Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #39: "RED TAILS," "IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY," "THE BIG YEAR," "THE SWELL SEASON", and MORE!

I'm a little light this week on movie reviews, at least lighter for me anyway. Still just coming down from the film festival. I've also been watching a lot of TV series on DVD lately. Just finished the BBC miniseries "Luther", at least it's first series. It's really really good, if you haven't caught it yet, it's worth it. I've also been caught up in the Olympics, which I try not to miss too much of this time of year. Big fan of them in general. Although, NBC, I've come to terms with the fact that you're never gonna show anything live, unless it's in Beijing, and just happens to coincide with when the actual Primetime schedule would take place, but can you at least put basketball on NBC during the day? I mean, Water Polo's great. Volleyball's great, Kayaking's...-, z-is also on NBC. Put the basketball back on NBC. Doesn't have to be Primetime, although I remember when the Dream Team games were ALL on Primetime, at least until it was clearly a blowout, like after the first half ended, and it was completely a blowout, but the sports that we really are fans of, and know, put them on your big channel. I don't need to see the first round men's volleyball games. (Although, I do want to see every Women's Beach Volleyball game, so keep those going.) Oh, and do the same with hockey in two years in Sochii! In fact, screw figure skating, we want more hockey! Okay, don't screw all figure skating. Screw Ice Dancing at least. What the hell is that? It's like turning roller disco into an Olympic sport? While were at it, show more Boxing, during the day. It's like the last time boxing's gonna be good and important for awhile, show it. Olympic boxing is great! I still remember watching Oscar De La Hoya in '92, winning the Gold Medal by knockout, that was one of the highlights of Barcelona! Awesome!

Alright, I've said my Olympic peace, onto this week's Movie Reviews!

RED TAILS (2012) Director: Anthony Hemingway

1 1/2 STARS

How do you turn a movie about the most legendary air fighting troop of WWII, the Tuskegee Airmen, into a movie, that seems to be an attempt to replicate "Iron Eagle," only with Black people, and not as good. Not that I ever ask that question, or for that matter, dive too deeply into "Red Tails," more than just the first viewing to try and figure it out, but that's to be what happened with this film. It's one of those movies where the filmmakers couldn't seem to help themselves into trying to make every single scene be more grandiose and with undertones of historical importance, which is bad enough under normal circumstances, but when you throw in, pretty much, every melodramatic cliche you can think of, it really just depreciates the film more and more until it becomes completely unwatchable, except maybe for some of the battle scenes at the end, and they frankly lean towards cartoonish. The two most recognizable actors, play the Lt. (Terrence Howard) and the Major (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in charge of having to suddenly get this ragtag crew of African-Americans for more dramatic battles after D-Day, and then eventually, as they head farther in towards Berlin. It been about a week since I've seen "Red Tails," but if you asked me ten minutes after watching it, I could differentiate any of the other actors from one another. I know one of them had an affair with an Italian girl who we wanted to marry. Another was a drunk, who possibly 'cause the severe injury of one of his men (maybe it was his death, one of them also died in a crash), who he knew had loss much of his peripheral vision. One or two of them were known for being reckless when they were flying. If they were flying faster jets, I think somebody would've said they felt the need for speed. Well, they would've, except it didn't fit in with the historical undertones of the movie's score. You know, I expect more when were talking the Tuskegee Airmen. We all know who they are, and there's been good films and TV movie made about them before, so this isn't new territory, but you still need to make it good. Even the special effects seem too bright here. The plains, with their red tails are all so shiny. The battle scenes occasionally come off as exciting, but half the time, they come off as special effects that are just too pristine. This is a war, it shouldn't look like "Little Johnny Jet", I don't care how much clean they had to keep the planes. "Red Tails," is apparently a George Lucas production that he's been trying to get made since the eighties, which would've been around the time this movie maybe should've been made, but he wasn't able to get funding for an All-African American cast. Lucas even shot some of the reshoots of "Red Tails," after first-time feature Director Anthony Hemingway had committed to directing episodes of "Treme", and unbelievably, he's even planning a sequel and a prequel to "Red Tails", according to imdb.com. I think it's one thing to create an imaginary world like "Star Wars," to create an overly-melodramatic trilogy or two, but it seems weird to use real-life people and heroes like this. I don't know how true-to-life the events and the personal lives of the characters in "Red Tails," but even if they are, they don't play believably on film, especially not in 2012.

IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (2011) Director: Angelina Jolie

3 STARS

At first, I thought I'd recommend Angelina Jolie's film "In the Land of Blood and Honey," because I believe it achieved what it was trying to conveys, but then I thought, "What was the point it was trying to convey?" If it was to show the systematic devastion in Bosnia during the militant Serbs battle with the Muslims, than it certainly succeeded in that, although it be hard to call that enjoyable entertainment, but what about the other part of the movie? What is she trying to do by showing this relationship, in the middle of a catastrophic war? To showcase, one relationship, to represent an overall mistreatment of women in the area, or to take two archtypes to show how the war changes people, and how love can't survive or adapt to the situation, especially in a dictatorial genocidal regime? Well, yes, and yes, but there seems to be something else going on. Their relationship begins before the war, in a nightclub, and on the dancefloor. Danijel (Goran Kostic) is a Serb, and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a Muslim. When they meet again, they've begun separating the women into a camp. Some may have work, like a cook, but most are basically glorified sex slaves. Daniel, who's father is a General (Rade Serbedzila) saves Ajla, and it's clear that there's a spark between them, and Daniel makes sure nobody else goes at Alja, eventually getting her her own room, and making her an official artist for the cause. (Alja's a painter) Their romance reminded me of another movie's famous romance, Liliana Caviani's "The Night Porter," which was about a sadomasochistic relationship between a former Nazi and the Jew he used to torture in the concentration camps. That film took place, years after the war, and actually that film is important, but quite lousy actually. (Pauline Kael's review of the movie famously opened with the line, "Let us now consider a piece of junk".) The relationship between Alja and Daniel's is sadomasochistic by force, at least originally, because of the war, but as it continues on, it gets more and more violent, and the effects of the war can be seen in Daniel and Alja's behavior, as well as the behavior of some of the other soldiers, especially for those who's penchant was towards violence without the war to justify it. However, I think Jolie is also aiming, not for sexuality, but for emotion. The structure of the movie, isn't a driving plot-driven one, but sprawling and episodic and downtrodden, but viscerally, while not entertaining, it's effective. We can show the images of war, and Jolie does that, but the relationship, gives us, not only an insight into what happened in Bosnia, but it tries to give the feeling of how it must've been to go through that war, for both sides. I'm being a little vague, I'm aware, but the movie is complex. Yet, it's not that interesting to watch, but experiencing it is memorable. It's one of those in-between movies where in my mind, I can reason and understand what's the effect was, and praise such things as Jolie's directing, and she is effective at getting, what she wants. She also wrote the screenplay too, so this is her baby. She even earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, a particularly bizarre occurance considering it's an American film, but an understandable one. It's a reluctant recommendation though, 'cause let's face it, who wants to feel like they've been a sex slave in the Bosnian War for a few hours? No one. It's not fun, but, it's probably a good thing to know how it feels, firsthand. Ms. Jolie, I love your work, and I hope you direct again, and I recognize how important this subject means to you, but please do something lighter for your next film.

THE BIG YEAR (2011) Director: David Frankel

3 1/2 STARS



I was legitimately surprised at just how much I got into 'The Big Year". It couldn't have looked great on paper, even with the big-name comedy superstars in the cast. Who's ever seen a movie on birdwatching, or even been fascinated by the idea of it? Okay, other than the Audobon Society. "The Big Year," follows three birders, as they attempt to have a big year. What's a big year? In the birdwatching community, there's a challenge every year to try and see as many different kinds of birds as one can, in a given year. There's no prize money or anything, but numbers are kept track of by the honors system of all things, and it while the no prize seems to keep the honor code a  scorekeeping tool, it's still heavily competitve, and involves lots of travel. The competitors include Brad Harris (Jack Black) a divorced man who lives with his parents, Brenda and Raymond (Dianne Weist and Brian Dennehy) and works at a job he hates, who's always made birdwatching a hobby, but with nothing else going for him on the horizon, he decides that he's going to try and break the record of 732 birds. The record holder, is a cocky and ambitious construction company CEO, Kenny Bostwick (Owen Wilson), who knows all the tricks and weather patterns of birds, and is always on the scene of the next big birdwatching venture, no matter how far or remote it is, much to the chagrin of his lonely wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike). The third participant is Jim Gittleson, a career venture capitalist, who's finally serious about retiring, despite desperate attempts from his closest work associates (Joel McHale and Kevin Pollak) to get him back to running the company. He's got the money, and unlike the other two, and unusually understanding wife (JoBeth Williams, not much for her to do, but kinda nice to see a lack of additional drama for a change). The movie seemed to be advertised as a comedy,  but I actually found it rather sincere. Director David Frankel is proving himself to be versatile and fairly competent with his last couple films, including his previous film "Marley & Me", and the big hit "The Devil Wears Prada". I didn't care much for the latter, but I'll admit that it could've been a lot worse than it was. With "The Big Year," he's been given a tricky subject matter, and he's managed to make it rather interesting. In fact, it was rather well done. Good characters, good actors. Nobody tried to upstage the material and turn it into a running plot to satisfy their jokes, nobody overacter or embellished. It actually made me interested in birdwatching. Not enough to make me go outside my window to do it, but still, a rather impressive. "The Big Year," is good, and understated, a pair we don't see often enough in Hollywood films.

THE SWELL SEASON (2011) Directors: Nick August Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabell-Davis

3 STARS

Ideally, the legend that is "The Swell Season," the band, started when He met She, on the streets of Dublin, and after He helped fix her broken vacuum cleaner, they went to a music store, He on guitar, her on piano, and suddenly, magic happened. That's the beginning of the small independent film "Once," which Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova shot with Director John Carney, that surprised everybody by becoming an international hit movie, which eventually earned Hansard and Marglova an Oscar for Best Original Song. I've written on "Once," a few times before, including a Canon of Film entry for the film, which I reposted shortly after the Broadway play, earned about a dozen or so Tony nominations, most of which, they ended up winning. The appeal of the movie has caught them offguard. They actually first knew each other years earlier in Prague, where Glen, and his then-band The Frames often stayed and played, when Marketa was a kid. She even says in a candid moment, basically, they waited for her to grow up so they could be together. (She was only 19, when they shot "Once") The documentary, "The Swell Season", shows the two caught up in a whirlwind tour, that's surprisingly neverending. Hansard, who's been a touring musician for years, is somewhat used to the attention, while young Marketa is fairly caught off a bit by it. Their relationship begins to strain. Yes, they actually did get together, for a time, in real life. Glen's mother, wonders about, how if they had a kid "Imagine, being able to say both my parents won Oscars." Shot in black and white, this documentary is like "Once," filled with amazing music, and some candid moments of the two of them on the road, and many little side moments interviewing their fans, who have taken the myth of "Once" to heart. "The Swell Season," pulls the curtain back a bit, maybe too much. There's something to that line from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," when he says "When the legend becomes the fact", print the legend." I love the legend, more than the facts too, but the fact are good as well. "The Swell Season," gives us some insight into Glen and Marketa's sudden fame, and how they've dealt with the unexpected place they've suddenly recieved in cinema lore. "I just wanted to play music," Glen says. Marketa feels the same way, and essentially, that's what they're doing now.

