Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GOOD ON TV?: "COMMUNITY"'S HIATUS, AND WHY "THE BIG BANG THEORY", MIGHT BE THE BEST SHOW ON TV!

In my original "Good on TV?" blog, I discussed the comparative process of finding out what to watch on TV at a given night. I used the Monday 8:00pm, basic TV slot as an example, and discussed how simple it really was to find out what to watch on TV. That being said, while there's usually only one semi-decent thing on compared to a bunch of crap, at best, occasionally there's a tough call that needs to be made. Clearly, during the last two years, the most difficult choice was the Thursday 8:00pm, slot, where two of TV's best shows were actually up against each other, "Community," on NBC, and "The Big Bang Theory," on CBS. In fact, Thursday Night in general, is easily the best night to watch TV. "Community," "The Office," (Which is still funny as hell) "Parks and Recreation," and once "30 Rock," returns, is easily the best lineup on TV. Or, it was. Recently NBC announced that "Community," will go on hiatus for a couple months, and there's been dozens of outcry and opinions from entertainment reporters, analysts, columnist, and from noted bloggers. I think the only person not particularly surprised or annoyed at the announcement was me. Don't get me wrong, I think "Community," is pretty good, and is at times, great. The paintball episodes alone belong in some strange category of great outlandish television episodes, right up there with the episode of "Home Improvement", where Tim falls into the port-o-potty. Saying that however, I've rarely watched "Community," in the last two years. My Thursday night, starts with "The Big Bang Theory," and then is followed by the rest of NBC's lineup. (How in the hell that stupid "Rules of Engagement," that goes on after "The Big Bang Theory," remains on the air, is one of TV greatest mysteries, right up there with the disappearance of Ritchie Cunningham's brother Chuck.) Despite the TV community up in arms about "Community," I don't think I'm alone with my TV viewing habits. Did anybody take a second look at this year Emmy nominees? Best Comedy was won by "Modern Family," but the rest of the category is my Thursday Night, "The Big Bang Theory," "Parks and Recreation," "The Office," and "30 Rock," and for some reason "Glee," got nominated. "Community," which a lot of those pundits thought was going to breakthrough and get nominated, was nowhere to be found in any of the major categories. "Community," is funny like I said, but it's been inconsistent, and frankly "The Big Bang Theory," is just a better show right now. In fact, since it's gone into syndication this year, I've been watching "The Big Bang Theory," basically non-stop for weeks now. It's on TV at least twice a day, and I can't wait for the next new episode.

It's fascinates me in fact. For all intensive purposes, "The Big Bang Theory," really shouldn't work at all. It's characters are geniuses, who work in physics, engineering, and the most impenetrable of all sciences, quantum mechanics, and while that already makes them unrelatable, on top of that, most of the characters aren't even particularly likeable, and it's almost impossible to believe that the cute blonde from across the hall would even give them the time of day, much less hang out and befriend these people, and become romantically linked with one of them. This is a very insular group, and there's not much need or desire for comedy about quantum mechanics. Yet, something interesting happened. The show remained on the air, and after a while, you just started accepting it. It's called the "Rules of the Universe," in writing terms, but basically, once you simply accepted the status of the characters, the show started to become funny. It came out of nowhere in fact, but it happened to be at the time, on at a timeslot, where there wasn't anything else on, and suddenly it was the funniest show on that night. Even more intriguing than that, the minor details of the show, started to come through. For starters, it must damn near impossible to write this show for instance? It's hard enough remember some of the long complex dialogue involving obscure science principles, must less write that dialogue. I'm fairly convinced the writers for "The Big Bang Theory," are the smartest writers on TV, and it's almost by necessity. That, in turn, makes the acting all the more impressive. I mean, this is tough dialogue to form a character out of, and the actors aren't exactly scientists themselves, with the noted exception of Mayim Bialik. There's other strange character details though. What decade exactly does Wolowitz dress in? He owns a pair of jeans in every color except blue and black. I don't know a guy anywhere who owns anything but those two colors. All the characters have unusual quirks, and a surprising amount of them involve food. One's lactose-intolerant, one's allergic to peanuts, another won't eat Indian food, and Sheldon-, well, I'll get to Sheldon. These aren't simply quirks and gimmicks that are use for occasional humor and running gags, like Chandler's famous hatred of Thanksgiving on "Friends," they're brought up constantly. These are characters are given depth in odd places. It's a strange detail, but if you suffered from one of those symptoms, you'd probably also always have to keep your guard up, so it probably is on the forefront of their mind. In many ways, these are all obsessive-compulsive characters. You'd have to be to be at the top of one's profession in any field of study, and especially so at their fields. You also have to be good professional actors to play these parts too.

Yet of all these characters, nobody might be more tunnel-visioned an eccentric as Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Jim Parsons has won back-to-back Best Actor Emmys for his part, and it's easy to see why. He is the toughest and most complex character to play on television right now. I say that, and begin to think of some of the great  leads in shows all over the television landscape right. Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Dr. Gregory House, Tara Gregson until "United States of Tara," got cancelled recently, Nancy Botwin, Liz Lemon,... but, I'm pretty sure Dr. Cooper tops them all. In fact, if you want to look up speculative theories about him on the internet, you'll find some interesting one. People first thought he might be gay. Then they thought, he was autistic, or had Asperger's Syndrome. There's even a famous youtube clip with the laughtrack of the show taken out, revealing the show to be clearly about people who live with a character with "special needs". I actually have an autistic brother, and watch over him most days, and I have to admit, there are some striking similarites. However, according to showrunner/creator Chuck Lorre, none of those answers are right. He claims that Sheldon gets excited about winning the Nobel Prize, and nothing else particularly interests him. I trust his answer, but even still, that doesn't make it an easier character to comprehend. It helps to know a little bit about acting to realize what Jim Parsons is doing with this part, 'cause he basically has to forget everything you ever learn about acting to play him. Sheldon has basically turned his complete universe around to be solely about his own achievements, which is strange enough, but his achievements are also all because of his own mind, which rightly or wrongly, he considers superior to others He's also chosen to segregate himself, to the best of his ability, from typical human interaction. In fact, he basically doesn't have necessary skills to interact with other people. This is normally a place an actor, let's assume a method actor in this actor in this example, but it's gonna be tough no matter what way of acting one uses, would go, he's all mind and no interactive ability, his struggle must be to interact with people, form a meaningful connection with others that transcends the intellectual pursuits that he has already mastered. Except, that's not Sheldon. Every form of human interaction is an exercise in futility for him, and he frankly doesn't want it. In fact, he doesn't want any of the normal wants that a character has. Even Lt. Commander Data, with the desire to learn about humanity basically. Even Spock was intrigue by the workings of others, even though he rarely partook. These are the obvious two characters that one could point to as influences for some of his character manifestations, an alien and a machine, and yet, he shares less humanistic qualities than those characters. Almost all interaction is either by necessity or thrust upon him. Even his "girl who's a friend," (now officially a 'girlfriend,' after a contract was signed) Amy Farrah Fowler, was a blind date that he was forced to go on, after unwillingly being signed up to a dating website. His relationship with her, is practically accidental, and is in no way relatable to any couple I can think of in TV history. Even when sex wasn't allowed to be discussed on TV, subtextually there was always desire. Every other character on the show has desire, some have it in abundance, and are constantly struggling against their own Achilles's Heals. Sheldon's doesn't believe he has a disadvantage to overcome. Basically what Jim Parsons has to do, is completely reconsider how to play a part. Take away everything that you would normally think of as necessary to develop a characters, and create an entirely new structure of how to play a part, and even once that's done, he still to play Dr. Sheldon Cooper. He didn't come out of thin air to disrupt all these guy's lives. He's from Texas, his mother a Religious albeit caring redneck. He comes from a broken home, his father left him as a child. He has a twin sister. He's a child genius who taught college courses when most kids would've been in high school. He's developed a routine to navigate the world that he would in most situations, rather not be apart of, and cannot stand his world being remotely altered by this routine. He, like the rest of the gang like comic books, and comic-book like movies with their alternative universe and sciences, and even mythology. Only the others use these to find worlds that they can escape to, to forget about their own everyday troubles, while Sheldon, uses them almost as a goal-setting device to strive for, in order to form a more perfect world for Sheldon to live in. These are some of his details, and while some of the typical sitcom situations he finds himself in, aren't particularly new, the way he will react in these situations, if he reacts at all, are different than any other character on TV. The distinctiveness of his characters makes it the most perplexing on TV, but that's also the reason why we keep watching him. He may be a layerless onion, but we seem to be striving to find inner layers anyway, and even if we aren't, we kinda just want to see what he'll say or do next. He also lessens the oddness of the other characters, and some of them are very peculiar. TV peculiar, and they're not all likeable, but they're more easily taken in because of the complexity of Sheldon.

While there's no denying that "Community," is a very good itself, it doesn't compare head-to-head against "The Big Bang Theory." Not only is "The Big Bang Theory," a funnier show, but there's just so many more interesting aspects to the show, that even when it's not as funny, which is very rarely, there's other aspects of the show for the viewer to be intrigued by and attempt to dissect. "Community," by comparison, is a funny show, with good strong characters, but nobody particularly unique, and it's been slightly more inconsistent than "The Big Bang Theory." It also doesn't help that it is otherwise surrounded by better shows on after it. NBC putting "Community," on hiatus, coinside with them ordering additional episodes of their best new show this season, "Up All Night," which is as simple and relatable a premise you can find, and also has three of the best comic actors around in Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph. If it's up against "The Big Bang Theory," I probably won't watch it, but right now it's an improvment. As to "Community," it'll be back from hiatus, and then the ratings will determine it's position later, but a little advice to NBC: You have a good show on your hands, but you need a different timeslot, one when there's nothing else of substance or value on for it to thrive. You're wasting a lot of time with "The Biggest Loser," being stuck on that Tuesday slot, when there's little competition. It would kill right now up against "The New Girl," which Fox really should just kill right now. Or against, "The Middle," on Wednesdays, which is even worse frankly. There's like nine good sitcoms on basic TV right now, NBC has five of them. Works out any kinks you need to on ""Community," but place it somewhere else, and it's devoted fans will come, and probably a lot more as well. In the meantime, good luck throwing up anything against "The Big Bang Theory," in the near future.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #14: "MOOZ-LUM", "A SCREAMING MAN," "IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY," "ALAMAR," AND MORE!

