Friday, December 30, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #18: "MEEK'S CUTOFF", "JUMPING THE BROOM", "VIDAL SASSOON: THE MOVIE" AND MORE!

Happy New Year everybody! This'll be my last post before the end of the year. I've been busy, and often sick this week, so I was only able to watch nine films this week, and only three movies from this past year. But not-to-worry, with Oscar season well underway, I will be watching as many major recent films as I can. Already, many of them are pushed to the top of my netflix queue, where they are all on very long wait status, so they sent DVD of the second season of "Torchwood," instead. Not a bad show, actually, but still.... I plan for that to change soon.

Also, at the end of this blog, I will review a film that I was specifically requested to watch. I mentioned earlier, that while I do watch loads of movies, and am always adding new titlees to my queue and to-watch lists, that I will try to watch any film that I haven't seen that readers may request that I read. On top of all the films I review here, you can also check my earlier blog where I posted the list of every film I've ever seen, and if there's a title not on there that you might be interested in me reviewing, please let me know, and it might take awhile, but I will do my best to eventually get to it, and to show you that I'm honest about that, this week, I actually did.

And now, onto this week's reviews!

MEEK'S CUTOFF (2011) Director: Kelly Reichardt

3 STARS

If you hear the words "Oregon Trail," and think immediately of a computer game, then you are probably my age. For the rest of you, it's actually an interesting little page in U.S. history, and one that probably would make an interesting movie or two. I'm not quite sure "Meek's Cutoff," is it though. Some critics do, while sporatic, it's shown up on a few Critics' Top Ten lists. I'm recommending the film, but I'm not as sold as they are. It's the second feature of director Kelly Reichardt's that I've seen, the previous one being the independent film "Wendy and Lucy," which starred Michelle Williams as an nomadic traveler who cares for herself and her dog until her car breaks down and has to find work. While some critics really liked that film as well, I'm pretty sure that movie only worked if you liked dogs. There'aren't any characters which such devotion to animals in "Meek's Cutoff," but the film felt about as adrift to me as it's characters were. We follow three families, who are traveling the trail in three-covered wagons, who've hired a mysterious man named Meek (Bruce Greenwood) to guide them to Oregon. We meet up with the group as they have gone off the trail, and they're debating what to do about Meek, whether to ditch him or fire him, or whether that's even an option. One family are newlyweds, the Tetherows (Will Patton and the aforementioned Michelle Williams), not his first wife, but his latest, and she's seems surprisingly self-efficient. The Whites (Neal Huff and Shirley Henderson) have a young son, Jimmy (Tommy Nelson). The third family, the Gatelys (Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan), have a child on the way. (Not as unusual as it sounds for that time). For some reason, I actually know a decent amount about this era, and for the most part, the movie seems historically accurate. It's true that most people rarely rode in the wagon, and most walked the whole way, for instance, including the pregnant women. At a certain point, they start to have strange run-ins with an Indian (Rod Rondeaux), and eventually, they capture him. Meek wants to kill him. He's got some kind of hatred for Native Americans, that almost seems Ethan Edwards-y, although that, and much else of the film, is never explained. That was a problem with "Wendy and Lucy," as well, but it works a little better here. Eventually, as they start to interact with the Indian, they begin to think he might be a better guide than Meek. They're lost, we don't really need much explanation. I also don't need as much of Reichardt's meandering on the desert. She's no Terrence Malick, yet she keeps trying to tell her story through these shots of scenery. I think overall, the reason I'm recommending this film is because, while I criticize her directing and storytelling, with "Meek's Cutoff", she's found a setting where these idiocyncracies of her actually don't hurt the film as much (I won't go so far, as to say it benefits the film). What she is really good at is getting great performances from her actors. Williams as always, is amazing here, as is Shirley Henderson as well, and after seeing Paul Dano, in "Cowboys & Aliens," last week, I'm starting to think he might have been better off as an actor back when Hollywood made more Westerns. If anybody's gonna play Billy the Kid, in anything anytime soon, it has to be him. Some might like this film more than me, but overall, I'm intrigued, but ultimately underwhelmed.



JUMPING THE BROOM (2011) Director: Salim Akil

3 STARS

The wedding movie, is one that I always find to be a tricky one to pull off. Sure, there's a few classics of the genre, but it's tough to handle all these characters at once. Even Altman's "A Wedding," has a few flaws, and isn't one of his very best. "Jumping the Broom," suffers from too many storylines, not because they aren't effective, or that they're characters we don't care about, but mainly because they seem to be added-on conflicts to a situation, that strangely might not have needed them. After another day of waking up, getting dressed and going home, Sabrina (Paula Patton) makes a promise to God that she won't have sex again until she finds the one she's gonna marry. She then gets hit by a Jason's (Laz Alonso) car. Six months later, they're getting married. Okay, it's a little unbelievable that they haven't had sex, even with a promise to God, but bigger issue at hand, the families are going to meet each other for the first time. Sabrina's family are the Watsons. They're like the Cosbys, only rich. Actually, considering how rich they are, they're closer to the Kennedys. A ferry and a car ride from New York City, is their Hyannisport, where Sabrina's mother, Mrs. Watson (Angela Bassett) is ordering around the staff and the wedding planner (An underused but funny Julie Bowen) who's also having enough trouble trying to rangle in her husband (Briak Stokes Mitchell) who everyone, including her, thinks is having an affair and make sure the rest of her family, especially the surprise appearance of Aunt Geneva (Valarie Pettiford) doesn't ruin anything. Jason's mother, Mrs. Taylor (Loretta Devine, in the kind of role that she was born to play) is a postal worker who raised Jason own her own for years, and is very protective of anybody that comes near him, especially the kind of people who send a car to pick them up from the ferry, no matter how nice a car it is. "Why isn't Jason here to pick us up?" She's even brought a sweet potato pie, for Jason and her family to eat, and not the Watsons, as well as her best friend Shonda (Tasha Smith) and Jason's uncle Willie Earl (Mike Epps), and Malcolm (DeRay Davis) who thinks he's going to be Jason's best man. I've only given you a handful of the characters so far, and already I'm a little confused, but there's a lot of tension and comedy between these two families, and as always with wedding movies, some embarrassing and irksome moments. A scene where a character signs Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," at the rehearsal becomes even more strange after some of the film's later revelations are exposed. It's the second half of the movie, where a lot of these sudden revelations come up, that I found myself wondering, why? We have such a nice little movie about two African-American families, both of them positive and not-cliched portrayals of these people, all of whom, I genuinely liked, and it seemed like there was enough conflict between them on their own, without adding any extra plot devices. Mother of the groom, hates the mother of the bride, that's good enough. It's traditional vs. modern. It's even the descendants of slaves against the descendants of slave-owners! Yes, that fact get revealed at an inopportune time, although I can't for the life of me imagine a time when that would be opportune to bring up. The title "Jumping the Broom," comes from the old slave tradition, where slaves would marry each other by jumping a broom. I never realized that some families actually had brooms for this occasion, one of many conflicts the Watsons and the Taylors will fight over until the wedding finally occurs. I like this movie, and I especially like the first hour of the film. It was funny, light, and wonderful kind of tense where you just no that somebody is going to say the exact wrong thing, 'cause they can't help themselves. It's still a nice little film, but I think it tried to do too much in the second hour. It's a tricky thing to try and figure out when a movie has, just enough conflict. It's tempting to add more than you need to, but it should've been resisted here, but for the great performances across the board, and I didn't even mention a cute little subplot involving Meghan Good and Gary Dourdan, who's the chef they've hired for the wedding, "Jumping the Broom," is a good culture-clash film about two cultures who I haven't seen clash often enough in film. Since that's partly 'cause, it's only recently that at least even one of these cultures even existed, "Jumping the Broom," isn't just a movie about a wedding, it's also a movie about progress, and those who are resistent to it.

VIDAL SASSOON: THE MOVIE (2011) Director: Gregg Teper

2 STARS

Vidal Sassoon, is a great man. A revolutionary figure in his field. A man who forever changed the way women look. A brilliant self-made man who is generous and kind, and I don't know, a bunch of other hyperbole. There was a lot of it in the movie. None of it is particularly incorrect, but none of it is as interesting as it should be. I get somewhat of a sense of the kind of influence Vidal Sassoon has. I can clearly tell that he is probably the mn responsible to women hair styles from about the 1960s on. I learn a few things about him. He's very flexible, even in his eighties he still practices yoga and stretching, and he's very good at it I might add. He and his wife had their own TV show for a while, and very charismatic. He probably could've been an actor if he wanted to. He originally wanted to be a architect, but he didn't have the education. He's British, although he got training to get rid of the accent, and he lived in an orphange for much of his childhood, because his mother was too poor to take care of him, but she visited every week. I can see the architecture influence in his haircuts, which are often geometrical, and molded to best accentuate the face of the client. He famously did Mia Farrow's hair for "Rosemary's Baby". He also became the first and biggest brand in hair care products around the world. Most of this, I probably could've found out reading a book on him though, or even a well-researched wikipedia page. In fact, this film, was produced by the same guy who actually was writing a retrospective book on his life. The movie is bookended with him working on the book, and hanging the pages on a wall to show Vidal, the way most magazines used to work. This is a film of admiration, and I guess I admire Vidal Sassoon, but that's about it. If I were to guess beforehand whether Sassoon was he was admirable or not, even without knowing much about hair, I probably would've guessed that he was. I didn't learn much else from the movie. If that was entertaining enough, than it wouldn't matter. After a while though, I just get tired of pictures of hairstyles. At least it looks like the book is a picture book.

