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.
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