Also, while I got a review that comes from a rare trip to the movie theatre this week, in my review of "The Artist," since my review of "The Help," is about twice as long at least, it seemed stupid to call this an extended review, so from here on out, all movie reviews that I give from films I've seen at the theatre will be called "SPECIAL REVIEWS"! They'll be noted with a small asterisk symbol next to the movie title in the future.
Okay, that's enough jibber-jabbering on miniscule, unnoticed details, time for this week's movie reviews!
THE ARTIST (2011) Director: Michel Hazanavicius
The more one knows about film, the more one will appreciate “The Artist”. I’m not just referring to silent film aficionados either, (although if you’re not on board with that, get on it now!!!) but cinema in general. Director Michel Hazanavicius’s film is shot with a celebration of all the history of cinema. The way the breakfast scenes that George Valentine (Jean Dujardin) has with his wife are clearly borrowed from “Citizen Kane,” how his self-portrait invokes the photo of Calvero in Chaplin’s “Limelight”, (One of many Chaplin references) even the position of tables at a restaurant, is a blatant borrow from “The Shop Around the Corner”. Part of the score is from “Vertigo” even. You can even claim part of the story is from “Singin’ in the Rain”. (and maybe even some of the dancing) The movie is about a popular but aging film star (Dujardin), who unluckily peaks his career, right as sound is introduced into film. During one press junket, a plucky young actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) steals the spotlight. The two end up working together on Valentine’s next film, briefly, but memorably. As sound comes in though, Miller’s career skyrockets while Valentine’s flutters. His studio stops making silent films, and his attempt to make and finance his own, leaves him broke. His wife Doris, (Penelope Ann Miller) leaves him. The downward spiral continues. There’s some pathos here, as there were in so many of those old silent films. “The Artist,” invokes the era magically. He doesn’t even shoot the movie in widescreen. The film isn’t completely silent, however. There are two critical scenes where it isn’t. One involves a nightmarish dream sequence that, not only compares with some of Bergman’s greatest dreams, but is also a masterful use of sound editing. (It also has the jagged camera angles of “The Third Man,” film history is everywhere in this movie!) The other, I’m not even gonna begin to describe. “The Artist,” is currently the favorite, and likely winner of the Best Picture Oscar, as well as many other Awards, it just cleaned at the BAFTAs earlier this week. Michel Hazanavicius is clearly a lover of cinema to even attempt such a project, and the fact that he got it made in America, is even more amazing. I can understand the appeal, especially for cinephiles and filmmakers. Hazanavicius up until now isn’t particularly well-known in the U.S.. He previously directed the two movies in the “OSS 117” series that also starred Dujardin, which are French comedic versions of James Bond (It’s kinda their version of Austin Powers), but he is a lover of film, and this is one of the year’s best. It must’ve been a lot of fun to make too. Dujardin and Bejo both earned their Oscar nominations, but there’s some wonderful supporting work here by James Cromwell and John Goodman especially, doing kind of a Mack Sennett/Louis B. Mayer type as the studio head. The film is little dark at times, and the story isn’t particularly unfamiliar, and at some points it’s downright predictable, but Hazanavicius achieves what he’s going for, and it’s sjust enjoyable and fun to watch even if you don’t catch every single homage. I worry about those for whom this will be their first silent film. It’d be unfortunate, but hopefully there’ll be a run on Chaplin and Keaton on Netflix afterwards though.
