Thursday, August 23, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #41: "THE HUNGER GAMES," "BULLHEAD", "RAMPART", "PARIAH", "GOD BLESS AMERICA", "LIKE CRAZY", "WEEKEND," "BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY", "ROADIE", "ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS" and MORE!

Whew! Well, one of the oddities with having computers that are erratic is that instead of being online, writing up my blogs and things, I end up watching more movies, which kinda sucks, 'cause now I have to write more, without the proper means or capabilities. However, I managed to get done this new batch of movie reviews, and there's a lot of them this week. I also want to mention briefly the documentary "Marley" that was released on DVD last week. I saw that film at the Las Vegas Film Festival and gave it 5 STARS. You can find my mini-review of it on my blogs about the festival, but it's one of the most complete bio-documentaries I've seen in a while as it traces almost every aspect imaginable of Bob Marley's life story, definitely worth checking out.

I also have to point out a couple pieces of sad news this week. As many of you heard, Tony Scott committed suicide a couple days ago. I posted my Canon of Film entry on "Thelma & Louise," yesterday, directed by his brother Ridley as memorial to him. It's weird to me a bit, 'cause I've never liked any of Tony Scott's films. I wish I could say something other than that since he's passed, but from "The Hunger" to "Top Gun," to "True Romance," to what became his last film "Unstoppable," I've always admired his skills, but I've yet to see a film of his I've actually liked. That's a shame considering he was amazingly talented and by all accounts a great guy who worked on a lot of memorable projects as director or producer. Nobody, as far as I can tell saw this death coming, and it's really shaken up Hollywood for the time being, and the film-world at large. There's a lot of unanswered questions and theories right now, but a truly shocking and sad death to note. I haven't seen all his films, so hopefully I'll go through the rest of his canon one of these days and find stuff I do like, just a shocking and sad death.

I should also note that the Queen of Stand-Up passed away also. Phyllis Diller, basically influenced everybody from Joan Rivers to Kathy Griffin to any comic that wants to complain about there husband/wife. Look her up some days and you'll just laugh like hell. A true comedy legend and icon. She'll be missed as well.

Oh, also, I still want people to contribute list of their "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME"! So far, I've got four, counting me. I know there's more of you out there, write up a Top Ten list. Need many more ballots, and besides, it'll be fun.

Alright, that's all. Now onto this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) Director: Gary Ross

3 STARS

Just hearing about a handful of the plot to "The Hunger Games," going in, I was already having some grave concerns about it. The movie bore many similarities to other films that I wasn't a particular fan of, "Battle Royale," being the most notable. In my movie review for that film, I compared the idea of having a bunch of kids dropped on an island in order to fight to the death to a twisted and disturbing version of a pro wrestling pay-per-view. For awhile, there were some differences. The mood was more Shirley Jackson and based in horror-fiction than absurd attempted realism. The annual Hunger Games was approaching, where each of the 13 districts must have a man and woman represent them as tributes in a fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers after her 12-year-old sister Primrose (Willow Shields) was selected at the lottery by the games kabuki-dressed guide, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, is apparently under whatever that was). Joined by longtime acquaintance Peter Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), they're given a tutor in a former champion of the event from their district, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson, and he's been on a roll), and apparently a fashion designer, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), who gives them an outfit for a Grand entrance in the Capital for the tributes, where it looks like they come in, wearing an outfit of, actual fire. It is getting really hard not to point out pro wrestling comparisons here, btw. Grand entrances, an elaborate production, filled with fire behind them, and they're not even fighting yet, but the music starts, and the crowds chanting "Goldberg!" in unison.... See, I'm telling you, pro wrestling. There's even a colorful commentator in a bad hairpiece, who interviews and gives us some analysis and exposition when needed named Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and a Satan-bearded overseer of the game, who seemed to able to change and alter the situation, and the rules whenever he feels like it named Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and an older, seemingly quieter but perhaps wise overseer to him in President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Many of the contestants seem to have weird symbolic names like Glimmer and Marvel and Rue. Since this bizarre and gruesome tradition is televised with big ratings, I guess we can presume that it's saying something about modern media, or modern government or the political scene, or how they're all done for reality-show based entertainment. (Or maybe reality-show style entertainment of all forms, is simply stealing blatantly from professional wrestling. Hey, if I'm seeing the parallels in what's not only a popular movie, but a popular novel now, I betcha others will.) At the end, I'm not sure what to make of "The Hunger Games," actually. I can't say  I like the movie, but there were parts of it I liked, more technical stuff than the story, although it's nice to see a fairy tale with a female protagonist that's about her accomplishing a feat of strength, that was different. I was expecting her to get raped at least once during this film, so that was cool. There's some great acting by Lawrence and Harrelson especially, but across the board, if it wasn't a cartoonish character, there was some good work being done. I'm told that this book wasn't the first in the series, but that's okay with me, and actually, I think a sequel or two of what happens afterwards with these characters, might be more interesting. I'm still not sold on this structure of getting a bunch of people, and especially kids, together to have them kill each other as an effective storytelling tool. I'm on the fence on it, but I'll recommend it for what's good, and for some of the ways the movie does give us stuff to think about. It is parable of something, I don't know of what. I'd prefer the parable be secondary and have it work completely on it's own, in of itself, which I don't think it does. Yet, you can make any sort of modern-day parallels you want, (I'm choosing pro wrestling 'cause I'm a little baffled it's being used in this manner.) but maybe that says something about me. Like I said, I'm on the fence on this, but good acting and characters, especially in the lead, helps it out a lot. I don't see the children's book appealing to me, but as a movie, it's worth letting it seep into you, even if it doesn't really lead you to any significant revelations.  

