Friday, December 21, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS #51: "LIFE OF PI", "BRAVE", "PROMETHEUS", "AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY", "2 DAYS IN NEW YORK", "360", "STEALING LAS VEGAS" (Conflict of Interest Alert), and MORE!

I figured, I'd get a couple choice words from people for my posting a Canon of Film blog on "Bowling for Columbine", but honestly, I was taken back, by a couple criticisms I got by those, who claimed that all of Michael Moore's movies since "Roger & Me," were not only bias, but left-wing propaganda. Well, first of all, every documentary is bias, including "Roger & Me," which I consider especially bias. I mean, it's a whole movie about how one guy was a piece of crap, how is that not bias? The left-wing propaganda claim really confused me. For one, I generally think of propaganda as advertising, or any medium that is trying to change one's mind through some sort of deception, like misleading facts, or statistics, for instance, or confusion. It doesn't have to be that, to be propaganda, so I guess Moore's films qualify, but they also tend to lean towards a particular point-of-view. Which is ironic, 'cause one of the reasons I posted on "Bowling...", is that it's one of his movies where I don't think he is leaning us towards a particular point of view at all. His movies are essentially structured like essays, that examine a certain subject, sometimes they're pointed pro and anti-something, but "Bowling for Columbine," is more of an overall analysis than a critique. He examines America's obsessions with guns, through numerous prisms, the main one being, in the aftermath of the Columbine Massacre, and unlike his like other film, there doesn't seem to be a particular answer that he's trying to convince us of. Let me also say this, I'm pretty far on the left-wing politically, and frankly, we don't have much propaganda. I mean, we do, but we tend to just use facts. It's already accurate, so we don't have to make anything up, and besides that, most of the time, we're right. I went to wikipedia.com to look up propaganda, and while I was there, I decided to also type in "Left-Wing Propaganda", and to my surprise, it didn't have a page. I could've named ten pieces of left-wing propaganda off-the-top-of-my-head, but they didn't have one. (I looked up, "Right-wing propaganda", and sure enough, it didn't have a page either) I did find a piece on "Propaganda film" where Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is discussed, and I found this curious blurb on it:

From wikipeida:
...A classic example of 21st century propaganda, Fahrenheit 9/11 is overtly political and never tries to hide the director's anti-war agenda. He omits footage of the planes striking the Twin Towers, cutting directly to the aftermath and destruction.

Okay, first of all, if you're gonna mention "Fahrenheit 9/11" propaganda, and boy you could've mentioned so many points of the film that were propaganda, but "Omits the footage of the planes striking the Twin Towers, cutting directing to the aftermath and destruction?" What?! First of all, not only have, presumably, all of us seen the footage of the planes hitting the towers (In fact, it's in "Bowling for Columbine" by the way) but that part isn't propaganda. There was no attempt at deceiving the American Public that the destruction was caused by, let's say Bush for example, not to appease those morons conspiracy theorists, but because the movie is more anti-Bush than anything else, but it never claimed it was caused by anybody other than those who did it. They literally picked the one thing in the movie that wasn't propaganda, to describe the propaganda in the film. So, now I'm more confused than ever on this subject.

It doesn't matter much to me anyway. I labeled the post as controversial, so I guess I should've expected this. I tend to identify propaganda by it's inaccuracies, which most of his films aren't usually. (There's some obvious camera angles to disguise a crowd size in "The Big One", to name one of Moore's inaccuracies.) In "Bowling..." there's at most a call to action, but he doesn't tell us what exactly to do. Even with that caveat, "Casablanca," was propaganda, I mean, if we're really gonna discuss whether something being propaganda is a basis for not liking a film, then let's start with the best ones, and whether is a piece of propaganda or not, doesn't mean it isn't good, and in this case, in the Canon of Film, as far as I'm concerned. As a film, I don't care if it's bias or propaganda as long as it's good. As far as propaganda, I only care if it's accurate and factual.

Alright, enough talk about that. Let's get to this week's Random Weekly Movie Reviews, starting with a SPECIAL REVIEW, of "Life of Pi"!


