Saturday, September 29, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #44: "MONSIEUR LAZHAR", "WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN", "WE BOUGHT A ZOO", "ATTENBERG", "LET THE BULLETS FLY", "LE QUATTRO VOLTE", and MORE!


Sorry for the delay on this one. Again, annoying computer problems have heavily limited my ability to blog on the regular basis that I'd prefer to blog at. However, not all is lost. Not a lot going on, with the blog right now though. I still want people to submit their ballots for the Ten Greatest TV Shows of All-Time, but do that as soon as you can. I made it slightly easier for people to comment on the blog now, so it shouldn't be hard. However, by doing that, I've always attracted a lot more SPAM comments than before. My policy remains the same, I will delete all SPAM posts. Don't post anything that leads to websites claiming to make me money, just don't post SPAM. You all know it when you see it, just like pornography. Or an apple. Actually there's quite a few things where we know what it is when we see it, isn't there?

Also, a weird story developing in Hollywood as "Sons of Anarchy" star Johnny Lewis, either fell or jumped to his death after murdering his landlord, and 81-year-old woman, he was apparently trying to rob. Full disclosure, I haven't seen "Sons of Anarchy" yet, (It's on my Netflix) but, this is the strangest story I've heard in Hollywood in a while. Apparently "SOA" Creator/Showrunner Kurt Sutter, has said that he isn't surprised by his actions. I don't what to make of that. I don't know what to make of this "...Honey Boo Boo," thing on TLC. (Remember when that was "The Learning Channel", anyone?) I caught a few glimpses of it on one of those "Entertainment Tonight"/"Access..."/"Extra" shows, I don't know which, but that's just disturbing.

Well, enough of that. Let's get onto the latest batch of Random Weekly Movie Reviews!

MONSIEUR LAZHAR (2011) Director: Philippe Falardeau

4 1/2 STARS

Sometimes I can become fairly jaded after seeing many different movies with the same kind of plot and story. From the surface, the Canadian film “Monsieur Lazhar,” one of last year’s Oscar-nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, appears to be one of those films. Teacher comes in, and inspires a class, we’ve heard this story before. Not this time, though. “Monsieur Lazhar begins, as one kid, Simon (Emilien Neron) heads to his homeroom class, only to find his teacher, has hung herself in in the classroom. The teachers try to keep the kids out at recess until they can get her out. They bring in a psychologist (One psychologist) to help with the class’s grief, and start trying to work around everything, appeasing the parents, and keep school going as normal. This is when, Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) walks in. He’s an Algerian immigrant, who’s seeking refugee status in Montreal, but he claims to have been a College professor beforehand, and wants to teach the class. His motives, are oblique, and he keeps his personal story closely guarded, but they give him a tryout. He seems to be a decent enough teacher, but he’s not allowed into the closed-door class sessions with the psychologists. Yet, he teaches the students Balzac, which they find uninteresting, and the longer he stays on as teacher, the more the world of the teacher, and the restrictions put on them become clear. He taps a student on the back of the neck after throwing something at another student. When they students soon demand he apologizes, he can’t understand why. Apparently, kids aren’t even allowed to hug their teachers anymore. A gym teacher complains during a meeting “How do you teach kids pommel horse, without touching them?” Meanwhile, the students, who aren’t as traumatized by their teacher’s suicide as their parents are, start to feel comfortable enough to disclose there thoughts and emotions in their assignments. Simon, suffers the most, as does another student, who also, Alice (Sophie Nelisse) who also saw their teacher’s hanging. She also knows why Simon is struggling with the death, and the incidents that occurred between them before her death. The kids here are quite good by the way, as kids, and as actors. There’s a few elements I’ve chosen not to reveal, and for good reason. This isn’t the movie where the class all succeeds or does something amazing, and the teacher get an “Oh Captain, My Captain” moment. Instead, we get complex characters, adults and children, who are both suffering from the past. The last scene of “Monsieur Lazhar,” involves a student, walking alone, after class to Monsieur Lazhar’s classroom, and because we know just enough of what both of them have gone through, and have been living with, this scene becomes amazingly more profound and powerful. “Monsieur Lazhar,” is the kind of film that gets better the more you think about it. A realistic and thoughtful film, about a bunch of people, trying to deal with tragedies, new and old, brought together, struggling to help each other. Big recommendation.


WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011) Director: Lynne Ramsey

5 STARS




"Out damn spot!", was the line made famous by Lady MacBeth. That line keeps completely redefined forever in my mind after watching Lynne Ramsey's "We Need to Talk About Kevin". This is her third feature-length film, after "Morvern Callar" and "Ratcatcher," but it's only the first one I've seen, and it's a frightening masterpiece. There's no easy way to go into this next line, but to all current and future parents out there, the movie, might as well be a horror film. I'm reluctant to give details, but I'll begin with the fact that the movie starts with Eva (Tilda Swinton), in the middle of the famous tomato fight in Bunol, Spain. This will get match, first with the image of red, that's splashed in front of her house. Is it red paint, or is it blood? At the beginning of the movie, (with some knowledge of what the movie was about) I thought I knew, but now, I'm not so sure. The movie moves back-and-forth through time, from image-to-image, but this isn't a mind-bending puzzler. We know that Eva's son Kevin (Ezra Miller, as a teenager) is in jail. She's visiting him. These collisions of times and images, instead represent, her perspective of events, and how being a mother and having her son grow up in front of her eyes, all these events essentially happen simultaneously. Yes, there's the debate about nature vs. nurture, fighting in her mind, but it's also the battle she's fought his entire life. Kevin is evil. He did a very evil thing. She knows he's evil. Why is he evil? She's searching for answers. Did she try hard enough when she was younger? Did she really want him to begin with? At one point, Eva tells the infant Kevin in a desperate outpouring of rage how she used to be happy until he came around, which her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) accidentally hears. He gives a disappointing shake. He's oblivious to Kevin's evergrowing sociopathic tendencies. I'd say Eva was in denial, but she isn't, but there also isn't any clear thing that it seems she could've done differently. The simplest acts, like Kevin biting off his fingernails, seems like an act of terrorism, directed against his mother. Strangely, the only seemingly happy memory of Kevin she has, is of him being sick. She read to him, and he genuinely wanted and needed her care and devotion, the care and devotion she desperately tried to give. Even the devil spawn of "The Bad Seed," and "The Omen", needs his Mommy when he's sick. Except when we think about it afterwards, even that becomes.... I can describe the details of the movie, but the emotions of watching the movie is the real emotional pull. The hopelessness, the inevitability, the disturbing reality that the worse thing to ever happen in your life could've come from your own loins. Performance after performance, it's becoming clear to me that Tilda Swinton is not only a movie star, but one of the greatest actesses in the world. I have a feeling she didn't get an Oscar nomination because it's a little tricky to gauge her performance because of Ramsey's filmmaking style, which uses lots of match-cutting, extreme close-ups, and obtuse angles, but consider how Swinton is in basically every scene, and just how complicated it is, to play this character, which spans, maybe twenty years, and she has to be figuring out, how she thinks and feels for each scene, from the beginning of Kevin's life, to each stage of development, to eventually that jailhouse last conversation, she has to play the correct emotion in each of these scenes, as though they're happening now, as well as keeping in mind, that they're the scattered and erratic memories of her character. This is a tricky performance, and it's one of the best of the year. I will once again warn everybody, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," is not an easy film to watch, but execution-wise, it excels in every single detail. Don't go into it blind, but get into it.

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (2011) Director: Cameron Crowe

3 STARS


Alright, I know what you’re all thinking. A guy’s wife dies, and suddenly, he buys a zoo. This isn’t a real movie, right? This is some kids “Dr. Doolittle” movie here, right. Bunch of comedy with a bunch of exotic animals upstaging the actors, right? Yeah, except, Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and Ellen Fanning, they aren’t actors on the downslope of their career, and the movie directed by Cameron Crowe, the many behind “Jerry MaGuire,” “Almost Famous,” “Say Anything,” “Vanilla Sky,” he just did that amazing documentary on Pearl Jam. Why is he directing this film? Why is he co-writing this film? Does he really need the money after his divorce from Nancy Wilson of Heart, or does he actually have a really good Cameron Crowe-type story here, that just happens to be about a guy whose wife dies, and then buys a zoo? Well, it’s a little of both. Based on a true story, Benjamin Mee (Damon) was a relative well-known journalist, known for taking the more dangerous missions. Interviews with dictators, skydiving assignments, things like that. When his wife passed away, it devastated him. It’s these early scenes that must feel like Crowe’s voice calling out. The emotional resonance that the characters feel, as Benjamin can’t even look anywhere, without being reminded of his wife, this is where Crowe’s traditional voice shines. These deep emotions that his characters have, and always finding just the right pop song to underscore these scenes, and suddenly, it doesn’t seem that awkward that Benjamin insists on not going into a particular coffee shop, and why his brother Duncan’s (Thomas Haden Church) cries to move on with his life, fall on relatively deaf ears. Eventually though, he tries to run away. He packs up his kids, Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and looks for a new house, to hopefully not have to be reminded of his wife all the time. So, how does he find a zoo, instead? Well, the one house they like, wouldn’t you know, happened to be in a rundown zoo, that’s being kept, but hasn’t been open in a couple years, and the owners insist that any new owners, must also strive to keep the zoo, and open it for next season. Along with the zoo, he gets the usual eccentric characters around, who take care of the zoo, and know that Benjamin has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. This group is lead by no-nonsense Kelly (Johansson), whose life is taking care of the animals, and the ragtag group that helps her out. They even have their own diner. She has a young assistant, Lily (Elle Fanning) who happens to be about Dylan’s age, right when the time he can use a first girlfriend, as he keeps getting thrown out of classes because of his mood. (Yes, his mood) There’s also the occasional appearance of a zoo inspector, Walter Ferris (A perfectly-casted John Michael Higgins) who Peter (Angus Macfadyen), the member of Kelly’s crew who designs the Zoo’s enclosures, has had a few four-letters words with in the past. Eventually, this starts to go over the line from Crowe’s emotional sensibilities, to just a story about a bunch of fun, cute, and dangerous animals, and the things in cages that must have been annoying to shoot. (As almost all animals are.) It’s just enough for me, I guess recommend, “We Bought a Zoo”, even though a lot of the ending did feel forced and clichéd, but there’s enough here of Cameron Crowe for me to overlook much of that. Definitely a quintessential mixed review though.


