Tuesday, September 4, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #42: "SHAME", "NORWEGIAN WOOD", "TOWER HEIST", "GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE", "MAGIC TRIP", "BAG IT", "HAPPY TEARS", "SMASH HIS CAMERA," and MORE!

Okay, I have to say something about the whole Clint Eastwood thing at the GOP convention. Now, I didn't watch it, for obvious reason,  but what the hell were they thinking? I know he's a Republican, I know he supports Romney, but why was he there? Eastwood hasn't been a politician in decades, which he regretted doing to begin with, he's not a natural at giving speeches of any kind; if fact, he's one of the best minimalist actors of all-time. The greatest thing about him, is how he says as few words as possible, but enough, and that was before he was an 82-year old who's mind is clearly ahead of his body nowadays. (And that's a compliment to him, especially considering how many good and great movies he's directed this century alone) Why is he up there? To show Hollywood can be Republican too? I don't get it. If it's a battle of which Celebs will show up and talk at a convention, uh, believe me, there would be no shortage of Hollywood Democrats who would come and talk in Charlotte, if they were asked, and some of them would tear the roof off and seem just like they were running for office, but we wouldn't ask them, and certainly wouldn't ask them to do it a Primetime slot, before the nominee. (Alright, except maybe Clooney, but it wouldn't be out first idea, let me say that.) So, an old man, not in his element, in a spot where he shouldn't be, and now he's doing a revised Bob Newhart impersonation, by talking to a chair, that supposedly Obama's sitting in? What the fuck?! The GOP's already fighting the image that they're a bunch of old white men, who are out-of-touch with the rest of the country to begin with, and that's what you show? An aging, Hollywood Icon, talking to a chair. How could, no one, have looked around and said, "Maybe this is a bad idea?" I mean, sure have that twit, Paul Ryan, lie about, everything, I understand that. That's politics. Why are they dragging Eastwood into this? I mean, I'm sure he was more-than-willing to do it, but..., why? Clint, I love ya. I don't like your politics, but I love you, so please, don't let anybody do that to you again. You're better than that.

Okay, now that that's out-of-the-way, some sad news, I just saw a couple hours ago that Michael Clarke Duncan passed away. He was young, only 54. He was John Coffey in "The Green Mile," which earned him an Oscar nomination, and really was a great actor. He started out as a bodyguard in Hollywood, and got parts because of his size, originally, but he was a really good actor. He was great in comedies like "The Whole Nine Yards," he played great bad guys in films "Daredevil," and "Sin City". Lately, he'd been on "Two and a Half Men". Died of complications from a heart attack, sad to see a very big and talented man die so young. It's hard for some talented actors, to be casted in a lot of roles because of their size, and look, and you needed to almost write a part for him, but he was always great in the roles he got. Very sad death today. 

Oh, also, There's been some problems on the blog lately where I've had to repost certain blogs, because of errors with the youtube.com clips I post. I know some of the clips aren't available, but occasionally, when I've gone back to correct, usually a grammar error on some of these posts, I've often found that the video clip, for some reason keeps vanishing. I don't know why, but I'm investigating, why this has suddenly started happening, but hopefully it won't occur again. 

Alright, that's enough from me. Oh, don't forget to submit your lists of the "Ten Greatest TV Shows," I'm still doing that, and i hope to update soon. Okay, onto this week's Random Weekly Movie Reviews!