THE MAGNIFICIENT SEVEN (1960) Director: John Sturges

4 STARS

There's not really a whole helluva lot of difference between Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai", and the American remake, "The Magnificient Seven", other than one's a Samurai movie, and the other is a Western, but "Seven Samurai," is better, has the depth of an epic tale, while "The Magnificient Seven," feels mostly like a glorified B-movie, but it's still quite a good film. A small Mexican village is terrorized constantly by the local gang of outlaws led by Calvera (Eli Wallach), who take their valuables and most of their crops. The town is mostly unarmed and peaceful farmers. They can't afford or are big enough to hire much of an army, or for that matter, even a Sheriff or an outlaw, but they might be able to get a gunslinger or two that are interesting more in a challenge than a paycheck. They start with Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen), who becomes notorious in town for risking life and limb just to bury a Native American that the town really didn't want buried in their cemetary. He shows some other suicidal behavior, not exactly the greatest quality you're looking for in a law officer, but good enough for a man for hire, and he's charismatic enough to start recruiting a few others. The rest of the story is mainly the battle to elimate Calvera and his men, which includes some training of the locals, and some good strategy. I'm actually somewhat surprised to find out the film got an Oscar nomination for it's score. I actually thought it often undermined the action by being too light and cheery. At times, I thought the action played more like the Keystone Cops than the dramatic chess match that "Seven Samurai," often plays like. It's not terribly uncommon for Samurai films to be remade as Westerns. Hell, Sergio Leone made a career out of it. It's tough to live up to comparisons to a much better original film, and "The Magnificient Seven," has it's moments. Like James Coburn's character, proving that he's faster with a knife than most people are with a gun. "The Magnificient Seven," succeeds because the original story is good, and it doesn't do anything to undermine that. It also doesn't do anything to extend upon it either though.

VINCENT & THEO (1990) Director: Robert Altman

4 STARS

The opening shots of Altman's "Vincent & Theo," make the most striking of differences between how Van Gogh's work was viewed when he was young, compared to how his work is viewed now. His work easily goes for millions now, while in life, he never sold anything. He slowly became mentally ill. I think you could somewhat argue that his mental illness might have been that he was an artist. (Trust me, I write screenplays for a living that don't sell, I'm pretty sure I'm not completely sane either) He had to paint. It wasn't a choice or a skill, he had to become a painter. It didn't matter that his painting didn't sell, I think he would've gone crazy if they did. Those of some of the thoughts I was thinking about when watching "Vincent & Theo." Another thought of mine was what luck that had a brother like Theo (Paul Rhys). Vincent (Tim Roth), constantly bites on his pipe, and sketches whatever prostitute he convinces to model for him. One, he eventually get to marry and lives with for awhile. She leaves though, and he is constantly moving from place to place, usually on the recommendation of Theo, who's the biggest gallery runner in Paris at the time. He sends him paints, and hangs up his paintings. He privately sees they're talent and potential, but publicly, he sends him money and paints and puts out work that can sell and is popular. There's been a few films about Van Gogh in the past, but "Vincent & Theo," is the first one I've seen, and it benefits from profiling both Theo and Vincent. We get a sense of not just who Van Gogh was, we learn just how he was able to work and create all these masterpieces, and what that cost himself and the people around him. Tim Roth is very good here as Van Gogh, maybe my favorite performance of his I've seen. It is Altman's film ultimately. There's not as many normal Altmanesque stylings in this film as his others. There's only a few scenes of multiple people, metriculating through an art gallery, and mumbling non-sequitors and informing their wives not to talk to anyone quietly. It's actually a movie as much as seclusionness that most of his work. The loneliness of the unsuccessful artist. Even Theo's demons are inner struggles for him. He has a homelife that's on the brink of shambles, while he's not respected enough at his job, all the while, his brother is the topic of conversation and dread for him. He loves his brother, and therefore he must tolerate him.

THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972) Director: Elaine May

3 STARS

There's something dark and disturbing about the protagonist in "The Heartbreak Kid." It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. He's got unlikeable characteristics to begin with, but it's this single-mindedness that's downright obsessive. Once he puts his mind to something, he goes to extremes to get what he wants. He actually reminds me of Benjamin Braddock a bit. (Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate", which is ironically a film directed by Elaine May's husband/comedy partner Mike Nichols) Here, the Benjamin character is Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin), and he's just fallen in love with Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd) a college girl from Minnesota he's just run into on a beach in Miami. Why's he in Miami? He's on his honeymoon. He just rushed into a marriage with Lily (Jeannie Berlin). It's a little confusing exactly why they got married. They don't seem that compatible. I think he might have married her because that was the only way he ever going to sleep with her. (We have so many easy solutions to that problem in Vegas, I forget that it's problematic for people that live most everywhere else sometimes) On the drive down to Florida, they fight and argue about everything. He finally sleeps with her, and she soon becomes an annoying little bug he has to squish, all covered in, whatever it is you need to put on to recover from a really bad tan. (For some reason, I don't think it's sunscreen.) Lenny spends the rest of the movie trying to spend as much time with Kelly as possible, even if her rich parents (Audra Lindley and Eddie Albert) are understandably less than welcoming towards him. Lenny has a lot to do, he has to first, divorce Lily, than he has to go up to Minnesota, act like a creepy stalker until he finally wins over Lily and her parents, and hopefully not get killed by one or everybody in the meantime. The Farrelly Brothers remade the movie recently with Ben Stiller in the lead role. One of my professors correctly noted that most people who watched that film, probably no idea that it was a remake. I haven't seen the remake yet, but I can see why the Farrellys would've been attracted to the original. One of the best comic directors Elaine May, the script was written by Neil Simon, (Although it's not from an original play/idea from him), and the performances are still strong, and I can see a few different ways to reinterpret this film in modern time. Saying that though, this is actually quite a dark comedy. I didn't exactly laugh much, although I'm not sure I was supposed to either. The film earned Oscar nominations for Albert and Berlin. Berlin's I'm a little more surprised by than Albert's. I guess the ending was supposed to be happy. I was wondering though, who's he gonna run into on his next honeymoon and fall in love with? For all that effort, I hope he got what he wanted.

LIGTHS IN THE DUSK (2006) Director: Aki Kaurismaki

3 1/2 STARS

"Lights in the Dusk," is the first film I've seen from the legendary Finnish filmaker Aki Kaurismaki, his most recent being "Le Havre," which has made a few Critics Top Ten lists this past year. I can't really garner much of an opinion of him from watching "Lights in the Dusk." I like the movie fine, and I think he's clearly got influences in people like Godard and Truffaut. Minimalist, new wave-ish. But I have some doubts that this is the film that I should be introduced to him with. "The Man without a Past," which earned an Oscar nomination for Foreign Language film, seems to be the preferred choice amongst most of the experts, or whomever it is that writes the profiles on imdb.com. The story is simple. Almost as simple as it's protagonist, a night watchmen Koistinen (Janne Hyytiainen). He seems barely competent. He walks around on the beat. He stops and has an occasional chat with the girl at the hot dog stand. Occasionally he hears an insult or two from his co-workers, but he doesn't to care much about that. Suddenly, a striking blonde comes into his life. He believes she's his girlfriend. She's actual part of a crew running a con to rob the place he works at. He doesn't catch on, and that's part of why they use him. He's loyal to a fault, even after the police bring him in, they can tell he couldn't have been a ringleader of some kind, be he doesn't turn her or anybody else in. Why? I'm not quite sure. Maybe he is just loyal. I think I something at the end where he gets out, 'cause it ended suddenly and almost too subtlely. What I saw I liked. I liked the character, and I could feel for him as the con went on. In a Hollywood movie, he probably would've went all Die Hard on everybody who set him up. But Koistinen is only a night watchmen in Helsinki, who likes hot dogs. Maybe that's all he wants anyway.

VITUS (2007) Director: Fredi M. Murer

5 STARS

Apparently child prodigies exist in three distinct areas, chess, the arts, usually music, and math. All of them are exacting, all of them involve an insular devotion, and all can be done when alone. Vitus plays all three, but he particularly excels at piano. His parents Helen and Leo (Julia Jenkins and Urs Jucker) want him to be a classical pianist. His parents are insularly devoted to this, idea. (Maybe some would use the word 'dream', there, but I think 'idea' is more accurate.) It's strange how devoted they are too this. There seems to be two kinds of parents of gifted kids, ones who are as baffled but supportive of them, and the others who encourage and insist to the nth degree. Helen and Leo are the latter. In fact, one of my thoughts while watching "Vitus," was when I was trying to picture these two as a young couple in love, and I couldn't do it. Sure, they're Vitus's mother and father, but I thought at some point their life wouldn't simply revolve around conversations with counselors about whether Vitus should go to a gifted school program or just enroll in college. He has only one outlet from this constant studying and practice, his grandfather (Bruno Ganz), who builds, usually flying machines, or machines that he hopes to one day fly. His parents try to keep Vitus away from him, fearing that he might accidentally saw off a finger. True, not an unreasonable wish for a parent, but a tough one for a kid, who already has little to swallow. After finding him and his babysitter Isabel (Kristina Lokywa at age 12, and Tamara Scarpellini at age 19), passed out on the couch with empty bottles of booze, Helen decides to quit her job and stay home with Vitus, he throws a fit. He locks his parents out of their house, refuses to budge and let them back in. Most of these incident occur when Vitus is 6-years old (Fabrizio Borsani). The second part of the movie occurs when he's 12 (Teo Gheorghiu) and the events that take place then, are better left for the audience to discover, but needless-to-say, Vitus does rebel, but not exactly in the ways that you might think, and not for the reasons you might think either. He is smart, and supremely gifted, and suprisingly adaptable and aware of his surroundings, something his parents don't catch onto until way later. There's been films about phenoms and gifted kids and their parents. My favorite is "Searching for Bobby Fischer," about a chess prodigy. Vitus is right up there, maybe even better than that one. It's almost impossible to show the thoughts of somebody who is smarter than most of the audience, myself included, but we can observe him. How he reacts to the situations and why. The second half of the film has a lot of twists in it, because Vitus wants their to be. When he's 6, he's the smartest one in the room, but he doesn't have any say. When he's 12, he's still the smartest in the room, but he now knows how to manipulate it to his advantage. It's only minor flaw is that sometimes its tough to watch. Tough, but its worth it.

THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1939) Director: Walter Lang

3 STARS

"The Little Princess," is the first film that I am viewing as per reader request. After my earlier review of Alfonso Cuaron's film "A Little Princess," I got numerous recommendations, led by a reader named Laura Carmella Bernardo, (aka My Cousin) that I should check out the original version of the film, the 1939 Shirley Temple film. That she wasn't the only one lets me know that this was a personal story for many young girls, both films in fact were, as was the original story by Francis Hodgeson Burnett. While that book is unread by me, the two movies' stories are so strikingly similar, that I have to presume that they're quite loyal adaptations, although they're clearly films of their era. In "The Little Princess," we don't see any image for instance, which is where Sara Crewe (Temple) spent most of her young life when war in England starts and her father (Iain Hunter) who's a Captain in the Army, has arranged to have her stay at a prestigious English Boarding School for Girls, led by a stern headmistress, Amanda Michin (Mary Nash). When the war ends and Sara's father is labeled MIA, she is forced to go from prize pupil, to having to work for her stay, as a servant to the rest of the children. It's a Shirley Temple film, so a couple dancing and singing aberration scenes, which are nice, but the movie, as it the story, is basically a Cinderella story. Although, it's a much more feasible Cinderella story. The girl in younger, and it's a lot easier for a kid to understand love for a parent more than love for a Prince Charming type character. I can see why little girls like this story. I prefer the remake. Nothing against this one though; I was quite a Shirley Temple fan at one point myself. (I particularly love "Heidi", which has much of the same cast as this film, and even shared some of Mary Nash's costumes) This, along with the remake are good first tellings of the Cinderella tale for kids. They can learn the Disney one later, and when they're older, we can show them my favorite version, the Mexican film "Like Water for Chocolate".  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

THE 1ST ANNUAL OYL AWARD NOMINATIONS! and WHY WE'RE GIVING OUT AWARDS TO MOVIES THAT CAME OUT LAST YEAR!

The other day, one of my Facebook friends made an interesting comment about Awards season in general. Those who've followed my twitter account, as well as the blog know that I have a fascination with the Awards that are getting handed out, constantly over the next few months up until Oscar time. Anyway my friend said that while all these Awards and Top Ten Critics lists and things of that nature are interesting, he himself isn't capable of having such a strong opinion on films this year. "I'm just now catching up on all the films I had to watch for last year, and it'll be until this time next year that I'll catch up on this year's films." To paraphrase my friend. He's right. This is especially so for me at this point. I rarely am able to make a trip to the movie theatre to watch every big movie that comes out. Financially, it's not prudent, not to mention logistically I don't have the time even if it was, and besides that, sometimes smaller films don't make it to the closest theatres to my house, so geographically it's even a challenge, but eventually through DVDs, streaming, movie rentals, and, just pure willpower, I manage to force myself to watch every important film from these recent years, not simply for entertainment purposes, not even just because it's my career choice, but so that I can even have an opinion myself on movies and the awards that are handed out to them. Who should've been nominated, who deserved to win, how can they make such choices.... However, it's not particularly uncommon for Awards to be presented to films long after their initial release. Some of you true cinephiles might be aware of "The Muriel Awards." It's an online group of cinephiles and film critic types, not the well-known of groups celebrity wise, but they're views are immensely respectable nonetheless. Anyway, they give their normal Best Picture, Director, Actor/Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress Awards, however, they also give out a few Awards that are somewhat interesting, like "Most Cinematic Moment," of the year, and they single out just a single moment of a movie. My personal favorite though, is three Awards they give called the "10-Year Award," the "25-year Award", and the "50-year Award". These Awards are given, to the Best Picture of the year, for so many years ago, 10, for 10-years ago, 25 for 25-years ago, and so on... the reason I like these Awards is that, sometimes it actually takes that long to realize what the Best Film of that year actually was. As much as I love obsessing over Award Season, not only are the winners trivial at best, but sometimes they're completely wrong, and other times, everybody is wrong though, and only through time do we come to realize such things like, "Wow! They're is no other movie like "Groundhog Day,"" or "Raging Bull," is the Best Film of 1980, and not "Ordinary People," or the less-often seen, "Huh, they really got it right with "Platoon," that year." Plus, not to mention, we don't always get to see some of the films that come out in the year they're 'til years later, especially true of foreign films. We're still learning about people like Ozu and Melville, director who still have films that haven't been released in America yet. In many ways, we might never know the best film of the year, but the more we learn, and the more we watch, the more we learn, and the stronger our opinion(s) will be.

So, it is with that backdrop, that David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews is proud to announce, the nominations for the 1st Annual One-Year-Later Awards! (aka known as the OYL Awards [Like Olive Oyl, from "Popeye"]) That's these are the Awards that recognizes the greatest achievements in film not from this past year in film, but from movies seen, the year before last, and as the year, 2011 comes to a close, we are going back to the year 2010!

(Theme Music and Applause)

Okay, now since this is the first year of these awards, we're going to go over some of the rules about the OYL Awards.
1. Everybody who works at "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews," is eligible to vote for the OYL Awards, but they must've seen 200 films from the year before this year, including a majority of the major Award nominees and winners from that year.


Now that last part is somewhat subjective, but it's pretty unlikely to have watched 200 films from a year, and not see most of the major ones, so that's more of a technicality to prove person is aware of the cinema world, and not just sitting around watching nothing but absolute crap all day. Basically 200 films, is a good benchmark, that we've decided upon.

2. Awards will be presented in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Foreign Language Feature, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, however, the OYL Awards won't necessarily be limited to these Awards alone.

So, we're giving away major awards, however we might give out other awards in the future. This is the first year though, we're not going to go crazy.

3. The nominating rules:
A. Each category, unless otherwise noted, will have a minimum of 5 nominations per category, however, up to 10 nominations per category are allowed if more than five nominations in se category are deserving of a nomination, for that year, but no more than 10, 'cause after that, we're just congratulating everybody and that would just be sad and stupid

So that's a little different, we can have many nomination more that the usual five, but no more than ten. Some years, their could be a lot of nominations in some categories, while other years, it might be a struggle to come up with 5. That happens sometimes too you know. I mean, Hilary Swank won that 2nd Oscar by default basically. Not that she was bad; she's great in "Million Dollar Baby," but that was it that year, and they had to find four lambs for her to slaughter.

B. The Best Picture Category will have 10, and only 10 nomination per year, done so irrelevant of the amount of films the Academy nominates in order to promote and showcase many movies that might generally be overlooked.

Now, that's kind of an intriging rule. Now, I have been very critical of the Acadamy's recent decisions regarding the Best Picture number, but this isn't the Academy. Their goal is to award the Best in each category; to be the almighty standard of Award shows, it should be harder for films to get nominated at the Oscars. This, however is a Blog with a number of employees all of whom are fantastic great person-, I'm sorry, people, who are promoting cinema and film, so we have the right to act a little different.

C. The Best Animated Feature category will follow the same standard set by the A.M.P.A.S. as to nominations, a maximum of 3 nominations for years with less than 15 feature films released, and five nominations for years with 16 or more.

D. The Best Foreign Language Feature category can choose any film that's predominately shot in a foreign language, and that can include films shot and produced in the United States, by American filmmakers.

E. Documentaries are not eligible for the Best Picture category, although they are eligible in every other category.

That's last one there, that's for convenience's sake. It can get really complicated comparing documentaries and scripted films at a certain point, just best to not involve oneself-ourselves with that.

Well, those are the general rules and guidelines. Now it's time for the first ever...

(Drumroll)

OYL Awards Nomination Announcement!

(Theme music and applause)

Thank you. Glad you all could come out today for the announcements. Well start with Best Supporting Actress. There are 9 nominees in this category, so let's begin. The nominees are....

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams-"The Fighter"
Annette Bening-"Mother and Child"
Helena Bonham Carter-"The King's Speech"
Anne-Marie Duff-"Nowhere Boy"
Mila Kunis-"Black Swan"
Melissa Leo-"The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld-"True Grit"
Naomi Watts-"Mother and Child"
Jacki Weaver-"Animal Kingdom"

For Best Supporting Actor, there are 7 nominees. And the nominees are...

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale-"The Fighter"
Vincent Cassel-"Black Swan"
Andrew Garfield-"The Social Network"
John Hawkes-"Winter's Bone"
Ewan McGregor-"I Love You, Philip Morris"
Mark Ruffalo-"The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush-"The King's Speech"

Alright, let's switch gears and move on to the Best Documentary category. There are 6 nominees in this category, and the awards are presented to both the Producer(s) and Director(s). And the nominees are...

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Catfish-Dir: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman; Pro: Andrew Jarecki and Mark Smerling
Exit Through the Gift Shop-Dir: Banksy; Pro: Jaimie D'Cruz, Holly Cushing, and James Gay-Rees
A Film Unfinished-Dir: Yael Hersonski; Pro: Noemi Schory and Itai Ken-Tor
Inside Job-Dir: Charles Ferguson; Pro: Audrey Marrs
Restrepo-Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waiting for 'Superman'-Dir: Davis Guggenheim Pro: Michel Birtel and Lesley Chilcott

and now the Foreign Language Film category, there are six nominated, and the awards are presented to the Director(s). And the nominees are...

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Niels Arden Oplev (Sweden)
I Am Love-Luca Guadagnino (Italy)
In a Better World-Susanne Bier (Denmark)
Incendies-Denis Villenueve (Canada)
Mother-Joon-ho Bong (South Korea)
Skirt Day-Jean-Paul Lillienfield (France)

For Best Animated Feature, we have 3 nominees this year, and the award is presented to the director(s) and producer(s). And the nominees are...

