Saturday, March 31, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "RUN LOLA RUN"

RUN, LOLA, RUN (1999)

Director/Screenplay: Tom Tykwer





“Run, Lola, Run,” is one of those films that just is, and it's insistent on it being that way. It doesn’t add or subtract from your life as a movie, neither can it be deciphered by the traditional standard of moviemaking. Yet, it doesn’t just simply exists, it rockets. It’s a hyper-kinetic display that both challenges and analyzes the minutia of chaos theory, and then does it again, and then again, and it could’ve done it a hundred more times. (Although three is enough) German filmmaker Tom Tykwer not only wrote and directed the film, he, along with Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil are also responsible for the movie’s soundtrack which is fast-beating insistent techno music that speeds along as quickly as its title character, racing towards crescendos and climaxes. It’s a movie that can easily be described. It breezes by at only 81 minutes, but it’s an exhausting 81 minutes that simultaneously drains you and reinvigorates you. The plot is simple. Lola (Franka Potente, from “The Bourne Identity”) has twenty minutes to get $100,000 to Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) or else he more than likely gets killed. Her moped has been stolen, so she has to run, and run she does. There’s no point in telling anything more, there isn’t any more. Lola runs, she runs so fast, sometimes she has to be animated in order to truly track her, and Tykwer does that. Her flaming red hair, blue mesh tank top and spandex leather pants are sprinting thru the streets of Berlin, each time seeing different results. She passes a couple people, with each pass during each of the three runs, we see numerous flash pictures of the future those person’s have, as though her passing of them will in some way lead to an alternative life choice because she flew by. There are many choices made by many of the characters, none of which I will reveal, for they’re better left found out by the viewer, and are intentionally pointless anyway. Sometimes I wonder whether or not Lola is aware of the past possible beat-the-clock scenarios as though she’s living through all of them and not simply the current one she’s in. Again, a factor that is as irrelevant as it can be life-altering. Tykwer is an incredibly talented filmmaker; a technician able to use every filmmaking technique imaginable from jump cuts to quick-cross cutting to freeze frames, the aforementioned animation, to split screen, there’s hardly a trick he didn’t throw into this film. The other films of his I’ve seen include “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” about a perfumer with an incomparable sense of smell who spends his life searching for all the senses he can collect, leading to disturbing and often shocking acts to do so. His latest movie, “3”, involved an older couple who each unknowingly begin having affairs with the same man. I’m still not completely sure “Perfume…” was a good movie but it was interesting, and it was certainly compelling to watch. (He also directed the Hollywood action thriller “The International”.) “Run, Lola, Run” is one of those rare movies that’s incomparable to other films.  It’s a seminal work that might not be an absolute masterpiece, but is an undeniable essential for cinephiles everywhere. It’s a movie that takes the barest of plots it can, just for the sake of pure experimentation, and actually has fun with it. Most films that try things just sit there as we see the experimenting, and just bore us, “Run, Lola, Run” is a shot of adrenaline in your coffee.

The movie begins with a philosophical line about soccer, strangely enough “The ball is round, a game lasts 90 minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go!” What’s that line about? Life, chaos theory, storytelling, movie making? Is it actually just about soccer? I think the line is about, whatever the hell you want to make it about, and that includes everything I just mentioned above and more. “Run, Lola, Run,”’s apparently emptiness is also strangely what makes the film so full of depth. Maybe it’s because there’s no purpose or rhyme or reason we can enjoy it more. Almost like our own little personal theories we come up with that we’re willing to, even for such a brief moment, like maybe for the length of a movie, believe to be utterly true. Lola has 20 minutes to get the cash, and get it to Manny, and, she has to run. Everything else, is whatever we want to make it out to be. “Run, Lola, Run,” is what Tykwer made it out to be. Off we go!

Friday, March 30, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #27: "DRIVE", "THE GUARD," "OF GODS AND MEN," "BELLFLOWER", "CIRCUMSTANCE", "3", "DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF PHANTOM FLAME," "POINT BLANK", "JULIA'S EYES", "SARAH'S KEY", "THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART," and MORE!

This has been a big month so far for "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews", with almost 1,000 hits so far we've increased our hits by over 30% from last month, and we're growing faster than ever. I wanted to take a second and thank all you for reading, and hope that you continue to do so. To some extent, every writer is just happy to find out that somebody has read anything from them, and to find so many is coming to read my blog is really something special, so thank you all very much!

Oh, and one-not before we continue, while I have finished the 30 Day Song Challenge on Facebook, I'm going to put off doing the 30 Day Television Challenge for a bit. I promised on twitter that I will participate in it, and I will, and I'm looking forward to it, but I want to take a little time before I jump into another challenge, so stayed tuned, and I will announce when I will begin that challenge, and, as the Movie and Song challenge, I will blog with updates when that comes.

Well, this week we got to a lot of films from last year, so let's go right into the reviews!

DRIVE (2011) Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

4 1/2 STARS

"Drive" is strange and full of contradictions you don't see in most Hollywood films. It's kinetically insistant on driving the story forward, yet strangely it's quiet and mysterious. It's action-packed, and yet the action remains subdued and mundane, almost workmanlike. In the world of Driver (Ryan Gosling, his character is never given a name), action must seem like that to him, another day on the job. Driver is, just that, a driver. He's got two steady jobs as a mechanic and as a stunt driver for movie sets, where he can flip a car instantly, dust himself off, and do it again if need be. In his spare time, if somebody can afford him, he works as a getaway driver for robbers and thieves, and he's very good at it. Not simply fast, but skillful, able to outmanuever the police, even when they come from the air. His boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) thinks, correctly, that he could be a good stock car racer, and asks an old Mob-connected friend Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) to invest in a car for Driver. He's auspicious, but he likes what he sees, although his longtime partner Nino (Ron Perlman) who runs out of one of those pizzerias that nobody ever comes to, but does incredible business, is more hotheaded, and more skeptical. Meanwhile, Driver begins a delicate friendship that Irene (Carey Mulligan) his next-door neighbor in his apartment. Driver begins watching her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos), and there's an obvious sexual connection between Driver and Irene, but Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is coming out of jail soon. This seems like I'm telling you the entire movie, but believe it-or-not, this is basically, maybe the first half-hour of the film. I wouldn't say the movie is unpredictable in its many twists and turns, but it's certainly done well, and with a lot great directing and tension. This is the second film I've seen from director Nicolas Winding Refn, after the biopic "Bronson," which I reviewed in an earlier blog, and the two films hardly seem like they're from the same filmmaker, and yet, I don't think any other person could've directed both. I think I know the film he's borrowing his influences from with "Drive". The famous French film "Diva," often considered the first film of the "cinema du look" movement, also seems to keep action at a mundane level, despite their being lots of it, and has moments of actual human connections. They're two very different films, but Refn's strange insistence on this smooth '80s-ish electronic soundtrack that seems almost counter to the action, makes me think he's aiming for homage. ("Diva"'s music, also strange for it's genre, included opera) "Drive," made a lot of year-end Top Ten lists by critics, and I can understand why. One of the biggest shocks when the Oscar nominations were announced was Albert Brooks name not being announced for Best Supporting Actor, after him and Christopher Plummer had basically split most every Award going into the Oscars. (The film was nearly shut-out of all Awards actually, only getting a Sound Editing nomination) Brooks is good here, and it's quite interesting how he handles and manipulates situations and characters in this film; he's quite an unusual gangster. I'm not particularly amazed or surprised at his performance however, although that might be because I've always considered Albert Brooks to be one of Hollywood's great actors. Actually everybody is quite good and memorable here. I'm surprised Ron Perlman's performance for instance, didn't get more attention. Mulligan is really becoming one of the most interesting actresses around, as well. And for Ryan Gosling, this has been a helluva year with "Drive," being arguably his best performance in a year that also included his work in "The Ides of March," and "Crazy, Stupid, Love". He's one of those few actors who you can't always tell what he's thinking in a performance. Normally that's a bad thing in an actor, but he can find ways of turning that on and off that makes him amazingly versatile. "Drive," is that weird, unique film that's loyal to it's genre, yet remains outside of it. Almost as though it's an out-of-body experience. I bet people who drive 300 mph around a race track must feel like that sometimes; it might be the only way they can force themselves not to crash.

THE GUARD (2011) Director: John Michael McDonaugh

4 1/2 STARS



Martin McDonaugh is a famous playwright who's short film "Six Shooter," won him an Oscar for Best Short Film a few years back. His next film, the feature "In Bruges," a comic tale of two mobsters sent on a vacation in Bruges, Belgium, earned him an screenwriting Oscar nomination. Both those films starred Brendan Gleesan as conflicted men, who are trying to do their best in situations that do exactly honor such behavior and are filled with strange philosophical, meandering dialogue that Tarantino and Mamet would've been proud of. Gleesan now stars in Martin's brother's first feature-length film "The Guard", which also has many of those similar traits Martin's work has, and it's also just as good. In Gleesan, they've seemed to have found a voice for themselves, as a smarter-than-appearance men, who are certainly flawed, but are smart enough to know that, and observant about the world enough to see the whole board before everyone else does. In "The Guard," Gleesan plays Gerry, one of the local coppers in Northwest Ireland, where nothing much particularly happens. Suddenly, there's a strange a grizzly murder in town. He isn't effected by the wild theory his younger colleagues come up with, because they've spent a lifetime watching "CSI..", but he realizes it's suspicious. When an FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) comes into to town to discuss a major drug-smuggling syndicate is in town, Gerry realizes one of the suspects was the dead guy. The back-and-forth between these two characters and how they approach police work is the heart of this movie. Kinda like "In the Heat of the Night," without all the racism. Well, there's some racism on Gerry's part, but as he says, "I'm Irish, racism is part of my culture," and it's not to be taken seriously. In fact, Gerry's intelligence and dialogue is more manipulative than it first seems. He uses his language and actions, to guise others reactions. Because of this unpredictability, nobody on the force can trust him, bad enough on a police force that's legit, a worse nightmare for ones that are corrupt as hell like this one. Gerry spends what free time he has watching TV, making time for his elderly mother, or taking rare days off to go to Dublin with some hookers. As I shouldn't simply narrow my focus of Gerry, almost all the characters speak in random observations and thoughts, including the drugrunners, who stare at the sharks in an aquarium, wondering about how they've wasted their life and looking for something more meaningful. There's a funny conversation in the middle of a blackmail attempt about the meaning of the song "Ode to Billie Joe". There's also about twenty sentences I could write about this film that begin with the words "There's a funny conversation...". It so rare to hear movies-, yes, hear movies, that are about language. I can listen to "The Guard," and be thoroughly entertained. The crime plot is just the device used to get people to talk, and McDonaugh has things he wants to say. I see lots of movie about drugrunners and cops, here's one that's knows cops try to catch drugrunners everyday and it's boring.