THE HELP (2011) Director: Tate Taylor
1 1/2 STARS
I wonder who had final cut on "The Help"? I think it was probably director Tate Taylor, who is a lifelong friend of Kathryn Stockett, the author of the novel the film is based on, and he must've been determined to make a film as accurately to the book as possible. There's definitely some heartfelt filmmaking in "The Help," and at times, the movie even has moments where it shines, but too much of this is unwatchable. Not "hard to watch", as in, it's hard to see what's on the screen, because of what's happening, no. "Unwatchable", means, unable to be viewed in any serious matter, and/or in the matter in which it's intended to be viewed. There are two scenes in the beginning of this film, that alone had they been cut or reedited, I would've at least given the movie an extra half-a-star at least. The film begins with Skeeter (Emma Stone), coming home from college, and the family maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson, dangerously close to a Moms Mabley impersonation) is no longer working with her family. Once it becomes clear that her mother (Allison Janney) fired her, there's a flashback scene--, well, no it's not really a flashback, it's a scene in Skeeter's mind, imagining Constantine talking to her to calm her times of trouble. This scene is just wrong. First of all, it's not necessary for us to see what's in Skeeter's mind; she already has all the motivation she needs, why do we now have to see what's inspiring her? And come to think of it, why is "The Help," from her perspective? Do we need another white person point of view to introduce us to racism? (Not that that necessarily means it couldn't have been a good movie, but it would've been a better film if it was from one of the maid's point of view) The other editing choice completely ruins what should be one of the movie's highest points. After Minny (Octavia Spencer) gets fired after using the indoor toilet during a tornado at Hilly Holbrook's (Bryce Dallas Howard) house, she calls Aibileen (Viola Davis) frantic at home, fearing her abusive husband LeRoy (Never seen, but did they have to name him LeRoy?) claiming that she had gone back to Hilly's house, and done something terribly awful. Right there, is everything that is needed to know about that scene. Instead however, we have a cutaway to Minny arriving about Hilly's house, carrying... let's just say 'something'. I paused the DVD right here, and made a mental list of everything that she could've done based on that scene. Later, when Minny tells Skeeter, who's begun secretly writing a book about the stories and perspectives of the maids in Jackson, Mississippi, she reveals exactly what she had done and wouldn't you know it, what she did was the #1 thing on my list that I thought of. Why did they hint at this scene? Could they not think that the audience might get ahead of them? The film's editor is Hughes Winborne, who's really a good editor; he won an Oscar a few years ago for editing "Crash", he's also edited films like "Seven Pounds," "Sling Blade," "The Great Debaters" to name a few. I wonder if this is his fault, 'cause even bad films he's edited like "The Pursuit of Happyness," I've never found myself questioning an editing choice of his that's so clearly obvious. Although a good portion of the scenes that are here are just bad and downright manipulative. Sissy Spacek plays a character who has movie senility. In one scene, she can't remember what city she's in, or that there's a pool and not a beach outside, and in the very same scene, directly after, she's able to fight with her daughter about the use of a bathroom. Minny ends up working half-an-hour out of town for Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who the rest of the town has shunned completely, which here means that, she's not invited to the local wives' bridge games and benefits for starving African children. I wondered a lot of things during "The Help". Some of them were actually profound thoughts, like what's so appealing about being in the social upper crust of such a small pond as Jackson, Mississippi, if not to bully those below you, and different from you? (Not just racially different either) I thought about Hattie McDaniel saying she's rather get paid $600 to play a maid than be a maid. Most of the time though, I wondered things like, why is Mary Steenburgen making a cameo in this film, when there's no need to even see this character? Or why does the movie keep having all these extra endings? Or what happens to Aibileen at the end? If ever there was a movie that needed credits at the end explaining what happened to some of it's characters afterwards, this was it, even if it just said, "She continued working for so-and-so..." or something. It's telling that "The Help" has three of it four Oscar nominations in acting categories, and nothing else other than Best Picture (and I doubt it would've gotten that had their been only 5 nominees in that category). Spencer and Chastain are both up for Supporting Actress. Chastain is very good here, and this probably is the widest range role she had this year, although she still should've been nominated for "The Tree of Life," instead. Spencer is more deserving though, and the only problem I have with Viola Davis's nomination is that I'm not sure it's a lead performance, although to the Academy's credit, it damn well should've been. Davis is amazing at everything she does, and she's easily the best thing in this movie. There are some good intentions in "The Help", kinda like Skeeter's character, wanting to add a new document to the story of the American experience. Well... you know what they say about "good intentions" though....
