Thursday, May 21, 2015



Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich based on the novel by Larry McMurtry

There's lately been a bit of a revival of Peter Bogdanovich’s work in recent years. He's the directorial heir to both John Ford and Orson Welles, so I guess it's not completely surprising, yet, mostly, he's been considered more of a film historian than a great director. The only real exception to that is how everybody has conceded that "The Last Picture Show" was his one true masterpiece, and I can't disagree with that, although I would hear arguments for some of his other films like "Paper Moon" for instance.

I’ve avoided multiple opportunites to go back and revisit “The Last Picture Show,” in the past-. in fact, I'll be honest, until I looked it up on this blog, I thought I had posted my blog on my Canon of Film post already, maybe I just presumed I had gotten to but,...   Anyway, it’s greatness, has never subjective to me, but what I really remember above anything else is how sad the film is. It’s a slice of life film that follows numerous different characters in a small dying Texas town, the kind that’s obsessed with the record of the team’s high school football team. We mainly follow two of the captains of the town’s lousy team, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) as they stumble thru aimless sexual fumblings and trips to the pool bar, the diner, and the movie house, which are about the only three places to go in the town. Sam the Lion (Oscar-winning Ben Johnson), owns all three properties, and he is considered the soul of the town, mostly hanging around the bar where he watches over Billy, (Sam Bottoms) the town dumb mute. The other soul is Genevieve (Eileen Brennan) the local waitress at the café, both of which are given long monologues, with Johnson’s famous one being at a lake fishing with Billy and Sonny reminiscing about a long-ago past love of his and memories of the lake there. Bogdanovich moves in slowly during these soliloquies. Johnson was a regular on John Ford’s acting troupe, along with Cloris Leachman,  (who also won an Oscar, Supporting Actress) who plays a wife of the coach who ends up in an affair with Sonny, mainly because he’s nice, and there, and like everybody else’s actions in the film, out of boredom.  The only main character whose homelife we ever see a glimpse of is Jacy’s (Cybill Shepherd in her screen debut), who’s by far the best looking girl in town, who receives honest and frank advice about sex from her mother (Ellen Burstyn) who constantly cheats on her husband, a  foreman at the oil rig outside of town, oftentimes with one of his co-workers. Jacy’s incredible looks get her the attention of almost every boy around her, and it doesn’t take long for her to take advantage of it, and eventually manipulate almost every male in town. There’s a famous scene of her at a rich kid’s party in another city where she stands on a diving board and strips naked. Her family being somewhat rich means she can look outside the town for both her future and for her boyfriend, but like everyone else, these actions don’t lead to happiness, if anything, this causes her to be more manipulative and dangerous knowing she has other options if consequences do occur.

Yet, still, nothing ever occurs in the film that would seem to improve anything. These are desperate people in a desolate town, doing whatever they can to let the days go by. There’s no possibility for improvements, and there’s no apparent desire in anyone, other than possibly, the desire to leave. At the end, some leave, others stay, but everything feels like a permanent purgatory. Shot in black and white, based on Larry McMurtry’s book, whose other westerns include “Lonesome Dove,” and an Oscar for the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain,” based on his own hometown, it’s a look into a world that’s been left for dead, void of smiling faces and any real glimpse or hope of things getting better. I realize that I haven’t made this film sound particularly entertaining.... well, just trust me it is. In fact, it was so beloved that they eventually made a sequel, "Texasville" that was made twenty years later and while that film's got it's own problems but still feels tonally like a natural follow-up. The town's still dying, but life goes on anyway. That's what the first film is pretty much about as well. 

Monday, May 18, 2015


Hmm, well, Robert Downey Jr. said,- exactly what everyone else in Hollywood was thinking. Oh come on, let's drop the naivete thing, they were thinking it already.

Are we really that shocked that a major Hollywood actor, arguably the biggest actor in Hollywood, who's done two movies this decade where he wasn't playing a superhero or a major leading role in a major Hollywood franchise, not counting a cameo in "Chef". Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man, says that he doesn't want to do an indy film anymore. For those who didn't hear his comments, and I'm sure most of you have, but in an interview with The Guardian, he essentially responded to Inarritu's comments about superhero movies, which he made months ago, while promoting "Birdman..." which is the Oscar-winning Best Picture film that essentially undermines the entire modern superhero film culture, where Inarritu called the superhero genre "Soulless paycheck gigs," as well as, and I quote back in October: 

"I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing. And they are honestly very right wing. I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don't respond to those characters. They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn't mean nothing about the experiences of being human." 

Robert Downey Jr., first off, did praise "Birdman..." saying that except for the parts where they were bashing him, he rather enjoyed the film, but then went on to start pontificating about indie films, saying he has zero desire to go off and make a tiny film working on a shoestring budget, as well as Inarritu, and I quote again, this time from RDJ:

"...they're exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, 'What was I thinking?', but I'm interested in doing all different kinds of movies. Sometimes the little movies are the ones that wind up taking the most out of you because they're like, 'Hey, man, we're just running a couple days behind. Do you think you can stay through your birthday and then come back on the fourth of July, and by the way, but, like, the crew-- can you pay for the craft services? And, oh, by the way, man, when we go to Sundance, it's like, can we just sit you in a chair and you can sell this for six days in a row so that we'll make 180 bucks when it opens in one theater....' Actually, most of you are kind of inexperienced and lame.... Look, I respect the heck out of him [Inarritu] and for a man whose native tongue is Spanish to be able to put together a phrase like cultural genocide just speaks to how bright he is."

In his defense, it does seem in context that the comment about being impressed that Inarritu, a native Mexican is able to use English vernacular like "Cultural Genocide", was not intended to be racist, and he was trying to compliment, but it-, ye-ah, Robert Downey Jr. is noted to be politically conservative and he is a recovering drug-addict who's known for shooting his mouth off a few times too often in the past. so this is definitely a state of his perception, but yeah, that was bad, but let's say this one time we can give kinda give him a pass on that. Besides I want to talk about the other part of this statement more.

Cause here's the thing, are we really shocked by this? Look Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best and biggest actors alive and I remember back when we all thought he was gonna end up OD'ing when he couldn't even hold a job on "Ally McBeal" for more than a season. He's also a second-generation filmmaker, his father was what we would now consider an Indy filmmaker, and he's been acting in mainstream films for 30 years as well as having a long period the previous decade where he literally had to take nearly any job he could get and that included a lot of independent films. And I hardly think that just because mainstream movies are more professional that he means that he's more proud of his work in "The Shaggy Dog" than he is say, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints", or "Game 6" or "The Singing Detective", "Good Night and Good Luck." or "Waking Life", all of which I consider pretty major accomplishments in his career, but this state of mind, is really basically...-, alright, let's just say it; what he said about indy films is the perfect representation of the state of mind of Hollywood right now.

It is, isn't it?! Fewer movies, bigger budgets, more superheroes, bigger productions, the best crew and staff, etc. etc. Tentpoles aren't just tentpoles anymore, pretty soon, their aren't gonna be films that they're tenting over.

Okay, "Birdman..." despite winning the Oscar, eventually grossed, $42 million dollars worldwide, that's not even twice it's budget of $22 million dollars, BTW, all the Oscar-nominated blockbusters, grossed about $600milllion give or take, total, all eight of them, and if take "American Sniper" out of that equation,  which was a mid-budget film, because Eastwood can do that, than that's less than half-that number and that's about, where Hollywood is willing to accept a low-budget or independent film be made at. It's true, there was an interesting article recently on flavorwire about the death of the mid-budget film, the link is below:

The article talks about how some of the great auteurs of recent American cinema, people ranging as wide as David Lynch to John Waters, are basically not able to make the movies they want, because while, they don't want to spend nine or ten-digits on a box office blockbuster, they would like to make movies that cost more than the $20million dollar pricetag, but Hollywood studios aren't interested. If it isn't a blockbuster they can put their marketing machine onto, then, the movie better be made on the cheap in order for it to at least, guarantee to make or profit, or short of that, not lose so much that it would actually cause a giant dent in their overall budget. Basically, you're either a first time filmmaker, or you're directing "Iron Man", and there really isn't much room anymore for anyone else inside the Hollywood system. More money more dollars, less money, no dollars, I guess fairly reasonable amount of creative freedom, but even then.... and the "even then" is often, your, "Paranormal Activity" whatever number their on, genre movies they can afford to make cheap knowing they'll do 5x their budget at least. (That genre is always horror btw)

I can make a legitimate argument that Robert Downey Jr. is the best actor of our time, he's certainly one of the biggest right now and he's basically rejected independent film, because he can. He doesn't need it anymore and while he's the only one who's said it, he's certainly not the only one out there who feels this way. Julia Roberts once famously requested 8 digits just to get her to read a screenplay and unless your name is Steven Soderbergh, or are a mutual trusted friend or associate of Soderbergh, for awhile, she refused to do independent work. You don't see Will Smith looking for his next "Six Degrees of Separation" do you? Some big actors make it a point to switch between major film and minor projects, Woody Harrelson for instance has made a point to do that, even at what some would consider the highest points in his long career. And like I said, most named good actors will work for scale if there's something about the project that actually interests them. I'm sure part of the reason Julianne Moore took "Still Alice" was that it was a role that had the potential for her to gain a long-overdue Oscar.