BULLHEAD (2011) Director: Michael R. Roskam

4 STARS

"Bullhead," one of the Oscar nominees this year for Foreign Language Film, (Which was surprising originally since it was chosen as Belgium's entry over the Dardenne brother's "The Kid and the Bike") is at times, a little too subtle for us to fully understand the complexities of the story. I think the structure has something to do with it, and Roger Ebert's review even suggested that the placement of a flashback scene in the movie might have been better suited elsewhere, like the beginning. Instead, the film begins with Jacky (Matthias Schoenhaerts), who's a farmer that's built up on animal-growth hormones that he uses on the animals, and himself. He's big, and intimidating, and unpredictable. He gets those hormones, and testosterones because his Uncle is a cattle farmer. He helps him, and they often are dealing with shadowy members of the Belgian underworld. In one instance, their tasked with getting rid of a car that's involved in a murder. The flashback scene comes in the middle of this, and explains not only the behavior of Jacky, and why he is able to consume what should be deadly amount of these hormones, but also, the reason behind his current conflict with a man who their doing business with. Believe it or not, I just made this sound simpler than it plays in the movie, at least plot-wise. Emotionally, it certainly works. The flashback scene involves him, right at the beginning age of puberty. He has just noticed the girl who he will obsess over for the rest of his life. He's known her previously, but now, she's begun developing. Soon after, that same day in fact, he and a friend follow an older kid, who's making a living passing out porn in the woods, and when they're caught, he attacks him, permanently. (I'm reluctant as a man, and as a critic to describe the injury and manor of the attack, but it's about as gruesome as you can imagine.) It puts an unusual spin on everything that's happened before. It's powerful, as I was watching the movie, the heaviness of the film, was clear, but don't ask me to reconstruct the plot of what happened. It's a little disconcerting that he put the flashback scene in the middle. Maybe that was the point; either that, or he's trying to get us to understand that the trauma caused by the attack is ever-continuing, as though it's still happening now, as he's an adult and so overcompensated from what he lost that day, that he's become a brahma bull caricature of a man. There's a lot to grasp in "Bullhead," I think ultimately a little more than is needed, but it's definitely worth watching despite that.

