somebody records a comedian telling a joke, and now, there's how many people talking about this, and giving interviews, and Janice Dickinson, and whatever else...- There's two things going on here, with the Cosby case, first it was under-reported and disregarded, by the media, and the public, and that's if they even payed attention and knew about it, but nobody did, even though, the information was clearly at our and the entertainment media's disposal. That's the first thing that's happened, and now the opposite's happened, it's being reported to death, and it's not all their fault, but the severity of the differences between eight years ago and now,- and it's not just them, the public's fascinated now, both the public and the media; they're out for blood; they want Cosby's head-on-a-stick, and you know what, that's not right either. They didn't want it then, why do they want it now?

What happened, why this pavlovian desire to just destroy everybody nowadays? Any starlet that has a camera in her phone, people try to hack into them, and no, I don't understand why they all have nude photos of themselves on all of them it seems, but you know, there's dozens of tabloids, all waiting to publish the picture, and we're waiting for see them and then judge them for fucking up, so we can feel better about ourselves, and I'm sick and tired of it.That's what's all wrong about this, we're out to get him and humiliate him, when, fuck, he's humiliating himself enough on his own, and he's destroyed enough peoples' lives with his actions, what's the point of berating this more than it's worth?

Actually, forget the point, there's obviously no justifiable point anybody can make here, but what's wrong with us that's made this all happen now? 14 women screamed rape eight years ago, one comic tells a joke, and suddenly, "Hey, wait a minute, those women who were screaming rape, maybe they were telling the truth." That's what has happened here, and let that seep into your mind a second, 'cause while Cosby, is getting all the public and legal scorn he should've been getting before, nobody's really taking a hard look in the mirror, and just how shitty we have reacted to this, then and now! I don't think either way we've reacted is correct by the way, but the media and the public are producing these extremes and that's not good. The media publicizing them as extremes; this we care about, this we don't, and worst yet, us, the public, accepts it as extremes. It would be one thing, if this really was a surprise and we really were caught offguard, and in shock and disbelief, and it was so far out of leftfield, that there's no other possible way to approach this, but, that's not the case here.

Look, I don't know why we're so intent on paying attention now, instead of then, we all can list the differences and reasons and sociologically, psychologically, anthropologically probably and whatever reasons, let's not get into that game. We're not gonna speculate on the why, let's just not let this happen again, and try to better ourselves, the media and public. As to anybody who wants to work in the film industry, or probably anywhere, I'll tell you the same advice that I've told before here, and that was burned into me as a film student by some very wise and knowing professors, don't say that "You'll do anything". Most people aren't gonna make you live up to that, but still, personal decisions aside, just don't ever say that. You never know, who's willing to take you up on that, and frankly, the worst of the worst if all is to be believe, you don't even really have to be willing, so be careful out there. The people whose constitutions, morals, behaviors and ulterior motives who are at a minimum, questionable in Hollywood, sometimes their actions become publicly known, sometimes they don't, sometimes they're known within the industry and for whatever reasons it's not revealed to the public-at-large or the media (although sometimes the press knows and doesn't say anything too) and sometimes even the industry people don't know and are shocked to find out about them. It's not that different from anywhere else, except we're under the scrutiny of the media and the public, and both of them screwed up royally here. First it was under-reported, now it's over-reported on the media's side, and the public didn't want to know at first, not they're out for blood, literally because of a fucking joke! Shame on the press, and shame on us.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #99: "THE SQUARE", "NOAH", "THE MONUMENTS MEN", "ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE", "THE RAID 2", "IDA", "SNOWPIERCER", "OCULUS", "ILO ILO", "BAD WORDS", "LAST PASSENGER", "THE PAST", "LABOR DAY", "MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN", "STILL MINE", and MORE!

I really apologize greatly for the long delay between posts, but I assure you, I've been working and writing this whole time. There were just a lot of movie to review this week. Still coming off a long Thanksgiving weekend, which was amazing, especially after my Eagles beat up the Cowboys, so very good Thanksgiving, still gotta keep winning, but very good Thanksgiving, and the rest of the time, was catching up on movies, and writing reviews for them. It's a lot more work than it seems, and with this being award season, the list of films I need to watch keeps growing day by day. I want to watch more of Mike Nichols's work in the future too. His passing was really sad; I spent half my free time during the week looking up old Nichols & May routines, and all the great films he's made, "The Graduate", "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?",  to "Closer" and "Angels in America",  the guy's had one of the most amazing resumes out there, and so versatile and talented, that was a sad loss. So, it's busy and overworked and overloaded for now, but thankfully, we're over that stretch, and we got a whole helluva of a lot of movie reviews this week, so let's jump right into it.

Hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving, here's this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! starting with the OSCAR-NOMINATED documentary, "The Square".


THE SQUARE (2013) Director: Jehame Noujaim

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Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi. If you don't know that name, you should. He was a fruit vendor on the street of Ben Arous, Tunisia, when a female government worker, took away his $200 scale, which determined how much to charge for his fruit, and slapped him publicly. It was one of dozens of times he was humiliated by the Ben Ali dictator government in Tunisia, and when the government refused to give him back his scale, he set himself on fire in the street in front of the government building. He eventually died from the injuries, a few weeks later in January 4, 2011, ten days later, after protests took to the street, Ali left the country, and the 20+ year was overthrown. When that happened, it started happening in numerous countries throughout the middle east, there's still a Civil War going on in Syria over it, and most notably, it happened in Egypt. "The Square" focuses on numerous parts of the aftermath of Mubarek's resignation. During which time, the military took temporary control before the Muslim Brotherhood, which was technically an illegal political party under Mubarek, but was quickly organized and won the election of the country, and then after the original screening of "The Square" at Sundance, Noujaim, went back to Egypt to follow his subjects some more as the Muslim Brotherhood started dividing the nation again, and eventually the army overthrew them. The movie earned a Best Documentary Oscar Nomination, before Netflix picked up the rights and started streaming it, and the movie would then win three Emmys. Netflix might have been onto something, 'cause in hindsight, I think "The Square" is incomplete, and that's my big complaint, but it's not one that's easily fixed. The films follows six figures in the Egyptian democracy movement, which started during that Arab Spring that all began over a fruit vendor's scale, but had been building for decades earlier. The title comes from Tahir Square, the site of those incredible protests and demonstrations of thousands in the streets, and really in the streets. Noujaim, she has a way of seeming to know exactly the right places to be at the right time, and she's always at that street-level view of everything, where you're the famous actor interviewed over Skype by Anderson Cooper, or a protest singer, or even a conflicted member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are among her subjects, it's still street level. It begins with the joy of Mubarek's resignation and the feeling of revolution, as it continues the disenfranchisement, confusion and anarchy that disappoints the people. They struggle with the shocking and slow growing pains of democracy and sudden revolution which they realize will not simply be a sudden event that would change everything, and how freedom, has to be fought and died for. One of them observes near the end, as he heads towards Tahir Square for yet another protest, how the culture of protest was introduced into the society as the new way of achieving goals, and that's the big change, the change, and that change in culture will ultimately win out. "The Square" shows us the battleground of the revolution, and it's continuing and ongoing struggles. Like I said, the biggest problem with the film, is that it's not finished, but maybe one day it will be.