GASHOLE (2010) Directors: Scott Roberts, Jeremy Wagener

3 STARS

How many of you have heard the myth about the car that supposedly runs on water? It's a famous story, as are many others about people who've supposedly made cars that run on some kind of cost-preventing fuel. Some died under mysterious circumstances, others are in fear of their lives, while some apparently made deals with the oil companies to buy their patents, only to have them squashed and unused, as we continually run out of fossil fuels, and demands continues to go up. But, is there any truth to these? Apparently there is a patent on the market for an internal combustion engine that runs on water, made around the time when someone claims to have talked with the guy, and seen the engine for himself. Actually, I've heard many of these stories before, and the more I hear about alternative fuels, everything from electricity to ethanol, I had been starting to think many of them were true. I never did understand why the oil companies, if they did buy the patents, would do nothing with them. If oil's finite and running out, wouldn't they want to be the upstart with the alternative fuels on the markets? According to Joshua Jackson, (Who I think is an actor on a soap opera, although I'm always gonna associate him with "The Mighty Ducks") a company would want to squeeze every last cent out of their product, especially if they know it's running out, and soon." I think I have a better argument, although based on their behavior, they might just be thinking that. "GasHole," which isn't as good a pun as it sounds, (It's actually the hole in the car where you insert the gas.) explores some of these stories, and takes a quick look at the hiBILAL'S STANDstory of Standard Oil, and the company, or I should say companies, but they merge so often and are relatively friendly with each other that it's hard to distinguish between them at times. Their business practices have always been predatory since the days of Ida Tarbell, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised by them. It's nice to know that the car companies have even begun dissapating their collusion with them, and have started rapidly jumping on the alternative fuel markets, at least for now. That happened once before, with the electric cars. Well, they'll have to eventually, we are rapidly running out of oil, and we are in the full brush of a conservative, alternative fuel era, the more recently-developed countries, like China, are in demand of more oil than era before. "GasHole," doesn't give me a whole lot of new information, although it is rather informative for what it does give me. It doesn't really offer much of an opinion on which alternative fuel should/will eventually win the sweepstakes and replace gasoline, it's really more of your anti-oil company films, and it's on the lower end of the scale in terms of these environmental documentaries that have severely overloaded the marketplace in recent years, but I think it did it's job, and was entertaining, enough. Barely.

BILAL'S STAND (2010) Director: Sultan Sharrief

3 STARS

"Bilal's Stand" never got a theatrical release; it debuted at Sundance a couple years ago, and it seemed just creative and interesting enough for awhile, just enough for me to recommend, but it also has times where it really just seems like another Indy film, trying to be too cute. Bilal (Julian Grant) is a smart Muslim teenager in Detroit, whose family runs a local cabstand, which he often works as dispatcher at. His family is very colorful. He helps us out a bit by helping to explain some of the jargon that's spoken between them, and some interesting descriptions of them. I particularly like how he calls one of the obviously blissfuly unknowing girls in his class, a bubble. He head is then shown, to be inside it's own bubble, using some nice post-production drawing effects, similar to that of a first draft of a comic. These turn up throughout much of the film, and can begin to get annoying at times. Unbeknownst to his family, he decides to begin, granted a little late, to try and get a scholarship to go to the University of Michigan. The majority of the family, wants him to go to nearby, cheaper Community College, so that he can continue working at "The Stand" when not in school. Applying too late for most scholarships, one of the few options he has is the school's ice sculpting class, which offers a scholarship, but he has a lot to learn, and fast, and quietly. Many of the actors are either non-professionals, or in the case of his ice carving coach (Charles G. Usztics), they're playing versions of themselves. The story is based on Director Sultan Sharrief's true story. When he went to college, he started developing this film, in a program for cinematic production for young people. It has the feel of a school film admittedly, probably a bit too much like one, but there's some good specificity in the story to make up for much of it. We haven't seen this character and this family before. They're going through some rather conventional admittedly. Family vs. school, and why does it have to be one or the other, and things like that. It's certainly special in the sense that, it ws able to be made at all, if for nothing else. It's a mild recommendation, with some hope that Sharief will improve with his next film. Admittedly, I've recommended a lot this week, but I haven't really been superexcited about much of it.

THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960) Director: Ingmar Bergman

5 STARS

Bergman's "The Virgin Spring", is based on a old fable, but it feels almost like a horror story nowadays. Apparently the film was a big influence on Wes Craven's "The Last House on the Left," and I'm not surprised to hear that. It's one of Bergman's most memorable films. It won the Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, and yet, it's one of Bergman's simplest of tales. Taking place, I believe in the 13th Century, Tore (Max von Sydow) and Maretta (Birgitta Valberg) are worried about their beautiful young daughter Karin (Brigitta Pettersson). She's often teased at home by her pregnent half-sister Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), who places a Pagan curse on her. Karin is naturally friendly, and not particularly nieve, but is somewhat defenseless. She's overslept on a Sunday, and she has to travel, by horse, through the woods, to deliver, candles to the church. It's a long journeyy, and she gets stopped in the woods, by three Herdsmen (Axel Duburg, Tor Isedel, and Ove Porath). They ask her for food, and convince her to join them for lunch. It's then, that they attack her, rape her, kill her, and then bury her. Ingeri watches everything, include the Herdsmen taking all of her things, including her horse. Back at home, the parents are worried. They're well-off personally, and hard-working, but the mother senses somethings wrong. The father is concerned, but notes how Karinn's spent a night or two in the city before, when it's late. It's around then, that the Three Herdsmen, unaware of who's house they've shown up at (Although she clearly told them around where she came from) show up, asking for food and shelter for the night. You can pretty much guess what's going to happen next, but it's powerful nonetheless. "The Virgin Spring," is truly one of Bergman's simplest tales, and that's probably why it's one of his most universal. Shot beautifully, and intimately iconic. Surprisingly maybe, Bergman doesn't shy away from the graphic violence. It is brutal, and graphic, and both times, sprung by emotion and rage. He made "The Virgin Spring," right before his Absence of God Trilogy, and God plays a part here too. How could a God, create such a beautiful create, only to by destroyed so mercilessly, so young? Tor decides to build a church to repent for his sins at the end. Strange how that justifies revenge.

WOMAN IN THE DUNES (1964) Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara

4 1/2 STARS

I can't think of too many movies where sand was such a foreboding character. Probably "Lawrence of Arabia," but it's still nothing quite like "Woman in the Dunes". I reviewed Hiroshi Teshigahara's film "Pitfall," a few weeks ago, and now I've gotten to the film that made him the first Japanese director to earn a Best Director Academy Award nomination. Niki Jumpei (Eiji Okada) is an amateur entomologist, he collects and studies insects when he isn't teaching grade school. He's spending his weekend collecting sand insects at a seaside village, and is encourage to spend the night in town, before leaving in the morning. He ends up staying at the house of Woman (Kyoka Kishida), who's house is way off the edge of the village, inside a dune in the sand, that requires a ladder to climb down. When he awakens the next morning, the ladder is gone, and the sand seems to be continuing coming down and engulfing the him the more he tries to climb. Woman is told that they must now shovel the sand, so the house doesn't get buried. The explanation for how or why they must shovel the sand the unclear, but apparently it's sold for construction, and the villagers sens food and water everyday for the Woman to survive, but now, there's too much sand, and the construction companies they sell to are becoming aware that the sand isn't up to code. Woman's family was apparently buried in the sand years ago. She's accepted her fate, and will give herself to Niki, if he will stay. The allegorical film is haunting, erotic, and just amazing. I don't know how they got these shots of the sand, flowing and running down. It's almost more like a nightmarish painting, the way it plays. Teshigahara's films are seem to start in realism and move onto the otherworldly, but its the way it's done so naturally that's the most amazing part of it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

EMMY NOMINATION ANALYSIS! A LITTLE LATE, BUT BETTER NOW THAN NEVER!



While I spent most of this past week discussing the las Vegas Film Festival, I was paying attention to the Primetime Emmy Nominations that were announced last week. I consider them to be the award that not only honors the best in television, I consider them the Awards that honors the best programming television has to offer. Talk, variety, sitcoms, drama, even reality television, if it's truly the best on TV, it's on in Primetime. I discussed that somewhat when I wrote out my blog last week on the Ten Greatest TV Shows of All-Time, which by the way, I still want others to contribute their lists to that by either leaving comments on my blog, leaving their lists on twitter, either to my account or to #TENGREATESTTVSHOWS, or on my Facebook, and every show I listed, was a Primetime series. I've looked at some of the discussions on the Awards so far, but it's time for me to add my analysis on the nomination, and their were a lot of good and bad nominations, and non-nominations, and we're gonna take out a first look at them now.

Let's start with the Best Comedy Series category, where, I would've predicted that this would've been the year "Parks and Recreation," would win, so I was beyond shocked when it didn't even get nominated. It was clearly the funniest show on TV, and had it's best season to date, got two writing nominations as well, this was a complete shock, and am just kinda of befuddle by it. HBO, came back in a big way, grabbing 3 nominations in the category, after last year, not a single cable channel got one. "Curb Your Enthusiam," and "Girls," were "as expecteds," knocking out "The Office," which didn't get a single nomination this year, I think that's a bad call, but it was a transitional and weaker year for the show, and "Glee," which finally fell out of favor. "Veep," sneaking in, over not only "Parks and Rec..." was the surprise entry, 'cause I had heard mostly lukewarm reviews of that show since it aired, so that one surprised me. I would've thought either "Nurse Jackie," or "The Big C," would've snuck in, or "Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23,", the latter, I'm not sure was eligible. I know "Community," is the critical hit, and the cult hit, that everybody thought should've gotten in, I disagree with that. It's a good show, and I wouldn't have minded it getting a nomination, but it's overrated to begin with, isn't as good as "The Big Bang Theory," which was nominated again, and which it competed with most of the year, and while it can be funny as hell, it's inconsistent as hell too. A dream nomination, I would've liked to have seen "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," finally get credit, but the strangeness of "Parks and Rec..." not getting in, really befuddling to the category, the biggest single omission this Awards year.

In the acting categories, seven in the Best Actress comedy, instead of six, but no name that's shocking, mostly the same with Best Actor, although Jon Cryer, who switched from Supporting Actor to Lead Actor this year, getting nominated, is surprising. I'm not sure I understand the continual need to nominate him, every year. That seems like a good spot for a more creative choice, like maybe Oliver Platt for "The Big C" or Ed Helms for "The Office". Strange one there.