This is been more of a short week for me film viewing-wise. Thanksgiving weekend, we all tend to get a little more lazy than normal. However, I did watch a few films, and next week, I'll promise to watch more recent and well-known movies than this one. In the meantime, follow me on twitter at DavidBaruffi_EV. It was supposed to be EV&R, but somehow, the Twitter account didn't read the "&R" part. You can also subscribe to my, David Baruffi's Facebook page for constant updates on my latest blog. On twitter. Also, just to remind everyone, if there's a movie that people would like for me to see/review that I haven't watched yet, please let me know. I have a list of Every Film I've Ever Seen, you can find it on an earlier blog, and every other film I've watched since posting the list has been reviewed here. If anybody thinks of something they be interested in hearing my opinion on, and there enough requests for it, I'll gladly watch and review se film as soon as possible. I am here, posting reviews every week, I've discussed how I pick films to watch/review in the past as well, but I'm here for everybody else to read as well, so feel free to recommend something to me, and I will try my best to get to it. I am here to serve you as much as I am here to serve myself. (That came out way dirtier than I hoped it would. Really have to stop watching "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," for a while.)

And now for something completely different: This Week's Reviews!

MOOZ-LUM (2011) Director: Qasim "Q" Basir

3 STARS

"Mooz-Lum" tackles the subject of growing up in a strict Muslim upbringing in America. Obviously at a certain point in this story, 9/11 will happen, and at least temporarily the world at large will change, but the effects that has on Tariq (Evan Ross) or "T", as he prefers to be known, only complicate his colelge experience. Tariq's parents separated when he was young. His father (Roger Guenveur Smith), who his mother has left Tariq, while taking his sister (Nia Long is the mother, Kimberly Drummond, eventually plays the sister), with her. There's a slight "Boyz N the Hood," with this notion of a son needing a father to teach him how to be a man, although that plan backfires a bit here. He goes to a Muslim school, where he is psychically abused by one of the teachers. He also experiences racism when he befriends a neighboring white girl, who has to hide their friendship from her racist father. The more I think of this movie, it's strange how it's actually a piecing together of vignettes of..., I don't quite know the exact term, but I would refer to it as the Muslim experience in America. Some of its positive, some of its negative. There's an odd sideplot involving one of Tariq's professors (Dorian Missick). He's constantly in battle with the school's Dean (Danny Glover). Dean Francis, is a racist against Muslims, but justifies his actions by saying things like "It's not me, I have to protect everyone else", type attitudes. Professor Jamal is the popular young World Religion teacher. He, as well as Tariq's dormmate (Kunal Sharma), a Muslim himself (Requested by his father, not Tariq), try to get through to Tariq. T is smart, but confrontational, and sometimes paranoid. He's grown up in a world where he had to memorize the Qu'ran, and now lives in a world where that skill is of little value. The movie goes a little all over the place, and there's something odd about the post 9/11 rage of the white students who go looking for Muslims to kill, they literally carry hockey sticks like they're about to destroy Frankenstein, and it doesn't come off as realistic. I think there's interesting things here, but it's almost sideways to the action. The flashback nature of the film gives us some sense of Tariq, but only one little part at a time, and I'm not completely sure they all really add up to him at the end. He's struggling to find out who he is, and the movie struggles to find it. It's a little heavy-handed, but it's a recommendation.

A SCREAMING MAN (2011) Director: Mahamet-Saleh Haroun

3 1/2 STARS

"A Screaming Man," is reportedly one of, if not the first, feature-length film, from the nation of Chad, and it's a pretty decent one. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year, and won other awards at other major festivals. It tells the couple stories centering around an N'Djanema hotel worker named Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), who's a former Champion swimmer, now he's the pool attendant. He soon gets demoted to security after the new Chinese owners prefer his son (Diocounda Koma), gets takes over. This is also right around the time as a revolution is occurring. There's always a revolution occurring in Africa it seems like, and Chad is no exception. Despite my appreciation of the film, the movie was at times a little too paceful for me, but it is powerful, as father and son slowly leads to distrust and anger, coinsiding with the country's. There's some beautiful shots of the men swimming in both the hotel pool. (And I also believe in Lake Chad, but I'm not sure exactly. Haven't double-checked the geography yet.) For a film called "A Screaming Man," it's strangely quiet. In fact, Adam, or Champ, as most refer to him, doesn't scream literally at all. He's intensely quiet in fact. You get the sense that if his son wasn't involved, the revolution might blow right past him, untouched, and if it was up to him, he'd still be attending to the pool. Interesting choice to make a very dry and landlot country's first film, to be about a man who's at peace floating in water.

IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2010) Directors: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

2 1/2 STARS

The lazily albeit correctly titled "It's Kind of a Funny Story," has an interesting and cute premise, and kinda delivers, but not enough. I'm trying to stop myself from using the word "kind of", or "kinda," about twenty times during this review. The story begins with a kinda funny scene where our hero, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is about to jump off a bridge, only to be interrupted by his parents (Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan), concerned over how he parked his bike on the bridge, and of course, disappointing them by jumping off the bridge. He's had suicidal thoughts before, he was even taking  Zoloft, but recently went off it. He goes to the local ER, and insists upon being check in for suidical thoughts, and to spend a week in the psychiatric ward. He was hoping for a quick fix, but eventually he submits to the five day trial. Not gonna lie here, I've often thought about doing that myself. Not so much for suicidal thoughts or insane tendencies, mostly for the relaxation, kinda like Nicholson's character in "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest", without the criminal background of course. (Dammit, I used "kinda".) One of his inmates, Bobby (Zach Galifanakis) treats his stay similar to probably how I would treat being in such a situation. Bobby's smart like Craig. He shows him around to the other typical collection of crazy and kinda (dammit) sorta crazy people. You got your schizophrenic, the guy who doesn't leave his room, ever, and the guy who keeps asking everybody to quiet down, no matter they are. There's also a cute little teenage girl (Emma Roberts) that Craig is interested in, and she's interested in him. However Craig is also interested in Nia (Zoe Kravitz), his best friend's (Jared Goldsmith) girlfriend. He wishes just once she flirt-punch him. (Didn't know flirt-punch was a thing now.) He really doesn't have anything more than the typical teenage troubles, except for his little sister being a genius (Dana DeVestern), basically he's a smart kid, who freaks out over one of many scholarship and school's he's been signing up for for years, much from his Dad's insistence, and he doesn't understand why nobody feels the same way he does, of course not realizing everybody is feeling the same way, they just hide it better. (I never enjoyed hiding it either personally) Viola Davis has a very typical Viola Davis role here as the doctor who's determining Craig's sanity, and looks over the floor in general. The acting is all decent and good. Galifanakis shows some unusual depth for him during a few scenes as Craig essentially starts acting as his shrink, as he struggles to move into a group home to be near his daughter when he leaves the place. I was expecting a little more though from the writer/director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. This is their third feature after "Half Nelson," a couple years ago, which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar-nomination for playing a drug-addicted high school teacher, and they also did the underrated "Sugar," which was about a young star Domincan pitcher, and he struggles adjusting to playing Minor League baseball in the Midwest. Both them films were quite good; I especially think "Sugar," has been overlooked. However "It's Kind of a Funny Story," is a really more of a Kind of interesting story, that doesn't say or do anything particularly new, or at least that hasn't already been said in better films. Part of me is tempted to recommend it, there is a few interesting scenes, and the movie ends with a cute montage, but that's really all the movie is. A little cute, a little interesting, it's really just a little of everything, kind of, and not really enough of anything. (I used "kind of," on purpose that time.)

ALAMAR (2010) Director: Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio

3 STARS

I can describe the entire plot of "Alamar," in possibly two sentences. The story is about a Mexican father who has a few weeks to let his young son get a feel for his Mayan roots, before he goes to live in Italy with his mother. Wow, I got it in one sentence. There's not much plot, there's not much conflict even. In fact, if you didn't know "Alamar," was a movie, you might have thought it was a documentary about people in Mexico who still live and work like the Mayans, sorta like Colonial Williamsburg, or one of those cannibal tribes along the Amazon that still hasn't been introduced to electricity. There's not even a particular conflict with the parents in this film, they seem to have parted on fairly good terms, and all that is told is prologue before we even get to the movie. This is a beautiful and at times, a touching film. He teaches his son how to fish and cook, they travel from island to island off the coast of Mexico, and lots of other things. I don't know how much the kid actually enjoyed the time, but he seems to have fond memories of it when he returns with his mother in Rome at the end. They fish differently in Italy. On the one-hand, it's a little too National Geographic and not really a story or a plot to grab a hold to, but on the other hand I enjoyed that. This is a light and touching movie about a loving parent and his son, and unlike other movies that can start with that description, the kid has two loving parents.

GO  (1999) Director: Doug Liman

2 1/2 STARS

Doug Liman's "Go," is so obviously influenced from "Pulp Fiction," that it's impossible to mention "Go," without bringing up it's similarities. In fact, I'm fairly sure the actual structure of the film  is damn near stolen from "Pulp Fiction," completely. That's not necessarily a bad thing in of itself; in fact, if you're gonna steal from a movie, you might as well steal from a good one. It's even a fairly entertaining for much of the movie, but by the end, I just wondered, what was all that about, other than stealing blatantly from Tarantino? The movie involves a drug deal gone bad. I'll begin with two TV actors, Adam and Zach (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr), who are secretly lovers, except to anybody who's ever seen them outside of work. They're in trouble with the cops though, and have to run a sting to set-up Simon (Desmond Askew) to get caught selling drugs, so he can in tern, be used to catch his supplier. Unfortunately, just as they're about to set up the sting, Simon, gets in, about as much trouble an idiot can get in Vegas without actually getting killed, although he does get shot, eventually. Without Simon though, Adam and Zach ask his replacement Ronna (Sarah Polley) to run drugs in his place, and she begins to make money selling at a rave. All these events begin with the scene at a supermarket and, well, they kinda just shove them altogether at the end, but I guess there is a logical sequence to it. You can fairly easily place the scenes in the right time and place in your head, but I came away wondering what was the point of the movie, as well as why did they need to be place in a confusing order. I guess an argument can be made that the movie shows off the scene of this lower-class section of L.A. characters effectively, but when I watch a movie like "Pulp Fiction," I feel full at the end. After watching "Go", I still felt a little empty.