LIFE OF PI (2012) Director: Ang Lee

5 STARS



A writer who is never named (Rafe Spall), is interviewing a man in his living room in his Canada home. He's written one novel, but his second failed to get published, but he's been told that the man he is interviewing, a man named Pi, (Irrfan Khan), he has a story that claims "Will make you believe in God." You couldn't come up with a more loftier expectation, in a movie, maybe ever. Now, I have not read the famous Yann Martel novel that "Life of Pi" is based, which was until now, considered by most, and rightly so, unfilmable, but I had only heard the broad outline in the story, and heard from many people who hate 3-D, telling me to go see this movie in the theaters  and in 3-D. When somebody who doesn't like 3-D, is telling you to go see it in 3-D, you should go see it. I'm one of those people who hates it, and I'm telling everybody now, go see "Life of Pi," in 3-D! Pi, who's actual name is Piscine (1st-timer Suraj Sharma), the French word for swimming pool, but eventually got shortened to Pi in middle school , grew up in his father's Santosh's (Adil Hussain) zoo. He spent most of his childhood looking over the animals, which come from all over the world. When he's a teenager, he's informed by his mother, Gita (Tabu) and father, that they're moving to Canada, they'll be closing the zoo, and will be going on a ship, to help transport the animals. It's then that the ship sinks, during an amazing thunderstorm, that eventually ends up with Pi, living on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker, and how he survived for hundreds of days on this amazing adventure. The animals in this movie, look real, and sometimes they are, other times they're CGI, and I'll be damned if I could tell the difference. There's a crucial opening scene that showed just how vicious that tiger is, when a young Pi (Gautum Belur) gets caught trying to feed Richard Parker, and his father makes him watch Richard Parker devour a live goat. The journey they go on, I don't want to reveal all the details, you gotta experience it, and you got see it, and I can't stress enough, see it in 3-D. Ang Lee, has shown once again, he is the ultimate chameleon, you never know what film he's gonna do next, but here, he tells an unbelievable story, and uses every trick in the book to do so. After that amazing shipwreck sequence, with the 3-D, my mouth did not close for ten minutes after that scene. That is one of the most amazing sequences I've ever seen in cinema, and I'm not being facetious. It's truly one of those rare moments, in film, where I'm not judging, I'm not analyzing, I'm not comparing it to other films, I'm just thinking "How the hell did they do that?!" It's that special, the whole movie is that special. He uses 3-D, correctly, to emphasize the nature scenes, and really exemplify the background, and he does it sparingly, but correctly, it took my breath away. I don't think watching it, without 3-D, is going to give a viewer, the same effect, so that's why I'm pressuring this; the movie will be far more special this way. Either way, it's a special story, that you're gonna love. It's the kind of fable, that you're not gonna be into on film, unless it's spectacular. The tale of a teenager and a Bengal Tiger, stuck in the middle of the Ocean, it'll only work on film, a medium that presents the truth, if it was this spectacular. The more Ang Lee films I see, the more I realize, I should never, ever doubt any of his ideas, and also, young Suraj Sharma, this is gonna be an acting performance that people, are gonna forget a bit, but realize, that he is basically acting by himself, for most of this movie, it is an impressive job of keeping us interested in this film. I don't know if "Life of Pi," made me believe in God, but boy, Ang Lee sure can tell an amazing story.


BRAVE (2012) Directors: Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews

4 STARS


I was concerned for a while watching "Brave," that Disney-Pixar's latest colaboration was going to be a major disappointment, by taking a mythical Scotland land, with a natural archer and fighter character, Merida (Kelly MacDonald) and instead, turning the movie into another Princess film, about how she doesn't want to get married. Well, to a certain extent it is, but-eh, they did eventually find a new twist to it, one I'm reluctant to discuss because they clearly went to great lengths to hide it in previews. "Brave" is clearly the most traditional story from Pixar, so far, but that doesn't make it bad. Just, a little disappointing considering the standard. Merida is a Scottish Princess, who relates much more closely to her father, Fergus (Billy Connolly) than to her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson). Her father's a life-of-the-party old-school brawler kind, who, as we famously see in the prologue, lost his leg to a legendary bear, Mur'du. Her mother, however, is teaching and preparing for her daughter's betrothal. There's a story of four kingdoms in this land, that all descended from four sons of an old king, who pulled a King Lear, with strangely better results. Not perfect results, but better.At the competition, Merida defies her mother, and runs off into the woods where she finds The Witch (Julie Walters) who bakes a cake, which a spell that is intended to change Merida's fate of marriage, by changing Elinor's mind. Of course, you can predict a little bit what happens here that's not according to plan. "Brave" got some attention for being Pixar's first feature with a female protagonist, and mainly human characters for the cast. It's also there first Princess movie. I'm wondering if for Disney's next project, instead of their typical Princess stories, maybe they should do an animated remake of "Roman Holiday," that's the one Princess story I don't think they've tackled yet. I do like that this film has a mother-daughter relationship at it's core, I haven't seen that in an animated film in a while. The filming was fraught with peril as original director Brenda Chapman, was replaced on set by Mark Andrews (and there's actually three directing credits in the film, as Steve Purcell is credited as a Co-director, as well), his first feature-length directing gig, after working mainly in the storyboard department for awhile. He did the Oscar-nominated short "One-Man Band" years ago, along with his brother Bryan. (Note: I met Mark Andrews once as he came to speak at an old class of mine. Fun guy, very talented) It's hard to say "Second-tier Pixar," but "Brave" is in that category, but it's still a helluva category to be in. I'm highly recommending it, 'cause it got to me at the end, and there's enough stuff here. Maybe their next one will be stronger.

