Tuesday, January 1, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #52: "THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL", "RUBY SPARKS", "ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA", "SLEEPWALK WITH ME", "ACT OF VALOR", "NATE AND MARGARET", "BALLPLAYER: PELOTERO", "MY PIECE OF THE PIE", and MORE!

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Here at "David Baruffi's Entertain Views and Reviews", we're gonna start the year off with a few resolution. #1: I want more people to read this blog. #2: I want to get more followers to this blog. #3: I want to continue publishing this blog, on a regular basis, and have all the blog be of the most excellant quality of thoughtfulness and intelligence, and discuss issues of the entertainment industry that usually aren't discussed as often. #4: I'm going to try to watch more movies in movie theatres before I review them. That's a big one for me; I don't get out as often as I'd like, so just in general, I'm gonna get out more often, even if that does mean, I don't get to post as often, but what I will be posting on will be more up-to-date. #5: Lost weight, but not until I finished off this second cheesecake. Gotta have a little fun. #6: We're gonna get more people to participate in my "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME POLL", and we're gonna get to 100, and finally post all the results. #7: Write more screenplays. I love this blog, and I'll always update, but I'm gonna be writing a lot of everything in the near future, and screenplays, on the side, that's gonna be my personal goal. Oh, #8: I'm gonna get a new design for this website soon. 2 years with the same design is enough. If anybody has some ideas on that, let me know what you think. I like the design, but it could some new improvement and love. Maybe some new colors, and photos, stuff like that.

Well, again Happy New Year, everyone! Let's start things off well, here's the latest edition of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2012) Director: John Madden

1 1/2 STARS

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", is about a bunch of old British actors, who go off to India to make a movie, hopefully without ending their careers. Okay, it's technically about a bunch of retirees or, retiree-age people who decide to go to this supposed paradise retirement hotel in India, but let's just say what it really is. I guess this movie has some appeal to people, because it's gotten more than a surprising amount of nominations this Award season, including 2 Golden Globes, 2 SAG nominations, including Best Ensemble Cast, and 5 Bifa (British Independent Film) nominations. For that, it jumped up on my Netflix, over what were hopefully numerous more deserving movies, that have been waiting patiently on my queue to see, some of them for years, in order for me to be bored by this outdated cliche of a movie. The movie starts in England, where we see all the particulars in their own personal crossroads, starting with Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench), who's trying to upgrade her computer over the phone, but the Indian call center person, can't help because the system is under her late husband's name. There's Douglas and Jainie Ainsley (Bill Night and Penelope Wilton), a couple who've long fallen out of love with each other, and has now resorted to Jainie belittling Douglas, and Douglas, taking it in that wonderfully accepting way that Bill Nighy always does. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is one of the most interesting characters, as a former college professor who grew up in India, he has the most interesting reasons for wanting to go back, which he keeps hidden, until it's finally pryed out of him by Madge (Celia Imrie), who's attracted to him. I will say that most of the Award nominations for the film, have been going to Maggie Smith for this film, who's playing a version of the same role she seems to have been playing for two decades, the old bitchy woman who complains about everything changing, wondering why everyone is so insulted by everything she says. You'd complain I'd complain more about this, but frankly, while Maggie Smith can do much more than that, sometimes I just want to hear the hits, and not the obscure album tracks. She's the best in the world at this part, and she's excellant here. There is some appealing details of the movie. Some of the personal arcs the character go through, particularly Dench's and Wilkinson's character are fascinating, but I think I would've simply one movie about each of them, as opposed to all these actors, going through half-arcs here. The film was directed by John Madden, who's typically erratic, but is more than capable of making a good movie, most notably the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love," although I always thought his best film was the underrated "Proof". This is one of his weaker efforts, that might be more notable for it's cast and premise than execution. At least it does to me, but I have a feeling it might sneak into something like "Best Adapted Screenplay" come Oscar time, considering it's appeal so far. I don't really get it, it's your basic, foreigner comes to a new place, it's not as appealing as the brochure claimed, but eventually they learn to live and eventually fall in love with the place later, and then they have to save it, because, the owner, Sonny's (Dev Patel) mother doesn't believe in her son, and he's not making money, and he wants to marry the woman she loves,.... (I swear, I can count the number of Indian films I've seen that aren't about that, on one hand) It's inconsistent and erratic unfortunately, and nothing new. If this is "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," I'd hate to see the not-to-, you know what, it's not worth making that stupid joke about it.