MY ARCHITECT (2003) Director: Nathaniel Kahn

4 1/2 STARS

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, "My Architect," should probably more accurately be titled "My Father." Nathaniel Kahn's father was the legendary architect Louis I Kahn. He rarely spent time with him, his mother had him out of wedlock, and most of Kahn's family weren't even aware of him until years later. Kahn kept multiple families as he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where one of his building, the science building stands, surprising unimpressive. Kahn's architecture is none for being classical by design. When Bangladesh went into Civil War with Pakistan, the soldier ignored his, then still in construction, Capital building, thinking it was an Ancient ruin. That building is one of Kahn's most magnificient. Nathaniel, travels to almost all of Kahn's most famous buildings, and talks to people who know him. Some of the names will be familiar to architecture aficienados, Frank Gehry for instance, who was the subject of Sydney Pollack's final film. Kahn was apparently private, and also notorious bullheaded and uncompromising. Often getting fired from projects, before they were finalized, and he didn't make many friends among other architects. He actually sorta reminded me of Ayn Rand's protagonist in "The Fountainhead," albeit, with a different architectural style. (That book, and movie suck btw, don't bother with it.) Kahn's collapsed at Penn Station, one night, supposedly after declaring live to Nathaniel's mother, a story he's lived with growing up, but he ultimately finds little evidence backing it up. This is an amazing film, about discovering a man, who's very difficult to discover and penetrate, even from those who know him. It's a fascinating and unpredictable journey, not just for people who have a knowledge of architecture. This is a movie about a son trying to understand his father, and it's an uncannily good one at that. Usually even good films of this sort, are somewhat self-indulgent, but not here at all. "My Architect," is as powerful a film about an individual you're gonna fine, and yet by the end, I still wasn't sure what I knew about him. It seems, like many artists, the best way to understand them is to study their art, architecture and Louis I. Kahn, is no exception.

MAKING OF (2006) Director: Nouri Bouzid

2 STARS

"Making Of," at first glance, seems like the kind of movie that a critic like me should gravitate towards, and for a while I thought I would. However, one of the priorities of a movie that a critic should gravitate towards is that the movie should keep the viewer conscious. I had a disturbingly hard time remaining conscious during "Making Of," and it's a shame too, 'cause the movie is well-made and has a very intriguing premise. The movie takes place in Tunisia (Huh, second movie this week that takes place in Africa. That's odd for me) and stars Lotfi Abdelli as Bahta, a local and talented breakdancer, who will slowly become a suicide bomber after the attacks on 9/11. (Second time this week, 9/11 has come up too.) He then starts to trust the wrong guy, becoming brainwashed into believing that martyrdom for a cause as the only true path to paradise and righteousness. It's a disturbing thought, and doesn't paint Muslims in a positive light. Then, about an hour into the movie, something unusual happens. The actor breaks character. He starts turning to the director, and agonizing over his thoughts about the film. He, and the director can really get in trouble for playing this part and making this film, and they discuss these reservations, they discuss them a couple other times during the movie too. They're some of the same thoughts that we were thinking. Well, that and the movie should be about a 1/2 hour shorter. (They didn't discuss that last part.) It's a disturbing realistic portrayal of just how easily a talented and smart young man can be manipulated into kamikaze-type behavior. This isn't completely new. Fellini's "8 1/2," famously has a critic within the movie criticizes much of the movie as we're watching it, something I'd like to do to a lot worse movies than this one, however at the same token, the movie strangely drags through much of this middle section, just when you think it would be at it's most interesting. I've seen more than a few movies with a similar premise in recent months. "Day Night Day Night," about an American who's preparing to blow up Times Square, as well as "The Terrorist," about a young jihadist, that's based on an actual assassination. "Making Of," asks some of the same questions those films asked, it even asks them literally, but it's not as good, and couldn't keep my interest, despite the creative breaking of the fourth wall. It's a well-made movie, and this is probably the lowest ranking anybody will give the film, but to me, it ultimately fluttered when it should've shined. Disappointing film.

COMRADE (2006) Director: Eyal Shiray

2 STARS

It just so happens that PBS aired an opera adaptation of the great movie "Il Postino," the other day. Placido Domingo starred in it, and while I didn't watch the opera, I've seen the movie. It was a film about a man who befriended Communist Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It's a masterful film, that has a few things in common with "Comrade." They both are about young people who befriend a Communist. I recommend strongly that everyone see "Il Postino." I don't think anybody needs to particularly see "Comrade." The movie takes place in Israel where a young kid, Ilan (Adam Hirsch) befriends a local nutjob who Russian (Assi Dayan). I'm calling him a nutjob, because while, he's intelligent about a lot of things, including politics and modern warfare, and helps out Ilan a few times, he's preparing for Communism to rise again in Russia, and has guns all through his house and even has mines buried all around his house, in case somebody tries to..., I don't know exactly. What kind of person has to have a house protected by hidden mines? I hopefully it's somebody who really pissed somebody off at some point, but even then, it's a little crazy. Although the main problem I had with the film curiously was the lack of a story actually. It's a brisk 70 minute film, and almost as soon as we meet the Communist, he's barracaded himself in his house, and the police, bomb squad and riot squad are outside trying to convince him to surrender. (Well, a lot of Police anyway, I'm not sure which branch actually.) It actually had a decent shot at being something interesting at one point, but basically the film turned into a gunfight instead, going, anywhere really. This movie barely has a 2nd act, and that's just odd. Completely missed opportunity here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "HANNAH AND HER SISTERS"

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

Director/Screenplay: Woody Allen

“Hannah and Her Sisters,” one of Woody Allen’s best films, is often placed with the comedy label by most, but now it probably seems closer in feeling and story to Woody Allen’s more tragic films, although it’s not exactly a tragedy either. Well, for some... well it depends on how you look at it. The film plays more like an episodic novel with little vignettes separated by irony-laden title cards as the movie, episode by episode outline the pasts, presents and possible futures of it’s characters, all members of the same family in some form or another, and spanning three years beginning, middling, and ending with Thanksgiving dinners. The three sisters are Hannah (Mia Farrow), the happy wife of Elliot (an Oscar-winning Michael Caine), Lee (Barbara Hershey) the depressed wife of an overly reclusive artist (Max von Sydow) and Holly (Oscar-winning Dianne Wiest) a recovering coke-addict actress/caterer/whatever who lacks complete confidence in herself so she resorts to wildly erratic behavior. We also meet Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) a hypochondriac who may or may not have something actually wrong with him, and may or may not know how to react either way. And these are just some of the characters that metriculate in and out as life goes on within the family, depending on who’s in most emotional need at the moment. For instance, Elliot who does love Hannah, has developed a crush on Lee, so much so that he must eventually take action. Lee feels trapped being a muse for her somber artist husband, and enjoys the attention and e.e. cummings poems that Elliot recommends her constantly. Hannah is oblivious to his attraction, in part because she’s watching her kids from Mickey and taking care of her parents and their own problems. And speaking of problems, Holly whose catering partner April (Carrie Fisher) has gone with the architect (Sam Waterston, uncredited) she was dating, struggles to stay off drugs by trying to find new ways to be creative, eventually leading to her trying to write, which, like all her sudden and everchanging life-paths, requires borrowing money. Meanwhile, Mickey, after finding out nothing is wrong with him, can’t seem to deal with it and struggles to find some sort of religion for closure, much to the dismay of his deeply Jewish parents, as he looks into everything from Christianity to Hara Krishnas. Mickey doesn’t seem like a key character, but he is the contrast in the film. Everybody else is struggling to live their lives, while Mickey unfortunately has the foresight to see it’s pointlessness at the end. Than there’s Woody Allen, who won his third Oscar for writing the film, and directs in a quiet way that only gets flashy when showing tensions so buried under the surface, some of the characters may not be aware it exists, or ever know for that matter. The movie seems to know the characters better than the characters know themselves, and this is crucial. There’s a particularly amazing scene involving the three sisters who are out to lunch, and Allen uses a steadycam to continually revolving around table, focusing on one sister at a time, and we are the only ones who knows all the secrets the three sisters are hiding from each other. We can see that if certain people were to see each other at the right moments, their problems could be over, but they must all go through the situations and emotional problems on their own. Even once the right people find each other, will it be at the right moment? I think that’s Allen’s point is that the film, and life is a series of moments from one to another. It’s how the emotions experienced during those moments that trigger our actions and thoughts, that makes everything more difficult than it probably should be. I don’t always recall exactly what happens to each character at the end of the film, but I probably shouldn’t anyway, cause depending on emotions and moments, it could all be completely different by the next Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

30 DAY MOVIE CHALLENGE UPDATE: DAYS 41-50!

Well, while I have stuck to my "no repeats," policy, I have completely obliterated the one movie per day standard, that I'm sure 99% of the people who've participated in this have followed, and I still have ten days left to brake that rule as often as humanly possible. Frankly, I think it reveals as much about me as having only one movie per category does. Although, part of my picking so many movies, is a technical jam oddly enough. There's a question coming up, where I have to pick my least favorite film by my favorite director. Not an untypical problem, and certainly a fun parlor game, however, I already used every movie I've seen from my favorite director. Oops. Well, you'll see how I fixed that, as well as some of my other quick end arounds of the "no repeats," standard, I set for myself, but first, let's take a look back at 1-40!

DAY 1: Favorite Fim: "CASABLANCA"
DAY 2: Least Favorite Film: "AMANDA"
DAY 3: Favorite Comedy: "AIRPLANE!"
DAY 4: Favorite Drama: "THE GODFATHER"
DAY 5: Favorite Action: "RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK"
DAY 6: Favorite Horror: "CARRIE"
DAY 7: Favorite Animated Fim: TIE: "PRINCESS MONONOKE" and "WALL-E"
DAY 8: Favorite Thriller: "THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS"
DAY 9: Favorite Musical: "NASHVILLE"
DAY 10: Favorite Foriegn Film: "THE DECALOGUE"
DAY 11: Favorite Kids Movie: "ALMOST FAMOUS"
DAY 12: Favorite Love Story: "BEFORE SUNRISE"
DAY 13: Favorite Chick Flick: "THE PHILADELPHIA STORY"
DAY 14: Favorite Documentary: "THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS"
DAY 15: Favorite Play Adaptation: "THE ODD COUPLE"
DAY 16: Favorite Book Adaptation: "ADAPTATION."
DAY 17: Least Favorite Book Adaptation: "THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS"
DAY 18: Favorite Guilty Pleasure: "SECRETARY"
DAY 19: Film that made you Cry the Hardest: "LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL"
DAY 20: Favorite Actress: KATHARINE HEPBURN-"GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER"
DAY 21: Favorite Actor: HUMPHREY BOGART-"THE MALTESE FALCON"
DAY 22: Film I'd Like to Live in: TIE: "CLERKS" and "LAUREL CANYON"
DAY 23: Movie that Inspires you: TIE: "WINGS OF DESIRE" and "THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT"
DAY 24: Favorite Movie Soundtrack: "ONCE"
DAY 25: Movie with the Most Beautiful Scenery: "L'AVVENTURA"
DAY 26: Movie you're Most Embarassed to say you Liked: "HOUSE OF NUMBERS"
DAY 27: Movie with your Favorite Villain: "THE THIRD MAN"-HARRY LIME
DAY 28: Movie with you Favorite Hero: "ROCKY"-ROCKY BALBOA
DAY 29: First Movie you ever Remember Watching: "RUTHLESS PEOPLE"
DAY 30: Last Film You've Seen: "BEFORE SUNSET", and "PULP FICTION"
DAY 31: A Movie by Your Favorite Director: "THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE"-KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI
DAY 32: Favorite Death Scene: "STRANGERS ON A TRAIN"
DAY 33: Movie I've Seen the Most Times: "THE LADY AND THE TRAMP"
DAY 34: Movie with the Best Movie Monster: "A CLOCKWORK ORANGE"-ALEX DE LARGE
DAY 35: Favorite Trilogy: "THREE COLORS TRILOGY" ("BLUE," "WHITE," and "RED")
DAY 36: A Movie You Think Not Enough People Have Seen: "DINNER RUSH"
DAY 37: Favorite Western: "BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID"
DAY 38: Favorite Comic Book Adaptation: "THE DARK KNIGHT"
DAY 39: Favorite/Least Favorite Remake: Favorite: "BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS," Least Favorite: "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS"
DAY 40: A Movie That You Wanted to be Remade: TIE: "6IXTYNIN9", and "THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER"

Okay, on to days 41-50!