That said, Downey's not wrong here. Who directed "Charlie Bartlett"? Quickly, anybody remember? Don't worry, I had to look it up and I keep seeing that movie replayed on ThisTV, or whatever half-assed movie channel on Digital it is. Jon Poll, it's still the only film he's directed, and frankly, it's a half-ass forgettable indy film that Robert Downey Jr. was in. That's the thing, while ideally, it would be nice to simply dismiss Hollywood blockbusters and talk about the artistic greatness of indy, frankly, if you're a major actor in Hollywood, an indy film is a crap shoot. So is a big-budget movie, but if you're Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell and you're told Oliver Stone wants you too for his historical epic, or, low-budget film from director and writer you've never heard of, which one would you take? Okay, it ended up being "Alexander," but I mean, dice roll seven enough times in a row, you bet on seven, and you happen to catch snake eyes, it sucks, but it's a reasonable bet, cause all evidenced seemed to indicated that the dice were loaded. But, even if the film is the greatest script you've ever read, you don't know know whether you've gotten the next Martin Scorsese or the next..., well, Jon Poll, who is apparently gonna be punchline for this article, apologies to him in advance, I hear he's a better editor than a director. Hell, go back and watch "Guess Who's Knocking At My Door?" and "Boxcar Bertha", it's not necessarily clear in those early films that Scorsese is gonna become Scorsese either. And RDJ is also right, it's not like every Indy film is the next "Citizen Kane", it's no different than Hollywood films, some are good, some a bad, few are exceptional, few are exceptionally bad, etc. etc. At least, with most Hollywood productions, which are done by more experienced and professional filmmakers, or else they won't get hired again if they're not, even it's a bad film, it'll probably a least be a worthy filmmaking experience. 

And frankly, unknown, untrained first-time filmmakers, on no-budget first films, well, they aren't proven entities and they aren't particular professional. Some are, but not always. In film school, I certainly wasn't not the greatest first-time director, even in my class. Hell, I wasn't the best first-time director, on any of my film shoots. Part of that was by design, I tried to get the best directors I could find to be my D.P.'s and that certainly helped, and I followed as much of the protocol as possible. Provide food, drinks, get all the props, get all the signa-, oh shit, I never did actually do the signature part. Well, I put out an add for "Meal and a Reel", and made sure they got, half-that eventually. (Never did finish that short film.) Anyway, with Hollywood these days not even really pretending to give a shit about art, or to cater to the wills and desires of the best filmmakers around they created this modern environment and the fact is, it was partially by design. And most were okay with it, to some degree. All RDJ really did, was say it out loud. Confirm where the battle line between Independent and Hollywood is actually being fought. Robert Downey Jr., is now basically the representative of modern Hollywood. 

In case you're wondering, I'm on the side of good films and I don't really care if it cost ten cents or ten billion to make them, nor do I care how much they made at the box office, but that's the number game of Hollywood, so I have to pay attention but yeah, Downey. perhaps it was coincidental or inadvertent, but his rant on the perils of indy films was the perfect person and the perfect time to fully showcase the current mindset of Hollywood as well as those who are more than content at letting this system remain as it is. A man content to play nothing but "Iron Man" forever? Well, if we still want him to do it and he's still willing to, then, I guess why the hell not.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015



Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Alan Ball

There’s been a backlash in recent years towards “American Beauty,” one that’s simultaneously compounded on by both pop culture parody and by the film and filmmakers themselves. It was one of the earliest films released to not only win the Oscar but virtually sweep them, but it also came out the same year, 1999, that produced many of the most influential and creative films in recent years, including “Magnolia,” “Being John Malkovich,” “Three Kings,” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” but those films were either too controversial or unusual to draw mass appeal from the Academy. Alan Ball’s critique of Americann suburbia would be credited for creating a whole subgenre of films that looked inside the houses with white picket fences and found revealing human truths behind the facades. It might not have been possible for a “Desperate Housewives,” if not for “American Beauty,” although the film's critics will correctly note Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” and “Happiness,”  were earlier and I’d say on a different level, Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica,” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” could be looked at as films with similar themes. Yet, none of those films are both as sardonic as they are uplifting.  

Yet, they forget is how controversial this film was at the time. There hadn’t been a major studio release like it before, dealing with such subjects as marital infidelity, underage sex and nudity, drugs, homosexuality, human desires and human’s inability to control what they are. But more than that, it is a great film. This debut feature by British stage director Sam Mendes was not only a comedic satire on suburban life, but a dark and disturbing truth about the struggles of having to deal with the façade of adulthood and the repression of our deepest and truest desires, no matter how disgraceful, benevolent or superficial they might be. The film told us to look closer, and it taught us to do so, so well, that now we deconstruct the film too severely, and those who’ve grown up on it have now become immune to the shocking notions brought by this film, a film that once caused controversy from filmgoers that led all the way to the Supreme Court at one point. Part of this can be blamed on Alan Ball, the screenwriter who amazingly outdid himself on all of this subject matter by creating the HBO series “Six Feet Under,” and he’s even directed his own film “Towelhead.” Sam Mendes on top of more theatre would direct “Road to Perdition,” “Jarhead,” and his latest film critiquing suburbia, “Revolutionary Road” among others, most recently the James Bond film,  “Skyfall”. 

I’ve been debating with myself on whether or not to describe the plot or the story of “American Beauty,” here, but I don’t think I have to. It’s the quintessential mid-life rebellion, and Kevin Spacey’s Oscar-winning performance as Lester Burnham, along with all the characters from the film have been securely placed in our character archetypes. The career-driven wife and mother (Oscar-nominee Annette Bening) who values success in terms of money, the rebellious, insecure daughter, Jane (Thora Birch) with a better grasp on reality than the adults around her, her friend, the precocious wannabe (Mena Suvari) who desires attention more than love, the strange, artistic neighbor (Wes Bentley) who observes and records life and humanity without prejudice, and his career-military man father (Chris Cooper) who so sexually repressed, he’s unable to form legitimate contact with the outside world and must resort to natural instinct when his territory is threatened. At some moment, halfway through the film, and I’ve never quite been able to tell exactly when, legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall switches the color focus from dull grey to rose red, somewhere after Lester has made his choice to live his life the way he wants to, and stop being the desperate househusband in the greeting card image. But somehow, his death is one of the happiest in film history, bright red and bloody, he has achieved happiness in life, and remains happy in death, something the other characters might never fully understand, although Lester gladly tells us that someday we will.

In the meantime, “American Beauty,” is as perfect a film as ever, a debut as audacious as Mike Nichols’s  “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” or Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” while remaining as iconic, funny and heart-wrenchingingly truthful. Those critics need to heed to the film’s own advice, and look closer, with “American Beauty,” there’s always something more.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"I AM NOT A FAN." THERE, I SAID IT, AND I'M NOT SORRY ABOUT IT. Why I don't respect fans or the fandom culture that's overtaking the Hollywood and entertainment world. A Personal Declaration.

noun-an enthusiastic devotee, follower or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.:
origin: 1885-90, Americanism; short for fanatic.
synonyms: supporter, enthusiast, partisan, booster, addict.

noun-a person with an extreme or uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.
noun-a person who's enthusiasm or zeal for something is extreme beyond normal limits.
noun (informal)-a person devoted to a particular hobby or pastime; fan.
origin-Latin, fanaticus; pertaining to a temple, inspired by orgiastic rites, frantic, equivalent to fan.
synonyms-enthusiast, zealot, bigot, hothead, militant. Fanatic, zealot, militant, devotee refer to persons showing more than ordinary support for, adherence to, or interest in a cause, point of view or activity. Fanatic and zealot both suggest excessive or overweening devotion to a cause or belief.

That's all from if you want to look it up yourself. I don't normally like to start with a dictionary quote but, I can't deal with this anymore, this twisted devotion to being a fan, particularly the fanboy movement, the ComicCon world that has simply overtaken Hollywood and all discussions thereof. Let me make this absolutely clear so nobody misunderstands.

I am not a fan.

I am NOT a FAN.


Not a fan of movies, not a fan, not a fan of anything really. And frankly, I don't see anything good about being a fan.

Okay, if you want to get technical, that's not true what I just screamed, of course it isn't of course I am a fan of certain things, but I don't think that's good, and frankly, the more I see fandom being looked on as the will of the audience, the more I want to throw up at how truly despicable it is. There's a reason why some of these synonyms aren't positive. Addiction, partisan, zealot, bigot, devotee, and they're not wrong.

let me tell about my experiences with being a fan:

It was a disease that I got over eventually, some time in high school I guess, when I grew up and that's all you really need to know.