PROMETHEUS (2012) Director: Ridley Scott

3 STARS

There are moments in "Prometheus," especially early on, where the imagery is so special, that I thought "Wow!" and "Man, I bet this looked really amazing in a movie theater  It didn't take too long though before it started to devolve from there. Well, that's a little mean, it didn't exactly devolve but, it always annoys me. Ridley Scott, will start with an interesting concept, and idea, and then shove it continuously through a movie. It's all about the theme and metaphor, and what it ends up doing, is stops the action dead in it's track, just to spill off onto something, that may be visually spectacular, and underlines and re-underlines whatever theme he wants to portray. His best films "Thelma & Louise," "Black Hawk Down," "American Gangster", and "Matchstick Men," for instance, either spend the movie telling a story straightforward, with action, or if there is some blatant symbolical themes or emotions, it occurs naturally in the story, and within the natural flow of action. There's a scene in "Prometheus" where a character, is on his own, about midway through the movie, where he finds himself in the middle of a spectacular image that seems to be some kind of super-projected holographic image, that's probably an echo of people who were once on the planet earlier. In of itself, the scene is okay, but before and after, that, was some scenes involving a crew member who's life may be in danger. Why is he stopping in the middle of this critical action scene, to show us this, when it could've easily been placed in one of a number of other areas of the film? Ridley Scott does it, and I wish he wouldn't. He starts off with a good idea, and then beats you over the head with it so much that by the end of the movie, you're literally just a talking head now. It's a shame 'cause the idea is a really good one. It was used in the greatest of all sci-fi exploration movies, Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". In numerous cave paintings found all over the world and date back through different time periods and civiliazation, the same images of the humans worshipping a combination of stars which only match one known place in the universe, gets repeated. The archaeological team of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) lead a corporation-backed spaceship, "Prometheus" to the star system, where there's a planet that's somewhat similar to Earth. From a recording by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce under all that makeup) of Weyland Corporations, we learn about their goal in searching for this world, where they suspect, that not only to humanity actually comes from here, but possibly, it was made by another species, before being sent to Earth. Can I just say something though, why can't a corporation in one of these movies, ever actually just, want to go to some distant planet for the hell of it, and not just for, some ulterior selfish, usually profitable motive? I know what corporations do and how they act, but still, the minute the Charlize Theron character opens her mouth, you know that, as the corporations representative on the ship, she's at some point going to get in the way of action, just because of a greater need for her company, whether it makes any logical sense or not. It is the future you know, you can change that? It's seems tiresome, and I haven't even gotten to the "Alien" comparisons I can make, especially with some of the creatures that they find, and there's a great scene involving Rapace, where she is suddenly pregnant, (something that she wasn't supposed to be able to do) and has to get into a machine that's built to perform any kind of medical procedure possible, and have it removed and stapled back up, in her white underwear of course, so she looks a little bit like Ellen Ripley. As for references to the other overrated sci-fi classic in Ridley Scott's canon, "Blade Runner", one member of the crew, David (Michael Fassbender) is some form of Data-like android, who's been training for years to go on this mission, and for some reason, has an affinity for "Lawrence of Arabia". So, there's your replicant creature. There's also a good performance by Idris Elba as Janek, the Captain of the ship, who doesn't care as much about the origin of life that seems to have overtaken Elizabeth's entire world, but is trustworthy when you need him to be. There's too much for me not to recommend "Prometheus," but I can't quite say I like the movie either. It's not one of his really bad films like "Gladiator" or "Robin Hood", but this feels like a disappointment, all the pieces are here for something special, and I came out of it thinking, that it's, just another decent sci-fi movie, and confused by some of the high praise other critics had given it.