RED STATE (2011) Director: Kevin Smith
It's clear to me that with "Red State," Kevin Smith's latest and most controversial film to date that he's trying to do two things. One is expand his range as a director. Unbelievably it's his tenth film since he first came out with "Clerks" back in '94, and this is his first film that's not a comedy. Interestingly, and probably correctly he chose horror for his next genre, which more than most genres, is a director's medium. The other thing he wanted to do was say something with this film. Just the title alone is somewhat imflammatory, and the end credit separate the actors into three sections, Sex, Religion, and Politics. The sex part begins, probably where inevitably all horror films seem to have to begin, with stupid teenagers. (It has to. Smart teenagers would know never to do the stuff stupid teenagers do to end up in these situations.) These stupid teenagers, Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) and Randy (Ronnie Connell) answer a posting on a website from a woman who wants a gang-bang, (Is gang-bang hyphenated, or is it one-word? Or two words? I think it's hyphenated, two words, one thought, right? Oh well...) with an older woman who lives at Cooper's Mill (I think it's Cooper's 'Mill' I scoured five pages of reviews on imdb.com to find the name of the town, but couldn't find it.), which is a religious cult outside of town known for picketing and protesting funeral of homosexuals who they probably gay-bashed to death. "Even the Neo-Nazi's think they're crazy!" says their teacher. But, they're enticed by the older woman, Sara's (Melissa Leo) posting on a sex website, and off to Cooper's Mill (I swear that doesn't sound right. Cooper's Hull, maybe...ugh!) where they're drugged and caged before being brought to Five Points Church to hear Akin Cooper (Micharl Parks, really good here) give his fire and brimstone sermon at his Five Points Church, before the kids are executed. After things go a little wrong however, the town's sheriff (Stephen Root), who's outnumbered and afraid of retribution upon himself, calls in the Feds, and pretty soon, it's Waco all over again, or close to it anyway. Led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman, very good here, and 2nd film of his I've reviewed this week), they're caught outnumbered in a gun battle, with a maniac and his followers. There's some attempt to get the children outside, but try as he can, there's more confusion then there is gaining or losing ground. I like a lot about "Red State". It's got everything a horror film needs, great performance by key characters, especially Parks, Leo and Goodman, and I want to note a small but good performance by Kerry Bishe, playing Sara daughter Cheyenne as the one member who's more concerned with the welfare of the kids upstairs than the survival of the church. The movie is also exciting, filled with blood and violence, and it's well-directed. Actually, I think it's one of Smith's most mature directing jobs, as he enjoys the challenge of changing the tone of the movie at will. However, while I recognize Smith has something to say in this film, I found myself wondering, what exactly was it, other than maybe, religious cults are crazy? Religion is crazy? Don't go scouring the internet for sex? Maybe he was trying to say too much, and the message kinda got lost. Smith has an unseen cameo in the film where he screams the line "Shut the fuck up!" to a character that really should. I don't know. I found myself reflecting on Woody Allen's character in "Stardust Memories," and how everybody keeps telling him how much they love his movies, especially the early funny ones. I don't want to say that to Kevin Smith; I would like to see him expand and challenge himself more, but... well... I prefer the early funny ones.