ATTENBERG (2012) Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari


3 1/2 STARS


"Attenberg," comes to America, following "Dogtooth," former Oscar-nominee, "Dogtooth," as apart of this new Greek New Wave of cinema, that seems to be stressing the parental-child relationships, as being a core explanation for these outsider perspectives on society. This film is by director, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and focuses on a very peculiar character, Marina (Ariane Labed). Marina spends much of her days and time with her dying father, a legendary architect, Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), who's pseudo atheist intellectualism still sprouts from him. The opening scene of "Attenberg," involves Marina, trying to learn how to kiss from her friend Bella (Evangelina Randou), who is possibly her only real friend, and strangely is a bit of a slut, so ironically the perfect person to teach her this, but she mostly finds it uninteresting, and determines that she must not have any sexual desire. She might not be wrong about that, but she doesn't seem to have much interest in the human race in general. The title "Attenberg", comes from the nature documentaries of David Attenborough that she continually watches. The only activity she seems to have is this strange dance rehersals she does with Bella in along the sidewalks, that involves high kicks, with crouch-grabbing dresses. There is something Godardian about it, but it's still odd. Somehow though, Marina does end up having an affair with an Engineer ("Dogtooth" director, Giorgos Lanthimos). It's a nice tender, and occasionally sweet affair, but Marina still, only seems to be acting through the part. She seems to relate more to the animals in those attenborough documentaries than humans. I think it's hard to tell whether "Attenberg" is intended as a deadpan comedy, or if it really is just deadpan. There's clearly skillful filmmaking, at play, at these new Greek New Wavers clearly have something to say about the disillusionment of society, or it might be society's disillusionment of them. Maybe that's part of the point. I'm not exactly sure Marina would fit in with the animals either. She'd probably just be the monkey who sits and watches those Discovery Channel specials on human sexuality, instead of going out and climbing the trees. Come to think, how did her and Bella become friends? Maybe there's a sexual attraction between them, or maybe opposites attract, or my theory, that they're both the extremes of fringe societal behavior. The misanthropic spinster Madonna, and the overly-extroverted, oversexualize whore. "Attenberg" is probably a more interesting film to study that to be entertained by it, but for that purpose, it's actually a good film to study.


LET THE BULLETS FLY (2012) Director: Wen Jiang


2 1/2 STARS


"Let the Bullets Fly" is the first film I've seen by Wen Jiang, and I'm going to presume based on his resume that this shouldn't be my first. Actually, I think a more accurate title might be, "Let Everything Fly, except for the Kitchen Sink". I think they would've thrown that in too, if kitchen sinks were so rare and scarce back in 1920s China. Although, they did manage to find time for the score to "The Bridge on the River Kwai," so maybe the lack of a kitchen sink was a stylistic choice. "Let the Bullets Fly," is a full-blasted, incomprehensive, western-ish-esque? (Are there Chinese Westerns?), spectacular, and after about a half hour, the only thing I understood was that one side was trying to kill the other side, although I couldn't even begin to tell you what the sides were, why they were fighting, or how they were gonna fight. I would've have been shocked if robots entered this movie. In the beginning of a movie, a notorious gang of bandits rob a train. Or is it a horse-drawn wagon that ran on train tracks? The train had the governor, of some area, that no one has seen, so the lead bandit, ends up taking the place and acting like the area's top official, who honor him back with a roaring welcome, and free use of the Governor's wife, who's only too happy to jump from one bed to the other, as long as she's the Governor's wife. However, the rich owner the area, who bought all the political seats, isn't too happy with this new bandits in power that he can't control. So there's a lot of back-and-forth spying, and manipulating, and I don't even know. If anybody made any sense out of this movie, after the first half-hour, than God bless you, and frankly that first half-hour didn't make any sense, but at least I understood. "Let the Bullets Fly," is one of those movies that clearly about style. The Tarantino-esque nature of the shots, and the look. The over-the-topness that borders on camp, the explosions, the pop culture references, etc. There's no real way to judge this movie. Either you're going to like it 'cause your predisposed to liking this sort of stuff, or you're gonna hate it, because you're predisposed to hating this sort of stuff. I don't know where I am on this personally, but for this movie, it was way too long and frankly, when I wasn't able to follow it anymore, I just lost interest. Too much pointless action, without a really strong through line tends to bore me, so despite the wonderful use of style, and whimsical over-the-top feel of the movie, I can't say I have any particular desire to see "Let the Bullets Fly" again.


LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2011) Director: Michaelangelo Frammartino


2 1/2 STARS


"Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times) is an ineffebly beautiful mediation on the mysterious cycles of life. ...It traces the path of one goat herder's soul, as it passes from human to animal to vegetable to mineral. ...Inspired by Pythagoras' beliefs in four-fold transmigration of souls." The reason that beginning is quoted is because I copied it from the description of Michaelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte," provided on Hulu.com. Why did I do that? Frankly, it's because there was no way in Hell, I was gonna come up with any kind description and/or explanation of the film on my own. Congratulations to anybody who didn't need that explanation to understand that's what "Le Quattro Volte" was about, 'cause I'm pretty sure that would stumped Pythagorians. Now, knowing that, it didn't make the movie any more entertaining. If you didn't know that, what you have is some transcendtail, Bergmanesque, actually since it's mostly involving animals, Bunuelian, footage, of animals, with occasional run-ins with faraway humans. Usually having some kind of parade and relatively oblivious to the miracles of nature, and the bizarre and strange conflicts they have with modern society. Even in the modern pastoral society, of Calabria, Italy, which is where the film takes place, it's still somewhat unusual to see a goat, on a kitchen table. We do, and we see the goat herder quietly pass away. His farm overrun now with animals. The images are done in long unbroken takes, which is good, because good luck trying to get an animal to do the same thing twice, and that'd be especially hard for the scene where we see a young baby goat, suddenly born. (P.S. not a special effect shot, that was real, as most all the animal footage. I guess there is some kind of "Circle of Life" feel I was supposed to get from this movie, but personally, I didn't have that. I saw a lot of interesting shots of animals, goats most memorably to me. I lot of the footage, I'll give was amazing, but even with knowing the explanation at the beginning. It's a bunch of really good, picturesque, beautiful long takes, but I don't know, if putting them together actually makes a movie. For me, I wasn't entertained enough. Might be interesting to lok at, as a film study, but I can't quite recommend for much more than that.


INTERIORS (1978) Director: Woody Allen


3 ½ STARS


There’s no more famous Bergmanite in America than Woody Allen, and never is that more clear than in his first straight dramatic film, “Interiors”. He doesn’t completely stray from New York to Sweden, but Long Island might as well be Sweden for Allen at that time. The title, “Interiors” has a couple meanings, but the direct correlation is Interior Design, which is what Eve’s (Oscar-nominee Geraldine Page) art is. She’s started slowly losing her ability to accept reality, after her husband Arthur (E.G. Marshall) abruptly asked for a separation, and later a divorce. She has three daughters, all of whom are troubled, and all of whom are trying, and failing to get on with their lives without their dramatic mother’s constant presence. Her poet daughter, Renata (Diane Keaton) get the brunt of her mother insipidness. She’s married to Frederick, a failed novelist who steaming head-first into the alcoholism cliché. Flyn (Kristen Griffith) is a movie actress, who comes home often enough, but is usually on her way out to some new exotic location for her next project. She’s in denial about how bad her mother’s condition is in, but her sister Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) is really in denial about her life. She’s seems to meander aimlessly, occasionally going from job-to-job, which she quits almost instantly, in some misguided search for happiness. She lives with a political filmmaker Mike (Sam Waterston), who can’t seem to understand why Eve keeps coming to the apartment, and changing the location of all the lamps, or why Joey strives to look for happiness, but always ends up resorting to her moping on the couch, and them having the same-old fight. Allen, takes a little more time than most to set-up the stasis of these characters, and get into their world, before things starts going a rye. First, Eve tries to gas herself in her house. A desperate attempt to get her husband back. Get her life back. But Arthur shows up instead with Pearl (Oscar-nominee Maureen Stapleton) who he’s just met on a cruise, and plans to have her marry. She sticks out like a sore thumb in this world, and she’s about as oblivious to it as she can imagine. She’s wears bright red, has stories of working in Vegas, and across the country, she can’t figure out why the house is filled with these gray dull colors, and needless to say, when all these factions begins colliding, well, I would say they clash, so much as, everybody finally lets their true emotions spill out. These characters have all lived in a world of sacrifice, and now, they’re finally demanding some that their own selfish desires be met, which they’re all actually entitled to, but are all unable to get. “Interiors” was Allen’s first film, after winning his two Oscars for “Annie Hall,” and this film earned five nominations, including writing and directing for Allen. He mentioned that, while he used Bergman’s aesthetics for setting, he thinks the story itself is more in the Eugene O’Neill category of family dramas, and there definitely some correlations that can be made. While this is a straight drama, like many Allen films, there some noticeable parallels to his other works. I think the better version of this, might have been his film “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which is a comedy, but also family drama revolving around the lives of three sisters, as well their parents, husbands, exes, etc. I don’t think I rank this one as one of his best. It’s self-assured, and certainly has great performances, and some great scenes, but often the case, Allen may takes the pieces of those greats before him, like Bergman or O’Neill and take these characters, and place his own twists on the story, while here, I think he’s taking the pieces, and moving them around, a bit. It’s him moving them, and he gives the character some Allen-esque quirks and personalities, but this feels more like a remake, than a reinterpretation, or a reimagining to me. Still highly recommending it. I guess I could give it an extra half-star, maybe, but 3 ½ STARS for Allen, is higher than a lot of people’s 4 STARS.


BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919) Director: D.W. Griffith


5 STARS


We don’t usually refer to the movie’s full title anymore, “Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl”, for obvious reasons, but this was a quite a daring film for D.W. Griffith, and for the time. Even though he had done “Intolerance,” as a sort of apology for “Birth of a Nation”, a couple years earlier, (which famously flopped) Griffith still tried to tell stories that circumvented the traditional Hollywood guidelines. “Broken Blossoms” is about a Chinese man, Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) who falls in love with a poor British girl, Lucy (Lillian Gish). This is tough to do, back in the time when it wasn’t acceptable for people of different color to kiss, or touch at that time (Actually, it was illegal for them to marry), but that wasn’t gonna stop him from at least subliminally telling this story. Cheng Huan is a Buddhist missionary from China, who begins on his voyage to London, where he hopes to begin at least educating the West on Buddhism, but he ends up running a store in the Limestock area of London, and spends most of his days getting high on opium, and looking out a window, to a depraved street filled most the lowest depths of the lower class, Prostitutes, drunkards, fighters, etc. He does notice Lucy, the shy little girl who covers herself in torn secondhand clothes, and she seems to walk unnoticed through the streets most days, when she takes what little money she’s given and goes shopping for food. The food, she serves to her father, Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp) a mean prizefighter, who takes his aggressions out on Lucy, when he’s not in the ring. Their home is a sad and pathetic windowless table and chairs basically. She cowers in the corners, poking her fingers on the sides of her face, trying to force a smile. One night, after Battling nearly beats her death, she goes out walking the street, and passes out in Cheng Huan’s shop. He begins comforting and nursing her back to health. A title card reads, “The First Gentleness She has ever known” and we believe it. I’m still working my way through Griffith, but this is probably my favorite film of his I’ve seen so far. Yes, it’s old-fashioned, and it still reflects a different time and has some stereotypical character we’d rather it didn’t today, but the film holds up, as a tale of two forbidden people, getting together, and ever so briefly, making each other happy, when they need it most. By the end of the movie, we’ve cared about these characters. Gish really was the Best Actress of the Silent period, maybe never more so exemplified than is “Broken Blossoms”, and although a white guy played the Chinese Cheng Huan, the movie was way ahead of its time then, and thankfully now, it’s past it’s time, but it remains a wonderfully endearing love story, and a pre-cursor to dozens of films that would come after it and shatter the barriers “Broken Blossoms,” ever-so-slightly grazed upon.