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (2012) Director: Alyson Klayman

4 STARS

Ai Weiwei is a conceptual artists, but his symbolic value is far more critical in China, where he openly fights, confronts and criticizes the repressive government. He helped design "The Bird's Nest", Olympics Stadium in China, before protesting the games after the Sichuan Earthquake. The poorly-built government schools, he claimed were responsible for the deaths of over 45,000 children. As a project, he started collecting names of all the kids who were killed, and lined the walls with the names. He was attacked in the Province, by the state police, which was caught on camera, which they denied. When the injuries forced him to have brain surgery, while showing an exhibit in Germany, he posted the photos on twitter, stating that he now had proof. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry", is a fascinating portrait of arguably, the most important artist of our day. He's a concept artist, who now has numerous volunteers, with his work, and a popularity in China that, even the Chinese government can't seem to be able to repress. Just an announcement of him going to lunch, leads to people showing up to eat with him. He throws a party for the destruction of his art studio, which the government was shutting down. He paints Coca-Cola logos on priceless Han vases, which he also destroys for his art. He spent time in New York, where he was during the Tienanmen Square protests. (They don't show it, but I wonder if he saw the lone protester scene, few in China have). He's a close friend with Liu Xiaobo, the jailed human rights advocate. He was one of the first people in China to announce, via twitter (Which isn't under the Chinese internet block) that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. His art is confrontation, and conceptual. It Often involves him giving the finger, in places where such action might result in him getting shot to death. After the Earthquake, he has begun making documentaries himself of his exploits, including filming himself filing a complaint with the police who attacked him. He even finds the officer at one point, when he's apparently somewhat more civil. He's married, although he has a kid out of wedlock. He talks in profanity often, but is quite observant and profound. He's human, but like all artists, he seems to be controlled by emotion. He's making giant statements in a country that forbids them. Sometimes they come in the form of a song, sometimes in the form of a middle finger. One of his first major art shows was called "Fuck All" (Not in China, but everywhere else it was). Ai Weiwei is unusually fearless as an artist. The movie chronicles his work, for years, includes the attack, his work on many projects, including the Earthquake project, and even after he was released from prison after being detained and missing for almost three months, supposedly for tax evasion. It's the only time, he is reluctant to talk with reporters. The gag order was eventually lifted. I just checked his twitter account, which has a profile picture of his work "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn". His last tweet was four hours ago. I wish I knew how to translate on Twitter, to see what he said. (There's some process for it, I'm sure but....). "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry", is a strong and important profile of an artist. As a movie, it's intense. Almost like you're constantly waiting for him to suddenly disappear. Somehow, I think the government knows that silencing him could be catastrophic. Hey, one guy in Tunisia got his food scale taken away, and it led to the Arab world turning towards Democracy. Weiwei is already a symbol, any destroying him could topple an empire.

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (2012) Director: Julie Delpy

4 1/2 STARS

It's been five years since Julie Delpy's directorial debut "2 Days in Paris," where Marion (Delpy) took her boyfriend to Paris to meet her eccentric family, while he just wanted to scream under the elevated train where Marlon Brando had in "Last Tango in Paris," and see Jim Morrison's grave. Now, she's back home in New York, had a kid, but she's also left her old boyfriend, and is now with her Village Voice co-worker, Mingus (Chris Rock, which is both an improvement on actors and characters from Adam Goldberg in the first film) who also has a kid from one of his previous marriages, and works on a couple jobs, including a few high-profile radio shows, and occasionally lets out his frustrations by talking to a cardboard cut-out of President Obama. They've been happy until now, but her family's flying in from Paris this weekend, the weekend of her first show, where among other projects, she's selling her soul. Um, literally selling her soul by the way; I'll get to that. Her mother's passed, but now her father Jeannot (Albert Delpy, Julie's real-life father) is still as exuberhant and rambunxious as ever. However, her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) is in town, and they are already combustible components when brought together, and now, she's brought her sometimes-boyfriend, Manu (Alex Nahon), who are both stoners, which gets them in trouble with practically everybody, but he's also one of Marion's exes, and he wasn't exactly invited to begin with. "2 Days in New York," is a far better movie that "2 Days in Paris," maybe partially because I now know what to expect, but I think the main strength is that, while the first movie focused on a relationship that was already a little in trouble, this one starts with an established relationship, family, household, pattern of life that suddenly gets blistfully interrupted by potheads, sex-obsessed fathers who barely speak English and try to smuggle dozens of pounds of sausages, and an annoying sister who walks around the house naked, and makes Mingus's name sounds a lot like, eh, a particularly woman-pleasing sex act. She's also apparently a nymphomaniac, possibly was once possessed by the devil as a child, oh, and believe it or not, her profession is a child psychiatrist, and now her and Marion start getting into one fight at the dinner table, and by fight, I mean, hair-pulling and punching, and by dinner table, I often mean, at a restaurant. This is a clash of cultures and family that lead to numerous comedic scenarios, and almost all of them made me laugh. It's Delpy's strongest film as a director so far. Far more observant and depthful than "2 Days in Paris," and more grown-up. Oh, and as to her, having to sell her soul in the middle of all this, it's apart of her photography exhibition that her family's in town for (and they are just as critical as everyone else), and as an art project, she's selling her soul, to the highest bidder, which she immediately regret and tries to by back naturally (and there's no way in hell, I'm revealing who bought it, or where he kept it, but you'll believe me when I say, it's exactly who you'd imagine would buy a soul). One of the many sudden pitfalls her family coming into town produces. Delpy has always been one of the best and most interesting of all actresses, but now, she's really coming into her own as a filmmaker, after her intriguing 2nd and 3rd films "2 Days in Paris," and "The Countess", this one shows true personal vision. "2 Days in New York", is one of the first really good comedies I've seen from 2012.