NOAH (2014) Director: Darren Aronofsky

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(Prolongued groan) Darren Aronofsky's "Noah". Hmm. Well, it'd definitely his version of "Noah"; there's no denying that. That said, the thing I've noticed with Aronofsky is that, is that, he much stronger and his perspective is much more clear the smaller his movies are. He struggles much more mightily when is aiming for these much higher ideas and plains. For instance, the mess that was "The Fountain", the last time he had such a big budget projects as well as a high-concept, and it really was riddled with way too many ideas, and here, he's got a little bit of the same problems going on. I'm fairly familiar with both the Book of Genesis and the Qu'ran story of Noah, actually, and there's a bit of a mixing of a few different versions of the story, and then there's a bit of creative license as well, like how the watcher angels, seem like,- well, I haven't seen "Galaxy Quest" yet, (I know it's on my Netflix), but I seem to remember a scene involving a monsterous creature in that film that's made out of rocks and canyon-esque earth that's come to life, somebody correct me if I'm confusing with something, but they feel like that, only, they can talk, and battle if needed probably, (Or at least show up suddenly after hiding in plain sight and appear as quite a formidable army) but they're mostly, made out of, some sort magma or, some kind of really dark stone here. Noah (Russell Crowe) is a complicated man. Ten generations from the son of Seth, and his father, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) is some sort of mystical presence as well as a physical one. Noah, gets told through dreams and through the angels to build the arc,- well, I guess I don't have to go over the entire story, it's the story of Noah; it's literally one of the oldest stories in the book. But, there's much focus, on the very two-sided nature of Noah, the believer, who very confidently builds the arc in preparation for the great flood, and the father who's conflicted about his trust that they're indeed the end of the line about civilization, while his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connolly, who would probably be a great casting for Mary btw, if anybody thinking about that in the future. Or Mary Magdalene, come to think of it, if they want to do her gospel in the Apocrypha [Which is a good idea for a film btw, hint, hint].) is determined to make sure the line continues despite neither of their sons, Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth), or Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) being married, although Shem and Ila (Emma Watson) end up coming together. Ila, the only other girl human on board the ship, was an adopted daughter the took in when they were young, who's barren, until she isn't, and this causes Noah, more internal conflict, as this perpetuates his struggles with his belief of life being destroyed with the struggle of life being born, here. There's some amazing sequences, like of Noah retelling the complete story of Genesis (Up 'til,- well, you know where) being intercut with an amazing sequence of evolution starting with the big bang, but those moments, were few and far between in terms of really having a substantial impact on the audience. Most of the film, it just wasn't something that we were able to sink our teeth into. Aronofsky's best films, "Requiem for a Dream", "The Wrestler", eh, "Black Swan", are mostly character profiles, and they're very narrow in their points of view, and that's a good things, he allows us to seep into the world and characters he creates, and when he goes for something scale, he loses that, intimate nature of his other works that make those seem so much grander than they are. I think he's capable of evolving out of that, he's clearly talented beyond belief, but the story gets, the more he loses what so great about his other work. That's probably why he so associates this conflict with the conflicts of Noah, but it doesn't transfer completely to the audience. It's an interesting film, from a great filmmaker, but I can't find myself recommending "Noah".


THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) Director: George Clooney

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I kinda get what George Clooney was after with "The Monuments Men", and I don't think, it necessarily came across as well as he could've done it, or that it was the best approach to the subject matter either, but he's definitely arching back to those, classic military movies, where the team of scruffy outcasts and renegades are put together for some kind of obscure mission. Something like, "Kelly's Heroes", or "The Dirty Dozen" or even, the tomfoolery of "Gunga Din" perhaps. It's a classic, and a bit outdated, and at certain points it's even cliche, like the foreigner being the ones that die on the mission, but overall, I was entertained. There's already plenty of fiction stories based around Hitler's attempts during World War II to collect and even destroy some of the great pieces of art over the years, and let's face it, eh, while I do this blog, I'm a filmmaker as well, many of you readers work in the film world, we're all deeply concerned with film and art preservation of all kinds, it's a fascination with us, so I'm not at all someone like Clooney would find this story interesting. He's basically a somewhat more serious Danny Ocean in front of the camera, rounding around the best and coincidentally some of the most eccentric art experts around, who have some, or can quickly pick up some military experience as post D-Day, when all, or most of the battles are done with, hopefully, they seek out, and try to find and collect much of the stolen artwork that the Nazis have confiscated. Much of which, they're using in hopes of preparing a museum in Hitler's home of Austria. It was actually a personal pet project of his, and he was an artist, with ideas about how art should be, and that was a great factor in why he looted the museums of the world, as well, robbing the Jews of their possessions. (I think he did some other pretty lousy things too, so I've heard.) The film is an all-star cast, Bob Balaban teamed with Bill Murray was great, Cate Blanchett as a German spy, is good, there's nobody bad actually, you got great actors like Damon, Dujardin, Goodman, etc., you can't really go wrong or ask for anything else. The film, feels like one of those old-time absurd-bordering on-real life comedies from the past, with rousing score and all those things, and I think, we were expecting more frankly out of the story. It is based on a real-life group of men, and Clooney's almost always had a fascination with period pieces, but overall, the issues with "The Monuments Men", are just, a little too unfortunate to really recommend wholeheartedly. In of itself, while you're watching it, it's probably an okay movie, I enjoyed, I was usually entertained, but their is a little too much going on, and frankly, the style and the approach to the material, is a little outdated; it might not have been the smartest approach. (I also would say, this is one of those movies, where the advertising didn't help) For Clooney, as a director, it's a lesser effort, down with like, "Leatherleads" really, even with this style- Eh, it could've been sharper, and more focused, even a little less hokey at times. There's an opening where, that score I mentioned is underused badly, and it's over a fairly poorly written speech that Clooney's giving, it's really not good. The movie recovers from it, but you just are looking for something, fresher, really, even in this callback to other types of films, just a slightly different approach, would've drastically improved the movie. I really do want to recommend it, but it's all these little nit-picky issues and it just sorta ruins the film the more you think about it, and it's a shame, in another light, this is a worthy subject matter for a film.


ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2014) Director: Jim Jarmusch