SHAME (2011) Director: Steve McQueen

5 STARS




I wonder if the rise of sex addiction is due in part to the increase availability of sex. The disease, if one chooses to accept it as a disease (which is still a hotly-tested debate in the psychoanalysis community), first began getting diagnosed in the '80s, right when porn switched from seedy adult theaters to home video, and now, I can just type in, whatever I want in the next tab, and I could be masturbating right as I'm typing this. (Just to be clear, I'm not. I have a imdb.com profile up in the next tab, and when I'm not typing this, I'm trying to figure out how to play "Mission: Impossible 2" on one of this lousy computer's DVD players) "Shame," is a bout a man who suffers from sex addiction. I know that sentence sounds funny, but I believe "suffers", is the correct word here. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) wakes up most mornings, naked and masturbating. At work, he arrives to find his computer taken away for an overloaded hard drive. It's filled with porn, but it doesn't seem to effect his performance at work, where he's quiet, but respected. His boss, David (James Badge Dale) is a married man with kids in the day, but he often goes out to try to have one-night-stands, mostly failing. Brandon acts as a silent wingman, but what he's really doing, is giving off his need for sex to the girls David's hitting on. After he sends David home in a cab, one of the girls, (Elizabeth Masucci) asks if he needs a lift. They fuck in some dark al-, actually come to think, I don't it was some place hidden away like an alley. When he's home, he ignores all calls and contact with the outside world. Occasionally, he hires a prostitute to come over. Most of the time, he's searching the net for more porn. If Brandon's addiction was crack, he'd be plotting how to pawn the items in his luxurious apartment to get his next score. Luckily with sex addiction, it's maybe the easiest addiction to feed, until it isn't. The phone calls on his answering machine he ignores most are from his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). He walks into his apartment to find her there one day. Her natural demeanor is upfront, flirty and touchy-feely. She's not a sex addict, but she is uncomfortably sensual for him, and even more uncomfortable, she's staying at the apartment for a few days while her band is in town. She's a lounge singer who sings the saddest version of "New York, New York" you've ever heard. Director Steve McQueen (No relation to the late actor) is very careful in the shots he picks. Not simply long takes and close-ups. The way he frames a scene in a New York restaurant, matching the reverse angle, breaking the 180 rule, is really masterful, and yet meticulous. I've heard of his work for awhile, including his first feature film "Hunger" which also starred Fassbender, but this is my introduction to him, and now I definitely want to see more of him. He's one of those filmmakers with whom every shot, every angle, has an idea with them. Not always good, but clear and concise. With Fassbender, who's had one helluva year with this film, his work in another sexually explicit film, Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method", which I also gave five stars to, as well as his turn as Rochester in "Jane Eyre", he seems to be naturally drawn to these complicated roles where sexual desires and identity are the core inner conflicts of his characters. (He also was in the latest [and best] of the "X-Men" movies last year, he had an absolutely great year.) "Shame" is the most explicit. It got a hard NC-17 rating, and therefore only got a limited theatrical release despite much critical acclaim and Award nominations. The key to Brandon is that, he seems only capable of truly communicating to people, on an orgasmic level. He goes on a couple dates with a cute co-worker Marianne (Nicole Beharie), and he really tries to make this relationship thing kinda work. He wants to make it work, and Marianne is certainly interested in Brandon. The scene with her in his bedroom, which is shot with long takes, which is then matched with the next girl, show the difficulty and the difference, for lack of better terms, between love and sex, both as a whole, and for Brandon. He will scour the city for sex, but love.... I should also point out the movie is bookended with scenes on a train, where Brandon, and an attractive blonde girl, Woman on Subway (Lucy Walters), There zero dialogue spoken between these characters, and yet, they seem to be sharing very intimates brief moments between them with just glances and looks, and brief movements. What they share, is the same kind of connection and release he has when he fucks the girl from the bar in the streets. That's a clue. There's more to sex addiction than actually having sex. I can't pretend that "Shame" is easy to watch, but it absolutely should be seen, regardless of the rating.

NORWEGIAN WOOD (2012) Dirctor: Tran Anh Hung

2 STARS

This is the second feature-length film I've seen from the great Vietnamese Director Tran Anh Hung, the previous one being the Oscar-nominated "The Scent of Green Papaya". That movie is quite a wonderful and erotic mood piece. He certainly has an uncanny sense of place, and really giving us a sense of what it feels like to actually be there in his movies, but that can sometimes be a bad thing, especially if you don't want to be in the room. "Norwegian Wood," yes, titled after The Beatles's legendary song, spans, about five years or so in flashback to the time Toru Watanabe (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) is in his late teens-early 20s, and a pair of doomed relationships he has with women, both of whom died an unexpected an early death. Actually, this starts with another death, his friend Kizuki (Kengo Kora) who kills himself as a teenager. Toru and Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kinkuchi, some of you might remember her from "Babel") . They begin to get closer as they remain in grief. They have sex on Naoko's 20th birthday, and to Toru Watanabe's surprise, she reveals that it's her first time. There's a long explanation of why Kizuki chose not to have sex with her. Time passes after this, when Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) enters the picture. She's probably just what Toru needs at this time. Outgoing, flirtatious, sensual. Apparently the movie is based on a worldwide-acclaimed novel that been noted as something of a modern-day "Romeo & Juliet". It might be in the book, but Tran Anh Hung, has always been far more intrigued in capturing the beauty of the places in his movies, and of his actors, which is incredibly well-done here as well. He also undermines that with an upcoming sense of dread, even in the most blissful of scenes. Sometimes it can be affective, but sometimes I just need a break or a release from the morose of life he seems to adore. Maybe under a different light, I can appreciate "Norwegian Wood", I loved how the song seemed to seep into the movie at a few opportune time, but I'm following depressing characters who are just coming up upon further distraught and sadness, and it's depressing as hell. It's like nearly everybody in the film took Sylvia Plathe and Holden Caulfield lessons on how to walk through the world. Honestly, I had such a hard time caring at the end what happens to them...-. I hate doing this to Tran, he's so talented, but The Beatles wrote plenty of happy songs that could've become a cool movie.