360 (2012) Director: Fernando Meirelles

3 1/2 STARS

Fernando Meirelles has been making amazing films since his worldwide hit, the masterful "City of God", about the drug war in Rio. He made a similarly-styled kinetic film about the pharmaceutical industry in "The Constant Gardner," but has since been making some interesting choices that are almost at the opposite approach to his original styling, challenging himself to make more artistic and paceful films. I was one of the few who loved his last film feature, the allegorical, "Blindness". Now, he's made a Peter Morgan-penned remake of "La Ronde", one of the first hyperlink movies, where we meet one character, which then takes us to another, and then another, and so-on, until we finally come back around again. The movie begins in Vienna where a Slovakian would-be prostitute, called Blanka, whose real name is Mirka (Lucia Siposova) after getting a job, meets her first Client, a British businessman, Michael Daly (Jude Law) who changes his mind, after she shows up, but not before he's blackmailed by the other company's businessmen, for having called the prostitute. Meanwhile, his wife, Rose (Rachel Weisz) is a magazine editor, who's calling off an affair she's having with a photographer, who's also married, and his wife, finds out, and leaves for America, where she meets an old British man on the plane, John (Anthony Hopkins), who's a recovering alcoholic going to America to identify a body that might be his long-lost daughter. There's another character, played by Ben Foster, who's also at the airport, who's a struggling sexual predator, but who's calling for help from a counselor Fran (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), as he's seduced by a young woman, who clearly isn't aware of his past. He's trying to fly to a possible job in Knoxville. Forgive me, for not getting some of the actors' names here, like I normally do, I really can't adequately recall who played who, even with looking at their names on the imdb.com page, so I'm focusing on the actors I knew from this movie. This is hardly the best hyperlink or multi-narrative film, but like almost all of them though, some sections, characters and stories are going to be more interesting than others anyway. These movies, you really have to look at as a book of short stories, and if most of the stories are interesting, I recommend the movie. Rarely are all of them gonna be good, and it's nice that the stories do go "360" around, although that's really, kind of an add-on that didn't need to be there. It's well-executed, and even the weakest stories in "360," kept me watching as the movie continued on. It's a disappointment as a fan of Meirelles, 'cause I expect more, but that said, I enjoyed "360", despite it's flaws; there's enough interesting characters and stories. I wouldn't recommend it as your first Meirelles film, or first hyperlink/multi-narrative, but it's more than enough to recommend.

STEALING LAS VEGAS (2012) Director: Francisco Menendez

2 1/2 STARS

(CONFLICT OF INTEREST ALERT!!!!) Many of the people affiliated with this film, are friends and/or acquaintances of mine, of friends/acquaintances thereof, including the film's director Francisco Menendez, who was, and still is, the head of the film department at UNLV, where I got my B.A. in Film Studies and I had a class or two, and a few conversations with him, as well as a Professor I had a lot of classes with, Michael Tylo, who's one of the actors in the film, and taught me a great deal, in many classes. He looks like an imposing presence, on and offscreen, but he is an excellant professor and a great actor. Also, among the many people I know who were involved in the film, is one of this blog's followers. (Yes, I have followers, 16 of them, and if you can scroll down, you can find follow me too, thank you. I know there's more than 16 people who read this, so follow me; the more followers I get, the more attention gets paid to my blog.) Diana Eden, who is also a facebook friend of mine, was the film's costume designer, and btw, she has her own wonderful blog, "Costume Training with HollywoodMentors.co"; she doesn't update nearly as often as I do, but when she does, there's some wonderful anecdotes about her many years in the entertainment industry, designing costumes for a lot of famous people. She worked with Bob Mackie, Ann-Margaret, Diana Ross, Penny Marshall, Larry Hagman..., the list goes on; she's designed costumes for many TV shows and movies, and has a lot of great insider advice, and teachings, so the link to her blog is below, so check her out, and in case you're wondering, she never asks me to promote her, I just want to, because I can, and I recommend her blog, and her work, very highly.

