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.
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