RAMPART (2011) Director: Oren Moverman

4 1/2 STARS



I've spent the last few minutes or so, (When I'm not waiting for my slow-ass computer to move the hell along) writing, and re-writing these few opening lines for my review of Oren Moverman's film "Rampart". I know what I want to say about it, and how to describe it, but I'm having trouble with the exact terminology. At it's core, there's a simplicity to it. It's a character analysis. The character, is an incredibly corrupt cop named Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson). He's nickname is "Date Rape Dave," supposedly because of an incident where he shot and killed a man who was a serial date-rapist a few years back. Frankly, there's probably dozens of nicknames that the department could've given him, considering his behavior. There's so many adjectives that describe him, and I'd have to use at least a dozen to begin giving a proper explanation of him. Something better than having me do that, would be watching the movie and seeing Woody Harrelson's performance. He thinned up for the role. His character rarely eats, although he hates it when others waste food. He has two kids with two different wives, who are sisters, Barbara (Cynthia Nixon) and Catherine (Anne Heche), who all live together in the same house, and he occasionally, still sleeps with each of them. He works in the notorious Rampart Division, in the late '90s, one of the most notoriously corrupt police precincts in recent memory. (The TV show, "The Shield, which was one-time going to be called "Rampart", was loosely based on them) The date-rapist is one of the many crimes that he's being investigated for. He intelligent and slippery though. One time, he threatens the Assistant D.A. (Signorney Weaver)  that if he's fired, he'll get a law degree, and defend himself in court, and we believe him. He's occasionally looked to by others in his precinct to come up with court precedents to get them out of legal jams. (Although, occasionally he makes them up.) When he's caught on camera, beating up a suspect, he's suspended, but with pay, and refuses any kind of forced retirement or firing. He has some inside help in Hartshorn (Ned Beatty) a retired corrupt cop who has enough connections to get him out of trouble most of the time. He keeps him on the payroll during his suspensions. He sleeps unwisely with a defense attorney, Linda (Robin Wright). I've stuck to describing his actions, because I'm finding it utterly difficult to describe him. Yes, he's a corrupt cop, but the way he is, he'd be a corrupt whatever job he had. The question that we never get answered is how Dave became such a monstrous creature, and they don't give us an answer. He occasionally uses his time in Vietnam as an excuse. I'm halfway willing to bet that he might have never been to Vietnam, but if he was, he would've thrived. Indiscriminately killing and massacring in a jungle no less; he was built for that. He was built, for Vietnam, not Vietnam built him. I can think of a few comparison characters, like Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage's role in both "Bad Lieutenant" films. There's something different though about Harrelson's role here. Those characters thrived in breaking all the rules of the system, Dave Brown exists, to break the rules, piss off the system, and then show it in their faces how he manages to evade punishments. Oren Moverman's whose first film "The Messenger," earned him and Harrelson Oscar-nominations, co-wrote this film with James Ellroy, who's written on L.A. cops for years, and is one of the leading experts on the subject (On top of stories, and other screenplays, he wrote the books that inspired the film "L.A. Confidential"). There's corruption, and there's people investigating the corruption, (I didn't even mention Ice Cube's role as an I.A. officer who tails Brown) but this isn't a movie about solving or eradicating corruption. This isn't even a movie about the way a character like Brown would thrive in a corrupt police world like Rampart. It's a movie about Brown himself. A corrupt police force is just a little toy he likes to bend and twist and step on until it either breaks, or he blows it up.

PARIAH (2011) Director: Dee Rees

4 1/2 STARS

It was right after Obama was elected, when people started floating a few wild theories about how California, one of the supposedly most liberal states in the U.S., who easily elected Obama and pretty much a straight Democratic ticket, would actually lose the vote for, correct me if I'm wrong on the Wrong on the number, but Prop 8, which, either repealed Gay Marriage, or made it illegal, it doesn't matter the particulars, but Gay Rights had a shocking defeat in California. The first main theory about the odd discrepancy that arose was that Obama's election led to more African-American voting than usual, and they voted heavily against gay marriage. I remembered that well, because later that week, at an LBGT rally in Las Vegas, the comedienne Wanda Sykes came out publicly for the first time, partly due to that theory. It was never proven by the way, and personally, I don't buy it, but what is true is that, while among much of America, behaviors towards homosexuality has becomes for more progressive and accepting, progress has been slower in the African-American community. "Pariah," the first feature film by Director Dee Rees, based on her short film, examines this phenomenon. The film focuses on Alike, (Aspero Oduye) who goes by Lee when she's out in the clubs, especially with her friend Laura (Pernell Walker). I've noticed this kind of relationship before in the LBGT community. She's a close friend, but basically, she's a mentor and advisor. Laura had long been kicked out of her house, has more likely than not, spent nights living on the street, and is now living with her sister, trying to get her GED, but she tries to help Lee out by taking her to clubs, and trying to get her laid. Lee's a virgin, and there isn't exactly a lot of out people at her high school, although Bina (Aasha Davis), a more popular student, who's mother is close with Alike's mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans), has expressed some bi-curious thoughts. Audrey notices that Lee is gay. She knows Laura is, and works hard trying to force her to wear more girly clothes and all but bans Laura from being near here. Lee's father, Arthur (Charles Parnell) also begrudgingly knows she's gay. He's a high-level detective who's constantly at work all hours. That he's a cop is a clue to why he's ever-so-slightly more accepting of Alike. He knows the neighborhood well, including the gay nightclubs, and has probably had to deal with more-than-his-fair-share of homeless gay teens, and others in the community, although he can't even say the words or talk straight about anything. Also, he seems to be hiding, presumably an affair of his own from Audrey. Their house is full of dialogue that's at right angles to what the characters really want to say, or wish they can say, or try very hard to not say. In that respect, the dialogue, and in some cases, the lack of dialogue, is very well written. The acting is also incredible, across the board. The movie, in a way, shows, not just the struggle of an African-American teen, who's still in the process of coming out as a lesbian, but perhaps, in a more subtle way, it reveals how this is slowly becoming more accepted in the community. Slowly, but surely. Laura's just not getting over some of the struggles she faced, but Alike, may not have to struggle as much. In that sense, I look at "Pariah," and see it as, a surprisingly hopeful movie.