TABLOID (2011) Director: Errol Morris
Errol Morris is probably the world's greatest documentarian. With landmark films like "Gates of Heaven," "The Thin Blue Line," and the Oscar-winning "The Fog of War," and his own invention of the interrotron, a camera that allows him to interviews his subjects while they simultaneously still look into the camera, he creates some of the most fascination documentaries of our time. He seems to be fascinated with two kinds of subjects. One involves investigatory subjects, trying to dissect and understand a crime, while the other seems to be profiles of people who are in some ways in control or are trying to control and manipulate the world to them. "Tabloid," has both of these in it's main subject Joyce McKinney. She's a former Miss Wyoming who became world famous in England after reportedly kidnapping a young Mormon Missionary in England, chaining him up to a bed and making him her sex slave. She tells a different interpretation of that story. The story was a tabloid sensation in England and the World. McKinney claims that the Mormon Church sent her boyfriend away to get him away from her, and she was just getting him back, and claims that he went willingly with her. I don't know how much of her version I actually believe, although I think everything she said is certainly what she believes happened. Reportedly, McKinney went around the country to screenings of "Tabloid" heckling the film for how it portrays. Actually it portrays her in a rather positive light I think. She had worked as a nude "masseuse" in L.A. for a few years, with multiple ads and picture to prove it, many of those facts got revealed at trial. After she left England, she swore to write a book, and ended up living with her dogs, one of which severely attacked her, the other ended up saving her, and has since gone off to Japan to have that dog cloned she loved him so much for how obedient and loving he was. Whether or not she chained a Mormon and forced herself on him, I don't know, but she clearly has a dominant personality, and yes, dominant as in sexual appetite as well. She hasn't been in a relationship since, she claims. I believe her there. I think she was in love with someone who might not have loved her back as much as she loved him. I don't rank this one as one of Errol Morris's absolute essential bests, but it's still unbelievably entertaining and worth watching.
THOR (2011) Director: Kenneth Branagh
4 1/2 STARS
I wrote an old blogpost a while back explaining my experience, or specifically, my lack of experience and expertise with comic books. Apparently "Thor," exists in the same universe as "Iron Man". This apparently is a Marvel Comics Universe, and is one of many of these superhero original films to set-up "The Avengers," which should be released later this year. One of the benefits of my lack of specific familiarity with some of these characters is that I actually have very little knowledge of what's going to happen in the film. With "Thor," other than the fact that he's a mythological God of- something? Thunder, I think. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Loki (Tom Huddleston) are the sons of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who is the ruler Asgard, and next in line for the throne, if he just wasn't so battle-hungry. After an attempt be the frozen giants of, some, other realm, (Okay, I'm not gonna pretend I understood it all yet.) anyway, he picks a fight with his father's enemies, and because of it, he's sent down to Earth and stripped of his powers. On modern day Earth, his descent is being investigated by a crew of astronomists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvis (Stellan Skarsgaard), which they think is some kind of bizarre astronomical phenomenon. While in the times of the Greeks, they the Asgards were looked upon as Gods, now he's sent to a hospital for observant. Being that he's Thor, he escapes and begins searching for his fallen hammer, which now has a Excaliber-like place in the middle of the New Mexico desert where S.H.I.E.L.D., the secret defense group is guarding and studying it, led by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Back in Asgard, Loki, as Angel of Deaths tend to do, begins plans of his own to take his father's crown, and possibly turn the land over to the frozen giants. "Thor," was directed by, maybe the last guy I ever wold've thought of for directing a comic book story, the great Shakespearean Actor/Director Kenneth Branagh. He's currently an Oscar-nominee for Supporting Actor for portraying Lawrence Olivier in "My Week with Marilyn", and he's directed and starred in the infamous five-hour, no scene left out version of "Hamlet," and he earned an Acting Oscar-nomination for directing himself famously in one of the best of all Shakespearean adaptations, "Henry V", many years ago. Shakespeare certainly had his fare share of intrigue in mythology, and there's certainly some Shakespearean themes in "Thor," particularly in the world of Asgard. I don't know how big a fan of the comic Branagh is, but either way, he's directing is stellar here. He treats both worlds and situations with utter sincerity and it works. It works rather well I might add, and he also has a surprising amoung of power with special effects. The world of Asgard that is created is stunning. I'm not particularly familiar with the work of Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, the only thing I've seen of him until now was in the latest "Star Trek," film where he played Capt. Kirk. That film, I didn't much care for, but his work here is striking as both the thunderous but self-involved son of the Gods and as a troubled and lovestruck stranger in a strange land. This is a big surprise to me, but I rather enjoyed "Thor," very much. Of the Marvel Films in this series I've seen so far, which is the first two "Iron Man"'s and this one, while I liked all three "Thor," is my favorite so far. Very entertaining, on quite a few different levels I must say.