Alright, maybe not a disease, but a symptom or a behavior that eventually, at least what wasn't permanently ingrained in my psyche, I eventually grew out of. This is the first thing I want to talk about, why are we fans? Well, it's ingrained in our psyche, most of the time that comes, from being children.  I know, I went after nostalgia in a recent blogpost already, but that's a predicate of fandom today, the fact is though, we don't necessarily become fans of things at our own doing. We become fans of what we see and observe that we realize that for some reason we like. Mostly, the reason we like these things though, is because they're around. And we don't know any better. Literally, as kids, we don't know any better, these are often the very first things we see, the first things that we become associated with. I was a fan of "Popples". I doubt half of you remember "Popples" and you shouldn't, but I had a VHS with about eight episodes of "Popples" on it, so I played it to death. I was three, it was what was around me, and you don't know any better. Of course, I had seen a little more than that, but still, very limited worldview. I think this is a lot of the reason why "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" still keeps surviving even though if you really look at it, it doesn't really hold up. It was just something different and new that we hadn't seen before and frankly, we hadn't seen much. In hindsight, I probably saw them before I saw Superman or Batman or any other superheroes. I had the Nintendo game. I don't remember buying it, but I had it, and I got to level three, where you were driving around with no place to go, and that's when I quit it, but I had it. I did buy my "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune Jr." games. Yeah, one of the things I related to mostly was game shows, even as a young kid because, "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" we're always on. And then I found other game shows, there was a ton at the time, and I always had a fascination with playing games. Game theory. I had dozens of box games, more than I can count, I still do. Hell, I live in Vegas, and there was always a deck of cards around, 'cause my grandfather played solitaire while having his coffee and newspaper. So, I have a fascination with a deck of cards. Casino games as well, the restaurants we always went out to eat at were in casinos. And all this by the way was long before I ever had a video game console and frankly most video games don't have an impact on me because of it. Again, most of these weren't choices per se, they're just apart of the environment that I adapted to at the time that, that was mostly my main objective, adapt as well to the environment of others around you. You know how little kids often mimic their parents behaviors by standing next to them and miming all they do, like when they're shaving and brushing their teeth or something? That's sorta how fandom comes about, we're still in that learning stage and as far as we're concerned, (INSERT FAVORITE THING HERE) was our life. Most of us become fans because we don't know any better. Believe me, I'm a Philadelphia Sports fan. It's one of the few things I am still a passionate fan of, and believe me, if you know anything about Philadelphia fans, that's not a choice. I would've picked some city's teams that actually wins once in a while, but that's where my family's from and we're insane Philadelphia fans. Hell, our baseball's team mascot, is called, the Philly Phanatic, for a reason. And yes, fanatic in the worst definitions up there, I am a fan of Philadelphia sports teams, pro and college. And I mostly curb the majority of those fan-based thoughts and emotions now, mostly because I've been asked to by several cops and city officials. Yeah, that can get out of hand.

Anyway, is all nostalgia an effect of our childhood and nothing more, being fans? Hmm, I think it's a good deal of it actually. I'm sure some of you are familiar with Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," where prisoners' entire life experience is the shadows they see on the wall before them, until one of them is freed and sees the fire that's creating the shadows and eventually the outside world entirely. That should be our experiences of growing up. We see the world around us, and only when are our eyes opened to the surrounding world that we then experience do we become more knowledgeable. Until then, only the shadows are in turn the reality of the world. Yet, being a "Fan" for the most part, is being the prisoners who don't escape and when confronted with fire and sunlight and civilization, remain staring at the shadows, the comfortable reality that they're familiar with and know.

When somebody becomes a fan of something later in life than the age of unknowing, it's mainly because they've suddenly discovered something that's new and often unique to their own experiences. I had a friend once, who reallll-ly like Chinese food at one point in here life. Like, green M&M-liked Chinese food. It was basically an aphrodisiac for her. When I asked her about this infatuation, it was because, she had only just started liking/eating Chinese food, within the last year. Sure she still likes Chinese food in general but no, it doesn't create that effect. I was a late-comer to Chinese food too, not as late as her, but I get it, when you're able to like something other than what you traditionally have like over the years, there's an overcompensation at first to the new stimuli. This is how we compartmentalize new experiences. The first time you do it, you over-react to the new thing, but eventually you get used to it and it simply becomes another aspect of your world, a new piece of information, knowledge, at least that's how it should be.

Fans, don't seem to have that barometer, sometimes. Or they do, but it still comes off and out as obsession. They place these certain fascinations in a higher level of importance than other parts of their experiences and that's when you get fandom or fanaticism. And if that, was as far as it went, I probably wouldn't have so much against fans. Unfortunately it doesn't.

There's a concept in anthropology, where observing behaviors of creatures it becomes apparent that it's natural for people to group themselves together based on similar features and experience. I'll refer to this as "People Like Us". Basically what it means is that, we tend to associate ourselves with people who are similar to us. Backgrounds, ethnicities, common interests, appearances even, etc. This is where conventions come in. This is also where those other aspects of fandom come in. Notice the word "Like" in "People Like Us". This means, that people often do gravitate towards a similar crowd of people who like the same things that they do. I know, you're thinking, "Well, isn't this great, we've been wandering around in the darkness of a cave forever and now we have other people like us around?" No, not at all. That's not what's happening here. What you are actually doing by using such bases as your preferences, likes and fanatic tendencies to connect with others is that you're separating yourselves from everybody else even more, and that never works out for anybody. In fact, that's just repugnant.

I know, there's history behind this. The traditional fanboys are often people who are outsiders who were vilified unfairly by society, there's strength in numbers, a history of being made fun of and being bullied, I have that history too, that doesn't mean, this is good and it doesn't mean that it's any different than any other group, including those groups of people who picked on the nerds. It's still nothing more than a way of separating people like you from people who aren't like you, and this is where I feel absolutely justified in telling all of you to go fuck yourselves!

Yeah, you read that right, GO FUCK YOURSELVES! Cause you are separating yourself into a group and therefore, not allowing for others with differing thoughts and ideas into your world. And, no, it's not even out of a necessity anymore either; I get it when it's a necessary evil and many times in society a grouping together of people with common interest is, but not this, not in today's world. It's just a way to say, "It's okay that you love X as much as us, now let's talk about it some more, and then let's do it again tomorrow and the day after and..." You'll notice that unlike most entertainment blogs and websites, you never see me talking about casting choices for superhero characters or whatever and there's a couple reasons for that, A. Everyone else does it, so I don't need to, and B. I don't care. Nor do I know? What do I think about a casting choice, the movie isn't made yet? How do I think about a trailer; it's a commercial, or course it makes the movie look good, why are you even watching it!" It's this obsessing and fascinating over every little minute aspect that is cringe-worthy, 'cause it's nothing, literally most of the time, it's just feeding the fandom. "I like this, so I'm going to talk about anything regarding this!" This is not good for the culture in Hollywood, or society, but because there's a very powerful group of these fans, who have grown into powerful numbers and are willing to pay for everything involving those things they like, Hollywood is bending over backwards trying to please them. Yes, them; not everybody, them. They don't need to get everybody, just the dominant group. And be damned anybody else.

I'm sure some of you think this is me overreacting, but you know what, those kids that picked on all of us, well, they weren't just the jocks or whoever cliched stereotypes you want to believe are still out there. Yeah, that's what this is, gang mentality. It's not new either. I've told the story about me having to give into peer pressure because apparently in 4th Grade, saying that I watched "Barney & Friends" was the worst thing I could ever do, forcing me to inevitably watch "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" simply because everybody else was, and that being the only time I ever did give into peer pressure, but it's a group mentality. I'm not like everybody else so let's laugh and make fun of him until he is. Never mind the fact, that I didn't think either show was any good but those were the two best choices at that time of day, so, I picked the educational show by default. I didn't watch "Barney..." being a fan. I watched "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" because I was a fan. (I was a geography buff, and I loved game shows, I told you that part. Holy hell, I was in heaven with that, but not too many other people I know were) Anyway, it doesn't matter whether it's organized under the guise of fandom or not, it's a groupthink mentality and even if the objective is to hold your own ground against more volatile groups, using this basis to form and mold yourselves will lead to this form of elitist behavior, in some ways. Most of them won't be so vicious, but some of them will. Recently, there's been some very disturbing bullying behavior on some of the film FB groups I post in, not even towards me, just in general, people who are peers of mine who are simply powerhungry and want to demean others, and that's just not right. And sometimes I get persecuted for daring to bring up anything other than geekdom. I had my blogpost on Bill Cosby awhile back pulled off numerous FB groups for fear that it would actually cause a controversial discussion, which it often did. This rejection of anything that's different, that's what really disturbs me about this. Yeah, once upon a time, you were an outcast of society to be somebody who was obsessed with "Star Wars" or whatever, but you know what, that doesn't mean that a group is above being corrupted. Not everybody who inherently likes the same things as you, should necessarily be brought into your circle.

And there's another thing, I talked essentially about how, like, works, the half-knowing scientific manner in which is works, but why do we use that as a barometer? I never did. Seriously, I never did; I usually looked for people who were interesting regardless of what they liked, just interesting people. Not that it would've helped, as you might've guessed by now, the things that I was and am a fan of  (Carmen San Diego, Aaron Sorkin, "Heidi", Booing Santa Clause at Veteran's Stadium, etc. etc. Paula Poundstone routines) are often so unusual that, while not impossible it's often unlikely to find others with distinct similar interest to form a group, but you know what else I found out? That finding other people with your own interests, they're not interesting. I mean, they have the fascinations I do, so they know everything I know, so, what is there to really talk about. Yeah, you never thought about that, but all you superhero, comic book aficionados, you're all boring. How can you all have a hundred friggin' opinions on every little detail about a movie that hasn't finished being made yet? This is mind-numbing and boring, it really is. Like watching two people play Magic the Gathering without even knowing the rules of the game, it's that boring.

