Okay, I know the entertainment news has been a little Awards heavy this week. Oscar nods, Critics Choices, etc. The Golden Globes are tonight, I'll be drinking- I mean, I'll be watching them. In the meantime, let's get on to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS, including a SPECIAL REVIEW, of "Django Unchained"!
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) Director: Quentin Tarantino
For the first half of "Django Unchained", Tarantino proved he could make a Western. In the second half of the film, he proves that he can make a Tarantino film. I'm personally apprehensive towards "Django..." on one hand, it's clearly a masterful film, by a master filmmaker, but on the other hand, it doesn't have quite the insouciant feel of Tarantino's best work. With "... Basterds" for instance, his first foray into Tarantino-izing history, there was a gleefulness in which he was rewriting the history books, a joy, if you will, not just in watching the movie, but in making the movie. This movie, doesn't have some of those trademarks. No movie theatre, no importance on shoes, it's almost like Tarantino has grown up and decided to just make that spaghetti western, or in this case, a spaghetti, southern, I guess. Don't get me wrong, it's fun; it's a 5 STARS film, and it's a masterpiece, but comparatively, this felt like, a project for Tarantino, and not-so-much, an enjoyable movie to watch, by QT-standards of course. What the film has that I love, is wonderful acting and writing, a great creative tale, some daringness in its setting, and despite the fact, the movie's a little early in terms of, when exactly dynamite was invented, it has some cool things, being blown up! It's 1858, in the South, and Django, (Jamie Foxx) is a former runaway slave, who suddenly finds his freedom at the hands of a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He needs him to identify the Brittle Boys, Big John, Little Raj, andd Ellis, (M.C. Gainey, Cooper Huckabee, and Doc Duhame, respectively) who had tortured him long ago, after he and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was raised in Germany believe it or not, and speaks fluent German, tried to escape. They branded an R into Django, but now, he's free, and, they go to Big Daddy's (Don Johnson, and boy is it fun to see him in something cool again.) plantation, who's hired the Brittles as hands. After Django and Schultz, take them out, they strike up a deal to teach Django to be a bounty hunter, and after the snowfall, they'll go find Broomhilda, who they find out, was sold to Candieland, the harshest plantation in all the South, run by the eccentric and cruel Calvin Candie. (Leonardo DiCaprio, one of his best roles) Their objective, to buy Broomhilda, and grant her her freedom, so that Django and Hildy can go off up north together, and to do this, they come up with a scheme involving buying one of Candie's Mandingo fighters as a misdirection. What ends up happening, is a bloodbath; I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that, it's practically an inevitability, and, it should be. The ending is gratifying, but the performances are what's out-of-this-world. Jamie Foxx's role is in a deceptively difficult, and I already wrote his name in my Annual A.M.P.A.S. memo, but, and I don't want to hint at anything here, but there's an amazing performance, by Samuel L. Jackson; I'm not gonna give away his part, but it's a great comic performance, and I also want to give note to his make-up artist, I tried to look up her name, I couldn't find it, and I know how he cares about makeup, more than most actors; he does his own makeup half-the-time, and he's very skilled at it, and loves using hair and makeup to help define his characters, and boy, did they find the right makeup for this character. It's over-the-top, but it's perfectly over-the-top, and Jackson-, I swear, Jackson, Dicaprio and Waltz, if all three of those names got Supporting Actor Oscar nominations, I wouldn't be shocked; this may be, the best overall acting, ensemble, of all Tarantino's films, and that's saying something, and I know you can say that about any of his films, but these are some really good memorable characters, and some great performances here. The skill, and the talent levels are off the charts, even the songs are great, and Tarantino, uses original songs for the first time ever to tell this story, a good choice. I appreciate that Tarantino is trying to expand his horizons and challenge himself as a director, but this time, I think it took something away from my personal enjoyment of his work. Perhaps, he should do that remake of "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" that he was supposedly working on, earlier, and deal with stuff so serious as slavery. But, that's probably just me; I guess I admire "Django..." more than I appreciate it, granted, there's a helluva to admire.
