Sunday, April 29, 2012

MY LIST of THE 10 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME!, and OTHER THOUGHTS AS WE ANXIOUSLY AWAIT "SIGHT AND SOUND"'S POLL RESULTS!



Critics, filmmakers and cinephiles alike are anxiously awaiting the results from the "Sight and Sound" poll of the greatest films ever made. I was for some reason, not invited to participate in the poll, and that needless-to-say pisses me the hell off, they think so little of me, that I'm not even allowed to contribute a list. Me, one of the foremost film bloggers working today, can you believe it!?

(Lawyer's note: David Baruffi is NOT one of the world's, nor the country's foremost film bloggers. He has a blog, and he writes about film. He's been doing it for less than a year, he does it for no money, and currently, his blog has had less than 6,000 hits in the nine months he's been doing it. Granted, he's seen a steady climb in his readership over this time, but still, he's not consider a major source of anything in the filmworld at large. Thank you).

Okay, enough kidding aside. Yes, part of me hopes to one day vote in that poll, but another part of me, finds the idea unnerving. Yes, I have a list of every film I've ever seen, but that is only exhibit A in the absurdity of making such a list. Much less having to narrow down such a list, to a mere ten films. For those who aren't familiar with this list, it's a poll taken by the London-based "Sight and Sound", one of the oldest and most prestigious film magazine's in the world. (It's published by the BFI, the British Film Institute) They've done this list every ten years, starting originally in 1952. That year, Vittorio DiSica's film "The Bicycle Thief", which was released four-years earlier in '48, won the inaugural honor. In 1956, after years of not being shown to the public, "Citizen Kane," was finally re-released for the first time since it's original 1941 release. It has since won the honor in every poll since, and that includes both the critic's list, and the new director's list, who they started polling back in '92. I think it's unlikely that "Citizen Kane," will now, or ever be knocked off the top of that list, although many in the media and press might be waiting and wondering "what if," I'm gonna save you all the trouble and tell you it's gonna win again. There's some question though, on what other films will make the list. "Sight and Sound," publishes every poll they take by the way, there's no secrecy, and there shouldn't be. Many critics are already writing articles and blog similar to this one outlining their choices, and if possibly their reasons for them.

It's an intriguing little game. You have to be true to yourself with the films you pick, but if you come with up ten films that are better than "Citizen Kane," you'd better explain why they're better. I know a lot about film, and frankly, like many people, I'd be lying if I said that "Citizen Kane," was anywhere near the top of my favorite films list, but even on my best day, maybe I can make an argument for, three films that are better, and all those arguments, would, well, they wouldn't hold up. Still, you can name ten films without naming "Citizen Kane," and your choices would make perfect sense, and be perfectly valid. A lot of people tend to name 7 or 8 that are more classically respected as great films, while naming one or two lesser-thought-of titles, so that those films will be given some second or third looks at. Maybe give a movie some publicity that maybe the critic believes it rightfully deserves. Especially if it's a film that's newer than most, he might be predicting about how a film will be percieved years later. A for-your-future-consideration vote, possibly. I think there's gonna be a lot of votes like that for "The Tree of Life". It deserves them, although it's not on my list. Actually, my list... hmm,... I'm still making it and debating it personally. It's really such an absurd and sick little game, ain't it. Narrowing something down to a top ten of all-time, especially films. I'd have a difficult time if I had to narrow such a list down to 100, much less ten. Of course, I do like making lists, the Aquarius I am.

Alright, my list of the ten greatest films of all-time, 2012 version. Before we begin, there's a small rule change this year. Ten years ago, both "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" were grouped together, and made the list at number 4, you're not aloud to do that this year, you can only vote for one film. For instance, you can't have one spot for the "Star Wars" trilogy, you'd have to have one for "Star Wars," one for "Empire..." and one for "...Jedi". Same goes for all series. This f***s me up, because one of my top ten is Kryzstzof Kieslowski's "The Decaloge", which is actually ten short films put together, so that would literally take up my entire list. I say there should be a Kieslowski film on here. I could put "Red," but that's part of his "Three Colors Trilogy" of films, along with "Blue" and "White". That leaves me "The Double Life of Veronique", and as much as I love that film, I can't claim as a top ten of all-time.

So, no Kieslowski. Let's go with the ones that will be on my list. "Citizen Kane," yes. "Casablanca," yes (And I'm amazed that "Casablanca" has never ranked on this list), then, "The Godfather", yes. I'm not gonna rank "The Godfather Part II". Maybe it's a better film, but I give a slight preference to the original, and if at all possible, and I agree with Roger Ebert's thoughts on one film/per director on this list. That means no "Apocalypse Now," also, and that's a shame, but as much a unique vision that movie it is, "The Godfather," is too personal and too much apart of the American lexicon for me to ignore it. I'm gonna need to replace it though, with a similarly distinctive filmgoing experience. Insert "2001: A Space Odyssey", which also means, now I have my Kubrick. Alright, that's four. Five, I'm adding "The Maltese Falcon". Created a genre, (film noir), best film of it's genre, best film by a legendary director (John Huston),... I rank it that high, so I'm putting it that high, how about that. I'm adding "Rashomon". I could add an Ozu, like "Floating Weeds," but... and personally my favorite Kurosawa film is "Ikiru," but "Rashomon," is his best, and most important film. I'm adding Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", especially since we've found  after 75 years, the film has finally been completely restored, it's clearer now more than ever how great a film it is. That covers my silent film quota, and although I would've liked to have thrown in a Chaplin like "Modern Times," but really, nothing compares to "Metropolis", it's time has come. I know, personally, I should find a spot for Fellini or Bergman, but, if I can't have "The Decalogue," than I have to put Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire" on. 

Okay, let me start ranking what I've got so far.

1. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
5. Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders)
6. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
7. Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
8. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa)

That leaves me two spots. I thought about "12 Angry Men," but I don't know now. I'm looking at what I got, and I'm not sure it ranks. Alright, strike "12 Angry Men," and replace it with...

9. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)

It's time on that one too. It's all these films, time. It's a feeling thing, more than anything else. That's really the only standard I'm using, and any other argument I make is just justification. I mean, I'm not gonna pick blindly all the films I love, personally, but I you can when a movie is in that echelon. "Pulp Fiction," and all of these movies are there for me, and that's gonna be the standard I pick my last film on. Just to give you an idea, here's what this decision-making process looked like:

LAST FILM
Before Sunrise
Red
Magnolia
Adaptation.
Sunset Blvd
12 Angry Men
Lost in Translation
Crimes & Misdemeanors
Annie Hall
La Dolce Vita
Apocalypse Now
Mulholland Drive
Psycho
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Ikiru
Nashville
My Dinner with Andre
Persona

I've been crossing and uncrossing names off this list for two days, but I've made up my mind now.

10. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) 

Well, I ended up with two Coppolas after all. All these films do something unique and different, but what it really came down to is that, of those things that make each film different and unique, I can't think of any other film that does anything close to what "Lost in Translation" does that's different and unique. There it is, my Top Ten. Think this was easy to do? You should make your own list then. You think I like having a great film list with no Hitchcock, Wilder, Bergman, Fellini, Woody Allen, Scorsese, Spielberg, Ozu, Herzog, Kiselowski, Ford, Renoir...? I don't. But those all the rules, and those are my Top Ten.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "sex, lies and videotape"

SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989)

Director/Screenplay: Steven Soderbergh



Before I begin, most of you are aware the I have pre-written most of these Canon of Film entries, in many cases years ahead of time. I write new ones, and when I do, I post them, but the majority of these so far, were  written longago. "sex, lies and videotape," is different though. I actually wrote on it twice. Once, I believe, six years ago, and again last year. I'm going to post both of these entries below. I hope you'll notice how my writing has improved vastly in the second version., but when they were written, they both accurately reflected my thoughts on the film, and how I read the movie differently years later. I hope you enjoy this.


THE 1st ESSAY


It’s kind of weird watching “sex, lies, and videotape,” (The title doesn’t get capitalized in most printings I see of it, I’m not exactly sure why,) now seventeen years after the film made a huge splash at the Cannes Film Festival and became one of the films that triggered the new age of American independent film. This film also introduced the world to a great new writing and directing talent in a then, 30-years old Steven Soderbergh, who wrote the screenplay in eight days and shot it on a less than $2million budget. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, along with a Best Actor Award for Spader, swept the Independent Spirit Awards, and earned Soderbergh his first Oscar nomination for his screenplay. To shorthand the movie’s plot, would be to say that this film is an early influence on what would become the “American Beauty,” genre of films that take a wry, sardonic look at the perils of living in suburbia, USA. (Other films of that nature would include, “In the Bedroom,” “The Weather Man,” and “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” even though “The Weather Man,” takes place in Chicago.) But also, look at the main actors in the film. The movie is basically a four-character play, and in this case, three of the “stars,” are now more well-known for television work, and the 4th Andie MacDowell, really should be on T.V. if you ask me. This was a comeback for Andie MacDowell after her screen debut it “Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan,” was diminished when her voice was dubbed in by Glenn Close after filming. (A practice by the way, that isn’t super unusual in Hollywood, although her case was of a much larger scale than typical.)

The movie begins with a wife, Ann, (MacDowell) seeing a psychiatrist, discussing how she has never been turned on by sex, even from her husband (Peter Gallagher). Her husband is a typical slimy lawyer type who blatantly tells a client over-the-phone about how he gets away with a good marriage while having an affair on the side, and not to mention with his wife’s sexually provocative sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Cynthia, is also much more interesting personality wise than Ann. John’s college roommate Graham, (James Spader)  is coming into town looking for a hotel room, and during a lunch with Ann, he reveals that he is sexually impotent after/before and/or because of a break-up with a girlfriend in college. Now, keep in mind back in ’89, there was no Viagra, so to fulfill his desires, he has began a practice of videotaping women as they discuss rather therapeutically, or sometimes voyeuristically about their sexual past and, I guess he… uh-hem… masturbates, at least mentally to these women. What he actually does with the tapes is hard to say, but they seem to be his glass unicorn.

Although, Spader is definitely the most interesting character, the movie is about Ann’s attempt to, I guess figure out how to find herself both sexually and realized how impotent her life is outside of sex. A barfly quotes a line from “Apocalypse Now,” at one point in the film if you don’t get that it’s more of a spiritual journey than a movie with a plot. Yes, there’s sex, and lies as well, but none of it’s as interesting as one would think it would be, which is correct because sex is only interesting for a short while anyway, as John has become more obsessed than normal, and is therefore much shallower. The specific events that make these four lives collide I will not reveal. But, pay attention to color and movement in the film. It’s the kind of movie where you have to read between the lines of what people say to realize what they’re really saying, and how they say them. Also, watch the set design during a particular scene with MacDowell and San Giacomo, and pay attention to color and where people are when they talk. It’s the kind of scene that makes you show how every aspect of the film determines the film.