RUBY SPARKS (2012) Directors: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Davis

4 STARS

Okay, before I begin with this review, can I just say that, this is the last time I'm going to give a movie a pass that takes place in modern-day, involving a writer, particularly a young writer, who stills types on a typewriter! I know why they did it, there was a point to it, but, c'mon. Nobody's born after 1980 has written on a typewriter, this century, okay. Alright, now to get to the movie, where former genius writer Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) has been living,- well, "living" is a strong word, but his first novel, which he got published at age 19, is celebrating it's tenth anniversary and has become the new "Catcher in the Rye" for the generation. He occasionally has to be woken up by his publicist Mort (Aasif Mandvi) to remind to show up at book discussions and appearances at colleges, but otherwise, he spends his days dooming and glooming about his loneliness, and his break-up with his ex-girlfriend Lori (Deborah Ann Woll), who he was with for five years, and never lived together. He suddenly thinks he might have inspiration in that classic image of the angelic dreamgirl, that he literally sees in a dream, but it's still scattered, and his psychiatrist, Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) gives him an assignment to write a page about someone who loves his dog Scottie, just the way he is. (Which isn't much btw, the dog, not the one page, although,...- eh, nevermind) He starts writing about this perfect girl, who he names Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the movie). It's not bad writing, but it is a perception of a girl, a dreamgirl, and not a realistic woman, which his married brother, Harry (Chris Messina) and his only real contact with the outside world points that out. He awakes out of bed the next day, after another night of writing however, only to wake up and find Ruby, making eggs for him. He thinks it's a dream, but she insists on following him to a date with some grad student, only to find the student, Mabel (Alia Shawkat) and the rest of the restaurant can see and hear her. Apparently, we've got some "Stranger than Fiction"/"Adaptation."/"Pleasantville" type story here. Everything starts out fine, as soon as he realizes that he can write anything he wants about Ruby, and she'll do it. While it's tempting, he, at first, only makes her suddenly speak French for no reason, and decides that, now he's got a girlfriend, he might as well see where it goes. It's from here that the movie seems to head towards the prototypical Woody Allen, rom-com arc, and when it gets bad, and starts taking art classes and moving back to his apartment, he makes her indefinitely clingy and sad without him. Then he makes her blissfully joyful, and now she's excited at everything. "Ruby Sparks", started out, with a relatively interesting, and it does take a bit, but eventually, it does finally get to a full exploration of the premise, and fair warning, it does get a little dark here, I must say, but I'm glad it did, 'cause up until I was more on the fence on the film. "Ruby Sparks" was directed by the husband/wife team of Dayton & Faris, their last film was "Little Miss Sunshine", you might remember that great film. Dano was also in that movie, and at first, I was little skeptical of his this one. I'm skeptical of casting him, most of the time, in general, but I think he does eventually pull it off though. There's some interesting casting as his hippie mother and her foreign artist boyfriend in Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas. "Ruby Sparks" is a still a little bit too first screenplay, but overall it's a good idea, that actually does things with it, and well. I think it could've done a little more, but still, strong film.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (2012) Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylon

4 1/2 STARS

There's a quiet matter-of-factness about "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia". That title is misleading, insinuating a fairy tale or a fantasy. The movie is simple in description. Two guys have confessed to killing and burying his body, and now they're trying to find the dead body. I've always seen crimes and heard about plea agreements, where the guilty, reveal where, no pun-, well I guess the pun is intended, where all the bodies are buried, but I never really thought about just how many people are needed to go on this trip. You need the cops, in this case, the Police Chief, 'cause undoubtably, this is high-profile crime, and regretably, he needs to be there. As does the prosecutor, who has just tailored the deal, so they can present the body, and give closure to the deceased family. There's a doctor on hand, to confirm his death, do some on-scene analysis, and later to do the autopsy. There's a driver, also a cop, a stenographer, with a laptop, he needs to record the testimony, and of course, the two criminals, not to mention, the people who actually have to search for the body, and eventually dig him up. That is, if they can find him. One suspect, remember a round tree in a field, in Anatolia. (Anatolia, is basically the Asian part of Turkey.) However, he was drunk at the time of the act, and can't quite remember where the body was buried, he only kinda remembers killing him. The other doesn't seem to know much either, but he isn't talking much. They go to numerous fields, where the guys may think the body is, and he struggles to try and recognize the landmarks, what few landmarks there are. In the meantime, time passes, and everyone talks, and wonders. There's a story about a wife he seemed to foresee her own death after childbirth, although it might have been suicide. Other things get talked about in between trips to fields, and frank discussions about the body and the crime, like how they have to detail every piece of information, before moving forward with removing the body from the ground, once they do find it, with the help of a barking dog. Like what to do, when they suddenly realize, that they forgot to bring a body bag. The absurd always enter at the most ridiculous of times, doesn't it. (If it didn't, I guess it wouldn't be absurd I guess.) "Once Upon a Time..." is a paceful film. And long, in length, but that didn't bother me. The more I watched, the more intrigued I was. It's the first film I'm seen from the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan; I first heard about him, when they profiled his film, "Climates" a few years ago on "At the Movies", I believe Michael Phillips had it ranked on his Top Ten films of the last decade. I can see the appeal of his work. This film almost felt like a meditation, on everything. The random, the mundane, the observant. The conversations that people have during the most unendurable moments, when revealing your deepest personal thoughts and secrets break up the autonomy of the task at hand. I must confess, at 157 minutes, on my Netflix Instant Watch list, I wasn't exactly looking forward to "Once Upon a Time...", but it's numerous spots on Awards ballots, kept pushing it up on my list, until I finally had to get to it. I came into the film, thinking it might be a chore, now, I find it to be an enriching experience. I'm gonna look up more of Ceylon's work after this film. Definitely recommending "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia".