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2012) Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

3 STARS

For those who don't care that much for the metaphoric commentary of our exploitative media culture in "The Hunger Games," you might appreciate the more upfront fantasy approach to the subject in Bobcat Goldthwait's "God Bless America". Where in "The Hunger Games," while they criticize it, they are actually still participating within it, here, for the most part, there's blatant criticism, and at least a suggested way of solving the problem. Not the best way, it involves,-, well, basically it is, murdering everybody involved with it, but that's hardly the worst way, and actually can seem fun. Frank (Joel Murray) is divorced from Alison (Melinda Page Hamilton) who's little kid Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) is spoiled rotten as it is, and now, he doesn't want to be around her father, claiming there's not much to do at his apartment. There isn't, but she also throws temper tantrums at getting a blackberry and not an iphone. (Or is it the other way around? Ah, who cares?) Frank spends his quiet nights at home looking for something substantial to watch on TV, and instead finds spoiled little Jersey Shore wannabes, reality shows about people getting injured trying dumb stunts, and an "American Idol"-style show, where a really incompetent and delusional singing contestant is quickly made to become the next famous star of the week, Steven Clarke. (Aris Alvarado, think, a mentally-challenged William Hung that looks a little like Jonah Hill, before he lost the weight.) Frank is annoyed at how the world is becoming and blames the exploitative reality TV culture. After losing his job for trying to comfort one of his co-workers who was sad, and after finding out he has an inoperable brain tumor, he contemplates suicide, but decides to start by at least killing one of these untalented spoiled reality stars. He narrows in on spoiled rich teen bitch Chloe (Maddie Hasson) who complains about her father getting her the wrong car for her birthday. Her parents (Larry Miller and Dorie Barton) can't believe they made such a foolish decision either. Frank handcuffs Chloe in her substandard $50,000+ plus car, and blow it up Anton Chigurh style, or if that doesn't work, just shoot her a bunch of times. After that, Frank gets a fan in one of the witnesses, a former classmate of Chloe, Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr).who couldn't stand her, or most of these incessant douchebags polluting the airways, and after some convincing, she convinces Frank to go after a lot of these people ruining the world. Starting now with Chloe's parents, then moving on to people who talk, phone and text during movies, cable news commentators who make Glenn Beck look liberal moderate, they even swing by a cemetery to take down a group of religious zealots protesting a funeral because the deceased happened to be Jewish. (Either Jewish or gay, or both, it doesn't matter they're dead, and deserved to be, and hey, they're already at the cemetery.) They discuss the possibility of killing Diablo Cody for a bit, but finally decide against it. Now, I know a bit about what you're thinking, with this middle-aged man and this teenage girl on a crime spree, and yeah, it's a little creepy. They bring it up a bit, they run into a Pancake-Eating Pedophile (Tony V.) at one point. Frank and Roxy talk about it a bit though, and after all that, well, it's still creepy. Can't really help that, but yeah that's a questionable choice by Bobcat, but I found the movie fun anyway. It's more of a fantasy. If your life's pretty much over, I think the most decent think you could possibly do is start a shooting spree inside Fox News, or on the set of "I Love New York," or something that's equally ridiculous. Take out Simon Cowell maybe (Or his wannabes). I accept "God Bless America," as pure id fantasy. A movie for all those people who want to shoot the TV screen out when nothing good's on, like Elvis once did. (Man, if he saw TV now....) What do you call a country that loves those who try to systematically murder all those who are the fame-whoring mongers who've turned the culture from one of a Mary Tyler Moore heroine to one that idolizes Johnny Fairplay? I say, "God Bless America". 