TOWER HEIST (2011) Director: Brett Ratner

3 STARS

Yeah, the more I think about "Tower Heist," the less sense it makes, but as your watching it, it works well enough. It's light, it's got a few funny laughs, Eddie Murphy has a few good lines of improv in it. Not particularly special in the special in the genre, but it'll entertain you if you happen to run into it on cable or something. The Tower that their robbing is the most expensive and exclusive apartment building in Manhattan. The average occupant spend $5.6 million to stay there, and the Penthouse is owned by Wall Street uber-financier Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). He's fairly close to the Tower's manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) who keeps the staff of the hotel running a tight shift, most of them anyway, and he's incredible at keeping track on all the tenants, and their needs. Soon, Shaw gets arrested for tax fraud, and while he's currently on house arrest in the Penthouse, Josh becomes mad when the Employees' pensions that he asked Arthur to handle, are gone, along with seemingly everybody else's money that he invested. (Obviously Shaw is based on Bernie Madoff) Kovacs reluctantly decides he's had enough. He thinks he knows where Arthur keeps his safety net of cash, inside a wall safe inside his penthouse. Ah, time to round up a gang of thieves. Let's see, we've got his brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck) who's a bit of a useless lackey with a very pregnant wife, he also works at the Tower, as does Enrique, (Michael Pena), who's newly employed after years working at Burger King, but he took a enough electronics classes at the DeVry Institute to rewire an elevator. There's also Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a recently-evicted tenant from the Tower who lost millions as a Wall Street investor who guessed wrong a few times too many. Not exactly Danny Ocean's gang, so Josh bails out an old childhood acquaintance he still runs into occasionally, Slide (Murphy) to teach everyone how to steal. "Tower Heist" was supposed to be the movie that was going to get al the plugs at this year's Oscars, but after Director Brett Ratner resigned from Producer of the show, after using the six-letter f-word on a radio show, Eddie Murphy backed out of the hosting gig, which he only took because Ratner was involved. (There friendship is clear, Murphy has a Producer's credit on "Tower Heist") I've never been a huge fan of Brett Ratner's in the past. He's a solid filmmaker, but usually seems to lack an real emotional center to his films, and usually his films are big and instantly disposable. (Although "Red Dragon" is an interesting exception to that.) I'm not gonna claim that "Tower Hesit," doesn't fit into Ratner's typical mold of big and disposable, but I didn't exactly hate it. There's also some good supporting work by Gabourey Sidibe, and be a well-casted Tea Leoni, that's always a good thing to see. (When she's not casted well, ["Spanglish"] it can be ugly) I'm not gonna be raving about "Tower Heist," but I'll recommend it.

GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE (2011) Director: Joann Sfar

