Tuesday, October 9, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #45 PART 1: "ELLES", "OSLO, AUGUST 31", "LE HAVRE", "AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE" and MORE! Plus a message regarding some of my blog's/computer's technical difficulties.

Dear Loyal Readers:

This edition of my "Random Weekly Movie Reviews" is incomplete, and it'll quite likely remain incomplete for awhile. You've all read about my constant complaining in recent weeks about my computer problems, while, as of the time I'm writing this, I have regained a some home internet activity at this time, my computer's erratic nature leads me to believe that it's only temporary. I wrote the original draft of this message by hand, because for over 27 hours, I was unable to get onto the internet, and didn't think I'd be able to get on until I was at my local library, Tuesday Night. Hopefully, I will be wrong about the temporary status of my home internet, but if I'm not, I do have multiple Canon of Film entries pre-written and ready-to-post, if needed, and I'll be continuing to write and finish, this batch of movie reviews, as soon as I can. I'll also be adding more movies than I planned to to the blog, because I can't stop watching more just because I can't review, so this blog will be a long, multi-post entry, and there might be times in the near future where that might be the only things I'll be able to post for a while. As to the nature of my computer problems, it's got a severe virus that continually copies what's in our memory, slowing everything down immensely, and jamming everything up, and slowly eats out modem connection, just enough to make them stop working, and then cruelly, makes it so that we're unable to uninstall or delete them. We're considering all options, most of which we can't afford, but we are still considering anyway. (BTW, if there are any editors out there who think I might be a good addition to their newspaper/magazine staff, and are willing to pay me, even of a trial basis, this would be a good time to get in contact with me, through either my Facebook or Twitter, I assure you, they will somehow, constantly be checked ASIAC, and I can always write to certain lengths, on deadlines, and cut out all vulgarities in my writing, if asked.) So, while I might not be able to update this blog as often, or in the manner that I'd prefer for awhile, I can assure you, the Readers, that I will be updating the blog as regularly, as I can, but I ask that you all bear with me until then. Oh, and if anybody happens to be a computer expert, or perhaps, has an extra, relatively-working computer with internet capabilities that you just want to get rid of, let me know or Facebook, or Twitter, or comment on my blog, that can work too.

Thank You All, Sincerely,
David Baruffi

Oh, and P.S.: I still want all your lists for the TOP TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!, so make your choices, and get those to me too!


Okay, so with that caveat, here's Part 1 of this Edition of my Random Weekly Movie Reviews!

ELLES (2012) Director: Malgorzata Szumowska

3 STARS

The more I think back on "Elles," the less I like it. It was relatively well-made, technically, which is why I'll recommend it, but....- You know, this is one of those occasions where one could say that, maybe I suffer a bit from having watched too many movies. I know, that's a typical refrain for people when they disagree with a critic's opinion, but, had I not seen other recent films dealing with, essentially the same subject of prostitution, I might enjoy this film more. Unfortunately, after seeing movies like "House of Pleasures," "Student Services," "A Call Girl," "The Girlfriend Experience" to name a few, "Elles," seems to lack the insight into the world, that we learn from those other movies. "Student Services," in particular make "Elles" pale in comparison. Both films are about university students, who also work as prostitutes. (Well, University-age) "Student Services,"'s was a first-person account, while "Elles," is purely an outsiders perspective. The outsider, is an Elle-France journalist, Anne (Juliette Binoche). She a mother-of-two, with a husband who's rather dull. We catch up to her, interviewing Charlotte (Anias Demoustier) who's one of two prostitute she's interviewing for her latest assignment. Charlotte, who goes by Lola, is independent. She's trying to earn money for an apartment. The other interviewee is Alijca (Joanna Kulig), who's a Polish immigrant, who hooks because she's enjoy expensive things. One of them has a boyfriend. Which one, I don't remember, I think Charlotte. It doesn't really matter, 'cause most of the times we follow them, when they aren't having their interview turn into a rather personal friendship with Anne, they're busy working. There's a lot of illicit sex in the movie, and the film actually got an NC-17 rating. (I think it should be an R, personally, especially when you compare it to the also NC-17, "Shame") Needless to say, Anna soon inspired and influenced by her new friends. Either that, or maybe she's had a long drought of sexual frustration, that just now, she's beginning to not ignore. Her sex scene, is a masturbation scene, and a sad one at that. (Not that any masturbation scenes are particularly happy, but....) "Elles", which just means "Girls" in French, is well-made and well-acted, but ultimately shallow, and too narrow a point of view. I don't learn a whole lot about prostitution, marriage, sexual frustration, that I didn't know before, and get told better. Maybe I have a soft spot for Juliette Binoche, who can transcend almost any material given to her. I'm recommending it, with a caveat that there's better films on these subjects out there, and they're worthing looking for. Maybe to understand why those films are better, perhaps it's worth seeing "Elles," to understand why they're better.  