http://costumetrainingwithhollywoodmentorsco.blogspot.com/

Now, onto the film, "Stealing Las Vegas," believe or it not, despite my bias, is the first film I've seen from Francisco Menendez, (Sorry, Prof, I'll work on seeing the rest soon.) and this is the first one he's made with Roger Korman producing him, so it's a straight-to-DVD, low budget schlocker, that's not exactly original. It's a casino heist movie, although I must say, few casino heist movies I've seen, have so many strippers. Not exactly complaining, but just an observation, that breasts are basically used as cutaway shots in this film, and frankly, we could probably use a lot more of that in film. The movie begins with Nick Davis (Ethan Landry), a former baseball prodigy, who blew out his knee on a suicide squeeze, and tried to rush the injury back with steroids, so now, he doesn't have insurance for surgery, and instead, works repairing light bulbs at the Olympus Hotel, and stealing money from his roommate, Maria's (Kristen Terry) "Tits" jar, (Which he later learns actually said "Tips", not tits; although living in Vegas, I've seen just as many tits jars, as I've seen tips jars, so it's not as stupid a mistake as you'd think) to try getting rich quick off some staged MMA fights that his boss Mo (Anthonio Fargas) runs. Soon though, the evil hotel owner, Alex Stratholme (Eric Roberts), decides to announce a $20million dollar, giveaway, which one lucky gambler will win. How did he get that money, well, naturally, he's going to fire much of the non-essential personnel, but also, raid them of their insurance and health benefits. He also, has a nasty habit of taking photos, usually of women, and in the case of Stacy (Annabella Casanova), Nick's friend, he apparently took photos, after drugging her, and probably date-raping her. You'd think somebody that rich, good looking, and living in Vegas, and constantly frequenting strip clubs, wouldn't need to go through all that trouble, but that makes it more despicable  So, the heist is on, and not to give much away, but this one involves a large vacuum-like tube, and some manipulating of doors, vaults, entrance cards, and apparently some very distracting strippers. I hate going back to the strippers, but the film, often kept going back to the strippers, where during the heist, Alex is patiently bemused at the strip club, just waiting to be robbed it seems like. I think I would've preferred a bigger contrasting regular life for the Alex character, just to mix it up a bit. Although, that would've likely meant fewer strippers, so I'm a little torn on that, but.... Well, I can't exactly say I recommend the movie. It is clearly low-budget and the dialogue is a little hokey at times, although it's delivered well, but some of the lines are obviously redubbed later. There's an occasional voice-over from Nick, comparing the caper he's about to pull to baseball strategies, which, while I love baseball, I'm not sure that's exactly the right sport to use metaphors with, in this case, but overall it's entertaining for what it is. It's not realistic at all, but it's a nice little heist movie. I do wonder though, if there's ever gonna be a new way to shoot a heist movie, 'cause the typical formula, seems manipulative and old for me sometimes. Building up the reasons why, seeing the seemingly random scenes of preparation in the middle, and then seeing, how they're all apart of the elaborate heist in the end, and then seeing in flashback all the parts of the heist we didn't see or get before. I think the formula could some use some rigging to it, but that's a general question, on the genre.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924) Director: Raoul Walsh

2 1/2 STARS

"The Thief of Bagdad", is one of those movies where the movie is about, how amazing the sets are. The sets, the costumes, to some extent, the special effects. Well, at the time, to a great extent, the special effects. It was the most expensive movie of it's time, and a lot of it does look amazing on screen, even today. It ranked #9 on AFI's Top Ten List of Fantasy Films, a few years back. (That was the screwy year, where they were doing Top Tens in subgenres. You know, animation, epic, courtroom drama, western, sports movie, etc.) It's hard to think nowadays, that these movies were some of the biggest hits of the silent era. These lavish costume and action pieces. I tend of think of these films, not starting to get their groove 'til much later in the century, after sound, and handheld camera, allowed for actions that extended beyond movie sets. The Bagdad, in the movie, isn't Iraq (Which is spelled with an h, in the middle) ; it really isn't anywhere, actually. It might as well exist in Middle Earth. They had Arabian-clothing and the sets and the idea, well a ready-made vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks, the lowly thief, well, maybe not lowly, he's actually skilled and adventuresome, but the lowly thief, who hopes to soon win the honor of marrying the Princess, (Julianne Johnston). After first gaining enough trust, and sneaking in to even become a competitor for her honor, he must go search for a grandest of treasures to bring back to her, which are naturally, guarded by, some kind of monsters and death-defying leaps and adventures. This movie, sounds more entertaining than it is. It's way too long, over two and a half hours. It's probably a little sacrilegious to criticize a classic, but I can really only pay attention to how great the costumes were for so long. I think the story works better being told, than it is being seen, at least scene here. When Roger Ebert wrote his Great Movie review of "The Thief of Bagdad," he wrote it on the 1940 remake, which was also a special effects spectacular of its time. Despite the innovations, I really struggled to keep interest watching "The Thief of Bagdad". I don't know why, or who's fault it is, but I can't really recommend it as a film. Probably should be viewed as a piece of cinema history, but I tend to think, the silent movie era was the period of Chaplin and Keaton comedy, and the German Expressionist, horrors, and the birth of the great D.W. Griffith epics. Douglas Fairbanks was a great screen star, but he might be more famous now, if he was a star, back in the forties or fifties, or even today, but he was unfortunately birthed in the wrong era of cinema for his talents.