THE 2nd ESSAY


I keep coming back to “sex, lies, and videotape,” every few years. I always think I know this movie really well, and yet, I find it more mysterious on each viewing. Certain scenes I remembered well don’t play the same way twice, and other times, there are small details I might not have caught before. Graham’s apartment for instance, has a lamp that plugged into a wall, near the door to the kitchen. He has no table for the lamp to stand on, so it remains on the floor. One of his chairs is a director’s chair. He does tape women as they discuss their sexual experiences, apparently because it’s the only way he is able to become aroused, if that’s the right word for it. He claims he’s impotent; an aftereffect of a relationship with a mysterious girl named Elizabeth, but is it a voluntary impotency or is he actually impotent? In fact, what of Graham Dalton (James Spader)? Few characters in cinema are as fascinating as him, preciously because we don’t know his intentions, his desires, or why preciously he does what he does. He says he was once a pathological liar, but that might be a lie. Structurally to the story, his character is similar to a Picaro character, that comes in and affects the lives of all those around him, but unlike Picaro, he doesn’t seem out solely for himself. In fact, he’s barely out for anything. Whatever has tortured him is so deeply ingrained in him, that I doubt even he understands the depths of it himself. He is one of the most enigmatic characters is film history. Maybe it’s because Soderbergh, who wrote the screenplay in a week, according to legend, decided not to flush him out as well as he could have. It’s surprising watching the film to realize how little he is in the movie. An argument could be made that based on screen time, the movie has four lead characters and no supporting parts. The movie’s focus is on Ann (Andie MacDowell) whose married to a lawyer, John (Peter Gallagher) who’s so slimy, about the only time he doesn’t lie is in a phone conversation about how good a liar he is to his wife. He’s a fraternity friend of Graham, who he’s strangely invited to stay for a bit while Graham’s traveling through, even though they haven’t seen each other in nine years, and have taken very different paths. (although it appears as though Graham was as one point very similar to John) John’s biggest lie is that he’s sleeping with his wife’s sexually extroverted sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Why does Cynthia sleep with John and vice-versa? Probably because they can; maybe because they’re bored? No actress is shot from stranger angles that Laura San Giacomo is in this film. Cameras turned upside down, and on wide-framed as she curls up on a couch, and that great shot of her lying on the bed, her face and hair in frame but from upside down. Maybe an effect of Soderbergh’s limited budget, but fascinating and ingenious nonetheless. Eventually, Cynthia finds her way into Graham’s apartment, and finds out about these sex tapes and decides to have him make one. She changes ever so slightly after that, but in a way that makes her not have sex with John at one point. He can’t understand it. In an earlier review, I mentioned about how a barfly at the bar Cynthia works at quotes from “Apocalypse Now,” underlying the point about the film being more of a spiritual journey than a movie with a plot, but that’s not right. The spiritual journeys are the character's own. Graham is on one, which he has self-imposed on himself. Cynthia goes on her own, through Graham, and finally, Ann will let down her guard and take a long-needed spiritual journey. All of them are inner journeys, that lead to their changes. John has no inner journey, because he hasn’t changed. Too ingrained in his own ways, that the world he’s created for himself has to completely crumble before he can even begin to try. He’s the macho male character, and the rest, including Spader, and feminine characters who change and are constantly struggling to improve and find themselves, hidden cleverly within the two love triangles of “sex, lies, and videotape.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #30: "RIO", "TAKE SHELTER", "CONTAGION," "MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE", "OUTRAGE", "LOVE CRIME", "TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL", "JANIE JONES," "THE GREEN," "SAVING PRIVATE PEREZ", "PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE" and MORE!

Sorry for the delay this week on my blogs, especially the reviews. It seems that these movie reviews are clearly the most popular feature of my blog, and I'm glad about that. I'll still be posting other essays and Canon of Film blogs but, I'm amazed at how popular my reviews have become. My last set of reviews, has quickly become the most viewed single blog entry on the site. I hope that's good thing and a bunch of people aren't showing this an examples of how "not" to write a review..., well, actually I'd be okay with that too. Either way, I'm sure a lot of you are excited for this next batch, so were gonna get right to them this week, so....

Onto the reviews!

RIO (2011) Director: Carlos Saldanha

3 STARS

Many times I watch a movie and think about some of the other films that have clearly influenced the movie. It's not atypical actually, but sometimes you get caught offguard by the film(s) that a movie may reference. I didn't know what exactly to expect out of "Rio," going into it, but I certainly didn't think that I'd see so many "Honeymoon in Vegas," references. I'm not complaining about it. If you're gonna "borrow" from a movie, at least they picked a good one, but still, that's kind of an choice for a film an animated film about a parrot. The parrot is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) a rare blue macaw who's found himself away from his birthplace in Brazil and has spent the majority of his life, living in Minnesota with her cute bookish owner, Linda (Leslie Mann). She's mostly an introverted type, who runs a local bookstore where Blu loves hanging out and drinking hot chocolate w/marshmallows in his cage. Linda becomes informed by Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) that Blu is a rare bird, possibly one of the last of his kind, and after some convincing, she goes with him to Rio de Janiero, to mate Blu with his female Blue Macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Jewel, is an aggresive bird who trying to escape, constantly, and can't believe that Blu not only likes being locked in his cage, but can't fly. Before they even begin to fall in love with each other, they are soon kidnapped by some exotic bird smugglers, and both Jewel and Blu, and Linda and Tulio, are on their own little romantic-comedy adventures. (Come to think of it, there's some "Romancing the Stone" in this too.) The smugglers have an angry former bird-celebrity, Nigel (Jemaine Clement) who's quite intelligent and brutal, and is determined to find the Macaws, after they manage to at first escape the gang of smugglers, led by Marcel (Carlos Ponce). Naturally, the two macaws, who are chained together for much of the film, run into more than a few helpful colorful characters, some of the best of these are voiced by George Lopez and Tracy Morgan, what was a little more surprising is how Linda and Tulio's characters also went on their own little adventure to help find the birds, and this includes trying to foil a scheme to smuggle the birds out using Carnaval as a distraction. How am I comparing this to "Honeymoon in Vegas," you may ask. Well, we get two people traveling to a famed tourist locale to mate forever, (Well, okay a person and a parrot) they get separated from their loved ones and are nearly taken away forever by the person who takes them, the way the movie ends involves a more conservative female character having to dress up like a showgirl, or actually in this case, like a Carnaval dancer to hide in plain sight, (Actually the Carnaval outfit is more revealing that the Vegas showgirl outfit), and while they're aren't any Flying Elvis's there is a scene, involving characters at the end of the movie, jumping out of a plane, and flying. Frankly, I couldn't help but notice. The movie earned one of the only two Oscar nomination for Best Song for "Real in Rio," which is played in an amazingly vibrant opening scene of the film. It is a good song, but I felt some of the other songs weren't particularly strong, especially one Nigel, the evil bird, seems to sing, only for exposition purposes, which it doesn't exactly live up to a standard like "Be Prepared," from "The Lion King," or "Gaston" from "Beauty and the Beast". Director Carlos Sandanha, is mostly known for the "Ice Age," films until now. I actually, never liked those films, although I enjoyed "Robots," which he co-directed, but still, he's certainly in the second-tier of animators. "Rio" has some amazing animation sequences, especially the opening, and much of the Carnaval scenes at the end. He's really vibrant with primary colors here, and that's old-fashioned, but it's good here. He stills relies on a few too many immature jokes at times, but overall, there's nothing particularly harmful about "Rio". It's entertaining while it's on, definitely young kids will enjoy it, I don't know if adults will so much. It's a recommendation, but it's a mild one. It's just, interesting, enough.

TAKE SHELTER (2011) Director: Jeff Nichols

5 STARS

I have to take a few deep breaths, thinking about "Take Shelter". It's an intense psychological thriller, that shows just how the unknown can be just as, if not more frightful, than those normal things that scare us in movies, that we do know. Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a little bit quiet, and maybe edgy, but other than that, he seems to be a normal guy. He heads a construction crew while his wife (Jessica Chastain) sews some fabrics and occasionally sells some pillows and clothes at a flea market. Their daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart) is deaf, and they're all still learning sign language. She's just lost her hearing, and they're working towards getting a cochlear implant. Curtis however, starts to have dreams. Dreams that seem a little too real. In one, his dog attacks his arm, and he wakes up the next day, his arm is fine, but it remains in pain the rest of the day. Others seem to predict some other kind of misbegotten moments, some of the time, his daughter is in with him. He also has begun hallucinating, hearing thunder when there isn't even a cloud, and seeing birds flying in a very suspicious pattern. In many of them, he's driving, and always, they involve a monstrous storm. Curtis, we learn, has a mother, Sarah (Kathy Baker), who lives in assisted-living, and has since she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, right around the age Curtis is now. Does Curtis have schizophrenia? He does some research, and it looks like he might, but it's not completely clear. What a strange feeling that must be, to realize that your mind is betraying you, but still not be able to distrust it completely. He makes a few drastic steps, the biggest one being, expanding the storm shelter, which is usually used mainly for tornados. Whether it's in his mind or it's real, he fears, probably correctly, that the worst is coming, and he doesn't want to take chances, or maybe worse, he can't help himself. Boy, with every part he plays, Michael Shannon really is becoming one of our greatest actors. Occasionally, I thought he dipped into, something close to the Billy Bob Thornton "Sling Blade," character with this film, looking back, I think I'm comparing character that just have some similarities. Shannon, has an ability to, give us a look and we realize that even he's trying to figure out exactly which direction the wheels in his head are turning. Chastain gives another amazing performance that year. Man, she had a helluva year. This is Jeff Nichols's second feature-length film after the independent film "Shotgun Stories," a couple years back. I didn't care much for that film, but he clearly had a strangely paceful tone, and he knows how to heighten, even the most basic scenes. "Take Shelter," tremendously better than his first film, and I can't for his next one. I have one critique though, I don't get the endiing. I won't go further than that, but I thought it was arbitrary or indecisive, or, I don't know. I didn't get it, maybe someone can explain it to me, but that's such a minor quibble.... The very last scene, I didn't understand it, even with that, "Take Shelter," is really just a great film.

CONTAGION (2011) Director: Steven Soderbergh

4 STARS

"Contagion," is one of those movie with so many multiple storylines going on, that in order to save time in explaining who everyone is, it helps to just cast any many famous actors as possible, even the ones who drop dead almost immediately. I couldn't help but compare "Contagion," with Soderbergh's "Traffic," which also used a similar storytelling structure. In that film, he separated the three main sections by using a different color tint to distinguish them. The blue-tinted scenes were one place, the yellow another, and no tint, another story together, just so the audience can follow each different storyline as it happens. "Traffic," was about the many levels of drug trafficing however, and in "Contagion," he doesn't ue any tricks, because everything happens so quickly,  and it happens to everyone, indiscriminately and to everyone at the same time. It begins in Hong Kong where Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is coming home to Minneapolis, unbeknowst to her, she's contacted a disease, that's an entirely new strain of flu. She dies, suddenly a couple days later. Her son Clark (Griffin Kane) dies soonafter, leaving her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) suddenly losing his family, and quarantined to determine whether he has and/or is capable of spreading the virus. Reports begin coming in from China about similar disease outbreaks, and the U.S. Center for Disease Controls, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) is on the case. First, they have to figure out the source, and the strain, and then, if possible, create a vaccine. In the best possible scenario, it takes months, in the meantime, something called a r-count, which is a number that determines how many people on average does a diseased person infect with the disease, continues to rise. It only takes, for panic to strike. Looting, more dead bodies. Sport stadium turn into makeshift hospitals all over the country. One person sent to Hong Kong to study where the disease might have originated, Leonora (Marion Cotillard) is kidnapped by local Chinese, from an area that's so overly infected, that they worry that A. The U.S. has the cure (Not true) and B. They're not gonna to be the first ones to get it, unless they resort to drastic measures (Not entirely unreasonable). Another person sent to follow and contain the disease, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) catches the disease herself, and has to be quarantine, before she even dies from. Meanwhile, rumors of a cure spread rapidly, lead by a conspiracy theorists blogger, Alan Krumweide (Jude Law) who caught onto the contagion before anybody else did, and begins reporting claims of forsythia, being a cure for the disease, that the government is hiding because they can't make money from it. "Contagion," is a matter-of-fact, telling of the kind of worst case scenario that can happen if something like SARS or Bird Flu, were to spread at a faster rate, and more out of control. We care about the characters, because we're familiar with the actors, but the movie is more-or-less a by-the-book telling of what can happen if such a Spanish flu-like contagion were to occur, and that's frightening enough. A good comparison film might be "The China Syndrome". That matter-of-factness also prevents us from really getting involved, but that's okay. Soderbergh's one of our best filmmakers, proving that once again here, although he's constantly threatening to retire and focus on other artistic endeavors. I hope that's some kind of bluff, people as talented as him should really be making more and more movies. "Contagion", is his first real, disaster film, and it's a strong one. Anyone else, I might give it more stars, but it's another solid film from Soderbergh.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) Director: Sean Durkin