My big complaint last year was Mayim Bialik not getting nominated for "The Big Bang Theory," for Supporting Actress, I'm happy to report, she did get nominated this year, in a very different-looking Supporting Actress category. Last year's winners Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara, of "Modern Family," and "SNL"'s Kristen Wiig, got in from last year, but on top of Bialik, one of my favorite actresses, Merritt Weaver, getting a well-earned nomination for "Nurse Jackie" this time around, smart choice there. Then, a sentimental choice, the late Kathryn Joosten, she passed away recently, she had won two Guest Actress Emmys for "Desperate Housewives," before, she was also Mrs. Landingham on "The West Wing," before that, she recieved a Best Supporting Actress nomination as well, for "...Housewives"'s last season. "Modern Family," four nominations again in Supporting Actor, no surprise, but the other two, were shocking nominations. One for "SNL"'s Bill Hader, even he said, he didn't consider the possibility of getting nominated, it happened. He is really good on the show, although I don't know about all of you, I'm starting to wonder about whether these "Saturday Night Live" supporting actor nominations should keep happening. I might write a whole blog on it in the future, 'cause there's a few different reasons why this trend has been happening. The other nomination, way out-of-nowhere, Max Greenfield, for "New Girl". I expected Zooey Deschanel to get in, like everybody I think did, this one, I don't think anybody expected. You know, I've watched a good number of "New Girl" episodes, and as much I do love Zooey Deschanel, I gotta say, I don't get this show. It's so weird, for like minutes at a time, it can be really good, and then, it suddenly just turns into a "What the hell is this?" moment, and it's way too often, and it's practically every episode. As for the three men in the apartment, honestly they're interchangable to me, so I don't know why Greenfield got distinguished enough to get a nomination, especially considering, again, "Parks and Recreation," Nick Offerman, Rob Lowe, not nominated, Neil Patrick Harris for "How I Met Your Mother," not nominated, Justin Kirk and Kevin Nealon for "Weeds," there's an underrated supporting acting performances, not nominated. That's the nomination in comedy this year, that makes the least amount of sense to me.

 Onto the Drama Series categories, a lot of weird shifting in this category, even before the nominations were announced. First of all, "Mad Men," wasn't supposed to be eligible this year, suddenly their air dates got moved, so now "Mad Men," is eligible to win a record, 5th straight, Best Drama Series Emmy, but it's got tougher competition than ever before, with "Breaking Bad," "Boardwalk Empire," and "Homeland," and this was before the big twist, when last years Miniseries winner, "Downton Abbey," not only came back for a second season on PBS, it switched, and put its name in the Drama Series category, so there was a new wildcard in this already crowded category(ies),  and all those shows I named, plus "Game of Thrones," nominated, "Dexter," knocked out for the first time ever, as was "The Good Wife", so now, for the first time ever in the history of the Emmys, no show on the Big 4 networks, NBC, ABC, CBS, or FOX, got a nomination in the category, and PBS, the only basic channel to get a show nominated. Drama categories, across the board, are officially unpredictable this year.

Lot of new and surprising names in the Lead Actress category. "Downton Abbey"'s Michelle Dockery, "Homeland"'s Claire Danes, probably a favorite, Kathy Bates, nominated for the cancelled "Harry's Law," for the second year in a row, they join Elisabeth Moss for "Mad Men," and here's another anamoly, two defending winners in the category. Julianna Margulies won last year, but Glenn Close, won three years in a row for "Damages," before it was cancelled from FX, but brought back on DirecTV, similar to what happened to "Friday Night Lights," last year, she's nominated again. Not much strangeness out of the Lead Actor, Hugh Bonneville for "Downton Abbey"'s and Damian Lewis from "Homeland," joining the as expecteds of three-time winner Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, and Steve Buscemi. The name left off though, Hugh Laurie for "House", not nominated in his final season, and never won before either, sentimental vote didn't work this year, and that's unfortunate.

Supporting Actor categories, loaded with "Downton Abbey," and "Breaking Bad," Anna Gunn, getting her first nomination for "Breaking Bad," was a nice surprise in the Supportina Actress category. Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski from "The Good Wife", and Christina Hendricks from "Mad Men," nominated again, join Maggie Smith and Joanne Froggatt for "Downton Abbey" in the actress category. Totally new category practically from last year. The Supporting Actor category, also has two defending winners against each other. Last year Peter Dinklage won for "Game of Thrones," he's up against Aaron Paul, who won two years ago, for "Breaking Bad," which wasn't eligible last year, so this is an odd occurance. The snub was John Slattery, losing out to his "Mad Men," co-star Jared Harris this year, first time he wasn't nominated, but a great nomination, again for "Breaking Bad," Giancarlo Esposito, great nomination for his work on the show. Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter, more reminders that I have to jump "Downton Abbey," on my netflix queue, pronto!

The Miniseries/Movie category, also had a bizarre pre-nomination occurance, when a show that was looked as a favorite in the Drama Series category, "American Horror Story," switched it's not nomination to the Miniseries or Movie category this. It's also like them and "Downton Abbey," chose to switch roles this year, to through everyone. From all accounts though, and based on the quality of work in the other nominees, this has lead to one of the most interesting and most competitive years in these categories in a while. Even the HISTORY channel with "Hatfields & McCoys" got in on this mix. Lotta big stars and big actors across the board for the nominations in the categories.

Jimmy Kimmel is hosting this year, and perhaps that's the reason why his show "Jimmy Kimmel Live," earned it's first ever nomination in the Best Variety series category. The rest of the names are familiar enough, "Daily Show," "Colbert"... the name that was off this year, "Conan" not nominated for the first time in years, on any show he's done. Not sure I agree with that. I like Jimmy Kimmel, but if I was gonna pick someone new for the category this year, "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," is way more inventive and funny. I also should note Kathy Griffin's new show, "Kathy" on Bravo, probably should've be more considered as well. And, more importantly, then need to come up with a Best Variety Show Host Award. There's gotta be at least 15 legitimate hosts out there, that's gotta be enough to institute it's own category by now. Really should be at least.

Speaking of Kathy Griffin, it's kinda sad to me looking at the Best Reality Show category, and not seeing her show, which ended last season on there, but they did end up with some decent nominations. "Antiques Roadshow," "Mythbusters," and "Undercover Boss," they're the repeat nominees. "Shark Tank," and "Who Do You Think You Are?", both got in as well, and I'll tell you what, they were both on Friday nights at eight o'clock, most of the time against each other, and from week to week, that might have been the most difficult viewing choice I had to make. Those are two very good shows, for very different reasons, and both really show just how good reality TV can be, I'm happy they both got in this year, both well-deserved. Didn't see an episode of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," can't even pretend to judge that one, but I'm surprised it's there. I guess I'm glad none of the "Real Housewives..." made it, but would it have killed them to throw in something like "Pawn Stars", or maybe my favorite, "History Detectives"?

I know some of you loyal readers were waiting for me to get to the Reality-Competition Category, and you'd be damn right in assuming that I was happy about the nominee list for this one. "American Idol," out, "The Voice," is in, and that's completely the correct way to go. No other changes in the category, "Amazing Race," "Project Runway," "Top Chef," "So You Think You Can Dance," and for some reason "Dancing with the Stars". Maybe they can't find a legitimate 6th nominee for the category, so they keep letting it fill up space. I'd understand that actually, but they really should something better soon. Off the top of my head, I'd recommend "MasterChef", but that's iffy to begin with too.

The Reality Show Host category has been won by Jeff Probst every year the category existed, but not this year; he didn't even get nominated surprisingly. Who did? Betty White, for her show "Off Their Rockers!" Well, at least it wasn't for "Hot in Cleveland," like last year. It wouldn't be her first Emmy for hosting either by the way. She was the first woman to win the Emmy for Game Show Hosting years ago, for a TV show called "Just Men," which only lasted one year, so there is some legitimacy to the nomination, but with all the Betty White love, and I do love her, but it's starting to get a little tiresome. No new names other than hers in the category. Phil Keoghan, Tom Bergeron, Ryan Seacrest, and Cat Deeley, round out the rest. I think Padma Lakshmi and Heidi Klum have better arguments for nomination that Seacrest nowadays, but there's no horribly incorrect nomination on there. And for those wondering, as much as I've praised "The Voice," I would not have nominated Carson Daly in this category, and I don't think anybody of sound mind, including Carson Daly, would either.

Well, 57 days until the Awards, according to the countdown clock on Emmys.com. Lotta time to start making your predictions, so I'm not gonna make them now. In the meantime, go see a movie, go watch the Olympics, and maybe catch up on some of these shows you might've missed. I'm still doing that one, myself. Looked like it's starting to shape up into a very entertaining and good Emmys broadcast this year though, so I'm happy about that anyway. Still pissed that "Parks and Recreation," isn't nominated though. Boy, am I pissed at that one....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

LAS VEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: THE MOVIES I SAW, PART 2



Day 3 at the Las Vegas Film Festival, began at 9am, with the first couple movies, which I didn't see, 'cause I was just waking up three hours later than I asked my family to wake me up, and then, they decided to not rush from there. It was off to a really bad start, but luckily, I was able to bring my Cousin for part of the day. He'd  never been to a film festival, and I would've liked for him to see more, but we did get to check out a lot, including, and especially short films, and we also got to see Louis Gossett Jr. collect an Award, and he got to see "An Officer and a Gentleman," for the first time. Oddly, while I always loved Gossett's performance, I'd never particularly cared for that film, but I will note that the movie plays a lot better on a big screen than it does on TV. Let's start with some of the newer things we saw.

For "A LITTLE BIT OF ZOMBIE", we came in late, but we caught up quickly. I've always had an inherent problem with zombie films, in that I've never understood why a slow-moving mindless, brainless zombie would be such a problem, but here, an HR rep named Steve begins resisting the urge to become a zombie as much as he can, at least until his wedding, anyway. This leads to him and his gang searching for brains to feed him, and hiding him from an evil zombie hunter, and a zombie doctor, who believes he may be a cure for zombies. This one was pretty funny actually. Just once I'd like to see really intelligent people caught in a zombie movie instead of dumb good-looking kids, but minor quibble. It makes of the genre in the right places, and has a very creative ending. 3 1/2 STARS

It was after that where we say Short Film Block of movie, one of about half a dozen, and they all were on days 3 & 4, they should really spread them out a bit next year. I'm only really gonna comment on a few of the shorts, I saw a lot of them, and I'm not going through reviewing them all, but by far the worst of them was Bailey Kim's "DAVE'S WORLD". It was 40 minutes of a guy, moping and drinking and moping and drinking. At one point, Dave buys uber-amounts of products for, what could only be for an end-of-the-world scenario, but they don't even explain that, and they don't follow through either, and it was so terrible. 40 minutes of this, they couldn't given four other filmmakers a spot there, instead I spent the time yelling at the screen for Dave to kill himself or do anything really that drives this movie forward, or in any direction, and explain to my cousin that not all short films are like this. Thankfully, the rest of that block was considerably better. My cousin like "WORST RACE SCENARIO" a lot, a comedy about a pothead trying to learn to dance in order to have a friend that's black. I liked "BIRTH OF AN OUTLAW," best, it wasn't perfect, but had lots of drama, full of conflict, and did a good job of using the Western motifs in a somewhat modern way.