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An intoxicating vampire tale from one of the great poet-laureates of cinema, Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch at his worst is always interesting, at his best, he's created some of the greatest in American independent cinema like, "Stranger than Fiction", "Down By Law", "Night on Earth", "Broken Flowers," etc. "Only Lovers Left Alive", is a bit of an oxymoronic title, since the couple are vampires although that's never outwardly said, but it's the way they talk fondly about how Mary Shelley was delicious, or how Adam (Tom Hiddleston) recollects fondly about having seen Eddie Cochran play live, before correcting himself with his musician friend Ian (Anton Yelchin) that he saw him on Youtube. (I saw him on Youtube as well, that was pretty amazing. Ian is often referred to as a zombie, although he's really just an underground musician, as is Adam really. In fact Adam and his longtime partner Eve (Tilda Swinton), have spent the last hundreds of years engrossing themselves in the arts, which is really what most vampire would probably do if they were around for that long, so that's made perfect sense. They even still hang around with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), yes, that Marlowe, who hides out these days splitting time around the Spain and Morocco area. Adam buys off blood from the hospitals for them to stay barely alive, a hematologist named Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) supplies them in Detroit, where they're hanging out now, and appropriate decrepit dying town full of soul and music for creatures of the night, and they don't want to suffer the fates of bad blood that causes some less careful vampires grave illnesses, and at nights, they collect objects from the famous artists, and old records players and systems and stuff like that. They mostly sip their blood and spend most of their daze laid out in an endless laze. The kind that's romantic, and ethereal. Having to save their abilities and preserve their blood supply to survive. This only real plot, if somebody would call it that, involves Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) who's an unexpected visitor who's been out drinking up the Sunset Strip in L.A., and is looking for a new place to crash. Naturally, she's younger, more sexual and outgoing, talks of Adam's music being a hit in the L.A. underground club scene, which displeases Adam as he'd rather his music not be tainted with the faint of success. She comes in, mainly only to cause enough havoc that Adam and Eve have to leave town. "Only Lovers Left Alive", is like a really succulent intoxicating drink, the kind you want to slip slowly so that it doesn't end too soon, but when it does end, it's all gone, and there's nothing much left. Perhaps that's how a vampire feels when he's drinking somebody. Hmm. I'll have to ask one of my vampire friends that one, but if you're gonna be a vampire with a rather purposefully empty life, this is probably the one you'd like to have, so I enjoyed it, despite it being more poetry and not enough prose, but I can let that slide with Jarmusch.


THE RAID 2 (2014) Director: Gareth Evans

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I got a lot of criticism recently when I finally go around to around to watching "The Raid: Redemption" and I gave it a negative review. I called it a video game, in a derogatory sense, and said it was, quote: "...a confusing mess of gunfire, hand-to-hand combat and numerous deaths." Well, "The Raid 2", which is something subtitle, "Berandal", well, honostly, if I really was a hack, I might just cut-and-paste that whole damn review and call it a day, 'cause it wouldn't that different. It seemed like it might be for awhile. It wasn't really a building this time, and actually they pretended the movie had some form of a plot, as Rama (Iko Uwais) the hero from the last film, (Shrugs) apparently,- well, it was a bunch of action, who the hell remember who anybody was? Anyway, since the raid, and he's not exactly anonymous per se, and gangsters are all looking for him, so his next assignment is to go undercover, either in a jail, or an organized crime syndicate, or whatever or wherever he has to go, until he's suddenly under attack by everyone, and then just as suddenly, he begins going through them, smashing their skulls into toilets, smashing bricks and other heavy things into their skulls, breaking and twisting, arms, legs, throats, burning a few people's faces off. Maybe he wasn't doing the burning but what did that really matter. That's the thing, essentially, it's the same damn movie, with a slightly better plot, and the original was just a bunch of violence, and somebody gonna read this and retort, "But the action scenes were fucking amazing!" Well, the action scenes were fucking amazing, but so fucking what? Evans can direct actions, he likes this Indonesian-based form of martial arts, that's fine, I like martial arts too, but there's better stories in an episode of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," or watch the UFC, and if I just want to beat the living hell out of a lot of people, there's about a hundred video games that'll let me do that. Evans is overly talented, and there is way to make this movie, with all this unbelievably in a way that could actually give a shit, and he's a helluva a lot closer to doing that, than he was before, but it's not that much closer to a movie. It's not enough for us to say, our guy is going into this, seven circuits of hell or whatever, and we're just gonna watch him go through the whole thing, you still need a character, you still reason to give a shit that he has to go through all this, or it's else it's rage and fury signifying nothing. It doesn't have to be innovative or complex plot, but best action sequences and scenes wasn't because the filmmaking was spectacular it was because we were caught up in the drama and tension and the story, and I had a rooting interest,- great choreography and camera work, isn't enough. and he's gotta learn that at some point, and now frankly, I'm just pissed off at the waste these movies, which could or should be great, You got criminal, undercover cops, corrupt cops, nagging naked chicks in strap-ons, bad kareoke even, but every ten minutes there's a indecipherable action sequence. Fine, whatever, do your own thing, Mr Evans, and when you want to make a movie someday, let me know; I can't wait to see it.


IDA (2014) Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

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I really struggled with "Ida". I was reluctant to write and discuss that at first, because the movie had gotten such praise and rave reviews, and there's clearly a certain ability and perspective in the film that's worth noting, but I went through it twice, and still found myself more baffled than entertained. No, wait-a-minute, baffled's not the right word, eh, puzzled probably. Not to say that the movie is a puzzle per se, actually it's fairly straight-forward for the director, Pawel Pawlikowski. I knew the name but it wasn't until after I looked him up that I realized that I've struggled with each of his films frankly. "My Summer of Love", I needed multiple viewings of, and "The Woman in the Fifth," I thought was pretty lousy, actually, so obviously there's something to his style that makes his work very difficult for me to get through. I think it's the same problem that I have with Wong Kar-Wai's films, where, he Wong gets so obsessed with these beautiful magnificent shots, that do convey emotion, but they don't actually tell the story. Strangely, Pawelikowski, I think has story down, but I think he uses the shots to convey the emotions, and he pushes them, well beyond when they actually convey the emotional depth of the scene, and then they instead just sit there, and we're supposed to get something more from it, when frankly, most of the time, all it really does is stop the movie. I mean, it looks and feels a bit like "Ashes and Diamonds", or some other great Polish film from that era, which is around when the movie takes place, and he took pride in that. Pawlikowski is native to Poland, but he actually spent most of his adult life abroad in England and this is his first movie in Poland, but it's still this same style of filmmaking, done with a better story though, if you can find it. Ida is, the real name of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an eighteen-year-old, who grew up in a convent after being orphaned as a child. She's about to take her vows, and that's when she's told by the Mother Superior (Halina Skocynska) that she's got a lone surviving family member, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Wanda is a former Communist Party prosecutor on one hand, although mostly just drinks, smokes, and has one-night stands the rest of the time, and while Ida does, for the first time get introduced to this world of bars and jazz halls for the first time as the possibility of romance, she also finds out that she's Jewish, and that her parents were killed during the war, and she and Wanda go back to her birth town to see if she can find out what happen, as well as confront her aunt as to why she was dropped off at a seminary. Like I mentioned, I still have this aching feeling about  how their was this huge disconnecting feeling about his work, and for once I felt that Pawlikowski was working towards something, but I couldn't help this feeling that this story had other ways of being told, that would've been more interesting than it actually was, and it really did frustrate me. I'm actually tempted to give the movie a straight negative review but there is enough here to make it worth a viewing but-, maybe I'll watch it again some other time and see something different, but these attempts at stimulating our emotions, there was something that struck me as disingenuous in how it so relies on these long takes, and long period of little to no sound, it didn't come off as naturally effective storytelling to me, and that was something that I found troubling. Very conflicted on "Ida".