5 STARS



I don't quite know where exactly to begin here other than to say this: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" scared the hell out of me. It's not a horror, I wouldn't even call it a thriller, but no matter how I looked at this film, I kept finding myself with goosebumps up my arms. The title character Martha, (Yes, that name is one person), is a teenage runaway who joins up with a hippie-like cult in upstate New York. The leader of the cult, Patrick (John Hawkes, hitting a lot of right notes)  is introduced to Martha, and says that she looks like a Marcy May. From there on in, she's called Marcy, by him, and everyone in the cult, which is predominantly young women. (Marlene, we learn, is the name everybody uses when somebody calls the camp) We get these scenes in flashbacks, or if you wish, they might be from Martha's memory, either way, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has escaped from the cult through the woods, and finds her way back to her older sister's, Lucy's (Sarah Paulson) house. In case you're wondering, yes, Elizabeth, is the younger sister of the Olsen Twins, and that will be the absolute last time any intelligent critic will ever compare her with her sisters again. This is her first major role, and while Martha's back in... well, for-lack-of-a-better-term, the real world, she's been so brainwashed, that she might as well have been on Mars. Her behavior is erratic and unpredictable as she at once, tries to re-learn the rules of society in this house her brother-in-law, Ted (Hugh Dancy) built (He's a successful architect) while recalling and trying to un-learn,... well, she has to un-learn a lot of what she thinks of as normal. I swear, I'm trying to explain the kind of life she had as a member of Patrick's cult, but..., frankly I don't want to type the words. Besides that, we learn about her behavior as we go. How teachings have stuck in her head, that she still hasn't let go. How she starts realizing how unusual some of the behavior there, (And warning, this includes disturbing scenes of rape, and just an abnormal reactions to nudity and other abnormal behaviors, including violence) aren't the normal ways of the outside world, and how she can only overreact when she starts to realize this. Some of you may ask why she never tells Lucy about where she's been, and my question would be, how would you tell? First of all, you've been trained not to, and frankly, it's such a different world that, I don't even know how to explain it. I'm having a hard enough time explaining it in this review. How do you think Ted and Lucy could deal with such an unpredictable, transisting force. God, and how Martha can get over it... she might not get over it. The only comparable character I might begin to compare Martha to is Chloe Sevigny's Nicollete Grant character on "Big Love", and frankly, we get her character years after she escapes and goes through the kind of psychological trauma that Martha is going through, and hopefully she can recover from. Elizabeth Olsen is just-... well, I hate using this phrase, but here it goes, this is a star-making role for her. If she can do this part, than she can do anything. Speaking of people who can do anything, this is second film I'm reviewing this week with John Hawkes in it (I didn't mention it, but he had a small role in "Contagion"), but think back on his part, and realize all the ways he gone wrong with that role, and you realized how special an actor he is that he doesn't.

OUTRAGE (2011) Director: Takeshi Kitano

2 STARS

"Outrage," is a Japanese film where a lot of gangsters get killed.

I thought seriously about ending this review with just that sentence. That seems to be all there is to "Outrage," the latest film by the great director Takeshi Kitano. He's reknown for some amazing films, including the one I've seen, "Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsmen," which is a great samurai movie, I gave it 5 stars. He made his career originally though on gangster films, including ones about the Yakuza, that included loads of violence. He hasn't worked with such violence in recent years, but he more than made up for it with "Outrage". The movie involves two rival Yakuza gangs, and they're in a bloodwar, and they're constantly killing each other, and if you watched the movie and found any additional plot to the movie, than good for you, but I'll be damned if I could find it. We get a brief introduction to many of the gangsters in the beginning, but not much of one, and soon the killing and maiming and torturing begin. There's some creative ones, admittedly, like one involving a rope, a pole, and speeding car that will suddenly lose it's entire passenger-side door. There's one involving some amateur dental work, that's makes me think going to see the Marathon Man for a root canal, might be enjoyable than I first imagined. Some aren't that creative. There's one where a bunch of gangsters get killed in the steam room of a spa, that's been done to death. Oh, there's also a few wives, girlfriends and hookers that get killed as well. Not for any good reason, although one of them being dead helps get a deal done with an American businessman, I think. The only man who seems to be surviving any of this is Otomo (Takeshi Kitano, who acts in all his films under the name Beat Takeshi). I couldn't tell you whose side he's on, hell, I couldn't even tell you the sides, but it doesn't matter since they're all double-crossing each other anyway, and not enough of them survived to form a side. It says under trivia on Outrage's imdb.com page that Takeshi Kitano formed the film specifically for commercial appeal, not only going back to his most popular genre, but going so far as to imagine the death scenes first, and then begin writing the story around them. I am not at all surprised. I guess as a statement to those who wanted him to be more violent, "Outrage" is a pretty good answer (Would've been a better one had their not been an sequel to the film, already in development, but still.), but as a movie, it's an incredibly skillful collection of a bunch of people getting killed, and unfortunately, that alone, does not a movie make.

LOVE CRIME (2011) Director: Alain Corneau

4 STARS

It's starting to seem like everytime I watch a French movie nowadays, Kristen Scott Thomas is in it. She used to mostly work in English, with noted parts in films like "Gosford Park," but starting with her work in a great film "I've Loved You So Long," she's been working in France a lot lately. She's clearly fluent, and a great actress in both languages, and in "Love Crime," she's particularly vicious. She plays a business executive, Christine, who's eyeing a job at the company's New York branch. She works closely with one of her employees, Isabel (Ludivine Sagnier) who's clearly got a crush on her, but Christine is currently dating, Phillippe (Patrick Mille), although, Phillippe seems to be there to both make Isabel jealous that Christine is with him, and for Isabel to eventually sleep with him, almost because Christine planned it out that way. Christine takes credit for Isabel's work, Christine is not only unapologetic, she can't figure why Isabel would be upset by it. (btw, I have no idea what the company they work for actually does. Maybe, they said it at some point, and I just forgot, but I don't think it matters much either way, and the dialoge by the other employees which seems to be nothing but praise and congratulations, almost seems intentionally comical, especially when they speak in English) Christine moves people like they were chess pieces, completely under her whim, even when they seem to be acting on their own free will. There is a crime half-way through this film, it's a murder, and Isabel is brought in as a leading suspect, and at one point she even confesses to the crime. I'm not gonna reveal who is murdered, or by who, or what happens afterwards, but this is one of those movies where things aren't exactly as they first seem, and the best part of the movie, especially in that critical second-half, is finding out, what exactly we may have missed before. The film was directly quite skillfully by Alain Corneau, who directed a great, and one of my favorite French films, "Tous Les Matins du Monde", which translated means "All the Mornings of the World," and that film also includes one of Gerard Depardieu's greatest performance. This film is about as difference as that one can be. "Love Crime," is quite a good erotic thriller, that rewards those who pay attention to it, mostly because you'll still be caught offguard by it.

TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL (2011) Director: Eli Craig

3 STARS

There's something quite loveable about Tucker & Dale, in a Laurel & Hardy kinda way. They're not real intelligent; they try hard, but whatever they try to do, they seem to make it worse. They finally buy their vacation home, yeah, it's a fixer-upper but that's part of the fun, you get to build your own little place in the middle of the woods. If weren't for all these stupid dead teenagers, they would've really had a nice little weekend getaway going. "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil," takes some of those slasher movie cliches, and wonders, what if everything was just a big misunderstanding. Kinda like "Three's Company," which a few extra corpses. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are hetero-life partners (Thank you Jay and Silent Bob, for that one), aren't that smart, but they good-hearted, especially Dale, but they look a little too much like they're from "Deliverance". So when shy, sweet Dale tries to ask a girl out, she and the rest of her college friends, speed out of the gas station as quickly as possible. (How these morons ended up in college by the way, should really be the subject of a horror film, but anyway.) At the cabin, which Tucker and Dale find decorated with newspaper clippings and gasoline tanks, they go out fishing by the lake. When one of the kids sees, the lake, they all immediately decide to go skinny-dipping. One of the girls,  slips off a rock while undressing and hits her head as she falls in the water, and Tucker & Dale rescue her. They mention to the kids that they've got their friend, but they all start running away like they were afraid of something. They nurse the poor clumsy thing, Ally (Katrina Bowden, she plays Suri on "30 Rock")  back to health and get her some breakfast when she wakes up in the morning. After she realizes what happened, they begin playing board games while they wait for her friends to come and see if she's okay. Her friends, meanwhile, led by Chad (Jesse Moss), who I'm guessing is not a Blue Collar Comedy Tour kinda guy, is convinced that Tucker & Dale are sadistic murderers and it's up to him, and the rest of the gang to save Ally from them. Sometimes they run from Tucker because he's carrying a chainsaw. They try to take Ally back while she and Dale are out digging a six-foot depth hole, for the outhouse, but they keep flying by and missing. After one has a particularly bad conflict  with a woodchipper, Tucker & Dale start wondering if they're on a suicide pact. Ally would help, but she cannot seem to stop herself from being knocked unconscious. (She should really get herself checked out. She must be a date-raper's wet dream) I can't quite recommend the film. The laughs were a little too sporatic for me to say, it's a must see, but I wouldn't mind seeking out a seeing a sequel to this. Tucker and Dale are quite likeable, and I can imagine more than a few other situations they can get themselves into, and I think some of them might be a little funnier than this one. I appreciated the tone, and I certainly got a kick out of the idea of the film. Maybe this subgenre of the slasher-spoof has been done a little too much. (And most slasher films usually do a good enough job of unintentially spoofing themselves to begin with) Ah, you know what, I'll recommend it. Deleting 2 1/2, I'm changing it, to 3 stars. I think it could've been better, but Tucker & Dale are just so pleasant and nice to be around, they won me over. Must really suck having to deal with all these idiotic college kids all the time. I feel sorry for them.

JANIE JONES (2011) Director: David M. Rosenthal

3 1/2 STARS

Janie Jones (Abigail Breslin) and her mother, Mary Ann (Elisabeth Shue) are driving urgently down the road in the opening of "Janie Jones". They stop off as a gas station. The mother is a trainwreck. She changes her clothes, in broad daylight, outside of the gas pump. "Well, when else can I do it? I haven't seen him in years, I want to look good." She sends her daughter in to buy the gas. Going through her mother's purse, Janie finds a crackpipe, which she then throws away in a trash can on her way in to pay the gas. This is one of the opening scenes of "Janie Jones," a movie that might have a plot that at it's surface, appears, and it is cliche. It's a cliched story that's filled with cliches, and yet... we don't mind it in "Janie Jones". There's a reason why cliches become cliches, because they tend to occur in real life. The place they're going to urgently is a rock concert of an aging musician named Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola), not to see the concert, but for Mary Ann to introduce Ethan to Janie, his daughter. Mary Ann walks in, and Ethan barely remembers her. It goes without saying that he doesn't believe her at first, but she suddenly leaves Janie at the concert, and despite some convincing, Ethan begins taking her along on what's going to become one disastrous tour. He's gonna find out that his girlfriend, Iris (Brittany Snow) is cheating on him, his band is gonna break up, he's gonna lose gigs and a record contract, he's going to be arrested..., and did I mention that he's suddenly got a teenage daughter that until a week or so ago, he didn't know existed, that he has to take care of, and maybe get to know. Is it cliche that she can sing and play guitar too? She has a rockstar father and a former groupie for a mother, might not be that weird actually, and in fact, she seems to be pretty good. "Janie Jones," has a tale as old as time, but when you have good writing and directing from David Rosenthal, who based this film loosely on his own experiences of getting to his child later in life, and some exceptional acting. Alessandro Nivola is constantly one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, this is a rare lead role for him, and this is complicated character with a lot of pent-up demons that explode at the wrong times, and he nails it. As for Breslin,- is it just me, or are there better child actors now than ever before? Chloe Moretz, the Fannings, Dakota and Elle, Saorise Ronan... I don't think about their age, these are great actors and Abigail Breslin gives another great performance. It's a quieter performance too. This is a character who may be young, but has had to grow up, quickly. She's quick-witted, but not mouthy. She's quiet, but she can take charge of the most complex situations when they arise, and fain those regular kid emotions when the situation calls for her to be an adult. Maybe they're just writing better parts for kids, but if there's no Abigail Breslin, I'm not sure this movie gets made. This is the classic example of a film, where it's not what it's about, 'cause we've seen this story a million times before, with these elements before, but  "Janie Jones" is worth watching, anyway.