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
How to Train Your Dragon-Dir: Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders; Pro: Bonnie Arnold
The Illusionist-Dir: Sylvain Chomet; Pro. Sally Chomet and Bob Last
Toy Story 3-Dir: Lee Unkrich; Pro: Darla K. Anderson

Okay, back to the Acting. There are 8 nominees this year, for Best Actor, and the nominees are...

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck-"The Killer Inside Me"
Jeff Bridges-"True Grit"
Jim Carrey-"I Love You Philip Morris"
Matt Damon-"Hereafter"
Jesse Eisenberg-"The Social Network"
Colin Firth-"The King's Speech"
James Franco-"127 Hours"
Andy Serkis-"Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll"

Okay, for Best Actress, bear with us, we have 10 nominees in the category, and the nominees...

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening-"The Kids Are All Right"
Katie Jarvis-"Fish Tank"
Hye-ja Kim-"Mother"
Jennifer Lawrence-"Winter's Bone"
Lesley Manville-"Another Year"
Julianne Moore-"The Kids Are All Right"
Natalie Portman-"Black Swan"
Noomi Rapace-"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Tilda Swinton-"I Am Love"
Michelle Williams-"Blue Valentine"

Whew! Big category. Okay, we're onto the Writing categories. There are 7 nominees for Best Adapted Sceenplay, and the nominees are....

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
127 Hours-Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg
The Ghost Writer-Robert Harris and Roman Polanski
Incendies-Denis Villeneuve
The Social Network-Aaron Sorkin
True Grit-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone-Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

For Best Original Screenplay, there are 8 nominees this year, and the nominees are...

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Another Year-Mike Leigh
Black Swan-Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin
Blue Valentine-Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne
In a Better World-Anders Thomas Jensen
Inception-Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right-Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech-David Seidler
Mother and Child-Rodrigo Garcia

Now for the two big ones you've been wating for. There are 8 nominees this year in the Best Director category, and the nominees are...

BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky-"Black Swan"
Banksy-"Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Danny Boyle-"127 Hours"
Derek Cianfrance-"Blue Valentine"
David Fincher-"The Social Network"
Tom Hooper-"The King's Speech"
Christopher Nolan-"Inception"
Niels Arden Oplev-"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

And now ladies and gentleman, we have come to the final category, the BEST PICTURE OF LAST YEAR!

(Applause)

Thank you, thank you. And as I stated before, there are 10 nominees in this category, nominations are awarded to the Producers. And the nominees are....

BEST PICTURE
127 Hours-Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, and John Smithson
Black Swan-Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Brian Oliver
Blue Valentine-Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky and Jamie Patricof
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Soren Staermose
In a Better World-Sisse Graum Jorgensen
Inception-Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas
The King's Speech-Iain Canning and Gareth Unwin
Mother and Child-Lisa Maria Falcone and Julie Lynn
The Social Network-Dana Brunetti, Cean Chaffin, Michael De Luca, and Scott Rudin
True Grit-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen and Scott Rudin

Let's have a big congratulations for all the nominees, how about it?

(Applause)

Yeah! Alright, now on January 3rd, 2012, one week from today, we will kick off the New Year, by announcing the winner of the OYL Awards, for 2010! The 1st Annual OYL Awards will be announce here at David Baruffi's Entertainment Views & Reviews. So come, join the party, you're all invited, especially all those who've been, again congrats to all of you. Oh, and if some of you feel like the need to take issue or complain about some of the nominations, please feel free to post either on our website, our twitter, or on my Facebook page! However, be advised, you want to complain about, I'd recommend getting your own damn blog, and give out your own OYL Awards! Cause that's a huge waste of time if I do say so myself, complaining about my own made-up Awards, take a good in the mirror if you do that. (If you want to praise my choices though, that's perfectly normal.) Anyway, we'll see you at the One-Year-Later Awards!

(Theme Music and Applause!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE"

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Frank Capra, with additional scenes by Jo Swerling, from the story by Philip van Doren Stern



I always found it somewhat odd that we're supposed to take "It's a Wonderful Life," at face value. That the actions of a man, are what one makes of one's life. One of my favorite themes that I work with when I'm doing my own writing, is the differences between one's thoughts and one's actions. George Bailey (James Stewart) is beloved, and of the highest of honor according to the townsfolk and the people who know and love him. In his mind though, he isn't an altruist or even a highly-respected member of the community; he's a man of quiet desperation, who had the position of respected community member thrust upon him, unwillingly. In his mind, his life had led him to the bridge in the beginning, about to jump, not over the $8,000 he has just lost, but over a lifetime of despair. Let me describe a film to you. First, something bad happens. Then, something even worse happens. Then, something incredibly bad happens and then this and many other bad things continue to happen throughout the entire film, until the end of the movie when it’s really, really bad, something happens that eventually calms the bad thing down and everything ends up better at the end. If you guessed “War of the Worlds,” you wouldn’t be that far off. I guess you’re wondering if I’m actually going to describe what’s probably the most famous and most beloved Christmas film of all-time by comparing it to a disaster film? No, I'm not..., okay, I am going to for a little bit. In fact, I'd say "It's a Wonderful Life," does you one better. Not only is it a disaster film, in the traditional structural sense, but it does all of them one better, as a literal deus ex machima, an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) arrives after all the bad stuff has occurred, he reveals to George a drastic, more desperate, and more horrific example of how horrible the movie could’ve been. We care and feel for the film because the disaster isn't the destruction of people, but instead, the systematic disenfranchisement of one man. It's internal, and it's heartbreaking. That's why the movie holds up so well, even though I think it is an overrated Christmas tradition. Actually, it's bizarre that it became a Christmas movie; it was never intended as such. You can tell by watching it that Christmas is only used as a device to add weight and tension to the film, and it's effective. Despite five Oscar nominations, the film wasn't a hit, and it's copyright was dropped, so TV networks began airing it because it was cheap. (Ironically, it's way more expensive to air a far-less superior, colorize edition of the film, which is copyrighted [It's also the reason I can post a youtube clip of the entire movie on this blog.]) It's interesting how few films like this are made today, and when they are, they're typical panned by being over-sentimental, usually correctly so. I think what attracts people to the movie constantly over these past years is that preciousness of life that’s portrayed in the film; the notion of how one’s life can matter so much no matter how little one’s life may be, which at Christmastime can be a common thought. Is that what makes “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a great film? Hard to say, it’s certainly essential, but it’s greatness is purely emotional, which isn't a bad thing. Should it be on the top of many film lists? Let’s just say there are other Capra films I think are more worthy of this canon, and I’ll probably add those someday. But, in the meantime,  "It's a Wonderful Life," is Capra's most universal film. No matter it's faults, it stirs up both extremes of our emotions, the most joyous of highs, and our darkest of lows. For the poet in us, it's soulful; for the rest of us, it's only human.   

Friday, December 23, 2011

"UNITED STATES OF TARA," "HUNG," AND "BORED TO DEATH," ALL CANCELLED! IS CABLE GIVING UP ON THE SITCOM?

How many of you know the story about how close "Taxi," came to being on HBO? It's true. After ABC dropped the series, there was a bidding war between the other networks, and to many people's surprise, HBO made an offer. According to legend, James L. Brooks called Marilu Henner when the offer was made informing her that if we end up on HBO, the first shot was going to be of your bare breasts, so everybody knows that we're on HBO. It ended up on NBC, for what eventually became its final season. HBO was trying to get into the sitcom world, even then. In fact, if there's one thing other then violence and nudity that cable is known for, it's comedy. The biggest hit on HBO, when it first started airing was "Blazing Saddles," which they would show uncut. There's nothing graphic in the movie per se, it's a zany Mel Brooks comedy, but you couldn't see it on TV. Anybody remember what HBO's first original show was? It was a sitcom? It was "Dream On", great show, one of my favorites, and in its own way, a wonderful backhanded slap to basic TV. It revolved around a character who spent most of his life watching TV, and so, as he went along on his normal life, which for HBO contained its fair share of adult language and sex, he would constantly be recalling old footage from those old TV shows and movies he grew up on. Hell, Seth McFarland could probably be sued for stealing that for,...well, everything he's ever done.



It stayed on the air for awhile too. Most cable shows did, 'cause ratings weren't much of a concern, nobody knew they were even there. . Who cared if "Silk Stalkings," lost to "Sportscenter," they weren't competing anyway. Granted a lot of those shows weren't great, particularly the dramas, but there was the creative freedom, so that even the few viewers the shows got, they would keep airing them. Go ahead, name somebody you know who never missed an episode of "Arli$$"? You can't do it, can you? It was on HBO for six years though, and it was pretty funny I might add. So was "Duckman," and "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," so was "Beavis and Butt-Head" for that matter, "Not Necessarily the News," "Mystery Science Theatre 3000," "Reno 911", so was AMC's first show, also a sitcom "Remember WENN", (and you probably don't) and even occasionally a show like "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd," would get a second life on Cable after being cancelled by a big network. Whether it was Nick at Nite reruns, or experimental programs that were never gonna work on Basic TV, Comedy is a real cornerstone of Cable, and has been for years. Yeah, it's still very much the domain of the Basic networks, but boundary-pushing and creative freedom was on Cable. Yet, that's suddenly changed.

