Wednesday, November 7, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #47: "MIRROR, MIRROR," "JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME," "WE HAVE A POPE," "AMADOR," "WISH ME AWAY", "BRIGHTON ROCK", "THE WOODMANS", and MORE!

Whew! Well, I have to make a confession. I haven't been as up-to-speed on the events of the entertainment industry as much as I'd prefer the last few weeks, mainly because I've been focusing a great deal of time to the election. Way too much time, but it was worrysome for a while there, especially the first debate, and keep in mind, I live in a swing state, but last night, all's well that ends well. We didn't get everything, but I'm proud to say that I voted for Barack Obama, and he's successfully be re-elected President of the United States, and now I can breathe a bit. Romney shouldn't have been that close, but he was for awhile, but we have four more years of the Best President I've lived through, and I say that being a huge Clintonian, but he's gotten more done, beyond my wildest dreams, hopefully if the Republicans ever stop being insane-....

You know what, there was a bunch of talk, post-election on all the networks, about how things like the Latino vote, and the Youth vote, cost Romney and the Republicans the election, and it's not at all surprising to me, that they did, because, well, we accepted them into the party, instead of trying to deport them, of may gay marriage illegal, or pot illegal, or make not us have healthcare, or a bunch stupid crap the far right did, and the "moderate" republicans, what few are left, really started blaming themselves for their inability to connect with those voters, and not being more of a big tent party. That's because the Democrats, are the big tent party! Hey, they had their shot, it's not like they just crossed the border, yesterday, they've been here awhile, and we said come on in; we were the first ones to say it. (Which by the way, "Come on in," is what I propose to be our immigration reform, by the way) Now, I want to say something to these moderate Republican, who are wondering why the far-right refuses to connect with these voters, and that is, eh, we are the big tent party, we accept all-comers, including Republicans. So on behalf of the Democratic Party, I want to invite all those reasonable and moderate Republicans, who may socially agree with us, for instance, but are skeptic of economic policy philosophy, but concedes that, it's kinda working, really well, or vice-versa, or something along those lines, that, you guys, should join our party! We'd love to have you! So we don't agree on every little thing, we be fighting amongst ourselves for decades, we're used to it. We started stupid wars too, we've been there. Vietnam, remember, that was our fault originally. Granted you guys fucked it up, way worse, but still, our bad. We disagree, but we still get along, we're reasonable people. We don't like rantic screaming on the AM radio, but we like debate and discussion and stuff like that. We even like religion, guns, and drinking, and drugs, and all those fun things. We even have money now! We have cooler people to hang out with, Bruce Springsteen's coming by later to do a concert, it'll be funs. We have cars, we have dead terrorists, we have a bunch of soldiers, who are back home now, we have everything you can imagine. We even found a black President. We also have a lot of moderates, and our moderates have more fun, while your side's moderates, you don't look like you've had a lot of fun in a while. You don't look that happy; you have to constantly explain how your not like (Insert right-wing nutjob here), that's gotta be annoying. You don't have to join us today, just think about it a bit, maybe come for a visit, and see what it's like, and if you want to join, we'll happy as hell to accept you, but it's just an offer. Just think about it, for me, okay?

Okay, well, that's the last of politics from me, hopefully. Oh, also, George Lucas sold LucasFilm to Disney, and they're planning a 7th "Star Wars" movie, one that takes place after "...Jedi". I don't have one opinion on that, one way or the other oddly enough. I like "Star Wars," "Empire..." is my favorite, but I'm not what you'd call a fan of it. I haven't even seen the last three films Lucas made, just didn't bother. Didn't seem really important to me, still doesn't to some extent. I like Disney, but I'm not crazy about them either. So, it's a wash for me. I do want to mention that George Lucas donated all $4.5 billion dollars he got on the sale to education charities, and that is a really cool thing. I wish I was that rich that I could just donate $4 billion fucking dollars, but I'm glad somebody talented is.