THE GREEN (2011) Director: Steve Williford

4 STARS

I was surprised to find out that "The Green," originated as a film script, because it's got a lot of amazing elements that I thought would make this story really amazing to see on stage. Yup, this is a weird statement to say about a film, but I kinda wish I saw this as a play, but it's still quite good anyway. The movie takes place in a Connecticut suburb of New York City where Michael (Jason Butler Harner) and Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson) have moved to get away from the big city. Michael works as a high school teacher, who works hard to help some of the students that can use it, including a very troubled one name Jason (Christopher Bert) who's smart, but gets picked on at school, and has some unpredictable parents. Daniel works as a caterer for some of the local elites in town. Things seem to be good for Michael and Daniel, until Jason claims that Michael has inapporpiately touched him, and then, their lives turn upside-down. Is Michael a child molester? Well, even the other students have notice that Michael seems to be unusually close to Jason, that's one of the things they made fun of him about. Michael's temporarily suspended, and eventually has to seek out a high-powered lawyer, Karen (Julia Ormond) to help him out. Daniel suddenly keeps losing his business too, and as a storm starts approaching, a figurative and literal one, Daniel begins to wonder about Michael himself, especially after he comes clean, about a prior arrest, that Michael had kept secret from Daniel. This is the first feature-film for director Steven Williford, whose only other credit are from directing daytime soap operas. I never would've guessed by "The Green," this is a very impressive debut, but the real star of the film is the writing by Paul Marcarelli. You might not recognize his name, but you've seen him a thousand times, he's the "Can you hear me now?" guy, from the Verizon commercials. First thing, is that he's very good at writing some complex characters, but secondly, he's very good, at inserting believable kinds of doubt into every scene, right up until a very shocking ending, but even in some of the more mundane scenes, like a few scenes where Daniel's sister, Trish (Ileana Douglas) is talking with Daniel, while he's taking her for chemotherapy, the dialogue they come up with, and how they struggle with their own doubts about Michael's innocence, is very well done. "The Green," didn't get a theatrical release, and that's a shame, but it toured the Gay & Lesbian film festival circuits for much of last year, it deserves to be more widely seen. I've very interested in Marcarelli's next script, and if he ever thinks about it, as good a movie as "The Green," is, it would make a really good play.

SAVING PRIVATE PEREZ (2011) Director: Beto Gomez

1 1/2 STARS

There's a decent idea for a movie somewhere in "Saving Private Perez," but, it was just so damn boring, I just couldn't even care. It's just strange with so much natural conflict, to just be, so empty of anything to grab a hold to. "Saving Private Perez", is a comedy, maybe, about a Mexican druglord, Julian Perez (Miguel Rodarte) who has to suddenly take all of his army and resources to fly to the Middle East, and save his younger brother, who's a U.S. soldier in the Iraq War who's gone missing, and his mother is pretty insistant on him being brought back alive. This is a decent idea for a film. Classic idea. It's even good for a comedy, lots of comedic possibilities here. There's the clash of cultures, there's confusion in war, there's the hero's own doubts about putting his life in danger, there's the drug kingpin's army, suddenly getting into real battle, there's the obvious "Saving Private Ryan," references.... We get none of this, in "Saving Private Perez". We barely get a movie in "Saving Private Perez". There's lot of action scenes, that run a few different gambits of genres, as though switching from a shoot 'em up to a kung fu film, is funny in of itself, we get lots of things blowing up. At the end, we get a lot of random scenes that seem to part of a whole heist-like, planned out scheme that are all supposed to come together, possibly to explain how they got Private Perez out of Iraq, but they really are just a bunch of scenes, that are edited together, and nothing more. (Hmm "How We Got Private Perez Out of Iraq", that would've been a better title for this film.) It so weird sometimes, how you just look at a screen, at wait for something interesting to happen, and then nothing does. That's kinda the experience that happened to me watching "Saving Private Perez," which was apparently such a big domestic hit in Mexico, that it got a U.S. theatrical release. You know, this was just a missed opportunity, and that made me mad. So many different kinds of good films, including a comedy, could've been made from this idea, and we didn't get any of them.

PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE (2011) Director: Jonathan Lee

3 1/2 STARS

I must confess that I honestly didn't know who Paul Goodman was exactly before going into this film, and that is the whole point of the movie, and that's sad. Paul Goodman, basically invented or predicted the '60s, with the book "Growing Up Absurd," which was a critical look at the culture of the '50s, and how it was leading to what-we-now recognized as an alienated youth culture. He was an anarchist, socialist, poet, playwright, essayist, author, city-planner, psychiatrist, and about twenty other things, and many of his ideas are not only still being debated, some of them now seem like prophecies of inevitability. He was the first one to realize that New York City was going to have a problem with too many cars. There's some funny sequences where he's arguing with William F. Buckley on his old TV appearances. He basically created the New Left, the anti-Communism section of it, anyway. Paul Goodman seems to have had a hand in a little bit of everything. Looking at the education system in America today, seems to reveal a world that has long-forgotten and ignored him. He said that colleges were too specialized and pointed towards people having specific careers, and not enough people were trying to get a general education of everything. Now they start doing things like that in elementary schools. He taught at numerous universities, constantly getting fired for his actions, oftentimes from making one too many sexual passes at..., well everyone. He had three kids with his wife (Well, he never married her, but...) and had many male lovers over the years. I learned a lot from watching "Paul Goodman Changed My Life," not the least of which is how much his ideals had not only seeped into the American consciousness, but had long seeped into me. I feel ashamed that I didn't know exactly who he was before watching this film. I wish he could've changed my life in fact. Unfortunately, their isn't anybody quite like him around now that I could similarly look up to. If anybody stumbles across a copy of "Growing Up Absurd," I'd like to borrow it some time.

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) Director: James Ivory

4 1/2 STARS

I've been working my way through some of the Merchant-Ivory films over the last couple years, their more famous ones if possible (Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory, the producer and director respectively of many of those films of the Upper Crust of British society, based on literature.) Some of these films are better than others, although most are good. The best of these is "Howard's End", but "The Remains of the Day," is right up there as well. It earned 8 Oscar nominations back in '93, and it remains a fascinating tale, not of the upper crust, strangely enough this time, but of the servants of them. Most importantly, the Butler, James Stevens, (Oscar-nominee Anthony Hopkins) who's heavily devoted to perfecting his work as servant. He's most unemotional and proper. Even when during a major gathering, his father, William, (Peter Vaughan) dies, during the event, he continues with his work as best he can, which includes getting a basin of salts and water ready for a guest who complains about his shoes hurting his feet. He currently works for an American, Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve, yeah, that one) but in flashback we see him working for Lord Darlington (James Fox), who's name now gets strange notices when brought up. He was a German-sympathizer who convicted then-Prime Minister Chamberlain to try to make a peace treaty with Germany, and now the mere mention of the name is so toxic, even James won't admit right away that he worked for him. But work he did, and he was an honorable man, who was unfortunately gullable due to prior sympathies. I said German-sympathizer, I don't know if he was a Nazi-sympathizer, but he certainly cared for Germany even to make deals with them. The movie details the relationship between james and the head housekeeper Miss Kenton (Oscar-nominated Emma Thompson). They don't have a romantic relationship per se. James certainly does his utmost to keep it professional, maybe to his much regret. He's an expert to bottling up any emotions he might have. When people ask about his own thoughts on working with Darlington, his political perspective, his eye-view of history, he evades such questions, insisting he has no such thoughts other than to serve. I believe he tries. Only through the slightest hints of emotion can we ever see from him, much to the dismay of Miss Kenton. Butlers make such intriguing lead characters because how they are witnesses and yet, they never reveal what they think of what they observe. They're mysterious, and they must be, it's their job. In James's case, it's his life. "The Remains of the Day," holds up rather well. It's one of those films about those things we think, and never say. Can't even say that we regret not saying them. These Merchant-Ivory films usually have a great story, all of them have great acting, and from what I've heard, stay pretty true to the books that inspire them. They're not for everyday, admittedly, but the best of them really show us all the best of things of what cinema can do. "The Remains of the Day," is one of the better ones.

Monday, April 23, 2012

MATT GROENING CONGRATULATES, SEPARATES, AND DISTINGUISHES! Oh, and Happy 25th Anniversary FOX!



First of all, congratulations to FOX. It's there 25th Anniversary, and they should be celebrated for such an accomplishment. There had been many attempts prior to FOX to have a broadcast network compete with the big three, but FOX was the first, and in many ways, the only one to really claim success. I'm actually older than the channel, not by much, but old enough to remember when the channel was small enough to take gambles on such outlandish shows as "Married with Children," "It's Garry Shandling's Show," "The Tracey Ullman Show," and I remember distinctly, the first time "The Simpsons" debuted in primetime. In many ways, that moment is one of the major turning points in the history of television. There were a few previous attempts to create an animated sitcom on primetime before, "The Flintstones," once got an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Series even, and there were a few scattered, less-memorable and more adult satirical-based attempts at it in the past. "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home", which lasted three seasons in the early '70s, probably the most noteworthy of those shows, and I had to look that show up. "The Simpsons" has become the longest continuously-running, entirely-scripted show in primetime history, but more than that, from the place where animation was when it aired, how drastically it's changed the television landscape is immeasurable. It was one of dozens of experiments that FOX tried, as they were willing to throw practically anything on the air to see if it would gain an audience, and now, there's an entire network devoted to airing animation, much of it geared towards adults, an idea, that frankly didn't exist in America at that time. We didn't get the Japanese anime until years later, and soon, every channel began taking shots with animation, and sitcoms that have the freedom that animation has. Few shows have influenced an entire generations of TV viewers the way "The Simpsons," has, and continues to do.

I don't think it's possible to underestimate the importance of "The Simpsons," for FOX. I mean, FOX wasn't a network at this time, it was another channel that had s**t on, really. Eventually, they found a small niche by gearing programming towards the inner-city/African-American community. "In Living Color," is certainly a groundbreaking series in hindsight, along with shows like "Martin," and "Living Single", were some of the first shows that were specifically geared to this new urban youth demographic. (And many FOX stations locally, syndicated "The Arsenio Hall Show," the last time a Talk Show seriously competed, at least ratings-wise against "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson", because it got that urban youth demographic that Carson never really had.) If FOX was ever brought up in a discussion about the major networks, it was usually as a joke about how they'd put anything on the air, and they did. I remember "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," and "Herman's Head". (Hell, I still like "Herman's Head")  Hell, "Cops"! They were into reality before anybody. They put on the Emmys in '88, and didn't get one nomination, much less a win. But it wasn't until everybody started doing the Bartman, did everybody start to take it somewhat seriously. Now, it's the blueprint for every UPN, CW, WB, wannabe out there, that frankly, are all still wannabes compared to the upstart success of FOX.

Some of you might think I'm just listing highlights from the celebration that aired on the network tonight. Honestly, I didn't watch it. I heard that they were reuniting the casts of "That '70s Show," "In Living Color," and "Married with Children," and a few other news blips in the build-up, but honestly, I've been watching FOX all my life, and I really didn't need to be reminded about how big a mistake cancelling "Action," was or for that matter, how bad an idea keeping "The Tick" in development forever was, this was really all from memory, and other than the curious absences of an "Ally McBeal," reunion (That, and "Arrested Development," are the only comedy series on Fox to ever win Best Comedy Series), I decided not to partake or view the celebrations. So, it was a little blurb on Hollywoodreporter.com that caught my eye, as I searched for some interesting story worth writing about,"'Simpson' Blasts Fox News While Congratulating Fox," suddenly caught my eye. In honor of their anniversary, Fox also aired the first episodes of both "Married with Children," and "The Simpsons," tonight, as part of their Anniversary lineup. (Well, I contend that the first episode of "The Simpsons", was the episode where Bart cheats on an IQ test, and gets transferred to a genius school, but they aired the famous Christmas episode where the family got Santa's Little Helper, the family dog. Since it started as a sketch on "Tracey Ullman" anyway, I guess that doesn't really matter) Anyway, creator/producer Matt Groening, after re-airing the episode, added an extra end card to the episode. You can see the video and the clip on the link below, along with the article. The card said simply "Congratulations Fox on 25 years... we still love you", but included a smaller-printed asterick that says "This does not include Fox News".