THE ICE STORM (1997) Director: Ang Lee


4 ½ STARS


It’s hard to describe “The Ice Storm,” in terms of dramatic events. It’s a beautiful reflection of life in the Connecticut suburbs, circa the early 70s. Right after the free love sexual revolution of the ‘60s has morphed its way into the Thanksgiving Key Parties of the upper-middle class. I just made it sound a little like “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” but actually, this was made the great Ang Lee, the man behind such masterful and memorable films as “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman,” “Pushing Hands,” “The Wedding Banquet,” “Sense & Sensibility”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Lust, Caution”. Maybe a resume like that, it’s easy to understand how a wonderful film like “The Ice Storm,” could slip into the Also-made, of his filmography, but people should take a second look at this one. Let’s start with the Hood family. Ben (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), but it’s not much of an affair. Occasionally they have sex, but Ben’s more content to just complain about his wife and his mundane life, much of Janey’s annoyance. His wife, Elena (Joan Allen) stays at home, bored to death, looking for some kind of outlet to escape. She tries stealing, but that’s only a minor thrill. They have two kids, Paul (Tobey Maguire) who’s in college and takes the train from New York back home for Thanksgiving and back. He’s got a crush on a classmate, Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes) the latest woman he’s idealized to the point of invincibility, until his roommate Francis (David Krumholtz) sleeps with her. While Paul is overly tentative towards sex, his sister Wendy (Christina Ricci) dives head-first towards experimentation. In one scene, she flashes Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd), the youngest son of Janey and her husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) and he gets caught by her father during one bizarre makeup session with her friend Mikey (Elijah Wood), Janey and Jim’s oldest kid that involved her wearing a Nixon mask. Why she was caught by her father in her friend’s house, by her father, is never asked, although, it probably doesn’t have to be. The title refers to a major storm, that occurs as the adults all attend, a key party, right at the moments of their greatest vulnerability. They’re frozen in, the younger kids are trying to get to each other to wait out the storm, while Paul spends most of the night on frozen tracks trying to get home after a drug-induced get-together with Libbets and Francis goes wrong, and the parents are all anxiously trying to figure out how to get out the key exchange and get home, before the ice crystallizes everything. “The Ice Storm,” is a transcendental experience. It’s poetic like a haiku, slow-paced as is life, and simply a beautiful film that’s tragic and comedic and everything in between, and characters that are all suffering from fits of quiet desperation, that no one knows exactly how to express themselves to each other, to explain what they want.


SLACKER (1991) Director: Richard Linklater


4 STARS


Richard Linklater’s films have as much dialogue as Kevin Smith’s but instead his films are filled with philosophical pornderings and transcendental observations on life and existence, and death, and pretty much everything. If we think, therefore we are, to paraphrase my philosophical hero Rene Descartes, than Linklater’s characters, talk about all they think about. No, actually, they listen. Everybody else talks, and we soak in everything like a sponge. Yes, sometimes, “we” can be one of his characters, but really, they are us. “Slacker”, was the feature film that put him on the map, and birthed the Independment Film Movement, out of Texas-Austin. “Slacker” has an unusual format. It takes place in that Austin college town, and it starts with following one character who Should’ve Stayed at the Bus Station (Linklater, himself), and he talks for awhile, to the Taxi Driver (Rudy Basquez), but then, we come across another character, and then, we start following that character for awhile, and see what he/she’s doing or talking about, and then, this continues for awhile, and this continues on. What do they talk about? Stupid shit. Occasionally we hear about or see an accident. A conspiracy buff talks about how we’ve been on the Moon since the fifties, and that we’re about to colonize Mars. One girl comes up and tries to sell Madonna’s pap smear, that she got through, some kinds of probably immoral means, if she got it at all. We run into a couple JFK shooting buffs. Some conspiratorial, other anarchistic. One guys moved out of his room, days ago at a house, and left a bizarrely cryptic message involving postcards and his poetry, that doesn’t explain a lot. There aren’t a lot of movies that follow this structure, Luis Bunuel, is reportedly the only filmmaker to make a film with the structure once before. It’s not his best, but you can see the drips of ideas that would lead to “Waking Life” or “Before Sunrise”. “Slacker” is one of those wonderful films that you can simply listen to, and still be intellectually stimulated. A “Slacker” might be one who doesn’t do much, physically, but they are constantly thinking about things, which is a lot more than some people.


MEET JOE BLACK (1998) Director: Martin Brest


1 STAR


I would not stop for death, so he kindly stopped, and nearly cost me my business, fucked my daughter and ate all my peanut butter, before taking my life…? Wait…-?


Not exactly Emily Dickinson’s vision of Death, is it; but it is the vision of death we got in the overlong, overwrought, dreadfully contrived, “Meet Joe Black”. Death (Brad Pitt) for reasons, that aren’t exactly explained, makes a decision to stay among the living temporarily. Probably for the same reasons that the watcher angel Bruno Ganz played in “Wings of Desire” wanted to experience humanity; he sees the end of life, and how fulfilling a journey so many people are allowed to take, but he might want to simply experience life, for a little while. So, he takes a recently deceased body, and makes a deal with William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), one of his latest deaths he’s supposed to deal with, and instead, he lets him guide him through living, until he decides to go back and take him. Bill is a powerful owner of a major communication company that he started years ago. His 65th Birthday is approaching, and his older daughter Allison (Marcia Gay Harden) is planning a big birthday blowout for the occasion, despite Bill’s objections. Susan (Claire Forlani) is currently with Drew (Jake Weber) one of the members of the board of Bill’s company, which is currently considering a major buyout offer. However, the body that Death took, unbeknownst to Death, (Which I’m not exactly sure why he didn’t know beforehand actually. You think he, of all people…) had a conversation with that person, shortly before his sudden death. Death, who’s going by the name Joe Black, is startled by her recognizing his face as he suddenly makes himself uncomfortably home during dinner. There’s a couple different genres that they’re trying to mix, both of them have Capraesque roots. The first being, the spiritual being suddenly by the side of a human as he navigates life, in some form, usually as a way to get a greater appreciation of it. Of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is the standard-bearer for this genre, although I think the intention is too borrow a bit from “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” and it’s remake, “Heaven Can Wait”. (Or my personal favorite version, Luc Besson’s “Angel-A”. The other, is the business story, where an evil company, is trying to force itself into power over the morally superior businessman. Again, this is Capraesque, and I’m one that never thought it worked that well then, but it can work. Not here though. I don’t mind this mixing, often it can lead to some great films, but when done badly, it can be, well, you end up with this film. The director was Martin Brest, who previously directed “Scent of a Woman,” another film which mixed multiple genres, and that one earned Al Pacino his only Oscar. His last film was “Gigli”, which is one of the most notorious bombs in Hollywood history. Personally, I’ll take “Gigli” over this film. “Meet Joe Black,” is pretty bad, but it’s ambitiously bad. A movie that everyone genuinely thought was going to be this legendary emotional epic, on par with films like “Forrest Gump”. Well, all it does is make me fall asleep, so I stay awake and do a crossword or my laundry. Sometimes, I walked to the other room and missed a scene or two, or a line or dialogue cause I “forgot” to pause it, and didn’t really need to back up to remind me of what I missed, ‘cause I can pretty much see where the movie’s heading two hours before it gets there. I don’t want to ever “Meet Joe Black”, again.


LAWLESS HEART (2003) Directors: Tom Hunsinger & Neil Hunter


2 1/2 STARS


“Lawless Heart” is one of those movies that tells multiple stories that are all based around an event, in this case, it’s the funeral for Stuart. We often see the same events multiple times, from different perspectives, and they mean different things, when we see them later. It’s a been of a jigsaw puzzle, even to me. I’m struggling to recall, not only the order of events and when they occurred the movie, but also, what actually happened in the film. Yes, sometimes I forget, even a movie that I relatively liked. (I think a lot of that had to do with the Isle of Man British accents that I didn’t listen to as closely as I should’ve, and the lack of recognizable actors.) But I’m scouring through what few movie reviews my annoying-ass-slow computer is allowing me to bring up and recall what happened. Let’s start with Nick (Tom Hollander) he helped run the restaurant with Stuart, they were also lovers. He meets Stuart’s friend Tim (Douglas Henshall) at the funeral, who’s down on his luck and invites him to stay at his house until he gets on his feet. He ends up throwing a party, just to find a girl he met at the funeral. He doesn’t find her, but Nick finds him and a girl named Charlie (Sukie Smith) in bed together. The girl, Leah (Josephine Butler) had a bad affair with David (Stuart Laing) Tim’s brother. Stuart’s father Dan (Bill Nighy) meets Corinne (Celarie) shortly after the funeral, and suddenly, he begins an affair with her, for reasons that aren’t obvious at first either. All of these, and many more connections keep colliding at each other right angles throughout the film. The movie at its core, is really about these collisions of people and how others lives can effects each other in ways that nobody involved might even realize. There’s many good films like this, and better ones as well. “Lawless Heart,” is an interesting and small one, but it’s not really a great one. It’s emotionally able to follow, but it’s a bit of a mess. Just when I think I’m getting ahold of one story, another comes in, and that’s fine, but they just aren’t as compelling as other films with this structure. I probably would like to have another viewing to get my own facts straight, but overall, underwhelming. Reluctantly, I can’t recommend it.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH"

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe based on his book




I think the best high school movies are not the ones that show the over-the-top journeys of a few drunk, stoned, and/or sex-crazed low life students going to have the defining life-changing moments with their best friend’s slutty mom or whatever, insignifcant pitiful high school goal they aim for.… but instead the better films are the ones that are more slice of life films, the ones that show just how nieve and stupid we were when we younger and how that influenced but didn’t necessarily defined our life. If you ask Freud, we have already had the experiences that will determine our value structure before high school; it’s what we do with it that matters. Saying that though, even among the great high school movies, there’s a different reaction when people start talking about “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” They don't talk  about how funny the film is, which it is, but there's some sense that this film may have been a little closer to the realities of high school than most people would like to admit. I don't think any two people will ever claim to have the same high school experiences, but only the shallowest of people would rank stupid stuff like "Porky's or "American Pie," as realistic. "Fast Times..." showed multiple different character, having multiple views and experiences on high school, and it's the first movie, that I can recall that did that, and got it all right. Maybe not all the details are believable, but the feeling of experiencing it, is dead-on.
This film does have it’s share of the previously aforementioned teenage archeatypes, and yes the eventual resolution involving Jeff Spicoli’s (A very young Sean Penn) continual bickering with his English teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) ends in a way that’s a little too absurd, but weren’t their many aspects of high school that were completely absurd? I mean one day, we're afraid of couties and the next day, you're fucking some guy in a Little League dugout; therein lies the balance between trying to be an adult and trying to remain a kid. Some balance it pretty well, like Mike (Robert Romanus), the movie theater usher who Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) can’t seem to get to make a move on her, no matter how hard she tries. Others goes so deep into adulthood they seem to be unable to grasp being a kid, like Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) who is hell-bent on getting and keeping a job no matter what. Why? Some misconception need to be a responsible adult, yet he’s unable to even talk to Linda (Phoebe Cates) Stacy's fried, who’s also gone way too far into adulthood in a different sort of way. The ones who act like kids still are the ones that the people we don’t see too much of. The one girl with the Pat Benatar haircut for instance, or the football player (A very young Forrest Whitaker) who goes on a tantrum after his car is totaled, but don’t worry Jeff can fix that, his father is a TV Repairman. Jeff is one who’s decided not to join the adults or the kids and has resorted to a constant altered state so he doesn't have to deal with the pressure of adulthood or childhood, or school, or anything really, not realizing that he is dealing with it, and considering, some of the others, he's not doing too bad.