3 1/2 STARS

I'm already coming into "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" a little bit blind, as I actually never heard of Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) before this film, which is unfortunate because he seems to be a very interesting guy to know about. As a young kid, he was taught excessive by his father (Razvan Vasilescu) the piano, but he wasn't particularly interested in his music, or music in general. Instead, he first artistic strive was drawing and painting, particularly nude women, which he was doing, very, very young. From that young age, he started smoking and never seemed to stop. He started writing pop music and became famously instantly, and became a renegade screenwriter/performer. He wrote, what seemed like fairly innocuous songs for people like France Gall (Sara Forestier) and some rather blatantly sexual ones with Juliette Greco (Anna Margoulis) I recognized some of them, when I heard them. He also dated Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and married and had two kids with Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon) (The actress Charlotte Gainsbourg is his daughter) He seemed to be the antithesis of fame, reacting to it with a Warhol-like unreaction to it. By the end of his life, he was a drunk known for showing up on panel shows, and speaking his mind a little too clearly. Now, I'll preface the next part of the movie by informing the audience, that this is one of the few biopics I can think of that's based off of a graphic novel. Director Joann Sfar, who wrote the novel, uses some wonderful animation at varying points in the film, shown as exaggerated caricatures that Serge talks to in his private time, and in public. Sometimes, when he needs to get up and start dancing, the caricature will take over playing the piano for him. The main one, called Voix de la Gueule (Elmosnino, again, I believe in motion-capture) is a heavy exaggeration of all Serge's personal thoughts on himself. His incredibly long nose for instance. Gainsbourg was a self-hating Jew, known for anti-semitic rants. The Guelle character seems to be how Gainsbourg chooses to see himself. It doesn't exactly haunt him, like a personal demon would. It seems like his own visual mirror reflection of his thoughts, complete with the all the negative images he has of himself. Strange how someone can be so self-hating, yet be so insuccient and blase with everyone else practically. This is clearly not a straight-forward biopic, and is definitely a more of an imagined one. I wonder why Sfar chose Gainsbourg as his subject, but just the movie itself is worth watching just for the music and the scene with Brigitte Bardot dancing around the piano. (Not that you need an explanation with Bardot, but when you see it, you'll know why) It's certainly an uneven film, but it might have been an uneven life too. Gainsbourg got in trouble for his music by almost everybody at one point. The Vatican banned one of his songs caused it sounded to much like a woman having an orgasm (which is was), and his reggae version of "La Bastille" caused an uproar in French by those same kind of people who don't understand why Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" is a masterpiece. "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life," is probably not that heroic a life, but it's certainly a fascinating one. As a movie, the reaction I felt was that of an outsider looking in on this world, but perhaps that was intentional. There didn't seem to be too many people who really got a close relationship with Serge. Probably on his request. It seemed to come too easy for him, music. That's probably why he was so disgusted with his popularity in the field. Well, there you go. Guy gets to be around and have sex with naked women all his life, and with names like Bardot and Birkin on top of that, and he still probably wishes he was simply drawing them. One of the more unusual biopics in recent years.

MAGIC TRIP (2011) Directors: Alison Ellwood; Alex Gibney

3 STARS

One of the more esoteric of arguments among cultural historians is the discussion about, when exactly, did the '60s begin? The joke answer being, sometime after 1959 ended, but presuming they mean, the beginnings of the counter-culture movement, I think there are more than a few decent answers to that question. (I think my answer would probably be February 9, 1964, the day The Beatles debuted on "The Ed Sullivan Show", presuming we consider the ending of the '50s, to be JFK's assassination.) Although something can be said for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters legendary cross-country LSD-induced road trip, that's re-examined in "Magic Trip". Kesey is probably most famous today for having written the novel "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest", which at the time, was a striking blow as an anti-authoritarian gospel. (The book, not necessarily the movie, as Kesey often explained). Soon after the book however, Kesey began shifting his artistic focus to film, believing the relatively new medium would be the preferred one among artists, if say, Shakespeare was around today. His goal, was to use film, to tell stories, in the manner in which reality actually happens. The speech patterns, the conversations, the real-life people. Unfortunately, for that goal, he stoned out of his mind during these experiments, which began on this cross-country journey with a few friends. The footage they took, stretch over 40 hours long, and the sound was so choppy it was practically uneditable. Kesey worked on it for decades before giving up shortly before his death in '93. They'd visit numerous people along the way. Ginsberg, Leary, Jerry Garcia, Dean Moriarty. Half the guests ended up leaving early, or getting institutionalized after a bad acid trip or something like that. The journey from Southern California to New York for the World's Fair, became a epic travelouge of America in a VW bus that could easily be describe as inspiration for the Woodstock Generation of Abbie Hoffman. Gibney and Ellwood reconstruct the trip, along with some interviews, new and archived, from many of the Merry Pranksters and Kesey himself, in order to reconstruct the trip, not nearly as Kesey intended, but at least make sure it's documented. They use a good portion of the footage, which they've been combing around for about 7 years to piece "Magic Trip" together. It is a nice little documentary of the trip, but it's also a trip I would've rather been apart of then hear about secondhand. It's nice to know about it, but it's more of a wish I was there-type feeling that the movie comes off as. I guess it's a significant part of counterculture folklore though, plus the movie was fairly entertaining, so I'll recommend it.