SLEEPWALK WITH ME (2012) Director: Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish

4 STARS

"Sleepwalk with Me", seems autobiographical for the film's co-director, co-writer and star, Mike Birbiglia. He's a stand-up comic who I apparently follow on twitter, although the name only half-way rings a bell to me, prior to this film. The movie begins at his sister Janet's (Cristin Millioti) wedding. Mike's been with his girlfriend, Abby (Lauren Ambrose) since college. In fact, she was his first girlfriend. He did everything short of stalking her, just to get her, and then, when she decided to be with him, she basically took control. Currently, he's a bartender at a comedy nightclub. He's a comic too, but not a good one. He's telling the same jokes about "The A-Team", and Cookie Monster that he told in college, and they weren't funny then, so he only gets up when two or three people cancel at the last minute. Anyway, after the wedding, he suddenly starts to see signs that his longtime girlfriend, also has subtle hints and ideas about getting married, like Tivo-ing dozens of TV shows about weddings. He's so blindsided by this revelation that she might want to get married, that it's totally confused him. (He really wasn't kidding when he said he never dated befoe.) He doesn't see the point in marriage. I can't say I blame him, but then again, he shouldn't have been that confused by it. It's at this point that suddenly, he begins taking extra gigs and getting an agent, who has him touring colleges. He isn't good at first, in fact, he keeps getting gigs partly because he bombs so well that he's good meat to have the audience slaughter before the lead comics come in. Soon however, he starts developing new material, based mostly on his wife, who's back home in Philadelphia, as he's touring by car, criss-crossing the northeast. The title comes from a sleepwalking disorder that started manifesting itselt, right around the time, he notices Abby's wedding infatuation. He was supposed to show up for a study, but canceled it to do more shows, as his act is getting booked more, and Abby's is left home alone too much. At one point, they finally start setting a date to get married, and Abby starts planning, but it's a little hard to get excited about a marriage, when neither of them are ever home together to talk. There's something a little cliche about a wedding being a deciding factor in whether a relationship continues as both parties lives keep changing, but thankfully that's just a pretense. There's a wonderful line Mike tells us, (Much of the movie, involves him breaking the third wall into the camera) where the reason that she stayed with him all that time. It makes both people seem good, just in a bad situation. I was pleasantly surprised actually at how much I enjoyed "Sleepwalk with Me", although I didn't particularly buy that Mike hadn't more routines before, or for that matter, better ones since college, but that may have been part of the point. "Sleepwalk..." has been honored by a few Awards, including the National Board of Review, as it made their Top Ten Independent Films list. I think it's fairly worthy of these honors. It's an uneven, but good, first film.

ACT OF VALOR (2012) Directors: Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh

2 STARS

On one hand I can appreciate what they're trying to do in "Act of Valor", and to my surprise, some of it worked, and was rather intriguing, and then other parts.... Directed by two former stuntmen, the directing team of McCoy & Waugh, "Act of Valor", tries to take us inside a Navy Seal team, and actually casts real Navy Seals, and not professional actors. In fact, most of the cast uses they're real name, and if you check the imdb.com page, most of the characters like Rorke or Dave and Weimy, are listed by only one name as an actor. In certain moments this helps, for instance, I found the way the meetings were run very interesting. There's a matter-of-factness about them, as they prepare for their mission, and the soldiers patiently ask a question, by saying "They have a question." At first, I thought, that's strange writing, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that was probably realistic, as well as the questions they were asking, for instance, on how long should a post remain as they're sent to spy on a secret meeting in Somalia between a Russian gangster Christo (Alex Veadov, one of the few actors) and a group from the Philippines. He's selling an untraceable bullet vest, not a bulletproof-vest, a bullet vest, that can't be seen by airport scanners, and when blown up, explodes and throughs bullets wildly from, hundreds of them, like a machine gun, killing everything around them. (A very frightening scheme btw, I thought that was creative) I also enjoyed the way they went about their first mission, at least in the film, where they have to rescue a kidnapped journalist, Lisa Morales (Roselyn Sanchez), who was working on a connection between Kristol and a hardcore Jihadist named Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle). The detailing, the planning, the execution, and then the improvisation when they're escaping, it didn't exactly completely switch from action film to documentary, but it came close a couple times. Actually the kidnapping scene previous was quite powerful. The film got a hard R for violence, it wanted to show certain realisms, including the violence, so they did that. Where it lacks however, really showed the problems with this film. First of all, the ending sequences, went on way too long, and too suddenly and what started out as interesting became boring at the end, but what really didn't work was the in between scenes. For instance, the backstories, which we learn a little bit about, and were fairly cliche. The one with the baby on the way, and another talking about his family's badge, and how prideful and happy and black he was, so you knew he was gonna die. (Okay, he didn't talk about being Black, he was Black, but still...) In certain moments, it's a bit of a good idea to hire non-actors, Paul Greengrass's "United 51", comes to mind quickly, as well as something like Steven Soderbergh's underrated film "Bubble", but it doesn't really work. Not that the dialogue would've helped, a lot of it was bad and cliched, but it wasn't so atrocious that a good actor couldn't have saved it somehow. For a movie like this, a nice mix of actors and real people would've been stronger, but they should've focused more on the military aspect and the behind-the-scenes of what does a Seal Team actually do, that was far more interesting anyway. Sometimes strong backstories aren't needed for a great film, like "Black Hawk Down" for instance. Dare I say, the banalaties, of saving a kidnapped woman from a torturous terrorist, were far more interesting that just the action. "Act of Valor", is certainly intriguing because of the choices the film makes. Yeah, it's clearly a pro-military piece, you could say propaganda I guess, but it is interesting uneven. It's gotten a few nominations in the Best Song department at a few Award shows so far, for the Keith Urban song "For You", I don't think it'll get much more than that, if that, come Oscar time. Also, another bad choice, the meandering voice over, about a father and son and the goal of protecting America, not only was that bad, I have no clue, who exactly was speaking the voice over. That was useless, made no sense, that was stupid...- To many bad choices to recommend, but it was certainly an interesting failure, so at least it was that.

NATE AND MARGARET (2012) Director: Nathan Adloff

2 1/2 STARS

Ironically, I watched "Sleepwalk with Me," and "Nate and Margaret," back-to-back, and both of them happen to have a struggling stand-up comic wannabe as a main character. "Nate and Margaret" is about a strange and almost inexplicable friendship between Margaret (Natalie West) a 50+ spinster, who a manager at a deli, where she tries to perfect her stand-up, (It seems both stand-ups don't know in the beginning that the best first material is the personal and realistic ones, and not the more scripted and written-out material. You think they would've seen "Punchline" at some point, and studied Tom Hanks giving pointers to Sally Field). and Nate (Tyler Ross) a 19-year old gay art student, who lives in an apartment next door to Margaret, and they spend an unusual amount of time together. It's clearly not a romantic relationship, but they've clearly cast themselves as outcasts, and have bonded from that. It's a little weird, agrees, nearly everyone. He even invites her to some college parties, where Darla (Gaby Hoffman), one of those friends, who you don't intend to be friend but insists on it anyway, because she wants to set Nate up with her friend, James (Conor McCahill), who's a bit of a egomaniacal cliche, but it's a first relationship for Nick, so he goes with it a bit, a little too much to realize James isn't a decent boyfriend choice, but.... Anyway, it gets a little predictable from here, especially after Margaret starts putting her real-life past, of domestic violence into her comedy. Doesn't sound that funny, but it actually is. "Nate and Margaret," has a few moments that are somewhat interesting, if not inspired, but it really doesn't add up much to a film. It doesn't even give that much of a reason why these two are friends to begin with, and it makes it harder for us to completely care, when it starts to drift apart. It's one of those prototypical independent films, that trying too hard to be a little too cute, and they forget about actual substance. Margaret is slight more well-defined, but not enough to make up for it. Nothing special, totally forgettable,- to ask me what I thought about "Nate and Margaret," is like asking me how my day was, I'd be just as perplexed coming up with an adjective better than fine.