OF GODS AND MEN (2011) Director: Xavier Beauvois

4 STARS

A winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, "Of Gods and Men," tells the true story of a monastery of French monks outside of a small Algerian village, and caught up in the middle of the Algerian War in '96. They were close to the community. They fed them, many of the villagers went to the monastery when they were sick, and without them, they were the lifeblood of the Community, but the radical Islamists were approaching quickly, and the news reports kept getting worse. They discuss whether or not to leave, or be transferred, or ask France, their home country, to get them out, and a few other possibilities. They're schooled in the Qu'ran and well as the Bible, and once the Islamists begin coming, it's at first for medicine and riches they don't have. Their leader, Christian (Lambert Wilson) manages to talk them out of meaningless slaughtering for the night. Many of them monks are old, and have families back home, but it's possible that their presence is saving the town. "Of Gods and Men," is a slow-moving and complicated film. Most of the monks were found dead in the winter outside of the monastery, nobody knows what happened to them. Nobody's completely sure what how they got their or what happened to them, but whatever happened, must have challenged their faith to the fullest extent. The incidents in Croatia and Rwanda were still fresh in their minds as the nation practically collapsed around them. The film won 3 Cesar Awards, and was the French's entry for the Foreign Language Oscar in 2010. Director Xavier Beauvois is actually an actor in France primarily, but he's becoming more known for directing. This is the second film of his I've seen, after the fairly innocuous police procedural "Le Petit Lieutenant". "Of Gods and Men," is quite different and slower paced than that film. He takes the time to get to know the situation, as well as the monks themselves, and why they make and favor the decisions about leaving that they do. For some, it might not be the easiest watch, but for me, "Of Gods and Men," was a fascinating view into a few men, put in a complex, unwinnable situation, who try to reason their way out of it, because it's the only thing they can do.

BELLFLOWER (2011) Director: Evan Glodell

4 STARS

I have a few friends who are to some extent, preparing for the zombie apocalypse. I think they're overreacting to the possibility, (and I think, even if there is a zombie apocalypse, I don't think zombie would have such well-thoughtout plans for taking over the world if they actually did) however none of my friends are serious enough-..., well, I hope none of them are serious enough, about it to spend much of their spare time, building their own flamethrowers. Evan Glodell, the writer/director of "Bellflower," apparently is the kind of person that who is preparing, not for a zombie takeover, but for a Mad Max style future, complete with redesigned weapons and automobiles. Glodell, not just the character, Woodrow, that he plays in "Bellflower". Named after the L.A. sidestreet where they apparently hang out, Woodrow and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) spend most of their time building desert-dwelling killing machines, and/or drinking at some party or some dive bar. These are the two primary activities of killing time in this world, and any other activities must stem from these two. (Usually the latter) At a bar one night, Woodrow challenges Milly (Jessie Wiseman) to a game of Who Can Eat the Most Grasshoppers and Win a $50 gift certificate, because this is a bar in "Fear Factor," apparently. Milly might be the one attractive girl that doesn't get turned off after finding out that someone builds flamethrowers, and drivse in a self-made death vehicle that they call "Mother Medusa". In fact, Milly seems to thrive and exist only in the seediest of the seediest. When they start their first date, she insists on being taken to the shittiest, nastiest place Woodrow can think of. He thinks of a dive bar he once passed in Texas, and to his surprise, she's really game. This unexpected road trip concerns their friends. Milly's friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) starts to hang around Aiden a bit, while Milly's roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw) is frustrated at her eratic behavior, and her lack of paying for the rent. The road trip, and in fact, the first part of the movie, is one of the strangest romances I've ever seen in film. These are two of the strangest characters I've seen in a while, although they are just the reckless kindred spirit hooking up with the shy daydreamer, although the dynamic is all strange, but it's in many ways beautiful. The second half of the movie, shows their break-up, and Woodrow, after an accident, begins to suffer, from either a broken heart, brain damage, both, or possibly just his thoughts and nightmares. Courtney begins comforting him, and Aiden tries to distract him, but nothing seems to work. There's a sudden excessive amount of violence between these characters, that's emotional and random. (I think there's little chance anybody who works on building WMDs for fun, can truly be unviolent) Glodell is good at trying to compare Woodrow "Mad Max," fantasies, with the painful actual drama of love and heartbrokeness. I personally am not sure how or for that matter, what is real or just inside Woodrow's mind near the end of the movie. "Bellflower," is clearly a personal film from a personal artist and a truly unique vision, and for that alone, and the fact that it's good, it's more than worth watching. As well as, well..., there is something intriguing in seeing an actual garage-built flamethrower at work. A powerful and stunning debut film.

CIRCUMSTANCE (2011) Director: Maryam Keshavarez

4 STARS

I seem to be one of the few people who's going to be recommending the Iranian film "Circumstance", as I quickly look around imdb.com and a few of my favorite critics' websites. I don't particularly disagree with their criticisms strangely enough, but I think I'm more tolerant of the film because I found a different purpose for the film than the others did. The movie starts out focusing on two teenage girls in Tehran. Atefah (Nikohl Boosheri) is well-off with professional parents, while her friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) is the daughter of anti-revolutionists who were killed years ago, and now she's being raised by her parents. The fact that the two girls have a crush on each other, seems to be only one of their complications. They're teenage girls who strive for liberation in a country that denies them that right. Most of the country, at least the parts of the country the girl's matriculate also seems to be aware of the ridiculousness of Iranian policies. They hide party clothes under their burkas when they go out, to the secret parties. They get occasional work dubbing illegal American films into Farcee. (They work a lot on "Milk," which I imagine would be a tricky film to dub into most any language). Atefah's brother Mehran (Rexo Sixo Safai) is a drug addict who's come out of rehab. Apparently he's lost a lot of distrust from the family, 'cause they insists on urine tests from him. He's clean, but what they don't realize is that he's become a religious fundamentalist, and he's soon begun setting up hidden spy cameras in his house. I'm not quite sure what he's looking for, but he seems to want to punish somebody. While the movie is erotic and lushishly shot, I think the film's objective was to simply show this transitioning and complex world of Iran. I don't know if it showed one that's particularly accurate or realistic, but I think metaphorically, it got the feeling of living in this complex world correct. In one way, this burgeoning secret world in transitioning all the time, underground, while there's this rigid old world that most everyone realizes is problematic and wrong, but they endure and live their lives skirting around it. If "Circumstance," might be uneven, and doesn't explore certain things as much as it should, it's because it's too ambitious, but I'm not gonna punish for that too much. It's the first feature film by Maryam Keshavarz, and while I hope her next film is more focused, I think she's made a memorable and intriguing first film.

3 (2011) Director: Tom Tykwer

3 STARS

I've been debating what rating to give Tom Tykwer's "3". On the one hand, he's an important director who's made so amazing films in the past. This is the fourth film of his I've seen after his masterful "Run, Lola, Run," the convulsively watchable "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer", and "The International," which was a Hollywood action movie that I barely remember. "3" succeeds at what I think it's trying to do, but for some reason, considering the subject matter, it doesn't do it particularly interestingly. The couple at the center of the film is Sophie (Hanna) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper). Their in their '40s, and according to some of the reviews, their intended as archetypes, which is good, because I barely bought them as people. A lot happens to them. Simon has his mother go brain dead after a suicide attempt, and he him gets diagnosed with cancer and must go through chemo. In hindsight however, these incidents seemed not as way of diving into the characters as much as they were unnecessary attempts to add more drama to a story that probably would've worked best without it. In separate relationships, both Simon and Hanna begins having affairs with Adam (David Streisow). Adam's married too, but he seemed more controlled by his need to help fulfill others sexual desires. That's a strange way of describing him, but I think it's an accurate one. Had they both had a relationship with the same women, the film would've basically become a porn, especially the way the film ends up, but it's at this second half of the film when the movie really starts diving into these notions of love and sexuality that the movie starts getting interesting. I know their are couples like these out there, that have this "Jules et Jim"-inspired dynamic, although I doubt that they often begin the way they do in "3", (I think Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," might be a more accurate portrayal of such a relationship) but there's enough here at the end. It makes you wonder though, why Tykwer's adding so much. If "Run, Lola, Run" is any indication, he's the one director who can do more with less than anybody.

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF PHANTOM FLAME (2011) Director: Hark Tsui

4 STARS

Apparently loosley based off of a real story and a real detective "Detective Dee and the Mystery of Phantom Flame," is one fun ride though 7th Century China. Empress Wu's (Carina Lau) Inauguration is approaching, but the Empress's court has been plague with the mysterious deaths of some of her men, after they suddenly start spontaneously burning up, and a mystery dark smoky flame comes out of them. Is it a curse, or is someone trying to sabotage the ceremonies. With nowhere else to go, she has to call on her one-time friend and enemy Detective Dee (Andy Lau) who's been in exile for years for reasons that aren't exactly given. Everybody is impressed with his appearance on the scene, as though he were Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk, Hercule Poirot, or some other world famous Detective that requires random parishoners to see him and go "Oh, that's the famous Detective...". Quickly, Dee realizes that poison is involved, but he isn't sure of who, and he's also confused because the only substance he knows that can produce such a poison, fire beetles, are thought to be extinct. That's about as far as I got into understanding the movie, but in a mystery where everybody knows Hong Kong style Kung Fu, and one of the suspects seems to be a talking deer, I don't particularly look for realism or believability. Mysteries aren't about whodunit so much as they're really about how they find out whodunit. The great Chinese director Hark Tsui has fun with this film, as he should. The film is kinetic, maddening, non-sensical, non-historical, and completely illogical, and I thoroughly had fun watching it.  I hope there's another Detective Dee mystery coming soon, but I fear that based on the end titles that explained what happens there won't be one.

POINT BLANK (2011) Director: Fred Cavaye

3 1/2 STARS

"Point Blank" does a good job and taking some classic action movie elements, and creating a fairly unpredictable film. I knew all the elements, the wrong/innocent man suddenly finding himself in a situation way over his wife, the kidnapped, love one, usually pregnant, usually a wife, the gangster who's got other gangsters looking for him, the corrupt cops, but I didn't exactly know how these elements would combine and collide, and when. The wrong man is Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) a nurse who's assigned to, and saves the life of Hugo (Roschdy Zem), who's just been in a motorcycle accident. Samuel is unaware that Hugo is a wanted criminal on multiple charges, but more importantly, Hugo's life is in danger, and he has to kidnap Sam just to escape. The police soon think Sam might be involved himself as he has to start helping him. On top of this, the bad guy's have kidnapped Sam's pregnant wife. Which bad guys? I'll be damned if I can remember, the bad guys, whoever the bad guy is at that moment. This is the kind of movie, where if you step back and think abou it..., hey, if you go back and follow "The Big Sleep," closely, you'll realize somebody killed at least two people after he jumped off a bridge. In the moment, you feel all the elements moving closer, and two strangers, suddenly have to become quick friends and figure out how to get out of this jam, preferably without getting themselves killed. "Point Blank," is a pretty entertaining piece of mindless entertainment. It keeps you guessing and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The fact that it's a French film, means that we should expect a American remake someday soon, but I'm satisfied with this one.