It’s been reported Cameron Crowe actually disguised himself as a high school student before writing the book, and then the screenplay, which I think is true considering he graduate when he was 15 and was a Rolling Stone Reporter at 16.  He would be the one person, who can show a fresh perspective on high school, while creatively indelible human characters. One aspect of the film that isn’t discussed is that not all the characters know what’s going on with the other characters, even though most have some kind of affiliation with each other. No matter how hard we try not to, most high school kids will end up in groups of their own, and sit at the same lunchtable and do the same things as the kids they hang around with. The only other family member I even remember is Jeff's younger sister, who occasionally walks into his room, interrupting his next bong hit, or drug-infused dillusion. Frankly, her appearances say as much about Jeff as his behavior in the classroom as he and Mr. Hand's battle of wills.

Another oddity is how the character have complete, and yet the movie itself is completely episodic. Consider Rat's character (Brian Backer). He's Mike's so-called friend, who's always looking for some kind of angle. He scalps concert tickets, he probably sells drugs, he tries to teach Mike the skills to get laid, etc. He's one of most prominent character in the movie, and yet, he might be the least memorable. Part of it, is that there were better actors in some of the other roles, but his character doesn't have a good character arc. He's a douchebag in the beginning, he's a douchebad in the end. Even Spicoli, eventually learns about Cuba in the end, but he doesn't have a real character change. Strangely that isn't unbelievable or detrimental either. High school is really the mixing of people, and different kinds of people at that, coming together, maturing at different rates, making their own paths to make sense of the world around them. A lot of that means that you're gonna end up being around a bunch of people you never want to see again, and probably shouldn't, but that's an important experience as well. The more one dives in "Fast Times...", the more all-encompassing the movie actually becomes, and that's the main reason it remains relevant all these years later.    

Sunday, September 23, 2012

SPECIAL POST-PRIMETIME EMMYS BLOG! "HOMELAND"! LOUIS C.K.! "MODERN FAM-IL-Y". "THE DAILY SHOW WIT- (YAAAAAAAAAAWWN).... BORING! BORING! BORING!



The Emmys has some good moments this year, but not a lot of great moments, and frankly for the first or so especially, I was genuinely bored. I'm not someone who's typically bored by award shows (well, most award shows, we can all agree the People's Choice are pretty useless and nauseating), but this is the first time ina while where I've been annoyed by the Emmys, not only because of the mediocrity of the show and the host, but also the Award winners, and I'm not just saying that because I got almost every category wrong this year. "Modern Family," again won Best Comedy Series, as the Supporting Actor categories, but it was particularly, blah this year, especially since Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen won again. Stonestreet, I actually kinda saw coming, and I do think he might have the toughest acting job on the show, but it really was odd. I generally think the point of honoring ensemble shows and performances is to spread the awards arounds, and it came off as underwhelming for these two to win again.

And on a completely other note, I don't know what-the-fuck Julie Bowen was talking about, at any point during her speech. What-the-hell was that?! Nipple covers and sister-wives and whatever-the-hell-she-was-talking-about, that was one of the worst and strangest acceptance speeches ever!

BTW, I love Amy Poehler, and the fact that she still hasn't won yet is bullshit, but her a Julia Louis-Dreyfus were funny as hell! Nobody is as great on her shows and no one has more fun at the Emmys than her. Sure, she loses, and that's wrong, (Sorry Julia, I do love you though too. Loved "Watching Ellie" BTW) but she steals the show everytime, and thank God she did, 'cause the show did need it.

Louis C.K. winning 2 Emmys for Writing, should be something that every future comic/actor/performer, anybody who wants to work in the creative arts, should be looking up to. WRITING folks! LEARN TO WRITE, EVERYONE! Oh, and Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, all in that same stratosphere. The artists of TV comedy!

I want to point out something about "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and "The Amazing Race," and their respective winning streaks. Um, there is absolutely no one, who in any way, can claim that "The Daily Show..." 10 consecutive wins for Variety Series, are undeserved. No one! You can pretend "Oh, Jimmy Fallon's good" or "Kimmel's cool," but it's not even like, debatable. "The Daily Show..." is clearly in another league, compared to all the other shows in the category, no matter how great they are. However, there's no way in Hell you can say the same about "The Amazing Race". I'm sorry, I am a fan, but "Project Runway" should've won, at least three times already, "Top Chef," should've won more than once, and "The Voice," should've won this year. I mention this, because I know in my mind, I should be annoyed at both shows, for their continuous winning, but one feels right, and the other just feels wrong. I'm just gonna say it, "The Amazing Race," cannot, and should not, keep winning this Award. I don't know why they keep voting for it, every year, especially lately, they haven't had as great of seasons as they did beforehand.... It's just wrong. Yet, "The Daily Show..." in another league, like I said, and it deserves everything it gets, and frankly, it deserves more. Maybe they should take their name out too. (Oh, and sidenote, Ricky Gervais should be everywhere, either hosting on commenting on, well, everything, until the end of time!) but it's for the complete opposite reason "The Amazing Race" should. Retire "The Daily Show...", at least as far as the Emmys are concerned perhaps, but start investigating the Reality-Competition category.

In the Drama Series category, "Homeland," finally topped "Mad Men", and they practically ran the table. Writing, Series, Actress, and in a shocker, Best Actor, as Damien Lewis finally beat Bryan Cranston. Although that loss is curious since Aaron Paul, won his 2nd straight (Eligibility-wise) Supporting Actor Emmy for the show, oddly enough. Well, "Homeland," is getting pushed up on my Netflix, as are all these Emmy-nominated Drama Series, as once again, we are reminded that Network Dramas, SUCK! And I've seen "Revolution," BTW, and I'm not impressed! Good luck to all these shows next year, when they all lose to "The Newsroom".

Oh, and congrats to Jon Cryer, for his shocking and puzzling Best Actor-Comedy Series win, making him the first person to win an Emmy in Lead and Supporting categories, for the same character, on the same show, since Michael J. Fox did it on "Family Ties", and to Cryer's credit, he was appropriately shocked, cause that shouldn't have happened, and everyone new it. (Good back and look at how few people are cheering and clapping, nobody understood that.) He does do a great job, with an annoying character, but that show's been unwatchable for years now, (Yes, that's not Charlie Sheen's or Ashton Kutcher's fault. It's not even Cryer's either, but I'll discuss that at another time, maybe) and competing against Parsons and Baldwin, at their peaks, and on great series, and against the likes of Larry David and Louis C.K., it just doesn't look or feel right. (Sorry, Cheadle, for leaving you out; I'm sure you're great, but I haven't gotten to "House of Lies" yet.) Still, congrats though, Cryer is now in rarified air, and hopefully, someone more deserving and on a better show will win next year.

Well, overall, it was an okay Emmys. Unremarkable overall unfortunately. When the "In Memoriam"'s were arguable the most well-done and memorable part, you're in trouble. Well, Awards season's beginning for films soon though, and TV's new seasons in full swing. Congrats to all winners, and sorry to all the losers, and here's to hoping a start of a great TV season, and a great Oscar season.

Okay, can I stop pretending Jimmy Kimmel's consistingly funny now? Please? I mean, his ex-wife is far funnier, can she host next year? Wait, were Kimmel and Sarah Silverman married, or were they just dating forever? I don't know, anyway, no more Kimmel, get Sarah Silverman to host next year. It'll be fun.

Friday, September 21, 2012

POLL UPDATE: TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME! ONE NEW BALLOT (Still not enough guys!), AND CRITICISMS ON PEOPLE/ABCNEWS'S RECENT POLL!

 

Two nights ago, ABC aired a special episode of "20/20" where they revealed the results of their (ABCNews and "People" magazine) own polls of the Greatest TV Shows of All-Time. Yes, polls, it wasn't just that one; they actually took polls on almost a dozen different things about television. Best Reality Shows, Best TV Mother, Best TV Father, Best Cop/Legal Drama/Show, Best Comedy, and so-on and so-forth. I had long known about this poll, probably participated in it, although I don't remember now, but it was one of the reasons I began taking my own poll over a month ago. In case you're all wondering, with over one million voting, they named as the Best TV Show of All-Time, "I Love Lucy". There Top 5 was as follows.

1. I Love Lucy
2. M*A*S*H
3. Seinfeld
4. All in the Family
5. Cheers

Now, just so I can get all the possible biasness out of the way, I should point out that four of the five shows actually made my Top 5 list, when I started this poll. I didn't have "Lucy..." in my Top Ten, instead I had "The Dick Van Dyke Show", but the rest were my Top 4. ("I Love Lucy" didn't make my Top Ten Ballot). Now don't confuse that with me, actually approving of this poll, I don't. They show the results, and the results are definitely believable and perfectly fine, but the way this was picked, that's questionable. You see, first things as I said, they didn't just make one poll, they made a bunch. This was the overall, but they also made separate poll for other genre, like drama, comedies, cop/legal shows, game shows, reality shows, etc. You can check out all their lists with a simple of ABCNews.com search to see all the results. They then had a group of TV experts come together, and select a short list of TV shows, or characters or whatever they were polling for America to choose from. In actually, there was about fifteen or so comedies that were even eligible to make this list. (I don't remember if every show they pre-selected for every category was eligible for Best Show, but that's how I seem to remember it. If not, that might explain why "The Cosby Show" ranked 4th in Best Comedy, while, it didn't rank in Best TV Show, despite, the Top 5 all being comedies. ["M*A*S*H" was the one show that didn't make the Best Comedies Top 5]) Now, I more than understand the appeal of making all most of these separates lists. How comparable are some shows, really? Take for instance, "Jeopardy!" which got named Best Game Show, and "ER" which got named "Best Drama Series". Other than the fact that they were both on TV, do those shows have anything in common to compare to each other? I can't think of anything, can you? Well, now tell me, which one is better? It's hard to make such a distinction. That's a good reason to make such distinctions between different kinds of shows, but, how many distinctions can you make? This poll had one category for Drama Series, and one category for Cop/Legal Shows. All five of those shows selected, were dramas. Are Cop/Legal Dramas separate from regular dramas, and if they are, what about other kinds of dramas, like the family drama, or the westerns. People forget at one time, there were as many westerns on TV as there were Cop shows. Does Cop/Legal show also mean Private Eyes or Detective? Does "Quincy, M.E." count, or "Murder, She Wrote"? And why are we only talking about Cop/Legal shows as though they're all dramas? What about shows like "Night Court," or "Barney Miller", or "Car 54, Where Are You", or how about "Get Smart"? They found two spots for shows called "Law & Order", they couldn't find one, for a cop comedy? I could've voted for these, or many of these shows, but unfortunately, I only had a short list of about 15 different shows to pick from. I'll bet anybody $5 now, I can ask all my Facebook Friends what the funniest TV comedy is, and I'll get five people who'd say "Arrested Development" before I get one, who would say "I Love Lucy". You see, this is where I believe this constant subgenre-ing is a potentially dangerous road. I also think limiting the choices within those genres are also quite dangerous.  This is one of the reasons I came to the conclusion that the most effective way to come up with such a poll of the Greatest TV Show of All-Time is to not limit the poll to any regulations in terms of what one can pick, and, completely eliminate any discussion of genres.