Alright. That's all I got to say; it's time for this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


MIRROR, MIRROR (2012) Director: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar

4 STARS

After I gave Tarsem Singh's last film, "Immortals," a dreadful rating, calling it one of the worst films of last year, and the lukewarm feelings I had towards his ambitious film, "The Fall," I was starting to think he was losing it. Visually, he's always been special, starting with his early career in music videos, to his first film, the underrated "The Cell", but that hasn't translated into entertaining films in a while. After watching "Mirror, Mirror," now, I don't know what-the-hell I was worried about. Give this guy a story, and he'll make it beautiful. "Mirror, Mirror," is fun, vibrant, energetic, funny, and just pure fun. It's one of two reimaginings of Snow White that came out this year, along with "Snow White and the Huntsman". This one, has an eccentric, beauty-obsessed evil Queen (Julia Roberts), well, I guess every version of this story does, but rarely do you find one who so enjoys being evil. Roberts loves throwing extravagant parties and excessive, well, everything. She plays human chess games, and continues taxing the poor villagers, under the threat of a giant beast, and tormenting everyone around her, especially Brighton (Nathan Lane) her reluctantly loyal manservant. Also, of course, her beautiful step daughter Snow White (Lily Collins) who's so sweet and innocent it sickens her. I'm telling this story from the Queen's point of view, because it starts that way. It should, she is the most interesting character in this story, although they do a great job enriching the other characters. After one gala where the Queen tried to woo Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), he falls in love Snow White. When she gets banished for crashing the party, she ends up staying with seven dwarfs, who rob and steal and have a habit of beating up the Prince and stripping him of his clothing. Snow White, having seen the wreckage the Queen has done to the Kingdom, begins getting trained by the dwarfs in the art of thievery and combat. The movie really has only two levels, one the look, which is beautiful. The scenes in the castle, and through the magic mirror are quiet wonderful. The other is the tone of the picture. We know "Snow White," they know we know "Snow White," this is a comedic and whimsical take on the classic tale. We might be a little surprised by a deconstructionist perspective, but we know all the points we're gonna meet, so everyone's just having some fun with the film. There's nothing too serious to take with this film, everyone's enjoying themselves. That's all there really is to take from "Mirror, Mirror," and that's what I liked about it. It's a fun time watching a movie, and it doesn't try to be anything more than that. If that's the kind of film you like, you'll like "Mirror, Mirror", if not, well, give it a try anyway.

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (2012) Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

1 1/2 STARS

I think I've swifted the rating of "Jeff Who Lives at Home," about three times so far, each time, the stars keep getting fewer and fewer. I was trying to pretend that this was more interesting and observant than it was, because I'm such a fan of The Duplass Brothers. I first saw there masterpiece "The Puffy Chair," at CineVegas, shortly after it debuted at Sundance. They're the unprecedented leaders of the U.S. Mumblecore movement, and while their budgets are bigger than ever, their look and style haven't changed much, and that's good. I rather enjoyed "Baghead," and I especially enjoyed "Cyrus", but the film just falls so flat. At barely 80 minutes, "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," seems like the least ambitious film they're done yet, and it just stays flat on the screen, without much drive. Maybe that's on purpose considering it's title character, Jeff (Jason Segal). He lives at home, with his Mom, Sharon (Susan Sarandon) and spends most of his days smoking his bong and occasionally being dragged up from the basement, to fix something, maybe. Today, he gets a wrong number, looking for someone named Kevin. After being influenced by M. Night Shyamalan's film "Signs," believing that all things having some meaning in life, he goes out, and starts finding Kevin (Evan Ross), which is just some guy he finds with the name Kevin on the back of the basketball jersey he was wearing to a pick-up game. He later robs him. In the meantime, his married brother Pat (Ed Helms) is unhappy at work, doesn't like dealing with his brother's laziness, which he's often asked to do, and his wife Linda (Judy Greer), seems to be continuously frustrated, especially after he buys an expensive car, when they're supposed to be buying a house. Today, he sees her with another guy, and Pat and Jeff, go out trying to confront her about her affair. They argue occasionally about their different perspectives on life, but unfortunately, they don't really say much about it. There's also a sideplot involving Sharon getting instant messages and gifts from a secret admirer from work, which she discusses with her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong). If anybody can tell me the purpose of that story, as oppose to the main one, let me know, 'cause I'm pretty stumped on it; it almost comes from a different movie, and wouldn't have changed anything without it. I think it was added to give the movie running, and maybe something for Susan Sarandon to do. "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," seems to be, aimless and pointless. It starts with an interesting character, who doesn't do anything, and then gives him nothing to do, and the film becomes nothing more than a flimsy comparison between theories of life, and not good ones. This was a waste of good actors, and an unfunny, unmemorable bore. At one point in the movie, a brand new Mercedes runs into a tree. It was supposed to be karma, but really, it was just a waste of money and a stoppage of the plot. Occasionally amusing, but that's it, and because I know how special everybody in this film can be, it was disappointing that they could create someone so uninspiring. This movie was phoned in, and it's a real shame.