JULIA'S EYES (2011) Director: Gillem Morales

3 1/2 STARS

One of the absolute toughest things for film to portray is the realities of blindness. This shouldn't surprise most people, film is a visual medium, and therefore blindness practically runs against that. Julia (Belen Rueda) is becoming blind, and if she's not careful, she could be blind quicker instead of later. Her twin sister, Sara, who also suffered from the same debilitating eye disorder, had also become blind, before she was found dead of an apparent suicide. There's no evidence what-so-ever to indicate any kind of foul play, but Julia is insistent, and after the funeral, she and her husband decide to move into Sara's place for a bit. "Julia's Eyes", is surprisingly visual for a film about a character that's going blind, probably a wise decision. (It also doesn't hurt that Guillermo Del Toro was on board as a producer.) The movie is also quite tense, as Julia has to begin infiltrating Sara's world. She learns at one point that Sara had a boyfriend, but this fact is disputed. Other suspects begin to arise, and then, some of them suddenly find themselves killed under suspicious circumstances. Julia is one of those characters who has no option other than to insist that her theory is right, because it's the only way that she can continue. Something fould must've happened to her sister, and indeed, like in a Polanski movie, all paranoia is justifiable. "Julia's Eyes", is an rather tense mystery thriller, that admittedly uses the main character going blind as a device to intensify the drama than as an actual character trait for a villain to exploit, but exploit it he does, (or thinks he does), and as a device, it's used quite well. This is only the second feature-length film for director Gillem Morales, the first a film I haven't seen called "The Uninvited Guest". He's clearly got a workmanlike skill for tension and horror. "Julia's Eyes," may be a little gimmicky and absurd, but aren't all movie serial killers?

SARAH'S KEY (2011) Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner

2 1/2 STARS

Somewhere, there's an interesting film, in the middle of "Sarah's Key," but this wasn't it. This might not have been the right approach to the film. It begins with a history lesson, and then continues on to a mystery in modern-day France. Julia Jamond (Kirsten Scott Thomas, working in French again after the wonderful "I've Loved You So Long") is a journalist who seems to be particularly close and knowledgeable about the Vel d'Hive roundup. I was actually thankful for this history lesson, it's a lesser-known roundup of the Jews in 1942, that the French were placing in concentration camps. Not the Nazis, the French. One young girl named Sarah (Melusine Mayance) manages to hide help her brother avoid being taken in, but she also locks him up in a closet, with specific instructions not to come out. It's a little too late before she realizes that she won't be able to get back to him quick enough, but doesn't stop her, and with a few heartfelt pleas, and a long journey, she escapes from the camp and heads towards her apartment building to get him out. The apartment building, turns out to also be her father-in-law's childhood home and she's determined to search for Sarah now, and possibly relatives, so she might be able to tell her story. This second part of the story, the modern-day tale isn't nearly as compelling as the first part, and despite a cameo appearance by Aiden Quinn. I do think that part should've also worked as well though; I'm not quite positive the film should've only told one side of the story. Maybe a more linear timeline might've helped, instead of this continual bouncing between stories, which tended to lose any momentum either story might have been picking up. There's a lot to like here though. Good performances, it is a worthy and little-known piece of WWII history that is worth exploring; I certainly didn't know anything about this incident. It just doesn't come together though. I'm partly tempted to recommend this anyway for the core story itself, but it's just not a told well enough to recommend as a film.

THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART (2011) Directors: Tchavdar Georgiev and Amanda Pope

2 1/2 STARS

It's a strange day when I hear multiple geography facts that I didn't even know, but in the sovereign Republic of Karakalpakstan, which covers the entire northwest of Uzbekistan, which is one of only two "doubly-landlocked" countries, the other being Liechtenstien, (and I thought through I knew every geographic term, doubly-landlocked, means a country that is landlocked, and surrounded entirely by other countries that are also landlocked) in this impossible to get to desert with practically nothing, there's a musuem, which holds the secret history of Russian art, that might be the most valuable collection of works that until recently, most people thought were either lost forever or destroyed. Over 40,000 pieces in fact, from some of the greatest painters that both predate the Communist Revolution and were banned during the Communist Revloution. This amazing and well-hidden collection, is the subject of the documentary "The Desert of Forbidden Art". Using some famous voice-overs, including Ben Kingsley, Ed Asner and Sally Field, we learn about the collector of this art, Igor Savitsky, who was an unsuccessful artist himself, but found inspiration in the Uzbeki desert scenes which he began painting, but more importantly, he was able to smuggle loads of banned art, into the area, partly through pure guile, partly through gaining the trust and friendships of the famous Russian artists of the times, including many who were either enemies of the state and thrown out of the Soviet Union, and/or were threatening to be if they ever showed their art publicly, and also because the location was so remote, hardly anybody in the Soviet high command would ever stumble upon it. We see and hear stories of many of the paintings, and some of it is just remarkable. If I'm ever happen to be in the downtown Nukus area..., well, let's first assume that something very frigging strange has happened if I'm in the downtown Nukus area, but if I will remember to visit this art museum. Some of the paintings are in disarray, but the owner, of the few women who owns anything in the republic, is reluctant to sell any of it. I don't completely blame her, without the art, there's almost no reason anybody should visit the area. (And the area isn't condoning the area) As a subject, this is certainly fascinating and just amazing information. As a movie, it was surprisingly underwhelming. Might have been better as a short subject. I can't quite recommend the movie, but I can certainly recommend the paintings. With so much valuable art, it's certainly something scholars will be studying for decades to come as they repiece the history of Russian Art through this renegade collection in the middle of nowhere. Certainly interesting, but not the most entertaining thing around.

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1990) Director: John McNaughton

5 STARS

"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," took four years to make it to theatres, after producers who were unsure what to do with it, severe edits, as well as a ratings battle with the MPAA who originally gave it an X rating. It's remains one of the most frightening and disturbing pieces of film ever made. Based on the claimed murders of Henry Lee Lucas, "Henry..." (Michael Rooker) travels constantly killing people randomly and in many different manners. The beginning of the movie shows only the results of his acts, dead women lying naked on the grass, and another lying on the toilet with a broken coke bottle shoved into her face. During one scene, he picks up a hitchhiker with a guitar. The next scene, Henry brings the guitar home to Ottis (Tom Towles) a fellow ex-con who Henry met in prison and is staying with temporarily. Ottis's sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold) comes to stay with Ottis after leaving her abusive husband. She left her little girl with relatives, while she tries to get back on her feet, quickly taking a job shampooing hair at a salon. She relates to Henry after shared traumatic youths. Becky was sexually assualted by her father for most of her teens and Henry's mother was a prostitute who made him dress in women's clothings as a kid, and forced him to watch her with numerous johns, until he finally killed her. I think he clearly killed her, but he keeps changing the murder weapon when he retells the story. This is possibly why Henry protects Becky when Ottis begins making sexual advances towards Becky. (He inherited his father's urges) Henry tries to enlist Ottis in murder as an alternative, for a while successfully. Henry isn't greatly interested, or capable of sex. Murdering seems to be one of the few human interactions that seems natural to him, but Ottis begins getting enjoyment out of it. They even start videotaping some of their adventures. If you're wondering where the police are in this film, they're not there. "Henry..." is exactly what it's title says it is, it's a portrait of a man who kills and kills and kills. It's almost impossible to tell if he wants to, or it's because he has too, but kill he does. The world of this movie is the three people, and anyone else is trying to invade that world, and must be destroyed. It's remains powerful, one of the most frightening films I've ever seen. The violence and occasionally sex, is gruesome and realistic, for the most part, and even when it isn't the tension in the room is too overbearing for any unintentional laughter. Director John McNaughton has spent most of his career since directing television, with occasional forays back into feature films, probably most notably the erotic thriller "Wild Things," which I still wonder whether that was meant to be a comedy or not, but it was certainly memorable. If I had directed "Henry..." I might be reluctant to jump back into feature films myself. I mean, after something this disturbing, there really isn't many places left to go.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

30 DAY SONG CHALLENGE UPDATE: #21-30

As I have now come to the end of this 30 Day Song Challenge, I find myself, mostly with some thoughts of intrigue and regret. Intrigue, in my own selections, which varied from some that I wasn't shocked by to ones that I hadn't even thought about for years, but suddenly run rapid in my memory banks. Yet I also feel regret in that I could pick 30. Alright, technically I cheated a couple times and picked a couple for some of the categories, but how weird is it that we have to narrow ourselves so much. I look at my final list of choices, and part of me is impressed that I know and care for so much great music, and the other side of me is thinking, there are a lot of great songs and artists missing on this list. I means, were talking about songs here, we all know hundreds if not thousands. We might not be fully conscious of it most of our listening time, but music is so key to our lives, and our senses. It has once been that all art strives to be music, and as I writer of blogs, criticisms, opinionated editorials, and especially screenplays and plays, I believe that to be true. Music has a way of getting into our heads the way all other art forms completely lack. I don't always see a mobster and immediately think "The Godfather". Hell, I could walk down the street tomorrow and see a man with yellow skin and four fingers on each hand, and I won't not immediately think "The Simpsons". (I might be thinking, "What-the-hell's wrong with this guy?", but I wouldn't immediately be thinking "The Simpsons") Yet, if you give me only one note, I can be positive that that tune is "For What It's Worth," by Buffalo Springfield. (If that title doesn't sound familiar to you, look it you, and listen; I guarantee, you've all heard it) I can do that with dozens, maybe hundreds of songs, many of which, I might not even be aware of. I don't always know the artists or the titles either, although I can give you a pretty impressive list of songs and artists that I couldn't find a spot for with this challenge. If 60 was too little a challenge for movies, for movie, than 30 is definitely way too small a sample to determine a life through song. Don't be confused, while I'll be talking and discussing the songs I chose, and I will be thinking about some of them, I'll also be thinking about songs that somehow I didn't find a place for. The Rolling Stones songs, The Police songs, Billy Joel songs, Elton John songs, nothing from Broadway, no country, practically nothing from rap, (And the one I did pick was a least favorite choice) no punk rock, no Queen, no Blondie, no U2, no Hall & Oates, no Simon & Garfunkel, (although I did pick a Garfunkel & Oates strangely enough as you'll see.)  no Doors, no Janis Joplin, no Aretha Franklin, no James Brown, no Elvis, Presley or Costello, no Beck, no Grateful Dead,... I go on for a lot more than 30. As much as I try to watch a world-worth of film and televsion, I'm actually lucky I get to see what I can, and I think we should even be luckier when it comes to music. It's nice to go on little side-adventures of reflection, rememberance and analysis, but in the future, I think I'd prefer to simply just enjoy the music I get from here on out.