Still, besides that, why do we focus so much on what we like, especially regarding art, which, frankly, I get shit for this all the time, I don't base my thoughts and analysis on a piece of art, on whether I like it. I really don't, because, why would I? Like, above everything else, is a bias. That's why the word bigot, is a synonym of fan, it's a preference a bias towards something or sometimes a bias against something. I know my biases, but I want to keep those out as much as I humanly can. I don't care whether you like something, that doesn't tell me anything, tell me why it's good. I know, all our favorite movie critics tell us to think otherwise, admit you're a fan first, and, (Sigh) I understand, that, but here's the thing, that's not how art analyses holds up over time. I know we want to pretend it's all carpe diem, and seize the day, whatever we choose to feel is important to us is therefore more important than all else out there, but that's bullshit. (Yeah, that scene in "Dead Poets Society" where Robin Williams makes everyone rip out the mathematical instructions on how to analyze the poets, alright that mathematical approach isn't right either, but ignore the quality of the work, completely? Um, no. And if that was the case, than perhaps they would've done something other than quote the dead poet that shows up in most textbooks) If it wasn't bullshit, then why the hell does "Citizen Kane" still remain one or two on every damn greatest movie poll? Why is the Mona Lisa still the main, centered attraction at the most prestigious museum in the world? Why is Shakespeare, still Shakespeare, has no one replaced him? That's not to say sometimes it takes time and discovery for us to truly understand the greatness of an art, but still, there were plenty of playwrights, painters, films and filmmakers, poets, around that frankly have no relevance what-so-ever in the artistic world then or any part of the modern world now. It's not simply a fact that popular opinion among experts hasn't changed, it hasn't changed because much of how we analyze art, no matter what ways you do it, you end up realizing that the truly great and highest quality films are still the greatest and highest of quality films and only then can you actually start bringing in a bias or preference, when literally, nothing else analytical can be analyzed. Cause a certain point, it does become reductive and there's only so many ways you can say, "This is great and this is also great" or "This is shit and this is also shit." Is "Vertigo" or "Citizen Kane" the better film? They're both great films. (Alright, I think "Vertigo" is overrated but ignoring that) they're both great films, then you go to a preference, basically it's a tiebreaker at best and only when needed, like when the VP votes in the Senate.

Yet, in order to truly be a fan nowadays, of anything, this has to be reversed. What you like matters more than what is good. The thing that's 1% of my analysis, is 99% of everyone else's? That is the basis of a fan, and yes that is the only thing that distinguishes a fan. And why exactly is this looked upon so highly; when I tell people about this process of not using my own biases to determine the quality I get harassed and looked at like I'm crazy, but why? That's how we were taught all our lives, at least I was. We weren't instructed to look for something and just embrace it; I was taught to distinguish the good from what you like, and everybody else I know was too. We were taught to think critically about everything, not just the great stuff, but why you like it, and/or why it's good. Was I the only one who was taught this? I remember having to explain why something was good or not, and having to justify and explained why I shouldn't watch something, did this just go away, or did everybody just, carpe diem this and think it was bullshit, "I'll like what I want?" Whatever it is, it's offensive. Yeah, offensive, to simply put something on a pedestal just because you like it more or would rather see it. I try really hard not to do this, if I say something is amazing or that something is trash, I want to make sure that statement has some weight to it and isn't just a gut-check opinion of mine. If I just referenced stuff I liked there'd probably be a lot more "Smokey and the Bandit" references on this blog. That's the whole point of learning about all the great pieces of literature anyway, 'cause it's history and knowledge that seeped it's way into our everyday nomenclature. "Romeo & Juliet" was such a powerful and important play, that's it's simply shorthand in our lexicon. Granted so is "Superman" and "Batman", and many of these other characters, so is Oliver Twist, so is Lucy & Ricky, so is Fonzi, so is George Costanza, so is Dr. Faust, so is Scooby-Doo, for some reason. So is Captain Ahab, so is Captain Kirk. Not that I like or hate any of these characters or anything, but when you take fandom as your primary personal trait about you, make it, not just a part of you, but a part of you to such a degree that, well, to all these extremes degree that people do, it basically means that, you're limiting yourself. Voluntarily, limiting your knowledge, limiting your frame of references, limiting your whole perspective of anything that's outside of your bubble. You're purposefully ignoring and disregarding anything else, much less, even contemplating the possibilities that there are distinctions and differences between things we like and things that are good.

When you're a kid and you don't know better and what you come across and what you are able to see and experience is limited by what others show or allow them to show you, it's forgivable, you don't know better. Like I said, you're in cave in the beginning and some new stimuli will be brighter and more apparent and grow into your world more than others. For instance, I never liked rap music and was for the most part, never really drawn to it personally growing up. I'm not now, and frankly it is something that currently, I don't have the proper affection or knowledge of. I'm bias against it and that's not good. And I grew up during the Tupac & Biggie East Coast/West Coast Wars, I remember all this shit, but nobody I knew really listened to it and on my own, I never got around to doing much more than eventually appreciating it as an art form, but not liking it and certainly not being knowledgeable enough about to discuss it with too much certainly. At the same, when it is discussed I'm usually trying to listen and understand where people are coming from who have this knowledge. I still don't always agree, but still, you gotta seek out things you aren't familiar with as often as you can. This is antithesis to the cult of fandom. I'm sure, and I know that most fans don't simply just obsess over their obsessions and whatever-, I am generalizing here, but that's still the overall perception, and it's what the entertainment industry has chosen to respond to the most in recent years.

I mean, it's because groups like fans, limit their stimuli to the things they like and obsess over it to the nth degree that Hollywood ergo, limits their reign of products to simply satisfy their need for more of what they like, and that leaves, everybody else, having to be forced,- alright, maybe not forced, that's the critic in me that's forced, but how about pressured, into having to accept, like and/or appreciate your fan culture. And, it's not like the product is bad, many times it isn't, but oh the messenger that's sending this message of superheroes, comic books, ultimate geekdom, ultimate fandom.... Look, a fetish is a fetish only to the person who likes that fetish. That's what this is, us, having to, enjoy your fetish, the things your group(s) get off on. And I don't think I need Dan Savage to tell you, but when somebody doesn't enjoy the fetish, no matter how GGG he/she may be, we can only take so much and last so long. That doesn't mean I ask you to enjoy mine, but I do wonder why you make the fetish the predominant aspect of your personality and/or life.

I know that was harsh, but I look at this culture of fandom and geekdom that's taken over and I see the absolute worst of society, certainly entertainment-wise at the moment. I don't see the benefits outweighing the negatives, in fact, the closer I look, the less and less benefits of it I see. I see, childish behavior from adults, who are still infatuated by the things they were infatuated with as a child, just becoming more and more infatuated with these things and less and less care about much else. And society, just accepts this; it's encouraged, it's the norm! Well, it's a sucky norm! I shouldn't have to easily be placed in a group in order to be accepted, I shouldn't have to be limited, I shouldn't have to be pigeon-holed; I rejected all this crap in high school because it was fucking stupid and it was the same groupthink then and now I'm living it all over again and in the field of entertainment, which I chose specifically as my career so this kind of takeover of the entertainment world, wouldn't happen! I'm sick of this narrow-mindedness, this embracing of like as individuality, even though, it's following the long crowd of everybody else now. It's separatist, it's elitist, it's pretentious, yes superhero and comic books are a bit pretentious and it makes me want to pull my hair out 'cause how much I am sick and tired of having to put up with all this. Who insisted that everybody look backwards, who insisted on like, being a main indicator of personality instead of the seeking out of variety and knowledge that's often far beyond one's immediate reaches and grasps. Who decided that comic books were still relevant, the whole industry almost went bankrupt when I was growing up, the fact that this has come back around is just weird. Who decided that fan-fiction was worthy of analysis and judgement and fascination with; I stopped writing fan-fiction when I was nine! And frankly, every episode I wrote of "Cheers II" in hindsight, was utter shit. (Yeah, I wrote a spin-off sequel series to "Cheers" when I was nine, after the series finale. It wasn't good, and I'm not bringing it back up to show other people.) Like, I said, I grew out of this, the further outside the cave of darkness I got. And with the internet now, there's no excuse for this kind of fandemonium. You can seek out and search for so much. Anything, everything, you're only limited by your own desires and capabilities and now when everything is literally at your fingertips, the choice most everyone seems to make is, stick with the same shadows we've been staring at for years.

No. Not me. I am not a fan. What I like does not define who I am, or who I will become, nor will it be a crux of my personality and/or existence. Personal preferences and affections, likes of mine, will not be the things that becomes the major distinguishing factors of my own individual self. No matter what is popular or en vogue or even counterculture, today or tomorrow, no group think based around a collective preference, nostalgia-based or otherwise will influence or determine how I identify myself or how others will identify me. I will let what I like influence and inspire but not let it overtake me and define me as a person to myself or others. At least publicly.