OSLO, AUGUST 31 (2012) Director: Joachim Trier

4 1/2 STARS

This is the 2nd film I've seen by Danish-born Norwegian Director Joachim Trier, after his previous film "Reprise", I didn't particularly love that fim, but I can't exactly imagine off the top of the head, what those two films have in common, either. "Oslo, August 31," is a pretty straightforward title; it takes place entirely on Augst 31, and it follows Anders (Anders Danielsen Lee) who's out for the day from his rehab center. He's got a job interview with a magazine editor to write articles. In the meantime, he decidest to spend the day getting around and catching up with the few friends he still has around. He begins with a couple friends who are now married, and raising a kid. He remarks at a party later, talking to an ex-girlfriend, who's been with her boyfriend for nine years. They seem to be flirting on the edges, while trying to vaguely talk about their own personal feelings. There's a lot of these strange and random conversations in the movie. Occasionally, Anders isn't even in the conversation, he's simply listening intently to someone else's conversation, like while sitting in a diner, listening and imaginingly as a woman lists off what has to have been some kind of longago-written bucket list, she's reading from her laptop. The interview begins by going well. He knows the magazine, the editor seems impressed with him, but then the discussion moves to his resume. It's impressive, but there's a lot of years that are strikingly blank. It's around then that Anders begins to lost it. He confesses to his addictions, and then he storms out. It's clear to mention that he storms out, and isn't thrown out. He loses it, he probably would've been hired even after he said he was a drug addict. Instead, he ends up going out to some of those friends he probably should stay away from. He gets offered a drink, and he takes it He even meets a girl, Rebecca (Ingrid Olava), who's nice. She knows nothing of his past. The night continues on, like dozens of previous nights he must have had before. Metriculating from place-to-place, getting more people in their group, especially girls, as the night goes on. He doesn't go skinny-dipping, but he hangs on the edge of the pool, and watches everybody else. He returns to his home after. You can imagine what he does there. There ends "Oslo, August 31". It's a simple film. You can make dozens of films with the structure. It's a quiet film, about a man who's intuitively aware of his surrounding, and the minutes of the day, floating by, as he can see himself, falling back and deeper into his own regretable, but inevitable patterns. You may notice how much more comfortable he seems to be after he drinks. He's way more unsure and erratic in his behavior before he drinks. We don't realize it, but the tension in the film, is inherently inside him, not so much a conflict, but a struggle for him to survive. He knows, if he can get through today, things will be okay, at least he knows it can, possibly. "Oslo, August 31," is quite an interesting film. I think an interesting comparison might be Spike Lee's "25th Hour," which also takes place in a day, but this film  is even more narrow, and painfully focused. Anders is the only thng in the movie, essentially. Everything else, is just the things that Anders runs into. Possibly because we know for Anders, each day may be the last. Sometimes it's hardest for Anders to tell whether or not it will be.