TINY FURNITURE (2010) Director: Lena Dunham
4 1/2 STARS
Aura (Writer/Director Lena Dunham) is a recent College graduate. She's come home, and she has absolutely no idea what to do with the rest of her life. (She should join our club, we're gonna have jackets soon!) Dunham won the Spirit Award last year for Best First Screenplay for this film and it's just gotten a Criterion Collection release. Aura moves back in with her mother and sister (Laurie Simmons and Grace Dunham, who in real life are her actual mother and sister) in their Tribeca loft (They're actual Tribeca loft). Her mother makes money taking pictures of dollhouse furniture. Apparently these kind of jobs exist outside of Nicole Holofcener films. She doesn't want to be home, but outside of her college diploma, all she has is a youtube video of her in a bikini in a fountain that her ex-boyfriend took and posted without her consent. She goes out to parties at night and takes a job as a daytime hostess for a nighttime restaurant, which makes barely above nothing, but the chef, Keith (David Call) is attractive and reads Cormac McCarthy. He is also married, but at some point, she asks him on a date anyway. She runs into an old school friend of hers, Charlotte (Jemima Kirk) at one of those parties she goes out to at night out of boredom, and through her, meets Jed (Alex Karpovsky) who's famous on youtube films, where he's riding a toy horse in his underwear and reciting Nietzsche. Apparently, it got him an agent, and he's in New York for a week taking meetings at HBO and Comedy Central, and ends up staying at Aura's while her mother and sister are out of town. She's with both of these men at some point; neither of these men are good fits for Aura. Nothing in this movie is a good fit for Aura. There's not even a plot in this movie, and that's the point. It's a film about a smart young girl who isn't sure what to do with her life. By the end of the movie, she's less sure of what to do than ever before. There are no great epiphanies or revelations. She occasionally reads from her mom's old journals where she finds, not much. A few old flameout boyfriend types she's has long forgotten. There's a sex scene late in the film that's as depressing as any I've ever seen and not just because of the location (You will never be able to guess where, so don't bother trying.) She's all-too aware of how depressing it is while she's in the middle of it, but instead of stopping, and leaving, she tells him to pull her hair. Believe it or not, this film is a comedy. A dark one, a comedy of detachment, but a comedy nonetheless. We hope that Aura's sake, that she has hit rock bottom and will eventually recover and turn into a legitimate filmmaker, while her bigger fear is that she hasn't hit rock bottom yet. If that doesn't work, maybe she can start a movie review blog.
MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010) Director: Mark Hartley
There are many famous movies, especially war movies that were shot in The Philippines. "Apocalypse Now," "Full Metal Jacket," for instance. "Machete Maidens Unleashed!" is not about those movies, instead it's about films made by exploitation directors and producers to make small-scale el cheapo B-movies with people like Pam Grier, and other mostly naked women who aren't that famous. During the Marcos regime, The Philippines had one of the biggest movie industries in the world, and no safety laws or minimum wage laws, so many ultra-low budget movies, if they could be set, say, in the jungle, and many that weren't, were made in "The Philippines". Marcos's army, when not bombing villages, was constantly on-hand in case they were needed with helicopters and weapons, and local people made up many extras. These exploitation films are filled with monsters and scantilly-clad women martial-artist/resistance fighters, and even occasionally a midget secret agent. There's interviews with many of the actors and filmmakers of that time. Roger Corman, John Landis, Sid Haig, Jonathan Demme, many of the lesser-known stars and figures as well. The movie is an interesting little time portal into a forgotten era of cinema outside of the Tarantino's of the world who go out of their way for such wonderful schlock. No the movies were really if ever good, but they were getting made, and that's half the battle, especially in the Philippino jungles, that's really half the battle. This documentary about those movies is a lot better than most of the films it showcases. Although, it might good to watch a Weng-Weng film at least once.