I am not a fan, and neither should anybody else be either.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Just so you all know what I also watched this week, I didn't review "Fellini's Roma" Fellini's multi-layered stream-of-consciousness look at the city of Rome that he so beautifully profiles, through numerous vignettes and perspectives. That's a good movie, so is "Julie Johnson", which is one of those movies that probably made my Netflix queue years ago just based on the description. It has Lili Taylor and Courtney Love and includes a soundtrack by Liz Phair, three of my favorite women of all-time, and it's also a leave-your-husbands-and-become-lesbians film. It never got released to theaters but I thought it was pretty good and well-made despite a problematic ending. Anyway, since I'm no longer required to write reviews of everything, just thought I'd mentions those films now.

Well, there's a lot going on in the entertainment world and I'll discuss them more during the week. Anyway, I got mostly positive responses from me doing that Top Ten Worst Plot Twists earlier, so from here on in, I'm gonna try to do at least one Top Ten List every month. Now, I don't want to do normal Top Ten Lists, one's everybody else has done or stuff like that, so if you can think of an interesting Top Ten List that you haven't seen others do, I know has really fucked this up but still, if you happen to think of one or two, let me know by either commenting, tweeting me, or tell me on either of my Facebook pages, and I'll do the most interesting ones that nobody or few others have done.

Alright, not too much else going on, so let's get to this week's MOVIE REVIEWS! And it's a big week this week, starting off last year's Best Picture Winner, "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"!

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014) Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu


Okay, I have...- well not a confession really, but I did not watch those early Batman movies with Michael Keaton, not at the time and actually I didn't finally see "Batman" 'til years later and frankly, it sucked. Not his fault, I blamed Tim burton, but this whole mythos of Michael Keaton being renowned as a superhero performer, honestly I never thought of him that way; I just always thought of him as an amazing and versatile actor. I was always happy to see him in a movie or a TV show even a bad one like "Jack Frost" or something like a guest role on "30 Rock" or "Frasier" even. I think of him in "Jackie Brown" or the HBO movie "Live from Baghdad", or a great little movie that nobody's seen called "Game 6", which actually, he has a very similar character arc and plot in that film compared to "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (It's not the long title that bothers me, it's the parenthesis, a colon after "Birdman", would've been a lot better.) I'm surprised actually that nobody's compared "Game 6" to "Birdman..." yet to be honest. I gave that film 5 STARS, so maybe I like "Birdman..." in much the same way, but there's something else here. There's a lot of something else's actually and I think that's partially the point. Yes, there's the gimmick of the long shots being used to similate one take; I'll be honest, I didn't notice. I mean, I did, but- well, I'm glad I didn't notice, I wasn't paying attention to that. I was paying attention to the bizarre drum and cymbals based score, it's one of the strangest and most unique scores I've ever heard for any movie. It's just batting and beating, like fireworks, but not in any pattern or noticeable chord pattern that I recognized. It's jarring, it makes everything off-kilter. And other than the fact that it deals with the depression, sadness and tragedy aspects of the human condition, this film also has nothing in common with anything we've seen from Inarritu before. Well, that, and I guess there's what can be considered multiple narratives. Keaton play Riggan Thomson, who yes, is famous for playing Birdman. He also plays Birdman in the movie, who talks to him in his moments of private, a stinging voice of his devilish instincts. He's opening a play on Broadway that he's written, directed and acted in, adapting Raymond Carver "What People Talk About When They Talk About Love", good choice btw, and it's still a mess in previews. Everyone's expecting it to fail, his co-actor got hit in the head with a falling light, so they have to hire someone on the fly, eccentric Broadway actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who is overly method on stage and then a disaster offstage. He's dating a fellow co-star in the beginning, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and he manages to screw that up so bad he throws her into the arms of the other female featured role Laura (Andrea Riseborough), while hitting on Riggan's drug-addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who's just out of rehab and is working, reluctantly as his assistant even though they don't get along. Whew, there's Riggan's boss/lawyer/publicist Jake (Zach Galifianakis) who's trying to keep everything calm during the chaos as the production's being sued by the actor with the head injury, as there's no money for anything else, no tickets being sold, no way to fire Mike after tickets start selling when he comes on board, keeping everybody and anybody else in line.... This thing is really crazy when you break it down, it's like "Noises Off" really, which is ultimately door-slamming sex farce, and that a door-slamming sex farce, about a door-slamming sex farce and the door-slamming sex farce that took place behind the scenes of the door-slamming sex farce, and there was actually more door-slamming sex farce in that then I'm actually letting on; I'm not kidding. This strangely is a dark comedy after everything. I think on some level I mostly admire "Birdman..." more than I like it though. It's technically amazing, but it's story doesn't feel completely original, sometimes it seems like a mish-mash of other stuff more than anything. I haven't even talked about dreaded critic (Lindsay Duncan) or Riggan's ex wife (Amy Ryan), not to mention all the modern-day references to Hollywood and the entertainment culture at large. It's definitely a good film, amazingly well-made, but I question whether it got the all the loftier goals is seemed to be trying to achieve. The film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Writing and Cinematography, and Keaton, Stone and Norton were subsequently nominated, it's definitely one of the stranger films to pull of Best Picture in a while and that uniqueness alone makes it worth checking out on a technical standpoint at least. Pardon the pun, but "Birdman..." is a bit of a marvel. A curious one though.

FOXCATCHER (2014) Director: Bennett Miller


I guess I was young, but somehow of all the infamous sensationalist news stories of the nineties, this one eluded me for some reason. Maybe because it was wrestling I overlooked it; '96 was a memorable sports year, the Atlanta Olympics, Michael Jordan coming back to the Bulls and going 72-10, etc. I'm pretty sure this got overlooked, and frankly, even if I had looked into the story at the time, it probably confused me more than anything else. For one thing, when I think of Dave Schultz, I think of the greatest goon in hockey history, (Broad Street Bullies forever baby, Go Flyers!), not the legendary Olympian medalist and wrestling coach (Mark Ruffalo), nor do I think/know of his brother Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) who also won Gold at the Los Angeles games, but was still mostly in his older brother's shadows. At least I knew who the Du Pont's were, but no I didn't particularly know about their direct interest in athletics, one that lasted generations. I didn't even The Pavillion where my Villanova Wildcats play many of their home basketball games was named after John Du Pont (Steve Carell), probably since the name was appropriately taken off. (For those who haven't caught on, I'm a Philadelphia sports fan) That fact isn't in the movie, "Foxcatcher" but I've been looking around the internet after watching the movie, 'cause this is such a bizarre, confusing and interesting story that I wanted to seek out the actual events and compare and actually looking it up, I'm a little more surprised that Bennett Miller was able to pull together this intense feature film. Du Pont is an eccentric millionaire who spent most of his life, just following numerous random pursuits. He published numerous texts on ornithology, he donated to numerous athletics and went a pentathlete when he was younger and even took up numerous other athletic pursuits, competing in local age-specific leagues 'til his fifties. The family tradition of putting money into competitive sports started with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) starting Foxcatcher, a program/property devoted to privately train the best athletes in the world, she started with horse racing, but his pursuit was USA Wrestling. Now, America does have a pretty good tradition of amateur wrestling, but it's never been as funded, especially compared to say, Soviet Union or Iran or some of the other powerhouses on the international stage. Du Pont built massive, state of the art facility on his property where athleteslike Mark would come to train and even live on premises in preparation for major meets.Du Pont also coached wrestling on numerous levels, although he essentially hired Mark as a player/coach in order to get to his big brother Dave. Dave wasn't interested in uplifting his family so he originally rejected the offer, while Du Pont would befriend Mark. How much were they friends? It's left vague in the movie how close, but they were close. Du Pont was a closeted homosexual and it's clear that his appreciation of wrestling as a sport is somewhat related to that. I think the issue however is that the biggest part of the movie is missing, showing Du Pont's long fall into madness, the one that inevitably led to him killing Dave Shultz on his property, a 3-day standoff with Police and then, him spending the rest of his life in prison. We see him manipulative and concerned, eccentric, his gun collection is brought up quite often, but essentially, the movie feels like he never got over this strange falling out with both brothers and then that would lead him to this much later. It's not said how much later, but this decent is sorta missing. What we does are three amazing performances by three great actors and especially with Carell, we get a man who's presence is so foreboding in this character who seems to want to care, but might not be able to understand how and what's the appropriate way too in these situations. He has a speech at one point about his mother paying a son of his limo driver to be his only friend as a kid and now we see him,essentially buying his way into an Olympic sports, but it's hard to tell whether or not he realizes that irony at that moment anyway. He is trapped under his mother's shadow the way Mark is trapped under his brother's, there is sympathy for him, but only to a point. The movie earned five Oscar nominations, two for acting, Carell and Ruffalo, although Channing Tatum could easily have been nominated himself for his work; the film also became the first movie to get a Directing nomination but not a Best Picture nomination since the extension of that category. I guess it's curious, although come to think of it, as much as I liked Miller's "Capote" I was surprised he got nominated for that film as well. He's made three good films, but I think the closer you look at "Foxcatcher" the more there's stuff that's missing that probably would've been helpful. Still, intense and terrifying in the moment and some great performances really carry the film.