Before I reveal the final ten selections of this challenge, let me remind all of you of my selections, so far:
DAY 1: Favorite Song: "BORN TO RUN"-BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
DAY 2: Least Favorite Song: "THONG SONG"-SISQO
DAY 3: Song that Makes You Happy: "ALL I WANNA DO"-SHERYL CROW
DAY 4: Song that Makes You Sad: "TEARS IN HEAVEN"-ERIC CLAPTON
DAY 5: Song that Reminds You of Someone: "YOU BELONG TO ME"-TAYLOR SWIFT
DAY 6: Song that Reminds You of Somewhere: "LAYLA"-DEREK AND THE DOMINOES
DAY 7: Song that Reminds You of a Certain Event: "SWEET HOME ALABAMA"-LYNYRD SKYNYRD
DAY 8: A Song that You Know All the Words to: "COME TO MY WINDOW"-MELISSA ETHERIDGE
DAY 9: Song You Can Dance to: TIE: "EXPRESS YOURSELF"-MADONNA, and "IT'S MY LIFE"-BON JOVI
DAY 10: Song that Makes You Fall Asleep: "PAVLOV'S BELL"-AIMEE MANN
DAY 11: Song from Your Favorite Band: "ELEANOR RIGBY"-THE BEATLES
DAY 12: Song by a Band You Hate:"FAITH"-LIMP BIZKIT"
DAY 13: Song that is a Guilty Pleasure: "I TOUCH MYSELF"-THE DIVINYLS
DAY 14: Song that No One would Expect You to Like: TIE: "CLOSER"-NINE INCH NAILS and "TIK TOK"-KE$HA
DAY 15: A Song that Describes You-"THINGS HAVE CHANGED"-BOB DYLAN
DAY 16: A Song that You Used to Love, but Now Hate-"HOW CAN WE BE LOVERS"-MICHAEL BOLTON
DAY 17: Song that You Often Hear on the Radio-"HOTEL CALIFORNIA"-EAGLES
DAY 18: Song You Wish You Heard on the Radio-"PAPER BAG"-FIONA APPLE
DAY 19: A Song from Your Favorite Album-TIE: "THUNDER ROAD"-BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN from "Born to Run", and "FUCK AND RUN"-LIZ PHAIR from "Exile in Guyville"
DAY 20: A Song You Listen to While You're Angry"-"SILENT ALL THESE YEARS"-TORI AMOS

Alright, now onto my final ten picks!

DAY 21: A Song that You Listen to When You're Happy-"BORN TO BE WILD"-STEPPENWOLF
I've tried happy in the past, and I hated it; it was too depressing. So, this was a tricky category for awhile for me, although during what I would consider my "normal" mood, I often find myself walking down the street randomly screaming Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know", I've been told by many that that isn't happy. I thought about "Soak Up the Sun," but I already used a Sheryl Crow song for my other happy question. So, I decided to ignore happy, and think about those rare moments where I'm carefree and "wired" ...as my close friend might say. Really exhuberant, really excited about something, that kinda, blissful, nothing-can-stop-you feeling, you know that feeling? I don't think there's a word for it, but when I have that feeling, that, I wanna rock hard, I wanna party feeling, oh yeah! Time to scream for no reason! Uh-huh! I need something loud, heavy and driving. Like some heavy metal thunder maybe? Seriously, who doesn't crank this song up when it plays?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB2KCu2Bfcw

DAY 22: Song You Listen to When You're Sad-"TORN"-NATALIE IMBRUGLIA
This was tough for me. Normally when I'm sad, I'm also angry, so that would lead me back to Tori Amos, and I think it's too quick to go back to her, although I thought for a while about "Amber Waves," and "Playboy Mommy". I usually don't think about the emotions I have when I'm listening to music; usually, I listen to music so that I can change my emotions, even if that means to change my emotions to sad. However, thinking back to those rare occasions where I'm at my most down, you know, crawled on my bed in a fetal position, hiding from the sunlight..., well, this song would not get me out of that position, and I'd likely play it on a loop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV1XWJN3nJo&ob=av2e

DAY 23: A Song that You Want to Play at Your Wedding-"TIME AFTER TIME"-CYNDI LAUPER
My initial instinct would've been AC/DC's "Highway to Hell", but then I decided to take the question a little more seriously. I think I'd like a lot of songs at my wedding. Different songs. "Constant Craving," by kd lang, "I Want to Be in Love"-Melissa Etheridge. "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,"-The Police, that'll get some people dancing. But, eh, let's say, if I wanted to slow dance with some wonderful and romantic beautiful bride that I'm marrying, and if I ever really was truly in love, this would be the song I'd like to dance to with her.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdQY7BusJNU&ob=av2e

DAY 24: A Song that You Want Played at Your Funeral-"STAYING ALIVE"-THE BEE GEES
What do you mean I'm in denial? About what? Yeah, alright maybe, but there isn't much I want more out of life than to remembered long after I'm gone.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3b9gOtQoq4

DAY 25: A Song that Always Makes You Laugh-"HANDJOB, BLANDJOB, I DON'T UNDERSTAND JOB"-GARFUNKEL & OATES



There's a few choices I thought about here. Frank Zappa's "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," anything by Weird Al, for sure, but eh, these two just crack me the hellup, evertytime. This one's my favorite. They're so weird and sick and fucked up, and it's just brilliant!

DAY 26: Song that You Can Play on an Instrument: "WIPEOUT"-THE SURFARIS
Well, I can kinda play it. I need a little practice, but my Uncle did once teach me how to do it on the bongos, when I was much younger, and since I  forgot everything I learned on a recorder or the xylophone, and, all the other instruments they made us play in Elementary School music class, this is probably all I can possibly do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5D07c0dJuQ

DAY 27: Song You Wish You Could Play: "YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME"-JEWEL
I've made a few half-ass attempts at playing guitar over the years, none that were every as serious as I thought they were at the moment. I never could learn anything on it, and most of the rambling teenage poems I called lyrics are now stashed at the bottom of my closet with other old high school dreams. If I had to ever have the chance again though, just an acoustic guitar, and I just want to learn, that little
"de de-dun-de dun, dun de-dun-de dun...,"I just want to learn that. Nothing more, just, just enough to play that a couple times. Just play a little sliver of this song, and then just put on my "Pieces of You" CD, I could live with just that.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGj77BrEgj4

DAY 28: A Song that Makes You Feel Guilty-"LITTLE PLASTIC CASTLE"-ANI DiFRANCO
This was by far the toughest category yet. I can honestly tell ya, I"ve never heard a song and then thought, "Wow, I feel guilty all of a sudden." So I barely get the category. I thought of a few songs, "Don't Stand So Close to Me"-The Police, "All Apologies,"-Nirvana, "Me and a Gun,"-Tori Amos, and "Stan"-Eminem w/Dido, they came to mind for a bit. But, it didn't feel quite right, and my Mom's recommendation of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane," just seemed mean. I mean, I'm pretty sure Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", probably make Warren Beatty feel a little guilty, (or whomever it's supposedly written about) but it doesn't make me feel guilty. Then I consulted a friend, who reminded me of a few different Ani DiFranco songs, and suddenly it snaps into place. I could've picked quite a few of hers, I came close to picking "Not a Pretty Girl," but I finally decided on this song. If nothing else, I regret not listening to her more often, but this was always gets me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm2zdnuiRoQ

DAY 29: Song from Your Childhood-TIE: "WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME"-GARY PORTNOY and "WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO?"-ROCKAPELLA
I don't really remember listening to too much music as a kid, but I watched a lot of TV, so a lot of the first memories I have of music, that really spoke to me, and still trigger my memory the deepest, are TV theme songs. I remember being young, and "Cheers...," would come on, and it had this wonderful opening theme song that felt warming and classic at the same time. All the other shows had, actors dancing or just random clips from the series sprayed over some cheesy theme music that now clearly sounds from dated, and '80s dated, which is worse, and yet, I still feel reminised when I think about hearing that theme song, when I was so young. As to the other choice, and those who've known me long enough will certainly get a laugh out of it, it's from what was my favorite show as a kid, still a favorite of mine actually. I became a geography expert after excessively watching this show afterwards. Granted, that show's a little dated now, but I'll tell ya what, the song's still great, and "Rockapella," really still kicks ass by the way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMNVNRybluQ&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hsa2nsjmc4Y&feature=fvst

DAY 30: Your Favorite Song from this Time, Last Year-"BORN THIS WAY"-LADY GAGA
What can I tell ya, I'm one of Gaga's Little Monsters, and eh, I couldn't be happier about. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV1FrqwZyKw&ob=av2e

Saturday, March 24, 2012

MIXED BAG BLOG #1: BILL MAHER'S OP-ED, "THE BIG BANG THEORY" RERUNS' RATINGS, and ABC-FAMILY AND FAMILY-GEARED ENTERTAINMENT

There's a couple different interesting pieces of news and opinions I'd like to share with everyone this week involving the entertainment world, and while I don't particularly think any of these stories are worthy of an entire blog entry at the moment, there's a few things I'd like to say about them and I believe they are worth discussing and/or commenting on, so we're gonna try a little experiment with this blog entry and talk about all of them, separately, but we're gonna post them all in this one blog entry. For lack a better and more thought-out title at the moment, we're just call this kind of entry a MIXED BAG, so this is our first ever, "MIXED BAG" blog entry here at "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews", and I hope you enjoy it.

WHY BILL MAHER JUST MIGHT BE WRONG



While Bill Maher has always been outspoken, lately he's been speaking out louder-than-normal, and he's got an intriguing complaint this time; and it's gotten him defending people as wide-ranging from Robert De Niro to Rush Limbaugh, because of the criticism they've been recieving from the media for recent comments that they made that, for lack of a better phrase, some people say they've been offended by. Maher has been making this point about criticizing this so-called media outrage for a couple weeks now, but earlier this wee, he published an op-ed in the New York Times called "Please Stop Apologizing" (the link to the op-ed is below), where he is calling for the public to stop criticizing and insisting that people who say things that some might offensive stop insisting on those public figures to apologize for those statements, and for those public figures who do say things that offend others to stop apologizing for their comments.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/opinion/please-stop-apologizing.html

Now, Bill Maher is one of my comedy heroes, and I typically agree with most everything he says. For the record, some of the comments and references he refers to did in fact offend me, while other didn't, and I think De Niro's joke was funny. Maher goes-so-far to suggest that on Sunday, we have an amnesty, or as he calls is a "National Day of No Outrage" where we go about our day, completely ignoring any statements made by anybody that might offend, and not demand apologies from those insensitive public figures that offend us. While part of me likes the prospect of a day where I get to say anything I want and have nobody be offended by it, (and I am still strongly considering whether I will participate in that or not) I have to say, while I agree with Maher in principle, there is one thing that bothers me about what he's saying. You see, while he and many of us might prefer that we just simply ignore those who speak their mind no matter how much they shouldn't, be doing that, we are in essence condoning the actions of stupid people, and I simply cannot allow that.

Now by "stupid people," I'm not referring to all the public figures who made their offensive remarks, and sometimes I'm not referring to them at all; I'm also referring to many of those who were offended by the remarks. It depends on what's said and who says it, but either way, we're condoning that stupid people can either say sometimes stupid or get offended by something they shouldn't be offended by, because they're stupid. Either way, we can't keep encouraging their behavior.