As of this date, I've gotten a total of five people to so-far participate in my poll, to determine the "Ten Greatest TV Shows of All-Time". Which sucks, but it's also one more than last time, which was about two weeks ago. Well, progress is progress, and I am not either ABCNews or "People" Magazine. I'm not "Sight & Sound," either, but I believe the best way to determine the Ten Greatest TV Shows of All-Time, is simply to use their formula for their once-a-decade poll for find the Ten Best Movies of All-Time, and transfer it for TV.

So, for those who, might not be aware of this poll yet, (Which I hope is most of you, 'cause if it isn't, it means you haven't voted yet!) here are the rules. They're simple, there's only two. Rule one is that you can select anything you want, as long as it is a program that originate on television. Literally pick anything, any genre, cable, broadcast, pay-cable, drama, comedy, talk show, soap opera, sketch comedy, game shows, news and information shows, animated, reality, reality-competition, TV movies, miniseries... if you want to claim a show about learning how to crochet in one of the Greatest TV Shows of All-Time, go ahead. From "I Love Lucy" to "Inside Schwartz" you're absolutely allowed to pick it, anything. (Although I've be very concerned if you were picking "Inside Schwartz", frankly I'm little scared that I even remembered that show.) The only other rule I have is that you have to pick 10. You can't pick 9, you can't pick 11. There's no special jury prizes of any kind, and there's no writing "Community" down ten times. I am looking for Greatest, and not necessarily Favorites, but it's your votes, and I will be printing every ballot that comes, with your name on them, just like "Sight & Sound" does. If you want to pick "Hot Springs Hotel" anyway, go ahead, but I recommend preparing a good argument/explanation, if there is one.

Okay, now for the update. The latest submitted ballot was from my friend Melissa Phoenix, who's both an expert computer hacker, and quite a talented musician and writer. She's done solo work, as well as with her band Shared Delusion. Here's her ballot!

MELISSA PHOENIX
1. Queer as Folk
2. Xena: Warrior Princess
3. Smallville
4. Dr. Who ('05)
5. Friends ('94)
6. Newsradio
7. Happy Days ('74)
8. The Outer Limits (*63)
9. The X-Files
10. Mad About You

Okay, that means, that five ballot have been entered, including my own, and the results are still the same. 2 votes for "M*A*S*H", two votes for "The West Wing", and now 48 other shows, have 1 vote. I said I'd keep doing this until I get to 100, and I mean it. If you want to submit your own ballot, you can comment on my blog, (And btw, hopefully I've made it easier for everyone to do that now, so try that first, but leave a name, I won't count any Anonymous ballots) but you can also contact me on Facebook, or through Twitter, if you can. If you can't message me on twitter, try entering your ballot with the hashtag, #TENGREATESTTVSHOWS. However you can get ahold of me, get ahold of me, and enter your ballots.

Note: I noticed recently that my blog didn't necessarily allow for everyone to comment. I believed I had changed that, but hopefully now, it will be better and easier for everyone to participate and/or comment on any of my blogs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS! THE MUSICAL II: THE SEQUEL!!!!!!!!

So, many of you know that last year, in order to appropriately articulate my thoughts about Network Premiere Week, I wrote on my blog, a musical number/parody, whatever-you-want-to-call-it, for Premiere Week, in a blog called "Premiere Week Sucks: The Musical!", and I asked for some imagination from the audience, as I'm not generally not talented enough and can't afford to pull something so elaborate off like that. (Just the copyright's alone, would've bankrupted me) Now, when I first wrote that last year, it was one of my earliest blogs, and while I liked the idea of poking fun at Premiere Week in musical form, it wasn't a particular popular blog entry originally. I don't blame anybody; it wasn't exactly Billy Crystal at the Oscars, every year, but I thought, it was an entertaining and fun thing to do, once. Now, honestly, I had absolutely no intention of ever doing that again, and had completely forgotten about it, until the last month or so, when I would check out which blogs of mine were being the most viewed, when suddenly, this almost-a-year-old blog entry, was suddenly, continuously, breaking the Top 5 most viewed entries for the day or week or month, or whatever. Apparently, what's happened is that, now that it's a year later, and now that we're approaching a whole new Premiere Week (Or Premiere Month-and-a-Half, as NBC seems to be doing) people have started searching for "Premiere Week" on search engines, and have been coming across my old blog entry. (Especially if they searched "Premiere Week Sucks" it really comes up. It's like 3rd or 4th or google or something.) So suddenly, I'm in this unenviable position, where, certain people really recall this now, it's fresh in their minds and they're expecting me to now do a totally new musical parody. Well, honestly, I thought about it, and you know, I don't think I should do that. I like having fun, and being a little bit playful once in a while and be self-satirizing, but I strive very much so, to make sure this blog is intellectually stimulating, and give some very thoughtful, unique and and in-depth comments and criticism on the entertainment world, and I mean, I could do another musical number, just to please everybody who wants it, but I don't know if that's really in the best interests for my blog, at this point, when my readership is continually growing at the rate it is, it might not be the most prudent thing to do at this point. I mean, it's just another TV Premiere Week, it doesn't necessarily have to only be discussed in musical form, every time, you know. It's helpful though, I'll say that, 'cause most of it is so crappy that you have to make fun of it, somehow. You know, just so you can force yourself to sit through some of the shit you know. I mean, "Revolution", you see that one? No power? Really, than how do the videocameras work? Stupid JJ Abrams. It's so stupid you know, and I have sit through this crap. Maybe, if we're lucky there'll be three decent new shows, two of which get cancelled, and "Rules of Engagement," stays on for friggin' ever. It can really be depressing. Especially without cable, you know. Even when I just think about it....
(Lights dim, spotlight on me. Opening to "I Will Survive"-by Gloria Gaynor begins to play)
I used to be afraid, how could it be
That there'd be all this crap on my TV
I spent so many nights, thinking it couldn't be any worse
But I sat there, endured the pain, endured the thirst

Now it's Premiere Week, on every network
I turned it on to find it worse here than before
But I'm not tossing my remote
I'll even up the volume you see
'Cause this crappy Premiere Week, will not get the best of me!

(Standing up, and screaming, and the disco ball lights shadow cover the stage)

Oh no, not I, I will Survive
Oh, you can put on any crap, but I will always get by
I've been through this many times before, and each time I've left alive
You may try, but I will survive! Hey Hey!

(Song continues for a few seconds)

Music change!

(Switch jacket around to cool indy-pop rock swede, and suddenly I have a guitar while The Rembrandts-"I'll Be There For You" begins)
So Matthew Perry's got a, new show on NBC
(Clap 4 times in unisom)
First time since he was on, Studio 60
Why they cancelled that show, I will never know
It was the best thing he ever did
And he also did, that other good show, but

I'll be watching him.
That "Go On" is kinda decent
I'll be watching him.
Weird title, but it's okay.
I'll be watching him
When nothing better's on.

(Song continues)
(Song switches to Frank Sinatra's "Love and Marriage". I lost the guitar, and now have on a swooning hat and a have a stool with a martini next to me. I sip the martini)
Love and marriage, and surr-o-gate
"The New Normal"'s not your average, family
Love and marriage and surr-o-gate
The new show from Ryan Murphy
Sure, it's modern, brother
But try telling that to the Mormons, sister mother.
Love and a marriage
Love and a marriage...

(Collective groans from the audience, at "Sister mother" joke)
(Song changes to Toni Basil's "Mickey". A group of six dancing transvestites dressed in cheerleader uniforms hits the stage)

Oh Jesus. I ain't looking forward to this one, but it'll be funny.

(I am in a male cheerleader outfit, like what Will Ferrell used to wear in that SNL sketch he used to do, and in unisom, we're dancing and singing, Gulp!)

Oh, Mindy, you so pretty, you don't understand.
This Project better work, 'cause it's "The Office"'s last stand
Oh Mindy, you're so funny, your show looks like a hoot
But if it's only as good "New Girl" than I'm putting it on mute
Hey Mindy!
Hey Mindy!

(Dancing continues, for a few bars, ends as song ends, with everyone doing the splits. I'm grimacing in pain, but eventually I roll myself up, gingerly)

Ah! Quick and painless, that's what you said huh, quick and painless?! Get that stool drink back out here, I'm sitting down for this next one.

(They bring back the stool, and I sit on it, and then I take a drink, and sit down. I turn to the transvestites.)

You guys can dance all you want, but I'm sitting for this one.

(I take another sip of the martini)

Alright, let's get this one over with.

(After a few seconds, Britney Spears's "Baby One More Time", cheerleader transvestites start dancing)

Oh Britney, Britney.
Your on "The X-Factor" now.
A train wreck on a train wreck
Oh Britney Britney
We can't believe your judging now
But we still know that you lipsynced

Tell me, when this gonna's end please
Cause we see your on,
But we're still watching "The Voice"

(Song stops)
Oh, that reminds me, did anyone else see Tony Lucca's version of this song on "The Voice" last season? That was friggin' awesome, man! And you can so tell that Christina holding a grudge since they were on the "Mickey Mouse Club", but that completely, like put her in her place, about it. That was cool. You could probably find it on youtube somewhere, if you haven't seen it. You know what, I might post it at the bottom here.

(Song restarts)
"The X-Factor" is killing me, and I
 I don't believe it's on TV
(Still on TV)
Only one thing that I want to see
Simon give us a sign!
Please, punch Britney, just one time!