We then caught a special screening of "26 YEARS: THE DEWEY BOZELLA STORY", a film by ESPN Film about a man who was the Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion in Sing-Sing prison, while in jail for a murder that he didn't commit. When he got out finally after evidence revealed statements that were long withheld from the original trials, Bozella, now in his early fifties, went out to try and get just one professional fight in his career. There were people screaming, and excited while we were watching this movie, it's very inspirational in all the right ways. The most interesting part of the film for me, oddly enough, was watching Bozella go through the process of getting his boxing license in California. I know boxers and most violent sport athletes actually have to be licensed, I never knew exactly what that process entailed until seeing this film, I found that to be the most informative, but as a film, and it's only a fifty-minute documentary, it's very uplifting, and incredibly well-made. Keep a lookout on ESPN channels for it in the future.

My cousin went home after after we finished "An Officer and a Gentleman," which went on right after, but I stayed for a couple more blocks of short films. An early highlight was "MASQUE," a very well-made film that I believed was shortened from a feature by Director: Robert Hatch, and that was a good decision, any longer the movie wouldn't have worked. It has equal part epic, gangster film, fantasy elements to it, very intriguing and creative combination of a lot of different genres, and it's done with very careful and great skill, and has some unusually good actors in it, including Wilford Brimley, I was happy to see him.

The next short film block had some really good films. I have to mention "IN MEXICO," by Actor/Director Ash Adams, who was a constant presence at the festival, running many of the panels, and interviewing some of the stars. He made quite a powerful film about an Iraq war veteran, suffering from PTSD. There were three film that were even better during the block though. Julian Higgins's "THIEF," that tells a story of Medhi, who has two very unexpected encounters with Saddam Hussein, one when he was a kid in 1959, after he was part of a ploy to kill the Qasim, and in 2003 when he was on the run from, hiding in spider-holes from the U.S. Army. Very intriguing film. Possibly my favorite short of the whole festival was "SHOOT THE MOON," a tale of a recently-divorced and laid-off Mom who, in the throws of depression and poverty, becomes obsessed with trying to get on her favorite game show. It takes place in Detroit, right after Ford went bankrupt, and it really shows of devolving that people caught up in the throws of this recession can go through, and turn to, very good short. As was the correctly-titled "HOMECOMING", about a young Indian-American girl, who's attempts to get her strict parents to get her to go to a Junior High Homecoming dance, take more than a few unexpected turns, totally shifting the dynamics of the family.

There was also a very late feature film screening of "WELCOME TO DOPELAND," and I stayed for about, half an hour or so, but I left after that. Partly 'cause my ride was coming, but mostly 'cause either I was really tired, or the movie wasn't funny. I could tell it was supposed to be a comedy, but nobody laughed, and frankly the audience was pretty zombied out, as was I. If anybody sat through it, and can give a better, more sober perspective on the film, let me know, I was too out of it to give a qualified opinion on it at the time, so I'm not even gonna give it a star rating, just to be safe.

The next and final day of the festival, started with another short film block, a lot of good films in this one, my favorite was the musical-comedy "I MET HER IN A COFFEE SHOP," from Director Eric Logan. A ten minute short, where a guy gets a door slammed in his face, then breaks into song after seeing the girl. A lot of fun with this film, playing with genre, and student-film cliches and styling, the songs were good and funny. It's a very clever film, and clever, in a few different ways and it wraps itself up pretty well.

Now I have a confession to make regarding the screening of "MODEL MINORITY," the film by writer/director Lily Mariye. What I saw of it, which was the first hour, and the end, was quite good. It's a very good slice-of-life film about a half-Asian, half-White L.A. family that's going through a divorce, and the two daughters, as they're stumbling their way through high school, and fighting, what seems like everything. The way that the complexity of their lives, keeps getting more layered, is especially well-done. We seen these movies about how kids going through divorces and they begin to degenerate, (and how the adults reveal their true selves during such times) but it was done extremely well here. However, I slipped out and across from the Shimmer room where the film was playing, back to the Las Vegas Hotel's main theatre, to watch the short film "STUFFED," cause I had promised the filmmaker Gabriella "Gabby" Egito, that I would see it. She was very nice to me, we had a couple conversations during the festival, and at one particularly trying time, she helped me find a cheap diet coke when I desperately needed one. "Stuffed" was a very good little film about a private eye, who really gets all the dirt he can out of his clients, and I'm glad I saw it, but it did make me miss about 15 minutes of "Model Minority," but what I saw of that film was incredibly good, 4 STARS so far, keeping in mind, that's an unofficial star rating at this time.

I did catch the rest of that short film block, after "Model Minority" ended, and and their was a great short film called "RETURNING HOME" by Director Jason Honeycutt, and this was how you make a 40-minute short film. After suffering through "Dave's World," earlier, and then sitting through "Returning Home," the differences are staggering. The story is about a guy, who suddenly finds himself out-of-gas, in the middle of the desert, where he's told by a mysterious homeless person that home is over the mountains, but on his journey, he runs into some disturbing and troubling characters, including another lost stranger, a girl running from her ex-husband, and two tough guys, that seem like they're dressed for Comic-Con. It's not exactly what I'd call a new story, but it's a really well-made and well-told, and the ending is earned. I have a theory that, especially when were talking a film festival, the longer a short film, the better is has to be, this movie was worth forty minutes of my time, to sit through, very good film.

After that, their was a couple rock'n'roll themed documentary feature they were showing. The first one was called "LOUDER THAN LOVE: THE GRANDE BALLROOM STORY", about the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, which was the premiere place during the late '60s, for rock bands of all kinds to play, not only 'cause of the building's acoustics, and then ravid audiences, but also 'cause of it was the premiere hippie and social hangout of the Midwest. This was the equivalent to the Fillmore's in both New York and L.A. It was the spot in the Midwest where the San Francisco scene, exploded in Michigan. Artists like Ted Nugent and The MC5 started out there,  a lot of the other Detroit bands, and pretty much everybody played there, and they wanted to play there during the Woodstock Era. It is looked at as a forgotten piece of Rock'n'Roll History; it's also now, in a little bit of disrepair, and they're trying to make it a landmark I'm told. It should be a landmark, although I'm not sure exactly, how important the place is to have it's own feature-length film devoted to it, but at 75 minutes, it's a good and entertaining documentary. 3 1/2 STARS

Far and away however, the biggest film being screened at the festival was the documentary "MARLEY," about the life of Bob Marley. I happened to run into and then watch it with Lisa, Henry Hill's wife who I talked about in an earlier blog, who was a huge Bob Marley fan, she was very excited to see this film. I was somewhat familiar with his, entire life, but I knew enough to know that in order to do a Bob Marley documentary, that the film would have to, incredibly extensive. You reallly can't go into Bob Marley and discuss him for a like hour, and with this film, and Kevin MacDonald, a great filmmaker, "The Last King of Scotland," "State of Play," also the documentary from last year, "Life in a Day", he is incredibly extensive. They really took good care, made this documentary the right way. Talking to people from his earliest childhood, right up to his death, going to all the places that Bob Marley went to in his life, from his schools, to Trenchtown to London to Germany at the end, this was a comprehensive a biodocumentary, maybe since "Tupac: Resurrection", especially in terms of the rock biopic. It was the premiere showing at the festival, it deserved to be the premiere showing. Great film, 5 STARS

One last short film block after that. The memorable films in that one included "OUT", a story of a man who's spent most of his son's life in prison, finding out that now that he's gay, and in a relationship with an affeminate man, and also "HOLLYWOOD AND HAMMER," about Thor, the actual Norse God, who's currently working as a L.A. street performer, and living out of a van with a Gene Simmons impersonater, when his brother Loki shows up, trying to get him to come home. There was also what started out as a great film called "A HERO'S RETURN", about an Soldier returning to his home in New York, right as his kid is getting in with the wrong people. That movie for about 30 minutes, and then, the last five, Writer/Director Daryl Denner chose to add a completely unnecessary twist, that just was wrong. If he had ended the movie at the half-hour mark, it would've been great, instead, he completely undermined everything the film had done up 'til then. A poor storytelling at exactly the wrong time; somebody needs to get that guy, into the editing room, make the movie that it could be, and that it should be.

The last movie at the festival was "SERVITUDE," a surprisingly fun comedy about a bunch of waiters at this terribly goofy Western-themed restaurant, where they find out they're about to get fired, and decide to finally take their revenge out on their annoying customers. The film focuses mainly on Josh, who's been pressured to quit his job and go to law school by both his girlfriend and his father, but in the meantime, he's got a major fan of his blog about his waiting job, that he's started taking pride in. It's got a lot of surprising good comedic actors in small roles, including Dave Foley and Enrico Colantoni, as well as an appearance by Margot Kidder, it's always good to see her. It was also quite funny, and you actually kinda believed, that a restuarant like this, could exist, although I'm not sure how important it was to make the owners German, and have some Nazi undertones to their depiction, but Colantoni did a really good job selling it, so I'm gonna let that go. It was a good, light, fun way to end the festival actually, so 3 1/2 STARS for that one.

I stayed for a little bit of the Awards ceremony at the end, but I had to leave soon, and they were still in the midst of them, giving away a lot of student Awards to films that weren't even show at the Festival. I think that's a little strange to me, but I guess it's all part of the festivities. I'm looking at the Awards now on lvfilmfest.com and I'm very impressed with most of the winners, although, "Welcome to Dopeland," winning Best Feature Film, is really puzzling to me, but maybe that film just got a bad screening spot, 'cause if you were in theatre, you were not impressed with that film, but it's possible you might have been tired, but I wasn't the only walkout, by the way, there was a lot. I don't have a problem with the film "The Op Shop" winning Best Comedy, but that actually didn't screen in it's alotted slot, for some reason. It was listed as being apart of one of the Short Film Blocks I attended, but they skipped over it. I don't know why, I informed Milo Kostelecky, who runs the festival, about it the next day and he didn't seem to be aware of it until I brought it up to him, but for some reason, their was a problem screening that film. All in all however, a fun festival, mostly good movies, and I hope to attend again next year. That'll involve me at some point, digging through a bunch of DVD and screeners at some point in the future, and writing more notes than I do even here, but, I might do it again. If nothing else, I got some good blogs out of it, and hopefully, some good movies.

Monday, July 23, 2012

LAS VEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: THE MOVIES I SAW, PART 1



I meant to blog last night, but I was too tired to unfortunately. The festival is now over, and I've got a week of sleeping planned now, but boy, it was exciting, and not just the part where Lisa, aka Mrs. Henry Hill, grabbed me out-of-nowhere, and told me to interviews her friends, the old-time Las Vegas gangsters. (Although that was a pretty cool part of it.) Now, these next couple blogs will include a few cool anecdotes, but we're gonna talk about the movies I saw mainly, and while I didn't get to see anything on Day 1, from days 2-4, the movies overall were pretty good, and a couple were special in fact. Day 2, I sat at the same theatre where Elvis once played, and watched 6 feature-lengths films, which I hope is a record for me, but I'm not gonna lie, it wouldn't surprise at all if it wasn't. Unfortunately, I didn't attend of the panels, including the Gangster one with Frank Cullato, I wanted too, but that day, Day 3, I had the pleasure of taking my Cousin Billy with me to the festival with my second VIP pass, and since it was his first festival, and since I never get to be around him, I made it his call when there was multiple things going on, and he chose the short films. I don't blame him, I picked films over all the panels myself this year, but I hope he enjoyed the experience, and hopefully it on't be the only film festival we go to.

