Tuesday, July 31, 2012


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


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


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


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


"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


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.

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