(Song stops)

(Audience cheers)
(Theme from "I Dream of Jeannie" begins)
Da-de de, de-de, de-de
Da-de de, de-de, de-de, do
There's a, new show on CBS
It's called, "Elementary"
It's a bit like "Sherlock" or "House"
Except, he's a cop in New York
And Watson's, a hot Asian chick
I don't know, why I picked Jeannie for this
But I thought it'd be fun.
Da-de, de-de, de-de-de, do
Ta-da, da-ta

(Song stops)
(Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much" starts playing, and I get up for this, and wear a cowboy hat, and now the transvestites are gone, and now it's girls dressed like country versions of the Robert Palmer girls behind me)
Oh, yeah yeah.
So you got a little show on ABC
It's called "Nashville," and you think it's something
It looks a little like a bad soap opera to me
Kinda like "Smash" but about the country music scene.
O-oh, you think you're special
O-oh, you think you're something new?

Ok, so you're "Dallas," mixed with that movie "Country Strong", without the substance of either, but with bad country music and the chick from "Friday Night Lights"
That don't impress me much
So you've got the show, but have you got the touch
Now now, don't get me wrong, yeah I think you're alright
That won't keep me watching in the Primetime night!
That don't me impress much!

Ladies and Gentlemen, this was expensive, but it's so worth it,  Bon Jovi!

(Stage opens to reveal Bon Jovi, audience claps excited, as they begin playing the opening to their song, "It's My Life")

This is a song about "Made in Jersey"
(Song continues)
It's about a lawyer who sounds like Snooki
(Song continues)
Don't get the premise, sounds like a bad joke
A lawyer's from Jersey? Les, are you snorting coke

It's your show
But it'll soon be cancelled
It ain't gonna be on much longer
It's be gone by the end of this song.
It's your show.

(Everybody comes out now, as Bon Jovi, switches to the actual lyrics of the song)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said, I did it my way
I ain't gonna live while I'm alive
It's my Life...

(Song continues)

...It's my Life!

(Song ends)
(Audience cheers as everybody quietly leaves the stage, and the curtain closes on Bon Jovi) I'm the only one standing in the middle of the stage at the end.)

Yeah, that's nice to think about, but I just don't think I want to do the musical thing this year. Sorry guys, just, don't think it's right. Maybe next year, we'll see. Perhaps. Probably not. (Wink)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #43: "THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY", "HAYWIRE", "RESTLESS", "MISS REPRESENTATION", "THE YELLOW SEA", "THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR", "UNDER THE BOARDWALK: THE MONOPOLY STORY", "RED, WHITE & BLUE" and MORE!

I've been focusing primarily on television this week, as the Emmys are coming up, and premiere week, is not spread out over months, of each show, get special previews every two or three nights, to make sure we watch the first episode of "Go On," at least once before it "officially" airs. Yeah, that's weird, but I guess it's helpful. And I do like "Go On," and kinda like "The New Normal".

Although the strangest thing that happened on TV this week, if your not counting anything on TMZ involving Amanda Bynes and a car, happened in pro wrestling oddly enough. Wrestling icon Jerry "The King" Lawler, was commenting a match on Monday Night Raw, when he suffered a heart attack on the air Monday. This wasn't a gimmick or an angle, btw, this was real. He's currently in a Montreal hospital, and in stable but critical conditition after having an operation on his angioplasty. I've been following this story all week. For those of you too young to remember, Lawler is most famous for feuding with the great comic Andy Kaufman in the early '80s, in one of the most elaborate and most infamous pieces of performance art in recent history. Lawler recreated many of the events for the Kaufman biopic "Man in the Moon" a few years back, including the most infamous part of the angle, a guest appearance of David Letterman, where Lawler slapped Kaufman. That incident marked the first time ever that a talk show guest actually struck and hit another guest on a show. My, how the world has changed since then. I don't think Lawler's the first person to have a heart attack on live TV, but, at least a quick youtube check, seems to indicate he isn't, but it's still a bizarre and shocking thing to occur. Hopefully he'll be alright.

Anyway, not much else happening. I still want more people to enter their lists for the "Ten Greatest TV Shows of All-Time", so everybody, try to start doing that. Anyway, let's get to this week. RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (2012) Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

5 STARS



Arrietty is just slightly larger than the head of a pin. In fact, on her first borrowing, she got a hairpin, which she then began wearing like a sword for protection. The obvious Western influence of "The Secret World of Arrietty" is "Thumbelina", which produced one of the all-time worst animated movies ever, when Don Bluth did his adaptation back in the '90s. This time though, we get a truly beautiful and magical film. "The Secret World of Arrietty" has the Japanese master's, Hayao Miyazaki's hand all over it. He planned out the movie, produced it, and wrote the screenplay, but this time, he passed the directing duties to one of his most trusted animators, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It's his first directing credit, and the first time Miyazaki has done that for a feature-length film in years. Miyazaki's done this before, usually under the guise of threatening to retire, although he never does. He drew out the concept for "Tales from Earthsea" most recently, and he previously did retire once as a director, and let his friend Yoshifumi Kondo direct "Whisper in the Heart", intending to pass the legendary Studio Ghibli empire to him, but Yoshifumi died suddenly shortly after. Arrietty is a borrower. Yes, she's a little person, like Thumbelina, but her and her family live in a house, and spend their time on potentially dangerous missions to borrow essentially for themselves. The have a nice makeshift home, under a hidden floorboard tucked away in a rarely-used closet. Arrietty has long managed to roam around outside collecting herbs and other plants to place in her room, despie the many animals around, including a cat. Her father, Pod goes out through the house, usually at night, collecting everything from some pieces of fabric to cubes of sugar. There's a dollhouse around that would be ideal for me to live in, but is absolutely perfect for them, complete with a kitchen with a working oven, but Pod warns against taking anything that humans would notice as missing. "Only take what you need, and no more," he warns. While the house has been quiet for awhile, humans have suddenly started living there again. Turns out, a family has owned the place for years, and a young boy named Sho has come with his grandmother and aunt to be there while he's sick. His mother, who's divorced, once talked about little people living in the house when she was young, as does his grandmother Hara, but now he's seen them. Arrietty realizes there's danger, but finds herself intrigued by the boy. She doesn't see him as the threat her mother, Homily, fears. The movie was strangely dubbed into English twice, with a UK version starring Saorise Ronan, Tom Holland and Olivia Colman, while Disney's US version, includes Disney Channel star Bridget Mendler as well as Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett contributing their voices. I watch the U.S. dubbing, but watched it with the Japanese-translated subtitles, and there's a few notable differences in the translations.It doesn't matter which version you watch though, the real appeal is the wonderful, emotional story of the connection between these two young kids who's lives are both on the verge of changing very soon, and the unbelievable animation in the movie. It's so refreshing and amazing to get sucked into such a magnificent world as this one. There's a very prolongued sequence in the beginning, a borrowing search that's done at night, that I want to discuss, because first of all, doing any kind of animated scenes at night is just a pain in the ass, under normal circumstances, so they tend to be avoided as much as possible. but not only do they pull off a really great five-to-ten sequence here, with such beauty and rich details, but there are times in this sequence, where if you paused the movie, and asked some random observers, I'll bet you some won't realize the movie is animated, until more light enters the scene, they're that spectacular. Based on the Mary Norton novel "The Borrowers", "The Secret World of Arrietty" is one of those great stories, that only animation can tell, and boy do they give this story justice. This is a really special film.



HAYWIRE (2011) Director: Steven Soderbergh

2 1/2 STARS

As far as I could tell, the only real difference between "Haywire," and nearly every other genre film about an secret government spy/killing machine, that's hired to do jobs like assassinate leaders that governments can't have it be known that they do is that, this film's heroine, seems to have been trained to do this job by an MMA-fighter. When your typical guns and bombs won't do, I guess a head-scissors take down, followed by an arm-bar submission, could work, maybe? I think you'd pretty much have to break the damn arm, but an arm-bar can do that. The aforementioned heroine is Mallory Kane (MMA-fighter Gina Carano). She's beautiful, but tough. She recently found herself, not exactly on the run, but relatively out-of-favor with certain people, after a job in Madrid didn't go exactly as some people planned. The opening scene was the one I remembered most, which starts in a diner, ends in the woods, involves a brief discussion, which turns into a fight, after a failed ambush, and she even ends up temporarily kidnapping Scott (Michael Angarano), as she needs someone to drive the getaway car, because she has to deal with her bullet wound. I think I got everything in there. There might have been a car chase there as well. I can't remember, and it doesn't really matter, 'cause sooner than later, she'll be in another similar impossible scenario she has to fight her way out of, and she will. This is one of those action movies, where it's really about only the action. I remember Michael Douglas, playing a major head of the company that she works for, or the government that hired her company, one or the other, and Bill Paxton, playing her father in a crucial scene at his house, which is about to get ramsacked. Apparently Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Ewen McGregor were also in the movie. A week and a half later, I had forgotten that. You could've asked me five minutes after watching it, and I would've forgotten that. That's not inherently a bad thing in of itself, because the star of the movie is Carano, and she's got just enough acting chops for this role, and she's certainly athletic enough to be a kick-ass action star, so there's that, and the movie is not much else. I find that strange coming from Steven Soderbergh, one of the most prolific of directors working today, (Although he keeps threatening to retire) He likes to switch from Hollywood big budget projects, perhaps most famously, the "Ocean's Eleven" movies or "Erin Brockovich", and then do his more interesting independent films afterwards, most famously "Traffic", for which he won an Oscar for. He's also known recently for making peculiar and unconventional acting choices in his films recently. Carano is only the second-most unusual choice for a lead actor he's had, after porn-star Sasha Grey starred in his masterful "The Girlfriend Experience". There seems to be no genre he thrives in, and he loves switching almost randomly. Before this film, he had done the disaster movie "Contagion", about a new virus strain causing a worldwide pandemic. His latest film, "Magic Mike" is about a Chippendale dancer. Where does "Haywire" come in? It barely comes in at all. Like a free little filmmaking exercise to see if he can make an instantly-disposable martial arts film. Well, with "Haywire", Soderbergh made an instantly-disposable martial arts movie, so good for him. As for me, I say, if you watch a movie, and then instantly forget it, then there really isn't much point in watching it to begin with. Maybe he's getting lazy, maybe he worked around Carano's limited acting abilities, or maybe he just let the genre take a hold of him, but either way, some good stuff there, but not enough to recommend it.