DAY 41: Movie You Will Never Watch Again: "MERCURY RISING"
There's quite a few films I will probably never watch again, many of which I don't want to. There's also a strange list of films I can't stand, and hate, that I actually could easily myself watching again. "Mercury Rising," however is a very personal choice for this category. The movie's bad. I didn't realize how bad as I was watching it years ago. (Originally, I said that I wasn't able to make a determination) The movie involves one of the most absurd plots ever conceived, but even more dispicable is how it treats autism as a device to jump start an action film. The movie involves a top secret government code, that a young autistic savant solves by finding the code in a crossword puzzle book. (Why the code is in a crossword puzzle book, who the hell knows). The kid's parents are then killed, and Bruce Willis now has to protect the kid. The movie's portrayal of an autistic child, a savant-like one, is accurate. My brother is autistic. He's not a savant, but I am overly familiar with all forms of autism, the fact that it is portrayed accurately, make the movie nauseatingly offensive, and just disturbing. There's so many things about the movie that are just wrong, it bothers the hell out of me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6ir_4nPYvU

DAY 42: Least Favorite Film By Your Favorite Director: "RESERVOIR DOGS"-QUENTIN TARANTINO
Well, like I said before, I used every Kieslowski film I've seen so far, so I had to find a 2nd favorite director. So, after careful consideration, using a 5-film made/seen by me limit, here's my second favorite directors, and their worst films. (Listed in alphabetical order by director's last name)
Woody Allen-"Cassandra's Dream"
Robert Altman-"Cookie's Fortune"
Paul Thomas Anderson-"Hard Eight," (aka "Sidney")
Michelangelo Antoniono-"L'Eclisse"
Ingmar Bergman-"The Passion of Anna"
Mel Brooks-"Life Stinks"
Francis Ford Coppola-"Youth Without Youth"
Cameron Crowe-"Singles"
Atom Egoyan-"Ararat"
Federico Fellini-"Juliet of the Spirits"
Werner Herzog-"The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser"
Alfred Hitchcock-"Vertigo"
Stanley Kubrick-"Killer's Kiss"
Spike Lee-"Miracle at St. Anna"
Richard Linklater-"The Newton Boys"
Sidney Lumet-"Q & A"
Christopher Nolan-"Following"
Martin Scorsese-"Boxcar Bertha"
Kevin Smith-"Cop Out"
Steven Spielberg-"1941"
Gus Van Sant-Last Days
Orson Welles-"The Lady From Shanghai"
Wim Wenders-"Buena Vista Social Club"
Billy Wilder-"Irma La Douce"

Okay, so that was the list I was deciding from, and I'm going get some shit for saying that "Vertigo," doesn't make any sense, that "Enigma of Kaspar Hauser," is overrated, and probably one weird "Juliet of Spirits," fan gonna be annoyed at me. Some of these movies I actually like very much, they're just the director's worse film. I mean, who thinks of Sidney Lumet, and thinks, "I really liked "Q & A"? Nobody, it sucked. Same with most of these films. However, I used my, which-of-these-films-would-I-like-to-watch-right-now standard, and carefully I decided on "Reservoir Dogs." Tarantino's early film, is not great, but still pretty entertaining. He can't really make a boring or an unentertaining film, and there's a lot to like in that film, and quite memorable, and yeah, of all these films, I'd watch that one again right now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCgulNG5w9g

DAY 43: Favorite Sci-Fi: "METROPOLIS"
Despite my blah opinions on "Star Wars," "Blade Runner," "Alien," "Avatar,"... I actually am a huge fan of science-fiction. Especially the last decade or so has produced some great sci-fi films. "Inception," "Minority Report," "Children of Men," I already used "Wall-E," in another category. I do think it's a tricky genre. It can completely fall flat just as easily as it can shine like the stars. I thought about "2001: A Space Odyssey," here, as well as well of those earlier films I mentioned, but I really just kept coming back to "Metropolis," and wouldn't you. It's really an unbelievable filmmaking achievement, especially for its day. It's hallucinogenic, it invented dozens of other sci-fi characteristics and references, it's use of scale models,... although what I love is its use of people and extras. This movie has thousands of extra, that a certain point become their own character themselves. It's a really amazing movie that keeps growing on me, and apparently it keeps growing itself, as they've just recently found a completed copy of the film in Argentina of all places, and it's better than ever now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSExdX0tds4

DAY 44: Favorite Movie From Your Country: TIE: "CITIZEN KANE," and "BEING JOHN MALKOVICH"
This category basically is a freebie to pick a favorite film that I haven't already, and I've picked multiple films in these categories throughout, it seemed relavtively a benign to do it again. (I also apparently wrote "since it 'eat' so random", instead of "is" so random on my Facebook post. I know I think quicker than I type, and sometimes I miss words, but that was strange. I must've been hungry at the time.) Anyway, I decided to look for one film that is a prototype of America, and another that show the prototype of the American Dream. There's obviously a lot of good options for both of these, "Citizen Kane," is a very obvious choice for the former. It's won every Best Picture of All-time award that it's been eligible for since 1956, and deservedly so. Although I do personally like to joke about how nobody actually like "Citizen Kane," it really that true. We love it, we admire it, we watch it everytime it's on, and really, what is more the epitome of America than Charles Foster Kane. The American Dream choice, is far more odd. Very odd in fact, but it's one of my personal favorites. It's about people striving to find themselves, whether through love, through fame, or through a hole in a wall on the 7 1/2 floor of an office building. The Charlie Kaufman script is brilliant, and this strange comedy about what one would do when walking in another's shoes, is very American to me. It's also funny as all hell.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyv19bg0scg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icysehz-OVc

DAY 45: A Movie By Your Favorite Director From Your Favorite Country: 5-WAY TIE: "CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS"-WOODY ALLEN, "M*A*S*H"- ROBERT ALTMAN, "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY"-STANLEY KUBRICK. "MEAN STREETS,"-MARTIN SCORSESE, " and "MINORITY REPORT"-STEVEN SPIELBERG
Remember that list of 2nd favorite directors? Well, I went back to it with this list, picked favorite films by those directors that I hadn't picked previously, and well, still couldn't make up my mind, so I picked 5 that I thought were worth noting. They're listed alphabetically by Director's last name. Woody Allen, I picked "Crimes and Misdemeanors," cause I've actually worked with that film as an inspiration before, and it's constantly grows deeper in my mind; the more I think about it, and the more I see it, it really ranks as one of Allen's absolute best films. I've seen "M*A*S*H", more than any other Robert Altman film, and while in many ways I like some of his other films better, and the TV series spun-off fro the movie is actually superior to the film, the movie remains one of the great anti-war films ever made, and one of the greatest comedies. I already picked "A Clockwork Orange," for Kubrick, and part of me wants to pick "Dr. Strangelove..." as his very best, it might be a personal pick, but "2001: A Space Odyssey," literally is in another world. I don't think there's a film that's really equal to it in scope in range, in visual effects, even today it's a marvel to look at, and have it wash over you, and then to really think of all it's meaning and possible meanings we can interpret from it.... You really can watch it over and over again and think of something new and interesting about it. I'm a little surprised actually that until now, I hadn't picked a Scorsese movie. He's one of my favorite directors, although occasionally I do get tired of him. Personally, I think "Goodfellas," is his best film, however, my favorite film of his has really become "Mean Streets," for me in recent years. Maybe it's a youth thing, I tend to be amazed at the levels of meaning in that film, moreso than in something like "Goodfellas," or "Raging Bull," which I think are amazing films, but are really just biopics essentially. I love how raw and natural "Mean Streets," feels, there's a real poeticness to the film that I think lacks in some of his other films. It talks about guilt and religion, and gangsters and other movies, and all the other aspects of Scorsese best work, but it creates a better sense of place than his other films. I don't know why suddenly this realness of it has attracted me lately, but it has. As for Spielberg, I don't know who doesn't like Spielberg, and I think those who do, just don't like movies. While I think he made better movies, "Minority Report," is probably my favorite. It's the movie I always think "Blade Runner," should've been. (They're both based on Philip K. Dick stories) Here, he creates a very believable futuristic world, and really explores all the little nuances of this question of what would you do if you could prevent a crime from happening, in a way that makes sense. I don't think there's any cheating here, there's great performances, and what I particularly wanna note is that, while Spielberg has been a master of product placement, (Reese's Pieces, in "E.T...." for example), here he makes it an art form, and I think it's one of the most underrated aspects of this tricky little film noir. It's also just a really entertaining thriller, one of the best and most underrated in recent years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wXqwL3akhw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UeYGS0UU6E
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU4TQ1NTo50
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tx6fbGBYi84
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH-6UImAP7c