LIKE CRAZY (2011) Director: Drake Doramus

1 1/2 STARS

"Like Crazy," has been the subject of criticism in the film world since it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year, and I can understand why. The movie for about twenty minutes, starts out really well. It involves a relationship between two college coeds, Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones). He's an American studying furniture design, she's a Brit on a student visa studying writing. So far, it's a cute little story. They seem cute, they're clearly in a blissfully quick kinda love, but he's certainly a more-than-adequate companion for Anna to show her parents Bernard (Olivier Muirhead) and Jacky (Alex Kingston), who are upper middle class Brits who seem to love playing "Balderdash". (Which to me, seems like a strange board game choice, but whatever.) Then, Anna makes the decision to stay past her student visa and stay with Jacob for a couple extra months. The reason? Love, maybe. It's not where the title comes from, but it really was like crazy, and pointless to do that. I say that it was pointless, because I've gone back over the movie in my head a few times now, and the movie could have hypothetically been pretty much the same, without that choice. The intention however, is to understand the choice that she made, to be so in love with somebody that they would risk never being allowed back into the country just to be with him again. Yeah, that's the problem. When you actually think about her decision, it doesn't make any sense. Not that long-distance relationships ever work, but let's just say that, she's in London, and he's in L.A., she's a rising star at a British magazine, which seems to consist only of her boss's office, where she gets informed of her newest and biggest promotions, but then she meets Simon (Charlie Bewley) and her feeling get more complicated, while Jacob meets Sam (Jennifer Lawrence) and his feelings also suddenly get more complicated. That in of itself, hypothetically could work, but A., we lose most of our sympathy with Anna after making her rash decision, and B. Even if we did buy it, their love story isn't developed well-enough for us to care about her drastic, possibly life-altering stupid rash decision, when she's making it. There's elements here for a decent film, but eventually, with all the drawback, continually coming back to this, one decision just gets frustrating on us, and frankly we don't care about these characters anyway.

WEEKEND (2011) Director: Andrew Haigh

4 STARS

"Weekend," is the ballad of Russel (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). They hook up for a one-night stand one night, at least that's what they think, but afterwards, they start to talk. About life, about each other, past relationships, how the came out..., there's clearly a connection between them, and they decide to spend time exploring it. Unfortunately, they're on a time crunch. One of them is leaving for America. "For one long?" Russell asks. "Two years." I guess there's a few simplistic ways of looking at "Weekend," by that description. Comparison with films like David Lean's "Brief Encounter" and Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise," and "Before Sunset," are inevitable. They're more than compatible in the bedroom. Glen a little more outgoing. Russell is more private, guarded. He works as a lifeguard. Most of his friends are straight, and he doesn't really open up to them about his own struggles with romance. In the beginning, he's hanging out with them at a nightclub. Nothing seems inoccuous, but then, after, he picks up Glen at a gay bar. There's not a lot of time to get to know each other. Glen tries recording as much as he can, with a tape recorder he constantly carries around to ask provocative questions. We'd like for them to end up together, although we long know that that happening is a bit of a longshot, but perhaps they're bound to be one of those memories in the back of people's minds. What could've been, what might've been. Those moments where two people actually connect are so rare that it's worth exploring every available moment they can. "Weekend," is about one of those connections. It's a bare film of the kind of things that it takes for two people to fall in love. Sometimes it takes a lifetime, or in this case, a weekend. Naturally, they part at the airport, which memories, desires, and possibly regrets. I don't know if "Weekend," is the best of these sort of movies, but it's a good one.
  
BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S STORY (2011) Director: Constance Marks

4 1/2 STARS

I so associate the Muppets with Jim Henson, that occasionally, I forget that..., well, I guess I shouldn't forget that there's others, he's been dead twenty years, but we haven't heard about too many of them until now. Although I've seen brief glimpses of Kevin Clash over the years, usually when he's collecting one of his many Emmys, but in "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Story," we get a very personal and rare glimpse of a man who's probably had the most famous post-Henson career as a muppeteer. Clash was one of the first African-Americans to work with Henson. He snuck away from a class field trip to visit the set of "Sesame Street" when he was a teenager. He started making puppets of his own years earlier, and even began getting slots on local television in the D.C. area. He worked for Captain Kangaroo, and a few others before finally permanently working with Henson on "Labyrinth." Elmo, wasn't his original creation, but it literally got thrown in his lap, after the original puppeteer was too frustrated with how we wasn't coming out too well. Clash turned the character into one that's the young child that's full of love and care. The one who's easily become the most popular character on "Sesame Street," the one who's constantly requested by terminally ill children to meet, and the one that became a cultural phenomenon when the Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls came out. There's a deep sense of emotional care into everything Clash does. His puppets, his family, everything. He created some other wonderful Muppets, my favorite would be Clifford, but it's that emotional center that makes him ideal for Elmo. He always seems on the verge of tears when being interviewed, even when he's not. There's a wonderful moment at the end of the movie, where he leads of tour of a little African-American girl through the Muppet workshop, just like he got when he was her age, as she's been creating her homemade puppets too. It's actually quite fascinating how incredible the magic of Jim Henson can inspire generations, still. "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey," shows us that for now, the work of Jim Henson is clearly in safe hands for years to come.