I am prejudiced; I hate stupid people. And to make myself clear here, I'm not talking people with mental disabilities or learning disorders or any other such condition. (I have a brother with severe autism who I watch every day, so, that I know about.) The reason I hate stupid people is because there's simply, no excuse for it anymore. There is no reason what's-so-ever for people in the civilized world to be that wrong-headed or simple-minded. There's 24 hour news coverage of everything, with multiple points of view everywhere, not-to-mention reletively easy access to the internet for practically everybody, so anything they don't know can easily be looked up and looked up again until whatever piece of information one doesn't have is learned, and even if you ignore every accesible piece of informational technology out there, you're more-than-likely through about a dozen other avenues to find out shit anyway, accidentally even. Doesn't matter whether you watch nothing but NOVA or nothing but TMZ, you'll find out stuff about everything going on in the world in some way, unless you're purposefully going out-of-your-way to achieve blissful ignorance, can you be that stupid, and nobody should ever work that damn hard to be uniformed. It's insulting that their are people who still think the President is a Muslim. It's insulting that there are people who don't believe in Evolution. or the Moon landing. Or the Holocaust. Or gravity, or whatever-the-hell else somebody wants to pretend doesn't exist to the point of delusion. I'm offended by stupid people, and it doesn't matter whether they're on talk radio or whether it's those who claimed they were offended by talk radio. Mr. Maher is right that the behavior of stupid people is inexcusable and an apology of the stupid behavior of stupid people, and the insistence of one, is truly the emptiest of all gestures. Where Maher is wrong though is that we shouldn't be outraged by their remarks, or at those who are offended (or those who pretend to be outraged, as Maher would put it). I am outraged at stupid people walking this earth, as well as whoever keeps putting microphones in front of them, and if nothing else, they should be shunned for their stupidity, until everybody in the world realizes that person/these people(s) is/are stupid. We should be taking all the stupid people and mark them with a giant scarlet red backwards-S on their chest, figuratively speaking of course. (Although if anybody complains that I offended anybody with that last sentence, than we should strongly consider changing figurative to literal)

WHY THE SUCCESS OF "BIG BANG" RERUNS, SHOULDN'T BE SURPRISING

Another article that crossed my path this week, involves an analysis of a show that I've discussed here in depths before, "The Big Bang Theory". The article by Josef Adalian analyzes the striking success the show has had in syndication and reruns, particularly focusing on how it's numerous re-airings on TBS has sharply increased the network's ratings, including those of shows that "The Big Bang Theory" leads into, including most notably, "Conan". (The article link is below.)

http://www.vulture.com/2012/03/big-bang-theory-reruns-tbs.html

I don't presently have cable, but reruns of "The Big Bang Theory," are syndicated on one of the local basic channels over a dozen times a week, and I've made it a point to watch  it, practically every time they air it, myself, and I'm not particularly surprised that the show become increasingly successful in reruns. It's one of those weird TV occurrances where a show will achieve some of it's highest successes in reruns than it does on original airings, and while Adalian does a decent job of interpreting data in his article, he actually completely misses the clear explanations for the show's rerun success. In fact, he misses it in the first phrase of his article, where he states, and I quote, "'The Big Bang Theory,' has been a hit for CBS since it's first season...." Actually, that's not true at all, and that's one of the clues as to why the show's been such a ratings hit in reruns. I discussed in an earlier blog how "The Big Bang Theory," works as a TV show, many of the reasons that the show shouldn't work. (Link to that previous blog entry is below)

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/11/good-on-tv-communitys-hiatus-and-why.html

That's one of the major appeals about "The Big Bang Theory," is that it works as a sitcom, despite the fact that it isn't inherently designed to be a successful sitcom, and the fact is that originally, the show didn't work either as a show, or for that matter in the ratings. It was only a mild ratings hit to begin with. Back then, it aired on Monday nights, a night CBS has traditionally owned for the last decade or so, (Unless "The Voice" is on against it), and even then, it has a lot going against. As I detailed in my earlier blog, the show really shouldn't work, and yet does, and the reason for that is because eventually, continued watching of the show, whether catching it on one of those lazy TV nights where nothing else was on, or through multiple reruns, the show becomes more and more accessible as the show suddenly becomes believable. It's called "Rules of the Universe," in writing terms, and once more people suddenly accept the rules, the show became funnier, and the more viewers the show got. Now it beats out "American Idol," on Thursday nights, and right now is very close to getting the critically-beloved "Community" cancelled. Frankly, many of those viewers who are now watching the show, missed it originally because they didn't get used to the show and it's concept 'til later.  It's the reason why we simply accept that Capt. Kirk can fly the Enterprise through space at Warp Speed and nobody has to ever wear a seat belt, or why an anvil can on Daffy Duck a million times and never get killed. There's a lot of idiosyncracies, particularly ones involving the characters in "The Big Bang Theory," and they took some time before people starting to accept them. In a sense, many of the people watching the reruns are watching the series those early episodes for the very first time. It's not terribly unusual however for a show to have that kind of belated success in reruns. The most famous recent cases have to be "Family Guy," and "Futurama," who's series were both cancelled and then came back after being on heavy rotation on cable in reruns. I think a better case to compare "The Big Bang Theory," too is "Married...With Children", however. "Married...with Children," was the first show on FOX, period. It was a new network, competing with the three biggies and the ratings were lackluster for every program, but the show remained on the air despite that. The show finally picked up popularity and steam after it became the subject of a famous decency complaint by some way-more-organized-than-she-should've-been Michigan housewife, and the show's ratings (and the entire FOX network's ratings) started to rise. When the show started syndication, it became one of the biggest rerun shows ever because the reruns were new to many of the viewers who missed it when it was aired originally. "Married...with Children," also has some rules of the universes that viewers had to accept. Watching the show now, it's striking how different and outrageous it is even today, much less back then. (I'm pretty sure only "Two and a Half Men," even compares to it in terms of amount of half-naked walk-on characters, and blantantly mysogonistic sex jokes now that I think about it.) Everybody now, has just caught up to "The Big Bang Theory," and now it's the biggest sitcom on TV, and in reruns. Most shows, if they're lucky, may only get one distinction out of that. (As much as it should, I doubt "30 Rock," is ever gonna be a major hit in reruns for example) It's a pretty impressive feat, actually, involving talented actors, skillful writing, and mostly a lot of luck. Really, they could've easily been cancelled pretty quickly at one point.

SO THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WATCH ABC-FAMILY?

I happen to be switching channels earlier this week, and started watching "Rachael Ray", which I don't normally do, I can really only take her in small doses, but she had on Shailene Woodley and I was interested in the interview. Shailene Woodley plays George Clooney's oldest daughter in "The Descendants" last year, and she gave a really incredible performance in the film, and she actually won a lot of Awards for it. Saying that, I had actually never heard of her until now, and was shocked to learn that she's on a TV show called "The Secret Life of an American Teenager," with where she apparently plays Molly Ringwald's daughter. Well, while I'm happy I found the answer to the question of where the hell Molly Ringwald's been, it kinda got me wondering. Well that, and I was talking with a friend earlier, and I asked her what TV shows that she watched, and she said a lot of TV shows that I was shocked anybody watched anymore, and then she said she watched "ABC-Family" the channel, apparently. Now, I remember back when the channel was just called "The Family Channel," this was about 20 years ago, and they aired a bunch of bad game shows, including one, I swear to God, based on the game "Jumble", like the ones in the newspaper, and then they'd just air reruns of "The Waltons," or something like that. Now, they've also been through a few other titles, at one point they were the FOX-Family channel, and a few other different titles and networks took up the channel and continues to try rebooting it, and apparently ABC-Family has become the successful version of the channel. I know "Pretty Little Liars," consistently gets ratings that competes with the major channels, and I'm certainly aware of some of their other shows like "Switched at Birth," and the confusingly-titled "Kyle XY". Checking their website however, I'm surprised to find some of their other programming includes reruns of shows like "Full House," and "Gilmore Girls," and while I am a fan of the latter, which may surprise people enough, but those shows fit in their mileau, but they also air reruns of "That '70s Show," which very distinctly doesn't fit in, unless we're including potheads into the family, and not in like the older brother on "Blossom," way. Speaking of "Blossom," Joey Lawrence has a show on the channel, with Melissa Joan Hart apparently. Well, while after taking a closer look, it does seem that the channel itself does seem more promising than I would've believed at first, I still feel the need to ponder a question about, well, why are focusing entire channels on "families"?

Seriously, I've never fully understood this concept of aiming towards the entire family, and by the way, I always thought ABC, was essentially a Family Channel. ABC is owned by Disney, and for most of their existance, while I can list some of the major exceptions like "NYPD Blue," "Roseanne," and "Desperate Housewives," probably most notably, ABC has been the channel of "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "Full House," "Family Matters," "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," "Home Improvement,"... just to name a few, the channel has always itself been geared towards families, and Disney has their own cable channel for other programming. They've specifically geared that channel in recent years towards kids though in recent years, specifically to compete with channel like Nickelodeon. Which actually kinda brings me to my questions about "Family-geared programming". That used to be in Disney's Mission statement, "We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere." That can sound, somewhat innocuous, but that is a challenge, create something liked by two-years olds as much as by 80-year olds. Saying that though, when they fail at that mission, it's most often because they too much towards gearing their programming towards the younger members of that family. That's actually the problem I find with most so-called "Family programming", whether that's movies or especially lately, with Television, is that programs and entire channels now, are basically geared more and more towards specific audiences, and frankly, when it's aimed towards the kids and teenagers specifically, it really annoys the hell out of me. I mean, seriously, why would you aim there? Although, I don't get why people aim anywhere. I don't care if you're making a Mickey Mouse cartoon or "The Red Shoe Diaries," whatever happened to just creating the best product you can, and not worrying about what age groups the audience is? That's what the best TV shows did and continue to do. I mean, honestly, what's the audience that "The Big Bang Theory," is aiming for? Not the audience they get, the audience they're aiming for? I really don't think they're just aiming for members of the scientific community and Comic-con audiences, while that might be where the characters will fit in best, they're just trying to make a funny sitcom, and it's working, and it's transcended across audiences, 'cause it's good. The shows that will last, tend to do that. That's why "Arrested Development"'s making a movie, despite no ratings for three seasons. Eventually, people found the show. That's another reason why not to aim for kids, they haven't fully developed their taste yet. I remember as a kid, watching things like "Frasier," and "Full House," unironically, and without any kind of realization of how one show was clearly superior to the other. In fact, with cable, even though I don't have it now, when I did have it, along with regular reruns, it's basically allowed me to grow up with the entirety of television at my disposal, and I watched everything when I was young. "I Dream of Jeannie," may have been more understandable to me when I was 8, but I remember more clearly, being 8 years old and watching the episode of "M*A*S*H" where Col. Blake finds out he's going home, only to be killed on his way home. I'm not even sure I fully knew that there was a Korean War when I saw that, much less understood much of the rest of the series, but that affected me, and the fact that it was somewhat over my head effected me as well.

I haven't seen any of these shows on ABC-Family, so I'm not gonna judge or criticize any of them personally, but I think I just want to say that, the moment I think a show is made specifically to get a appeal and/or get a special group/audience, that's when I begin to tune out, and change the channel. Good show, bad show, you can get the audience young doing almost anything, but if you want me to keep watching years later, you gotta just make something good, and not aim at all, and despite how that sounds, that really is the single thing all memorable and long-lasting films and TV shows have in common. Shows like that, those are shows that are for the entire family.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "BEFORE SUNRISE"

BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)

Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan



The secret behind Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise," is that it's about the kind of conversations and chance encounters that we have everyday, and yet, the movie remains elusive, 'cause it's about the kinds of conversations and chance encounters we wished we had, or more importantly, the kinds of opportunities most of us wish we had taken advantage of (or maybe the ones we did). Some of you may know that the majority of these "Canon of Films" blog entries I write are prewritten before I post them. What you've just read is what I have written today. In a moment, you'll read what I wrote about "Before Sunrise," a few years ago, with nothing changed except for grammer errors (all the content is originally what I wrote), and I'm going to point out some things about what I wrote. It was written at a very specific moment in time in my life, and you'll be able to tell that.