BAG IT (2011) Director: Suzan Beraza

4 STARS

I actually have never been that much on the side of those anti-plastic bags environmentalists before. Not so much out of naivete on my part, I've always realized that plastic isn't great, and plastic bags are terrible for our ecosystem, there's numerous movement in the U.S. and the world to be their use completely, or charge for their use. California alone is well on their way to banning them completely. Personally, I think about the famous George Carlin routine about how the Earth survives all those natural and unnatural disasters, but "Plastic bags" that'll end us? I'm still on the unlikely side, but after watching "Bag It," I think I'm a little more conscious about it. There is way too much plastic on items nowadays, many of which, don't need plastic. Many of the items with that those circular arrows that claim to be recyclable, can't be recycled. Many things that can, just aren't. "Bag It", introduces us to a nice, and average guy named Jeb Berrier, who's set a goal to stop using plastic bags for a year. Personally, I do use plastic bags, but unlike most people, I actually do reuse them at home, all the time. Granted, as trash bags, but still it's technically, reusing, in my state of denial, it is anyway. From there, we travels across the globe and to the local store to see how much plastic we are in fact using, and how companies and organizations that claim our current use of plastic is relatively safe, is in fact, not. Lot of other facts too. It was surprising the amount of knowledge actually packed into a documentary that was fairly light, and only 74 minutes in length. I think I a lot of it, I probably could've learned somewhere else, if I had been so inclined. I'm still unsure about the direness of ridding them from our lives completely, although I certainly agree that we severely overuse plastic, like when the put plastic casing over an item that's made of plastic to begin with. I also think they should either start giving out cloth bags for free at supermarkets, (and lots of them, instead of having to pay a few bucks for them) or short of that, make a better paper bag. Preferably, one that I can carry like a plastic bag, 'cause paper sucks for people who walk around everywhere like myself. "Bag It", is a good documentary. Little cliche, I'm getting tired of these environmental docs too, but it works well enough, and made me rethink some thoughts of mine that I previously had.

HAPPY TEARS (2010) Director: Michael Lichtenstein

1 STAR

The only "Happy Tears," I had at this movie, was when the damn thing finally ended. Oh my God, it was just painful to even think about how I sat through this flimsy, lighthearted family melodrama. Ugh. Where do I begin. There's two sisters, both of whom are kinda screwed up, but for different reasons. Laura (Demi Moore) is the older sister, who normally has a decent job, moderately well-behaved kids, and a gay husband. Right now though, her concerns are with her dying senile father, Joe (Rip Torn). Joe is an old leach who, even in this ungodly state, where he can't even clean his own shit anymore, still manages to have a flossy girlfriend around, named Shelly (Ellen Barkin). Well, technically, she's supposed to be his "nurse", but she walks out of the house with Laura's Mom's old coat most of the time, and her stethoscope doesn't seem to work. Laura, saw all of her Dad's flaws growing up. She hid them from her younger sister Jayne (Parker Posey) who's moved to the coasts where she works at-... I don't remember what she actually does now, but she can buy $2800 boots that are blue, but look black to the naked eye, and she's somewhat engaged to Jackson (Christian Camargo) who now deals art from his late famous father. Her concerns are trying to have a baby, and hoping to come to see her sister and reminisce about the old times, still thinking that she's exaggerating just how sick he is. Joe is sick, but he also still plays his old guitar whenever he can, and hasn't gone off too far into senility to tell his tall tales. One in particular involves a treasure that he has long-claimed to be buried in their backyard. Laura's doesn't believe there is a treasure. Jayne occasionally tries to get the exact location out of him as he pops in and out of movie dementia. There's some interesting aberrations that Jayne has once in a while, that, must have apparently meant something when Writer/Director Michael Lichtenstein chose to write them down, but they have absolutely no meaning here. The movie basically follows the structure of Jayne thinks one thing, Laura explains Jayne the truth, which Jayne is reluctant to believe until it's right in front of her face, and even then, and then Jayne goes onto something else, which Laura again, has to correct Jayne on. As you can imagine, she regrets keeping all those secrets about their father from her when she was little. These are two annoying characters played by good actresses who really aren't given anything decent to do here. Far and away, Ellen Barkin's character is the most interesting, and her part basically gets ripped to shreds and is mostly written out as soon as they're able to, so as to focus on these two sisters. I don't know if you could give a damn whether or not there's a treasure in the backyard, or how or why that would change anything, other than monetary. It certainly isn't enough to change these characters enough to the point where we start caring about them. It certainly doesn't excuse Joe's previous behavior...- Eh, good grief. Four wonderful actors, and you put them in this piece of crap. What a waste.