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) Director: Dan Gilroy


I've been told by many now, that "Nightcrawler" is a comedy, a dark one, but a comedy in the same sense that "Network" or "To Die For" were comedies, these other satirical looks at the media. I don't buy it. Maybe it's me, I heard the same argument from many people after my ZERO STARS review of "You're Next" last year, and later when I named it the single-worst film of last year, but that was a piece of garbage and everybody who likes it is clearly delusional. (I don't care what the positive reviews of the audience says, it was lazy, sick and disgusting.) "Nightcrawler" is certainly not that. I just don't know if it's satirical, at least anymore. Yeah, Rene Russo's doing her best Faye Dunaway here, but,- yeah, that's kinda how old this satire is, it basically is the same thing we were warning of/making fun of back in the '70s, before cable news even. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is some kind of...- well, the review I'm looking over on calls him a sociopath and that's nicer than any of the words I used in my notes, so let's use sociopath. He's a different kind of sociopath, this is definitely the sociopath who's entrepreneurial in his pursuits. Actually, we don't learn much about Louis Bloom. He apparently has no formal education, although I don't necessarily believe that. He's a quick study and learner, and he studies online a lot, takes online courses. We see him stealing manhole covers and wired fencing to sell to a scrapyard and he asks for a job but doesn't get it. He then runs across an accident and finds the freelance cameramen who follows police radio signals all night and heads to crime scenes and accidents trying to get the best and most gruesome footage in order to sell it to the local news stations which they can then air as exclusive footage. He quickly gets a handheld camera and a CB radio and begins police chasing. Mostly to little or no effect at first as he doesn't understand the police call signals. Soon , he starts to get the hang of it, and is more willing to get the more up close and gruesome shots that the networks, or at least that Nina (Russo) wants for her network.  Eventually he gets enough money and work to hire an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) Who's job is to help him get the exclusives before anybody. Sometimes he even beats the cops to the crime scenes and that's when we really see just how despicable a sociopath he is and how he's willing to go the extra mile for those extra shots. One time, he moves a dead body to get a better shot, another time he enters a house after a violent break-in had just occurred. It's after the latter incident that the network has to bring in lawyers to see if it's even legal to show the footage. They do, but then the police start looking towards Bloom with impeding justice. Yeah, here's why I'm having some trouble calling this a satire, it's not really funny and worst yet it's not really unrealistic. Mostly what the film did was remind me once again, why I don't watch the local news anymore. It's a great movie about it, but I think the satire bus has left the building on criticism of the modern news culture, no matter how dark, none of it seemed like I hadn't seen it done before and for real, and that just made it more nauseating. The only other trait I haven't mentioned that Louis Bloom has, other than a thin-veiled reference to "Ulysses" in his name is that even above the money the job makes him, the main thing he seems to want is for people to buy into his bullshit. He's not necessarily a con artist, he's almost more like a cult leader. I suspect Gyllenhaal might've been trying to channel Harvey Levin, the head of TMZ in his straight-forward and seemingly friendly personality that still manages to live life leaching onto a bottomfeeding section of the media. He loves that people will give him money, praise, the time of day and that people will look up to him for the job that he does and the name that he makes for himself. He's a hustler that leaves a calling card after he's been caught. Hell, before he gets caught. I know there's people who make a living doing this, some travel the world making a living by filming the most gruesome realities of the world. There's a good documentary about one of them called "War Photographer" if you ever happen to run into it. Gyllenhaal's character definitely doesn't remind me of the more jaded and sardonic people who deal with these kinds of horrors and gruesome realities, in fact the character like that is his rival Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, with an interesting symbolic name. [A loder is the guy who puts the film in the camera]) who sees this as his day-to-day job, even though he's got an expanded future business plan as well. In a way, this movie feels like, if Travis Bickle got a job working for the news.... I don't know if it's a good thing, or even a funny thing that it is, but it was an exciting film to contemplate. The situation's too common and realistic to be satire but it's character is too over-the-top and heartless to be believable. Clearly Writer/Director Dan Gilroy is making a point about something here, I just wonder what his point is, or whether it's misguided or two seconds too late.

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2014) Director: Isao Takahata


I've been staring at my blank page for awhile wondering where to go with "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya". Hell, I can't even decide how many stars to give the film, and I've gotta be honest, I've been struggling with how many stars I should give a lot of films this year. I know, the rating system is arbitrary but I know a lot of people will only look at that part sometimes, so I try to be accurate with them, but sometimes it's hard to take a movies and then decide, "Okay, 0-5, where do you stand?". It's actually quite a ridiculous thing to do. I can't quite comprehend at the moment the need to do that with this film, the latest from the legendary animator Isao Takahata. I've only seen one film of his, the masterpiece, "Grave of the Fireflies" one of the greatest of all animated films. The Princess in the title is found by a bamboo cutter one day. She was in fact, inside a suddenly sprouting bamboo that shined up. Originally, small enough to hold in his hand, Princess, which he names her, starts growing, rapidly and magically. His wife starts to head to town for milk, only to find that she is now capable of milking. She's nicknamed Lil' Bamboo by the other kids after she grows quickly like bamboo does, and they see her, first as a baby and then, they see her growing up into being a part of the group, a weird part, but an emotional spiritual core. Then the bamboo cutter manages to get enough gold to buy a castle in the city where he's convinced Princess's true place is in the nobility. She learns the ways of a Princess from Lady Sagami although it's a battle to teach her, she's a quick study. She's soon given the name Kaguya and once word of her sprite-like origins become known a handfull of wealthy royal dignitaries look for her hand in marriage. She challenges them to find the mythological objects that they all insisted on comparing her to and give them to her in order to marry her. When they all fail, the Emperor himself begins to desire her, while she still yearns mainly to return back to her home. This is based on 10th Century Japanese Fable but it's definitely relatable to anybody, although it's insistent on it's telling of the story through imagery and quietness. It's Studio Ghibli's longest film in length, and Takahata's visual style, simplistic as always, but it's almost seems pencil-drawn with watercolors, almost like if Bill Plympton was given a paintbrush, but it's definitely not his aesthetic at all. It makes the story more elegiac actually. This was written for a friend of his who asked that he make a movie for him to take with him to heaven, and that friend passed away before the film was completed. The film is about life and happiness, what one will do for it themselves, what they'll do so others can ultimately achieve it, and how both wishes are both out-of-their-hands and backfire on themselves. It's quiet a beautiful film, almost poetic, sad, just gives you this overall ennui emotion after you watch it, and it's hard to get out of you. "The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" is practically meditative. I find myself caught up and lost in it, emotionally, not story-wise, and that's probably the best way to approach this ancient material. Takahata himself is in his late '70s and most believe this will be his last film, not to mention with Studio Ghibli in the midst of a struggle for survival, the emotions of seem perfectly what they should be. I guess I'm giving it 5 STARS because of how I feel after watching it.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014) Director: Josh Boone


Um, occasionally I've been told I should tweet more and I do agree with that, but I've never been big on tweeting while you watch a movie. I know a few people who do that, and usually I watch most movies at my computer desk, so I probably could, but, eh. Well, A. I don't like foreshadowing my reviews to begin with, and B. it kinda feels superficial and vain to me, but more than those things actually, I usually want to just get through a movie so I can realize my own thoughts on it as a whole, and not do a play-by-play commentary. Yet, after about an hour of forcing and struggling my way through "The Fault in Our Stars", I strangely felt compelled to tweet this:

"Somebody please tell me there's something in "THE FAULT IN OUR STARS" that won't make me want to choke this movie! #Mightwalkoutonfilm

Mostly, I received good responses for that tweet, so obviously I might not be alone in that response. That said, no, I did not choke the movie and after that first hour, I will say that overall the movie got better. Better than where it was anyway, not much better, but.... Apparently, this is a popular young adult novel, I've never heard of it until now but apparently the MTV Movie Awards crowd is a big fan of it. Oddly, the film is a romance between two young teenagers who are both terminally ill. Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is in late stages of lung cancer while Augustus (Ansel Elgort) has already lost half of a leg from his cancer treatments; they meet in a local support group and sure enough, they speak in wise-beyond-their-years prose to each other enough that they start to fall in love, although they're both denying that reality because both know it won't last, at least for now. Yeah, the screenwriters for this movie were Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, which sounds like a good choice for this material, they wrote the script for "(500) Days of Summer", which easily can be argued as the best romantic comedy this century, but from what I've been told, they wanted to keep the film as close to the novel as possible and that meant that much of the dialogue that apparently works in the book, is used here, and it doesn't come off as authentic, even if you take into account the common notion of terminal illnesses making kids grow up and mature more rapidly, eh; I'm told it works in the book although I'm skeptical. They exchange personal favorite books, Augustus gives her a novelization of his favorite video game, (Which is something I didn't know actually existed, and scares me that it does! I don't know who these hacks are, but they gotta be the hackiest of the hackiest) and she gives him a book by her favorite author about dying. The author Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), ends the book in mid-sentence and she wants to go to Amsterdam before she dies to meet him and find out what happened after the book ends to all the other characters, including a hamster. This, they actually do. I know, there's a thousand jokes about wanting to go to Amsterdam before you die, but this storyline is just strange and predictably leads to failure in regards to Van Houten, but does lead to Augustus and Hazel falling in love and getting their "We'll Always Have Amsterdam" moment. They also did get to see Anne Frank's house in a touching sequence. Both of them remain sick and naturally, when they get home, one of them starts to take a turn for the worst. The second half of the movie, I didn't mind so much although it's still a cliche of a cliche of a cliche that didn't work all that well to begin with. You know, there a was a TV show that got canceled earlier this year I like called "Red Band Society" which was about teenagers who were also sick with life-threatening illnesses and conditions, having to go through the typical hormonal high school melodrama, but having to live in a hospital while doing it, and knowing full well that they might never leave. I thought, with that show, you got much more of the weightiness of the situation, more believable and interesting characters actually struggling with the realities of death on the horizon at such a young age. This movie is touching, but it's a teenage romance fantasy. There's some good performances in the film, especially from Woodley, she doesn't hit a wrong note at all. I guess something could've gotten lost in the translation from book-to-screen, but even at it's best, I'm not sure how this story could end up being much better than decent or mediocre at it's best and this film is far from that. Can't really recommend it.