The paragraph below is what I previously wrote:

Two people are in a train car traveling through Europe, when one of them gets annoyed at a bickering couple and decides to switch to a different seat, one that’s closer to the other person on the train. Eventually they start striking up a conversation, but consider if they were in different cars, or on different trains, or if she, Celine (Julie Delpy), a French student at the Sorbonne, didn’t have the free time to jump off a train in Vienna and spend the day with Jesse, an American traveling on a Eurorail Pass, or if he, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) hadn’t gone back onto the train once he got to Vienna and suggest such an idea. One of the reason film majors and filmmakers love the work of Richard Linklater is precisely because his best works have to do in some way with random moments of life, and the ways people use it. His two earlier works were “Slacker,” which followed one kid in a Texas town until he met another kid, and then followed that kid until they met another and then another… and with “Dazed and Confused,” he uses the “American Graffiti,” formula of taking high school kids in a certain time and a certain place and takes a closer look at their experience, only he place it in the summer of ’76. Now let me tell you a story, a couple Mondays ago, I had, as usual, a French class at eight o’clock in the morning and a Film Theory class at 7:00pm, and because I woke up so early, I needed coffee, and had a vanilla latte instead of a cafĂ© mocha. The extra sugar in the Mocha was sorely missed as I began to fall asleep half-way through class. So, when class ended, I lazily walked all the way to the second floor of the MSU (Moyer Student Union), found a comfy chair, and fell asleep. When I woke up, there was a note written to me by a girl who wanted to ask me out. After I read it and analyzed it to death, asked for outside opinions, and once I exhumed every joke I could think of about doing better with women when I’m asleep than when I’m awake, I finally called the girl and we met. Now what if I had gotten the Mocha, would I have still fallen asleep? Would I have slept in the MSU? What if all the chairs in the MSU were taken? Or what if that girl hadn’t decided to write me a letter? In addition to being about time, Linklater’s films are about free will, and no where is that more clear than in “Before Sunrise,” and its sequel “Before Sunset.” This film begins with this kind of choice to go on an adventure, and because it’s characters are two intelligent idealists who realize that if they don’t do this, they may never see each other again, they spend day and night in a dream-like Vienna as they enjoy intelligent conversations about everything from personal information to the illogicalness of reincarnation, to enjoy a record at what might have been the last record store in the world, to even going on the same ferris wheel as Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton did in “The Third Man.” That fact is never mentioned, because the characters don’t know that, and ‘cause they don’t care. They’re in a real-life dream, and trivia is not important. They do know to go to church, not because they’re religious, directly the opposite, it’s because that you go to churches because they’re the architectural and social centers that still stands from the ancient days of Europe, when the religions had more importance and churches were memorials. In between, there’s enough real moments where the characters aren’t sure what their next moves are. Do you kiss now, do you look at him or look away, or look to see if she’s looking at you? I’ll tell you another story, in 12th grade, I participated in the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum where there was a girl in my discussion group named Valerie, who was smart, beautiful, and was elected to write an article on the meeting for the paper. (She had elected me to write it, but I was outvoted). We talked for a second on the way out and I had a chance to ask her out, or go talk to Senator John Ensign, who was proceeding on the discussion next door. I went up to John Ensign and called him an “asshole,” and to this day, I still regret not getting her phone number. Is that why I answered the girl’s letter this time, or would I have done it anyway? Either way, I still had a story on a day, this movie asks if a day is enough to fulfill us. Is it advocating free will, or just telling us about one whimsical moment between two strangers? It’s the essence of youth and time well spent, whether they exchange numbers or not.

I wanted to reveal that to you all for a few different reasons. One, to show you how terrible my writing can be sometimes, and two, more importantly, to explain how "Before Sunrise," gets at me personally. I can't imagine the film not getting to anybody on a deeply personal level. If it doesn't, I would wonder if that person had a pulse, or has ever lived to begin with. Remember the famous Everett Sloane monologue in "Citizen Kane," where Bernstein discussing having seen a woman in his youth on a ferry, never speaking to her, doubting that she'd even seen him, but continually thinking about that woman, even in his old age. I imagine most people have had such an encounter, maybe dozens or random conversations with strangers on a train or a bus, or in line at a supermarket, or wherever they might be...., and "Before Sunrise," might be what happened if he did talk to her.

It's somewhat frustrating to me that everytime I try to talk about "Before Sunrise," I always end up in a philosophical discussion. A wonderful one, kinda like the ones Jesse and Celine have all over Vienna, but it's tough talking about the film as a movie. Yes, I discussed it in my previous analysis, but only briefly. And yet, to describe the movie, would basically be a description of scenes from one to another, and even then, some might throw the film away as a remake of David Lean's great film "Brief Encounter". Sure, there's dozens of obvious comparisons, not the least of which, the ending on the train, but that's still too simple. For one thing, these aren't adults sharing a private night of personal emotions neither will reveal to themselves or anybody else again. "Before Sunrise," is immediate. They're two people who don't realize they'll get an experience that both will look fondly and tell stories about for the rest of their lives. They still might end up together, someday maybe..., but for the moment, they have a day and night, the city of Vienna, and a lifetime ahead of them.

Oh, because I'm sure you're all interested now, I never saw or found the Valerie girl again, and since Sen. John Ensign has since resigned in disgrace, I don't feel as bad about calling him an asshole, although I still occasionally wonder about Valerie.

I won't reveal the girl's name who left me the note, but I did meet her a few times. She looked a little like Laura Dern in "Blue Velvet" I remember, only with a long black trenchcoat, but we soon realized we weren't particularly compatible, even as just acquaintances at that time. There's a funny anecdote I tell about her where we broke up before we started dating, which stemmed from an argument we had over what constituted a date, but that's a long and mostly uninteresting story, and much of it has long been exaggerated by me for humorous effect. It's not worth going into really now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #26: "KUNG FU PANDA 2", "SENNA," "THE FUTURE," "FRIGHT NIGHT", "LIFE IN A DAY", "THE COUNTESS," and MORE!

Before we begin the reviews this week, I want to talk a little bit about what happened after I posted my latest blog, about the "KONY 2012" film. The film's director was arrested shortly after I posted my blog for public masturbation. First off, boy my timing sucks! While even I couldn't help a Pee-Wee Herman joke here, in reality I couldn't possibly have cared less. And I'm starting to get pissed off at some of the people who are trying to desperately to portray "KONY 2012" as some kind of scam. I've heard everything from people claiming liberal bias, to people claiming that pro-life groups funded the Invisible Children group that produced the film, to some claim that oil companies want to get rid of Kony so they can start drilling in Northern Uganda, so they're behind the campaign. I'm saying as a man of extreme liberal and if any of these claims are true... WHO THE FUCK CARES! To all those who are, in any way anti-the film, you're taking a position, in favor of, to quote the great Eddie Izzard in his description of Adolf Hitler, a mass-murdering fuckhead. Yes, the video's propaganda, but there's also nothing in the video that I couldn't have learned somewhere else, most of it, through official documents. I criticized and remarked on certain aspects of the film in my last blog, including whether or not it's a good idea to send U.S. troops, even if they're just advisors to Uganda, but let it be said, Kony should be captured, (I would prefer he be killed, which differs from the video, very distinctly I might add) and any opinion other than that, means that you're in favor of a man who's murdered 30,000 people, including children, many of whom he enslaves. This is one time I couldn't give a damn who's behind the message. Oil companies, Religious Right, the crazy of the crazies, made by a chronic masturbator, (and b.t.w., other people in the film industry who want to judge, we gave an Oscar to a pedophile, and we'd probably do it again if we wanted to, so we're in no position to judge this director's action, period.) I don't care, and neither should anybody else, until Kony and his Army are stopped, and anybody with an opinion outside of that, should get their head examined.

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, let's have some fun and distract ourselves from the realities of the world, the way we're supposed to. On to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!!!!

KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011) Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

3 STARS

Sometimes it gets a little tiresome, with these sequels. Once a movie gets a number, it seems required that we must then learn some deep hidden mystery behind our protagonists upbringing that, often-the-case, he isn't even aware of beforehand. That's not a particular critique of "Kung Fu Panda 2," but of the unoriginality of sequels in general. In fact, I actually found myself interesting in "KFP2," by the end of it, just enough to recommend it. The movie takes plays a few years after the first one, and Po (Jack Black) is somewhat more use to his role as Dragon Warrior, but has yet to find inner peace, and is beginning to ask his Dad about where he came from. (Oh, I should mention that Po was raised by a noodle-slinging goose). Meanwhile, Po and the Furious Five martial arts leaders are called into action against Shen (Gary Oldman), an evil peacock-? (Really, peacock? Peacock?! Alright, peacock, I guess.) An evil peacock whose built a weapon design to eliminate Kung Fu once an for all, so he  can take over China. Well, the weapon eliminates the people who practice Kung Fu, so I guess it eliminates Kung Fu. Well, it's easier than having to pause the movie and teach your 4-year old what the word "genocide" means. Surprise, surprise however, the Peacock knows something about Po's past that even Po doesn't know, so his victory get way-layed a bit while he has to go and find himself. Most of the rest of the cast of characters and voice-actors are back here. Angelina Jolie's Tigress seemed to have secrets of her own that aren't well-explained, but they come out in a surprise amount of empathy. (Well, maybe they explained them in the first movie, but who would remember) Dustin Hoffman isn't used nearly as much as he was in the first one though as the Furious Five's sensei Shifu. "Kung Fu Panda 2," like the first in the series earned an Oscar nomination in the Animated Feature Film category this past year. It's a nice, harmless entertaining film, kinda like the first one was.. I'm not particularly prone to liking Kung Fu, or for that matter pandas, and I'm not quite sure what kid is interested in these kind of things, so I wonder sometimes who the audience is for these films. "Kung Fu Panda 2," is about as good as the first one. I liked the first one fine, so I like this one fine.

SENNA (2011) Director: Asif Kapadia

3 STARS

"Senna," was one of the major documentary films released last year, and I find that odd. It's a good film, granted, but it's popularity and Awards, including not just the BAFTA for Best Documentary, but surprisingly winning the Editing Award as well. The film chronicles the life and career of Ayrton Senna, the former 3-time Formula-1 racing Champion who died while he was leading a race, and some kind of car malfunction slammed his headfirst into a wall, missing a turn even many amateur drivers could make. Based on the movie, it doesn't seem his death was particularly surprising to anyone, but the way he suddenly died was. The way he drove was fast and at times suicidal. The footage is taken primarily from thousands of hours of behind-the-scenes and broadcast footage of the races, many of it never-before-seen. Some of the driver's meetings footage is particularly interesting as they argue with the board over whether turn are safe or where the pole should be. As Senna was at the top of the sport, controversy and politics reigned at the top, and often Senna was the cause and the victim of some unusual calls. During a Championship race in Japan, with Senna winning the pole position, they moved the pole from the left side of the track to the right, almost with no warning, but it seemed clearly intended to get the other driver to speed up into the lead, pass him and steal the title from Senna. What Senna does looks to me like it was on purpose, although he claims otherwise. Their isn't a whole lot we learn about Senna personally. He never married, although it seemed he dated a bit. His family occasionally tells us about him. There's early footage of his go-kart racing as he crawled up the ranks, and eventually left his native Brazil to race in Europe. There's some other footage of him at Carnaval and on the Brazilian kid's show "Xuxa," which I'm mentioning because I think I'm the only person who remembers when they tried to bring that show to America. She was one of the lead mourners at his funeral. This movie shows fairly little of him outside of his racing however. I wonder if their was much. Senna seemed destined to live racing a car, and die racing a car. The behind-the-scenes of Formula-1 racing are interesting to watch, and it's important to note that Formula One actually split into two organization shortly after Senna's death. Not because of his death; it looks like they were heading that direction for years. Senna said he was happiest racing go-karts when he was young, when it was just about racing. "Senna," is well-made, informational, and at times, entertaining documentary. I don't think I learned as much about Ayrton Senna as I think I would've preferred, but I think I did learn all there was to him, however little and single-mindedly obsessed with auto racing that may have been.