SMASH HIS CAMERA (2010) Director: Leon Gast

3 STARS

Ron Galella is probably the most famous and infamous of all paparazzi. He was sued by Jackie Onassis on multiple times for invasion of privacy, he got his jaw broken by Marlon Brando, and he was Andy Warhol's favorite photographer. He's still working, racing celebrities' cars through New York City so he can beat them to the place they're going to, and snap those photos. Now, those photos are put on display at the Museum of Modern Art. Is he a great photographer? You don't really have to be to be a paparazzi, you just need to have a camera, and be there, but he often gets some amazing shots, peering through the leaves outside the front gate, stalking out celebs. He's got thousands of photos stocked away . Just the names on the side of the boxes, are striking in of themselves, as the camera occasionally peers up and down at them, as they discuss some of his more infamous moments. Galella is the subject of the documentary "Smash His Camera," a phrase he's probably heard dozens of times in his career. Galella doesn't seem to have much second thoughts about the morality of his profession. I don't necessarily disagree with him either, but he also is infamous for taking things to the extreme. He dated one of Jackie O's maids in order to get information on her whereabouts. He was one of the first that would hide in doorways and corners, and pop out as the celebs passed by. His restraining order from Jackie O, never seem to weather him. The way he talks about her, his biggest and most famous name he photographed, it's almost like he's talking about a past relationship. Why should she bad mad, at me, for taking her photo? I think there is a certain relationship between celebs and the paps, and with major celebs. Nowadays, that relationship seems closer than ever before. Galella started a lot of that. He's not well-liked by celebs; he has trouble even passing his books of photos to the celebs with whom he has pictures of, in the book. He write letters to Brad and Angelina, asking for time to talk. The guy turn paparazzi into it Quixotic quest. The appeal of fame is strange. Everybody wants to be famous, even the paparazzi who photograph famous people. Now these famous people, some have to be told of the celebs that he photographed in the past. It's strange to think that people can look at a photo of Jackie O. nowadays, and legitimately have no idea who she is. Odds are, that photo was taken by Galella. As a curiosity, I"ll recommend "Smash His Camera". He, I love hearing about old Hollywood, and old stars, and all the aspects of fame, so I enjoyed it. Is it a great or essential documentary? Eh, not really, unless maybe you're working on a project involving Jackie O.

PRET-A-PORTER (aka READY-TO-WEAR) (1994) Director: Robert Altman

5 STARS

I realized after watching "Pret-a-Porter," that I really don't have any clue how or why Altman chose the subjects for his films. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised, Altman, switches genres at will. This one, seems like an extension "The Player," and "Short Cuts," his two L.A. films.  Altman isn't exactly a Tom Ford when it comes to fashion, but he doesn't ever seem to be anything, just whatever genre or subject allows him to tell the story, or more accurately, stories. Fashion week in Paris, is more than enough to tell stories involving murder, sex, fashion, past loves reconnecting, new one-night stands that last a week, a man who likes to take photos, and he even gets to scewer the entertainment world. Like most Altman movies, there's way too many characters to try giving a complete profile of all of them. This one even does it in multiple languages, making it somewhat more complicated. I guess I'll begin with the first major event, a death. The head of the entire fashion week, suddenly is thrown into the river, after he chokes on a ham sandwich. Nobody knows that yet, and everybody suspects he's been murdered. No one is surprised, or even saddened that he's been murdered. Not even his wife, Simone (Anouk Aimee). The movie ends, not with a birth, but with somebody about to give birth, and a fashion show unlike any other, that finally makes the FADTV reporter Kitty Potter (Kim Basinger), who's been acting as the roving narrator for much of the movie, finally quit trying to pretend she likes, or even understands fashion. I'd be remissed not to mention, among the all-star casting is an attempted renewed relationship between Isabel and Sergi (Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastoianni), if for no other reason, but because the movie was their final together. I think Altman is skewing the fashion industry through most of the movie, but who can tell. Fashion is such a self-parodying industry to begin with, I hardly think Altman needed to pick and prod at it too. Did the two American strangers, Joe and Anne (Tim Robbins and Julia Roberts) who through a bizarre set of circumstances, end up stuck in the same hotel room, with both of them losing their luggage, have to take place in Fashion Week Paris to be told? Not particularly, but it's more than appropriate, and just as likely to have at fashion week than anywhere else. Altman also seems to love skewering himself in "Pret-a-Porter". This is, by my count, after "M*A*S*H" and "Brewster McCloud", and there might be one or two more Altman films, where Sally Kellerman, gets caught humiliated, and naked. This time, she's not the only one, as the three fashion magazine editors (Kellerman, Linda Hunt, and Tracey Ullman) all get caught with their pants down trying to hire Milo (Stephen Rea), the new hot name in fashion. I'm not sure where to rank "Pret-a-Porter" in the Altman canon. It's certainly not in his upper eschelon, but I'd rather watch it again, then most everything else I have to sit through. There's also a cute storymark regarding fashion, Paris, and their obsessive love of dogs, which are apparently everywhere. You may need to be an Altman fan to fully appreciate "Pret-a-Porter," but few of Altman's movie are ever as fun and purely entertaining as this one.