Earlier this week, HBO cancelled both "Hung," and "Bored to Death," after just three season each, (They also cancelled "How to Make It in America," after just two, but I haven't even seen that one yet.) in order to make room for more drama series, including Aaron Sorkin's highly-anticipated "Newsroom." Last month, I was equally caught off-guard by news that Showtime was cancelling "The United States of Tara," after just three seasons. These weren't the first strikes against comedy on cable either. When last years Emmys nominees came out, I was struck by the fact that not a single Best Comedy Series nomination went to a show on cable. It was the 2nd time in 20 years that that had occurred. In fact, while it actually did get a lot of nominees in other major categories, acting, writing, and directing, nothing on Cable actually won any of them. Meanwhile, on the dramatic side, Cable roared. (I'm going to count DirecTV as Cable for this article.) Only "The Good Wife," got nominated for Best Drama Series for Basic televison, while Cable ran the rest of the category. (And "Breaking Bad," wasn't eligible last year, that might have made it sweep the category) In fact, in order to find a year where there wasn't a cable show nominated in the Drama category, you have to go back to '98, the year before "The Sopranos," first got nominated. There were a few notable cable dramas before then, "Oz," for instance, "Avonlea," won a few Awards, but now, it's become abundantly clear now that drama is the domain of cable. If I named my favorite TV dramas right now, I don't think I'd even name a Basic show in the Top Ten, (Maybe "House," is in my Top Ten, but that might be it).

Is it that black and white though? It feels like it. For drama, you watch Cable, and for Comedy, you stick with Basic. What happened, here, did comedy go backwards? Has Cable just given up on sitcoms? Has Basic, given up on Drama, or is Cable on focusing so much on Drama? I think something else is going on, and not simply a shift into focusing on genre-specific programming. That's bad enough for cable to be getting into this now, especially since that's been the big problem with basic recently, but now suddenly their seems to be another factor in determining what shows stay on Cable and what doesn't. Yep, you guessed it, ratings.

This is a new phenomenon for Cable, they're not expected to get good ratings. Ratings have kept bad cable shows on the air longer than they should have ("Burn Notice," exhibit A) and now, they're costing great TV shows to end way too early. Sure, some quality shows have fallen into what's sometimes referred to as the "Brilliant But Cancelled," category before, "The Comeback," for instance, but never at this rate. When did all this start happening? If ever a show on cable got good ratings, it was consider an anamoly, and even then, were not talking breaking into the Neilsen's ratings. The first big critical and commercial hit comedy was "The Larry Sanders Show." I happen to be catching up on that show on Netflix Watch Instantly recently. It won 3 Emmy Awards, and was the first to recieve a Best Series nomination, which it's got nominated for every season it was on the air, but it was never a ratings hit. Never even came close to breaking the Top 20. It wasn't much of a concern to begin with however, it wasn't competing against anything. Even today, Basic measures its schedule against other Basic channels. (Hey, reruns of "Family Guy," on Cartoon Network brought that show back from the dead, it was getting three times the ratings of Leno & Letterman, and nobody cared until Conan's was losing ratings in the spot).

Actually, let me redefine here: By ratings, I don't mean Nielsen's. I normally do, and they're of consideration for most Cable channels 'cause they determine advertising rates, (as well as them being the best approximation number we can use until somebody invents something better, [Please let that be soon]) but by ratings, I mean, a runaway culture-shifting hit! Ask somebody to name a show from the '90s, they'll probably not name "The Larry Sanders Show"; they're more likely to say "Seinfeld," "Friends," or "Home Improvement," maybe. I don't think anybody would name a cable show, as a pop culture example of what people were watching on TV at that time. That is, until "Sex and the City." That show was a cultural smash. It's still a cultural smash. They've made two movies (unnecessaries movies) since the series finale of the show, and there's even a show in the works based on the Carrie Bradshaw character as a high schooler. It's the first cable series to win the Best Comedy Emmy. I wrote a blog on the show recently myself. (I was asking for it to die, but, it was a fan of the show, who wanted to let it be) But what are the qualities of the show that make it stick out. It's a female perspective on sex, that wasn't unusual per se, but never in such graphic detail before. It's funny and smart, like a lot of shows on cable. Risque, that's not new. It's was stylish, that was new. It existed in a different kind of universe than any show before it, except maybe "That Girl," but that show didn't have women who weren't looking to get married, and dating around. Does that make it a success? It's interesting, that it has all of that, but it's hardly a unique that I could claim as it's reason for popularity. I can't even claim that it was good, and that's why it was a hit, there's plenty of good shows getting cancelled now for not being hits. My theory, personally, the title. The show was called "Sex and the City," and it delivered both. It had sex, and it had the City, New York. I think that caught everyone's eye first, and then people saw all those other things in it after watching it. (I have the same theory as to why "Dirty Dancing," was popular, although I never thought it lived up to the "Dirty" part, but, that's a different blog).

Whatever it was that made "Sex and the City," a smash cultural hit, I don't know, but it was. There've been others since big hits since "Sex and the City." "Entourage," "Curb Your Enthusiam," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "Monk," "Weeds," but none of them are as big as "Sex and the City". No comedy anyway. After "Sex and the City," Cable's biggest hit show was "The Sopranos." Both shows came out around the same time, and have made HBO and have since set the standard for original cable programming, even today. I'll allow you guys to make your own list of the details of the show that distinguish it, I'm sure nearly everybody could, but it was a smash Pop Culture hit. The difference being is that now, there's a few cable dramas that have equaled it's pop culture importance. "Mad Men," "Dexter," "Breaking Bad," "The Shield," "The Wire," "Boardwalk Empire," "True Blood," all can be argued being as big as "The Sopranos," is/was.

So, drama is bigger right now, and the comedies, aren't a priority. Plain and simple. Is that Cable's fault for getting popular? Maybe, but comedy on Cable is still around. In fact, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," on FX, is currently the longest-running live-action scripted series on TV right now. It's been on nine seasons, and it's very popular, and very funny. FX, in fact has actually been working on inventive comedies. "Louie," "The League," "Wilfred," and the animated series "Archer," have become cult and critical hits in recent years, and each has gotten their own cultural fanbase themselves. TVLand is doing original comedies too, "Hot in Cleveland," being the most noteworthy,  and they're stepping out and purposefully trying to remake old-style three-camera sitcoms, and I did mention many Cable comedies did get Emmy nomination this past year in other categories. "Nurse Jackie," "The Big C," "Episodes," "Louie," and "Hot in Cleveland," they snuck into acting and writing categories. Laura Dern's new show "Enlightened," just got a couple Golden Globe nominations as well. I'm not sure what that show's about, but "Nurse Jackie," "The Big C," and let's see, "The United States of Tara," and "Hung," if I described those show to you, you might not think they were comedies. One's about a pill-addicted nurse, another is about a mother dying of cancer, another is about a mother with DID, multiple-personalities syndrome, and the fourth is about a teacher that becomes a male escort. "Weeds," sounds like a drama, a parent who starts to sell drugs, "Breaking Bad," has almost the same description, and that's unquestionably a drama. But now I'm getting into another area, are these shows, actually funny? Yes, they are, but... some would say they don't exactly make you laugh. "United States of Tara," creator Diablo Cody herself, describes her show as a "Tragicomedy". Along with the creative freedom cable provides, they've in turn, have begun taking a lot of chances on these shows that, one wouldn't exactly call laugh-out-loud comedies. My argument would be, well, neither is most of "The Merchant of Venice," but it's still a comedy, just happens to be about anti-semitism and greed, and probably a few other things. That's not gonna make people watch a show, knowing Laura Linney is gonna die at the end however. The shows that are laugh-out-loud are on basic right now, and frankly on top of comedies on cable because, they're  not only are becoming more LOL, but they've also become far more experimental and have gained a surprising amount of creative freedom in the past few years, and yet, they've still been broad LOL comedies. Sure, you can't say shit, fuck and asshole on cable, but, they say it on basic TV shows now too, when it's appropriate, they just bleep it out. "Arrested Development," "Family Guy," "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," "30 Rock," hell the first episode of "Up All Night," included at least five or six uses of the F-word, followed by some discussion on how they should start watching their language more, and then more uses of the F-word. Nudity is edited out and occurring more often, it's the same material as cable basically, but it's not censored, instead its edited. Something that Basic TV has to live with. Used to be, that would never make it on the air to begin with, now it's more common. Also more common, using different creative tools to tell the half-hour story of a sitcom. "How I Met Your Mother," uses sets with a three-camera setup and a single-camera for aberrations, like "30 Rock," and "Happy Endings," does, and plays with flashback and time like "Raising Hope". "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," and "Modern Family," have used mockumentary to add realism  to shows that might otherwise seem more traditionally sitcomish, (Especially so of "Modern Family") Animated shows, have an unlimited amount of freedom, and use self-referential comedy, which is more accepted now than ever. Hell, "Glee," is a frickin' musical every week. History had showed that that was never going to work on TV. Well, I'd argue it still hasn't, but I can't argue with it's ratings and popularity. Like it or not, it's a pop culture smash, the way "Sex and the City," was.