I won't be giving full movie reviews like I normally do this time; instead, they'll be short and sweet descriptions, along with some thoughts, as well as a star rating.

FOOLS ON THE HILL played early, early morning, and was another one of those political documentaries about how problematic our government is. This one focused on the phenomenon where officials are constantly voting and overvoting on bills, but also voting on bills that they haven't yet read. One man, Jerrod LeBaron, decides to work on making it a law that all bills must be read by officials before they vote on them, and that all bills should be on the internet, in their completed form, for at least 4 days before they get voted on, that way the constituents and the public, can read the bills, and comment on them. I like the second part personally, although I think with some of these thousand-page bills, and the fact that their could be dozens of them a day sometimes being voted on, that politicians should at least have their staff read them and go through them like a pine-tooth comb, so that they don't accidentally vote on some obscure rider that bankrupts the state of California, but I like the idea in general. The movie was somewhat thin with it's subject being Jerrod, but some of the examples and talking heads were goods. Jed Rigney's film was both informative and entertaining. 3 STARS

SATELLITE OF LOVE had the shortest decription of any feature-length film in the festival's official pamphlet, and I quote: "The story of a composer on a quest to understand the unrequited love he shares with his best friend's wife". Thank God they wrote that, 'cause I saw the movie, and had no idea what-the-hell it was about. The composer, along with his girlfriend of the week, take his two friends out on a trip to a vineyard for, like a week. The friend's wife, was the composer ex-girlfriend, and for way-too-long, they flirt and flirt until finally something happens between them, and then nothing. "Satellite of Love," was pointless, plotless and boring. It was only 80 minutes, but it was terrible. How bad was it? The director, Will James Moore was apparently at the festival, and they planned to have a Q&A after, but when the festival director went onstage to introduce him, he had left the theatre already. Even the filmmaker walked out of this film, and that was the one good thing he did regarding this film. 1 STAR

BIG IN BOLLYWOOD was the most enjoyable and fun documentary I saw at the entire festival. The film follows American actor Omi Vaidya, as he and a few of his friends armed with fake press passes and cameras, follow him to India, for the premiere of his Bollywood film "3 Idiots". I haven't the seen "3 Idiots", but I will, I just placed it on my Netflix, and overnight it became the biggest Bollywood film in the last couple decades, and Omi becomes superfamous very quickly, in India. His famous speech in the film, which involves him speaking a badly mistranslated Hindi is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Omi Vaidya still lives in L.A., and he still struggles with Hindi, but now he's a Bollywood star, and is riding that wave as long as he can. It's a fun little behind the scenes story that accidently captures a literal overnight success. Very funny, very enjoyable. 4 1/2 STARS

MONIKA was one of the premiere screenings at the festival, as the movie took place primarily in Las Vegas, and featured look Vegas actress Cerina Vincent as the title role. It's a bit of mindbending action movie where L.A. actor Reagan (Jason Wiles) spends a wild first night in Vegas with Monika, only to find out that he not only might have imagined that night, but by the time he got to Vegas, Monika had already been killed for a day by some gangsters, or was she? There was some big stars in the film, including good albeit brief supporting performances by C. Thomas Howell and Elisa Donovan. The stars showed up for a Q & A afterwards, including writer/director Stephen Monroe, and star Cerina Vincent and they were all very entertaining and informative. Monroe's most famous for directing the recent remake of "I Spit On Your Grave," and he's very good here, and gave me some insight into the purpose behind the more mind-bending plotpoints in the film, that didn't make as much sense to me originally, until he explained his purpose as to try and keep the audience offguard, and unsure of what's happening in the film, and in hindsight, it did that quite well, to my surprise. It even changed the dynamic of many of action scenes, and how'd they typical be played, if they didn't add that aspect of it. 3 STARS

THE EYES OF THAILAND was the most heartfelt documentary I say during the festival. It told the story first, of the collapse of the Asian elephant in Thailand, a country known for elephants, now has around 5,000 remaining. Many were sent away to zoos, a lot of them were taken off of the country's one profitable logging industry. One woman builds the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital (F.A.E.) in order to save the from abuses, until they begin getting an even more shocking cause of the diminishing elephant population. As elephants cross the border from Thailand to Burma, which is run by a crazed dictator in the thrusts of Civil War, the elephants step on landmine, and have their legs blown to disrepair. The footage of injured elephants, struggling to walk on three legs is some of the toughest footage I've ever watched. It doesn't deter the hospital worker, who begin focusing on these terrible injuries, prepare them for surgery and healing, if possible, and after years, they begin developing the first ever elephant prosthetic legs. First they try it on a baby elephant who arrived with her mother in tow on the truck, after days of travel, and then soon, they try it on their first landmine victim, who's injury was far more severe. Writer/director Windy Borman really gets at your heartstrings with this film, but how could you not after seeing these poor beautiful creatures in some useless and unnecessary pain. 5 STARS

THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH was the official Opening Night Premiere film for the festival, and star Lea Thompson was in attendance accepting the Female Indie Icon Award for the festival, and she and director Jim Hemphill were gratious enough to take a photo with me, and as soon as I figure out how to get the photo from my camera to my computer, and then onto my Facebook, I'll post it on my Facebook. As for the film, it was one of the very best in the festival. It's basically two people, who were once married, Thompson, and the wonderful John Shea, as they spend an evening together going out to dinner and talking. He's a jazz musician with a regular piano gig at a club, she remarried rich enough to afford to become a successful author, and they go through all the conflicting emotions of marriage, their divorce, their current feelings for each other, they're current positions in life, etc. The title, "The Trouble with the Truth," I believe is reference to saying the things people really want to say, and they dance around the truths for awhile in this film. It's slightly inspired by "My Dinner with Andre," but I think it felt like an extended segment from Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage," one of the later scenes from that film, although it probably plays out, about how something really would. I'm prone to like films like these, but, the fact is, if there's a film that I would want to see again from the festival right now, it'd be this one. 5 STARS

Well, that's all for now. I'll blog later about the rest of the films I saw at the festival, including many of the short films I saw, and there was a lot of them, as I still have to sort through most of my pamphlets, my literature, my business cards. Boy do I need to get business cards of my own, it's so much better and easier than constantly writing out your blog and name on yellow legal pad, as I found out very quickly and then, often.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

MY MAFIA INTERVIEWS: DAYS 1 & 2 AT THE LAS VEGAS FILM FESTIVAL



NOTE: This article is written in a style intentionally meant to be similar to gonzo journalism, in the sense that I do my best to recount the events that occurred to me, as best I can recall them. I wasn't intoxicated by any means, but as I was taken aback and startled beyond belief, and my notes are as scribbled and scattered as my thoughts and emotions at the time, I feel that the best matter to convey these events is to you, the readers, is to take this style of writing.

How did I end up in this? Five movies into Day 2 of the Las Vegas Film Festival, and suddenly, I'm sitting at a table in the Tempo Bar at the Las Vegas Hotel, interviewing the Mafia.

It was the first break between movies that was longer than ten minutes, but I didn't realize that right, so I was hanging around the entrance and red carpet waiting around for Lea Thompson, who was accepting an award later, not realizing she wouldn't be there for another hour. That's when a women called to me, "Hey, you; come here. You want to talk to the real Tony Montana? Shocked by the question, I said "Sure?" Then she mentioned that Frank Culotta's coming by. "You want to talk to him too?" This woman was the manager of all these mobsters. "How did you know these people?" I sooned learned that she was Henry Hill's wife. "Henry Hill, as in "Goodfellas"" Yes, that Henry Hill. I tried to ask if she was the person Lorraine Braccho's character was based on, but the words couldn't slip by my tongue, but I wouldn't be surprised at all. As to her managing, she described herself as a "Pitbull with tits," and I can't come up with a more accurate description of her. At one point, and she could see that I was shy and nervous, I mentioned that I was afraid of people, in general, which is to some extent true. I had one instinct that told me to run away and hide from all these legendary people that I've heard so much about, growing up as a local Las Vegas Italian with a family all from Jersey. My heart's racing; my mind's racing! Tony Spilotro's driver is driver is being called over, to be interviewed, by ME!? Mrs. Hill feeds me some questions to ask him, and I think I did, but I don't remember doing it now, but according to my notes, that I can barely read, I did. Yes, I remember now. In Federal Prison for RICO, conspiracy, along with 36 other people, because his boss Spilotro, gave him a check that he gave to Benny Binion, and Binion cashed it, because it was from his friend, of course he'd cash, not aware that the money in the account was stolen, or something along those lines. The details are blurry, on my notepad, and in real life. And he talked about being in jail with Harry Claiborne, the first Federal Judge to ever be imprisoned while on the bench, and he was later impeached. He talked about an argument he had with him, over Claiborne wanted to be photographed in front of a tree, in prison, posing like he was still cloaked with the invincibility of a Federal Judge's Cloak. After a few moments, I sat at the bar with Mrs. Hill and Silent Willie, who was the name on all the checks and documents, (The Silent partner that handled the money) and they talk a little bit about old times, while  waited for Frank Cullato to arrive. Mrs. Hill talked a bit about her late husband, who had passed away a few weeks earlier. I remembered that in the pamphlet for the festival, their was an obituary on him, but it never occurred to me that he was meant to appear, or had appeared at the festival before. Cullota finally comes down the casino floor, and I've been told to act like a big shot reporter by Mrs. Hill, make him think I'm someone very important. He has a firm solid handshake, and a great sense of humor. I was a little more confident, and clear at this point, but I still struggled to get out my words. I asked him about the festival, where he's talking tomorrow about being a technical advisor to "Casino," a panel discussion that I'm hoping to attend, he talked about Vegas. His work at the Frontier, the Fremont, and Stardust, where he made sure nobody cheated the casinoes (and to catch those who do), and ran an Italian restaurant for awhile. We talked a little about celebrities. Sinatra, Martin, Elvis, etc. How Vegas was in the old days. That's a subject I can listen to all day, even at my most dazed and confused state, learning of the way the town once was from those who were there, is one of the most romantic things people can talk about today. Romantic in the literary sense. "It's not like it used to be; it was so much better back then." Culotta would say. I asked how he got to work on "Casino", and we talked a bit about Nicolas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese. It was around this time that the table got surrounded by Las Vegas Seven, a weekly alternative magazine that I used to hate for publishing Rex Reed movie reviews, and began taking photos. Photos that I'm in! Boy, I hope I never do anything illegal, 'cause next week, when they're published, Bam!  Corrobating with a known convicted mobster. I'm screwed if there's a RICO case brought against me. (CORRECTION! It wasn't the Las Vegas Seven, it was SpyOnVegas.com taking the photos) I ended the interview, as I could tell that others wanted to grab Frank's attention at the time, and he had been gracious. They were all nice and gracious, the friendliest murderers I've ever been in a hotel bar with in fact. I went on to leave peacefully, with notebooks filled with notes, and watched from a distance, and took a quick photo of all the mobsters, which may or may not have actually been shot, considering my camera skills are considerably weak, but it was worth it nonetheless.