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2002) Director: Gurinder Chadha

3 1/2 STARS

It's a little weird how in America how women's soccer, became a mini-phenomenon. There's a couple scenes in "Bend It Like Beckham," where we see the two stars playing underground tapes of WUSA soccer games, which, and yes, I just looked it up myself, was a short-lived professional women's soccer league in America, one that didn't exactly pan out, like all the future ones so far haven't. I would've presumed that such a league would've been more likely to occur in a place like Europe, where they've had many successful long-running women's sports leagues, like basketball for years, and where, they really care about soccer, or I should say, futbol. I know America was way ahead of the game on women's sports in general, but even futbol? Sounds weird, but it's true, and in England, it's somewhat odd for women to play sports, especially soccer, and especially so, if your family are Indian Orthodox Sikhs, who don't want their daughter playing futbol, and wonder how she'll ever find a nice man to marry that way. Jessminder, or "Jess" as she prefers (Parminder Nadra), has made her bedroom into a shrine devoted to her own personal deity, David Beckham, (In America, at the time, we called him, That Guy That Married That Spice Girl) She also sneaks out of her house, much of the time to occasionally show up some of the boys at the local park. It's there, where she gets recruited by Jules (Keira Knightley's Sportsbra) to play for an upstart, amateur Women's League Team, coach by a former futbol player, Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who's a good tough, stone-faced coach to the girls, and is a little bit dreamy. Meanwhile, at home, where nobody knows anything about Jesminder's secret life as a futbol star, they're preparing for her sister Pinky's (Archie Panjabi) wedding. Mrs.. Bhamra (Shaheen Khan) tries to keep Jesminder in the kitchen, learning how to cook Indian food, to marry a nice Indian man. Mr. Bhamra (Anupam Kher) has more personal reasons for insisting that Jesminder not play futbol. Parts of the movie seems a little bit strange. There's a running joke about everybody confuses Jules for either a guy or a lesbian, even though she clearly has a crush on Joe, her coach, and then subsequently, it confuses Jess's family members when they hear strange rumors about them, coupled with Jess's other odd behaviors like buying futbol shoes, supposedly to wear at her sister's wedding. Mostly though, "Bend It Like Beckham" is basically a fun little sports movie, that might throw one-too-many faux obstacles, into the mix. Alright, I kid Keira Knightley, but she spends practically the entire movie in her sportsbra, pretty much. That was odd.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II (2000) Director: John Woo