BALLPLAYER: PELOTERO (2012) Directors: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley

5 STARS



It is certainly no secret anymore that the Domincan Republic produces top-of-the-line Major League baseball players. It has for years, the competition is more intense than ever, and the quality of athletes remain outstandings. 20% of the Major and Minor leagues are from the Domincan Republic, and it's Major League Baseball only other office, outside of New York City. "Pelotero", the Spanish word for ballplayer, gives us a slight glimpse into this training ground, and the system that's been developed over the years, and the many ways, both the players, and ironically, Major League Baseball, try to skirt around. The movie is narrated by John Leguizamo, and it takes place in 2009, as the July 2 date approaches, the day when Major League teams can now sign the top talent from the Domincan Republic, that's over the age of 16. We follow two players and the people around them. The first one is Miguel Angel Sano, a huge player with amazing talent, who is considered by everyone in the Majors to be the top talent overall. The other is Jean Carlos Batista, another talented player, possibly a natural shortstop, who's somewhat cocky and demanding. The trainers for both of these guys, who do their training for free, end up working as de facto managers and go-betweens with Major League Baseball often. They train for free, but when a player gets signed by a Major League team, they get 35% of the cut, which can seem like a lot, but considering that they often work with athletes for years, and often end up taking care of the kids like parents, it can be a hardship if a player doesn't get signed, on July 2nd. (You can be signed after July 2nd, but the value of the player typically drops drastically after that.) A couple issues suddenly come up with the players. In Miguel Angel's case, questions suddenly start arising regarding his age. There's been numerous attempts, unsuccessful and successful in the past to lie about one's age, in order to get a bigger payday, so when questions begin getting posed, it can be disastrous for an athlete. Miguel Angel's mother, who was a teenager when she gave birth, had an abortion a year earlier, and suddenly a claim arose that Miguel Angel was actually a year older, and had been using his dead brother's name. Numerous tests were called, all confirming his age, but MLB was slow on the investigation, and they didn't make a call until after the July 2nd deadline. The reason for the delay, seems to be a Pirates scout, who really wanted to sign him, and began behind-the-scenes, setting up the alleged age fraud on Miguel Angel, because he wanted to make sure the Pirates could afford him. When MLB finally rules his case, inconclusive, the family conducts their own investigation, where they find more-than-enough proof of his age, as well as secretly videotape the Pirates scout, discussing how, if Miguel Angel signed with the Pirates, the case would go away. With Jean Carlos, he gets some offers, particularly from Houston, but he's insistant on signing for 600,000 and not the 450, he's offered, even telling the Houston owner that over the phone. It's soon after that questions regard Jean Carlos's age comes into question. "Pelotero" is not even at 80 minutes, but it's one of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen in a while. A sports documentary, no, it's not exactly gonna compete with the likes of "Hoop Dreams", but for what it wasn't exactly aiming for that, but found a way to keeps its camera rolling anyway, once the film started getting interesting. There was a film a couple years ago, an underrated film called "Sugar" by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (They also made "Half Nelson", with Ryan Gosling), that showed a young Domincan Republic player, as he got signed and played AA ball, in Iowa. "Pelotero", is a bit like, the before story of "Sugar", and the beginning of dozens of stories of ballplayers trying to make it big. I not only enjoyed, but very much enjoyed Pelotero, wonderful documentary.

MY PIECE OF THE PIE (2011) Director: Cedric Klapisch

2 STARS

With a title like "My Piece of the Pie," and a subject like stock market manipulation, I would've thought, American film. However, this one is actually French, The story involves a woman, named France, no really, that's her name (Karen Viard) who lost her factory job due to Steve Delarue (Gilles Lelouche) manipulating her company's stock price to the point, where they had to close down the factory, costing everybody their job. France, being a single mother, finds a new job, as a cleaning maid to Steve. From there, you can tell the story arc. The way the movie tells this story however, is bizarre, almost schizophrenic. You can tell it many different ways. Satire, comedy, drama, spy thriller, musical, romance,... and they seem to try all of them, and none of them work. The scene where she's gotten ahold of Steve money, and gone shopping, tellling her kids to get whatever they want, and doing a dance number in the middle of the meat aisle, seems like something from another movie, one of those bad rom-coms where everybody's suddenly dancing to "A'int No Mountain High Enough". (In fact, that might've been the song they used. I remember it being a song I liked, because there was so little of the movie I liked). Until the end of the movie, when a bunch of her co-workers, oh, [SPOILER ALERT] find out Steve's the reason they don't have a job, outside of some expensive gala that Steve had taken France to, I could've easily forgottent he movie was about job loss and frustration. It's the first film I've seen from director Cedric Klapisch, most famous for his worldwide hit, "The Spanish Apartment (aka L'auberge Espangol)" which is somewhere on my Netflix, as is it's sequel "Russian Dolls". based on the subject and lightness of those movies themes, "My Piece of the Pie," feels like it was way out of his league. He should've listened to the advice of Howards Hawks, "When all else fails, make a drama". Instead, Klapisch tries everything, hoping something would stick, and instead, we have an erratic convuluted movie that, not only is it sub-"Wall Street", it's barely a movie. Could you imagine if someone Colline Serreau would've been given this material, what she could do with it? I constantly found myself about lots of better films and filmmakers through "My Piece of the Pie," which btw, starts with an opening shot of a cake. Yeah, a birthday cake, I get it, but a cake, for a film called "My Piece of the Pie"-, I mean, just go to the store, and buy a pie. The movie is almost all abstraction, and almost no reality, probably like Steve is, looking at these numbers on his six computers, but film is best when it's in the world of the tangible, at least this film would've been.