ROADIE (2012) Dirctor: Michael Cuesta

1 1/2 STARS

I remember that one of the more memorable disagreements I had with my Mom in recent years regarding a film, was over Michael Cuesta's first feature-length directorial film "Twelve and Holding". I won't claim that I was wrong in not recommending that film, but I'll admit that I thought her arguments, in terms of some of the metaphoric imagery used in that film were rather interesting, and credible. So, I was looking forward to "Roadie," his latest feature film, which couldn't be more different from "Twelve and Holding," but also isn't nearly as interesting as that film, and frankly, there isn't two-sides to "Roadie", in fact there's barely one. A roadie is a guy who's hired by rock bands to come on tour with them, and basically haul and set-up all of their equipment. Instruments, amplifiers, stuff like that. Occasionally, they can lead to other jobs in the music industry, such as producers and record executives. There's one cool story about a roadie that got to play guitar onstage with Metallica for awhile after James Hetfield burnt his hand during a pyrotechnic mishap and couldn't play for most of a tour. For most people, it's more of a temporary job that can easily be replaced. Jimmy Testegros (Ron Eldard) is learning that first-hand. He's back home in Long Island after he's been fired after decades of being the roadie for Blue Oyster Cult. He hasn't been home since his father died a few years back, and now his mother, (Lois Smith) is struggling with-, eh, getting old syndrome, I guess. It's not consistent or inconsistent enough for me to even call it Movie Alzheimer's, but she's certainly erratic, switching between tending to her garden, and making Jimmy a sandwich through the whole movie. Jimmy ends up at a local bar, where his old high school bully, Randy Stevens (Bobby Cannavale), who's still calling him "testicles", years later, and is now married to Jimmy's ex-girlfriend Nikki (Jill Hennessy, nice to see her for the first time in a while.), who coincidentally, has taken up a late-in-life career as a singer/songwriter with a regular gig at the local bar on Sunday night. Randy likes to play up with Rock star dream, by getting a motel room every Sunday night, pre-show, and having a nice drinking and drugs party, and naturally with Randy there, it's gonna get violent, and some things from high school are gonna get revealed, in bad ways. As a film, no necessarily predictable, but nothing was surprising either. Even the final conflict with Jimmy and his Mom at the end, over why he never picked up the guitar himself, seems a little light on drama. As a character study, maybe it's hypothetically accurate, but despite actors like Hennessy, and especially Cannavale giving it all, there's really not much here. One of the reasons Cuesta might be better with television is that he doesn't write the scripts, and the actors are far more comfortable with their characters, especially if the show's been on for awhile. They're characters are far more elaborate and drawn out. I think he tries to develop that in his films, but the lack of success is bothersome. "Roadie," isn't just bad, it's actually almost instantly forgettable, and that's really depressing. There's interesting material here, but Eldard's character, seems to have nothing to do. The other characters were far more interesting than he was, and his stumbling around them just was annoying. Maybe it was the acting; Cannavale is great at stealing any scene he's in, he's really one of the best and most underrated actors alive, but he also had a more interesting character. (Or he's so talented, he just decided to make it more interesting, which I wouldn't put past him.)  

ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS (2011) Director: Jean-Pierre Ameris

4 1/2 STARS

"Romantics Anonymous," is a bit of a mistranslation of the French title, "Les Emotifs Anonymes"; it should really be Emotions Anonymous, but either way, it's a little bit of a leap of faith to accept that such a group would actually sit around and meet once a week like alcoholics, or some other kinds of anonymous groups, but there's a bunch of chocolate involved, so I took the leap. Angelique (Isabel Carre) is a chocolatier, who's looking for a new job, and finds it as a salesgirl at an old chocolate factory that's going towards bankruptcy, despite their chocolates being of excellent quality.  Angelique is painfully shy, and it's a bit of a struggle for her to walk into a room, much less walking into a store, with a bunch of samplers trying to sell chocolate. Even fighting her nerves though, the chocolates aren't selling. The factory is run by Jean-Rene (Benoit Poelvoorde), who's also painfully shy but hides it well by being the standoffish boss that nobody likes. It's clear that Jean-Rene and Angelique have a connection. They're quite similarly afraid of confronting emotions and being out in front of people, even each other, and they both love chocolate. We learn later that Angelique, was previously a mysterious chocolate maker that sold her chocolates at another shoppe, who's owner, M. Mercier (Claude Aufaure) recently passed away. Nobody knew who she was, although, rumors spread rapidly. Now, with this new shoppe in dire straits, she has to figure out how to save the shoppe, while not revealing either who true identity, or her fears, while also falling in love with Jean-Rene. It's light, it's simple, it's a bit whimsical (How can you not be whimsical when chocolate is the centerpiece of your work), and I loved it a lot. "Romantics Anonymous," is said on the box, as one critic put it, a cross between "Amelie," and "Chocolat". I think it's more "Chocolat," than "Amelie," but he's not far off. It's a sweet little story, not too long, it's barely 80 minutes, and almost too narrowly  focuses in on our main couple, and some of the interesting troubles between them, and they fumble through trying to be with court each other, and fumble through things after courting each other. There's a few colorful supporting characters as well, not too much though. Angelique's mother, (Christine Millet) is in the movie, just long enough to let us know why Angelique is the way she is, and not a second longer, without any extra exposition. "Romantics Anonymous," is a wonderfully, delectable little French romance, that everyone should enjoy. Had a lot of fun with it.

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS (2008) Director: Kar-Wai Wong

2 1/2 STARS

I'm starting to be completely baffled by the continual praise that Wong Kar-Wai continually gets. I've seen many of his films now, including "In the Mood for Love," which, ranked exceptionally high on "Sight & Sound" recent polls, especially by filmmakers, but most of the time, he's just leave me cold. He's craft is great, but his storytelling never seems complete thoughts through. For one thing, somebody should teach him how the "Rule of Three" works. That was his big problem with "Chungking Express," and it's a bit of a problem here for one of his rare English Language films, "My Blueberry Nights". This one, is kinda like "Eat, Pray, Love," without the money to afford the trips, so the main girl, had to waitress for minimum wage the whole way. The girl in this one is Elizabeth (Norah Jones), who's in an occasional flirtation with Jeremy (Jude Law) who owns the New York diner she works at, as both of them are still coming off the affairs that have either ended badly for them, or are in the process of ending badly. They share their thoughts on life at the end of shifts with the leftover blueberry pie from the day before. It's then that, for some reason, probably to separate them for most of the movie, she begins traveling across country to, well, find herself. Her first stop is Nashville where she befriends Arnie (David Straitharn) the greasy spoon's late-night boozehound who's always celebrating his last night of sobriety. By day, he a cop, who seems put together well-enough, but by night, he pines over his divorce, from Sandy (Adriane Lenox), even though it's been years since the breakup. Later on, working in a Nevada casino, Elizabeth meets Leslie (Natalie Portman) a professional poker player who's broke and makes a deal with Elizabeth to stake her her savings, in exchange for a car and a ride to Vegas with some ulterior motives all around the scene. That scene in of itself was quite interesting, but by the end of that sequence, everything seems even more muddled. All the while of her travels, Jeremy is still playing the on-again, off-again dance with Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz) his ex-girlfriend who stills comes to the diner after hours. It's clear to me that Wong is trying to make his films work more on an emotional level, as opposed to a literal one, but even on that level, I had a very difficult time finding much emotions, particularly with Elizabeth because she's basically just running around the country, being an eyewitness to others. She doesn't even do that enough. I told you, rule of three, and New York doesn't count. If you're gonna do this structure, with intriguing but ultimately unimportant episodic vignettes, she should've been at a third diner somewhere. Maybe Seattle, working at a coffeeshop would've made sense, before she then returns to Jeremy in New York, so there long-delayed love story can finally begin. Still, I found myself more interested in this film that most of Wong Kar-Wai's, but I think that's more the settings and the lighting, which is always great in his films, and the mood of the movie. Norah Jones contributed to much of the music as well as acting. She's a capable actress for the material, and has some great chemistry with Jude Law. I know I'm not the only one to find "My Blueberry Nights underwhelming, it's been one of Wong's least-successful critical films, but I'm always underwhelmed by him. I think I actually appreciate the ideas in the movie better than most of his films, but the execution, and the emotional impact, is only so-so for me. 