LE HAVRE (2011) Director: Aki Kaurismaki

5 STARS



I think I now understand the appeal of great Finnish Director Aki Kaurismaki. I had only see one film of his previous, "Lights in the Dusk," which didn't particularly intrigue me. With his latest feature-length film "Le Havre", I'm now beginning to understand, and appreciate his deadpan view of the world that's almost too tired to recognize it's own absurd nature. "Le Havre," which is made in France, and is a coastal town on the shores of Normandy, which nothing seems to happen. Marcel Marx is an aging shoe-shiner at the docks, a profession I'm surprised to learn still exists. His wife Arrietty (Kati Outinen), suddenly falls ill, and has to stay at the hospital. She doesn't reveal just how sick she is, but she worries about Marcel. At this time, there's a large cargo that's arrived on a ship, that was supposed to continue onto London, carrying about a dozen or so African refugees. When they open the container, one of the refugees pops out and takes off. Strangely, the police don't seem to rush to get him, and he manages to hide out for a while, until Marcel takes him in. Neither Marcel, or the kid, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) know exactly what to do. The police, particularly one oddly nosy one, Monet (Jean-Pierre Daroussin), who reminds me a bit of Inspector Clouseau, if he wasn't a clutz. Soon, he begins to get the local neighborhood involved in hiding Idrissa, and Idrissa begins helping around the house. Not because Marcel asked him to, but he started doing it anyway, probably 'cause it needed to be done. He traces most of the rest of the refugee to a camp in Calais, where they're waiting to be sent back. Marcel finds a guy who's willing to smuggle Idrissa to England, but he can't afford the money. I'm making this movie sounds like an Italian Neo-Realist masterpiece. It's not, it's fact, it's some of the greatest use of dry humor, I've seen in a movie in a while. Kaurismaki isn't afraid to just, let a scene sit there, and lie there a little bit longer than it should. There's tension and drama, like an action thriller, but everybody moves at the pace of snails, and the answers to everyone's problems, come at obscure angles, and usually involve things that even seem trivial to the locals in this film. You'll notice I stopped short of explaining how Marcel tries to get the money. If you can figure it out based on what I've told you so far, you might be a witch or some kind of powerful psychic, 'cause believe me, I haven't left you anything close to a clue. Kaurismaki's clearly an original artist and voice. I've heard about many of his films for awhile, now I'm really looking forward into digging into his back filmography. I have a hard time imagining that "Le Havre," doesn't rank as one of his best, but if it doesn't, I definitely want to see what his bests are. This film, is as playful as it is emotional. It's also a great example of the difference between "What something's about," and "How it's about it." I've seen many versions of this basic story, but the greatness in "Le Havre," is the how Kaurismaki chose to go about telling it. I like the film the more and more I think about it.   

AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE (2010) Director: Steven Soderbergh

4 STARS

Soderbergh's "And Everything is Going Fine," was compiled as a memorial tribute to the late great Spalding Gray. He worked with Gray originally in his film "King of the Hill". He was a profound actor and writer, particularly in the theatre scene, but his greatest fame was as a monologuist. I guess the proper terminology might be one-man show, but he exactly what you'd consider a performer. He told stories, most of them were funny, and at many times profound, and they certainly came from a distinctive New York Intellectual perspective, but he was mostly known for his monologues. His first monologue he made, was about his experience on making "The Killing Fields". Soderbergh directed a filmed production of his monologue, "Gray's Anatomy". There's footage from that film, combined with mixed footage of most of his productions, some backstage and televised interviews, and some documentary footage of him. Gray passed away shortly after a 2004 accident he had; he appeared on stage with crutches for many of his last monologues, many of which were actually just interviews with audience members, and he loved the idea of finding fascinating stories to pull out of them, if he could. He told stories of the interviews he had with people at his shows, at his other performances, and on talk shows. Soderbergh compiled and made this tribute to him, and the movie consists primarily, of him talking. It's no surprise he became famous for his monologues, the man is intrinsically interesting. He has that presence and wit that you'd equate with people like Fran Lebowitz, Eric Bogosian or Andre Gregory. Out of the entire movie's 89 minutes, I wouldn't be shocked if all but two minutes of it, is just him talking. Him telling stories, him telling the same stories at different time, him talking to his father about the stories he tells about him,.... It's practically a best-of Spalding Gray, a long collection of slices and pieces of his monologues and interviews, tracing his life story as far as he can, and I can't think of a better tribute to such a man. I can't wait to watch the movie again, and just listen to the amazing monologues of Spalding Gray, or better yet, I'm gonna put a few of his monologues on my Netflix for later. "And Everything is Going Fine," is a beautiful tribute, but it would be an amazing introduction to the great works of Spalding Gray.