There's still some LOL comedies on Cable, but fewer than I think most of us would prefer, but on the same token, there's also comedies on Basic that don't make anybody laugh too, unfortunately. ("The Middle," "Rules of Engagement," "Mike & Molly," etc.) But clearly, comedy reigns creatively supreme on Basic right now, and it's not looking like that's changing in the near future, but it will change again. I also expect Dramas to eventually catch up on Basic TV too. There's still only two Dramas from Cable that have won the Best Drama Emmy, "Mad Men," and "The Sopranos," and that's despite the dominance Cable drama in recent years. Comedy got better on one, drama got better on the other, there's no reason it won't switch again in a few years. But I expect more out of cable. No matter how good Basic is, they still have to live and die by the Nielsen ratings, Cable doesn't. They don't need to cancel because of bad ratings. They never used to, and HBO and Showtime they really don't need to, they don't even have advertising that needs to be budgeted. And it's not like the old days, where shows needed to survive year-to-year either, shows survive on DVDs now, and many short-lived series from the past, are just now finding the recognition and fan support they deserved. Sure, I don't have a problem occasionally cancelling shows that are doing absolutely terrible in ratings, or even a show that was just bad. You're not doing that now though, and it's a little scary. Shows on cable often had the freedom to end on their own terms, before, drama and comedy. "The Larry Sanders Show," "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," recently, "Big Love," "Entourage," whenever Larry David finally makes a call about ending "Curb Your Enthusiam," it'll be his call, not HBO's; I'll bet money on that one now, "Tell Me You Love Me," had a second season renewal, creator Cynthia Mort, backed out it herself, that one wasn't your fault? Shows can last forever now, online downloads, DVDs, Blu-Rays..., you have a right to let them continue or end as the show(s) see fit. Like HBO's motto says, you're not TV! They can keep going, or quit on their own, or even come to a mutual decision, without any regard to who's watching it at that minute, that's why we love Cable. I mentioned one of those new shows that in development to replace some of these cancelled series, Aaron Sorkin's show "Newsroom". He's the best writer in Hollywood, with five Emmys for the "The West Wing," one of the greatest of all TV shows, and an Oscar for "The Social Network". He's also had two TV series cancelled before they should've been, "Sports Night," and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and I can't help but notice that like "Newsroom," they both take place in the behind-the-scenes of of a television program. "30 Rock," has proven that a show can take place there and have decent ratings and critical acclaim. If "Newsroom," after two seasons gets the same ratings as "Sports Night," and "Studio 60..." did, are you gonna cancel "Newsroom" too? I used to think, if only those shows were on cable, they'd be around longer, and they'd find the audience that would've appreciated how good they were. I'm excited, and looking forward, to the show, but because of your recent actions, I'm not so sure now of that assumption anymore.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEW: EDITION 17: "THE HANGOVER PART II", "GNOMEO & JULIET", "BAD TEACHER", "COWBOYS & ALIENS," "ILLEGAL", "IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF EARTH LIBERATION FRONT," "THE SLEEPING BEAUTY," "THE TEMPEST," "44 INCH CHEST", and MORE!

Happy Holidays to everyone! On top of Awards Season, it's also Holiday Season. Hanukkah, is happening now, and Christmas, Kwanzaa, and about seven other holidays are happening around the world soon. While I caught up on nine films released in the last two years, and that's a lot for me, it's also clear that most of the best films are probably in theatres right about now, if you can find them. That said there's some good DVDs out there, so take a look for them, especially "Midnight in Paris," a film whose praise I've been touting for awhile now, it's finally out on DVD, definitely check that out. Also, I'll be posting a new poll on the site in a few days. Where you'll get to vote which Holiday film I'll post as my latest "Canon of Film," entry. The choices are: "It's a Wonderful Life," "Miracle on 34th Street," (the original version, not the remake), "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and "A Christmas Story." Be sure to vote, the poll with appear on the right side of the blog, just scroll down to find it. That's it for the announcements, please follow this blog, and follow me on twitter!

 Now, onto the reviews!

THE HANGOVER PART II (2011) Director: Todd Phillipps

1 1/2 STARS

It's weird that "The Hangover Part II", not only doesn't work, but that it fails so badly. It has an occasional funny moment here and there, but even then, it's just a pale retread of the first. I liked the first "The Hangover," although I wasn't the biggest fan of it. My fault with the original was kind of an intriguing problem, that couldn't be avoided, especially after the enormous popularity became apparent. The concept is basically designed to create a situation where literally, anything could happen in the movie, and while that's a good place to be in when you're a writer, as a viewer, while the original was funny, no matter what they did, it would have never lived up to my expectations. Now, what's odd is that, while that was a detriment to the first film, it should've been an advantage for this one. We already saw how one hangover went down, now here's an entirely new slate where they can come up with hundreds of other bizarre and outrageous things that could've happen to this Wolfpack, as they call themselves now, (Not exactly "The Rat Pack," but it'll do) and instead we get, what sometimes literally feels like they took the original script and clicked the replace option a lot. Substiture Vegas for Bangkok, was probably the first thing they did? Why? I don't know, I think they might have thrown a dart on a map. This time around, Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married and her family wants the marriage on this island off the coast of Thailand. Director Todd Phillips uses many overhead shots of Thailand in the beginning, as the Wolfpack is eventually forced back together for the engagement. They promise to have only one drink before Stu's wedding, but they wake up in a hotel in Thailand, Stu has a face tattoo that's noticeably similar to Mike Tyson's, instead of a lion, they've stolen a monkey, one guy is missing, and that guy is apparently missing a finger, and so on and so forth. Even the naked Asian guy in back (Ken Jeong). Apparently he was invited by Alan (Zach Galifanakis, by far the funniest character) as his +1 to the wedding. There's one funny scene inside a monastery where they're returning a monk, and Alan has a recall of the night while meditating. It's explain a lot about Alan, moreso then Phil (Bradley Cooper), who while somebody just named him the "Sexiest Man Alive," I tend to forget his purpose in these and other movies as well. The big problem, the insulting problem is that this could've been an opportunity to really make a funny remake. This is one of the few comedies that really could've been an interesting sequel and could've been as outrageous and ridiculous as imagined. It's comedy writers dreams to have this kind of carte blanche, and instead, they gave me the same movie as before, but not nearly as good.

GNOMEO & JULIET (2011) Director: Kelly Asbury

2 1/2 STARS

It took six different people to come up with the story for "Gnomeo & Juliet," and seven people to write the screenplay, which was based on an original screenplay two guys wrote, which they based on 300-year-old idea from just one guy. Sure, that one guy was William Shakespeare, but still.... The movie smartly begins by informing us that the movie is a story that we've heard a many times before. This version takes place on Verona Street, where the Montagues and Capulets are garden gnomes on different sides of one of those house that connect two house, with each owner caring deeply about their lawn. The garden gnomes are separated by color, red and blue, and apparently the rules of garden gnomes is the same as the rules for the toys in "Toy Story," and they have their own private world where the run, and talk and play and fight each other when people aren't around. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt), see each other while in disguise as they both try to get a prized orchid for the other's family. They fall in love almost instantly, but they're unable to see each other because... Oh Dear God, why am I retelling this story? I bet a good portion of you can make a decent prediction on how they changed the ending. What's different? Well, when Mercutio and Tybalt get killed, it's from dueling lawnmowers, and that's an okay, albeit strange scene. There's even a statue of Shakespeare (Patrick Stewart, good choice) that explains how he delighted in the story, and it's original ending. You can't exactly avoid it, most people know it by heart, it's not like  "The Scarlet Letter," which no one my age I know has read except for my American Lit Major friends. The use of Elton John songs with altered lyrics is an odd touch as well. The song "Hello, Hello," which he sings with Lady Gaga, probably deserves to give him and Bernie Taupin an Oscar nomination, if the Academy can get their head out of their ass for that category and actually pick decent decent songs to nominate instead of finding one movie with music, and picking all the songs from that movie. ("Enchanted," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Dreamgirls"- you used to be creative in the category Acadamy!) I'm on the fence, but ultimately, there's no real need to see this movie, unless you want your crying three-year old to shut up for half an hour or so, and even then, how many three-year old know who Romeo and Juliet are? (Although, I do hope it's more than the amount of three-year olds that know who Snooki is).

BAD TEACHER (2011) Director: Jake Kasdan

3 STARS

(Note: This review is of the unrated version on the Blu-Ray DVD, although, the scenes with added or altered footage were noted)

Cameron Diaz does about as a good a job as anybody could've in "Bad Teacher." I've always thought Diaz was underrated as an actress. She's incredibly beautiful, and is more willing to take chances than most with roles that are outrageous, and often in outlandish comedies that few other actresses would even approach. The few times she's gone outside of the big budget action or over-the-top comedy, she's been incredible. I thought she should've gotten Oscar nominations for "Being John Malkovich," and especially for "Vanilla Sky," a movie which really doesn't work unless she's perfect in it. There is nothing likable about Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz). She is a terrible teacher who's goal is to find a rich husband so she can afford to shop all day. When her latest sugardaddy dumps her, she has to go back to teaching at JAMS (John Adama Middle School), apparently English Literature, and does nothing but show up hungover and high, and show "Stand and Deliver," "Dangerous Minds," and any other movie she can think of. In the short term, she need money to pay for a boob job, and when she's suddenly aware of the amount of money the Springfield Field Trip earns for their yearly car wash...-, well, remember the Whitesnake video from the '80s?  She soaks up in a tied t-shirt and daisy dukes, and pockets the money to put in her "New Tits" jar, one of her many money-making scams. (It says "Tits" in the unrated version, which is only "Boobs" in the theatrical version, which is ironically what I'd call the person who made that idiotic a determinaton) Elizabeth has her eyes on one of the teachers, a substitute named Scott (Justin Timberlake), who's straight-laced with nerdy glasses and suits, although clearly looks like Justin Timberlake, and he's an heir to an expensive watch company. There's a goody two-shoes teacher, Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who for other reasons is about as unrealistic a teacher I've ever seen, but she's funny too. Not that this movie was ever gonna be great, but at least it's trying. Enough of the jokes were funny, and frankly Diaz, does everything she can with this part. You can even tell, she's searching for something believable about her character, but their isn't. They try to make her likable with a happy ending where she ends up with the nice guy (Jason Segal) and has learned something about life, but that's totally the wrong ending for this character, and it's disappointing. The title is clearly intended to draw comparison to Terry Zwigoff's great "Bad Santa," one of the funniest films of the last decade. It's got many of the same dark comedy superficial elements, but it's not as funny as that film, but hardly any is. "Bad Teacher," wasn't originally screened for critics, probably correctly so, but since so many other movies are just terrible and don't do anything interesting, I'm glad they at least they attempted something. It's funny, not hilarious, and probably a failure, but an interesting failure is always better than a forgettable success.

COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011) Director: Jon Favreau

1 1/2 STARS

"Cowboys and Aliens," is a piece of pointless Hollywood junk. It's overblown, special-effects riddened, and completely unrealistic outside of a video game. All of that would've been fine, had the movie not been boring though, and this movie was bor-ring! That it was made by Jon Favreau of the "Iron Man," films fame, as well some other entertaining special effects extravangas like the underrated "Zathura," makes this film all the more disappointing. The movie begins with a lone stranger in the middle of the desert, with some kind of metallic bracelet strapped to him. Except for that bracelet, and the brief period of Jason Bourne's I-Don't-Know-Who-I-Am-but-I-Know-How-to-Kick-All-Your-Asses Syndrome, the movie is your most basic of westerns. We find his name, Jake Lonegan (Daniel Craig) on a Wanted Poster. In town, a reckless kid (Paul Dano) starts waving his gun around, robbing the local barkeep and others until Jake confronts, and he accidentally shoots a deputy. He's arrested, but his father is a local outlaw Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, bored to death), who's hellbent on getting those that got his son. Then, aliens come from the sky and kidnap and destroy half the town. They rope the citizens like cattle oddly enough. Suddenly, everybody comes together and wastes about half an hour more than necessary to find the aliens spaceship and plan their prisonbreak and counterattack. They even run into other rival outlaws and some Apache Indians, who have also lost their people to the aliens. Of course, this is a stupid and absurd premise, but why did it have to be boring? It's two-hours long, and that was the theatrical version; I don't even want to know the extended cut. This is the problem with those "Alien vs. Predator," and "Freddy vs. Jason" type films, you're basically advertising an overbudget episode of "Celebrity Deathmatch", which frankly would've been better than this movie, but even when you're doing an honest heartfelt homage to the classic western, and it's even done well, it's still something doesn't belong in this movie, at least, not for as long as it takes in this movie. There's one interesting development that occurs when the Olivia Wilde character turns out to be more than at first she seems, and even then, the development only makes some sense, and when she walks out of a fire after dying..., well, I guess for some reason they wanted a PG-13 rating. Too many cowboys, too few aliens, way too much waiting around for them to go at it.

ILLEGAL (2011) Director: Olivier Masset-Depasse

4 1/2 STARS



There are few characters that I cared about more this year than the protagonist in "Illegal," a film from Belgium about the process and the struggle those who are placed in Detention centers for not having a legal visa go through. Tania (Anne Coesens) is Russian, but is living in Belgium. She's terrified of being found, and especially afraid for her 13-year old son (Alexandre Gontcharov), who's also with her. She gets some fake passports and cards from a street-level mafia member. Her friend, who's an illegal herself from Belarus (Natalia Belokonskaya) wonders about her even. "Belarus is a dictatorship, you'll get asylum" she says, "They'll send me back to Russia." Soon, after Tania and her son are caught speaking Russian, she's sent to the detention camp. They don't know her real name, and she's burned off her fingerprints. She thinks in five months, she'll be released, but things change, and the detention center is its own kind of hell. She trades off constantly for chore duty in order to get precious phone cards to call her kid, which she won't even admit to having. Soon, her son starts working for the mobster. She's livid and can't do anything about it. Finally, after giving her name, they find out she asked for asylum once before in Poland, and they try to send her there to stand for her crimes first, but she refuses to get on the plain. Her bunkmates and their kids, soon start accepting deportation back. After a while, one of the guards asks her what's so bad about returning to Russia? I was thinking the same thing. We don't get an answer, but Tania is determined to stay in Belgium, it seems even if that means putting her body and soul out there to be destroyed. This is a film about a smart and desperate person trying to outthink an unjust and corrupt system. All would've been moot, if they were just allowed into the country. I don't know what's in Russia that makes her want to stay out of it so much, but somebody who fights like her, I'd rather have in my country. Very good film.

IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF EARTH LIBERATION FRONT (2011) Directors: Marshall Curry and Sam Cullen

4 STARS

On the much-maligned short list of this year's potential Oscar Nominees in the Documentary category is the film "If a Tree Falls: A Story of Earth Liberation Front". The Earth Liberation Front, or E.L.F., were considered by the FBI to be the biggest domestic terrorism threat in the United States. They were the ones in black masks that started looting the stores during what's now become known as the Battle of Seattle, in 2000. They've destroyed everything from SUVs to places that were polluting, everything from horse butcherers who's horseblood was contaminating the water supply, to places which were cloning trees secretly (Or so they thought on that one.) We get unprecedented access to the leader Daniel McGowan, who's currently on house arrest as he prepares his federal case. The E.L.F. were finally arrested after one of them turned as agreed to wear a wire to catch others. Before then, nobody knew who they were, including the FBI. McGowan seems the most unlikely of the terrorists. Short and stocky, he worked at a few charities when he was caught. The amazing thing about E.L.F. is that despite over forty bomb attacks and fires, not a single person was killed because of one of their attacks. At times, you could argue that they had more success than any other terrorist group I can think of. Their targets were specific and limited, intended to cause the companies to not only lose money, but to spend extra money rebuilding the places that were destroyed, to the point where it wouldn't be profitable to do so. The movie interviews many members, and many of the FBI agents who finally tracked them down, and orchestrated their arrest, getting the 16 high-ranking members at the same time, despite them being spread out all across the country. Even they look at them sympathetically though. There's some question as to whether or not the E.L.F. were terrorists, and henceforth the punishment by law. "It was property destruction." goes McGowin. "You don't pull off that many attacks and not kill anybody without knowing what you're doing. This was purposeful." I think they were terrorists. That doesn't mean I don't see their point, and there's little that they did that I personally would've disagreed with. Hey, the American Revolution had hired pirates, we just called them privateers. If these are the so-called radical left to the Tea Parties radical right, I think our radicals are better, calmer and smarter. Was it worth it? Probably not. When the group started discussing whether they should start going after those captains of industry that the Occupy Wall Streeters are fighting now, McGowin disbanded the E.L.F. He eventually took a pleas deal and is serving in a maximum security prison for up to seven years, probably out in less than four.

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011) Director: Catherine Breillat

3 1/2 STARS-Conditionally

"The Sleeping Beauty," is the 2nd film is controversial French filmmaker Catherine Breillat's trilogy of fairy tales, however this is the first of these films of hers I've seen, so I'm intending on reviewing this film again in the future after watching them in order, beginning with the first film "Bluebeard." First question: Who's the strange one that gave a go ahead for Catherine Breillat of all people to reinvent fairy tales? I've a huge fan of Breillat's work, so I'm happy that this version of Hans Christian Anderson's "Sleeping Beauty," will have a teenage lesbian sex scene, for no particular reason. Well, there's a reason, but..., well is there a reason? Breillat is one of the greats at examining sexuality, which makes why she'd be interested in some of these fairy tales, most of which, at least when there's a female protagonist, in their original forms especially, are long metaphors for losing their virginity. Of the films of hers I've seen. her great "Romance," which involves a female teacher and her thoughts on sex, as she trembles the line between marriage and the single life she likes, all while giving her own commentary on the place of sex in female society, there's so many bizarre dream sequences in that film, that sometimes its hard for me to even remember the story of that one, but it's exhilarating to watch. I've also seen "Sex is Comedy," where Breillat basically reveals her directing style, as the movie chronicles a difficult film shoot, where the actors have to shoot a sex scene, that one I didn't like much at all, and "Anatomy of Hell," which involves two people, who meet four times according to a deal they make, where the anatomical aspects of both the male and female body are very graphically examined, at one point, there's, I believe a shovel is used in a way that a shovel, was probably not how it was designed to be used. (I think it was a shovel, it might have been a rake. It was something long and wooden) Nobody liked that film, except for me strangely enough, basically 'cause whatever its faults, she did in fact examine the anatomy in a hellish way. In "The Sleeping Beauty," three witches are constantly trying to bring back to life Anastasia (Carla Besnainou, as a kid, Julia Artamanov as forever a 16-yead old), who's been murdered by one of her relatives. The way they do this, is through, I guess what I would equate to a lucid dream, if anybody remember either Alejandro Amenabar's film "Open Your Eyes," or Cameron Crowe's remake "Vanilla Sky," the witches infiltrate her mind, and while she's waiting for this prince to awaken her, she's exploring her sexual identity in this dreams. Many kinds of sexuality awaredness. The kid who finally awakens her, at least metaphorically, Peter (Kerien Mayan) seems like a young, confused adolescent himself, mostly. There's a scene where sex is attempted, (or imagined at being attempted, whatever your interpretation), but with Anastasia still in a century's old girdle, it takes so long to get her out of it, they decide to try again later. As with all Breillat films, this one is strange. Giving her the ability to reinvent fairy tales, well, Walt Disney might be turning in his grave, but while I enjoyed the film, as much as I can make out of it, when she finishes the trilogy, and when I see them in order, I believe I'll have a clearer picture of what she's doing with this film then. In the meantime, I'm recommending it, hoping that it will make more sense once the trilogy is revealed.