SNOWPIERCER (2014) Director: Joon-Ho Bong

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"Snowpiercer" is kind of a darker more twisted  and symbollic version of "WALL-E", but without the  robots or hope and joy, and filtered a bit through some kind of Ayn Rand nightmare near future. As global warming encompasses the world, a failed attempt by the rest of the world to save Earth has ended up in the planet becoming uninhabitable and the death of humanity. The only surviving people were those on board this incredibly long supertrain that was built by a mysterious train enthusiast named Wilford ([NAME DELETED]) that's connected a train that travels all around the world, taking one year to do so, and connecting numerous tracks and newly built ones. It's somehow continually running, despite the extinction of certain parts, and after over seventeen years, but the train is segregated between the front end and tail end, and the tailenders are stuffed into the back, worst of conditions, forced to eat proteins bars that they don't want to know what they're made of (Although they would indeed be filled with protein, while somehow, probably through cloning I imagine, things that were once thought extinct like steak and eggs, are still thrived in other cars. Every so often, there's a revolt in the tailend, and this one, is led by Curtis (Chris Evans), who's recruited a worried mother who's son, Timmy, (Marcanthonee Jon Reis) has been taken to the front of the train, Tanya, an old-timer, with the determination to open up the separating doors named Gilliam (John Hurt), a name that's definitely a reference to Terry Gilliam as director Joon-Ho Bong is definitely referencing some of his sci-fi ideas like "12 Monkeys" and especially "Brazil". They also get the help of one of the original train's engineers, Nangoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) as well as his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko) who are both addicted to this inhalant called Kronole which they are willing to trade receive in trade in order to bust down the gates between cars, which turn into this maze of- well, it's really, what you would think when the ideas are mostly metaphorical like this, the closer to the front you get the more lavish and exuberant the cars become. Bong's an incredibly talented South Korean filmmaker who's created a masterpiece film in the frightening murder-mystery, "Mother", but then, made his way into the over-the-top cartoonish horror with "The Host". "Snowpiercer" is somewhere in-between. I'm definitely recommending it, but some have praised it a little heavily, and it's frankly a little cold in my eyes. it doesn't really connect with me, and it gets more and more comically ridiculous the setting of the train cars with the- you know, it's the same old train, first class in the front, nicer cars, nicer rooms, better food, and coach and standby are crowded in a tin can in the back. The good news is, it's still entertaining, and at times, very intense. I think it loses something after you sit and think about it a bit, but there's a high level of skill still for this picture, the storytelling exceeds the quality of the story itself, so it's a definite recommendation. I think it could've been, a little more creative but, it's still so strong as a visual experience, that that doesn't matter as much.


OCULUS (2014) Director: Mike Flanagan

✰✰✰1/2



"Oculus" is one of the more interesting twists on the horror genre there's been in a while, although than it probably says the film, but still.... It's an  effective psychological horror, even if it does get spun into it's own web one or two times too many. The story revolves are some kind antiqued cursed mirror. Tim (Brendon Thwaites) has just 21-years-old, and has gotten released from a mental institution finally, after years of therapy, having killed his father, Alan (Rory Cochrane) after he had murdered their mother Marie (Katee Sackhoff). His older sister Kaylee (Karen Gillam) thinks that the sudden strange and twisted behavior of her father, and her mother in the weeks prior to their deaths, was all caused by this antique mirror, which, probably not so intelligently, has brought back into the house, and rigged the mirror with numerous cameras and backup systems as apart of an experiment to record the supernatural forces that Tim now believes after years of therapy, are just a story they made up, in order to compartmentalize the deaths. The movie does something interesting with the time we're that Marie is basically kidnapping Tim into stay in the house while she tries to record the strange shifts and changes that the mirror may cause, by going back and forth between the modern day, and to the past, as we see Young Kaylie and Tim (Annalise Basson and Garrett Ryan) as recall those precious few weeks before their lives changed forever. Sometimes the memories don't necessarily add up, and their disputed, and other times the two separates worlds seem to collide, as well as another third universe as the mirror seems to often make it seem like you're doing one thing, while you're indeed doing another, and this can lead to some freaky and scary moments. Surprising this builds tension, and it doesn't use any really cheap scares to get there. The psychological game is far more interesting anyway, as multiple versions of the same moments from the past and the present, are both equally challenged. Sometimes it goes a little far, and we get so far down the rabbit that we're not sure how or if it's even possible to get back up, but the ghost in this ghost story, being, really just a mirror, it's used to great effect. Writer/Director Mike Flanagan takes what could've been a really absurd concept, especially for a horror film, and takes and different approach to the material, at least most of the time, but by the time we get tired of the gimmick, he's more than invested us in the story. I have a hard time ranking it among some of the great horrors as some have tried arguing, but for what it is, and for what it could have been, this is about as good as I could've expected.


ILO ILO (2014) Director: Anthony Chen

✰✰✰✰



Writer/Director Anthony Chen's first feature, "Ilo Ilo", was Singapore's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar last year, and it's a beautifully debut film about a troubled kid in a troubled home. Jiale (Jialer Koh), is one of those angry ten-year-olds who's simply rebut who's unpredictable behavior causes too much trouble for his family, under normal circumstances, and it's already caused him numerous problems at school, which causing even more distress for his parents, Hwee Lang (Yann Yann Yeo) who's struggling keeping her job partly 'cause of the constant calls from his school about his latest antics, and that was before finding out she was pregnant again.  and Teck (Tianwen Chen) Jiale's father, who's as passive-aggressive as Jiale's mother is abrupt, having hidden first that he lost his job, second that he's losing more money on the stock market.. He's been fired from his sales job, and hasn't told his wife, this is around the time that, unable to handle Jaile on their own, and with two jobs to force through, they hire a nanny from The Philippines, Teresa (Angeli Bayani), it's through this relationship that Jiale starts to finally find an adult who's actually more available as a parent. I've been struggled to figure out exactly how to discuss the family dynamic. They're not mean parents, but they aren't good ones. Jiale acts out, partly out of lacking that ability to process how to behave correctly. Teresa treats him more tenderly, although he won't let him just simply get away with anything. Really though, the film is about the whole family and the ways they personalities conflict and interact with each other, and how it's lead to the situation their in, and how their natures make it harder to truly nurture someone who so desperately needs nurturing. I'm reluctant to talk about those ways, 'cause the events are so nuanced that, describing them accurately just won't be possible. It might help to say that the film takes place in the mid-'90s, when Singapore and much of southwest Asia was going through a money crisis during that era, and many middle and lower class households were struggling and going through transitions, although I felt that was more secondary than the family dynamic themselves, and not necessarily how Teresa effects it, although she does in numerous ways, it's not necessarily the point of the movie. The title, "Ilo Ilo" comes from the territory in the Panay Penisula in The Philippines where Teresa is from, and where she herself has left a young kid with relatives in order to take this job, and that's something that fascinates Jaile about Teresa. "Ilo Ilo" is an intriguing slice of life look at a family of good people, but in a situation that they're not naturally a fitted for, and yet that's the life they must live anyway, and suffer through all the consequences of their actions, however painful they may be.