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/simpsons-fox-news-25th-anniversary-314894

After reading this, I laughed pretty hard. Now, as the article notes, this isn't the first time Groening and "The Simpsons," have criticized and/or satirized Fox News. Although, everybody else has as well, and justifiably so. What is interesting though, is that Groening was willing to make this gesture on perhaps, the channel's biggest night in it's brief history. It's interesting that he's powerful enough to actually get away with that. It's interesting that anybody might be able to get away with such a gesture, and make such a distinction of a company. Groening's success and Fox's success are clearly intricately intwined. In one manner, without the success of "The Simpsons," there might not be a Fox News channel to begin with. Now that's not quite true, Rupert Murdoch had the money available to make Fox News for years whether Fox was successful or not, but it's reasonable to assume that had this original experiment of FOX failed, he might have been more reluctant to branch out to Fox News, and let's not forget Fox Sports Net, Fox Business, Fox Reality..., this whole worldwide television empire basically. Yet, there's always been this insinuation that the Fox Entertainment Division is separate than Fox's News Division, so maybe it's not that unusual that such a remark be made. Yet Groening felt the need to further distinguish himself between Fox and Fox News, as though both entities are now ubiquitous with each other, and that he should make such a distinction. Fox is good; the news division, sucks though, that's basically all he said. You know, he's making a more interesting backhand point Groening, actually. I don't think about NBC and immediately think about CNBC or MSNBC or Bravo, or even General Electric or NBC-Universal, and yet, in some ways Fox News has become so synonymous with FOX that many times, it helps to be specific. Admittedly, I've become much more reluctant to tune into FOX since Fox News has been on the air; it makes me sick to even think that in some small way, I might be contributing to such a deplorable network, but it doesn't stop me from watching a new episode of "Family Guy" on Sunday nights. (Honestly, I actually do skip "The Simpsons," most of the time now, sometimes to watch "The Amazing Race," other times, I just don't feel the need to watch every episode anymore.) I myself make the distinction between FOX and Fox News, but sometimes, the two blend together a little too much. I can't for the life of me, understand why during the sporting events that Fox airs that they continually go out of their way to make points about how patriotic they are. Extra time focusing on national anthems, and what I consider an excessive amount of support for the troops, mentioned during every football game. Sure, I support the troops, in much the same way I'm against the war, but God, they beat us over the head with it, when all I am really caring about is whether my Eagles are winning or not. It's one thing to be supportive and charitable, beneficial and helpful, it's another to be such grandstanders about being so supportive. We've been at war for 11 years, who are they trying to convince, and what are they trying to convince us of, and why are they doing it during in the 2nd Quarter of anything? You know, the problem is that it's "Fox News," and not, CNN. I'm not talking that way they interpret and report the news, I'm talking the name! How many of you know what CNN even stands for? It's Cable News Network, it was started by Ted Turner, who also created and runs TNT, TBS, TCM, and few other notable Cable channels, and frankly I don't watch one of those channels and think that it in some way, makes me think that it's funding CNN? I barely make any connection between them at all. However, everything FOX does, has "FOX" in the title. Nothing is more predominant with any FOX programming, other than the fact that the programming is in fact, a part of FOX! That would still be okay, if the News Division wasn't so prominent and polarizing. It really is both too. I walked into a diner the other days and saw that Fox News was blasting on a Big Screen TV. They do it at McDonald's all the time. Somehow, I know as much, if not more, about Fox News programming and I doubt I've ever watched it for more than, 30 minutes at one time, possibly less. I don't think there's ever been a more insistent network of any kind. It's become as apart of our pop culture as "The Simpsons," has become a satirizer of pop culture.

What, if any backlash, comes to Groening, I don't know, I don't particularly expect there to be any, and there shouldn't be. He's right, there's clearly a distinction between Fox Entertainment and Fox News. The two channels in fact, have never shared the same demographics. One has accomplished something quite amazing, the other..., is the other. Not every company that produces a product is going to be a product everybody likes, and just because one thing is good doesn't mean another product can't be bad. We know this, FOX knows this, Groening knows this. The only poor part is that Groening had to make a distinction between FOX and Fox News. I contend, that's partly because he believes that we now, so affiliate the FOX brand with it's news channel, that even the entertainment division's most profitable and successful person, the creator of the most distinguished and the biggest money-making enterprise in the company's history, has to distinguish himself from the company's news division. What does that tell you about a news division that it's become so prominent in the public eye? I say it's a bad sign for the future of FOX. They shouldn't have anything to do with each other. But the fact is, I hear "FOX," and I think, Fox News, and not "Beverly Hills 90210," or "New Girl," or "MadTV", or....

Congratulations FOX on your first 25 years. Truly, nobody thought you'd succeed. Everybody figured that the forever-dominate big three of NBC, CBS and ABC were going to long overpower and minimalize you, like they had all previous competition, and they were wrong. You've succeeded way beyond your, well frankly, modest beginnings. You should take Groening's added card, not as a slight to your news division, I mean it is, but there's thousands of slights to your news division, including about a dozen in this article, and instead, as a warning that your news division is potentially doing great harm to your entertainment brand, way worst than "Joe Millionaire" ever did. I don't know what the answer to that potential problem is, and frankly, I doubt they even consider it a problem, but it is. If they don't redefine FOX, the network, as the primary brand of Fox entertainment, then this may very well be Fox's first and last 25 years. Take Groening's little congratulatory insert card for the warning it is, that your own product my become your downfall.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

THE "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE" DILEMMA! WHEN DO YOU STOP WATCHING A SERIES? WHEN DO YOU START? IS IT EVER OK, TO START IN THE MIDDLE?



Every Saturday Night, usually some time after watching "SNL," I go online and type in www.netflix.com/AllNewReleases , and update my Netflix queue, almost immediately after they update the list for the new films they get that week. Okay, I realize how depressing that is, but nonetheless, with last week came, one of the movies they put in stock was "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol", a movie that was very highly praised by critics, did very good box worldwide, and in many ways, it was considered a major technical achievement. Clearly, by any basis of selecting what films I should watch, I had to consider this a film that I should see, so by necessity, it was then placed on my Netflix queue. But where on my Netflix queue? Yes, I periodically bump movies up, but I never push a movie up to the top until it's at least number 25, on my queue. (It's part of an elaborate system I worked out, that's too insipid to begin explaining, as it only underlines how pathetic my Saturday nights are) Anyway, I decided on 200 as a reasonable starting point for the film. Why so low, for a film that seems so critical to be seen? A few reasons. One, I have other avenues to get movie, so forcing it's way up on Netflix isn't essential and/or the only way to watch the movie, but more importantly, it gives me time, and now, a reason, to go back and watch the second and third "Mission: Impossible" films, which until now, I didn't find any purpose to watch.

Well, maybe the words "reason," and "purpose," are a little wrong here. There's no real reason for me or for anybody to watch any particular film, of course. However, I have typically found ways of avoided sequels to certain series. The "Mission: Impossible" films are a good example, but hardly the only ones. I've actually seen the first film, maybe ten times, from renting and repeated viewings on television that I've sat through. Saying that though, to this day, I don't know what-the-hell actually happened in that damn movie. I couldn't give you a play-by-play, a plot synopsis, an recap of the story..., I can tell you a few scenes I remember. Tom Cruise scouring the internet for some reference to Job, the break-in scene, but how any of these things related to each other, I don't think I knew then, and I'll be damned if I know now. I didn't think I was particularly alone in that feeling about the film either, since many reviews of the movie mentioned similar confusion over it. (Granted, oftertimes, when I watch reruns of the original "Mission: Impossible" TV show, I often don't know what's going on there either, but they didn't make the movie more worth-watching to me). Frankly, I was baffled that they even bothered to make a sequel yo something so nonsensical, and when that film, and then the third in the franchise got mixed reviews, I felt they weren't particular essential for me to watch, so I didn't bother. I mean, who was watching them to begin with? There's a lot of franchises out there in film, some I've seen all of like "Rocky", "Planet of the Apes," "The Matrix," "Back to the Future," .... others I haven't, and many are extremely popular like "Star Wars," and "The Lord of the Rings", but I've never met anybody who was a really big fan of the "Mission: Impossible" movie franchise. Frankly, I was wondering who-the-hell kept watching these movies enough to keep making them? If I was an actual paid film critic, I'd be forced to watch the third "Madagascar," and the fourth "Ice Age," but since I wasn't beholden to any such regulations, then or now, I didn't see a purpose in it. As much as I do consider popularity a factor in what films I watch, it's not the only factor. I still haven't seen any of the "Transformers" movies. Frankly, I thought the original cartoon was stupid when I was young. Frankly, I thought the toy was stupid when I was young, and Director Michael Bay, yes, in many ways a talented guy, but I've pretty much hated everything I've ever seen by him. On top of the mostly bad reviews that the movies have gotten, I really had no incentive to see the "Transformers" films. I tried watching one of them when it was on TV, coming in at the middle, but I didn't last five minutes.

While there are exceptions, rule of thumb does dictate that the higher a number on a film is, the worst it'll be. So, it's best to try and watch everything in order if for no other reason than for you to know whether to stop at "Jaws 2" or at "Police Academy 6" or whatever. I tried doing that once with the James Bond films, but I gave up 1/2 hour into "Moonraker". (And frankly, I was a little shocked I got through as much of "Dr. No," as I did, before I fell asleep anyway) Human nature however dictates, that sometimes, we don't have that kind of luck, and we end of seeing films a little out of order. I saw "Return of the Jedi" first, I saw "Rocky III," before "Rocky". The only "Terminator" film I've seen was "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines", I still have to go back to the others. That begets us another question though, should I go back and watch the other films in the franchise first? Yes, most movie sequel could helped with some previous context, but it might be interesting to write a review of a movie from the perspective of somebody who hasn't seen the other films in the series. And for that matter, let me ask another question, should I even bother going back, finding copies of the 2nd and 3rd "Mission: Impossible" films? Seriously, somebody who's seen them, are they worth it, or should I skip them, and is there anything in them that I absolutely need to know/watch in order to fully enjoy "...Ghost Protocol," or can I actually come in anywhere and enjoy the film, separate from the series? The best movies and movie sequels can do that. "The Dark Knight," most recently holds up on it's own. Nobody needs to have seen "Before Sunrise," in order to enjoy "Before Sunset". If you didn't know there was other films, I bet some of the "Die Hard," sequels would be looked on as highly as the original. Maybe the Indiana Jones movies could also have that distinction.

We live in a world where a movie, almost to prove that it was a success, now has to become a franchise, with numerous sequels. I'm frankly okay with that, but I also have the luxury, to not see them, if I don't want to. Sometimes this has led to what some people call shocking omissions on my list. (For those who don't know, I have a list of every movie I've ever seen. You can find a link to the blog with the pdf files of those lists on the bottom of this blog.) Those who check the list closely will notice some notable missing films, and many of them are sequels. Right now, as of the second I write this article, while sitting in the computer room in my local library, I've grabbed a copy of one of those sequels, and plan on checking it out today, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King". Yes, I've never seen it until now. I hated the book, and frankly have generally hate Tolkien. (I believe, and can reasonably prove this by going to, well any random page in his books, that he doesn't create a consistent science in his world of Middle Earth, and instead, continually changes the rules of his universe to fit the plot and story that he wants to tell, because of some percieve metaphorical message he's trying to tell. I know, he was trying for mythology, but then, nothing in the world should ever come as a surpise then, and yet, somehow, there's trees that kidnap people that they never knew about before- I'm just gonna stop there; that's for another blog)  I watched the first film, which I hated. I watched the second, which I liked a little better, still not nearly enough to recommend it. Frankly, I've been pissed the third won the Oscar over "Lost in Translation," all those years ago, and have been delaying the inevitable of watching it ever since, until now. I still don't particularly want to see it, but if I'm gonna to provide you with a knowledgable and in-depth criticism and analysis of films, I'm gonna have to watch it eventually, and eventually has now come. (Well, I'll still put it off until I have to bring it back to the library, but still, inevitably is fastly approaching...)