RUSHMORE (1998) Director: Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is one of the most distinctive of directors. It's hard to describe all of his techniques unless you're doing a frame-by-frame analysis of his films, but he's mixes such strange elements as irony-ladened pop songs, with almost Ozu-esque camera angles that seem to let the films happen, and yet, he's uses some insucient editing montages to their comedic and creative zeniths. His best film is "The Royal Tenenbaums," although strangely I'm the only one I know with that opinion. They always seem to pick either "Bottle Rocket," his first film, or "Rushmore," his second. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman, in his first film) is the kind of student who thoroughly enjoys extra-curricular activites. He doesn't much care for school itself, and his grades slip so severely at Rushmore Academy that he's been warned that if they don't improve, despite his enormous campus presence, he'll be kicked out. He doesn't seem to do much about his grades, but he continually writes and puts on plays, and then joins and/or creates numerous other groups or projects. One involves blocking a school proposal to get rid of teaching Latin. Even though, he spent five years requesting to get rid of it, when he meets Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) the new 1st Grade teacher, he makes it his goal to keep it. Also, he wants to build an aquarium. That one's more subtle, and an early clue that the background and art design are always key in Anderson's films. To build the aquarium, he gets startup money from his friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray), who's kids go to the school, although he has no particular affection for them. (As he shouldn't, they're annoying.) Herman's kids also go to Rushmore Academy, and he seems to be the one adult who recognizes that Max's go-getter streak is what's gonna make him successful, and not so much grades. Max Fischer seems to change and alter his personality depending on where he is and who he talks to, or at least he tries to. I think he's somewhat modeled after Woody Allen's "Zelig," character. About the one thing he isn't is what he is, a teenager. His friends and romantic-interests are older, he feels uncomfortable talking about his father (Seymour Cassel), insisting he's a brain surgeon when he's really a barber, although he'll argue that they're basically the same thing. "Rushmore," has more than enough funny and strange Anderson-esque moments to appeal to his fans (Me being one of them). Some, I felt were more believable than others, although if anybody could come pretty close to reenacting an "Apocalypse Now,"-like Vietnam on a High School theatre stage, is probably would've been Max Fischer.
GOYA'S GHOST (2007) Director: Milos Forman
A stand-up philosopher once raved about how great a show the inquizition was. I think he oversold it a bit. (And that is my completely irrelevant-to-everything-else Mel Brooks reference for the day) "Goya's Ghost," is the first film Milos Forman directed since the Andy Kaufman biopic, "Man on the Moon", and his amazing career includes two directing Oscars for "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest," and "Amadeus," which are two favorites of mine, as well such work as "The Fireman's Ball," which was banned in his native Czechoslovakia, "Hair," "Ragtime," and "The People vs. Larry Flynt". "Goya's Ghost," is one of his most minor of works however. The movie takes place original during the Inquizition where one of the leading Catholic priests, Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), is convinced that the tools of the inquizition is the best way to snuff out undesireables, such as Jews. One such victim, Ines (Natalie Portman, her second film this week) is tortured for years after she doesn't eat pork during a dinner. She claims that she doesn't like it. A few take to her aid, including Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgard, also his second film this week, huh, both were in "Thor") the famous painter. She had painted her and got informed by her family to try and help out. During a dinner, they discuss the logic of torture with Lorenzo, and they end up getting him to sign a document to claiming that he is a monkey, which eventually ends up in the hands of the Catholic Church. 15 years later, Goya, now deaf, gets visited by a barely recognizable Ines who's finally released as France have taken Spain, and has the entire Catholic Church leadership beheaded there. Ines claims that she had a daughter while imprisoned, as asks Goya's help in finding her. The movie includes many of Goya's sketches at the beginning and ends of the film, and oddly, it's among the brightest things in the film. The film is dark and murky, and while there's enough story to hold the audience, it drags a lot. The acting by Bardem, Skargards and Portman, who also plays a second role are intriguing, but it almost feels like they're not given a lot to do, or to be more precise, they seem to just be letting the movie occur go on, rather than grabbing at something, anything and making it interesting. That's strange consideration Forman's previous work, where he gave free range to people like Jack Nicholson and Jim Carrey. Still, an interesting, but ultimately minor and forgettable entry in Forman's canon.