THE TEMPEST (2010) Director: Julie Taymor

2 1/2 STARS

I have come to certain conclusions about Director Julie Taymor. She's directed four feature film, this being the third of hers I've seen, the others being the amazing "Frida," which made my Ten Best List the year it came out, and I greatly admired "Across the Universe," which creatively used The Beatles to create a narrative, but she's even more famous for her work in the theatre, most famously, the Broadway production of "The Lion King." Recently, I saw her interviewed on "60 Minutes," as she was preparing the highly-antipated and eventually much maligned Broadway Musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark". From that interview, I realized something about her that I never noticed before. Julie Taymor is fucking crazy! I don't intend this to be taken as a negative comment, it isn't. Anybody who can even think of some of the inventiveness she's done in both film and stage, as well as her insistance upon it, well, she'd have to be crazy. Who would undertake such a challenge as turning a movie about animals and turn it into a Broadway show, surely there's dozens of films in the Disney Canon better suited for a Broadway, but she didn't care, she got what she wanted, and she created one of the biggest stage spectacles of all-time. She had the same opportunity with "Spider-Man...." After seeing everything she was going to try with that show, I wanted to see it, and I don't even like "Spider-Man". Of course, actors were damn near losing their lives over the show, which ended up being months delayed, and eventually she was fired, and correctly so, especially since,... well, she's fucking crazy. In fact, you can make a strong argument that her version of "The Tempest," which earned an Oscar nomination last year for Sandy Powell costume design, might just the tamest thing she's ever done, and when you have to go to Shakespeare to do something relatively conventional, that's saying something.  She has some flourishes of interesting choices, most notable, changing Prospero's sex to female, and renaming her Prospera, (Helen Mirren) which alters the dynamic of the relationship with Miranda (Felicity Jones) to mother-daughter, and that actually makes a little more sense interestingly enough. Again, as with "Gnomeo & Juliet," I'm going to presume that most of us kinda know "The Tempest." I think it is one of those tricky ones of Shakespeare; kinda like "A Midsummer Night's Dream", in which the characters are unwillingly and unknowing placed in situations and ways of behaving that's outside their own control. There's interesting creative choice like Ariel (Ben Whishaw) as an andogenous nymph, and casting the great African actor Djimon Hounsou as Caliban. Russell Brand as Trinculo is clearly the most intriguing casting choice, and he gets some laughs, but is he a Shakespeare quality actor, even when paired with Hounsou and Alfred Molina for most of the movie? I think it's more likely that Shakespeare wrote a character thinking that someday there'd be someone like Russell Brand around to play it. There's some wonderous special effects, sometimes they're even spectacular, but it's also overwhelming much of the time. Even with all the spirits and alchemy, I tend to think works better with "The Tempest," instead of lavishness. There's not a bad performance in the film, and there's some great actors in this. I haven't even mentioned, Alam Cumming, David Strathairn, and Chris Cooper, to name a few. I'm happy to say that I've seen it, and that I'm fairly certain that Taymor is happy with it, but I can't quite recommend it. I admire it, but sometimes having too much, is really just too much.

44 INCH CHEST (2010) Director: Malcolm Venville

4 1/2 STARS

"44 Inch Chest," has the feel of one of those British Gangster films. You know the kind, a bunch of old British actors talking in some kind of swear-heavy, sub-Mamet dialogue, most of them preparing some kind of heist, or discussing more trivial day-to-day moments. Some of the oldest of them might have particularly single-minded views, all of them think the younger generation is hopeless? Writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto wrote one of those movies before, "Sexy Beast," which earned Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination a few years back. Curiously, that's one I didn't care for, but that movie was a heist movie that was predictable and interrupted for almost an hour until they finally killed the Kingsley character. "44 Inch Chest," uses the characters talking, flashbacks and analysis of what's happened, but then slowly lets us in that there's more going on than what meets the eye. Colin (Ray Winstone), is heartbroken after his wife has an affair. He was caught offguard by it, and he doesn't understand why she would leave him. The other guys try cheering him up and discussing they're thoughts, and sometimes meander into telling stories of themselves. There's some great performances here, my favorite being Ian McShane as a homosexual gangster who's the most clear-eyed of the bunch. For a while, the movie feels almost like a play, all the actors sitting in the room, trying to get a reaction out of old Colin. Are they planning something? Maybe this almost could've been a play, but then it becomes clear that it couldn't, and that something else is happening in this room, and then in Colin's mind, as he struggles to determine what exactly his next move should be. There's great performances by everybody in the film, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt's great, Stephen Dillane as well. "44 Inch Chest," keep me interested, and then continually surprises me, with not only sudden plot twists, but with the layers of depth it brings to its and characters.

MOMMIE DEAREST (1981) Director: Frank Perry

2 1/2 STARS

I kind of figured that "Mommie Dearest," wasn't going to be good, so I was mainly hoping that it was at least entertaining. It was for much of the film. Have you ever noticed that Faye Dunaway seems to only be able to play excessively over-the-top or withdrawn realism? Playing Joan Crawford, she almost had to be over-the-top. The claims made by her daughter Christina, I believe are probably true, but they're still nearly impossible to play believably. That's because either Christina Crawford's claims are so outrageous that they're impossible to be believe, or, they're destructively accurate, and it's practically impossible to play with some of them with that kind of believable dramatic emotion. So, it's become a cult classic after numerous Razzie Awards nominations, and a memorable story that's gonna be repeatedly on numerous "E! True Hollywood Stories" and their clones for years to come, and that's good. I don't quite know if the entire movie deserves such camp stature. I think only part of the movie does. "No Wire Hangers Ever," definitely camp! (Although I actually hate wire hangers too, so I kinda get that.) Moreso those scenes when Christina is a child (Mara Hobel) then so much of those scenes where she's an adult and out on her own (Diana Scarwid). I think it's unfortunate that so much of it is unintentionally funny, 'cause to her, it wasn't. It was destructively realistic. I think the differences between "Mommie Dearest," and "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," aren't that far apart actually. It's all a matter of tone, and how to showcase the characters. Precious was the key character in her own film, so it showed her point of view. Unfortunately, in "Mommie Dearest," the interesting character is the Monsterous Joan Crawford, so we see follow her around more than the daughter she adopts. However, that'd be a different movie altogether to show Christina's perspective, and one that I probably wouldn't want to see more than once. I can see "Mommie Dearest a few times, even if I can't quite recommend it, if you want to watch something bad, this is the kind of bad that you should watch.

EAGLE vs. SHARK (2007) Director: Taika Waititi

1 1/2 STARS

"Eagle vs. Shark," is a good example of what happens when everything in an independent film goes wrong at the same time. From New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, it's the story of two, well, weirdos. Or at least they're supposed to be loveable weirdos, but they aren't that interesting. Lily (Loren Horsley) works at a run-of-the-mill burger joint that Jarrod (Jermaine Clement, from "Flight of the Conchords") visits occasionally. She likes him, and they go to a party he's holding. A costume party, she dresses as a shark, he dresses as an eagle, they have a shy makeout in their costumes. I guess it was supposed to be funny. Maybe it wasn't, but there's many versions of this story, I couldn't keep my focus. Jarrod seemed oddly abrasive to be likeable. He's obsessed with challenging, and then beating up his old bully from high school, training for weeks on end in fact. Lily and Jarrod play video games, she's surprisingly good at some kind of fighting game. (After Mortal Kombat, they've all kinda seem to same to me, so whatever the game was, she was good.) I guess this movie was an attempt at some kind of, kitchsy indy humor where you can't tell whether we're making fun of the characters or we actually are trying to sympathy for the characters, but I couldn't feel anything for the characters, and nothing in particular made me laugh. Nothing particular was even romantic. Was their a reason for them to meet at a costume party and dress as an eagle and a shark, other than to give the movie a title?

THE AIR I BREATHE (2008) Director: Jieho Lee

1/2 STAR

I don't even get the tile of this movie. That's not really a requirement for me to like a film, but on top of everything else that sucks about "The Air I Breathe," it's friggin' annoying. "The Air I Breathe," correlates multiple narratives based around a couple different simultaneous events, for no particular reason, probably other than the fact that nothing is good enough to hold up as an entire short story on its own. Even if you ignored the supposed connection incident between these tales, despite a wonderful cast, there's hardly anything interesting or even believable about any of these stories. It takes place in an underworld, where a head gangster named Fingers (Andy Garcia), named such for the most unimaginative reason you could've come up with for naming a gangster 'Fingers', but he seems to have a hand in everything going on. The first story involves Happiness (Forrest Whitaker). Yes, that's his character's name. Some of the character are named after a Chinese Proverb where life is broken into four emotional cornerstones. I think the filmmaker did this in order to have a cheap-way out of creating fully-fledged characters, so he just pinned emotions of them. Whitaker is an investment banker who gets a tip on a horse in a fixed race, and decides to bet big. He then loses, and now owes Fingers, and the only way he can get the money back is to rob a bank. Well, either that, or he could've committed insider trading, because one of his clients, an investor named Pleasure (Brendan Fraser) seems to have an uncanny ability to pick stocks. He also has a strange ability to see the future right in front of him, and can at times alter it. Not always with the positive and intended result, but enough that Fingers trust him to be his bodyguard and watch Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a pop artist who's contract ended up in the hands of Fingers after a deal with her agent left her to him. Pleasure and Sorrow, eventually start a relationship, and Pleasure begins hiding Sorrow from Fingers, in an attempt to help her escape Fingers. After that doesn't work, they up in a hospital. Love (Kevin Bacon), is a doctor in the hospital, who has the most absurd of stories. His girlfriend is sick and dying, and needs a blood transfusion, but she has an extremely rare blood type. (A blood type so rare, that when I did an online search for it, the only reference to it was from this movie.) Obviously this screenwriter never took a forensics science class, 'cause there's very few rare blood types such as the kind described in the film, and that's not exactly how blood types work either. Anyway, only Sorrow has that blood type, which he learns of by watching an interview where she reveals this rere blood type to an annoying TV host. These stories don't even make well-done short stories on their own, much less when shoved together. Forrest Whitaker's story, if I had to compare, is the one with the most human element of interest, and since it began the movie, it sucked me in, but by the end of the movie, even what redeeming value that one had was lost by the end. If this is the air the filmmakers breathes, then I'm surprised that haven't died of asphyxiation from film noir poisoning. I've seen more than a few bad films this week, but nothing compared to the pointless dreck that "The Air I Breathe," is. My only consulation, is that this surprisingly strong troupe of actors will and have found themselves in better projects than this one.