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988) Director: Philip Kaufman

5 STARS

For much of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), the Czech surgeon who life comes easy to, seems to flirt, with every word he says. Successfully, I might add. I'm not sure a movie has had the phrase "Take off your clothes", uttered so often, and with the end results, being, somebody taking off their clothes. The time is Prague, '60s, right before the Soviet Invasion. Tomas's is dating,-, well, dating's a strong word, but he's seeing two women. One of them is an artist Sabina (Lena Olin), who wears a hat, and not much else, most of the time, and is just as liberal with sex as Tomas. They're pretty much soulmates, joined at the,-, well I'd rather not say what parts of the body their joined at, but they're joined at it often, and in many surprising ways, usually involving a mirror. Tomas also starts seeing a young bartender, Tereza, (Juliette Binoche) who he meets at a college one day out of town, but she suddenly shows up, at his home, later. Tomas still constantly sleeps around, and often with Sabina, who he convinces to help get Tereza a job as a photographer. Tomas, doesn't get much into politics, but he does write an article that gets published, where he compares the Soviets to Oedipus, and how they should have their eyes plucked out. Soon after, despite his own code, Tomas has let Tereza move in, and soon, in maybe the strangest wedding ceremony I've seen, involving a pig wearing a tie, they get married. They also leave Prague for Geneva, after the invasion. Tereza's smuggled her photos out of Prague, and gotten them published, but Tomas's desire for sex, which he contends has nothing to do with love, is unnerving for Tereza. She tries multiple attempts to break free, and try to be with other men, and other women, at one point, but devotion and love are just too intertwined for her. The word "Lightness" in the title, refers to Tomas, but the heaviness is the burden for Tereza. Yet, when she suddenly moves back to Prague, after the Invasion, he follows her back, which changes the movie from an erotic love triangle, to a story of how two personalities, strive to survive in Communist Czechoslovakia, without giving in to the other's or the Soviet's principles. When Tomas, who is widely considered one of Europe's best surgeon, can't get a job, because he refuses to retract his old story that he wrote, you almost think, he would've gladly signed the paper, if he thought the story was important. "The Unbearable Lightness..." was considered one of the most erotic films made since "Last Tango in Paris", when it came out, and frankly, considering how little erotic and sexual movies Hollywood makes, you might argue it's their last truly erotic film. It was directed by the great Philip Kaufman, who's one of those filmmakers who probably should be more well-known, and his films seen more, considering his resume. The previous film he made, was the epic "The Right Stuff", about the Mercury astronauts, which received numerous acclaim and awards, but was a flop by the studios. After this film though, he films went from traditional to these erotic tales. He made the first NC-17 film "Henry & June," based on Anais Nin's diary. He then made a forgettable action film, "Rising Sun," based off of a Michael Crichton novel, before returning to the strong R, erotic period pieces, with "Quills". His did the HBO film "Hemingway & Gellhorn", just last year. He's fallen out of favor in Hollywood, but his ambition is certainly grandiose. "The Unbearable Lightness..." is really a special film. I'm amazed it didn't get any acting nominations, especially for Binoche and Olin. Day-Lewis, I've observed, as great an actor as he is, when he's in as little makeup as possible, it's harder to realize how good an actor he is. I don't know why that is exactly; I wonder if he's more comfortable, hiding and disguising his characters beyond recognition, like his latest performance in "Lincoln", or his Oscar-winning work in "My Left Foot," and "There Will Be Blood". He still amazing, but I think it might be his looks. Especially with hair, he's so astonishingly handsome, that it might be hard to take him seriously. Perfect for this role though. A forgotten gem, but I'm glad I finally got around to it.