DAY 46: Most Overrated Actor/Actor: ACTOR: JOHN WAYNE-"THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE", ACTRESS: MERYL STREEP-"MANHATTAN"
This was a tough category. Generally, acting is probably the least problematic part of a movie. A bad acting performance, is usually the fault of a bad editor/director than an actor/actress. Still, after a while, I thought of a couple choices. John Wayne, is just a little too popular compared to how good an actor he was. He was a good actor at times, like in "The Searchers," or "Stagecoach," I even liked him in "True Grit," which he won the Oscar for. And I like this movie, my favorite Ford/Wayne collaboration, but he's more of an image, a star than an actor, and a lot of his films really don't hold up particularly well anymore, but he's still extremely popular in as an icon and cultural figure of America, when he probably really shouldn't be. As for actress, I thought a bit about Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock, people who are also better stars than they generally are actresses, but Meryl Streep has a tendency to get an nominated for whatever movie she happens to be in that year, especially if rightly or wrongly, there doesn't seem to be a fifth worthy nomination. Now, sometimes there aren't as many great roles for women as there are roles for men, but some of her nominations are just strange. Who remembers "One True Thing," or "Music of the Heart," or, and "The Devil Wears Prada," was an especially strange nomination that made no particular sense. Not a good movie, and only a, half-way decent caricature character, strange choice to me. And I think there's 5 or 6 of her 16 total are like that. Now, I still love her in "Out of Africa," or "Kramer vs. Kramer," and "Sophie's Choice," and I love her in "The Deer Hunter," even though I criticize that film, she's unbelievable in it, and many other films. I used "Adaptation." already, one of my favorite performances of hers, so looking through her filmography, "Manhattan," while, she's not in the movie much, she's very good in it, and it's probably my next favorite film of hers; it should be mentioned somewhere here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA2JgS6zycQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuU6XU0_Gfs

DAY 47: Most Overrated Film: "THE GOONIES"
Well, if you can't tell my internal nature might be a critic-first mentality, this will be a clue. Instead of doing a Top Ten list, I ended up posting for this category, a TOP 20!. Overtated, is a tricky category, its dependent first on perception by the public at large, many of which has surprised me, and also on what the reality of the film is, or at least my reality. I'm sure some of you will disagree but... here's the Top 20, over-rated that I posted.
20. "BLADE RUNNER"- Is he a replicant? Isn't he? How does the movie change, either way, 'cause it doesn't. For a good Philip K. Dick adaptation, go see "Minority Report"
19. "TRUE LIES"-Can I name this honor for James Cameron?
18. "TOP GUN"-I'll admit the soundtracks good. Nothing else about it is.
17. "SNATCH."-Guy Ritchie=style over substance squared. I get headaches watching it.
16. "AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN"-The one time I want a soldier to die in battle.
15."SCREAM"-Too Slow-moving, too-boring, and unfunny. Wes Craven, you know better.
14."FLASHDANCE"-God, they're all bad in the '80s, but compared to "Footloose," and "Dirty Dancing," this one's unwatchable.
13. "THE DEER HUNTER"-This is not a movie about soldiers coming home from Vietnam! It's a film about a bunch of guys who left home to play russian roulette for a while.
12. "FIGHT CLUB"-The ending is am absolute cheat and an impossibility considering what happened before, and I'm not even talking about the blowing up of the buildings.
11. "BATTLE ROYALE"-Not a thoughtful retrospective on youth and life, it's about somebody wanting to see teenagers kill other teenagers.
10. "SE7EN"-Two bad detective travel from crime scene to crime scene until the murderer turns himself in. And since Fincher later made "Zodiac," its annoying that he can make a great serial killer story, but also make this stupid one.
9. "THE SHINING"-There's so many things to be afraid of that, by the time we find Nicholson's trying to kill his family, I've long lost interest.
8. "AVATAR"-Last hour killed what could've been the Best Movie of the Century. Should've written better if you had 12 years to think it over.
7. "TITANIC"-How anyone can watch a James Cameron movie more than once, is mind-boggling to me, they seem to get worse the more I watch them.
6. "TRUE ROMANCE"-Way to ruin a Tarantino script there Tony Scott.
5. "ARMAGEDDON"-Pretend all you want that it's so bad it's good, it's just bad.
4. "SHANE"-I think most westerns are over-rated, but this one's unwatchable. How's it considered a masterful essential, I have no idea.
3. "GLADIATOR"-Best Picture Oscar over "Traffic," "Chocolat," and a not-nominated "Almost Famous," what-the-hell were we thinking?!
2. "NAPOLEON DYNAMITE"-I'm anti-bullying, but we should've bullied him more.
Now, this actually was from a list that I narrowed to twenty films. I seriously thought of a few Frank Capra films as well, including "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," mainly because it annoys me that nobody ever tells Jefferson Smith that his Boys Camp is a terrible idea that they shouldn't vote for it anyway. And, I've got a spot saved for "Pretty Woman," later. But, nothing has boggled me more, than when I say very casually say that I didn't like "The Goonies," and then get yelled by everybody in my class. I didn't like it when I was eight, and I first saw, I've had to watch it three other times, each time against my will, and each time it's just gotten stupider and stupider to me. Sorry, it's kids doing a bunch of things I would never in a million years do, and I can't figure out the appeal. Oh, a pirate ghost, underground, or whatever the hell it is, and the kids are pissed that there's development, and they have to move to the city? That's stupid, the city's better! Nothing in this film has even made sense to me, and I can't believe it made sense to anybody.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWgc8Ute2tU

DAY 48: Movie You Walked Out of the Theatre From (Or That You Wanted to): "GHOST RIDER"
I got dragged to this film, made fun of how bad it was for about, 40-60 minutes, I guess, then I fell asleep out of boredom. Even Nicolas Cage couldn't keep me entertained. Just a bad, dumb film. You now, I was two-years old and when I saw Robbie Knievel jump the fountains at Caeser's; those kind of stunts, really are only impressive in real life, and are definitely not that cool when they're unrealistic, impossible special effects.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAa375C_FOA

DAY 49:  Favorite Black & White Movie: "THE SEVENTH SEAL"
Can you imagine "The Seventh Seal," in color? At least without bringing up a "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey" reference? I can't either. It's certainly not the only movie that would seem impossible to be shot in color. I think most of Billy Wilder's greatest films like "Some Like It Hot," "Sunset Boulevard," "Double Indemnity," and "The Apartment," are amazing in black and white. There's some great modern films too. I used "Manhattan," earlier, but "Zelig," "Young Frankenstein," "Good Night, and Good Luck.", "Schindler's List," that's probably an obvious one. I used "Clerks." arleady too. Basically though, we're thinking, older films basically, and with the exception of "Gone with the Wind," and most of "The Wizard of Oz," I can basically pick anything. "The Seventh Seal," was my first Bergman film. My 12th Grade English Teacher Prof. Akers loaned it to me. He said he showed it to his least behaved class, but I watched it for myself. After three attempts, I finally got through it. It's not my favorite Bergman, that's "Persona", and I also love "Winter Light," and "Saraband," his last one, the sequel to "Scenes From a Marriage." But this is the film we all remember Bergman for. Heavy symbolism, beautiful amazing imagery, and really, playing chess with death, is there a more iconic film image that would be completely screwed up if it was in color?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtqB2XO9jtI&feature=related

DAY 50: Movie I know the Most Quotes From: "THE BREAKFAST CLUB"
This was a category where a lot of my earlier choices were lost. I thought a bit "Jerry Maguire," but that has, a few really great lines, not the most lines. I often quote "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", in everyday life. "No, no! Gingerbread lane is this way!" I have to explain where that line is from more often than not, but I find it comes up surprisingly often. A few other movies. "The Godfather Part II," for instance.  A lot of films I already picked as well. However, when in a jam, I've often borrowed from "The Breakfast Club." I've seen the movie, I-don't-know-how-many times now, I think I pretty much know it by heart. I certainly know at least the last hour or so by heart. I've borrowed the ending structure of the kid's final paper in about three different essays now, and everytime I do, I seem to get an A. Guess that Brian kid was smart. He can write a paper for five people, make spaghetti, and he's a genius 'cause he can't build a lamp.
Note: I changed this from the clip I posted on Facebook. It's was a mirrored imaged scene, and just didn't like it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7wIEC4glrk

Well, I'll be continuing even during the holidays, as we're coming don the home stretch. The last 10 left. I think I might miss it. Up next though, A Movie with an Ending I didn't expect. That one's easy for me. I'll give you a hint, I consider it the Best Film of the 1990s, and either you've it, and you agree with me, or you haven't seen it, 'cause if you've seen it, and claim you saw the ending coming, you're a liar. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

OSCARS SWITCH AND FALLOUT: THOUGHTS ON MURPHY, RATNER, GRAZER, AND CRYSTAL, AND THE 6-LETTER F-WORD.

In September, I posted a blog where I discussed Brett Ratner's choice of Eddie Murphy to host this year's Oscars, and discussed how the real problem with the Academy Awards's icreasingly deteriorating audience was the audience themselves not being bothered enough to watch the movies that the people who make movies for a living believe they should honor. The link to that blog is below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/09/eddie-murphy-oscar-host-congrats-but.html

It was written back when the problem with the Oscars was the poor performance from last year's hosts, and the continuously drop in their ratings over the years. Suddenly, the only part of that blog that isn't completely moot is the fact that the audience is still at fault for not watching the Oscars (and good movies). As I'm sure most everybody has heard, Oscar-producer Brett Ratner resigned as producer after making a derogatory remark on a radio show (He said "f-----"). The next day, Eddie Murphy, who apparently took the hosting gig because of Ratner's involvement, also backed out of the Oscars. The first question that everybody seemed to ponder was whether he should've resigned for what he said. My thought is that I doubt that he meant it as a derogatory slang. I say that meaning that, until now, Brett Ratner didn't realize that the six-letter f-word is infact a slang so vulgar that uttering it should cost anyone immature enough to use it in this society their job. I don't think he meant harm, but it's startingly questionable behavior from Ratner. Actually, if I'm totally honest, part of me kinda predicted that something like this could happen. Although not with Ratner, although considering how I've rarely liked any of his films, and how he thinks Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan together are funny, I probably could've foreseen that too. (I did like "Red Dragon," though; second best Hannibal Lecter movie after "The Silence of the Lambs".) I actually was more concerned that Eddie Murphy might say something of questionable taste like that. He's funny as hell, and I hope that this setback doesn't perclude him from considering to host the Oscars in the future, but he's rarely done any kind of hosting or stand-up in twenty years or so. If anybody's watched some of his old stand-up routines, and there's a tendency for some of his material to be homophobic. For some of you that might not remember, take a look at this old clip of Eddie from "Raw".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQBLzotAn3M


Now, admittedly this joke is funny, and the way Murphy delivers it show exactly how talented he is, but he is stereotyping homosexuals for humor, (and using the f-word). But, it was the eighties, or early '90s at the latest. Whatever year it was, it was a lifetime ago, and actually, that joke was rather tame compared to some of Sam Kinison's old routines about homosexual behavior, but Kinison didn't live to see Magic Johnson retire and then survive this long. (The twenty year anniversary of his announcement just passed) I like to think he would've changed and abandoned some of his material had he lived. I like to think Murphy would've abandoned some of that material by now, but there's been some homophobic jokes in some of his films since. Not funny ones. They can't be funny anymore, but it's questonable that even in his recent films he hasn't completely abandoned this line of material, or at least reshaped the observatory nature of it. I don't quite know what connection is to be made here, in me saying that it's interesting that Ratner resigned for using the f-word, when one of my concerns was that Murphy might say a word or tell a joke that could get him in that kind of trouble. Like I said, I don't think either man is prejudice against homosexuals, and I don't think Ratner used the word intending as a derogatory remark. Even in that old clip of Eddie Murphy, and some of his stand-up, I don't think he ever did either. I think more or less, the major concern is that times have just changed, and they, Ratner and Murphy, are learning that the hard way. Well, lesson learned. Now, hopefully they know better, and they'll both be back doing what they do best in no time.