Ultimately, this is the thinking that I had to wonder as I determined where exactly to place "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol" on my Netflix. I'm gonna have a similar thought process later in the year, when I have to do the same with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"; I've only seen the first four movies of that series (and no, I haven't read any of the books). Strangely, I actually liked three of them, but still never felt much immediate pressure to see the rest of the films. I probably at some point have to watch the "Twilight" films as well. I only got through the first one of those, and frankly, I was dragged kicking and screaming to watch that one. (Okay, I'm being a little facetious there. It was a trade off, I made my friend watch "Frost/Nixon," and she made me watch "Twilight", and even she admits my film choice was the better part of the day.) I don't know whether I made the right choice putting the film that low on my queue or not, either way, eventually I'll find out. I'll also, hopefully find out if the other two "Mission: Impossible" films are worth searching out and watching before this supposedly great latest one. It'll still mean that there's plenty of films that I still haven't seen and have to catch up with, but that's the same with movies in general, and all art forms actually. Nobody is ever gonna be able to see every single painting or read every novel or listen to every song; it should be okay to not watch every movie. It should be reasonable in fact. Except, there seems to be something unnatural about walking into a room and having never seen (Insert film(s) here, you know which ones they are). I guess I've now just decided to the "Mission: Impossible" films have to be added to that short list. Well, maybe they always were and I'm only just now accepting that fact. Or, maybe I'm completely wrong, and shouldn't be bothering with any of these films. (Frustrated sigh) The sad part is, that until I watch the movies myself, I'm never gonna know. The unfortunate circularness of being a filmviewer. That'll mean I may have to watch a lot of bad films, but... oh what-the-hell, lets go for the pop culture pun, that's the mission, and I've chose to accept it.

This blog will self-destruct. (Okay, it won't, but that would've been so cool if I could do that.)

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/08/first-3000-films-actual-lists-plus-some.html

Thursday, April 19, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS"

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (2004)

Directors: Lars Von Trier and Jorgen Leth





Lars Von Trier,is  one of the best and most controversial directors in the world. His idol is fellow Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, both of whom have since becomes friends, but Von Trier has set up a challenge for his fellow filmmaker. There are three truly great documentaries about the behind the scenes of filmmaking, the first being “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which was put together from footage Eleanor Coppola shot of her husband, Francis Ford Coppola, as he turns into a murderous, suicidal maniac while spending over three years filming his masterpiece “Apocalypse Now”. The second is Les Blanc’s Oscar-winning “Burden of Dreams,” about the amazingly more insane film shoot of the truly insane director Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” (He may be the only director in the world who makes Von Tiers look relatively sane). The third is “Lost in La Mancha,” which documents the troubles of a Terry Gilliam’s film shoot for his version of “Don Quixote,” which due to disasters natural, unnatural and otherwise eventually lead to the film and shoot being abandoned. “The Five Obstructions,” also belongs alongside these masterpieces in a way, but those documentaries were simply observing and documenting events that were happening anyway. This film, also belongs next to the DVDs of "Fear Factor" and "Jackass" and other reality shows that force their contestants through ever-more inventive nightmore activities. Von Trier adores Leth’s short film “The Perfect Human,” which he made in 1967. I wasn't able to figure out how to post two youtube clips onto the same blog, but you can that short film by clicking the address below:


Von Trier, partly worried about Leth’s apparent depression and retirement, and partly out of perverse curiosity, challenges Leth to remake “The Perfect Human,” five more times, each time involving a different set of obstructions so as to reconsider the film in completely different ways. As somebody who likes to completely forget everything about a project once it’s completed, this is would be a sadistic nightmare to me without having the additional factor of knowing Von Trier being the one deciding what the obstructions are. This is child's play for him. He became famous for films that had obstructions like, "only natural light," and "only on-set props allowed" as part of the Dogme movement. I don’t want to reveal all of the obstructions he comes up with, because it would take away from the reality show-like experience of finding out what the next new rules and challenges for the next project are, but they range wildly from complete freedom to do whatever you want, to being force to make a cut every twelve frames (which is ½ a second). Sometimes the obstructions come out of the conversations and analysis that Leth and Von Trier. No set, shoot in the worse place on Earth,  you have to act in the short… Leth must bend to the will of whatever Von Tiers comes up with. What he does and how he must do it, and watching him as he goes through this filmmaker hell and how he finds ways to go around and through, is mesmerizing. Eventually, Von Tiers even forces Leth to do nothing as he directs his own version, but putting Leth’s name on the film (I’m not sure how Von Tiers gets even his name on as director of this but whatever…) “The Five Obstructions,” is one truly unique film. A psychological experiment that equals and exceeds most reality programs, and even rarer, creates an artist equivalent of going through a complete mindfuck. I wonder if somebody would’ve dared tried such an experiment with say Picasso or Shakespeare or tell Dickens to suddenly turn "Oliver Twist," into a comic book. Other than that, I’m not sure there's an equivalent to this experiment, anywhere in art. That might change, but then “The Five Obstructions” would then become a seminal work on the level of “Groundhog Day,”  “Citizen Kane,” or if you want to insist on staying in the documentary form, “Nanook of the North,” or “The Thin Blue Line.”  Until then, it stands alone as both a love letter to an idol and a demonic experiment that forces that artist to stretch all his creativity, and possibly become a better artist. That’s the other part of this movie, and I should’ve brought it up and elaborated on it more, but its one of the few films that shows an artist creating. From recognizing his inspiration to seeing it through. On imdb.com, there's a rumored sequel to the film, that's subtitled "Scorsese vs. Trier". I think there's many names that we could come up with to go mano-a-mano against Trier, (I bet Herzog would do it if asked) but I would definitily be curious if that film ever gets made.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #29: "MELANCHOLIA," "THE SKIN I LIVE IN," "HIGHER GROUND," "INTO THE ABYSS," "ANOTHER EARTH," "IMMORTALS," "ATTACK THE BLOCK," "HESHER," "DADDY LONGLEGS," "JANE'S JOURNEY," "THE PIANO IN A FACTORY," and MORE!

I've noticed that my movie reviews have become the most popular feature on the blog in recent weeks, and I'm very happy about that. The hits our blog has been getting have just astounded me in recent weeks. We already have almost 1000 hits for April, and even one day this week, we had a day with over 100 hits, and well over I might add. I am encourage and very greatful by the success our blog has had recently, and can hardly believe it. Just wanted to thank everyone again for their support of our success.

Well, that's all I really wanted to say today. Hope you all paid your taxes by now. In the meantime, we got a lot of newer films to review, so let's get right to the reviews!

MELANCHOLIA (2011) Director: Lars von Trier

5 STARS

Director Lars von Trier has graciously invited us to a wedding where hopefully, we can stay for the Apocalypse. Von Trier was one of the leaders of Denmark's Dogme '95 movement, and he's since become one of the most controversial directors in the world. In publicity for "Melancholia" at Cannes, he professed to Nazi sympathizing, and that's only about the seventh or eighth weirdest thing he's ever said or done. He's made some of the most fascinating and distinctive films of anybody over the years, the ones I've seen include "Breaking the Waves," "Dogville," "Dancer in the Dark," and "Antichrist". I've been both critical of him, especially of "Dancer in the Dark," and I've praised him in the past, especially with "Breaking the Waves". "Melancholia," is one of his best, but it is certainly strange. It's broken into two parts, named after the two main characters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The first part of the movie, Justine, follows the goings-on of her wedding day. It's maybe the most darkly-lit wedding in film history.  Her mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) disapproves of, marriage in general, and predictably throws a fit about it. Her brother-in-law, John (Keifer Sutherland) paid for the wedding, and is somewhat annoyed by it. Justine's behavior is certifiably erratic, randomly coming and going out of rooms it seem. She even leaves her husband in their bedroom to go downstairs and f*** some other guy in the sandtrap. Oh, I should point out, they're at a country club, and it's a lavish affair, complete with a contest to guess the amount of beans in a jar. While all this is happening, a strange planet has been appearing in the sky, we later learn called Melancholia. Why is it called melancholia? Who the hell knows, but the important thing is that it's orbit is making it come closer to Earth, and according to some reports, it will eventually crash into us. I shouldn't use the work reports, that indicates a TV news bulletin or some other sci-fi cliche, and there isn't any of those in this film. In the second half of the film, called Claire, Justine is a near limpless wreck who's staying over, just as the planet is continually growing bigger in the night sky, and Claire begins to get more and more freaked out, as it seems everybody else is going about their life unemotionally. I think what Von Trier is trying to do in "Melancholia," is show all the ways that grief is put through. You've heard of the five stages of it, but sometimes, we go through them differently and at different places. While everybody was celebrating or going about their own business at the wedding, Justine was instinctively realizing that the world is soon ending, and is in the beginning stages, and begins acting out. It seems during the second half, she's almost turned personalities, but she's just come to acceptance already, while Jack and Claire are rushing through all the other stages as denial leads into inevitability. At least, that's how I read this, and I think there are multiple ways of looking at "Melancholia". This would be an interesting second half or a double-feature with Malick's "The Tree of Life," and I would subtitle it "The Planet of Destruction". Some of the images, in the beginning sequence, which are quite beautiful, seem to have been inspired almost by the beginning of the universe in "The Tree of Life". I don't think they were, but its reasonable to presume that both would have enormous amounts of beauty and chaos going with each event, and possibly some absurdity. It'll take multiple viewings before I fully get a grasp of "Melancholia," but it's certainly worth it. It's a fascinating examination of human behavior in the presence of their own fate, and the many ways in which they handle it. In that respects, having a lavish wedding at the end of time, probably isn't as ridiculous as it sounds.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011) Director: Pedro Almodovar

4 STARS

One of the aspects of Pedro Almodovar's work that I hadn't really noticed until now is his fascination with cinema. He titled "All About My Mother," as a play on "All About Eve", his last film "Broken Embraces," was about a filmmaker who loses control of his movie after he begins to go blind, and that film has lots of film noir references in it. In general, he a classic filmmaker than it first seems. Even "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!", a film that has some similarities to "The Skin I Live In," not the least of which includes Antonio Banderas keeping a woman imprisoned, could be looked at as a reference to some of Tennessee Williams work. I hated "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!," when I first saw it, although I could probably go for another viewing, especially since seeing "The Skin I Live In," which actually refers back to the one of the most classic of formulas, the mad scientist, losing control of his creation. This Frankenstein story, has more than a few twists though. The doctor is Robert Ledgard (Banderas), one of the world's leading foremost experts on skin graphings. He's worked on over a third of the world's few face transplants, and he's begun creating a synthetic human skin that he hopes can withstand cuts, burns and most everything else. The patient he works on is Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya), who's trapped behind numerous locked doors in Ledgard's house, and is under videotape surveillance and under the watchful eye of Marilla (Marisa Paredes), one of those creepy old women housekeepers who seem to be in all these films, this one has a son, Zeca (Roberto Alamo) who dresses like a bee for Carnaval, (although it wouldn't be surprising if he did it at other points of the year) and who's unexpected visit isn't welcomed. In flashback, we get to see Robert at a lavish dinner party that has a few wrong turns and misunderstandings. Many of these involve a character named Vicente (Jan Cornet), whose function in this movie is better left unexplained. Vera is beautiful and spends most of her day wearing a skintight bodysuit, while she occasionally does yoga, which is one of the few activities that seem to be acceptable in her room. She is however aware of her sexuality and finds what-at-first seem like bizarre and intriguing times to use it, that is until we fully understand the entire picture. I tend to find myself preferring Almodovar's more, well... light-hearted isn't the right word, but perhaps, they need to have more caring emotions on the screen. His best movies like "All About My Mother," "Volver," and "Talk to Her", (Although the latter certainly isn't lighthearted, and kinda messed up actually) tend to have these emotions front and center, and he's somewhat weaker when he goes for a more traditional structured film elsewise. "The Skin I Live In," really combines these ideas more than most of his other films do, and in this case, it's done well. That one final scene where is one of his greatest touches. Vera walks into a clothing store where two people from her past don't recognize her, and she has a story to tell that... well, where do you even begin, to tell this story?