BAD WORDS (2014) Director: Jason Bateman

✰✰1/2



Every once in a while, I myself, can even be swayed by another's thoughts and review of a film. I was prepared to give Jason Bateman's directorial debut, "Bad Words", a mildly positive review, but after Christy Lemire's post, she made some points that frankly I was thinking about myself. The lack of nuance, in a film like "Bad Words", struck with me, the insistence we be shocked by the extent of the so-called humor in some of these lackluster gross-out films. You know, when there's just way too many of those scenes, where you just hit the mute button and keep the close captions on while you wait for it to end, as oppose to just sitting through them, like in this movie, the scenes revolving around Kathryn Hahn's panties, and especially the one with the ketchup packets, which, when you really think about it, not only weren't really that funny, but frankly, they weren't even really necessary, especially since they involved kids. They also weren't set up terribly well to make them funny, which would involve giving us slightly more of a reason to, not necessarily endorse or cheer for Guy Thirlby (Bateman) but at least give us more of a rooting interest in building the tension at least. Guy has found a loophole in a national spelling bee, something called "The Golden Quill" in the movie, although the only national spelling bee that I know of with any validity to it is done by Scripps, although I'm sure they wouldn't participate in the film-. Sorry, I'm a drove offtrack there. Anyway, according to the rules, Guy is eligible because he never graduated 8th grade, even though he's actually a genius with a photographic memory. (The photographic memory part has more to do with spelling ability than the genius part btw, but whatever.) He also has a sponsored from a nationally-recognized news-source, represented by the online publication that Jenny Widgeon (Hahn) works for, who's only sponsoring him for the story, and despite her reluctance, they occasionally have sex, despite her better judgment. Oh, the contest is nationally televised for the first time this year, despite it's supposed 100-plus years of prestige (Supposedly four future presidents have won the Bee, which would mean it was getting national television exposure twenty years later than when ESPN starting airing the Scipps National Bee, despite supposedly having far more prestige, and name recognition of former competitors and champions than Scripps does.[Although Scripps does have quite the resume of past champions becoming successful in life] and they've only been around for less than ninety years. Anyway, there's a decent twist to the arbitrary relationship that Guy forms with a fellow strong competitor, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), and a lot of their segments, were funny themselves, and there's some really good work from Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall, as people who are in charge of the spelling bee, and there's a few cute things where I'm tempted to recommend "Bad Words", but yeah, the more I did think about it, I wondered if A. there was enough here to recommend, and B. the comedy that's more on the squint and squirm side, was it funny, did it really need to be there, and after those answers became no, are those few minutes where the movie's stopped completely because of them, really worth the rest of the movie. (Sigh.) Nope, it wasn't. And I would've spelled antidisestablishmentarianism correctly btw. I would not have gotten pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, that I had to look up.


LAST PASSENGER (2014) Director: Omid Nooshim

✰✰1/2



"Last Passenger" is, fine. Just fine, the worst word a critic can use to describe your film really, it's fine. There's nothing great or special, or memorable, but there's nothing particularly wrong either, it's just fine. It's okay- actually, "Okay", is worst than "Fine"; it's okay. That's a more accurate description, it's okay. It's the feature-length directorial debut for Omid Nooshim, who's last short film or project of any kind was last century, back in '99. the movie takes place almost entirely on board a London train that's suddenly starts to behave erratically. Basically it's a haunted house movie, but on the train at the end of "Speed". The main passenger were following is Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott), a doctor who's traveling with his son Max (Joshua Kaynama) to the site of  a car accident. At first, the train's full of passengers, but soon, the farther down the tracks it goes, it gets more and more whittled down to about six passengers on board, but then Lewis thinks he sees somebody hurt out on the tracks. He gets talked out of stopping the train by a magician Jan (Iddo Goldberg), but when he's flirting with a pretty bureaucrat, Sarah (Kara Tointon) they realize that the train completely bypasses it's next stop, and connecting to the conductor and engineer gets harder and harder, as they fail to get control of the runaway train. Phones die out, people start dying, dangerous risks need to be taken in order for the chance of survival to occur. It all sounds very thrilling, in some cases it is, but it's also nothing we haven't seen before, and nothing we haven't seen done better. Done better this week, for me, after seeing "Snowpiercer" also a movie about being stuck on a runaway train that won't stop, there's just not enough to really say that "Last Passenger" is really worth your time, and that's unfortunate.


THE PAST (2013) Director: Asghar Farhadi

✰✰✰✰1/2






Almost every film could believably have a title like "The Past" but in Asghar Farhadi's first film shot outside of his native Iran, and his first since his masterful "A Separation", what we really get that's great are the complex subtleties of life, that lead good people to do bad things, and show how simple misunderstandings can evolve to unexpected emotional and physical consequences. First, we're introduced to a couple characters, Marie (Berenice Bejo) is picking up Ahmed (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport, and we can already sense the disconnection from them struggling to talk to each other through a glass window. They're husband and wife, but they've been separated for four years now, but Marie's called Ahmed back from Iran she claims for the purpose of finalizing their divorce. Why the rush? Well, first she's engaged to Samir (Tahar Rahim), a laundromat owner, and then later, in what seems like at a rather peculiar time, she tells Ahmed that she's pregnant, although she's also constantly smoking and drinking. She already has two kids, not with Ahmed, but from a previous marriage. Lucie, (Pauline Burlet) is the older daughter who has been abrupt with both her mother and Samir, and frought with....- actually, that's better left unsaid. Her younger daughter Lea (Jeanne Jestin) is friends with Samir's son Fouad (Elyes Aguis), who's often at home because his mother, and Samir's wife is currently in a coma after a suicide attempt. She's been in that coma for almost a year, and there's no note to why she drank that detergent, and there's some mysterious marks on her stomach. There's more characters at play here as well, but that's the scene in the beginning of the film, and what we find out, and a lot of it has to do with, eh, people making sudden revelations, and people finding new things out that make "The Past" continually get more intriguing as we watch it, and see how and why everybody behaves as they do. There's a theatrical aspect to the film, and Farhadi has a theatrical background, who's studies the great of western theater, so he knows how to tell this kind of story, and tell it well, and how choices, misunderstanding, emotions and motives play such a huge part in peoples' lives, and how drastically things that, may in some ways lives can be changes forever by the actions of others with absolutely no ability to realize that they can or could cause such emotional chaos. "The Past" begins and ends, with a shot of a couple who are now not together, and who now are unable to communicate with each other, all because of things that happened in the past. "The Past" is a good film from a great filmmaker and it's incredibly unfortunate that I have only seen "A Separation" in Farhadi's filmography to compare "The Past" too, 'cause films like falter in comparison to that film, but "The Past" is also incredibly intricate and special as well. There's something universal and classic about his movies, I mentioned in my review that "A Separation" could've been made fifty years in America, and it really could've been made anywhere, and here, he sets a film in France, and proves beyond a doubt that he is capable of such universality.