THE KING OF COMEDY (1983) Director: Martin Scorsese

3 1/2 STARS

Scorsese's "The King of Comedy", seems almost like, the opposite story of "Taxi Driver". It begins with professional autograph seekers, who hang out outside "The Jerry Langford Show". Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), is clearly representing a Johnny Carson-type character, and it helps to know about the prestige of that show, especially for comedians, who were made or destroyed on "The Tonight Show...". Robert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) isn't a stand-up comic, although he's written a bit of stand-up material, and he's practiced it in front of an audience. Well, a fake audience that's apparently been postered or wallpapered in his bedroom at his unseen Mom's house, who keeps complaining about him talking to himself. On this day, a derange young fan, Masha (Sandra Bernhard) jumps Jerry in his limo, and Robert manages to get pull her off and safely get Jerry in the limo, and drive off. He takes the rare opportunity, as he should do, to get his name out, and try to get on the show. Jerry politely tells him to call his casting assistant, and send her some tapes. He tries to call Jerry first instead, but eventually, he gets turned down, but not before, reconnecting with an old high school crush, Rita (Diahann Abbott), saying that he was friends with Jerry, and he was gonna get on the show soon, proclaiming himself "The King of Comedy". He fantasizes about having Jerry beg him to take over as guest host for a few weeks, with him over drinks at some restaurant where people ask for his autograph the way Robert has collected everyone else's. As it becomes clear that his delusions aren't matching reality, he gets desperate, and after a bad visit with Rita to Jerry's home, him and Masha, who's been in on it from the beginning, begin an elaborate con to kidnap Jerry, and hold him hostage until he's allowed on the show. I don't know how it ranks among Scorsese's best, I think the movie isn't one of Scorsese's very best, he deals with the same themes in other movies like "Taxi Driver," and "Raging Bull", particularly, but this was one of the first films of his that can be described as somewhat of a comedy, a satire you can say. The best of his films like this is the underrated "After Hours", and like that film, I was reminded of how smartly Scorsese does something he doesn't get enough credit for, casting traditional comic actors in straight dramatic roles. In that movie, he cast Catherine O'Hara, Teri Garr, Bronson Pinchot, and even Cheech and Chong. He cast Don Rickles in "Casino", and Sacha Baron Cohen in "Hugo," all perfectly. Here, he does it not only with Jerry Lewis, but also with Sandra Bernhard, playing this incompetent cross between Alex Forrest and Annie Wilkes, that's startling. I still consider "The King of Comedy", a bit of an awkward film as a whole, but it does feel like, if Travis Bickle just wanted to be a star, instead of trying to kill a Presidential candidate and rescuing a teenage hooker, he might have just kidnapped Johnny Carson just to be on TV. Their might more people out there like Robert Pupkin than Travis Bickle though, hence the Bernhard friend helping out.