HIGHER GROUND (2011) Director: Vera Farmiga

5 STARS



I truly believe there's a difference between religion and spirituality. Oftentimes, people confuse them for one another, and it's not hard to do. In fact it's understandable. Sometimes, they do coincide, and othertimes, they're in constant shift within us. In her first film as a director, Actress Vera Farmiga makes and stars in an amazing film that doesn't simplify religion or faith, or spirituality, but examines one woman's complex relationship with religion through her life, as that religion vs. spirituality battles continues within her.  That woman is Corrine Walker (Farmiga) who came from a family that used to go to church, but their parents split up after their mother loses a child at birth. As a teenager, Corinne (Taissa Farmiga, Vera's younger sister) gets with a young musicians, Ethan (Boyd Holbrook) who has some success with his band The Renegades. Corinne soon has a kid though, and after their lives are nearly ended in a stupid accident, they believe fairly reasonable that God, must've saved them. With a renewed interest and curiousity, they begin reading the bible once again. As religion becomes a bigger part of their lives, strangely life continues on around them. Sometimes Corinne is fully embraced in it, other times she isn't as embraced by it. She likes to read a lot, and not just the Bible. She finds an intriguing kindred spirit in Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) to consult with. She's Ned's (Michael Chernus) wife, and she's as full of God as she is of spirit. This is one of those supporting characters who's crucial to a role, that if it isn't perfect, it doesn't work. She's practically the girlcrush that Corinne never had. As life goes on, and religion plays a greater part in their lives, Corinne begins to doubt. She believes God has come to her before, and has been with her at some points, but now, she believes he isn't. Corinne's real search is for an inner truth, and whatever form that might be, she will not be at peace without finding it. She envies and admire's those who find it in the church, and I do too, but when the truth is that she can't find it there, it's obvious to practically everyone. It must be hard directing yourself in a close-up, but Farmiga does something interesting by keeping the camera on Corinne, while oftentimes, the focus of the scene is elsewhere, and sometimes she's only getting snippets of the important information. She's an outsider in a world that relies on the faith of it's people, bad enough for someone who doesn't have it, but it's gotta be worse for somebody who once did, and now has lost it. "Higher Ground" is smart, poetic and beautiful; it's one of the best films of the year. Based on the autobiographical memoir "This Dark World" by Carolyn S. Briggs, the movie never seems dark. In fact, the world seems perfectly fine for those who don't particularly want to examine their life, and even at times, it's fine for those who do. I wonder if Corrine could ever grow to find faith again. I think it's a possibility in her future, but the tough decisions are never the ones about the future, they're always about the right now.

INTO THE ABYSS (2011) Director: Werner Herzog

5 STARS

Eight days before Michael Perry was killed by the state of Texas, he gave an interview with Werner Herzog in prison. It's one of many interviews he has with the people affected by his crime, a senseless triple-homicide, that him and Jason Burkitt committed because they wanted to take a Camaro that a woman owned. The woman was apparently baking cookies at the time, one of the police officers informs us. They killed her, her son, and her son's friend, and then hid the bodies. We go to all those places, and even see the car they were trying to steal. It remains in police custody, along with evidence from numerous other crimes, and it's been there so long, in truly Herzogian fashion, a tree has sprouted underneath it, and forced it's way through the floorboards of the car. Herzog has made some great films, and some great documentaries over the years, "Into the Abyss," is actually the second one to be released this year, after his wonderous "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," a 3-D documentary that took us to see the oldest known cave paintings in the world. "Into the Abyss," takes a journalistic view of a death penalty case, and interviews the families and friends, or the victims, the criminals, and the investigators, and takes a look at the death penalty. Herzog, says right at the beginning that he is against the death penalty, although from a legal standpoint, there doesn't seem to be much of an argument that Perry deserved the death penalty. His crime was senseless, then he bragged about it. He lied about a lot of his life, even to his friends. Two of the people he killed were friends of his actually. He interviews a lot of people in prison. Burkitt's father is actually in prison, the same prison as his son is now, although in different blocks so they don't actually see each other, except for special occasions. The father has been in jail most of his adult life, but he spoke at his son's sentencing, and apparently, convinced two of the jurors not to give his son the death penalty. Sadly, he and we both realize that is probably his greatest achievement as a father. Burkitt and Perry, and many of their friends and acquaintances have only a minimal education, one of them professed that he couldn't read at the time of the crime. The lives of these people are either those of missed opportunities or no opportunities at all. The beginning scene is at the graveyard where all the death row inmates are buried after they're killed. They're given a small cross, with just their prison numbers on them. No date, no name. The only strange bright spot is that Burkitt since going to prison has gotten married and his wife reveals that she's expecting their first child, although that's curious considering Burkitt isn't allowed conjugal visits. Herzog's never seen onscreen in this film, unlike many of his other documentaries, but his distinctive voice is quietly offscreen, asking questions and listening. He only went down with a small crew to Texas, and apparently only interviewed his subjects once each, including Perry, but that was enough. I couldn't help but to think about the film "Capote," about Truman Capote's journey to Kansas to look into a similarly senseless spree of murders with this film. He turned that journey into the abyss into "In Cold Blood". The difference seems to be that Herzog is more capable of coming into a story like this, and keep his own objective viewpoints out of it, and just let the story be told, by those who were there. One of the better documentaries of the year.

ANOTHER EARTH (2011) Director: Mike Cahill

4 STARS

Sometimes my timing in regards to certain films can be strange. For instance, "Another Earth," is the second film I've seen this week, after "Melancholia," where a newly-discovered planet is suddenly near, and can be plainly seen from Earth. Other than that though, there isn't much else they have in common. "Another Earth," follows Rhoda (Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script with director Mike Cahill), a recently-released-from-prison 21-year-old. On the night she was accepted into M.I.T., she got into a car drunk, and crashed, causing the deaths of John Burroughs's (William Mapother) pregnant wife and young son. Far more wise and introspective now, Rhoda works a job as a school janitor after prison and searches out Dr. Burrough's, who was a Yale Music Professor and composer, and has now mostly become a hermit. Unable to apologize as planned, Rhoda claims to be a cleaning lady, and begins showing up once a week, cleaning John's house. During all this time, a planet that was one just barely visable as a star has started drifting it's way closer and closer to Earth, and it's clear that the planet is not only Earth-like, it's shares strange similarities in it's minutest details. That even have a Cape Canaveral Gift Shop. As theories continue, one private rocket company holds a challenge to send the writer of the best essay on an exploratory spaceship to go to Earth 2. With her life not seeming particularly rewarding anymore on Earth, Rhoda enters an essay, just as the same time her friendship, and later, relationship with John continues to evolve. This is Mike Cahill's second feature after the documentary "Boxers and Ballerinas" years ago, I haven't seen that film, or most of the documentaries that's he had a role in editing over the years. "Another Earth," is certainly got a lot of strange ideas conflicting at once, but I like how they're brought together. There's some good bare, editing in this film as the movie does hang on scenes longer than they need to, and when they do, they're filled with good acting, and a lot of good dialogue. There's some beautiful speeches by both Marling and Mapother that they tell each other during moments when their emotions are their most bare. Reminded me somewhat of the great speeches Natassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton have in Wim Wenders's great film "Paris, Texas". "Another Earth," is well-made, and finds a way to successful make all these elements that normally you wouldn't find in the same picture, seem mostly natural in this one. Marling is clearly not just a good actress, but also an intriguing new voice, with some good writing. She's already got a second screenplay in post-production called "The East" on top of her suddenly booming acting career. She and Cahill have worked together on most of their projects up until now, and I'm quite interested in seeing what both of these talented filmmakers do in the future. "Another Earth," feels a little like a first project, so hopefully that means they'll have even better stuff coming later.

IMMORTALS (2011) Director: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar

1 STAR

"Immortals" is... oh God, do I have to finish this sentence; I just want to forget I watched the whole damn boring incomprehensible thing. I'll compliment it by saying that it looks spectacular. It should; it's directed by Tarsem Singh, one of the premiere visual stylists of our time. This is his third feature-length film. His first, the amazing serial killer mind-bender "The Cell", the second, a film I didn't care for much called "The Fall," which is a fabulous fableistic tale, told by a suicidal movie stuntman, who lies in a hospital under surveillance by a young girl. "Immortals," is a mostly CGI spectacular with a plot that I couldn't begin to explain, and frankly I couldn't even begin to care about it, but I'm gonna give it a try anyway. King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, wait, that was Mickey Rourke, underneath all that?! Damn.) is trying to take over, Greece, or the Gods, or something that really only the very arogant would ever try to do, but he's unusually well-prepared for this. Zeus (Luke Evans), somewhat worried, summons the peasant Theseus (Henry Cavill) to be the one to defeat Hyperion, which involves making sure he doesn't get control of the Epirus Bow which could defeat the Gods. Why didn't they destroy such a bow years ago? And while we're at it, why are all the titans locked in a prison in a mountain for centuries? And who feeds them if they ever get hungry? There's also four virgin oracles, one of them, the most powerful one, is played by Freida Pinto, but she's not much interested in being able to see into the future anymore. Apparently, it's a power related to her lack of a sex life, and Theseus is there, while her other oraclse and trapped in a cow that's placed over a fire. I think that was some kind of "Gilgamesh" Bull of Heaven reference, but who cares? Other than that, "Immortals," is a lot of mind-numbing CGI violence, and since most of it involves, Gods and Titans and other immortals, not enough people ever freakin' die, so it just keeps going. Tarsem Singh is too talented a director for this film. I know he likes to seek out scripts that are open a bit, so that he can allow his visual flare to be at it's most creative, and I love him for that, but Tarsem, you gotta start picking better ones. He recently released "Mirror Mirror", that new Snow White reinterpretation with Julia Roberts. I know for a fact that he at least started with a good story with that one.

ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) Director: Joe Cornish

2 STARS

Honest-to-God, I came this close, to completing forgetting to write a review for "Attack the Block". That might surprise some of you who've read some of the earlier reviews of the film, or saw how it kept getting nominated at various Award shows, mostly in it's native UK, but I frankly almost skipped over it, and I'm a little surprised so many people didn't. What were they seeing in this movie that made it so powerful to them? One of my Facebook friends, ranked it in his Top Ten from last year, noting that the movie knew more about racism than "The Help" did. I don't particularly disagree with that statement per se, but racism might not have been mentioned in this review had se friend not written that. The block that the title references, is in the South London projects, where a local street gang, led by Moses (John Boyega) is the ruler of the block. Which basically means that if you head towards the block, you can probably expect to be mugged. One woman, a nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) finds that out the hard way. During the robbery though, something strange happens. Some kind of weird animal falls out of the sky, and attacks Moses. He kills it, but it certainly freaked him out, so he goes to find an expert to look at it. The experts, and most of the, underage underworld, seems to matriculate Ron's (Nick Frost), apartment. Ron guards the pothouse, where pot is grown in the apartment next store. The experts have never seen an animal like it, but just as they begin contemplating selling their story to the British tabloids, dozens of these small, dark, furry glow-eyed creatures begin falling from the sky, and it's an all-out alien attack. They kill and occasionally eat some of Moses's friends and enemies, and eventually, they start running out of places to hide, and also somehow, that nurse gets back into the story. Writer/director Joe Cornish is actually somewhat talented. He's acted and written for a few TV series in Britain, and has work with the aforementioned Nick Frost and his longtime comedic partner Simon Pegg on many of their projects, including being one of the writers of "The Adventures of Tintin" last year for Spielberg. The movie's got a couple laughs, and seems to be familiar with the rules of the alien attack subgenre story and touches on some of the cliches and whatnot and once in a while hits on a potential theme. The movie doesn't really go into any of them, they just sorta mention them, and move on to another alien attack. The movie also suffers from really being schizophrenic in terms of genre. Half the time, I think they're going for laughs, the other times, I think it's camp, other times it's deadly serious.... Ultimately, there are some good ideas here, but they're kind of all thrown together in no particular order or for any real reason that they all need to be in this movie. I was gonna say 2 1/2 STARS, but I didn't really laugh enough at the comedy parts, so I'm knocking it down 1/2 a star for that, but it's just too much of a mess to really care about anything or anyone in it, one way or the other.