WE HAVE A POPE (2012) Director: Nanni Moretti

3 STARS

The College of Cardinals has convened, to select the next pope, and soon, they will make their decision, and then the guy they choose, runs off and disappears. Can't change their minds, they've announced it, the white smoke has risen, and the new Pope, is nowhere to be found. "We Have a Pope", is the first film I've seen from Italian director Nanni Moretti, and it's quite an intriguing one. Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is in that unenviable position, of being expected to be the person everybody in the room is looking to, and he's totally unprepared for it. Although, in his defense, who does want to be Pope? None of the Cardinals seem to want the job, and I can't imagine doing that job. President, King, Queen, even, I can fathom and even understand and even, well, here's a little ego-brushing on my part, but I bet I could be good at those jobs, but Pope? I can't imagine that; I can't imagine wanting it, that much responsibility, especially at, usually, such an old age. At first, they try to bring in a therapist (Maretti) to help him out, but eventually he escapes and gets some civilian clothes and hides out. While they've decided they haven't announced who the Pope is, so for the time-being, he's unrecognizable, and has the time to consider his life, as he hides and overhears conversations in a pub, watching a soccer game, examines all the things in life, he might have missed. To paraphrase St. Augustine, if there was ever a "Make me good God, but not yet" moment.... Meanwhile at the church, all the cardinals have to remain sequestered while there's an all-out search for the missing Pope, leading to some interesting ways to keep the Cardinals entertained, and during the movie's strangest and funniest moments, involves having all the Cardinals participate in a volleyball tournament. That scene alone is worth getting this movie. It's quite an amusing idea for a film, and it's relatively entertaining. A little bit inconsistent for me, but there's enough here to recommend it. Nothing particular special other than the original concept, but it does everything it tries to do well-enough.

AMADOR (2012) Director: Fernando Leon de Aranoa

1 1/2 STARS

It took me three days to finally finish watching "Amador" on DVD in my home. It's not a long movie, it just wasn't particularly watchable. I tried, I kept at it, I finished the film, but there was almost no joy in watching the film. It's the third film I've seen by Spanish Director Fernando Leon de Aranoa, after "Princesas," and "Barrio," two films I liked, and "Amador" has some moments where it looks like a decent movie will be made here, but it never does. I sat their watching, waiting, and then pausing for awhile, and then watching it again, picking up where I left off, and the waiting, and watching, and then almost falling asleep and.... It never panned out. Marcela (Magaly Solier) is a young Bolivian wife, now living in Madrid with her husband Nelson (Pietro Sibille), who runs a business stealing dismissed flowers, and then reviving them to sell on the street. It's rather ingenius his business model actually, but it requires a refrigerator, which costs way too much money, and they're already behind on rent. She takes a job working as a health care worker for an old dying man, Amador (Celso Bugallo). They begin to get close, as such movie friendships tend to be. She's hiding the fact that she's pregnant, but Amador catches it quickly. He cooks for him, and helps him out. His daughter Yolanda (Sonia Almarcha), who doesn't seem particularly interested in her father, more about, how much money it costs to keep him in that apartment. There's a Peruvian hooker, Purt (Fanny de Castro) who comes by once a week, as has been doing this with Amador for years. Then, Amador dies suddenly, but Marcela decides to hide that fact, and keep the paychecks coming in the best she can. This should be more entertaining, but it isn't. It's just flat. There's some good characters, some nice shots of Madrid, good scenes, especially in the beginning, and some interesting metaphors, one involving flowers is throughout the film, but sometimes, you have to watch a movie, and then ask yourself, "What did I lean from watching this film?" or "Why can I take from this film?" or "Was this worth an hour and fifty minutes of my life?", and sometimes the answers to those questions is no. With "Amador," it's just no.