WATER LILIES (2008) Director: Celine Sciamma
Synchronized swimming has always seemed like a strange sport to me. In "Water Lilies," there seem to be only two things for teenage girls to do, either synchronize swimming, or stare up at the ceiling. Well,... okay three things. The three main girls are Marie (Pauline Acquart), Anne (Louise Blachere), and Floriane (Adele Haenel). By the end of the movie, and it goes without saying, that they would've gone through their first sexual encounters. The how, why and who are somewhat up in the air. Marie is attracted to Floriane, the swimming team's captain, and the most popular among boys. They strike of a strange friendship based on favors in the beginning. I think Floriane is aware of Marie's feelings towards her. Floriane is more developed, and like most boys, Marie is just some other person who's grabbed Floriane's attention, at least at first. Anne is Marie's best friend. She's somewhat chubbier than the rest, but like the everybody else, she also always seems to be at the pool (Only Floriane is of the three girls actually a member of the team). She's attracted to an older boy, Francois (Warren Jacquin) but she's constantly worried about whether she'll ever be loved because of her body. Probably why she's in such a hurry. There's nothing particularly new or revelatory in "Water Lilies," but for the most of the movie, the story is told well. It takes place in a wealthy Parisian suburb where everybody is constantly bored and lonely, and throwing puberty into that combination hardly ever works out well. There are better films about adolescents exploring their burdening sexuality, but "Water Lilies," which is an odd translation of the films original French title "La Naissance des Pieuvres", which literally translates to "The Birth of the Octupuses", (I'm sure there's metaphor I'm supposed to understand there, but it's lost on me.) is still a fairly good one, which is entertaining for most of the movie, although I thought the last twenty minutes or so kinda lost me. Still, strong film.
LIE WITH ME (2005) Director: Clement Virgo
2 1/2 STARS
When we meet Leila (Lauren Lee Smith), she's lying on the couch in the middle of the day, masturbating to some porno video. When she finishes, she gets up, puts on something that barely qualifies as a tube top, and goes out dancing and partying, although the dancing and partying part is just the foreplay to sex. During the night, she gets caught in the bathroom with David (Eric Balfour). They don't speak, but they have a long glance with each other. The next time they see each other, David's in a car with his girlfriend, and Leila is outside the club with some shy guy who can believe or understand why she's going down on him, but he's not gonna stop. This inspires the girlfriend in the car. All this time, Leila and David are eyeing each other. Not released theatrically in the U.S., the Canadian film "Lie With Me," is based on a novel by the Director, Clement Virgo's wife, and it's a well-made movie about a woman who craves sex. Their isn't much else to her other than that. She apparently has a friend who's getting married. That's essentially all we know about her. We don't how they're friends, how long, or why, and we never see them hanging out, except for when she's trying on her wedding dress and talking about some one-night stand she had the day before. At the photohut which she apparently works at, she gets told by David's girlfriend, warning about him getting too involved, and that she should stay away. Leila wouldn't even know what this means. When she says that she's never been on a date, we honestly believe her, and when she finally does bed him, she's amazed that she has any emotional feeling towards him that isn't carnal, much less ones of care and devotion. I can't quite recommend "Lie with Me", but I must admit a fascination with it. The movie has two very raw and powerful performances in it by Smith and Balfour. Lauren Lee Smith, some of you might recognize from "The L Word," which she worked on for a couple years, as did Virgo who directed many episodes himself. This is great performance, of a completely limited and shallow character, and a very shallow world around her. I don't know why or how she ended up like this to begin with, but she has. She has parents, and even lives with them from time to time, but they're only now getting divorced. I can't tell if she's just rebellious or just a nymphomaniac. I'm not sure the movie does either. It's fascinating to watch, fascinating to talk about, but I don't know exactly where this movie wanted to go to, or if it able to go somewhere at all. She does change somewhat, at the end, but there's so little of her to begin with that it barely registers.