RESTLESS (2011) Director: Gus Van Sant

1/2 STAR

"Restless," is one of Gus Van Sant's failures. He's made some unentertaining movies before, but usually there's been some entertainment, or at least, some analytical worth to his films, but I couldn't find much of it in "Restless". The only real thoughts I had while watching the film, was "When is this thing gonna finally end. (I want to avoid using the movie's title for a pun, because it's too easy, but yeah.) Enoch (Henry Hopper) has recently been kicked out of high school, and he spends his time going to funerals. He seems to have a fascination with death, similar to the one Harold had in "Harold & Maude". Unlike Harold, his interest stems from personal experience. His mother died years ago, from a car crash that left him in a coma, and with a ghost, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), a WWII kamikaze pilot, who haunts Enoch, and beats him at Battleship. At one of these funerals, he meets, Annabel (Mia Wasikowska). She's the cute, full-of-life cancer patient who's going to die soon, that Enoch will fall in love with. It's almost borderline bizarre how ordinary this film is. Van Sant has always made movies that tended to transcend whatever genre he attacks. "Good Will Hunting", "Finding Forrester," "Milk," "Drugstore Cowboy", but here, this movie seems practically by-the-numbers. Annabel is given a sister, Rachel and a mother, Elizabeth (Luisa Strus and Schulyer Fisk), who all seem close and all have very blonde hair. Enoch has Mabel (Jane Adams), who's been taking care of him since his parents' death. None of these people, are given anything in this movie to do. Is there some symbolism significance about the name Enoch, who in an uncannonized gospel, witnessed the falling of the angels, and the fact that Enoch in this book, is friends with a ghost, who happens to always follow him, and himself, falling from the sky, (as a kamikaze) unable to fully return? Oh, who the hell cares, this movie was so damn boring.... Talented director, talented actors, but "Restless," is a just a mind-numbingly shallow view of young love, and cancer, we've seen this story, way too many times before, and usually done better.


MISS REPRESENTATION (2011) Director: Jennifer Seibel Newsom

4 STARS

"Miss Representation" showed at Sundance last year, where it was seen by Oprah Winfrey, who bought the rights to show the movie on her OWN channel. I understand why she did that, and a forum like OWN might be the best place to view this expose on the portrayals of women in modern media. This isn't a new subject, and it's hardly new content, even for a documentary, but actress/filmmaker Jennifer Seibel Newsom, started to think about it when she found out she was pregnant, and having a girl. It's easy to simply dismiss most arguments about the way women are portrayed in the media, using some logistical formula. My personal favorite is "if she's that damn stupid, that when a guy with a video camera and a Girls Gone Wild pass, walks up to you, and says "Show us your tits,"...." that's an argument where I blame the parents, and the schools, and well, the stupidity of women, if I'm honest. (Hey, some people can have every break in the world, and still to be complete morons, men and women) The thing is, is that, for some reason, women, and especially young women and children are often impressionable, and they might not understand that when we watch TMZ to see what Snooki's doing, we mean it ironically. It's strange how even the portrayals of powerful and respectable women, many of whom are interviewed for this film, often get shoved into stereotypes as well. Men are strong, women are bitches, unless they're beautiful, big-breasted and dress in some form of dominatrix-inspired skin-tight outfit. My constant refrain is that, with women, in my industry, is that they should make their own films, and give us a new portrayal of women. Many of them do, but the fact is that, often they don't do it in Hollywood. Catherine Hardwicke talked about not being asked to direct the sequels to "Twilight", even though the first was successful, and the most critically-acclaimed so far. (The other directors since, have been men.) It took her forever to get her first feature-length film made, "Thirteen", which would be a good companion piece to show your pre-teen daughter along with this film. There's a whole subsection discussion we can go into on women filmmakers, and there are other whole subsections to every aspect detailed in the film. Just the contrasts between how Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were portrayed by a male-dominated media is a sign. The media's a problem too. There's fewer media conglomerates nowadays, there's few women on the boards of these groups, and they ll always seem to try to grab at the young boys' demographic, and apparently, they want hot women washing cars in see-through bikinis, while eating a cheeseburger. I still advice people that the first step is teaching your kids at home, the differences, but you'd be a responsible parent to show "Miss Representation" to your kids, to begin the lessons. 


THE YELLOW SEA (2011) Director: Hong-jin Na

2 1/2 STARS

"The Yellow Sea" is the second feature film from Korean director Hong-jin Na; I like his first film "The Chaser", and I likes parts of "The Yellow Sea," especially in the beginning, but this is one of those movies, that seems to keep heading deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole, and it just kept getting more convoluted and confusing. Typically, that's not something I usually mind, eh, maybe I was in a bad mood this week, but by the end of the movie, which takes way too long to get to, I had trouble just following the film. The movie begins in China, specifically a strange area called Yanji City, which is a strange geographical anomaly, as it's technically in China, but it's actually right between Russia and North Korea. (Two local Chinese TV stations, are actually in Korean, and the area gets TV from North and South Korea.) Ga-num (Jung-woo Ha) is a cab driver there. In his spare time, he earns money by hustling mahjong, which he doesn't do too well. His wife makes money in Korea. It's been six months since he's last heard from her though. It's around then, that he suddenly gets an offer to be a hitman. One kill, but it would repay his debt, and he can then go and find her. This starts off straightforward, but like I said, this starts to get complicated really fast, and turns into this slow-moving confusing puzzle. I actually tried watching it twice to try and follow it, but I failed both times. Usually I enjoy that in a mystery, that's usually what they're about in fact, but bizarrely, "The Yellow Sea," doesn't quite work as well. It bounces around a little too much from one thing to the next, it even seems to jump in time, making it more confusing. One of the things I liked about his previous film "The Chaser", was the kinetic nature of the storytelling, continually moving forward, even as the plot became more sickening and gruesome. "The Yellow Sea," seems to be bouncing around to much. Perhaps it's on purpose. The movie's nature does insinuate jumping from one country to the next, but unfortunately, I kept losing focus, and had to keep backtracking, and still had a hard time following it. "The Yellow Sea" is well-made, and for a while, it's entertaining, but it doesn't really move forward the way it should. It's a toss-up, but I can't quite recommend it.


THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR (2011) Director: Phillippe Le Guay

3 STARS

At the beginning of "The Women on the 6th Floor", Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) cares very deeply about how long his soft-boiled egg is cooked in the morning. He's not a mean guy, even though he does work in stocks, but his tradition is to wake up with a 2 1/2 minute egg every morning. Maria (Natalia Verbeke), the new Spanish maid he recently hired, calls it a superstition. He insists that no, it's not a superstition, it's just what's done. She cooks the egg fine, everybody seems like her, except for his bratty kids, but his wife Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain) likes her fine, although she probably prefer that she wasn't Spanish. There's been a lot of Spanish immigration into Paris in the '60, as Franco's reign was at it's peak, and on the 6th floor of the house where Jean-Louis and Suzanne live, their maid lives upstairs within earshot-from-a-window distance from half-a-dozen other wonderful Spanish maids. Jean-Louis finds himself slowly fascinated with this upstairs world he never really knew about before. He even begins to fall in love with Maria, who seems more young and vibrant and exotic, while his wife, can be, but she's just ever-growing more dull and shrill. Alright, so it's a little bit of a middle-age thing, maybe. "The Women on the 6th Floor," isn't breaking a whole lot of new ground, it's really your basic tale of a man, who believes he's content with his life, only to find out how much he really didn't know, and it's light and funny and a little breezy. There isn't even really a bad guy or girl in the film. Even the wife is sort of blase about everything, not really caring much about why her husband is so frisky, even after he asked about why Maria was using the boy's washroom. The movie does go on, a little too long, about half-an-hour or so, and Maria, seems to have a secret that some of the maids know, but Jean-Louis doesn't. I don't know if that was really needed, but I guess it's okay. The movie blows past you like a feather, but sometimes, it's nice to feel a cool breeze. Not a strong recommendation, but there's nothing really wrong with it.


UNDER THE BOARDWALK: THE MONOPOLY STORY (2011) Director: Kevin Tostada

3 STARS

There's been a couple of these light fun documentaries in recent years about people who love and/or obsess about a particular game or hobby. "Wordplay", about competitve crossword-puzzles playes is my favorite, but you can pretty much guarantee the same things will be in all of them. Interesting characters, some talk about the history of the game they play, some kind of national or even international tournament to decide a world champion, some talking head experts and known figures in the world, possibly with a known celebrity or two... basically your nice, little niche informative documentaries, on something relatively harmless and fun. Granted, there have been multiple occasions in my house where a game of Monopoly, was, eh, far from harmless. In fact, some games were quite vicious. I've always had a love/hate relationship with Monopoly myself. As my family is from the Philadelphia side of New Jersey, I appreciate the localness of the game. It took about thirty years for it to develop before Charles Darrow sold his definitive version of the game to Parker Brothers in the mid-thirties, and now it's more than seeped it's way into pop culture. "Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story," shows us some cool things, including one of Darrow's original handmade Monopoly boards, and even some earlier prototypes, as well as go over some basic theories and idiosyncracies of the game. One of the players spotlighted is a math teacher who uses Monopoly in class to teach everything from probability and ration to the handling of money. Monopoly is very much a Capitalist game. In fact, it was banned in the Eastern block until the Berlin Wall fell. It's also as much a game of skill and manipulation as it is, luck. I can always beat a computer 'cause you just buy one of every color, even if it requires serious overpaying, wait around a bit, then, start building on whatever Monopolys you get, (I usually start on Baltic and Mediterranean) and never trade a Monopoly to anyone. Most of the experts tell you to stock up on purples and oranges, which get landed on the most, and to trade aways greens. (Actually, Illinois Avenue is the most landed-on property, which I why I also like to stock on reds.) There was some controversy in qualifications with a guy named Tim Vandenberg, who apparently cheated by calling out players in an anonymous internet qualifier, but he competed despite the objections of Ken Koury, a legendary, aggresive player who holds the record for winning the quickest-known game, at fifteen minutes. (The longest-known game is over 70 days!) I don't think "Under the Boardwalk..." really compares to some of the other movies it copied its structure from, but it's still entertaining, and besides, who doesn't love a nice game of Monopoly? Just the discussions on gamepiece-picking theories are fascinating. I'm not sure I like the idea of the speed die though. That one was new to me.


RED, WHITE & BLUE (2010) Director: Simon Rumley

1/2 STAR

The first question I asked when watching "Red, White &; Blue," was, "Why is everything covered in shadows?" Now, I realized that just by saying that, I'm gonna get some criticism by DPs, and directors who may think I don't understand the way lighting a film works, and throw in some brief history lesson about German Expressionism, but no, I understand that fine, and this film is different. For the first ten-fifteen minutes of "Red, White & Blue," everybody was covered in shadows, so much so that I couldn't see anything. Bad enough under normal circumstances, the fact that much of that time were random sex scenes, now it's just annoying. The random sex is Erica's (Amanda Fuller) who generally spends her life going from one one-night-stand to another. Soon, she meets Nate (Noah Taylor) and Iraqi war veteran who, to her shock, isn't that interested in sex, so they form a pseudo-friendship. It's at this point in the movie, where they have a scene, eating lunch outside in the middle of day, and amazingly, both characters, are completely covered in shadows. Okay, now obviously, Director Simon Rumley, is doing this for some reason. He's foreshadowing some deep dark side to these characters, and yes five o'clock shadows do exist, but that can be changed with the lighting as easily as it can be created by it. I understand creative vision, but c'mon, these two people can't even eat an order of french fries in the daylight enough to see their face? This was frustration to begin with, and I hoped the movie would at least go somewhere with this strange friendship, or at least until some other entity enters the picture. The other entity is Franki (Marc Senter), one of Erica's old boyfriends (at least he calls himself that, she might say "Somebody I used to fuck") who's back in town, still trying to hit it big with his band. He has a cancer-stricken mother to help take care of in her last days. Then somethings happens to him, that's clearly Erica's fault. (Fault might not be the best word there, but let's go with it) The last half of the film, is a violent women-killing, revenge-getting sociopathic, bloody gorefest. Great, so there wasn't anything to figure out with these characters, because all of them, are gonna get killed, in some pretty vicious and violent ways. Had we actually been able to see the characters faces for most of the movie, we might have actually cared. Probably not, since every character has some pretty despicable parts about them. Don't you hate it when movies begin with sex, and end in violence, like that's supposed to be the order as preordained by horror movie cliches. (sing-songy) First comes sex, then come violence, then comes the monster with the (Insert weapon here). You know, who wants to see this? Really? Do you want to be introduced to a women, who seems to be somewhat unconventional and interesting, just to see her have a bunch of sex, and then see her get tied-up, raped, beaten to a bloody death, and then then cut up? Oh, I'm sorry, I gave something away there. Ugh. Alright, maybe she wasn't raped, but at that point, who cares. I like blood, I like horror, I like being disturbed occasionally, but this isn't fun, this isn't captivating or shocking, it's just this side of a snuff film. Make whatever movie you want, but it's a movie. It's job is to be entertaining. I don't want to know the people who found "Red, White & Blue" at all entertaining.


THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977) Director: Luis Bunuel

4 1/2 STARS

"That Obscure Object of Desire" earned Oscar nominations for Foreign Language film, and for screenwriting, and would become the last film by director Luis Bunuel. One of film's original surrealist, he worked all over the world, but began working in Spain with Salvador Dali on the infamous short film "Un Chien Andalou". The two commonalities in his films are dreams and animals. I prefer the ones about dreams. "That Obscure Object of Desire" isn't about dreams, but it's definitely sly, in the way it is about it's subject. The movie begins with many people boarding a train. As the train heads off, a man standing on the train, takes a bucket of water (I don't know how or why that bucket was there to begin with), and commences to throw the water onto a woman below who's yelling out to her. The passengers notice this. Barely notice it. They are mostly European, but they do eventually ask why the man, Mathieu (Fernando Rey) did that. He begins to tell a very elaborate tale about how that woman, Conchita, led him on for years. How he'd done everything to be with her. He's be allowed certain things, eventually. Her lips, her breasts etc. One time, he finally thrusts her into bed, and rips off her clothes, to find privates covered in the most bizarre piece of clothing I can imagine. No, not a chastity belt, harder to get into. One of many surrealistic absurdities in the film, but not the most famous one, the casting. Bunuel, perhaps playing with Mathieu's, and our minds, casts two women in the part of Conchita. Carole Bouquet plays the french sophistocate, while Angela Molina is a Spanish coquette. What does it mean to have two actresses play the same obscure object of desire. (Notice the word "Object") Yes, what we get, is mainly Mathieu accounts of the events, and even he, doesn't even have a clear picture of what she looks like? In his mind, or possibly in real life. They're supposed to represent two different personalities. Possibly, Madonna and whore? Possibly a bunch of other things. You can make up your own minds. "That Obscure Object....", is one I tend to rank, second-tier in terms of Bunuel, after films like "Viridiana", "Un Chien Andalou," "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie", "The Exterminating Angel" and my personal favorite, "Belle de Jour", but it's still very good, and a nice little sendoff for films first surrealist. Probably not a great first Bunuel film for anybody, although it'd probably be hard to pinpoint which one is, but definitely an essential in his canon, and one that'll probably be more intriguing on multiple viewings.


12 MONKEYS (1995) Director: Terry Gilliam

5 STARS

Few filmmakers are as interesting, or as erratic with their films as Terry Gilliam over the years. He's one of the most classic and distinctive of filmmakers. He uses lenses that no one's used in decades, and prefers this artificial look, that's almost more puppet and animation-inspired than reality-based. Sometimes it can work well, but I tend to think most of the time, he's at best, overrated, or at worst sometimes, it can be pretty bad. "12 Monkeys" is the best film of his I've seen that doesn't include the words "Monty Python" in the title. This is a rare time, where he takes his classic sensibilities, and finally uses them well. Maybe it's the genre switch. Most of his films, like "Time Bandits," and even "Brazil," tend to look and seem childlike and old-fashioned in their execution. He's always preferred to look at films like flights of fantasy, (Even "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" to some extent) but rarely have they ever seem, credible, or frightening. "12 Monkeys," based loosely on the famous Chris Marker short film "La Jetee," even seems adult. Yes, it takes much of his style, but here, he seems to have found a story to put them together, where all the parts really seem to fit. Take the Brad Pitt character, Jeffrey Goines, a mental-ward patient, who eventually starts a militant environmental group called the 12 Monkeys. He's clearly crazy, and it seems like Pitt, is really creating an disturbed psychotic and dangerous character, almost out of thin air. It's an impressive performance, he even got an Oscar nomination performance, but is it that far off from say, some of the things that John Cleese would do in films like "Time Bandits," but done in a character with a more maniacal edge? I think that's a strong possibility. Tone is as much the greatness of "12 Monkeys" as anything else. The movie begins in a future year of 2035. Humans live underground, after a vicious virus destroy much of the human race, and now, animals now roam over what once was grand giant cities. Science continues on, as they discovered time travel. James Cole (Bruce Willis) was very young when the virus spread the Earth. He's a vicious and violent criminal, but he just might be the person needed to travel back in time, and trace the source of the virus. His job isn't to stop it, interestingly enough, he really just needs to pinpoint it's source, back in 1996, so that others can go back in time with the pertinent information to stop it. His first journeys back, don't go so well. He first ends up in 1990, six years early, where he's arrested, and then placed in a mental institution under the care of Dr. Kathryn Reilly (Madeleine Stowe). He escapes that, and his next attempt, lands him in the middle of WWI. Oops, again. Finally, back in '96, as a little boy, fallen in a hole, has captured the nation, Reilly, has written a book on supposedly crazed individuals who over-the-years seem to appear out-of-nowhere throughout history, reporting that at around '96, a devastating virus would destroy mankind. Cole kidnaps Reilly, as the pieces finally start coming together to hopefully stop the 12 Monkeys from starting the virus, but not, Cole's been time-traveling so much, his mind's finding it harder to determine which reality is real, and which isn't. "12 Monkeys" does pay attention to those great paradoxes involved in time-traveling tales, but more importantly, it's just a great classic thriller. The tension that continues to build throughout, is the true appeal of the film. Another Gilliam staple are these homage to movies, and how they can umotionally influence us to strongly. At one point, Cole and Reilly hideout in a movie theatre as watch "Vertigo", a classic and appropriate choice. Films and music also play this role in "12 Monkeys", similar to the way classic children's stories played that role in "Time Bandits". "12 Monkeys" is a wonderful combination of all of Gilliam idiosyncracies, into a great, classic movie structure, and it still works effectively even today. I don't know why it took so long for me to get to "12 Monkeys".


EL MARIACHI (1993) Director: Robert Rodriguez

4 STARS

I've generally been a fan of Robert Rodriguez over the years, when he's not doing his children's 3-D films, and letting his 5-year-old co-write screenplays, but for some reason, I haven't gotten around to his Mariachi trilogy until now. "El Mariachi", the famous ultra-low budget that launched his career, is part one the trilogy, which revolves around a mariachi performer who finds himself in some unusual predicaments. The second of the series is "Desperado," which I plan on getting to shortly; I'm not sure when I'll get to "Once Upon a Time in Mexico". The Mariachi is, El Mariachi (Co-writer, Carlos Gallardo) a young mariachi looking for work in what at first, looks like a good town to find work in. Unfortunately, there's no work around, and four people try to kill him. Turns out, he was confused for a career-criminal named Azul (Reinol Martinez), who's just escaped from prison, and in infamous for carrying around a guitar case, filled with gun and other dangerous weapons, and dressing like El Mariachi, in all-black clothing. There isn't a whole helluva lot that El Mariachi can do, but try to stay out of the wa. If Moco (Peter Marquardt), whose trying to kill Azul, catch him, he's dead. If Azul catches him, he's dead. In the meantime, he finds some shelter with Domino (Consuelo Gomez) a beautiful bartender, who doesn't really need a mariachi, but eventually gets impressed by his skills. Even still, the confusion continues after Azul and El Mariachi accidentally switch guitar cases. "El Mariachi" was supposedly shot on about a $7,000 budget, most of which was film. In order to save money, Rodriguez had to shoot a lot of scenes using only one-take, which meant having to cut around screwed-up lines of dialogue, which Rodriguez had to record separately. "El Mariachi" is not only a good first film, but it's a good road map for guerilla filmmaking on a budge. (Although I would never recommend only shooting one take of any scene if you can.) It uses locations and actors that just happen to be there, and happens to tell a compelling story. It's not as memorable as Rodriguez's later films, but it's certainly easy to the raw talent behind the guy who would make "From Dusk 'til Dawn" "Machete," and "Sin City" to name a few. Alond with such classics and modern-day classics as "Detour", "The Blair Witch Project", and "Clerks.", "El Mariachi" should be an essential watch for first-time filmgoers.


HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (1967) Director: David Swift

3 1/2 STARS


While I've heard about "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," my first real exposure to the film began with last years Tony Awards, where I still remember a wonderful performance number from Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette on the broadcast. It certainly sounds just like a carefree and insucient satire on the business world, and that's what it is. Based on the Shepherd Mead novel, and the Bob Fosse original production, the movie sees a young, ambitious go-getter in J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse, you might know him now as Bertram Cooper on "Mad Men", which in of itself, is pretty ironic.). He's a window washer, who happens to find a copy of the book, and decides to begin his medioric rise to the top of the business world. Ironically, the advice in the book, probably is a good how-to book for success when you're really trying. Within a few weeks, he's jumped from mailroom to junior executive, all the way to the Vice-President of Advertising for corporate bigwig, Jasper Biggly (Rudy Vallee). He also, unintentionally falls in love with one of the secretaries, Rosemary (Michelle Lee), while Biggly's mistress, has suddenly become Finch's secretary, Hedy Larue (Maureen Arthur), and her bubbleheadedness can only be so useful, before he must use his window-washing past for ingenuity in rising to the top. Oh, in case you're wondering, the company makes wickets. What's a wicket? What the hell is a wicket? Hmm. Anyway, the musical number don't totally translate well from stage to screen in this case, although there's some great songs like "The Company Way" and my favorite "A Secretary is Not a Toy", which I hope they find some use for that song on "Mad Men" in one of the upcoming seasons, somehow. The movie suffers a bit from not really utilizing film the way it should. Too many of the scenes and musical number follow too closely to the 3-wall look of a theatre. This would be a case where it'd be better to expand a play. Still, the movie is pretty entertaining, and surprisingly, or maybe not-so-surprisingly, still fairly relevant in society today. "How to Succeed in Business..." is probably used more as a guide for the business community, even today than it probably should, but that's probably why they're still putting Broadway shows on of it.