LABOR DAY (2013) Director: Jason Reitman




"We'll always have, Labor Day; I guess?" "Labor Day"'s first problem is in the structure. It's basically one of those films where you don't know and/or don't understand why characters are behaving as they do, until it's explained, either in a monologue/soliloquy, or later a flashback, or both in this case. Well, here's the thing, if you're gonna do that to the audience, there better be a point, and it better be worth it, and there's neither of that in "Labor Day". This film was so strange, especially coming from Jason Reitman, who until now, I hadn't even seen him make an average movie, much less this horrible train wreck. It takes place in New Hampshire in the mid-eighties, Adele (Kate Winslet) is a divorcee, who's mostly become rather helpless since her husband, Gerald (Clark Gregg) left, and possibly beforehand. Her son Henry (Gaitlin Griffin) tries desperately to help her out in any way possible, get her out of the house and whatnot, do chores, it's all very touching, ethereal, whimsical. Then, while they're at a store, Frank (Josh Brolin) who we learn is a convicted felon who's escaped from prison comes up to Henry. He doesn't kidnap, or torture. He's injured clearly, and apparently he's really violent, although he also seems like an angel who fell from heaven. It's a long Labor day weekend, and what was intended as one day or two to hide out, and play kidnapper, turns into a full five days, where Adele and Frank, have a tender but steamy relationship, although since it's mostly seen from Henry's point of view, he doesn't quite understand why his mother would suddenly be so willing to jump up, and especially so willing to possibly get up and leave the country for this stranger that she just met and why Henry's being sent to the library to look up a book on Prince Edward Island. Mostly he sees the tenderness with which he ties his mother to the chair, and how, when a nosy neighbor (Arbitrary J.K. Simmons appearance in a Reitman film) brings over a bushel of peaches, that we see Frank gather the family together to make a luscious peach pie, in a way that's confusingly both reminiscent of a family ideal, and signifies a sensual erotic experience. Somehow, it really does do that, I don't know quite how, but it does. Maybe it wasn't supposed to but it does. The story's told in numerous forms of flashback, First there's the flashback nature in which this story is told, from a grown-up Henry's (Tobey Maguire) perspective, plus, there's a story of why Frank was in jail in the first, and supposedly why his escape has lead to this all-out search, which, frankly it doesn't completely validate and neither does it become some kind of crime that's 100% understandable, nor 100% his fault, so we have a little trouble understanding why Adele has become so taken with him. I kinda get this old-fashioned "Mrs. Miniver" meets Douglas Sirk kinda tale, tone and essence of this film, but it's so outdated, and even worst, it's so inconsistent. Christy Lemire's review is dead on, in fact she's being a bit nice actually; there were moments where I though "Is this supposed to be a parody, a satire, it's a bit Nicholas Sparks at his worst. I mean, I know like, "Romeo & Juliet" takes place in like, a week, tops, the entire story,and it's a lot of shit going on, but it works, but "Labor Day", takes place over five days, and there's really when you think about it, a lot of shit going on, very quickly, these aren't teenagers, they adults, supposedly, who haven't met or known each other until this moment- I mean, you put all this together, it just doesn't add up, to a believable romance or a story. The few moments Henry has with an intriguing new girl his own age, Mandy (Maika Monroe) are nice, but, this movie, couldn't made worst decisions if it tried. I guess Jason Reitman was due for such a disastrous misstep, hopefully it'll be the anomoly in his otherwise incredible resume so far. Kate Winslet got of a surprising Golden Globe nomination for the film, (Shrugs) There's nobody bad in this movie, it's just a lousy story to begin with and, frankly, it was all downhill from there and it was a struggle to get anything good out of it; that's my guess, anyway, and for all we know, Reitman, liked the Joyce Maynard novel, took a direction with the adaptation, and-, it didn't work, simple as that. It's so unfortunate, but even the best filmmakers are capable of a horrible movie once in a while, let's just hope this isn't a habit.



MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN (2013) Director: Deepa Mehta

✰✰1/2



I guess on the surface it made sense, but now that I thought back upon it, Deepa Mehta was probably not the greatest natural choice of filmmakers to adapt Salman Rushdie's sprawling novel that's part magical realism and part epic family drama, over the backdrop of the first 30 years of India independence. You'd think it would work better, but Mehta's work has always been more intimate to me; she takes on big themes and projects, but they're always from a more grounded perspective, she's a master of social realism. Her "India Trilogy" of "Fire," "Earth" and "Water", are remarkable looks at the places and times of their characters caught in a middle ground between the ways of their country and the world of their existence and feelings in them. "Midnight's Children", which is narrated by the famed author, is centered around two children who happen to both be born in the same Bombay hospital, and at the very minute of the independence, right at the stroke of midnight, one born to rich parents, while the other, born to a poor single parent. Unbeknownst to both family, a nurse Mary (Seema Biswas) switches both kids at birth, with Shiva (Siddharth as an adult) going to the poor begger, while Saleem (Satya Bhabha as an adult), goes to the rich family. Mary would continue to keep an eye on each kid over the years, even working as a nanny for Saleem, but the movie is a brightly colored mess after that. A look into each of the two kids growing up, living each other's lives, in this reverse "The Prince and the Pauper" tale, but it gets so convoluted, the struggles with the parents, the reveal about the kids, the political turmoil, the growing pains of a new country trying to govern itself. It's weird, it goes through so much, and yet it all feels like it's at the corners of the screen. One of Rushdie's lines as the voiceover, is "Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence," and that's a great line, that very well may be true in the philosophical, but as a technique for telling a two-hour movie, you kinda need to be in the middle of the action, even if it's just from your own perspective. The movie is strongest when it does deal with those moments, like the fractured relationships between father and son, but overall, this movie feels distinctively like it's trying to do so much, that it ends up doing nothing. Maybe it would've worked better as a miniseries, but I suspect the problem lies more in Rushdie and Mehta, who should know better, not being able to zone in and more narrowly on a very specific part of the story, and really focus on that. This is another disappointment for me, having been looking forward to Mehta's  latest work, and especially with something so ambitious, but the sum of it's parts, just don't add up to enough of a whole.


STILL MINE (2013) Director: Donald Liebensen




"Still Mine", is, one of those movies where we get the cranky, crusty but lovable old man, who's got some determination to succeed no matter what. It's also one of those horrible flashback movies that starts in a courtroom, then has a flashback, but then, when you think about it, you wonder what exactly the flashback was about in hindsight. I know what it was going for, but the film is mostly a lot of scenes of Cromwell being told not to do something, and then him doing it anyway. The old man is Craig Morrison (James Cromwell). His wife, Irene (Genevieve Bujold) is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's. Craig's not interested in finding a place for her, but more importantly, he's determined to build a house on their land. He owns a farm, and has been growing berries for most of his life, although he doesn't have updated refrigeration for the berries, so they're harder to sell now, as standards and operations of certain places continued to be updated with modern technology and business practices. And also, he's continuing to build his home, first without plans, then without registering them to the city, then, without.... there's about ten or twelve things that happen and he keeps continuing to build the home, all the while dealing with pressure from his family, and pressure the local governments and city and the stress of his wife, who's constantly deteriorating. It sounds more, "Amour" than it actually is, it's really bad Hallmark movie more than anything, and it was both, frustrating and painful to sit through; it really was. I hate seeing great actors like Cromwell and Bujold in such pretentious and manipulative films. Everything about this, "Still Mine",  feels like, "Let's feel for this old guy," and that's what this movie really shouldn't be. It's old-fashioned, it's an old croggy protagonist who's most prize possession is a baseball autographed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (Which btw, is in fact, unbelievably rare; Gehrig and Ruth hated each other and it's incredibly unusual to see both their signatures on anything.). It's one of those movies where "Based on a True Story" is used as an excuse to not allow the film to be entertaining. Well, you know, some really good true stories, just shouldn't be films. This might've actually happened, but, for a movie like this to work, it's really gotta be so good, that we don't care that we're being manipulated. That, the most cliched "movie" parts of the movie, eh, become so empathetic to us that, anything can happen essentially, and we'll run with it. You almost have to run into Capraesque just to pull it off, and this movie is just nowhere, it really is unwatchable.