THE MIKADO (1939) Director: Victor Scherzinger
What must Gilbert & Sullivan have seemed like when there plays first were performed. I got some hint of that in watching the great Mike Leigh film "Topsy-Turvy," which chronicles their strained friendship and the making of "The Mikado", which might be the strangest musical ever conceived. There version of Japan seems like it came out of a Marx Brothers movie. No scratch that, "The Mikado," is stranger and more bizarre than anything the Brothers Marx could've come up with. They were too logical to come up with this. It doesn't particularly work as a film. I don't think anything created by Gilbert & Sullivan could ever really work as a film. Film is a document of reality, and once it's documented, it's there, and in that image, forever, but not everybody can get to a theatre, and we got to document this somehow. I'll try to attempt to explain, part of the story, which begins with a tailor named Ko-Ko (Martyn Green) who as Lord High Executioner, must execute someone before the Mikado (John Barclay) arrives to town. The Mikado, is the ruler of Japan, this crazy-ass Japan W.S. Gilbert has created. Anyway, he wants to execute Nanki-Poo (Kenny Baker) who's the 2nd Trombone for some minstrel show, and has fallen in love with a schoolmaid named Yum-Yum (Jean Colin). Nanki-Poo is actually the runaway son of the Mikado, who's run to avoid an arranged marriage with Katisha (Constance Willis) a grotesque former brothelgirl, who's now the daughter-in-law-elect (A highly-prestiguous honor), and with this, he's already been ordered to be executed by the Mikado. Obviously, there's some kind of hidden protests of the British Parliamentary all through "The Mikado," but I'm nowhere near versed enough in G&S's work to understand it all, and I doubt most anyone else is either. "The Mikado," is a bright, crazy, loopy opera that is just simply bizarre and non-sensical enough to be fun, and that's the main reason it's survived this, and their best work has survived this long. This is their most topsy-turvy tale of all, and it should be experienced by everyone somehow. If you can't find a performance, this classic filmed version will do.
FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND (2007) Director: Sterling Harjo
"Four Sheets to the Wind," is the name of Cufe's (Cody Lightning) father, who's just killed himself. He takes his father to the nearby to be buried in the water as per his wishes. This is as Cufe is a Seminole Indian, although he's on an Oklahoma reservation, where he arrives back to find relatives coming for the funeral. It takes some ingenuity, but there is a funeral (Closed-casket, obviously), but he decides after to move out to Tulsa and stay with his erratic sister Miri (Tamara Podemski). Miri has been estranged for years. She's an alcoholic who's rarely home and constantly parties and sleeps around. She also hasn't spoken to her mother Cora (Jeri Arrondondo) in years. While waiting for her to show up, Cufe ends up befriend Miri's neighbor Francie (Laura Bailey). Miri and Francie don't particularly get along either, but they begins dating each other anyway, at least shyly at first. Tamara Podemski earned a Spirit Award nomination for her supporting work in this film, and she won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for "Dramatic Fully Realized Physical and Emotional Turn"? I don't know what to make of that either, but she is the good in her performance. The film, however was overall forgettable. It has some good moments, especially at the beginning, and I'm always interested in a good Native-American film, there's so few of them, I'm always hopeful. This one just wasn't really that good. Some of the acting by some of the lesser supporting players, wasn't as strong as it probably could've been (I'm not sure he used professionals or not, but my bet is he didn't, and in some cases it showed). I also think there was a disconnect between the more slice-of-life moments on the reservation and the more romantic-drama moments in Tulsa, which seemed more like a regular movie. Maybe that was the point, but either way I struggled for this film to keep me at attention, and that's troubling. Some scattered of this movie are interesting, including a very creative opening shot, but there isn't enough of them, and the rest of the time, "Four Sheets to the Wind," is just a little too scatterred.