DESPERADO (1995) Director: Robert Rodriguez

4 STARS

Somewhere between sequel and remake is Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to his famous low-budget first film, the Spanish-language "El Mariachi", "Desperado". The film, isn't exactly what you'd call the same story, in fact it takes place after that film, but it has so many of the same elements, that it practically resembles one of Sergio Leone remakes of Kurosawa's Sanjuro films. There a mysterious stranger we're warned of, looking for a man name Bucho (Joachim de Almelda), who's out for revenge. El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) was a mariachi, but after his hand injury, he's taken to doing what he previous counterpart did, going from old dusty southwest town with a roughneck bar and piss-poor beer, with a trusty guitar-case, now filled with weapons and machine guns and shoot up places, until somebody finally points him towards Bucho. His friends, Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, I'm guessing not a coincidence) comes into town first with the warning, then soon comes the bloodbath, taking everybody, including the Short Bartender (Cheech Marin). This time, he's close, and Bucho a local drug kingpin who has long bought out the town is looking to take care, but many of his men are killed by him, and his elusiveness and now-expert use of weaponry, and his employers have started sending out their own professional to take him down named Navajas (Danny Trejo). By the time, they track this guy down, who is placed into the town, with zero information of how to identify him, he's already dead. Once they start putting an all-out search for El Mariachi, he's taken in by the town's bookstore owner Carolina (Salma Hayek), who's he's quickly falling in love with, just like he fell in love with the barkeep in the previous film, nursing him back to health after getting shot a couple times. Florence Nightingale Syndrome must be rampant in these shoot-em-up western towns. It'd have to be just by percentages it seems like. By the time, he gets a shot at Bucho, does the plot thicken again, and we get, similar to "El Mariachi", that one final shootout in Bucho's own compound, and Carolina, is also there. I won't spoil it, but let's say, there's some slightly different results from last time. I enjoyed "Desperado", the way I enjoy most every Robert Rodriguez film, that doesn't involve the words "Spy Kids", or 3-D in the title. I think I preferred the freshness and the gritty feel of the original "El Mariachi" compared to this one, which almost comes off as your average action film at times, and yeah, it's practically a big-budget version of the first movie. Named starts, better explosions and action, basically a variation on the old plot. These aren't negatives by any means, I enjoyed all of these things. I can see his evolution starting with these first two films, and the work he's done most recently. Shame to have had Salma Hayek in the film, and not have any gratutious nudity, not that it's needed, but this would've been the perfect movie for it. Hey, he knew to put it in "Machete," what's wrong with putting it in "Desperado"? Well, minor criticisms and comparisons. I had fun with "Desperado," it's enjoyable, entertaining and fun; and it probably would've been even if I hadn't seen the first film so, it's a recommendation.

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1985) Director: Hayao Miyazaki

4 1/2 STARS

"Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind", was one of Hayao Miyazaki's first feature-length films, and was the movie that put Studio Ghibli on the map. Originally conceieved as a film, it Miyazaki adapted into a comic books that became a hit, making the film inevitable. The movie is beautiful, as all Miyazaki films are, and it's clearly an early influence for some of his later works, most notably, arguably his best film, "Princess Mononoke". This film takes place in a future, where the jungle has become increasing toxis. We meet Nausicaa, the Princess of the Valley of the Wind, and she's quite a Princess. A brave, albeit pacifist warrior, who regularly dons an elaborate outfit, that resembles, something between a Hasmat suit and an astronaut's outfit, to glide in the jungle on her glider, and explore, and hopefully find some food. The jungle seems to appreciate her, and vise-versa. During one early scene, where she helps save her old family fried, Lord Yupa, who gives her a small vicious rodent. She's warned about the rodent, and lets it bite her, to gain it's trust. The Valley of the Wind, is apparently one of many different groups or tribes that have survived using leftover parts from the past, similar to "Mad Max," or by using what resources they have, and using them sparingly. A couple of these tribes have begun fighting and enticing each other, and the small Valley of the Wind, is about to get caught in the crossfire. One of these groups, led by their more aggresive Princess, Kushana, has brought in an army, with an intent on burning down the jungle, which they contend as the only way to save their village. She's far more reasonable than most villian, especially considering the tribe she's going after are far more bullheaded and warlike. You can tell that Miyazaki, is building towards "...Mononoke" here. The pacifist protagonist, who, although can kill and fight for her beliefs, (and die for them), caught and the two fighting tribes reminded me of the pig gods and the Irontown of that movie. I can't really help but to make the comparisons; I did "...Mononoke" first, and probably a dozen or so times. There's an environmental theme through Miyazaki's work, but what interests me as much, is how his films seem to take place in two kinds of worlds. There's a more realistic world, which usually stories of young girls, like "Kiki's Delivery Service", "My Neighbor Tororo", "Spirited Away", or "Ponyo", that have fantasy or magical elements in them, but seem focused in the modern world, or these more fantasy epics, like "Nausicaa...", and "...Mononoke", which are big and bold, and elaborately complex. I said villains earliers, and I really shouldn't have, because nobody's really all bad here, their all doing what they perceive as the best to help them survive, they just aren't as informed, nor know exactly what to do even if they were. Nausicaa, we learn secretly, had been building a garden from underground water, and had manage to purify things that are growing, which makes her suspect, that despite the toxic air in the jungle, something must be surviving that isn't toxic. "Nausicaa..." has a few flaws, but they're flaws of the young filmmaker. It's a little too long, although Miyazaki's usually one of the few filmmakers who I generally want his films to be longer, and it's a little high on explanation, instead of action, oftentimes, overly paceful about it. There's one scene where Kushana talks about waiting for Nausicaa's return, and then instantly changing her mind, and preparing to attack. Still though, these are really minor notes you have to make at Miyazaki's work, just to make such distinguishes. It's a Miyazaki's it's an amazing one, it's a powerful one; it's an early one, but still, it's not like it won't be amazing, and it is amazing.