One minute, I was minding my own business. Trying not to get noticed and caught up in the middle of the action in fact, and the next, I'm being asked to interview legendary mobsters. One second, my 1st sentence of my 1st Film Festival Blog was going to go like this: "Day 1 of the festival, I arrive early and head over to collect my VIP passes, before leaving the hotel to go home and watch my brother. Day 2..." It still goes like that, and I'll still talk about the six movies I saw today, and the many more I'll see tomorrow and Sunday, and after I escaped to the payphone to tell my Mother, to tell somebody what just happened, I talked to a guy from the Showtime show "Gigalos", who I didn't recognize, and yes, I eventually got my photo with the wonderful Lea Thompson, who so much prettier in real life than she is on screen, you have to see it to believe it. But I got to, for a brief moment in time, sit down with Mob, and there's no way I can really top that if I tried, and it's documented. A shy film blogger like me? This moment in time, that lasted, maybe an hour, is one of the strangest and most amazing moments of my life, and the Festival, is only half-over.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #38: "ALBERT NOBBS", "GOON," "THE RUM DIARY", "THE TREE," "TOMBOY," "THE MILL AND THE CROSS", "THE WAVE," "BLANK CITY" and MORE!

Okay, big week this week. Lots of movies this week, and I'm going to be watching a lot more this weekend, as I'm going to attend and report from the Las Vegas Film Festival. I won't be there every second, but I'll be documenting everything I can when I'm there, so there's gonna be a couple reports from there in the next upcoming blogs. I'm glad I'm finally starting to get some comments being made, but I still want people to make and post their TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS. I've gotten a few, but I want to get more, 'cause in the future, I'm gonna be following this up as we document each list, and keeping track of what gets picked, and how often. Speaking of TV, the Primetime Emmy nominations are going to be announced tomorrow morning, don't think I've forgotting, but because I'll be busy at the festival, my analysis of the nominations are going to be pushed to next week, but I will get to them as Emmy night really starts approaching. Also, approaching, we're less than a hundred hits away from 10,000, not bad for our first year! So everybody, get a few people to check out this blog, and let's blow past 10,000 and start making our way towards 100,000!

Alright a lot of movies to get to, so without further adieu, onto the movies!

ALBERT NOBBS (2011) Director: Rodrigo Garcia

4 STARS

It took Glenn Close decades for "Albert Nobbs," to finally be made into a feature film. She originated the role Off-Broadway, back in 1982. She's had this part pestering inside her for years, and she's good at it. She wrote, acted, produced, and even wrote lyrics to the songs for "Albert Nobbs", and yet, I found myself constantly wondering whether she should've chosen to cast someone else.  Albert Nobbs (Oscar-nominee Close) is a woman, who disguises herself as a man, in the late 1800s, Ireland. Why? Because it's easier to find work if you're a man during this day and age. She works as a butler at a nice hotel. No one suspects she's actually a woman. Days she works, and at night, she stays in her little private quarters where there's sparcely any furniture short of a bed, and a few items. Hidden underneath a loose board, she saves money, dreaming of one day opening a tobacco shop, possibly taking in a wife. Despite having been witness to some of the upper crust's debauchery, she's so single-minded, it seems like she may have missed most of what's before her eyes. For the first time, her charade becomes threatened when Hubert Page (Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer) spends the night. He's been hired to paint a bit of the hotel, and the owner, Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) decides to have Hubert bunk with Albert for the night. After Albert is exposed, she tries to beg Hubert not to tell, not realizing that Hubert is also a man, posing as a woman. She tells her story, about heading out in her husband's clothes after he passed, and his wife, Cathleen (Bronagh Gallagher). This seems to confuse Albert, shocked to find that a woman has married a woman, but it inspires Albert to begin courting a wife of his own. He sets his eyes on Helen (Mia Wasikowska) a young maid at the hotel, who Albert is taken with. She gets warned multiple times that Helen is trouble, and is going with Joe (Aaron Johnson), the hotel's new boiler room helper and fix-it guy, who's scheming to get to America, and is willing to use Helen to scheme money from Albert, if she can. It's an awkward courtship at best, but a genuine one from Albert, even though he's obsessed with his dream tobacco shop. It's hard to tell whether or not Albert is gay, a transvestite, or just doing what she can to survive. In a wonderful monologue, she admits that she doesn't know her own real name, and when orphaned at age 14, he started to pass as a guy so as not to be attacked, and for work. It's possible that this is the closest Albert has even come to even thinking about sexuality. I mentioned that Close might have miscasted herself in the role. Ten or fifteen years ago, she wouldn't have been miscast, and still she gives an amazing performance, but she does seem out-of-place in a role that probably is better-suited for a lesser-recognizable actress, and a younger one. It especially seems weird when Albert starts courting Helen, since Wasikowska, a great actress, one of my favorites, but she's 23, and she's playing her age, and Glenn Close, one of our greatest actresses, and she's quite beautiful, but she didn't get her first movie role 'til she was 30, and that was 30 years ago. It plays into Albert's naivete, but it still seems strange. The make-up, which also got an Oscar nomination, helps, but it's not like we're not familiar with Glenn Close's career up 'til now. It doesn't play the way they're trying to play. I'm still highly recommending this film though, and despite that age problem, there's a lot to like here. The first hour, is especially good, Janet McTeer's performance, I thought was quite special, maybe moreso than Close's even. Close also made a very smart choice for director, with Rodrigo Garcia. They had worked together on two of his previous films. He made "Mother and Child," last year, which made my ten best list, and he's incredibly good at writing and picking stories, about women, all kinds of women, and showing the relationships and connections between them. He makes this movie, about as good as it could've been, a lot of that is him. I wonder a bit still about, how good the film, could've had it been made, years earlier like it should've been, but this is still quite and memorable film.

GOON (2012) Director: Michael Dowse

3 STARS

A disappoint guy walks up to the bar. Bartender says "What's wrong". Guy says, "I just came from the Spectrum. I bought a ticket to see the fights, and instead, a hockey game broke out." That's an old joke, but it certainly seemed appropriate for "Goon". If that guy wanted to see fights, he would've gotten them in this movie, which seems to portray hockey as a bunch of guys skating around, waiting for the next fight to break out. A goon is hockey terms, is a guy who's on the team, not on the first line, but probably the third or the fourth, who's main job is to beat the hell out of the other team. Usually you put him on a star player to try and knock him out, or at least, make him think twice about trying to score as much as he can. You don't have to teach me about goons, as a lifelong hockey fan, and Flyers fan, a team once referred to as the "Broad Street Bullies," for the their size, and their willingness to fight, I certainly appreciate those guys on the team, that don't do as much scoring, but always find themselves bloodied and toothless on the rink. (I wonder what Dave Schultz thinks of this film.) Based supposedly on a true story, the "Goon," is Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a former bouncer who goes to a minor-league hockey game with his friend one day, and finds himself getting into, and winning a fight in the stands, with one of the other team's player. This catches the eye of Halifax's Coach Oglivey (Richard Clarkin), and being in last place, he decides to take a chance on him. They need a goon to protect their egotistical star Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), and Glatt can fight, we just need to teach him to skate. Chad's a nice guy, but he does what is asked, and pretty soon, he becomes one of the best goons in the league, right around the time Ross Shea (Liev Schrieber) a legendary NHL goon, is just about ready to retire. He also starts dating a hockey fan, Eva (Alison Pill), who sees that Chad's a nice guy despite his job, and despite having a boyfriend, she starts going with him. Not an unusual practice for her actually, she sleeps around a lot, but it's a little different with Chad, and as she tries to deny it, she knows it. "Goon," isn't exactly what I'd call a realistic film in terms of hockey. It's about the equivalent of those "Blitz" video games are to the actual NFL I guess. Lot more blood and violence than hockey, but I got into the film anyway. Scott is good here as Glatt, who's not the smartest guy in the room, or the most talented, but he's smart enough to know that he isn't. He'd like to think he can be a pretty good hockey player at some point, but deep down, he knows that his job, is basically being a bouncer on skates, but as long as he's happy, he seems okay with it. There's a few typical sports movie cliches, but "Goon"'s not your typical sports film. The film it actually reminded me the most of is "The Wrestler," oddly enough, as they're both character studies of people who abuse their bodies for their careers. It's not nearly as good a film, but it's also not aiming that high. "Goon," is a comedy, and a funny at times, but I mostly appreciated it as a character study, and I think it was a good one.

THE RUM DIARY (2011) Director: Bruce Robinson

2 1/2 STARS

The prose of Hunter S. Thompson is some of the most magnificient pieces of writing made in the last-half of the twentieth century, but it never seems to work when we translate that work to screen. I think I know why, and the reason is somewhat obvious. The first-person nature of Thompson's work, gonzo journalism, as it's called now, where you take as many mind-altering substances as possible and then write about your experiences as you see them, all have the point-of-view of Thompson, and one of the things that film has difficulty with, is a first-person perspective, especially one so unique. "The Rum Diary," adapted from an early Thompson novel that was published after his suicide, about his early days as a journalist in Puerto Rico, has some moments, but overall, you feel like you're only getting a second-hand tale, from a first-rate observer. The Thompson stand-in is Kemp (Johnny Depp, who helped get the novel published as he was friends with Thompson after portraying him in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"), who between drinks write some in-depth articles for a small paper in San Juan. He meanders from place to place and person-to-person, as we do. His boss, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) doesn't like him much, as he never meets his deadline, although he finds a friend in Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), another reporter who understands that reporting an English-language paper in Puerto Rico, is pretty much the bottom of the barrel in the journalism world. What he uncovers and investigates is some form of real estate development deal, that's on the precipice of altering Puerto Rico forever. There's some other good actors who come in and out of the movie like Aaron Eckhart, who comes in, usually point to some large model that seems to be either in their office, or on the beach, on in their office on the beach, and apparently, something illegal is going down. I honestly can't remember all the specifics, and I really couldn't care less, although for Kemp, he sees this as a miscarriage of justice, and is determine to write about it, despite being fired. The last part of the movie involves an attempt to break into the newspaper in the middle of the night, and begin publishing the story anyway. There's a few notes at the end, talking about how this event is what supposedly transformed forever Hunter Thompson, as a fighter of the status quo, determined to undermine power whenever he can. I think I personally would've enjoyed the journey, but it's kinda like a guy at a bar, who won't shut up about some place he went to and how great it is, and all you want to do is drink your drink in peace. I had some hope for "The Rum Diary", especially with Bruce Robinson directing it. He directing one of the best drunken road trip films with "Withnail & I," but he hasn't directed in almost 20 years until now. He does what he can, he also wrote the script, but if ever there's a writer who's work should remain in print, it's Hunter S. Thompson.