STAR WARS: EPISODE I--THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) Director: George Lucas

✰✰✰


Well, apparently it's a major thing that I never got around to watching "...The Phantom Menace" until now; I thought, "Well, "Star Wars", so it's clearly not important. Well, it's still not important, sorry fanboys, they're good, but they aren't that damn great-, well maybe "Empire..." is, but anyway, I'm finally getting around to this 2nd trilogy of films, which is the first time that,- that I remember at least, first hearing the term "Prequel" thrown around, although, since it has been, about twenty years or so that I sat down to watch any of the original films, I was actually surprised at just how much I do really remember from the original films. (And btw, pet peeve of mine, it's called "Star Wars", not "Episode IV--A New Hope"; I hate people calling it that. I don't care that there's these other films; that's so beyond stupid. And it's also just "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi"; if you think these three should only be called by their entire name, eh, I guess I understand that position.) Anyway, I have a feeling that, after hearing all the hullabaloo over the faults in "Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace", and the jadedness of fifteen years having passed that, I've probably dulled my sense of wonder, but I also always thought part of the charm-, see this is why I hate the ideas of prequels-, the look and feel of the original "Star Wars" films, while top of the line technology at that time, to see, them, back in time, when Darth Vader was a young slave on a remote planet named Anakin (Jake Scott) but with such advanced technology, it seems like a complete disconnect really, they don't really seem to belong together. Anyway, there's- (frustrated sigh) I'm not gonna remember every damn detail, there's a dispute over trade routes that can lead to war, destruction, and young Jedi Obi-Wan (Ewan MacGregor) and his mentor, Qui-gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) are consulting with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), who occasionally goes by Padme when she's on the streets, are working on how to strategizes as Darth Maul (Ray Park) who's what I guess goes as the villain in the film, although there's plenty of senators and "Julius Caesar"-like conniving going on, as people realize a little too late that they may have made deals with the wrong people. There's also a much-derided character named Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best) who's one of the first completely computer-animated characters to populate the same world with live action performers. He's a bit out of place frankly; shows that, in some ways George Lucas felt more obligated to do these films, and I've often remember hearing things from him about "Wanting to appeal to the kids who are fans"-, and honestly, I don't know too many kids who were huge "Star Wars" fans, not by '99, anyway, not off-the-top-of-my-head, it was 22 years since the first "Star Wars", the fans were all grown up, and I actually would've probably preferred the film to be taken a little more seriously, but I do get what Lucas is doing. "Star Wars" has always been rooting in this adventure sense of mythology; taking place in the heavens of outer space, like the wars of the angels or something of that sort, and that's fine, and I thing, with the humble beginnings, to go from young slave, who can race with the power of the force, to the creation of Darth Vader, it makes sense, but some things we're a little too on-the-nose exposition-wise, and while I actually like, the idea of Jar Jar, and his underground people, who the Queen eventually makes a deal with, using him as a transport, he does seem like he's from the wrong movie or something. The idea makes sense, but it is a bit awkward. Um, still, I get it's deridable, it's not a "Star Wars" I would ever really want to revisit, but I still kinda prefer to leave the original three as they were, and leave it at that, although now with the last three films coming,- well, at least Disney's smart enough to know that you should look into the future, even with these space operas.  


HOSTEL (2006) Director: Eli Roth

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(Relieved grunt). I guess it's torture porn at it's finest, if there is such a thing, and I guess I shouldn't be watching something like "Hostel" right when I wake up in the morning, although I don't really understand watching these kinds of films much at night either. I caught up on quite a bit of horror this week, and more than most. Eli Roth's "Hostel" was one of the first major original American horror films that took this sorta, Asia Extreme influence into the film as a way to recreate the genre. And very similar to the best horror, the movie's surprisingly smart in how it really builds the story slowly. It still starts unfortunately with mostly idiots, just out-of-college mid 20something, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) from the U.S. and a bulky Icelandic Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) are spending a little too much time in their European tour, in Amsterdam, cruising the hash bars and discotechques and trying to get laid, usually successfully, but eventually, acting on a tip, they decide to head off, to Slovakia, and btw, there is some truth to that, there's an unusually high percentages supermodels that seem to come out former Czechoslavakia for some reason, and while there's gangs of kids, running through the streets like they walked out of a Dickens novel, and while there's partying and yes, truly gorgeous women, who literally just seem to be in their hotel room the whole time, there's also some strange front desk clerks who claim people have suddenly left early, and speaking of leaving early, first the foreigners, Oli and later a couple of Asian girls are suddenly missing, from the hotel and everywhere else. Police, aren't that interested it seems in looking, and still, there's partying to be done. It takes them just a little too long to realize that human life is cheap there,- actually it's very to some, as near the hostel, is a labyrinthian,old, decrepit building where rich people pay thousands of dollars to travel to this middle of nowhere to pay in order to sadistically kill and torture people without consequence, people who won't be missed, or tourists, or whomever or however they manage to bring in people gullable enough.... I always think stuff like this and think about-eh, that episode of "Taxicab Confessions" with the young African-American who occasionally performed in snuff porn films, and talk about some were real, and some weren't, and all these really disturbing parts of this subculture- it feels weird to call it a subculture, that almost seems to legitimize it, it really doesn't, but there are certain places like these that exist and certain people who can afford these things, and participate, and show the videos to their friends in this Mitt Romney world. It's just sickening, and disturbing, and Roth, he finds a way to really how sickening the human being can be, and how horrendous the things we do to each other, and just how the rich get away with it, by exploited the people. There's something enjoyable about this perversity that makes it spectacular when somebody can undercut it, no pun intended. Eli Roth, really had a great idea about for the setting and he really successfully combined the surrealistic touches, with this truly grosteque and brutal, and while he shows a lot of the gore, he uses though moments selectively, and mostly to great effect, and he manages to find ways of topping himself, with real genuine tension and drama. He gets that, using these gory scenes, isn't simply, the scare, it's this more intense-visceral experience that visual, but still creeps the emotions into the mind. Very impressive for the genre, and in general. I like "Hostel" the more I think about it.


VARIETY LIGHTS (1950) Directors: Federico Fellini & Alberto Lattuada

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"Variety Lights" is noted for being Fellini's directorial debut, co-directing with another future great Italian director Alberto Lattuada who the landmark film, "Mafioso", among others. although it's rather clear to me anyway that this is definitely more of an example of Fellini's early vision. The film follows a group of touring performers, led by Checco (Peppino de Filippo), who leads his gang of misfits from one town to town,- if he can. One day he gets help with the travel by a young fan, Lily (Carla Del Poggio) who soon becomes apart of the troupe, and then later, she finds herself getting onstage and then, becoming the show's huge hit attraction, going from barely-filled theaters of drunkards and hooligans to extra sold out shows, and gaining in reputation around the towns. This causes distress with his mistress Melina (Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina), especially when he starts to become attracted to his new up-and-coming, and soon-to-be-leaving-for-better-things starlet. It's very traditional, well- traditional now, but it's a classic look at the inside behind-the-scenes world of these traveling entertainers. It's also a great early look at one of the truly great filmmakers of the twentieth century in this very raw basic form, and it's clear that the talent is there. Is it a great film, no, but definitely good, definitely a key film for all Fellini scholars.