Anyway, all of these thoughts are completely irrelevant now. The Academy quickly hired Oscar & Emmy-Winning produce Brian Grazer to replace Ratner, and he quickly lined up Billy Crystal to host, which completely screwed up my game of "Who would make a good host," 'cause I was trying to think of people who might be good hypothetically, and not, you know, the greatest Oscar host ever! (Sorry Bob Hope, but he is.) Crystal guarantees a great show, and great ratings, and frankly the only thing left to worry about is his song at the beginning and how he might have to do anywhere from 5-9 movies. (Stupid Academy and their new Best Picture standard.) Other than that, Grazer has basically guaranteed a Great Oscars show by getting Crystal to host for the first time in about eight years. In that earlier blog, I said good luck to Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy on the Oscars. Now, I say the same thing to Grazer and Crystal, and I hope I don't have to write another blog about the Oscars, that's not about me bitching about the nominees or praising or, well probably bitching about them I imagine. For instance, the recent announcement of the eligible documentaries that didn't include, names like Steve Avery, Wim Wenders, Morgan Spurlock, and Werner Herzog, for instance, bitching about that already. I digress though. Let's just hope nothing else like this happens from now and Oscar night.

Friday, November 18, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "PULP FICTION"

PULP FICTION (1994)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino based on stories by Quentin Tarantino and Steve Avery


“Pulp Fiction,” is possibly the most influential movie made in my lifetime. It’s certainly the most important film made in the ‘90s. You might be able to argue better movies, but not influential and importance. Watching it again recently, for the, whatever-nth time it’s been, I realize the movie gets more enjoyable with every viewing. The first viewing, I remember just being confused. I respected, and admired, and even liked a lot, but I didn’t quite realize the pure joy the movie brings. That’s a strange thing to say about a film that has shocking, unexpected blasts of gun violence. It’s fun. There’s a love of filmmaking that’s in every frame and it's what makes every Tarantino film so infectious. His creates amazing characters with great-sounding dialogue. It’s his gift, and he knows it, so then, he does other things to tease us. He doesn’t have to tell the story of “Pulp Fiction,” out of order, but he does to keep us slightly off-balanced. We don’t know, or sometimes can’t remember, exactly what’s going to happen next, but we know there some exciting things are going to happen. Take a second look at the Jack Rabbit Slims scene. First off, there’s the strange outline on the square that Mia (Oscar-nominee Uma Thurman) makes. Why is it there? Most theorize that its to let the audience know that the stories we’re about to see are stories, and are fiction. The title should tell us that. Maybe it’s because the movie’s been so violent and intense until then, that without it, people might take the film too seriously. We, then enter, what has to be the strangest, most bizarre, acid-induced restaurant in the history of film. Filled with strange anachronisms, and not simply costumes, but perfect imitations of cultural icons of the ‘50s.  Would this have come off as realistic to anybody? No, but it’s inventive, and it’s different. Tarantino is insistent on surprise in the movie. This is actually strangely predictable compared to the unexpected ending of the scenario between Butch (Bruce Willis) and Marcellus (Ving Rhames). Butch is a boxer, who was supposed to throw a fight, that he not only won, he killed his opponent, and bet himself big to win all over town. He has to escape L.A. before Marcellus catches him, but unfortunately, his girlfriend (Maria de Medeiros) forgot to pack his gold watch. A very important and personal gold watch, we learned that earlier through one of the funniest and random monologues ever given in film by Christopher Walken, and we know, Butch must risk death in order to retrieve the watch. Yet, of all the outcomes of this situation, the last one would’ve been the ending we get, Butch and Marcellus tied up and gagged in the basement of a Redneck-Clansman type and his police officer friend, and their gimp, awaiting for death and rape. Yet, what does this scene tell us? It tells us that things will be difference for Marcellus from here on in. How different? We don’t know. We see him, one other time after, where he sends the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) to help Jules and Vincent (Oscar-nominees Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, respectively), but this scene takes place in the past, so he’s not the guy he becomes. Strangely, Tarantino is insistent on letting us know what becomes of these characters. Butch leaves L.A., richer than before and never to return, Marcellus still runs his loansharking empire, his wife Mia, protects Vincent for saving her life during the movie’s most memorable sequence, (That whole sequence, done in a shot by shot analysis, could be an entire blog entire entry about twice as long as this article; there are so many little details in it to just analyze.) Vincent, however gets killed, while Jules retires to walk the Earth. Tarantino must care deeply about these characters, he cares enough to give them complete arcs, when he doesn’t even need to. It’s also part of the dialogue. That treasured dialogue Tarantino uses. Where other movies with writers and directors with less talent for dialogue simply have actors, usually  repeat the plot or something like that, Tarantino has them talk about everything, from the famous, what’s a quarter-pounder with cheese called in France, to whether if a pig had more character the way a dog has, would it matter so much if he rolls in his own feces? Strange in a movie where people are constantly killed, or almost killed, that often talk about the most subtle nuances of life. What is it like to go to a McDonald’s in Amsterdam? If you don’t have that experience, you’d probably would be curious about it, even so much so that it could distract you just enough from your job as a vicious hitman to, think about all the burgers you’ve had. Tarantino once said that he thinks movies should have the same creative freedom as books do. A book is allowed to have any chronology it wants and can constantly change point-of-view, perspective, even the tense that its being written in, and it’s perfectly acceptable, but God forbid, a movie decides to play fast-and-loose with the three-act structure. Books can also have long stream-of-consciousness narrative and monologues in characters' heads that talk about how exactly they feel and think about every little thing. I wonder if Tarantino’s dialogue is simply his own personal diatribe on the meaning of life? While you’re thinking about that, think about how you feel when you’re trying to think of what to say next in your conversation, and ask whether you enjoy uncomfortable silences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #13: "UNKNOWN," "EVERYTHING MUST GO," "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD", "THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER," "INCENDIES," "LIFE DURING WARTIME," AND MORE!

I passed the 3100 film mark on my list with these collections the movies this week. That's the first piece of news. Also, major news, we've been getting a lot of hits lately, and with this upcoming Oscar season starting to kick into full scene, as well, other major news stories across the entertainment spectrum, we here at David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews have a major announcement, that we are on TWITTER!
TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER! YEAH!

Actually, I've just been told that this apparently isn't that big a deal. It's sort of like Facebook, it was set up for free, but there will more immediate throughts from David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews, on twitter. According, to some people I have a tendency to ramble apparently, but I assure you 140 words is just more than enough to get some thought-, what do you mean it's not words? Characters! 140 CHARACTERS, like LETTERS! And spaces! Are you F***ing kidding me! That's barely a sentence! Who can say anything in that 140 G**d*** f***ing letters! This Twitter is a piece of s- (LOUD PROLONGUED BEEP)

Note: Portions of this blog have been edited out on the advice of council. Thank you. We will now return you to your regularly scheduled blog!

Follow us on twitter at DavidBaruffi_EV, and we will follow you as well. And now, onto this week's reviews!

UNKNOWN (2011) Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

4 STARS

Not that I'm complaining about it, but did I miss the meeting when we decided that Liam Neeson was to be the next action/thriller star? Like, I said, I'm not complaining, I'm just curious. He's one of the greatest actors alive; he's played Oskar Schindler, Alfred Kinsey, Michael Collins, and Jean Valjean, among others, and suddenly everytime I see him now, he's in some kind action or thriller movie. "Taken," "Clash of the Titans," "Batman Begins," and now, in "Unknown," playing a man who gets into an automobile accident, and awakes three days later to find that somebody else (Aiden Quinn) has seemingly taken his place. Even his wife (January Jones) doesn't recognize him. Is he suffering from temporary amnesia, or is everybody else just lying? In the beginning, we see him and his wife arrive at a Berlin hotel, for a biochemist conference. He doesn't go inside. He's left his bag at the airport, so he hails a cab, only to have the cab spinoff into a river. He's saved by the cab driver (Diane Kruger), an immigrant who he tries to track down, to show his appreciation, as well as ask her what happened. Just as he's convinced that he might not be Dr. Martin Harris, (Neeson) he tries to undergo tests, only to find people suddenly killing the nurse and everybody around him, except for him. If he isn't trying to find out who he is, or who is taking his place and why, people just seem to be trying to kill him. This sounds a little like "The Bourne Identity," and it is a bit. He ends up hiring a private eye, (Bruno Ganz) to try and look into his background, but he apparently might be involved in whatever coverup this is. It seems to involve at least one of the members of the conference, and just as we start to think we've solved this mystery, Frank Langella shows up, and gets us started up again. If you think back at "Unknown," you'll find more than a few holes in the logic, but this is still a fairly curious and intense thriller for much of the film. There's also some really good action sequences, including a particularly great one that takes place in an airport parking garage, that had a piece of action that I hadn't seen before. Also, there's some pretty good performances, from an all-together really strong cast. (I'm not sure there's a better actress working right now who's better at playing icy than January Jones) This is the first film by director Jaume Collet-Serra that I've seen; he directed the remake of "House of Wax," a few years ago with Paris Hilton; I somehow missed that one. This is a good little action movie, that, as long as you don't stop and think about it, you'll be relatively entertained. The very last scene, I'm not exactly sure helped, or was really needed, and there's something that's somewhat Blade Runner-ish about the explanation to me, but this a good little modern psychological-Hitchcockian-action film.