THE TREE (2011) Director: Julie Bertoccelli

2 1/2 STARS

I don't know how they did or where they found it, but the tree, that's at the center of "The Tree," actually looks a little bit like a family tree. A giant, wide bark that twists and turn as much as the branches, which spread out far and wide, so much so that this tree actually gives shade, and not just, an illusion of shade depending on the location of the sun. When Peter O'Neil (Aiden Young), suddenly finds himself unconscious, with his pickup truck still moving and his eight-year old Simone (Morgana Davies) standing up on the back, and it slowly crashing into the tree, it shades the entire truck. Maybe I've lived in a desert two long and tress like these are far more common in the world than I thought, but it was impressive nonetheless. Peter's was unconscious, because he had suddenly died, and now his wife, Dawn, (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is alone, going through a bad depression where he uselessness is borderline intolerable, especially to the older of her four kids. Simone comes to believe that her father is now inside the tree, and that she's still able to hear him, and talk to him inside the tree. It's a nice idea, and just enough of a whimsical fantasy for a kid to have, but the tree begins to be a problem. It's clogging up plumbing systems throughout the area. The O'Neal's toilet at one time, is opened to find it filled with frogs. The neighbors are fed up, and have begun protesting to have it cut down, but there's steadfast refusal from Dawn, and especially Simone, who come to truly believe in the tree's magical powers, even after a massive storm, leads to part of the tree, crashing through the O'Neal's house. "The Tree", is a metaphor, that is the one thing the movie makes completely clear. For awhile, I was willing to go with it, but it didn't stop unfortunately. "The Tree," was literally the root cause of all the problems. (Sorry for the pun, but I had to.) It just slammed this metaphor, so thick and so forced it upon us, that there really isn't much to the movie, outside of the tree. I got it. I got the first, I got it the second. The frogs were a cute touch, but we're getting it, and getting it, over and over, and again and again. I started off well, and interesting, but I just can't recommend "The Tree". Good idea, but it's one of those where, you gotta know, when it's too much, or when it's too subtle,... and it's was just too much heavyhandedness, for me, and by the end, I just lost interest. Can't recommend it.

TOMBOY (2011) Director: Celine Sciamma

4 1/2 STARS



It's takes us about ten minutes in for "Tomboy," to tell us what those who walk into the film blind, might not figure out. Up until then, we've seen just a happy family of four, with one on the way. There's a precocious younger sister, and an overprotective older brother, or at least, that's the roles they're playing. It's easy to make that assumption. Laure (Zoe Heran), isn't a brother, but she dresses and acts like one. She's ten-years old, and when she's mistaken for a boy by those in the playgound, she doesn't correct it. His younger sister Jeanne (Maloon Levana), loves her sister, but Laure's getting older. Right on that line between teenager and kid, and right before their sexuality identity is more well-defined by their bodies. As the new kid in the neighborhood, she calls herself Mickael, and is soon accepted by the kids. Mickael's a good soccer player, and even starts seeing a girl, Lisa (Jeanne Disson). It's odd the coincidences of timing, as I had earlier reviewed "Albert Nobbs," another film about a girl disguising herself as a boy, but that was always as much survival technique as it was, a recognition of a person's personal sexual identity. Laure rejects wearing more feminine clothes like dresses. Her parents (Sophie Cattani and Matthie Demy) are distracted with the recent move to the Paris suburb, and with another kid on the way. At times, it seems that they're so clueless about Laure that at first, I thought maybe they were purposefully raising her as a boy. They're not, but they give their kids some freedom. A lot of girls go through a tomboy stage, when they're young, but many grow out of it as their bodies become more well-defined. (Kinda like the Alyssa Milano character on "Who's the Boss?") Of course, only recently have we even given much thought to people being born with one physical sex, but a different mental sex, and we're starting to try and recognize it in kids. I'm not quite positive of what to think about that yet, but in Laure's situation, and in "Tomboy," there hardly ever seems to be any wrong step. Every part of the film seems believable. In fact, writer/director Celine Schiamma gets some of the greatest performances out of children that I've ever seen. It's the second feature-length film of hers I've seen, after "Water Lillies," which was also a good film about girls in a Parisian suburb, who are exploring their sexuality. "Tomboy," is a better film, in many ways a more important film. It explores these issues in ways that they haven't been before. "Tomboy," seems realistic. I believed every step of the situation Laure gets herself in. It's practically inevitable that "Tomboy," would get made, but that doesn't mean it was going to be good no matter what. Celine Schiamma is starting to become a favorite director of mine, and I can't wait to see what she'll make next.

THE MILL AND THE CROSS (2011) Director: Lech Majewski

1 STAR

A detailed explanation of a painting, and some random Bergmanesque footage, does not a movie make. I seriously just want to end the movie review right there and move on. "The Mill and the Cross," was unbearably boring. The movie was mostly silent, and the dialogue they had, sounded like the most uninteresting art critic/teacher, ever. What the hell were they thinking? Seriously, did they get so bogged down in this concept, that they really didn't bother, taking a second look at a film and wonder, "Is this gonna be entertaining, at all?" Strangely, the concept, at least, the beginning part of it, is a decent one. Take a famous painting, in this case, "The Mill and the Cross," by Pieter Bruegel (Rutger Hauer), and use that as inspiration for a film. That's not unreasonable at all. In fact, a good film was made a couple years with this concept, "Girl with a Pearl Earring", but what they did with that film, was take the painting, which has some mystery involved in it's creation, so there's some room to be creative, and imagine a new drama from it. The filmmakers however, particularly director/co-write Lech Majewski, instead, is so infatuated with the painting, that the entire movie, is basically the painter, talking with his friend, Nicholas Jonghelick (Michael York) describing all the little details, and his reasoning behind the painting, as he's creating it. (I've posted the painting above. Image from Google Images..) It takes, all the life in this scene, portrays the reality of it. Quiet, dull, as though they're some kind pseudo-Bergmanesque imagery, to show that he's attempting to recreate the reality of the time in his art. You know, I can be impressed and infatuated with a painting at times too, but how often do you want to stand there looking at it for an hour and a half? You couldn't get me to do that with the Mona Lisa. This isn't a film, this an art history class essay. You couldn't have picked a worse medium to display this material if you tried. Filmmaking, is the editing of images to tell a story. A painting, is a single image that's used to tell a story. Some can tell amazing stories, but they are not films. I don't care how detailed it is, you can't just portray a painting, in the medium of film, and expect it to be a good movie. You can't expect it to be a movie actually. "The Mill and the Cross, is boring; it's slow; it's pretentious; it was static on the screen; it's dialog with mind-numbing and uneventful, and there wasn't enough of it... did I mention it was slow and boring. You know, I really hated this film. The more I think about it, the more I hate it. Of all the things one could do, with this painting as an influence, why would you come with something like this?

THE WAVE (2011) Director: Dennis Gansel

3 STARS

For a while, "The Wave," was very hard for me to watch. I knew what was happening, and instinctively, I knew how it would end up, and it became very difficult for me to actually literally sit down and watch it. I didn't look too deeply into why I had that feeling, and why, now keep in mind, I rarely do this, but I ended up playing the movie at a little faster speed than normal for part of the film, 'cause I really needed to get through it, and I just couldn't physical sit there and watch it, but now I wonder if it's possible that I did actually know what was going to happen. Here's a rarity, "The Wave," is a German film that's actually based on an American Television Special. The original was an afternoon special, and it actually won an Emmy for Best Children's Program back in the early '80s, and it's definitely scary to think that it can easily be adaptable to today. "The Wave," takes place in a German high school, where there's a special weekly class, intended to teach students the basic principles of autocracy. They have a choice between a couple classes, and most of them probably thought it was a lesser of bad choices, including the teacher Mr. Wegner (Jurgen Vogel) who doesn't want the class either, but since he's stuck it with it, he begins an experiment where the students begin to form an autocratic group. Placing this film in Germany, is right, and all the more disturbing. They think a group like the Nazis could never regain the power that they had, but within a week, they get caught up in this little group of their own called "The Wave". They start stepping in line, they start wearing white t-shirts to school and begin ostracizing those who don't completely join in with the group, in class, and outside of it. They have a Facebook page, and they star graffitiing a logo they created for their group, all over town. Pretty soon, it's getting out of hand. For some reason, it took three years for "The Wave," to hit American theatres, which is odd 'cause I actually think it'd be fairly popular here for a foreign film, especially considering the original was created here. For me, maybe I've seen the original or heard it at one point and subliminally remembered it, that disturbed me more than most films, or maybe the subject matter would've disturbed me anyway. I'm recommending it, 'cause it's effect is certainly memorable and powerful, and I think it got the reaction that it was aiming for. Personally, I have enough nightmares of high school that I don't really like the idea of an added "dictatorial cult-like kliq" be implanted into them. Although considering my high school, if someone had tried to do it, I wouldn't have been shocked if they had succeeded.

BLANK CITY (2011) Director: Celine Danhier


3 STARS


You know, I got to admit, that growing up on "Friends," "Sex and the City," and Woody Allen movies that it's a little hard to picture New York in the '70s. I've heard about it, I've seen movies, some TV shows, I've listened to the music that came out of that area, especially some of those CBGB house bands that would later be clarified as "Punk" or "New Wave", but from most accounts, the Studio 54 was a rare beacon of Caliguliatic light in otherwise roach-infested cesspool of New York. It is here that a community of renegade artists started making movies, and this Post-Warhol filmmaking created what eventually became the Independent Film Movement. "Blank City," takes a look at this era of No Wave filmmaking, with clips from the films, interviews with many of the directors, actors, and other noted New Yorkers to document this little known era of recent cinema history. I actually am being introduced to many of these filmmakers and artists for the first time through this film. Other than Jim Jarmusch and John Waterw really, I don't know a whole lot of the names and films being mentioned, although I remember seeing some old clips of some of them in other places over the years. A lot of them were on music documentaries, especially those on Blondie, as Debbie Harry was often an actor in these films, along with the likes of John Lurie and Steve Buscemi to name a few. They essentially took the techniques of the earlier avant-garde filmmakers, but really stressed narratives, oddly enough. The results were raw and ultra low-budget, if any budget at all (Half the time, they just stole the cameras or the film and got their friends to act), and surprisingly powerful, and they ranged from all genres. Horrors, camp, romance, political allegory, science-fiction, some of the first films to document hip-hop can be traced back to this era. "Blank City," is one of the more insightful documentaries about filmmaking I've seen in a while. Normally, most subjects involving film for documentaries are things I already know a little bit about, but not here. "Blank City," made me want to look up movies like "Smithereens," or "Permanent Midnight,"  and filmmakers like Eric Mitchell, Cassandra Stark, and Amos Poe. "Blank City," is a cool look at these Alphabet City filmmakers, and the beginning of the legacy that man followers aren't even aware that they created. Not that I wish the city was broke and poor again so that we can recreate New York City like the '70s and early '80s to get the kind of creativity that once thrived there again, but, let's say I have a time machine for a second....