HESHER (2011) Director: Spencer Sussman

2 STARS

I understood what they were trying to do with "Hesher," and even how they were doing it. It just doesn't work though. It's flat, like, nothing is there. Half the time, I was wondering whether or not Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was even real. It turns out, he is, and frankly I was disappointed. "Hesher" begins with a young kid, T.J., (Devin Brochu) who's mother has just died in a car accident, and his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson) is now a useless depressed lull, bordering on catatonic. They live with their Grandmother (Piper Laurie) as well, and outside of his home, he's constantly bullied at school. Into this world, enters Hesher, for no particular reason, outside of his deus ex machina use, and makes T.J.'s and most everybody's else's life worse? He blows things up, he lets the kid take the blame, he destroys other's property, he breaks into other places, and eventually, he moves into the garage. He doesn't get invited or anything, he just kinda places himself there, and refuses to leave. He also helps T.J. with his friendship with a check-out girl at the local supermarket, Nicole. (Natalie Portman) She's a little more worldly and better off than Hesher, but she's also an erratic mess. Well, she doesn't blow things up and randomly destroy shit like Hesher does. Who is exactly is Hesher? I don't know, some kid who's lived in an abandoned house, and talks about pot and sex all day, and has tattoos that give the finger, and never talks about anything directly. He sounds hard to describe, although most of the characters are actually hard-to-describe, but at least they live in the world of the movie they're in. Hesher's just from, somewhere else interrupting them, but...- you see how hard it is for me to even write about this movie? There's like, nothing here. (And I've used "like" incorrectly, twice in this review already) It seems like somebody had a script, and then they got rid of the exposition. Not just the dialogue exposition either, any exposition, and just left us with a random group of character to follow from place-to-place, and that's on those rare occasions where they're going anywhere at all. Almost bizarrely, this leads to some incredible acting. In fact, it's almost by necessity, considering they barely have characters if the script just remained the way it looked, that all had to basically formulate something, whether it made any relative sense of the surroundings or not. These are great actors doing this, and that's almost worth watching to begin with, but this really should be on the page to begin with. I mean, it's great to have good actors, and have them occasionally come up with stuff, but even in films that appreciate improvisation, it usually it's a last resort. This film could've used some improv, instead of just interpretation. I admire parts of this, but as a whole-, well, there isn't a whole; it's just a bunch of loose odds and ends, and eventually if Hesher's around, even they'll get blown up at some point.

DADDY LONGLEGS (2010) Directors: Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie

3 STARS

For two weeks every year, Lenny (Ronald Brownstein) gets to be with his two kids, Sage (Sage Ranaldo) and Frey (Frey Ranaldo). Lenny really shouldn't be anywhere near his kids, or anybody really, but he's there father, and it's all he gets, and he tries to make the most of it. I really do believe he tries, but he just isn't capable of it. Directed by the Safdie Brothers, and based on their own experiences with their father, "Daddy Longlegs," which can also be found under the title "Go Get Some Rosemary", is a disturbing portrayal of a man who's given a responsibility that he really shouldn't have. He cares for his kids, the best way he knows how, and wants to make sure this time together is as full as they can remember. I doubt if he knew they'd grow up to make this movie, he'd do the same thing again, but he might. He's their friend first, and keeps them entertained constantly. Sometimes by walking on his hands, with ice cream and sudden trips upstate with a women neither they or he even knew the day before (and he certainly didn't know her boyfriend until the trip.) There's definitely some John Cassavettes influence in "Daddy Longlegs". He also made films about families that at their core were run by people who were either insane or going insane by the responsibilities they're not capable of handling. They're just capable enough to make casual observers believe that they're human beings and not grown up children themselves. Lenny has a job for instance. He's not good at it, he shows up late sometimes (He shows up late to a lot of things, if he shows up at all), and barely seems to be there as is. When he's forced to work a double-shift unexpectedly, he drugs his two kids so that they'll sleep through it and not wake up. He overdoses them, and they don't wake up for days. Luckily, he has a friend who's a doctor, or he'd be in jail. It's not completely strange that he'd have a few friends. Lenny and charismatic, but this gets old, quickly. I heard somewhere that the Safdie Brothers actually made "Daddy Longlegs," in tribute for their father. That's hard to believe actually, but that was their childhood, and the only one they knew. "Daddy Longlegs," can be hard to watch at times. Even when he seems to be doing well, and acting close to responsible, he can suddenly switch at an instant, and begin doing and feeling something else entirely. When he sends the kids to go shopping for dinner (btw, their ages are 9 and 7), they come back, and he's suddenly packing to move out to a different place. I'm a little surprised the kids didn't wind up in mental institutions after dealing with that kind of behavior. "Daddy Longlegs," is a good movie about some of the crap kids go through after two parents get divorce. They certainly should be divorced, that much is clear. How they ever got married to begin with seems like a true nightmare story, but considering how it's possible their father was actually worse off without him actually taking care of people, maybe it isn't such a bad thing that they got these two weeks/year with him. Brownstein is really amazing in this role. Like I said, I really do believe he tries....

JANE'S JOURNEY (2010) Director: Lorenz Knauer

2 STARS

There's a movie that none of you have ever heard of called "Children of Peace"; I watched it once when I was judging films for a film festival a few years back. (It might now be called "A Necessary Journey") It's a documentary that follows the actions of Binh Rybacki. If you don't know who she is, look her up one day, she's an extraordinary woman, who now focuses her time helping children of poverty in Vietnam and other underdeveloped places in the world with her organization, Children of Peace International or COPI. I mention her because I thought about that film while watching "Jane's Journey". I wrote in my review to the film festival something to the effect of, if and when she (Rybacki) is ever up for sainthood than "Children of Peace" will be exhibit A in her defense. I also however, made sure to not recommend it for the festival. Yes, she's an incredible woman who more people should know about, but that does not an entertaining film make. Most of you will know the name Jane Goddall, I certainly knew her and some of her achievements, most famously involving chimpanzees. I learned a lot more about her in the documentary "Jane's Journey", but alas, I mostly found myself thinking the same thing I did after watching "Children of Peace", and that is that Jane Goodall is an extraordinary woman, but I don't think that that's a movie. (Okay, before any of you say anything, I haven't seen "Gorillas in the Mist", [It's on my Netflix, I'll get to it eventually] but even still, what she's done since that movie is also more than worth noting, and also "Gorillas," is a dramatic film based on her, while this is a documentary on her, there's a difference.) "Jane's Journey" is slightly better than "Children of Peace," if for no other reason, than because the movie really dives into her entire life and career, and many of the trials and tribulations that went along with it. Most of her career parts, are obviously successful, although considering how young she was when she started living in Africa to study the chimpanzees. She was the first person to realized that they used tools, which at that point, was thought of only as a human characteristic. Since then though, she's spent much of her recent career traveling the world in speaking engagements as a UN Ambassador of Peace, and has become one of the premiere spokespersons for saving the planet, including through her program "Roots and Shoots" which has expanded to about 100 countries so far. Personally, she appears to be quite soft-spoken, but quite smart and at times funny. She's been married a couple times, and her kids occasionally rebel. One of them even became a fisherman for a brief period of time. She seems to be entertaining in some of the footage we see of her during some of her speaking engagements, and she's praise by many people for them and her work. She's an incredible human being, and that, I cannot deny. As a movie though, "Jane's Journey" has some good moments, including footage of her, really young, working with the chimpanzees in Africa, but this documentary is really just a film about how great she is. Not that I particularly want something else on her, I don't. She is amazing woman, and all she's accomplish really makes my life look meaningless, but I need more than that for a movie.

THE PIANO IN A FACTORY (2010) Directors: Zhang Meng and Jae-young Kwak

3 STARS

"The Piano in a Factory," is a nice little dramedy from China, about a man who struggles to do all that he can for his daughter. Chen's (Wang Qian-Yuan) a musician who plays accordian at funerals and a few other gigs with his band. He's been taking care of his young daughter for years after his wife left her. Suddenly, she's returned, demanding a divorce, and perhaps more harshly, full custody of their daughter. The wife has far more money now, more stable, and lives in the city. The husband has spent years teaching her daughter an appreciation of music though, and she requests that the one gets who a piano, will be the one she lives with. He goes out searching for a piano, but it quickly becomes clear that the only way he's going to be able to get ahold of a piano will be to actually make one in a nearby factory, that seems to be empty during off-hours. They have some particular trouble finding some steel rods for the piano, but the makeshift piano starts coming along eventually. There's nothing particularly special about "The Piano in a Factory," but it's a nice, touching little movie about a devoted father, willing to try to go the extra mile for his daughter. Part of me thinks there could've been more to this story than what we get, but all-in-all, there's nothing really wrong with what we get.

THE RIVER (1951) Director: Jean Renoir

4 STARS

I really don't consider myself proficient in the work of Jean Renoir. I usually like his movies what few I've seen. "The River," his first color feature, is only the fifth film of his I've seen, after "La Bete Humaine," "The Rules of the Game," "Grand Illusion," and "French Cancan". I've liked all his films so far, and definitely consider "The Rules of the Game," a masterpiece but I often find myself more ambivalent towards his other work. If I learned anything from "The River," a film that's not considered one of Renoir's best, it's that I really be looking into and learning more about Renoir. That, and that it must have been quite an amazing thing back in the fifties to see a movie made in India in most of the western world. Shot along the Ganges, "The River," follows the lives of three teenage who's lives and worldviews are forever change when an American stranger comes to live near them. The film is told in flashback through the eyes of Harriet (Patricia Walters), the daughter of English settlers, and it's her American cousin Mr. John (Arthur Shields), who's lost one of his legs in a war, comes to live in India, seemingly to get away from most of his troubles. Her two friends, the beautiful but conniving Valerie (Adrienne Corri) and Mr. John's daughter Melanie (Radha Shri Ram) who's half Indian and English, and has just arrived back from a London boarding school. There's a lot more family members to actually, and they come together to create this wonderful mosaic of life in India, that probably hadn't been seen much before in the Western world. Martin Scorsese calls "The River," one of the most beautiful color films ever made, and I understand what he means. While the movie is predominately about Colonialists, the movie really captures the mystical and spirit of what it's like to live along the Ganges, in a spiritual part of an intricately spiritual country. This, while most of the characters are continuously struggling between two worlds themselves. (Sometimes, they're battling a few different kinds of two worlds.) "The River," at it's core is a coming-of-age film, and it's quite a good one. It's based off the Rumer Godden novel, her work also inspired the Michael Powell film "Black Narcissus", and this is based on her own experiences growing up in India. I don't know if it's one of Renoir's greatest films, I actually hope there are better ones personally, but there aren't many films quite like "The River," period. Note to self: Look into more Jean Renoir films.

IN BETWEEN DAYS (2007) Director: So Yong Kim

3 STARS

It's strange how teenage boys, (and many adult men actually) can be somewhat mean to girls they happen to like. They don't always have extra emotions that they can rely on. God bless the girls and women who can understand and interpret this behavior correctly as admiration. (And God help those who mistake actual mean behavior for admiration) Tram (Taegu Andy Kang) is sometimes mean to his friend Aimie (Jiseon Kim), but mean in the "I have a crush" on you sense. Aimie has a crush on him too, but doesn't want to ruin what seems to be her only real friendship. Their the two teenagers at the center of "In Between Days". Aimie is a Korean immigrant, now living in Canada. She speaks Korean with Tram, and most of her family, but she knows English well-enough. It must be nice being able to speak in two languages like that, not so much for having that knowledge, but so that the things you say can still be private to others. Tram and Aimie have a lot of private shy moments together. They each have a crush on each other. Tram tries to push forward a romance, but Aimie isn't interested in ruining their friendship. Tram sometimes calls Aimie in the middle of the night for a place to sleep when he's kicked out of his home. He sleeps in her closet until everybody leaves in the morning. They clearly care for each other, they just haven't matured enough for a relationship. It's probably for the best they don't explore, but the pain of each of them, at different points, keeping their desires in check. Note to young filmmakers, if you're not 100% sure how to shoot a movie, just get really good actors, and keep the cameras in close-up on them. Director So Yong Kim does this, shooting "In Between Days," on handheld 35mm DVX, and it's amazing how well it works. Ingmar Bergman is right about the human face being so powerful and visual an image. The movie rarely seems to push itself away from Aimie, and I'm glad it doesn't. Weren't not always sure what she's thinking, but we can always feel how she's feeling.