WISH ME AWAY (2012) Directors: Beverly Bireffi and Beverly Kopf

4 1/2 STARS



Country music has always seemed strange to me. The music itself can be okay, even good and at times great, but there's a rigidness to the music that doesn't appeal to me much. Country is best when ironically, it doesn't stick to the typical over-produced structure of the genre. It's not a naturally-progressive music, and the country music scene, especially in Nashville, is very protective of it's music, and honorable to it's fans. Those are positives attributes to be sure, but they don't exactly apply to Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, and most of the other greats in the genre, who break out of the mold, are progressive in their music and even manage to crossover successfully. Until last year, I never heard of Chely Wright, until I saw her interview on Oprah, shortly after she became the first country music artist to publicly come out as gay. In some ways, it was inevitable that somebody would have to break that wall. As an event, in of itself, it meant nothing to me. Not only am I liberal, and pro all LBGT causes, but some of my favorite musicians are gay. Elton John, kd lang, Michael Stipe..., the first concert I ever went to, was Melissa Etheridge at the Joint at the Hard Rock, and it kicked-ass, and I listen to all her albums on a regular basis. "Wish Me Away," titled after one of Wright's songs, gets two things right, one is the deeply personal journey that "coming out," actually is, and shows the bizarre process of a celebrity orchestrating her coming out. It documents Chely Wright, shortly after she made the decision to come out. She had known she was a lesbian since she was four. She was a mainstay at the Grand Olde Opry and country music for years. She had major hits like "Shut Up and Drive," and a #1 hit in "Single White Female", and dated many country music stars, including Brad Paisley at one point. Her mother, was unemotional, and was a relatively vicious parent. Her father wasn't as bad, but it was clear to everyone that they should never have gotten married. Chely was brought up, and remains a practicing Catholic, going to church most Sundays. In her coming out interviews, she dawns a cross necklace. She wanted nothing more growing up than to be a country singer, and spent many nights praying that she wouldn't be gay, which was so instructed into her family's Catholicism, that it might as well have been one of the Ten Commandments. In the world of country music, their popularity is purposefully narrow. Most fans are conservative, and are so loyal to artists, that if they even imply that they may not fit their mold, they're ostracized. The outcry over Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines overseas statement about George W. Bush, is still fresh in my head, much less Chely's. They were banned and blackballed over most country music stations, it even caused a Senate hearing over the business practices of radio stations. Chely is apart of this world, and not only does she realize that she can lose it, there's a strong possibility that she might not be accepted into this new world of being an out celebrity, that she's now embracing. During one scene, she argues with the editor of her autobiography, over provocative photos of her in a bikini, because her editor thinks it's unnatural. Chely wants them in, because they're as much apart of her, as khakis and short hair are to, whatever bad lesbian stereotype image you want to project in your mind. Chely Wright is strikingly beautiful. Tall, thin, at 39, she doesn't look a day over 30, and sexuality is a part of her, and not just an image that was made to sell albums. Chely Wright's coming out, will be a footnote on the music world years from now, but as a personal journey, I'm not sure I've seen a coming out journey so well-documented before, at least not since "An American Family". Two tags at the end were intriguing. One was about Chely's wedding last year, and the other was country music's response to her coming out, informing us that since her coming out, she hasn't been invited to any major country music events since. She did get invitations however, to go to the White House however, which she gladly accepted.