UNDERTOW (2010) Director: Javier Fuentes-Leon

4 STARS
The Peruvian film "Undertow," is one of the more unique films I've seen about grief, particularly hidden grief that one has to keep within themselves. Miguel (Christian Mercado) is married to Mariela (Tatiana Astengo). His a fisherman in a poor, traditional beach town, and he cares for his wife, who's pregnant with their first kid. Miguel was having an affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona). It seems like nobody in the town knew, as they prepare for Tiago's funeral. He drowned himself in the ocean, but Miguel still goes out, and imagines the times he had, and the times he wishes he still had with him. At first, it's hard to even tell whether it's a fantasy or a flashback, but no, Tiago is a ghost. He's a figment that haunts Miguel. He's still in love with him. The town told many rumors about Tiago, like how he's always painting, but nobody ever sees any of his paintings.  , but as the family strives for the funeral to be in the ridgest of old-time tradition, Miguel is finding it harder and harder to keep Miguel out of his mind, and suddenly Santiago doesn't just start appearing, when he's alone. I mentioned the film's about hidden grief, and it is, but it's also about finding finding oneself. For Miguel, it happened too late, and only after Taigo's death did he finally come to terms with his-, no that's the wrong term, "come to terms with," accepted himself as homosexual. That he could be happy being gay. Could be. He's still married, he has a kid, that's almost here, and his lover has passed. Everything's too late for Miguel. There's often scenes shown where him and Tiago are holding hands, without anybody noticing. I think they're imagined in Miguel's mind, similar to Tiago's ghostly presence, it's not just him that's gone, but it's the life that could've been that left with him. "Undertow," is quite good; it's actually better than the way I'm describing it. I get a sense and a mood for this Peruvian village. One of those things where specificity is beneficial. I think I could make my way through this area of the world, and it makes the story of loss, that much more universal. "Undertow," is a solid first feature film from Director Javier Fuentes-Leon, hopefully he's got more coming soon. He's clearly got a knack for taking even simple stories and making them seem new and refreshing, and told in a different way than before. There's been some good movies out of Peru lately, "Undertow," is one more of them.

VENUS NOIRE (2010) Director: Abdellatif Kechichie

5 STARS

"Black Venus," or "Venus Noire," as I call it, is one of the saddest biopics I've ever seen. It's the story of Saartjes "Sarah" Baartman (Yahima Torres), a woman who lived one of the most degrading lives ever. She's originally from South Africa, where she had an unwed child with a Dutch settler and left her alone with a child, who ended up dying from illness when he was two. She desired to escape South Africa, whatever way she can, and she took a job as a carnival act for Hendrick Caezar (Andre Jacobs). On top of being, at worst a slave for him, and at best, an undervalued partner, her act is to be a so-called African savage that's been tamed enough to be shown off like King Kong to freak show crowds.  The performance is humiliating. She wears a body suit that showcases her large figure, and at the end of the show, she gets touched, usually on her ass, by members of the crowd. The show got brought to court for decency and taste concerns in London, but when the act moved to France, where they were more appreciative of the performance as an act, she performed for the upper bourgeoisie at the highest of social gatherings and parties. A lifetime of performing like this, would be a horrific life in of itself, but she then attracts the attention of some misguided scientists, who are fascinated by her body. The roundness of the buttocks, an unusually large labia, the curvature and muscularness of her body. The poke and pry every inch of her, believing that she is the missing link between apes and humans. As her act runs it's course, she spends the rest of her young life, working at a brothel, eventually dying from illness at age 27. The movie begins and ends with the prototype the scientists made of her, which they called, ironically, the Black Venus. Yahima Torres gives one of the greatest performances I've seen in years at Saartjes Baartman. She doesn't say that much in the film ironically. She testifies to the performance value of her stage act, and even then, she remains quiet, almost indifferent. She was determined to not go back to South Africa, and I think that's a clue, the infinite sadness of her life before, must've devasted her. She seems in another life, like she'd be a proud and powerful woman, but that women is beaten out of her, literally at times, but definitely metaphorically. "Venus Noire," is one powerful film about a woman who had a fascinating life, that absolutely nobody envies.

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1999) Director: Guy Ritchie

3 STARS

You know, I'm not entirely sure what people respond to when they watch your average Guy Ritchie film. I've seen practically all of them, and honestly, I think the one I liked best, strangely enough, until now was "Swept Away," the most un-Ritchie thing he's done, and I might have been the only person alive who gave that film a somewhat likable review. He's clearly got a certain style, where he brings together a bunch of eclectic characters, and puts them in a situation that somehow they're all connected to, usually a heist, although if anybody can piece together any of his films from a beginning to end, explaining what exactly happened, I'd be shocked. That's not a problem per se, if I think too deeply watching "The Big Sleep," I'll miss a good movie, but sometimes I think he uses so many unusual shots and editing techniques, in order to be kinetic and different, that he dilutes any actual human interest we may have in the characters that his films may have had. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," his first feature, and one of his best films, is a good example. He hasn't become so heavily influenced by flash in his filmmaking, so there's actually some substance in this film, but still, it's hard to follow the four-lads, Eddy (Nick Moran) the cardshark who enters a poker game somewhat unwisely with his three friends', Tom (Jason Flemyng), Bacon (Jason Statham) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher) money. He's in big debt to Hatchet Harry (P.M. Moriarty), so he's got a week to pay his debt, and they all decide to pull off a heist. In the meantime, another crime that Hatchet Harry pulls, regarding two valuable shotguns get botched a couple times, in a couple different ways.  Here, this film slows down enough for us to be properly introduced to the four guys at the beginnning of the film, and the movie isn't so rushed, that we can still somewhat reasonably keep track of them, and what they're up to, when they all come together and start on this heist, or sit down at a bar and start talking. The dialogue is Tarantino-esque, although not on the same level, but just interesting enough to listen to. For whatever reason, these stylized Guy Ritchie crime thriller/comedies, whatever the hell they think they are, are popular. Imdb's poll has "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," is ranked at 154 on their Top 250. I don't particularly get it, but at least with "Lock..." I hung on, until the end, and still managed to care about the result, while doesn't happen much in his other films like "Snatch." and "RockNRolla", where I kept looking at my watch, waiting for the energy to cool down. So for that reason, I'm recommending it.

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS (2003) Director: Peter Mullan

4 1/2 STARS

There's a line in the movie "Saved!" that I think about sometimes. They were talking about those places that claim they can cure homosexuality. It went something like "Places like Mercy House aren't their for the kids, they're their for the parents to send them". I'm misquoting badly I'm sure, but that idea of simply disowning or eliminating unwanted, supposed shames, is not new. "The Magdalene Sisters," takes place in Ireland in the '60s, and follows girls who are sent to a local Magdalene Laundry until they've been reprieved of their sins. There sins include childbirth out of wedlock, or attracting the attention of boys, and other so-called "sins," that the church will claim they'll take in the goodness of their heart. The Magdalene Laundries was supposedly where they'd learn to attone for their sins. What it really was, was a humilating slave labor, where the women would do all the nun's laundry all day. They'd be beaten if they ever talked, and when some tried to escape, they were sent back. One of them is named Rose (Dorothy Duffy), but they already have a Rose, so the nuns call her Patricia instead. One girl, Crispina (Eileen Walsh) is a bit of a simpleton. She's there for having a kid out of wedlock. Occasionally, she sees her kid, who's brought outside the gate by a friend who adopted her. Another girl, Una (Mary Muray) tries to escape, but then gets sent back by her father, who disowns her. What her career choice ends up being will certainly make you think. Bernadette's (Nora-Jones Noone) the leader of the group. Another girl is suddenly picked up by her brother after four years, because he's come of age and left the family to begin with. She sees the lavish food the nuns feast off of at lunch, and the money they take in for keeping these girls. She's accused of having sex too young, which she hasn't ironically, but guys make googly-eyes over her, and she doesn't do a particularly good job, making sure they stop, at least from one teacher's perspective. Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan), is the head of the institution, and she's as vicious a nun as I've heard them describe from those unfortunate enough to attend Catholic school. These laundries existed as recently as 1996. I mentioned that this story, based on actual women and events, took place in the '60s, but any resemblance to the decade inside the laundry, will never be noticed. It might as well be last century. "The Magdalene Sisters," is another chilling reminder of just how un-Christianlike the Catholic Church has a tendency to be, especially in places where they have real power over the people. It's not an easy film to watch, but it's a powerful one. Rarely has a shot of a girl looking into a shop window, staring at a washing machine, been so heartwrenching.

I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN (2007) Director: Amy Heckerling

3 STARS

"I Could Never Be Your Woman," wasn't released theatrically in the U.S. for some reason originally. It's a little bit odd consider the filmmaker's involved. Writer/Director Amy Heckerling is most famous for directing "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," as well as such popular comedies as "Look Who's Talking," and "Clueless", and is generally considered one of the major women filmmakers working in Hollywood, and she got some A-list talent for this film. Rosie (Michelle Pfieffer) is the head writer for a sitcom called "Yo Go Girl," which is aimed for the teen and pre-teen market. It's one of those shows where everyone's in high school, even though all the actors are in their thirties. She's a single Mom, beautiful, but aging in L.A. terms, and spends her days trying to keep her daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan) from inevitably falling in love with some kid in school named Dylan. Rosie, is a little too much of a teenager personality to begin with, and Izzie seems to know this, and their relationship is an intriguing one, that can involve everything from the correct disposal of naked Barbie dolls to each of them helping the other with advice about men. Rosie's lovelife been dormant since her divorce from Nathan (Jon Lovitz) who keeps stealing stuff from the house that they argue over who bought. (I would've stolen the Welcome Back, Kotter boardgame too.) While looking for auditions for a part, she meets Adam (Paul Rudd) a very talented actor who's clearly smitten with her, and the feeling's mutual. He's in his twenties, and she says she's in her thirties, which causes Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) to do a spit take. Oh yeah, Mother Nature is in this movie. She's basically used as an inner thought bubble for Rosie, as she gives off diatribes about how she can't stand how women are so focused on their careers, and delaying the natural evolution of settling down and having babies, and here's 40-year old Rosie, having fun with a much younger man. This idea of Mother Nature probably should've been cut, or maybe rethought, but it's so well casted and performed by Ullman, that I'd be reluctant to let it go too. There are some problems with the film, especially the last half-hour or so, which really doesn't work that well, and falls into some pretty bad rom-coms cliches. It takes a talented young actress like Ronan to pull off that scene at the talent show, where she's pretty good song parody artist. There's some good performance all around the film also by Fred Willard and Sarah Alexander, who I really never see enough of, ever. There's an interesting performance by Stacey Dash too; she plays the star of the TV show, playing a high school girl, and her and Heckerling are doing a bit of self-satirizing here, as she was in both the movie and TV series of "Clueless", which Heckerling created and also produced, briefly. (I'm one of the few that actually preferred the TV show to the movie, so that's partly why I bring that up) Pfieffer could be a stand-in for Heckerling as well to some extent here. "I Could Never Be Your Woman, is definitely not a perfect film. Rudd and Pfieffer's chemistry isn't great, it's not bad, but it's not great, and there does seem to be a few too many ideas being thrown together at the same time, it probably could've been smoother with a couple ideas left out, but overall, it's light, enjoyable, and pretty funny, and considering some of the romantic-comedies that have been in the theatres the last couple years, I'll take this film over most of them.