EVERYTHING MUST GO (2011) Director: Dan Rush

4 STARS

Will Ferrell was recently awarded the Mark Twain Prize by the Kennedy Center, the highest comedic honor that given out in America. Will Ferrell can be the funniest guy in the room, in any room he's in, at any time. What makes him a great actor, like every actor/comedian, is that he knows how and when not to be funny, but he also knows how to be only a certain amount of funny. In "Everything Must Go," he plays an alcoholic named Nick Halsey. He's been fired from his job after drinking on a business trip, and a female co-worker has accused him of some kind of inappropriate sexual conduct. He comes home, to find his wife has changed all the locks and codes on the house, and has thrown everything on his front lawn. His wife has put a hold on their joint-bank account, and he begins to sleep on a recliner on his front lawn. The film, the first by writer/director Dan Rush, is based on a Raymond Carver short story, and if you've never read at least one of his short stories, you should. I read "Cathedral," years ago for a class, and it's still stuck in my head. You could also rent Robert Altman's great film "Short Cuts," which combines dozens of his stories into one film. There's comedy, but mostly, we see a flawed man going through a personal crisis. He goes to the liquor store on a daily basis, and his neighbors start complaining. His sponsor happens to be a detective (Michael Pena), and he gets him a yard sale license to buy him a few days. He reluctantly starts to sell some of the items, with the help of Kenny (Christopher C.J. Wallace, he played his real-life father Biggy Smalls in the biopic "Notorious"), a young teenager who rides his bike around the neighborhood while his mother is a nurse for another neighbor. Nick is an excellant salesman, and he begins teaching him the rules of salesmanship, mostly from some of his books on salesmanship that are lying around the front lawn with the rest of his junk. He also befriends a new neighbor, Samantha (Rebecca Hall). She's a pregnant photography teacher, who's come out to Tucson from New York to get the house ready while her husband finishes up loose ends back east. I'm making this movie sound far more depressing than it actually is. The movie is actually quite funny. Ferrell really plays this character well, he's a good-natured guy, but he's a drunk, he's not sure where his life went wrong, and he's trying to figure out where to go from here. There's a strange scene where he reconnects with an high school classmate of his (Laura Dern), that doesn't quite go anywhere, but it also doesn't go where you think it will. There's actually a lot here that doesn't go where you might think it would. This awkward friendship he has with Samantha is handled in a surprisingly adult manner. This is the kind of film where a character changes, a very little bit, but just enough. Most movies make the mistake of having sudden circumstances drastically change a character, here, Nick is a fuck-up with his life falling apart, and at end, he's starting anew, but he's still a fuck-up, his life still isn't great, in a few ways it actually got worse, but he's just a little better than before. That's the way most people change in real life, and it's not always easy to show that in a film, especially an American film. This is a very strong debut for Dan Rush, and I'm very interested in seeing his next film, and as for Ferrell, I hope he does a lot more roles like this. We know how amazingly funny he can be, we don't get to see this Ferrell enough, really showing how well he can embody a character. He does it in all his films, I grant you, but it's these roles that really make you appreciate just how good an actor he is in those comedies.

POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (2011) Director: Morgan Spurlock

5 STARS

The appeal of Morgan Spurlock isn't so much the substance of his documentaries as it is the nature with which he injects himself into his projects. You'll remember him from his Oscar-nominated documentary "Super Size Me," where he ate nothing but McDonald's for thirty days, risking his own life as it turned out. That film convinced McDonald's to eliminate the super-size option to their value menus and since then, McDonald's has made attempts to be more health-conscious (well, they sorta have. Subway, on the other hand has been very health-conscious for years now and with many 6-inch sub options that are less than 500 calories, and those that have eaten them for days on end, have loss considerable amounts of weight, ain't that right Jared? Jared: Subway, eat fresh!) Note: I wasn't paid to advertise for Subway in this review, although I wouldn't have a problem per se if they did, and in fact a lot of movies and tv shows are constantly paid to have specific products in their shows, and shown in a positive light. Most people know the phrase, "product placement," and generally, experienced filmviewers and tv watchers can catch product placement when it's blatantly obvious. Spurlock talks with some filmmakers who've had both good and bad experiences with product placement. It's funny to hear Tarantino complain that he couldn't shoot the opening scene of "Pulp Fiction," at Denny's, even though he wrote it into the script. Spurlock, decides to become the ultimate product placement whore by analyzing product placement and advertising, while making the entire movie by using only money from product placement. Even the title of the movie, "Pom Wonderful Presents; The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," was sold to Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice,  and they seemed very excited about it. Spurlock goes so far as to wear a suit with all his sponsors names on it like a Nascar driver when going on TV to promote the movie. (His car a mini-cooper, who also sponsored the film, is also covered with branding like a stockcar.) He does two things in this movie that are both very interesting. One, he shows how this lesser-known process of product placement actually works. He meets the people who set up the meetings with these companies, and we see inside the meetings themselves. Some of the business are more competent than others surprisingly. When he asks the people at Ban deodorant, what words would they use to describe their product, they were surprisingly stumped. Usually that's something every company would know an answer too. We also get to see the entire behind-the-scenes of the advertising of a film. The making of the trailers, the posters, the poster designs, where they go and find the advertising space, etc. Hey goes both to Broward County School District, where the school district wishes products could advertise everywhere from the stadiums to the inside of the school buses so they earn money, although parents don't want certain companies in the school, and then he goes to Sao Paolo, Brazil, where outdoor advertising has been banned from the city. No company logos on any building, bus stops, even the cabs are completely blank of advertising. I'll be honest, there's not a whole lot in the movie that I didn't particularly know, but that's okay. Sometimes documentary are too serious, and it's nice to see something light, but he isn't really trying to shed any light either. Sure, he interviews some anti-advertising skeptics inside the JetBlue (Another one of his sponsors) terminal while drinking Pom Wonderful, but  we do get to see the inside look at product placement and the entire advertising process of a movie in ways that I don't think we often get to see, and maybe it's a little inside baseball, but I found it to be quite an interesting process that I hadn't really seen before on film. And I like Morgan Spurlock, doing what he does best, and inserting himself completely into his project, in many ways, at the risk of completely his own image and branding up until now. Granted, this is more performance art than film, but it's still really good.

THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (2011) Director: Bertrand Tavnier

2 1/2 STARS

I wish I could say something that would make "The Princess of Montpensier," seems like anything other than a costume melodrama, but that's really all it is, and I'm a little surprised at some of the positive reviews the film has gotten. Betrand Tavnier is a good director, and this film starts off promising, as it begins with a really good and elaborate action sequence and a description of a time when the Catholics and the Hugeonots are in constant conflict with each other. After that, the movie turns into a typical love triangle between a liberal-thinking-for-her-time women (Melanie Thierry) and a couple different suitors, with some typical backroom manipulation of royalty and others in powers. Marie, (Thierry) is in love with her cousin Henri (Gaspard Ulliel), but is forced into marriage with the Prince of Montpensier (Gregore Leprince-Reguet). The Prince soon heads off to battle, as they always seem to do. (I wonder what Kate Middleton thinks about that.) In the meantime, she's placed under the care of Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson). I'm pretty sure you can predict what happens from her, the Comte and the Princess, start to have an affair, although more interestingly, he introduces to the sexual aspects of the court politics, and soon, she's playing politics with everybody else. There's something odd to me about some of these recent Eurorpean and European-set films about royalty and the control for power (And TV shows, I never did care for "The Tudors.") and how they focus so much on these very shadowy characters in the background that apparently did change history by how they convinced these royals and pope and other such people to go to war and take land, and try to have a first-born son as well. Maybe I like modern politics better, but it's frustrated me lately to some extent, and this movie, while it does have an interesting change to it, it still didn't completely work enough for me.

INCENDIES (2010) Director: Denis Villaneuve

5 STARS

"Incendies," was nominated for an Oscar as Canada's entry in the foreign language category; it got a U.S. theatrical release earlier this year, and it's really a special one. The film begins with two twins Jeanne and Simon (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette, respectively) as they are given unusual instructions in their mother's (Lubna Azabal) will, to travel to the Middle East (the country seem to either be Lebanon or Israel, it's a little undefined) and for one twin to deliver a letter to their father, who they both thought was dead, and the other to deliver a letter to their older brother, who they never knew they had. Simon is reluctant and still holding ill-will towards his mother, but Jeanne begins taking up the trail. As she finds certain things out, we also get flashbacks of the mother and her experiences. They're often scattered, and we they're not always shown in any linear order, and many times they give us more questions then answers, but there's a long journey to travel, including to a former jail for political prisoners, as well a meeting with a wanted warlord, that has a very strong memory. Most of the trip is surprisingly frustrating for Jeanne, a lot of people who, if they even remember their mother must've been glad that she left. We find out she was pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was a very young, and taken away from her from birth. She swears to one day reunite with him, with the only information she has is three tattoos given to him after his birth on the back of his ankle. The final resolution to this movie I will not reveal, and it will haunt most of you and will probably start an interesting discussion itself. The ending of the mystery is the ending of the mystery, and all like good mysteries, it's the journey of solving the mystery that's far more interesting and important, than it's outcome. This movie is an incredible journey of two very trouble young adults finding out the troubling beginnings of where they actually came from. While there is the obvious problem of why didn't the mother just tell them what she knew when she was alive, or at least wrote it in their will inside of making them go on this journey, I'd argue that considering the result, it probably is best that they found it out the hard way. This is a spectacular film, one of the best from last year.