BRIGHTON ROCK (2011) Director: Rowan Joffe

4 STARS


This is the second filmed version of Graham Greene's novel, "Brighton Rock"; I haven't seen the first one yet, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but as a good classic, dark film noir, I rather enjoyed the film, despite the complicated story. Well, actually the story isn't that complicated, but it can puzzling, particularly the behavior of one character in particular. Pinkie (Sam Riley) is a young and ambitious young gangster, who jumps to the head of his crew by killing a guy on a beach, under the Brighton boardwalk. The problem is that, he has a witness to this, and somebody who took a photo of them. The witness is a waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough), who at first seems rather logical, but after Pinkie begins trying to, gain her silence, she falls in love him. Desperately in love with him at that, to the point of obsession. This is okay with Pinkie, as long as she doesn't talk, he's willing to play house with her, despite finding Rose somewhat unappealing, as long as he's getting away with murder, and gaining rank in the criminal underlord. Her boss Ida (Helen Mirren) however, is concerned about her. The guy Pinkie killed was a dear friend of hers, and to say the least, she doesn't believe Pinkie being honest, and she's dearly concerned about Rose. She's determined to get Pinkie, Pinkie's determine to keep Rose quiet. He steals a photograph that was taken of them, and after he runs out of options, he even marries him. There's one strange scene involving a record that he makes for her, that, surprises us, and then, manages to surprise us again. "Brighton Rock," is the kind of movie, we don't get anymore, a solid late night film noir, that's continuously intriguing. There isn't a whole lot new, but it's a classic film made classically, and that's all it's really trying for. I'm a little put off by the way, the Rose character is portrayed personally. Her character begins somewhat intelligent, talking about how she never forgets a face for instance, when she recognizes the guy that's just been murdered, and seems like a tough and reasonably strong independent woman, but that is either, me getting the interpretation of her character wrong, which is a possibly, or basically they switched that on me, as she devolves into the throughs of her love of Pinkie. I have a feeling this is how the character is portrayed in the novel, 'cause I have a hard time, believing this character in a modern world, even for the '40s, she seems nieve and simplistic. Still, despite that complaint, it wasn't enough to keep me away from this by-the-book, well-made thriller. So it's a recommendation, with a critical, I don't want to say complaint, but eh, observation, a critical observation of the way a character is portrayed.
 
THE WOODMANS (2011) Director: Scott Willis

3 STARS

All of "The Woodmans," are reknowned artists, all of them, and they still are. All except the most famous member of the family. When she was 22, George and Betty Woodman's daughter Francesca, jumped off a building, killing herself instantly. She was a struggling artist in New York at the time, a photographer at the time before photography was the popular art form that it is now. This Scott Willis documentary examines her life, through her work and through the eyes of her parents. They were reknowned artists as well, Betty ins sculpture, George in painting, originally. She died five days before his career-high point, a show at the Guggenheim museum. He's since switched to photography himself, and his work now reflects the provacative nature of Francesca's work. Since her passing, she has become arguably one of the most desired and admired of all photographers. Her work is amazing. If I were collecting photography, God, I wish I that rich, I would collect Woodmans. Her work is in your face, sexual, and in your face. Often, her subject is herself, usually nude, often position in forms of bondage, literal, metaphorical, sometimes both, and these were photos she was taking as a teenager. We get to know her homelife, which consisted of traveling and living on multiple continents, and growing up in a liberal artistic environment. If she never picked up a camera, I'm convinced she still would've become some kind of artist. Art was practically thrust upon her. Her ending is tragic, and we can see her mind starting to deteriorate in her diary entries. She was constantly suicidal; I wonder if she was manic-depressive personally. Her photography shows her, often trapped and enclosed, maybe she was searching for an escape. That's my interpretation, I'll let people better-suited than I to come up with other thoughts on her work. As for the documentary, it's haunting and beautiful. A lot of talking heads granted, but some interesting talking heads, and lots of amazing art, from all the Woodmans.

BARTON FINK (1991) Director: Joel Coen

4 1/2 STARS

The Coen Brothers' "Barton Fink," won the Palme D'Or Award at Cannes, unanimously won I might add, It's their fourth film after "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona," and "Miller's Crossing", and least most Coen movies, after one viewing, I'm not quite sure what to think of it yet. Their movies always seem to get better on multiple viewings, especially since above-all-else, their films are comedies, however, I understand the urge to find more in them than what might just be at the surface. In "Barton Fink", nothing seems to be at the surface however, and everybody seems to be hiding something. Let's start with the title character, Barton Fink (John Turturro), a left-wing New York playwright, who writes a critically-praised play, and is soon then thrust to L.A. to write for the movies. Jack Lipnick (Oscar-nominee Michael Lerner) tells Fink to write a wrestling movie for one of its stars, and talks about that great Barton Fink feeling he wants to read. We find out at some point that Lipnick not only doesn't read scripts, there's a chance he might not read at all. Fink goes to a cheap, creepy hotel to write, but he has drastic writer's block. The neighbors next store seems to be having loud sex, every night, and something seems to be peeling the walls off the room, or at least the wallpaper. He befriends a man named Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) an insurance agent, who's staying at the hotel, and criss-crosses the country selling insurance. He seems to be the kind of working man proletariet that Fink claims to write for, but he isn't that interested in hearing, what we find out later, are probably some amazing stories. In search of help, Fink talk to his film's producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub), who suddenly finds himself producing a b-movie wrestling picture. He tells Fink to go and talk to other writers if he's really blocked, and soon, he finds W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney) the great novelist, and reknowned Hollywood drunk. He mostly spends his days with secretary Audrey (Judy Davis), trying to keep him out of drinking himself to death, and usually losing. When Audrey ends up dead in Barton's bed, after sleeping together, Charlie helps Barton cover the crime up, somewhat, right before he leaves for New York temporarily. The movie takes place, somewhere in the '30s or '40s, and the film is somewhat inspired by real events, well-, real enough that you can take the characters in the movie, and try to see who they're satirizing from real life. Michael Lerner seems to be channeling Jack Oakie's performance from Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," at times, although he is almost assuredly Darryl Zanuck, although, it could've been Louis B. Meyer or David O. Selznick as well. "Barton Fink," is one of the Coen's better and more underrate d films, although that's partly because their work since "Barton Fink," has been so amazing that it's hard to compare sometimes. "Barton Fink," feels like a warm-up to their later work like "Fargo," and "No Country for Old Men," and "O Brother, Where Art Thou", but it remains solid today as a vicious satire on Hollywood, and as a metaphorical piece that can be analyzed to death if one chooses to. My theory would involve the film being their version of "Faust", which, similar to their claims on "O Brother..." being a remake of Homer's "The Odyssey," they probably didn't read "Faust" either.

LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (1971) Director: Eric Rohmer

3 1/2 STARS

I like "La Collectioneuse", but I certainly didn't like it as much as I loved "Claire's Knee," and "Chloe in the Afternoon," the other two films I've seen in Eric Rohmer's famous "Six Moral Tales". "La Collectioneuse," was the third one made, the first feature-length film, and it didn't get an initial American release, until after his fourth film in the series, "My Night at Maud's" became arguably the biggest hit of the series. All the moral tales are subtle and dialogue-heavy, and dialogue-heavy about sex. Frank discussion of sex is strangely paralleled to, almost no sex at all. "La Collectioneuse," might be the blueprint for the rest of the trilogy, and it has it's moments. Similar to "Claire's Knee," it takes place on vacation, this time on a Mediterranean villa near Saint-Tropez, where Adrien is planning on relaxing with his friend Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle) and his roommate Haydee (Haydee Politoff). Haydee, however, is a, how do I put this, she's a collector. Or at least, that's the conclusion that Daniel, who narrates the film, and Adrien come to. She collect men. There's nightly appearances and disappearances of seemingly random men going in and out of her place. Adrien and Daniel, are both about ten years older than the 20-maybe Haydee, and they aren't particularly interested in her sexually. Adrienne even has a girlfriend, Carol (Mijanou Bardot) who visits Adrien, and insists on breaking the boring monotomy of staying at the villa and reading by going out on the town. She however sleeps with Randolpho (Alain Jouffroy) during one of these visits, putting an end to that scenario. There develops a strange contest, to not sleep with Haydee, not become apart of her supposed "collection", as though such a thing existed and it's as easy to jump into bed with her as it seems. I think my issue with "La Collectioneuse" is that the main story never really connected to me. I think it's a good film, but it doesn't exactly come off as the most realistic or intriguing of his moral tales. Their are actuals choices and decisions that have to be made in "Claire's Knee," and especially in "Chloe...", that seem to be lacking in this film. Their are also conflicting behaviors that emotions that have to be adjusted. There's some of it here, in terms of the guys' perception of Haydee, and how she reacts back to them, but it never comes off as genuine inner conflict, possibly because our narrator is completely unreliable. Rohmer seems to be figuring out the steps that work, and what doesn't work with "La Collectioneuse", and the results are intriguing, but mixed. Maybe if I had seen these films in order, I'd appreciate "La Collectioneuse" more, but as a stand alone, it's okay, not really as special as his later films however.

THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD (aka O CAMINHO DES NUVENS) (2004) Director: Vicente Amorim

4 1/2 STARS

Brazil seems like seems a perfect country for road movies. Some of the best in recent years, like Walter Salles's "Central Station," still stick in my mind, as well as older ones like "Vidas Secas (aka Barren Lives)". The contrasts in the northern rainforest parts of the nation, are a stark contrast to parts like Rio which we see on postcards, and traveling through the country must be this amazing kind of pilgrimage. "The Middle of the World," begins, right where the title says it does, with a sign informing us that we're in the middle of the world, which means the northern area of Brazil, and along the Equator (The state of Paraiba, I'm told, [not familiar with the states of Brazil). Antonio's (Rami Ramos Lacerda) family is going south. They're heading in the direction of Rio de Janiero, but if his father Ramao (Wagner Maura) can find a job beforehand, that pays 1000R$/month, than he'll take it, and the family will live whereever the job is, at least that's what he claims. This isn't a small family either. Antonio, is the oldest of seven, including a toddler that has a bad habit of running off once in a while, and their mode of transportation oftentimes is their worn-out bicycles. Ramao's wife Rose (Claudia Abreu) is slowly getting more and more frustrated at Ramao's reluctance to keep work, constantly finding an excuse to quit a potential job, in order to continue heading down to Brazil. Antonio, spends much of the journey, trying to have a somewhat believable teenage experience. Going to parties or catching up with local kids when he can. It's better than finding out he's dealing with criminals, as he did in one town, which ended up with him getting his nose, Chinatown-ed. (If that isn't an expression, I'm making it one.) This frustrates his father, but not as much as later, when he triest to sell his bikes in order to get bus tickets to Rio for the family. Eventually, he even begins trying to take jobs and money, to help out. "The Middle of the World," shows the beauty and struggle of Brazil. The beauty in the landscapes and the lands, and the struggles with this poor family, striving for some assemblance of a homelife. This is the first film I've seen from director Vicente Amorim, and I really got into it. It's episodic, as the journey continues, and the real story is the struggle between father and son, as both of them, are in many ways, coming of age through this long and difficult journey. I get the feeling that a lot of people have made this pilgrimage from the Equator to Rio, and that many more movies can, and probably have been made from adventures like these, and I think I'd enjoy most of them.

SHOWER (2000) Director: Yang Zhang

3 1/2 STARS

I've only been to one of those public showers places once, years ago when I was back east, they had them on the boardwalk. It was a good shower, I remember, but I mainly remember trying to get my clothes back on, as they were all a little wetter than I'd have preferred, and it took some time. The public shower in the beginning of the Chinese film "Shower," is far more advanced and modern. It's all automatic, you just have to stand there, and have your entire body wet, soaped, washed, then dried, almost like going through a car wash. The part I really liked, was the closed off compartment where you can put you clothes. Da Ming (Cunxin Pu), a tired and overworked businessman in Shenzhen, goes home, after hearing of his father's passing. His father, Master Liu (Xu Zhu) is still alive, and working at the bathhouse that he's run for decades. His son Er Ming (Wu Jiang), had tricked Da Ming into coming, so that they can see each other again. Er Ming, is retarded. (Film's word, not mine) He is mentally-underdeveloped, that's for sure. His father acts like a big kid around him. Often having races and contests, and waterfights in the bathhouse, where they work, and where a lot of, mostly old men, come and hang out to get a bath, massage, play checkers, bet on cockroach fights. Bathhouse's are a tradition in many Ancient cultures, and except for the excessive amount of old naked men, they actually seem quite pleasant. Ironically, I had a similar thought watching the latest episode of "The Amazing Race," this week, when one of the road blocks was going to a Turkish Bath in Istanbul. Hardly sounds like much of a road block to me, and it certainly looked rather appealing, quite frankly. Granted, my back's been aching a bit lately, so maybe I was just jealous. Oh well, the movie "Shower," is a fairly straight-forward and funny tale of the prodigal son returning to finally understand his father, and his love of his business, which is running a local bathhouse, a bathhouse that's unfortunately closing soon. Not just the bathhouse, the whole street, as they quickly become more and more outdated, as people can get some fairly quickly showers, anywhere, including on the streets nowadays. He is old and dying soon, and someone needs to watch out over Er Ming. Da Ming, hasn't told his wife about his retardation yet, and that can be a tricky point if it comes up later. "Shower," is quite an entertaining little film. Light and funny, and at times, emotionally powerful. It's the first film I've seen from Director Yang Zhang, I hope I get to see more later. You don't see a lot of light comedies coming in from China, so I have a bit of appreciation for a film like this, that's slice-of-life, character-driven, but not overly dramatic, so few quite a few reasons, a really enjoyed "Shower".
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