8 WOMEN (2002) Director: Francois Ozon

1 1/2 STARS

Francois Ozon's "8 Women", is a movie about how the costumes everybody wears makes their cleavage heave during times of stress. There's some sub-par Agatha Christie, Murder Mystery Weekend-type story going on as well, but really, it's a movie about women, who apparently only have a change of clothes, when they're typical dowdy, hair-up, eyeglasses, bookish look, gets changed into the heaving bosom dress, which are apparently well-stocked in the closets of one of the eight women who live in the house, that looks like an abandoned set of "Ten Little Indians". (Maybe it's a set of "The Women", but that play's better with a bare set, so I doubt that; it might have been left over from some bad soap opera.) Oh, and did I mention this was a musical? Actually, the music was one of the better parts of the movie, but consider how odd and awkward they came up, that's a definite backhanded compliment. It's 1950s, in a secluded extravagant winter home in the France countryside. There's been a snowstorm, so everybody locked-in for the day, and apparently, somebody has killed the master of the house, Marcel (Dominique Lamure, rarely seen). With nothing to do but insult each other and occasionally sing a strange dance number. With the police, snowed in and unable to come, they're determined to find out, which one of the eight did it. This is based on a play by Robert Thomas, which I didn't have to look up, I would guess it was play, and frankly, Ozon isn't hiding that well. Normally I enjoy Ozon's work, especially "Under the Sand," and "Swimming Pool", but sometimes, I'm not as impressed, as in "Time to Leave". "8 Women," almost feels like, a TV teleplay you'd find on public television, and frankly, it's hard to take it seriously as a movie, even with a who's who, of great French actresses. Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier. It's almost like all these women just came together and decided to just, put on this play as a lark or something. For a movie like that, you'll never top Louis Malle's masterpiece "Vanya on 42nd Street". Forget same ballpark, "8 Women," isn't even in the same atmosphere as that film. It's a gorgeous-looking fake set, some beautiful exhuberant costumes, except on the characters who aren't wearing them, like the maid, Mamy (Danielle Darrieux), who figures out and then get shot, kinda, not really. Not the other maid, Suzon (Virgina Ledoyan), who probably has the most seductive of outfits. It doesn't feel so much like actresses here, as it does, working models. To some extent, it's one of those movies, that's such camp, that you can almost claim that it's so bad, it's good, but not quite for me.

SEXUAL LIFE (2005) Director: Ken Kwapis

2 STARS

Kew Kwapis should really stick to television directing. He mostly forgettable forays into feature films just straddle the line of mediocrity, the most famous of these recent ones being, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants", and "He's Just Not That Into You". The best of the bunch is probably "He Said, She Said," about competing columnists who fall in love. "Sexual Life", which didn't get a theatrical release. is a hyperlink movie, that begins with a prostitute named Lorna (Azura Skye)-, actually, this is second movie I've seen this week, after Meirelles's "360," that's based on Arthur Schnitzler's play "La Ronde". Actually makes a somewhat interesting little auteur theory study, as "Sexual Life", starts with a prostitute, and goes from her latest client, Todd (Tom Everett Scott), with whom she likes, but still mostly thinks about finishing her crosswords during her work. She leaves a present that her friend Terri (Carla Gallo) gave her with Todd, who hides it from his very new girlfriend Sarah (Elizabeth Banks, who even in this movie, the more I see her, the more convinced I become that she's one of the best actresses in all of Hollywood). She's still, unbeknownst to Todd, still trying to break things off with her co-worker, Josh (James Le Gros), who's trying to pretend that he's still in love with his wife Gwen (Anne Heche), who knows the spark in their relationship is gone, so with the help of her mother, Joanna (Shirley Knight), tries to meet up with her old college flame David (Steven Weber), but hooks up instead with the hotel's clerk, who's also named David (Eion Bailey).... and around and around we go, 'til we meet up with the hooker again, who strangely meets up with Todd, at the wedding of Jerry (Dule Hill) and Rosalie (Kerry Washington), after working his bachelor party the night before. Whew! I'm glad I was able to get this figured out, but it doesn't really mean much. Another conencting thread in the film, is voice-over. All the character have their inner monologue, either before, during or after they've just had sex. Not exactly new, I think Woody Allen invented, that, but he was fresher, and him, and many others before Kwapis's film, were funnier. "Sexual Life" sounds better when I describe it, but it doesn't really add up to much. I'm gonna have to check out "La Ronde" at some point; apparently it's influential enough for multiple films with talented actors and filmmakers to be apart of it, and be inspired by it. In the meantime, I'd recommend "360" over "Sexual Life", despite some interesting performances from actors, the story is fluff and too light as a feather to have any long-lasting impact or meaning. At least "360", went around the world; "Sexual Life", maybe goes around the block a couple times.

Post a Comment