LIFE DURING WARTIME  (2010) Director: Todd Solondz

3 STARS

I have more than a few filmmaker friends that are big fans of Todd Solondz, but those who might not be as familiar with his work, I'd strongly advise not seeing "Life During Wartime," until seeing his masterpiece "Happiness," first. "Life During Wartime," is a quasi-sequel (his words) to "Happiness." It has the same characters as before, the movie's set ten years later than the first film, it takes place in Florida instead of the New Jersey suburbs, and he recasted the movie with different actors than before, in one case even changing the original race of one of his characters. Solondz has done similar experiments before, his film "Palindromes," had one character, a teenage girl who's in a hurry to get pregnant, was played by eight different actresses, and one actor, each of all different ages, intelligents levels, and races. Also, "Palindromes," takes place in the same universe as his best film "Welcome to the Dollhouse"; similar to Kevin Smith's Viewaskewniverse," Solondz films also seem to exist in the same world at times, or in this case, he's creating a whole new universe for his old characters to exist in. The original film followed three sisters, and they're back, although this film follows primarily Joy (Shirley Henderson), who's just gone through a deja vu moment with Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) who she ended up with at the end of "Happiness," when he would dial her sister Helen (Ally Sheedy) with sexually offensive phone call. Joy used to be with her fellow co-worker Andy (Paul Reubens, yes, that Paul Reubens), before she broke up with him, and he subsequently killed himself. She's seems him now in dream sequences. Taking a break from Allen, she's visiting her sister Trish (Allison Janney), who's got three kids, one in college, and as the youngest is about to celebrate his bar mitzah, he finds out both that his father (Ciaran Hinds) is alive, he is also a pedophile, who's just been released from prison for sodomizing a young boy. Trish, is also madly in love with her new boyfriend Harvey (Michael Lerner), and let's just say, I wouldn't want to walk into that house where collateral damage seems imminent and ready to blindside somebody. While there's some great performances, and the typical Solondz dialogue that and style that makes it hard to tell whether he's sympathizing with his characters or he's making fun of him, or,- I don't know exactly, but there's always an artificial a tension with his characters, and it's always tough to tell what he exactly means by it. However, this is not one of his best films, by a mile I'd say. I'm recommending barely, 'cause it did keep my interest, but there's some strange curiousities with the film too. The Ally Sheedy character for instance, who was a poet, and now has become a Hollywood screenwriter that lives with some mysterious movie star named "Keanu", her part is drastically unimportant compared to the way her character was in "Happiness,"; in that film, I thought she was the most interesting character in that film. I'm interested in a lot of movies, actually making sequels like this, where we get to meet back up with characters years after we first meet them, and see what they're doing now, (Sequels like this are more common with foreign films) but "Happiness," was probably not one I ever thought about seeing the characters again, and I'm a little disappointed at the results. It's also time that somebody tell Solondz that there are parents who actually answer a kid's question with the correct answer, no matter how disturbing and traumatic it can be, it's probably going to makes those kids' lives better in the long run.

VANISHING OF THE BEES (2010) Directors: George Langworthy and Maryan Henein

3 STARS

It's called Colony-Collapse Disorder, and I never heard of it either, and it didn't exist until recently, but all over the U.S. and the world, beekeepers are finding entire hives and in extreme cases, the entire colony of bees has left it's hive, or in some cases, many hives, there one day, and the next, gone. "Vanishing of the Bees," is an interesting documentary highlighted this disorder, from the first accounts of it in America, and the entire beekeeping industry to find possible reasons, and maybe ways to end this disturbing trend. I should tell you now, that personally, I am scared shitless of bees. I don't fear most bugs, I don't like ones that fly, and bees, can sting you, and frankly, that's always scared me. I know consciously, that bees are good for the environment, and I have seen "Bee Movie" recently, so I don't need a refresher course in what happens when bees stop, doing what they do, but yeah, my first instinct when I hear bees are disappearing "Well, good." My second instinct is, "They're not going after me are they?" That bias aside, it's seems clear that whatever is causing the syndrome, most seem to agree that it's one of many signs that there's a far bigger problem with the environment, and it seems to be linked to one company use of a chemical that bees are taking back with them to their hives, that in small quantities is not harmful immediately, but continued use over generations, seems to be in some ways, screwing with some of the bees genetic traits, causing this sudden suicidal mass migration. France seems to have known about this before, and they really know how to protest and change things. This was happening a few years ago there, and beekeepers across France charged Paris with demonstrations, that includes setting fire to abandoned beehives and they dressed in full beekeeper suit bregalia. Soon, the chemicals that were simply being sampled in that country's ecosystem, were banned. In America, they the EPA doesn't just send out trials, they push the products immediately all over the country, based off of research done by the company's paid scientists. Not the first time I've heard this complaint about the EPA, probably won't be the last time until somebody burns it down and rebuilds it, with more Ralph Nader types running it, but circumstantial evidence seems to be pointing there. The documentary itself, is more informative that entertaining, and Ellen Page seems like an odd choice for the voiceover narration, but I also don't want to piss off any bees, so, it's an easy recommendation.

PICNIC (1955) Director: Joshua Logan

1 1/2 STARS

Before I start to review "Picnic," I want to talk a little bit about one of my practices. Before I watch films, I have usually read others reviews of movies. I watch "At the Movies," religiously, I generally check rogerebert.com for all his reviews, I read reviews in the Las Vegas CityLife, and the Las Vegas Weekly, I occasionally check Richard Roeper's website, and a few others, and I get frequent messages from rottentomatoes.com on my facebook informing me of the overall reviews of the critics. Sometime I don't always read the reviews, I usually just check a star rating they give a movie, so as not to be too swung one way or another beforehand, but I generally like to know the consensus before going into a film. "Picnic," is a movie that made one of those AFI's Hundred Greatest Something-or-other, lists a while back, and I remember it because it the one movie that I had never heard of. It's one thing for me to have not seen a movie that maybe I should've seen, but it's very unusual for me to have not heard of a movie that makes one of those lists. It apparently won two Oscars for art design and editing, and was nominated for Best Picture. It was also based on a William Inge play, so I don't know what I was expecting exactly but, after watching the movie, I was still kinda baffled by it. I was going to give 3 stars, basically for having seen it, and before then, with kill time at the local library on the computer, I then looked up "Picnic," on rogerebert.com, surprised to find that he had written a review of the film. (I usually only check his site for films made after 1967, which is when he first began writing as a full-time critic for the Chicago Tribune.) It was written for a rereleased of the film a couple years ago, and to my it was a scathing review. He even goes out of his way to call Joshua Logan on of the worst directors of all-time. He makes particular pointed notes about how the film doesn't seem even realize some of the story's ironies. The movie begins with a strange scene where we meet Hal Carter (William Holden), a former classmate of somebody in the nearby small town (let me look it up on imdb.com real quick) Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson) and a former college football star, who's since become a felon, and is looking for work. It's Labor Day, and there's a town picnic that's apparently very important. He ends up living with the Owens, a mother and two daughter, one that's younger, smarter and far more interesting (Susan Strasberg), and another that's tall and beautiful and everybody wants to marry (Kim Novak). She's also a shoe-in to be named Miss Neewalloh, which is Halloween spelled backwards, an, I guess an important title to be awarded if you're young and beautiful in a small town like this one. Hal spends much of the movie without his shirt and being objectified for his looks and not being smart, so he falls for Madge (Novak) who is also not very smart and is being objectified for her looks. Most of these points, and many others are better outlined in Roger Ebert's review, many of them I agree with, but the real reason I'm giving this film a particularly bad review is that, it's boring as fucking hell! I watched it on my computer while doing some other computer errands, checking my blog statistics, checking my facebook, writing a few of these reviews actually, and waited for something to ever happen, and hardly anything did. I at first thought that the play must have a lot more intricacy to it, although Joshua Logan got a Tony nomination for directing the play before he did the movie, so I threw that theory out. Not that I've ever actually had much desire to get on a picnic, but the one in the movie with crying babies, and alcoholic mothers that are blathering idiots doesn't make me want to go to this one, and really what is the movie about? Apparently it was hailed as the one of the sexiest movies made up to that point, and I guess that means that William Holden had his shirt off for most of the movie. (Yeah, I thought either Paul Walker, Larry Clarke or Robert Pattinson invented that, but nope.) There's barely a romance to care about, there's barely a character worth caring about, and the one that is, nobody notices. It's almost like the devotion that the Cybill Shephard character got in "The Last Picture Show," from all the guys. (Although in that movie she was both the best-looking girl around, and the most interesting.) The only thing I really wanted to do with this movie is go hang with Millie (Strasberg) the younger sister behind the house, where we can both sneak a few cigarettes while pretending to read poetry. It would've been a better experience than watching "Picnic".

GIULIA DOESN'T DATE AT NIGHT (2009) Director: Guiseppe Piccioni

3 STARS

The first thing I thought when I saw the title of the Italian film "Giulia Doesn't Date at Night," on the netflix.com New Releases page a few months back was "Wow, how is that not the title of a Rolling Stones song?" I can hear Keith Richards guitar riff in my head, I mean, "Daddy's in the garage, Momma guards the front door, and Giulia doesn't date at night", I can easily imagine Mick Jagger rocking out to something like that, can't you? Anyway, the movie is nothing like that. It's not as interesting as that idea to me, but it's got some interesting things in it though. The movie is about Guido (Valerio Mastandrea), a novelist and short story writer who's begins taking swimming lessons from Giulia (Valeria Golino) after his wife and daughter leave them. She was giving lessons to their daughter, and he begins to fall for her. We also get to see some of his short stories come to life in his imagination, and surprisingly I think I would've like to actually read some of them. It's actually quite interesting what's happening in his mind, it's often more interesting than what's happening with Giulia in real life, who seems somewhat interested in Guido, but she-, well, look at the title again. His daughter seems relatively unaffected by everything, and she's actually busy trying to handle a crush of her own. His wife, wants to hold out hope for reconciliation, but it's kinda hard when you're writing stories about where Giulia plays a reclusive stripper in a story that seems almost like the fourth verse of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue." There's a lot more good idea in the film then there are actually thinking through of the ideas, if was enough for me. There's the lost souls in the real world, or what he thinks are lost souls in his stories, and generally I like how the movie explores the interesting connection between how somebody can alter his own real experiences and create really interesting fiction out of them. That's always a little challenging in film, so it's nice to see it actually attempted here, even if the results are mixed, I've seen it done a lot worse.

OUT OF SIGHT (2006) Director: Daniel Syrkin

4 1/2 STARS

Let me begin by saying that this isn't the Steven Soderbergh romantic-comedy caper-thriller from the '90s starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. This "Out of Sight," is an Israeli film Tali Sharon as Yaara, a soon-to-be Ph. D. in Mathematics at Princeton, who's returning to Israel after the sudden suicide of her cousin. She was, she thought a trusted confident of her cousin, knowing certain details about her that much of her family didn't. However, a friend outside the family points out to her a strange bloodstain on her dress in an old photograph of the two of them. Yaara had fallen down the stairs that day, and she didn't remember bleeding. Blindness in movies is always a little tricky. Film is the art form based on sight, and blindness is the lack of it. Here though it works, cause the movie is not about her blindness, but how others have used it to manipulate or trick her into getting there own way. One of the flashbacks involves a longago moment at a pool where her cousing Talia (Hadas Yaron) cons her into having sex with a guy in the bathroom. She doesn't realize the con, until she is read Talia's diary entries. There's other revelations coming from a tape recording that had more on it then she first thought. I think anybody could've thought throught the movie's revelation of why Talia killed herself from the beginning, but that doesn't make the journey of Yaara putting the pieces together any less interesting. There's a lot of pieces, and there's a very disturbing reaction by one character to her discovery. It's an intense mystery, told very well, at times frighteningly so. Director Daniel Syrkin won the Israeli Oscar for Best Driector for this film, and I can see why. The movie is darkly fascinating, and really gives us a really scary view on just what people will do when they know/think they can hide something from someone, when they can't see. A very memorable film.