THE NAKED CITY (1948) Director: Jules Dassin

5 STARS

Jules Dassin's American film noir, "The Naked City," spun off into a TV series, one of the first films to become a successful TV show, and it's practically a prototype for all detective/crime series pilots ever made. It's also, one of the best classic American film noirs.  The city, is New York, and we meet a lot of people in the city, most of them, going about their day as usual. A maid, however,  walks in on her employer, who's naked in the bathtub, and dead. The woman is Jean Dexter, a sometimes model. The two detectives on the case are Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor). At a certain point, they think they might have found the guy, but he was elusive, almost like he was some kind of athlete. There's a couple suspicious characters however. One named Frank Niles (Howard Duff) who's answers continually seem more and more evasive, the more they question him. Another is Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart), a fellow model-friend of hers, who's seems to keep showing up at unexpected places, and under different names. There's a narrator who gives us in on details about the case, and the city, and the detective go from place-to-place, with pictures of Dexter and the others, hoping they find someone who might have known her or seen her. Meanwhile, the newspapers seem to be all over the news story, as front-page covers continue to flow down the sewers, each with a more sensational headline than the day before. The film really is a typical crime procedural. If this story had been shot today, it probably would resemble an episode of "CSI...", but back then, shot in black-and-white, during the golden age of film noir, it's shot the way those "CSI" shows probably should be shot now. Gritty, realistic. The movie was actually shot in New York City, and many of the locations and extras were actual New Yorkers. On imdb.com, the film is even described as semi-documentary. I'm not sure I'd completely go that far, but it is a good way to showcase the realism of the film. It's bare, like a "Dragnet," or a "Law & Order", and yet, remains romantic and at the same time humbled by the city, and the story, of what is ultimately, just one little crime, the next crime that needs to be solved, one of many crimes. The narrator's famous ending, still feels true, even today. "There are eight million stories in the Naked City, this has been one of them." Just one of them. Thank God television took off, so we can get a glimpse of the rest of them, late at night on reruns (and for that matter, thank God for reruns). Dassin would eventually get kicked out of Hollywood, and eventually move to France, where he'd make the most of his future films, including the legendary caper drama, "Rififi". Dassin's work is still somewhat overlooked in America, but for basically inventing the TV crime drama, albeit, probably accidentally, he's always gonna be one of the true greats of film noir.  

PURPLE NOON (1960) Director: Rene Clement

4 STARS

Some of you may find some of the plot points in "Purple Noon," sound familiar, and they should. The same story that "Purple Noon," is based on was also the inspiration for the film "The Talented Mr. Ripley", the Anthony Minghella film. In fact these are only two of the five ilms, that have been made based on the Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels. None of the films, as far as I can tell, are in any way connected to the others, and the books aren't particularly connected either. Highsmith's character of Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) is a truly evil character. He's a fake. He tries to steal identities, is willing to kill and do more in order to continually gain higher power in the upper crust of society, and he's a sociopath. Highsmith gives him, only one good character trait, and that is, he is curious about human behavior. He observes it, he often mimics it. He tries to desperately understand it. Here, Tom befriends a similarly erratically-behaved man, Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), who lives life to the fullest. When they first get together, they spend the night partying all over town. At one point, they buy a cane from a blind person they run into, so they can imitate being blind, and try to hit on a woman using it. They do, and eventually, they get her to try using the cane, which she pays money for (More than they bought it for) and then, they leave her in the middle of the road, pretending she's blind. Philippe is dating and living with Marge (Marie Laforet). It's on a trip out on Philippe's boat, where he realizes that Tom's stealing much of his papers. He notices Tom standing in the mirror, trying to act like himself. Soon, after they leave Marge ashore after she gets upset at Philippe, she leaves for ashore, Tom kills Philippe, weighs down his body, and tosses it into the Ocean. She comes ashore and tells Marge and everybody that Philippe has left. He transpires to begin trying to not only fill Philippe's shoes metaphorically, but also, leave evidence, pretending to be Philippe in order to make sure that he's presence remains. During one out-of-town trip, where Tom takes Philippe's typewriter to send letters to Marge, including a will, he ends up killing one of Philippe's friend, who catches Tom in the act. After about ten minutes of dragging the body down a hotel, and dumping it, it suddenly occurs to him, that Philippe killed him, not Tom. Naturally, "Purple Noon," and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," will forever be compared. My personal favorite Ripley film so far is Liliana Cavani's "Ripley's Game" (I haven't seen "The American Friend," or "Ripley Under ground" yet), but between these two, "TTMR" is more accurate to the novel, including exploiting the homosexual subtext, being completely examined, while "Purple Noon," only insinuates it, at most. Yet, "Purple Noon," is more intimate. The story ties itself together, much easier, although it does end with Ripley's crimes eventually revealed. It's tricky, but I think I prefer the look and the style of "Purple Noon," although I also gave "The Talented Mr. Ripley" 4 STARS. They are totally different films, oddly enough. It's the first official film I've seen by Rene Clement (although he did co-direct Cocteau's "La Belle et La bete", but was uncredited), and it's possible I simply prefer him to Anthony Minghella, who I've always been more reluctant to embrace. I think I prefer Delon's Ripley to Damon's, but that might be because the other characters were slightly more interesting in "TTMR", while here, the characters seem to enter Ripley's world, and we get to see discover how much of a sociopath he is, as we go along, and not, really learning about it earlier. They're both definitely both worth watching. Both are good movies, both are great examples for auteur theory analyses, both give us distinctly accurate portrayals of Highsmith's wonderfully intriguing character. I guess "Purple Noon," was cinema's first introduction to the character, so for that reason, maybe it's more interesting, especially considering how it must've been approached by audiences at the time.

IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (1976) Director: Nagisa Oshima

4 1/2 STARS

I don't know what exactly is, or if there is a difference, between being a sex addict, and nymphomaniac, but if "Shame," is about a sex addict, than "In the Realm of the Senses," is about two nymphomaniacs, who happen to find and fall in love with each other. I've seen porno films with less physical sex in them than "In the Realm of the Senses," and just as graphic as porn, it's a film that-, well, man, is this a hard film to figure how to describe accurately. Based on actual events, that occurred in pre-war Japan, it starts with Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), who works as a servant at a geisha house. Essentially, almost like a geisha in training, and this geisha house, seems to be predominately bisexual and bi-curious, by the way. She's sees one of the girls, who secretly has a strange sexual relationship with Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji). She soon begins trying to have a similar relationship with him, and soon, she gets what she wants. Kichizo is married on top of that, by the way, but eventually, they soon become relatively inseparable, and god help anything with a vagina if they are. the maids and servants constantly complain about how they spend so much time having sex, that they hardly ever eat, or sleep, or anything else, and even those activities, seem to just get incorporated into their sex. Sex includes everything from...-, you know what, I can't finish this sentence. I know what the words are, to fill in here, and I often can be very vulgar and obscene with a lot of my writings and dialogues, and I probably should warn any sensitive viewers about the specifics about it's extreme content, but, even if I was actually willing to describe the disturbing details of their lovemaking, I wouldn't know where to begin. The content starts at extreme, and then, gets more and more extreme, until finally, one of their lives will be sacrifice, for their love. (And by love, I mean orgasm. Maybe I don't, maybe it's sex, or love or climax, or... Ugh, I don't know.) Sada mentions at one point being tested as a kid, and it turns out she's unbelievably extra-sensitive, down there, and apparently, she's can't control it. I don't know why he can't control it either, but if any of them ever said no, to what the either wanted, well, I about to say that the ending might have been completely different, but, actually, I'm not so sure about that. These two did not have a safe word, not that they were ever gonna use it. There's multiple ways to interpret this film, metaphorically, if one is able to sanitize themselves from it long enough to try. There's one obvious joke I can make about Penis Envy, and you'll know what I'm talking about by the way, once you see it. Honestly, sometimes I don't even know how to judge a movie. It's a hard X, and it's still, NC-17, and it's gonna be NC-17 in a lot of places by the way. In Japan, the publishing of the screenplay got Writer/Director Nagisa Oshima arrested, and a court case dragged on for years until he was acquitted, and there are other censorship disputes and court cases in other countries, including England, Germany, and Israel. Well, now, let's discuss this, first question, is it porn? I know Justice Potter Stewart's definition, but here's mine: Pornography: Sexually explicit art/material created for the sole and only purpose of getting a masturbatory reaction from a viewer. By that definition, this is definitely not porn. There are certain parts of this movie, where if you're masturbating to it, you really need to be check into somewhere, for a long, long, long time. So it's not porn, but it is erotic. It is, sexual; it is sensual. It's also graphic; it's also violent, and it's very disturbing, and it displays, what I would describe as abnormal behavior, and I'm pretty sure most sex experts would too. However, it's well-made, it's well-acted, and it achieves the goal that's it's trying to do, and as a film, it's utterly compelling, like a couple people having sex in the middle of the road, that's next to the deadly car accident. (That doesn't happen in this movie. To see that however, watch David Cronenberg's film "Crash") I couldn't stop watching. I don't know how many starts to give it. Something might die inside me if I give it five stars, but I can't give it negative review as a film critic, I can't say it's only average, like a 3-. Sigh. Alright, 4 1/2 STARS, so watch it, definitely is a have-to-watch film, and I apologize for any trauma I might cause by doing that, but it's an essential film, and essential films have to be seen.
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