WE LIVE IN PUBLIC (2009) Director: Omni Timonder

4 STARS

It's not an unfair statement to say that Josh Harris was a little bit ahead of his time, which is saying something considering the world he worked in was the internet. He was the pioneer behind Pseudo.com, the first internet TV network. This was back during the dot.com boom of the '90s, and it was just one of his many so-called "projects" he had. He also occasionally dressed as his clown-alter ego Luvvie, which he named after Ms. Howell's pet name on his favorite show, "Gilligan's Island". To Harris, his foreshadowing of the future of the internet was revolutionary, but the manor in which it came out was almost Warholesque performance art. After he was kicked out of pseudo.com for his erratic behavior, he created a project called "Quiet!"  Which involved dozens of people, living in this underground cave which is completely lacking of all privacy from the hundreds of videocameras, all of which are connected to the web, and they had TVs which were connected to each other. The space had everything you'd want for your post-Y2K Orwellian dictatorship. Public showers, 5-star food and drinks and drugs, a church, an underground shooting range, medical personnel, it's own police,... everybody even had their own uniforms, for awhile. They also had their own little bunk with TVs that tuned into everybody else's own TV, so you can watch everybody else, while you're being watched. These were some of his projects. His last well-known one involved him and his then-girlfriend living their entire lives online. The channel had a following, and even his ex-girlfriend said it was fun for awhile, but Josh started losing control. Last heard, he's ran an apple farm in Oregon, and has traveled to places like Ethiopia. Now, he's fairly forgotten, even among many of the modern-day internet leaders. The first man through the door always ends up bloody, but the way Harris behaved, he was ending up bloody either way. He sees the internet almost as an art project, and his works are elaborate commentaries on the future. Now, he busted during after the dot.com bubble burst. Nobody, including his family even believes these gimmicks about the apple farm, are mearly just another part of his elaborate pseudo-performance art pieces. "Oh, he's an apple farmer now." "We Live in Public," is a good informative and strange biopic on this mad genius that is Josh Harris. It's a fascinating look at one of the bigger crashes of the dot.com boom, but it's also one of the but it's also the biggest warning story.

SHOW ME LOVE (1999) Director: Lukas Moodysson

4 STARS

"Show Me Love," is  a Swedish film, but I could easily have seen this movie made practically anywhere, and probably an American version of this high school teen light melodrama would be nice. It takes place in one of those out-of-the-way areas where the popular girls in the high school, are the cool ones. Agnes (Rebecka Liljeberg) is a mousy little girl who doesn't have any friends, and is never invited to any of the parties where popular girls like Elin (Alexandra Dahlstrom) frequently attend, party, get drunk, get hit on and felt up by guys, puke, often at the same time. Personally, she's getting tired of it, and despite rumors, she isn't that impressed with the few guys she's been with. Agnes's mother, Karin (Maria Hedborg) invited Elin and some of the other cool kids, against Agnes's wishes, for her birthday party,and they show up, mostly to make fun of her. Agnes is secretly in love with Elin, but knows that their presence is intended as ironic. Elin, on a dare kisses Agnes, who's long-rumored to be a lesbian, and then her and her friends rush out for the local party. However, Elin, begins having second thoughts about the act. At first, apologetic feeling about her cruelty (adding insult to injury, it was Agnes's first kiss, ever.) but as she attends the party to the same tired crap, she begins thinking about Agnes differently. It's one thing for the shy nerdy-girl who looks like she reads Sylvia Plathe all day to be a lesbian, but what about a popular girl who has all the latest clothes and is the best-looking girl in the class? She meets up with her to apologize, and start to hang out, and even brings her along to the party, and begin to secretly realize their in love. "Show Me Love," is the kind of slice-of-life, that probably isn't nearly as unusual as some may think. It always seems to become common knowledge after high school that looks can be deceiving, and here's a good example of how somebody might be good at trying to fit in,but it might not be what she really wants. I usually never care for these "Stresses of high school kliq" tales, but it works here. Possibly because it's a little lighter and more fun. This feels like a real high school to me, and nothing comes off as implausible. There's no bullies or any post-decision effects, or any other stupid cliches. It's just a nice little story of first love, and how that can be scary and difficult for both people involved to deal with.
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