2 STARS

I can't think of too many movies that are as different from each other "Mission: Impossible" and "Mission: Impossible II", strangely enough. I wasn't the biggest fan of the original series, but I do watch and admire it occasionally, but the main reasons I am only now, coming back to catch up on these sequels was, because A. I didn't think this would be a long-running movie franchise, and following up on that B., after the fourth film in the series got such high raving reviews from both fans and the critics, I've decided to reluctantly concede that I was wrong on the "Mission: Impossible" series. I don't think anybody could blame me though. I've seen the original film about half a dozen times, and to this day, I couldn't explain one damn thing that happened in that movie. Sure, the appeal often-the-case of "Mission: Impossible" is that you have to pay very close attention to what's happening, as sometimes, it's unbelievably subtle just what they're doing and how they're doing it, but I went over that original one pretty well. I even like that film, but I can't explain it. Director Brian De Palma, clearly chose to use "Mission: Impossible" as one of his filmmaking exercises, which isn't so much based on the plot or story, but in the way he keeps us interested with his directing. A good comparison film to the original might be De Palma's "Femme Fatale". Here, the director chosen is Hong Kong action director John Woo, and I can explain the story pretty easily. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is called back onto an IMF mission from his vacation rock climbing (and the rock climbing sequences are some of my amazing shots I've ever seen I might add) to get a hold of a virus called Chimera, as well as it's antivirus, Pllogren, before a rouge former IMF agent, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) gets it, and begins checking pharmaceutical companies connected to terrorist groups to sell/blackmail. Hunt is allowed to bring in any two guys he wants; I'm not sure why only two, this sounds like the kind of project where four or five dozen guys might have been helpful, but he brings in Luther and Billy (Ving Rhames and Jon Polson) and he has to use Ambrose's ex-girlfriend, a notorious jewelry thief, Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton), who's new to this spy game, but is useful as the Lois Lane character of getting herself in more and more danger, and as someone who has instant sexual chemistry with Ethan, so they can easily find themselves in uncomfortable situations together and talk like Nick and Nora Charles. There's a lot of action, there's a lot of explosions, and it's all shot well. John Woo may just be the best in world at shooting these action scenes, and by the end of the movie, I missed how the first film was so much more interesting and unpredictable. Sure, it doesn't make any sense, but with "Mission: Impossible II", it went too far the other direction. Did this film have to be "Mission: Impossible II"? If this movie had a different title, advertised as your typical action-spy thriller, and nobody knew it was supposed to be apart of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, would there be a difference? Hey, there isn't a James Bond movie out there where I need someone telling me that it's a Bond movie. That, and while "M:I-2" starts out ok, after a while, it basically just goes through the motions of your typical action film, and I couldn't care about anybody involved at the end. Not one who survives, who dies, not even the disease, or the relationship that we know, probably won't go anywhere. I'll get to the third as soon as I can, but I think I was right to skip this one originally.  

KILOMETRE ZERO (2005) Director: Hiner Saleem

4 STARS

Not released theatrically in the U.S., Iraqi filmmaker Hiner Saleem's "Kilometre Zero" reminded me or an Alejandro Jodorowsky film. It's not-as-epic in scope, but it's a road movie, that seemed to continually get more and more absurd as it goes on, and it even has characters with body parts missing. Has some characters that are dead too. The film takes place in flashback to the late eighties, during the Iran-Iraq War, right before the gassing of the Kurds. A Kurdistani electrician Ako, (Nazmi Kirik) tries to get out of Iraq. He doesn't really have much availabl options to do that, so the next best thing is to join the Kurdistani military. Saleem shots in a lot of stationary long takes, even during the fighting scenes, which are some of the strangest I've ever seen. Ako, spends his time, in a desert trench, lying down, sticking his leg up in the air, hoping it gets shot off, and annoyed that it never does. (He reasoned that he'd be willing to lose a leg, if it means, leaving the country.) At home, with his wife Selma (Belcim Belgin), he struggling to convince her to leave her sickly father's side, who's deaf and bedridden. After one of the soldiers die, Ako, along with a contemptuous Driver (Eyam Ekrem) have to travel in a station wagon, with a coffin on top of it, to bring the body back to the Deeased"s relatives. This leads to continual misunderstanding and absurdities of war, and dictatorships. Thy're not allowed to travel during the day, or or anything other than dirt roads, so as not to have the citizen's suspect that the war might be going badly. The Driver can't stand Ako either, since he's a Kurd, and not a real Iraqi that gives everything in their belief of Saddam. Also, there's a Saddam Hussein statue that they keep running into, as it's being driven all around the country. "Kilometre Zero," gives us a travelog of an Iraq that most of us may have only seen in war documentaries, and gives us some insight into the country, at the height of Hussein's power. The whole country seems to be desert, and Saleem gives us some wonderful scenes of absolute absurdity. One after another. Odd how the power-hungy and the dictatorial, seem to make people immune to the ridiculousness of their own actions and commands. Even those who aren't exactly pro-Hussein, seem to exist in a world that- You remember that scene in "Alice in Wonderland," where Alice is offered a cracker to quench her thirst? That's pretty much how this film feels like most of the time. It's interesting, bizarre, and well-made. Definitely curious what Saleem's other films will have in store for me.
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