NURSE BETTY (2000) Director: Neil Labute

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Catching up on a few other films I missed when I was younger, "Nurse Betty" is arguably the moment when Renee Zellweger would really start to be considered one of the big actresses and leading stars in Hollywood. She won the first of three Golden Globe nominations in four years with the film, during a streak that would also include three straight years of Oscar nominations, including a Supporting Actress win for "Cold Mountain". She plays, the titular Betty, although when we first meet her, she's a Kansas waitress, who's obsessed with a particular soap opera called "A Reason to Love". She watches it at work at the diner, and even tapes episodes to watch later at night. Her husband Del (Aaron Eckhart) is a car salesman who's screwing around with his secretary and doesn't realize it's Betty's birthday, as he's eating her birthday cake. He's also involved in a drug dealer with a father-and-son team of criminals, Wesley (Chris Rock) and Charlie (Morgan Freeman), who attempt to rob him, but during that time, Wesley accidentally scalps him, and after that happens, Charlie kills him, figuring there's not much you can do now. Fairly logical thinking, and Charlie often thinks logically from his years of experience, but he doesn't know Betty. Betty witnessed the whole incident, but has blocked it out of her mind, and is heading off to L.A., not only under the delusion that her favorite soap opera is real, but she now thinks she's part of the cast, and that Dr. David Ravell, a character on the soap played by George McCord (Greg Kinnear) is her husband, or long-lost love, or something. Anyway, like Dorothy, she's heading out of Kansas and into a whole new world, with Wesley and Charlie close in toe, left with only a picture, and a few scattered clues that she's heading out west. This is sort of an old reference nowadays, and even then frankly, the idea of fans getting so hooked into their soap operas, but actually they took polls on this a few times in the past, and you'd be shocked at the number of people who think soap operas were real and don't realize that it's a television show. Still, the movie could've been a little bit sharper with this character to me; I had trouble buying just how much delusional Betty was in believing that she was, although when she approaches the actor and many of the cast at a charity auction, she manages to accidentally convince them that she's in the middle of a great method acting performance, and this leads to numerous pieces of humor and trouble, but Betty still seemed a little too aware for this to really work for me, although is really about how two characters are in love with images, as Charlie becomes a great admirer of Betty as he's traveling across country to try and find her, idolizes and giving her personalities and presumptions of her that he knows are probably not accurate, but his desires outranks his other thoughts. Overall though, "Nurse Betty" is a pretty good comedy. There's some good work on the side as well by Tia Texada, Crispin Glover and Allison Janney among others in strong supporting work, and it's observant and smart enough. I think it could've gone farther, but on the other hand, it has other places before, and this idea is pretty strong itself. Neil Labute was the director, and he's always interesting when he directs, although he's best when he writes for either the stage or the screen, and I wonder if he would taken material in a different direction had he wrote it; that might have been interesting, but no more hypothesizing. "Nurse Betty" is a good film, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it's better to just leave it at that.


HOW DO YOU KNOW (2010) Director: James L. Brooks

ZERO STARS



I watched "How Do You Know," what seemed like a week ago, gave it half a star, had a horrid time, just trying to get through the damn movie, and now, I barely remember much about it all; it was just awful. Forgettable, unremarkable,... I mean I can really just go through a thesaurus right now, there's no negative adjective that doesn't apply to this movie, and it was such vapor. It was such vapor that it would go right through you without even being noticed, and then, it was also, just a pain to watch this movie, to trudge through it; it was remarkably difficult. And from James L. Brooks, of all people, who really should know better- this is the kind of movie, where literally nobody had a career or a job, and they all had interesting jobs, and they're never doing it; this from the guy who made "Broadcast News"? First you have Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) who's an Olympic level 3rd baseman at softball (This was back their was softball in the Olympics, I guess, so the movie's half-outdated) who's cut because she lost half a step, which is not a good enough reason to have them not be a national team as any expert will tell you, and with free time in New York City, an unsure of where to go with her career, she then ends up in a love triangle. First, with another athlete,  Matty (Owen Wilson), who's a Major League relief pitcher, which means that  he has a huge Manhattan apartment that's perfectly prepared for his bachelor lifestyle, with numerous extra toothbrushes and a closet full of women's clothes, to prevent walks of shames for his latest houseguests. He's also a little more famous, and apparently, when it's the middle of the season, he's able to be home constantly. Then, with George (Paul Rudd) who's some kind of business stock trader, who's being investigated by the government, and could face decades in jail for his actions, most of which, big shock here, were things his father, Charles (Jack Nicholson) was the architect of, but until that gets pointed out, he's banned from his job, he's under investigation, everything taken away from him, but he's fascinated with this girl he happened to meet-cute, but she's going out with-, he's not an asshole, but with somebody's who's in love with her, but it's not really a good pairing, so we're waiting for them not to get together. (Annoyed sigh) There was barely anything that was remotely funny; it was way too long, it was too obvious, these were four great actors, and the closest thing to a character was probably the pregnant Kathryn Hahn part that's Paul Rudd's loyal assistant, who is just, basically there for exposition, which isn't even good exposition, and then, to eventually give birth at a bad time. This movie made me frustrated and angry; it's really shit. There's nothing more I can really say;  I don't even know why I wrote down half a star a week ago on my notes, just- Fuck it, this movie sucked, and it deserves zero stars, so it's getting zero stars.


MOSQUITA Y MARI (2012) Director: Aurora Guerrero

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I actually started watching "Mosquita y Mari", months ago, but I didn't finish it after my original viewing after I only realized it was on HBOGO on literally the last day they had the movie available and at that point, I was already pretty tired and couldn't finish it, but I was liking it when it died on me, and finally getting around to it now, I liked it even more. It's the debut feature from Aurora Guerrero, and it takes place in Huntington Park, a very Mexican neighborhood area of L.A., and details the unusual and touching friendship between Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) and Mari (Venecia Troncuso). Both are around fifteen years old , Yolanda is a straight A's student, who's uninterested in the activities of her more outgoing girlfriends who mostly bring her along almost by force to their more immature adventures, Mari, is an illegal immigrant who struggles with schoolwork, but is more of a hustler who works passing out flyers and working angles on the street. Yolanda starts to tutor Mari, who nicknames the shy Yolanda, Mosquita, which is Spanish, for fly, I believe, and it's not the most imaginative tale about how a reluctant teenage friendship turns into much more, but what is original is the approach to the material. It's a very unique and original perspective; there's a real sense of community and culture here that's very predominate in the film. More than that, it shows this very natural way in which these characters come together and how they're friendship and love really evolves; in a way this is the first friendship for both of them, and the exploration of these emotions and how tenderly they approach this material, and how they grow into this friendship, which itself is filled with these very complicated emotions. Very realistic in feeling and tone, and I think it is autobiographical from Guerrero, this is a really enjoyable and impressive first feature from her. The movie shows just how complex these thoughts are, and it's subtle and smart about it, too. So often, with teenage friendship or romances in movies, and this is essentially a romance, it's the story arc, and there is this hint of sexuality involved, they're so simple, and one-note, they're not really full of depth, they don't explore the these tricky issues that teenagers or even adults frankly, have, everything is simplified, they don't portray this on film with any kind of depth at all, and here we go, with a very good film that does, does it in a little bit in a new way, more importantly, it's done incredibly well. It's a little "Mosquita y Mari", but it's quite an impressive film.