THE FUTURE (2011) Director: Miranda July

4 1/2 STARS

It's been six years since Performance Artist Miranda July's wonderfully insucient and poetic first feature "Me and You and Everyone We Know", and finally she has made her second film, the intriguingly-title "The Future". So far, she's an amazing and fascinating filmmaker, and she's a bit of a strange one. Her characters speak, or try to speak in a poetic and whimsical manner that's more philosophical than realistic, which works until suddenly reality comes in vehemently smashes her characters into a brutal reality. She had multiple character go through this experience in "Me and You...", in "The Future," there's only two main characters, and a cat. The couple, Jason and Sophie (Hamish Linklater and July) find a cat with a badly injured paw, and take her to the vet. Feeling sorry and a spurt of nurturing in them, they adopt the cat that they've named, Paw Paw (July, doing the voice of the cat. Yeah, you read that right). He won't be well enough to go home with them for a few weeks however. Sophie is a dance teacher for little kids, and Jason has a headset-phone that rings occasionally asking for customer service for computer help, and if he needs to, he has the power to stop time, or thinks he can anyway. With a few weeks before responsibility, they decide to go out and try exploring themselves and finding themselves something a little more satisfying in their lives. I couldn't help notice some similarities between "The Future," and Katie Aselton's film "The Freebie," which was about a married couple allowing each other a one-night stand to get any leftover feelings of singledom out of their system. (And interestingly, they were both directed, written and starred female directors). Jason, finds himself selling trees door-to-door for some environmental group. Sophie begins exploring a friendship with one of her student's father. (David Warshofsky) I'm gonna stop describing what happens in the movie now, and just tell people to watch it. It would probably help if you've previously seen July "Me and You and Everyone We Know," before diving into "The Future," to get a sense of what you're walking in to. July is intrigued mostly by the ways in which people communicate with each other, almost as though she's an outside observer of it, even though she's apart of it. I don't believe she plays versions of herself in her films. Her characters are flaky and somewhat weak. She plays that part well, but you can't direct films as beautifully as she does by being that way.

FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) Director: Craig Gillespie

2 1/2 STARS

I actually reviewed the original "Fright Night," many months back in one of my earlier blogs, as I happened to had seen it on TV one night. (A practice I'm currently avoiding when I can now. I'm not reviewing "Paper Lion," and "The Cheap Detective" this week despite the fact that I watched them, because I saw them on basic TV, and I don't want to review something that might be edited in some way, although those are two good films by the way.) I think "Fright Night," is slightly more interesting, but just like the other film, I can't quite recommend it. This version moves the story to Las Vegas, which is where I live, so I know the area a bit, but the basic story remained the same. A kid, Charley (Anton Yelchin) becomes convinced that a vampire has moved into the house next door to him. There's been a few reports of bite attacks, and one-by-one, students have stopped showing up at school and were reported missing. Charley at first dismisses the claims of his old geek friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin from "Superbad"), because he's grown into a member of the cool crowd in high school, which includes dating one of the classmates that looks like a Victoria's Secret Model, this one's named Amy (Imogen Poots), but soon the vampire, Jerry (Colin Farrell, having some fun here) is at Charley's house, asking for extra beer for his date, and talking with Jerry's mother (Toni Collette, also having a little fun). There's some great special effects, especially the way vampires die when hit with sunlight, and a rather creative end-around about the rule about a vampire needing to be invited in a house. One of the cool things about the original film was how it played with the ideas of vampires from earlier films, even bringing in a vampire expert. In the original case, it was an old horror film actor played by Malcolm McDowell, who hosted one of those local late night shows that Elvira usually hosts. Here, obviously influenced by Chris Angell, they find one of the Strip magicians, Peter Vincent (David Tennant) to be the expert in dark arts, who's about to be way out of his league. Tennant does something of a Chris Angell meets Russell Brand thing with his role. There's a lot of interesting parts, kinda like the first film actually, but the same problem arises at the end, and the movie devolves into more or less, a battle to the end between the vampire and the kids in the last 2/3 of the film, and neither side is really interesting enough characters on their own for it to really work. It always seemed to me like, they couldn't come up with a creative ending, so they kept ending and prolonging the death until the end, and that just doesn't really work here. I think there's some intriguing Auteur theory analyse comparing the two films, but just not enough to recommend either of them separately.

LIFE IN A DAY (2011) Director: Kevin McDonald, et al.

5 STARS



I don't use this word often, but I can't think of any other way to describe this..., "Life in a Day", is some kind of miracle. Not technically or anything like that. I can pretty easily describe and explain what they're doing and how they did it, while that part is interesting, what's miraculous is this incredible mosaic of everyday life that the filmmakers created. Filmmakers', is the right word. Directed by Kevin McDonald, and produced by Ridley Scott, the movie is actually made by hundreds of people all over the world, and in one day. The day was July 24, 2010, and people around could put anything they wanted to be apart of this film, as long as it portrayed what they were doing, and that it occurred on July 24, 2010. It takes place in more countries than I could count, and shows nothing more than the day-to-day activity of people. This sounds boring. It's not. Some of it may be finding poetry in the banality of life, but those moments are just as fascinating as the more dramatic ones. To describe what happens in the film, would be useless, and would frankly just be a description of one event, and then another and then another, until the end. Sometimes themes keep recurring and there's edited together in montages, but nothing unique or magical about that except that , people might eat or drink, or go to the bathroom, just like we do. Somewhere, somebody is shaving their face for the first time. Somebody is going to be engaged today. Somebody might be getting married. Somebody else be dying, maybe brutally and uselessly. And somewhere, somebody comes home late at night, looks out into the rainy night, and ponders that nothing very interesting happened today. This would be a great double-feature companion piece to Terrance Malick's "The Tree of Life". In that Malick explores the meaning of the life in the abstract, physical, metaphysical,... every way you can imagine even, but does it realizing he can only experience life as he himself experiences it, through the deeply personal point of view. "Life in a Day," takes that the approach, and throws in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The result is just one of those few existential slices-of-life in it's entirety that simple imagination and creativy just can't come up with on it's own. I hope they make another one of these, maybe five years from now, or maybe one every five years so that we can continually get a new collection on life, like the 7Up Documentaries that goes back and follows what the same people have been doing every seven years. As a piece of modern-day anthropology, it's entirety in unequaled. As a piece of film, it's one of the most amazing, life-affirming things I've seen, maybe ever.

(Note: the Youtube.com clip above is the entire movie. You can watch it here, or on youtube, which helped produce the film!)

THE COUNTESS (2011) Director: Julie Delpy

3 1/2 STARS

Released in Europe two years ago, Julie Delpy's film "The Countess," didn't make it's way to America until last year where it was on Video On Demand. Delpy earlier this year made the announcement that she was going to retire from acting soon, and focus primarily on directing. I admire her conviction and her immense interest in many different endeavors (She's also an Academy Award nominated screenwriter, and quite an amazing musician), but having a difficult time figuring an actress as amazing as her giving it up completely. She's probably most famous in America for being the French girl Ethan Hawke spends a dreamlike magical day-and-night with in Vienna in Richard Linklater's great film "Before Sunrise," and it's better sequel "Before Sunset". This is her 2nd feature as a director, after her comedy "2 Days in Paris", a film that she's already working on a sequel too, entitled "2 Days in New York". I found "2 Days in Paris" to be a nice but ultimately minor tale about a couple, American boy, French girl, visiting Paris to see her parents, while the boyfriend is more interesting in seeing tourist destinations, like Jim Morrison's grave. "The Countess," is about as far away that film as possible. A loose remake of "Countess Dracula", "The Countess," takes place in 17th Century Hungary and Countess Erzebot Bathery (Delpy) is beautiful. She's old however, not getting younger, and not finding adequate suitors, plus a witch has put a curse on her. She has some workers intrigue by witchcraft and the dark arts, and soon she begins some experimental beauty regimines.  The myth of the "Red Countess," has aparently been told a few times before and this about the sixth or seventh filmed versions, but strangely this is the first time I've encountered, and it dives itself right into the mindset of the Countess, who ordered the murder and draining of dozens of local female virgins, believing that bathing in their blood would make her more beautiful. The movie claims to be somewhat based on her actual diaries, and the story even explains how because of her nobility, only members of her staff were actually convicted in a court of law, and she was only secretly convicted and sent away. "The Countess," gets more and more intriguing the deeper and further into this obsession she becomes, and it's quite an amazing character study. And Delpy, is as usual amazing in front of and behind the camera. Not a perfect film, but certainly an interesting one, and improvement from last, and certainly a sign that no matter Julie Delpy's next career move is (Please be another sequel to "Before Sunrise"?), she's always going to be one of our most interesting filmmakers.

ANGEL-A (2007) Director: Luc Besson

5 STARS

I'm not quite sure why angels work so well as storytelling devices. I think part of it is wish-fulfillment; to some extent we all want to be immortal and have the ability to look down on Earth and observe as oppose to being apart of. (Although ironically, in "Wings of Desire," it's the angel who wishes to be human, but nevermind) I think something else that's intriguing about them though is that no matter how angelic a character may be, they are still flawed. In fact, they're flawed, and capable of screwing up badly. Hell, one of them started a war with God, that has, screwed-up personality written all over it. "Angel-A", from Luc Besson, begins with a rather familiar idea and premise, the desperate man standing on the edge of a bridge, thinking about ending it all. In this case, the desperate man is Andre (Jamel Debbouzze). Andre is an American ex-convict in Paris, who owes money to pretty much everybody. Even the American Embassy won't help him. As he's about to jump, he's sees an attractive young woman beat him to it, and he has to jump in and save her. The woman is Angel-A (Rie Rasmussen), and it turns out, she is his angel, and has falling out of the sky with the sole purpose of helping him out. Why Andre is so lucky to get an angel that looks like the cover of Maxim, I don't know, but he is, yet he doesn't believe her at first. The arc of the movie actually plays rather predictably from here, but it actually works, and works amazingly well. I'm not sure why, probably the chemistry between Rasmussen and Debouzze is a place to start, they're both amazing. A clue might be in the writing and directing by Luc Besson, somebody who I'm notorious for not being a fan of his. He's one of the original pioneers of the "cinema du look" movement in France where French films were made to look more like American movies filled with action and violence with slick sets, cinematography and directing. His most well-known works would probably be "La Femme Nikita," which has now been remade in America, to it's second TV series, after being remade as the film "Point of No Return," and also "Leon: The Professional", which starred Jean Reno and Natalie Portman as a hitman who suddenly has to look over a pre-teen girl after her parents were killed. He also directed "The Fifth Element", with Bruce Willis years ago. My opinions of his films have gone mostly from absolute hate to Eh-not bad until now. There's definitely certain elements of his work noticeable in "Angel-A", lot of death and violence, but that idea of an angel is certainly an American idea, but this is the one time I found myself viewing his films from a deconstructionist point of view, and still being fascinated by the movie. He seems to be making movies a little more outside his cinema du look milieu recently, including directing three animated films of a series called "Arthur and the Invisibles". His films are still best when they're kinetic and carefree than when he dwells on such things as character development, but that's usually best for action films, and now, basically switched to romantic-comedies, and keeping the kinetic energy, and all of a sudden, he has full characters? It's strange how I've suddenly turned on my initial instincts with "Angel-A", and that alone should tell you all how good the film is, when somebody like me comes in not expecting much, and finding myself exhilerated by his film. Hmm, do you think he shot in black and white to make it look like "It's a Wonderful Life"?