TASTE OF CHERRY (1998) Director: Abbas Kiarostami

3 STARS

"Taste of Cherry", is the second film I've seen by the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. I saw his film last year, "Certified Copy," his first European film, which also focused in on it's characters, in that film, two people, who may or may not be married, who meet on vacation. This film, "Taste of Cherry," also stays intently focused on it's main character, Mr. Badi. (Homayoun Ershadi) Most of the movie, seems to take place inside the truck that he drives, seemingly all through Iran. He occasionally sees people looking for work, and he's offering it to some, but vaguely. He talks to a few of them, one was home from the Army, and is going back soon, but soonafter, he leaves the car, uninterested, as does a couple others in his proposition. What is his proposition. He's buried a hole underneath a cherry tree. He's going to take pills, and what he needs is someone to come around and check on him. If he's dead, they need to buried him. If he's alive, he wants se person to wake him up. This movie nearly got Kiarostami in trouble in Iran, because even a film that discusses suicide, is controversial, as it's specifically prohibited in the Qu'ran. He was just barely allowed to attend the Cannes Film Festival to accept the Palme D'Or. He finally finds a taxidermist, Mr. Bagheri, (Abdolrahman Bagheri) to do it. The rest of the movie, is pretty meandering on and around everything. It's also a bit of a travelouge or Iran. I don't know, really. I admire the technique, and sometimes the stories, and I guess this film was culturally important, but I don't know, I had a hard time caring about it. I mean, I'm okay with slow, paceful even prophetic movies, but this movie is pretty slow and boring. I get it, and I'll recommend it for others, but I don't know, I wasn't as impressed. The pace was slow, it doesn't go anywhere for awhile, and eh-, that was about it.

MY TRIP TO AL-QAEDA (2010) Director: Alex Gibney

4 STARS

AFter working in Cairo as a college professor for a few years, Lawrence Wright wrote a film called "The Seige". The movie, finished back in '98, about the U.S. reaction to an Islamist terrorist attack, was merely intended as fiction, but Al-Qaeda, considered is blasphamous, and because of the film, they attaked. Not 9/11, they attack a Planet Hollywood in South Africa, killing two people. Why, "Planet Hollywood"? Because, the movie's star, Bruce Willis, was one of the co-owners and co-founders of the chain. Lawrence Wright, knew different however, that symbolically, that bomb was meant for him, for writing the movie. This, was the beginning moment, when he began traveling around the world, to meet with members of Al-Qaeda. He had written a book on his adventures, but he then, made a bold decision, to adapt it as a one-man show, on Broadway. Directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, "My Trip to Al-Qaeda combines footage from Wright's performance onstage, along with some interviews and documentary footage of other events, as well as footage of Wright, talking with some of the more notorious members of Al-Qaeda, or those connected to other acts of terrorism. One of them, gives him a driving lesson in London, where he's an instructor. He had bombed a car that was thought to be carrying the prime minister of, Egypt, I think, (I'm not sure on the country now), but instead, the bomb went killed a four-year old girl, and he was charged along with others in absentia, and he fled the country, not allowed to return. We see footage of suspected terrorists in prison, frustrated over the conditions that the prisons and the country put them through. Wright doesn't look at Al-Qaeda or terrorism through the vacuum that we think about, but tries to undrstand the region, it's people, and exactly how someone like Osama Bin Laden, can not only be so powerful, but also, so influential. The movie is a sharp departure for Gibney, who's work, I've admired for years, not just in it's quality, but his quality. He had three different documentaries come out this past year, and he's in post-production on three more, two of which, are planned for next year releases. He won the Oscar for "Taxi to the Dark Side", although his best films are "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson", "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer," and "Casino Jack and the United States of Money". This is the first film of his that not an investigative piece that's an investigative or biographical journalistic piece, and instead, it's basically his first concert film. Good one, not great, at just over 80 minutes, it's short but effective, any longer, 'cause it's pretty intense and harrowing, it might have been too much. I wonder a bit about what was edited from Wright's one-man show to show some of the documentary footage, but otherwise, "My Trip to Al-Qaeda" was quite intense. I don't quite know how informative it is, the appeal is Wright's perspectives and his story of his interactions, but still quite stirring. I think I would've preferred a more straight-ahead performance documentary of his show, similar to maybe an Eric Bogosian one-man show, but still strong.

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