ROSEWATER (2014) Director: Jon Stewart


I still recall the Iranian election pretty viscerally, I'm actually surprised to learn that it was six years ago when all hell broke out there after the obviously fixed election that re-elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and everything that went with it. From my perspective at that moment, I worried about Jason Jones who, for some reason, "The Daily Show" not only sent to Iran to cover the election, but was the only American reporter sent to cover Iran and he got caught in the middle of the chaos and took weeks to get home. Jones plays himself in a cameo and we see a rare glimpse of the behind-the-scenes of how those comedic interviews and reports get made. Jones got off easy as Time reporter Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) who like most everybody went to Iran, his home country in order to cover the election from both sides and we see the distinct differences between the two cultural sides at war in Iran. One that's convinced of the radical fundamentalist perspective that Ahmadinejad insists on, one that's paranoid and skeptic through history and power and the other, more intellectual idealist side that's grown up seeking out outside information. There's powerful scene where Bahari is shown a secret rooftop filled with satellite dishes, one of the few times that television is ever shown as an educational tool as they pronounce this as their school. After filming and reporting on some of the violent demonstrations, he's calmly taken from his mother's (Shohreh Agdashloo) house one morning. He is then interrogated and locked away by a nameless man he calls "Rosewater" (Kim Bodnia) who is convinced he is a spy. He said so on the news, which turns out to be that "The Daily Show" clip, and he's not willing to be convinced that the show is in fact comedy. He's not even able to fully understand. He seems to regard almost anything foreign as porn when he goes through Maziar's collection of "The Sopranos" DVDs and Maxim magazines. Is it intimidation, do decimate the symbols of the west? After months on end, where he has imaginary conversations with his family, living and dead, including his pregnant wife in London, Paola (Claire Foy), he finally confesses to being a spy in a televised press conference that nobody believes and besides, he remains locked up anyway. He finally, in some funny sequences begins using Rosewater's lack of knowledge of the outside world to entertain him as he makes New Jersey seem like Sodom, which for some reason fascinates Rosewater. Of course, the major point that Stewart and Bahari try to make is that while he was imprisoned as a spy for months, others are still there, he just happened to be high-profile enough in the west that his friends, family and co-workers kept his name in the press and public eye, eventually causing Iran to break the dumber they were looking. It's hard to not consider "Rosewater" in this latest light of Jon Stewart recent announcement that he's retiring from "The Daily Show" having created a legacy on Late Night that I would argue not only equal Carson or Letterman, it might actually exceed both of them when all is said and done. He took time off to shoot this film and not only do I wonder if he just got exhausted from doing the show, but also if this incident painted him too close to the news and not enough towards the comedy. It's clear that making this his directorial debut came from a place of obligation for Stewart as it did passion, he certainly didn't have to do this film, but he probably figured that it was the least he could do, It's a good film, good job directing and a good story and look inside the actions and the mindsets of modern-day Iran as it's still struggles over it's past, present and it's future.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) Director: Lasse Hallstrom


First things first, this movie takes place in India, England, The Netherlands and inevitably France. Shouldn't this film be called "The 30.48-Meters Journey"? I know "The Hundred-Foot Journey" sounds prettier but all those countries last I checked used the metric system. And it's a movie about food too, which has it's own mathematical nomenclature that doesn't include feet- Alright, maybe I'm being picky here but it bothered me. I guess they could've said the 100-Step Journey, but...- Anyway, not important. Although I'm not sure exactly how much this film is about food. It technically has at the core of it's story two competing local restaurants in France and I guess it's knowledgeable enough about the restaurant world that nothing is exactly inaccurate but then again, I'd hardly say that it took anything more than an artificial look at the world. Just knowledgeable enough to tell the story, but not much more. One the one hand, there's the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri) who's run a restaurant in India for decades but is now based in Europe. He found the weather in England wasn't suitable so they relocated to the continent and took up root in a provincial French town where there car finally died. He plans to bring the Indian style food to the French in the area, normally I'd say not the worst idea, but the only restaurant in town, is literally their neighbor, also run for generations and this one by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and her restaurant has the biggest reputation within a  fifty mile radius, including a coveted Michelin star. For those not familiar Michelin is the famed restaurant ratings guide based in France. They do not give those stars out easily. It's a 3-star system and to give you an idea, I live in Las Vegas, where especially on the Strip you'll notice a giant foodie culture here and I can literally two or three dozens of the top chefs in the world, the ones you've heard of, that have at least one major restaurant in town. Currently, there are seven restaurant in Vegas with a michelin star of any kind, only one of those restaurants has three stars and that's Joel Robuchon's at the MGM Grand, so, yeah, they're correct that 3 STARS is only for the Gods. That said, one Michelin star, as per usual, is not nearly enough for most chefs, and Madame is constantly trying to seek out the next big star. This is where we meet Papa's son Hassan (Manish Dayal). He discovers some French cooking books and with his Indian cooking experience, wants to study and learn even more. He gets help from Marguerite (Charlotte le Bon), Madame's sous chef who's training to be a chef de cuisine, another thing he'll have to learn, chef terminology, Hassan just says he's a cook, which he is, and a damn good one. He'll have to sit through first the war between the owners, while gaining trust and increasing his skills and learning, all while secretly hoping he can begin becoming a chef at Madame's restaurant. Her challenge for a chef, one bite of an omelet, and yes, that is the very traditional challenge in France to see if someone can cook.  Naturally, the two restuarants become closer over time and the two owners become friends and soon, Hassan is off to Paris to learn the more scientific molecular gastronomy techniques you might've found at a place like elBulli before Ferran Adria closed that legendary restaurant's doors. I guess I'm barely recommending it, 'cause there's nothing wrong with the movie. It's a nice story, hardly one I'd put in the upper eschelon of Lasse Hallstrom's oeuvre, but he's always consistent although there's nothing here story-wise that you wouldn't expect, so I guess I would've appreciate more insight into the restaurant world then, instead of just using it as setting. Especially after a film like "Chef" really did dive into it, this seems disappointing comparatively. It's looks good on the plate, but it couldn't had a little more flavor.

WISH I WAS HERE (2014) Director: Zach Braff


Exactly how long can you beat a conflict to death? That was one of my constant thoughts as a sloughed through "Wish I Was Here", and before anybody asks, no I did not donate money to Zach Braff's Kickstarter program for the film. A. I was broke and B. I probably wouldn't have done it even if I had the money although I did admire his debut film, "Garden State". Strangely, I tend to think of that as a quiet and almost silent film while this one is surprisingly wordy. Like, actor-y wordy. He co-wrote this one with his brother Adam, so maybe that explains the change in style to a dialogue-heavy script, but this was tiring. I mean, how many times can you talk about the differences between trying to follow the core beliefs of Judaism and do what you need to provide for your family and also trying to follow your dreams of being an actor? Actually, that's not even what the conflict was, it's just-, basically Braff played Aiden Bloom, another struggling actor, but unlike his last one, this one, is a little more together. He's got a wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) and two kids Tucker and Grace (Pierce Gagnon and Joey King) who go to this conservative private Hebrew school. They go there because it's his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) that pays for the education and part of the deal was that he'd pick the school if he was paying. Bloom is still going on auditions most of the days, and his wife works at the water company where she's got an asshole of a cubicle partner who she wants to complain about, and in fact, she doesn't like the job much at all, but she's technically the breadwinner as parts are few and far between. There's a funny scene where he asks one of the rabbis about following your dreams, isn't that Jewish, and he says, "No, that's the Constitution."- I'm blowing half the joke and screwing up the punchline there, but trust me, it's kinda funny. The reason he's talking to the Rabbi is that the kids' tuition hasn't come in yet and when he confronts the father, it turns out, he can't pay 'cause he's dying of cancer and has spent what's left of his money on some alternative treatments, which naturally didn't work. So, his father's on deathwatch, and with little else to do, he begins to try homeschooling his kids, something he's clearly ill-equipped to do as they usually end up teaching him as much as anything. Then there's this subplot about his brother, Noah (Josh Gad) who is the intellectual one, he's some kind of scientific genius but he's mostly become the a recluse in his trailer and he downright refuses to see his father no matter how sick he gets, and is generally unreliable else-wise as well, as under his care, Grace shaves her head, as she's was looking forward to after marriage, I think. I didn't quite understand this Jewish tradition, sorry, I grew up with Sinead O'Connor, that sorta thing wasn't that unusual oddly. Anyway, I'm recommending the movie, because it is touching the way the characters are essentially falling into adulthood, all of them in some way, but the more I think about it, the film feels structurally a lot like "Garden State". There's even a road trip he takes with his kids in the second part and there's another shot of them up a mountain looking over, and it's kinda in the same emotional place as the canyon in "Garden State", only it's with his kids now. Maybe it's symmetry, I buy that it's personal for him, so I don't mind it that much. There's a few other details to the subplots that are unpredictable as well, especially late, but I keep finding myself growing farther from this movie rather quickly. I do wish some of these sideplots weren't so contrived, like his brother deciding to win a Comic-Con costume contest to impress his neighbor, or even the wife with her day-to-day job. There's a lot going on here, maybe too much, but I didn't mind that in "Garden State", 'cause there so many unusual things happening, strange characters with unique and unusual quirks, I think that's probably the biggest issue I have with this, there's nothing really here that I probably have seen before. It also kinda ends a little too neatly because of that, but I guess there's enough to recommend.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (2014) Director: John Ridley