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) Director: Woody Allen

5 STARS

"Broadway Danny Rose," earned Woody Allen two Oscar nominations, one for directing and one for writing, although strangely, this might be one of his best and most underrated acting jobs as well. Allen plays Danny Rose, the bottom of the barrel for entertainment agents. His represents the parrot acts, the stuttering ventriloquists, the lady who plays wine glasses,... he works hard though, you can definitely say that. He sometimes even gets an act that starts to do well, but just as they begin to hit stardom, they drop Rose, and move onto some bigger client. The pattern keeps getting repeated, but in his own way, he's a Broadway legend. A bunch of old-time agents are talking at one of those New York deli one day, and they start talking about who has the best Danny Rose story. The one that wins is the one we see here in "Broadway Danny Rose". Shot in black and white, with wonderful Gordon Willis cinematography, the film is a story about a man who would do everything for his client, who by the end of the movie, should probably think about whether that kind of loyalty will eventually kill him. His biggest client is Lou Canova, (Nick Apollo Forte) an old-time crooner who had a minor hit decades ago. He's an alcoholic, with an ego twice as big as he is, and he's pretty big to begin with. Suddenly, a nostalgia craze sweeps the nation, annd it becomes a lot easier to book Lou in nightclubs and cruises all of a sudden. Danny orchestrates a show at a hotel, and convinces Milton Berle (Himself) to be there to see Lou, possibly to put him in a nostalgia show Berle's getting together. Lou however won't go on without his mistress there in the audience watching him, and they just had a big fight. Danny must go upstate to find Tina (Mia Farrow) and bring her down to New York, if possible, without getting killed by the mafia. Oh yeah, Tina's got family in the Mob, and a few other lovesick men crooning all over her. Danny has to think and run fast on his feet, first just to convince Tina to come with him, and then getting her to New York City, and meanwhile, naturally, Danny and Tina begin falling in love. "Broadway Danny Rose," archins back to an old era of entertainment, yet remains in the forefront of the present (well, the 'early '80s when the film was made). Industry aficianados will notice more than a few cameos, and not just the obvious ones like Sammy Davis Jr. on top of a parade float; all the agents sitting down to dinner in fact, they're actual agents. (I don't seem to remember Joe Franklin ever having a talk show though.) Allen was a relic of old-time entertainment, even as he was at the height of his popularity. He was a writer for Sid Caeser and a stand-up comic for years studying people like Bob Hope and Henny Youngman. "Broadway Danny Rose," is one of Allen's most personal characters, and one of his best. Rose started out as a comic too at first, before making his way into agent.

LE BEAU SERGE (1959) Director: Claude Chabrol

3 1/2 STARS

Most people mark the first film of French New Wave to be Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows", and while that's a good choice, the actual first one was a year earlier when his fellow Cahiers du Cinema critic, Claude Chabrol made his first feature film "Le Beau Serge". Chabrol, passed away just a couple years ago after making what became his final film "Inspector Bellamy", with Gerard Depardieu. I've actually seen quite a few films of his, but have rarely been a fan. He has an intriguing technique where he continually begins by making what seems like one movie, setting us up, with some almost archetypical characters and situations, and then, he kinda just drifts away from that, and tells the stories he wants to tell. Sometimes it's enjoyable, and his films are certainly important; as one critic once observed that with Chabrol, genre is his MaGuffin. But most of the time, I just watch his films feeling cheated most of the time. They keep getting me excited for one thing, and then, nothing seems to happen out of it. Of course, that's simplifying it, but it feels that way sometimes. "La Beau Serge," doesn't have that problem as much. Maybe because it was his first film, and he chose to remain truer to the more typical storytelling format of film, but either way, I foudn it somewhat more refreshing than Chabrol's usual films. The film begins innocently enough, with the old stand-by story of a man coming back to his old home town after years of being away and making a name for himself elsewhere. The young man is Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy), and while his town hasn't changed much, his friend Serge (Gerard Blain) has changed drastically, turning himself into the town drunk. Francois tries to help him out, and wonder why he's become such a louse, but Serge doesn't want any of it. His marriage is hanging on by a thread. The movie is stronger in terms of keeping to the storyline he Chabrol starts with than most of his other works, although that might only be of a benefit to someone like me who's naturally critical of him. There's some Tennessee Williams to this as well, as the wives eventually get in on everything, but that was a little trickier for me to follow, so I don't want to comment on that too much without a second viewing. Thankfully, "Le Beau Serge," is decent enough for a second viewing at some point. Not Chabrol's best, but hardly his worst.

BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! A REMEMBRANCE IN 12 CHAPTERS (2007) Director: Guy Maddin

2 STARS

Look, I'm all in favor of experimental filmmaking, but what the hell was this?! "Brand Upon the Brain! A Rememberance in 12 Chapters" clearly has some influences like Sergei Eisenstein's early films, and maybe Chris Marker's famous short film "La Jetee," but even then I can make out a story. Director Guy Maddin is known for stylistic tendencies and throwbacks to bygones eras of film for his stories. His film "The Saddest Music in the World," also took place and looked like an older film, one that was set back in the days of radio, and early post-talky era. He makes dozens of shorts, where this sort of jump cuts surrealist filmmaking can be appreciated. (Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou," comes to mind) He's also known for documentary, most notably "My Winnipeg". "Brand Upon the Brain!" begins with a guy returning to his Canadian island home, where his family ran an orphanage in a lighthouse. The lighthouse, he now has to paint a couple coats on, for his mom. After that..., I got lost. There's a screeching female voiceover and occasional title cards that partly explain what's going on, but I'll be damned if I could make heads or tales out of any of it. There seemed to be a lot of flashback to his days of the orphange, and those things seemed to resemble something like "Lord of the Flies", meets... I don't something that would only make sense in Salvador Dali's mind. I'm making this seem cooler than it actually is with that description though. It's not that entertaining. "Brand Upon the Brain!..." is some kind of long deep journey in the memories of a man. Maybe it supposed to be surreal and dreamy, but I wasn't interested in these dreams; I just wanted to get the hell out of them and back into the world of the normal. Maddin is clearly a talented, creative and personal filmmaker. It's that last part that's gonna kill ya. You make it too personal, and you're stuck in your own brain. "Brand Upon the Brain!..." is a travel through a mind of a man, who's mind I didn't want to have picked.

LADRON QUE ROBA A LADRON (2007) Director: Joe Menendez

3 1/2 STARS

Shot in America, and with an English speaking crew, "Ladron que roba a Ladron," which translated means "To rob a Thief", is basically your average fun run-of-the-mill con movie, and that's just fine with me. The movie involves two thieves, Alejandro (Fernando Colunga) and Emilio (Miguel Varoni) who made the long trek up from South and Central America to the U.S., where there former partner-in-crime, now going by the name, Mocte Valdez (Saul Lisazo) has made a fortune selling informercial miracle cures for everything from weight loss to one sickening scheme that claims to cure cancer, and selling them to the Mexican-American immigrant community of America. He's a piece of work, and they decide to screw the damn "honor among thieves" thing and take his money. The problem is that they need a crew to get this done, and all their old crew members are either dead or south of the border, so now they have to train some immigrants in the art of the con, and in two weeks, which will be the only time Mocte's house will be crowded enought that they could sneak in unnoticed and rob him blind. The crew is your fairly typical group of ragtags that you see in these movies, including a sexy mechanic (Julie Gonzalo) and her father (Jojo Henricksen) most memorably. The thing I really kind of enjoyed most about "Ladron..." was it's simplicity. It really is just a regular con movie, just told in Spanish, and taking place in a different part of America than we'd normally. It's slick, it's funny, and it's got maybe one or two aspects of the crime that we don't quite see coming until later. It's always interesting that the audience never gets the entire knowledge of the heist in these films until after the heist; in a way it seems like it's built for me to be conned as well but, it probably is more interesting that way. You like heist movies? Want to watch a good one, and don't mind subtitles? Then "Ladron..." is a good one.

SKIN (2009) Director: Anthony Fabian

4 1/2 STARS

I just checked Sophie Okonedo's imdb page, because I wanted to check and see how many films of hers I'd seen. I only remember two before "Skin". The first being "Dirty Pretty Things," where she played the house prostitute at a seedy hotel where black market activites were going on. The other being her Oscar-nominated role playing Don Cheadle's wife in "Hotel Rwanda". She was also apparently in "The Secret Life of Bees," with Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning, but mostly she's been doing British television since. "Skin," is the first leading role I've seen her in, and boy is it a tricky part, and I can't think of anybody else I'd want in the role. She plays Sandra Laing, who was born of two white parents, Sannie and Abraham (Alice Krige and Sam Neill) during the era of Apartheid in South Africa. Something strange about apartheid is that the races actually live in relative unity until the era of apartheid, and because of that, many whites actually had recent enough black ancestors that sometimes, their children would be black in skin-color. This effected Sandra, who was ostracized at her all-white school as a child (Ella Ramangwane), and was unfairly beaten, and eventually the schoolboard had her color switch from white to black, 'cause many appeals and cases. Eventually, the South African government switched the standard of what qualifies race by being the child's birthparents, because of Sanrda and her father's efforts. As a young woman however, Sandra begins to fall in love with a local black man, Petrus (Tony Kgoroge) who supplies their father's grocery store. Their relationship eventually makes her father disown her, and in response, she petitions to switch her race back to white as her as Petrus start a family, and she moves into Petrus's village and start a business together. Based on a real-life person, Sandra is basically a woman without a country. ("Country" in the more, tribal and definition, probably "nation" is a better word) After she attempts to keep in contact with her mother, Petrus begins to get angry and jealous. He wants her to accept herself as Black, while forgetting her entire life previously. "Skin" is a fascinating portrayal of one woman who was both blessed and cursed with the ability to see all sides of Apartheid, the good and the bad. Considering how everything went down, I doubt that she appreciates that. I wouldn't either if I was her, considering everything she had to go through. "Skin," is one of those powerful films that reveals just how complex Apartheid was, and more importantly, it re-introduces us to the amazing Sophie Okonedo as an actress who can really play anybody. This a great performance, that's not particularly showy, and that's a good thing.