I have some friends who are guitarists and other musicians who don't really see the genius of Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 from OutKast) the way I think people did when he first hit the scene in London. They're more interested in progressive music and now Hendrix is somebody who has pretty much passed them by, but putting him in the context of his time.... Well, nobody ever saw anything like him. There hasn't been anything like him since. When he burst onto the scene in London, he was almost like an alien. The hippie scene hadn't quite transitioned from the mod scene and here's this giant black man wearing every color of the rainbow, playing a right-handed guitar upside-down and backwards, making sounds out of it that seemed otherwordly, extra-terrestrial almost. There's a scene in "Jimi: All is By My Side" for instance, where Hendrix gets an opportunity to jam with Cream, as he was a huge Clapton fan and wanted to meet them. He went into a blues song that Clapton didn't know and halfway through, and Hendrix's manager Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) the former bassist for The Animals, went to go find Clapton (Danny McColgen) who descended backstage in disbelief puffing a cigarette and he turned to him and said, "You didn't tell me he was that fucking good?" The movie, the first from "12 Years a Slave" screenwriter John Ridley, takes only a look at Hendrix's early rise to fame, starting from him being discovered by Keith Richards's wife Linda (Imogen Poots) in New York while she was playing a jazz gig for somebody with him eventually making his legendary, Earth-shattering performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. He was dressed up like he was in a big band, but it was clear that he was different. When she heard him play, she basically fell in love with him. One of many to do so over the film. He had a quiet, unassuming personality who didn't fit in musically anywhere. He was from Seattle, Washington, which was not a hotbed of music like it is now, he wasn't black enough for Harlem R&B in New York and he certainly wasn't white enough for whatever was on the AM stations at the time. He didn't fit into any popular music at the time, but he could be different enough to be appreciated in London, and even then, his presence made him standout; he was other-worldly to even those who thought they'd seen it all. He taught himself to perform "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band", in hours, just a day after the album was released, and performed it in front of The Beatles, and the Stones among others. Part of why they spent time focusing only on this particular part of Hendrix's life is because the film was made without the consent of his estate so they couldn't get the rights to most of his later music, but that's okay, you can all listen to that later anyway. The movie shows him as a calm man, who is capable of violence when provoked at times, who struggles with his father, never knew his mother and mostly seems like he would've just been happy if he can perform paid gigs for others most of his life, but he was just too good to do that forever. He was too good, too original. I think that's why the movie is successful, not because of the accuracy, although from what I gather much of this film is, but because it's about the tone and aura that Hendrix exuded, both on those around him who saw him first-hand and inevitably on rock'n'roll in general. It's done well, well-acted enough, so it succeeds at what it's going for so I recommend it.

THE CIRCLE (2014) Director: Stefan Haupt


"The Circle" was Switzerland's submission last year for the Foreign Language Academy Award and it's an interesting, although a bit of a tricky one to go through. It's one of those montage works that are part documentary part dramatic recreation of event. I can't really say I can tell or remember by the end. "The Circle" is the name of a Swiss magazine, better known Der Kreis in German, which ran for over decades from the early '30s all the way to the late '60s, which is really an amazing run considering it was the highest-profile and most important and longest lasting gay publications of the time, continuing to be published all through the Third Reich and all through WWII. I guess if I would've guessed a European country where a magazine that promoted the homosexual agenda, including the legal, societal and civil rights of gay men (Although it's origins began as a lesbian-based magazine oddly enough.), I guess Switzerland would've been my guess, but even though the country is known for it's freedom and peaceful independence even during the biggest perils of war, that's not to say that it was a tranquil heaven for gays or for the magazine. The movie takes place in 1964, a few years before it folded as racier publications would replace it, but for now, it's holding a lavish international party for it's silver anniversary, which includes documentary interviews of people who were there at the magazine and during this time period, as well as following Ernst Ostertag (Mattias Hungerbuhler) a young Literature professor who falls in love with Robi (Sven Schelker) a transvestite lounge singer. I guess emotionally all this works, although I still get the feeling that this wasn't the best approach to this material. I like the history lesson and documentary interviews, I never heard of this magazine and I'm glad I have now. There's also a murder story involved where the police suspect someone within the gay community was responsible and this leads to violent attacks and abuses of rights by the cops. There's so much going on, I think it's hard to keep track of it all in this style. I guess that's the point, I was never too big on this montage style that I usually associate with more Eastern Europe film traditions like the work of Dusan Makavejev for instance, but I think all this could've been told in a more straight-forward way and would've garnered more power and emotion behind it. Still, I'm reluctant to pan the film outright, there's a lot of interesting stuff here, and this is a story worth knowing, so I guess it's a recommend, but some disappointment 'cause I think this could've been approach differently and it would've been better for it.

DIVINE MADNESS (1980) Director: Michael Ritchie


Okay, it's easy to forget just how awesomely awesome Bette Midler was. No, I'm not kidding; Bette Midler's fucking amazing! No, not the "From a Distance", "Wing Beneath My Wings", "Beaches" Bette Midler that I grew up with. No, I mean the trashy, brashy, Bathhouse Betty, bitch and a half you called The Divine Miss M, that's the Bette Midler I love. Switching between dirty and profane jokes one second about finding her backup singers working in the alley and telling dick joke after dick joke, flashing her tits and coming out and performing in multiple ridiculous characters and costumes, all over the stage, distorting her body in suggestive ways...- Yeah, the night Madonna rolled around the stage in a wedding dress singing "Like a Virgin" with her underwear and everything else hanging out while she moaned her song, you remember who was hosting those first ever MTV Video Music Awards? That's right, it was Bette Midler, and you know what, if you ever see "Divine Madness", you'll get why that not only wasn't weird, it was ironically appropriate actually. If you don't believe me, than you really should check out "Divine Madness", one of the very best musical concert films. I actually know more about the stand-up performance films, but this concept of a performance documentary has been around for awhile, but not like this. Usually you think of something like "Woodstock" which is more about the event than the performance themselves, it only got switched around the '70s when these stand-up performances really attempted to capture the feeling of being there and witness the live performance of the performer,most notably and memorably Richard Pryor's great stand-up performances. Nowadays, while once in a while you'll see a film like this make the big screen, they're really relegated to cable television but it's still amazing to see it done well and for a big screen. There's a lot to her performance and it's all captured on over twenty different unseen cameras (It was unusual to some degree not to see performance without a camera accidentally getting into the shot.) But her performance was perfectly synced and time and after a week of rehearsals they captured the best of Midler, and there was still room for improvisation, as she joked with the audience. There's costume changes where she comes out dressed in multiple characters. A legendary nightclub performer who travels by motorized wheelchair dressed in a mermaid outfit for instance, or the way she can contort her body in Jersey girl lovesick teenager clothes, you know those terrible skintight polka-dot mob-wife pants outfits, and still be sexy. I love it when she plays old classics. I still think her version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" is the definitive version and it's not much different than any other version, it's '40s girl group style, but it's just done with Bette Midler's ironic twists, a little dirtier, little more obligatory like what she started out as, a performer in a bathhouse who has to play all the standards to keep people entertained. (And yes, that's where the Batthouse Betty moniker came from; she became famous for playing/performing at bathhouses in front of half-naked people.) We get to see her at her prime in this performance. She had just done "The Rose", so we get to hear that pop ballad, we see her performing, doing cheap stand-up amazingly well, her still performing those old standards, and in still mostly in Batthouse Betty mode. It's right before  she transitioned to that more serious artist/actress that would get on my nerves when she was at her worst. This film reminds us just how daring and unusual a performer she was in her prime. She set a standard for other female performers that other would add onto and follow for decades to come. This is one of the best concert documentaries of the era, especially for a musical performances and it really is just a concert documentary. Just see the artist performing, doing what they do best. No interviews, not even that many crowd shots, it's definitely stylized and we're not on a moving crane like one camera is but in general, it feels like how a concert documentary should feel, like were in the audience watching the show.