PINA (2011) Director: Wim Wenders
In no art form, is it more essential that their art be preserved on film, than dance. On the same token, however, film has never been the best form in which to view dance. It can capture the performance, but rarely does it really capture the skill and the talent. Often it's from afar, and heavily choreographed, and rarely is it seen in it's most natural setting, on the stage, and film, can only capture that, so much. Musical numbers are staged, for film, while dance, has to be experienced live. The great Wim Wenders, one of my all-time favorite directors, was close friends with the great choreographer Pina Bausch, and had been planning a documentary about her for years, and she finally concented, but died shortly after filming began. The documentary "Pina," begins with a stage, and then, dirt is poured onto it, and soon, the production begins. They dancer all perform in the dirt, with the barest of clothing, using their entire bodies, expressions the kind of emotions writers like me, could only wish they can write. We also see her cafe performance, and we get something that we don't see in dance films, the physicality of the dances. The emotions of the performances. In between monologues, where the dancers give voiceovers of what it's like to work with Pina, and then, we see their work. It's unlike most dancing I've seen. It's not a technical, but an emotional, physical thrust, like the guy, who keeps trying to push the guy and girl into a traditional dance position, only to see her adjust it and jump into the guy's arms, and immediately drop her. And then again, and then, again.... I loss count at seven, and there wasn't a cut. The movie was shot in 3-D, Wenders first foray into it, although unfortunately, I only viewed the 2-D, performance, but, I must say that I was impressed, with just that. The movie earned an Oscar nomination last year for Best Documentary, and was also, German's entry for the Foreign Language film Oscar, and it made the shortlist in that category. The voters were not allowed to view the movie in 3-D, and while it doesn't hurt the film to see it in 2-D, most people have said the experience is better in the 3-D. The movie's getting a Criterion DVD release soon, and it's one of the best films from last year. This movie, if it doesn't encompass all of Pina Bausch's choreography, it certainly encompasses all of her essence, and it pretty much encompasses all of dance as well. Complicated high-level routines with sets and costumes, are mixed with the random, seemingly improvised performances, that can be done randomly on a train or a street, or in the water with a hippopotamus, even. It's an emotional journey like any other film, just told through dance. "Pina", is a rare filmmaking experience, and I can't wait to experience it again.
Note: "Pina" wasn't eligible for my OYL Awards as it wasn't seen until after the Awards, with the provision that because of it's Oscar nomination, that it would become eligible after-the-fact, as an unofficial nominee. After this blog is posted, the OYL Award blogs will be changed to reflect "Pina" having been considered as an "Unofficial Nominee" in several categories. No awards will change, but it's noted that had the film been seen before the date of the Awards, it would've been nominated.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) Director: Christopher Nolan
4 1/2 STARS
"The Dark Knight Rises", marks the first time I've not seen one of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies in the theatre, and I'm sure after the incident in Colorado, I'm not alone. Now that that's been addressed, lets get to the movie, which has one of the most unenviable tasks of having to follow up on one of the best and biggest films of the last decade. Biggest two films actually, and not-to-mention, one of the most iconic villain performances, ever. I think coming in, expecting greatness is a bad idea, but if you let it play out on it's own terms, "The Dark Knight Rises", is a good and fitting end, to an amazing trilogy. It's the weakest of the three, but being the weakest of these three, is nothing to be crying about. This movie begins eight years after "The Dark Knight" ends. Harvey Dent Day is a citywide holiday, and the streets are safer than ever, as Batman, accused of Harvey Dent's murder, has disappeared, while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, with rumors ranging on the Howard Hughes-grotestque, wildly throughout the city, as Wayne, hosts galas, charities and parties, at his home, but never attends them. His loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) is back, as is Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) the head of the applied science section of Wayne Enterprises. Wayne's first contact with the outside world, other than Alfred is with Selina (Anne Hathaway), who's an catburglar, hired by Daggett (Ben Mendohlson) a member of the Wayne Enterprises board, who's determined to take over the company, and has hired a mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy), who's already faked a death of a nuclear scientist, and has control of a strikingly vicious army. Bane is one of the most intriguing of villains in the series, doesn't talk much, has a face covered with some kind of mask/artificial mouth, and is built like a tank otherwise. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has seen better days and regret over his decision to turn Dent into a symbolic hero. Another new woman, trying to enter Wayne's life is Miranda Watts (Marion Cotillard) who runs a project that'd put Wayne's worth at risk, but could potential become turn the entire city of Gothan on clean energy forever. Wayne, may not be Howard Hughes agoraphobic, but he's definitely out of shape. He's unkempt at first, walking with a cane, and a limp, and after eight years foregoing the Batman character, his sudden desire to reemerge occurs after one attempted crime, leads to Gordon, being shot, and taken down into the sewers where Bane's army has taken up symbolic residence, along with the rest of the Gotham underworld. Cillian Murphy returns briefly, swarmy as ever. After a surprise robbery of Wayne's net worth at the New York Stock Exchange, he must both, find, then combat Bane, and win back control of the board. Meanwhile, he's started getting the help from a fellow former-orphan, Blake, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who's become a cop, and a surprisingly reasonable one, who sees through Wayne's disguise. "The Dark Knight Rises", is aptly titled, because he starts out as down he can be, but surprisingly, the story is as much about Bruce Wayne's redemption, even more than Batman. There's good supporting actors all around, and there are some interesting ways in which these stories, come back around, and get back to the core beginning of Batman. A wise decision, since it would've been near-suicide to come up with another flamboyant villain, after the Joker. We get a few of the classic staples, but it comes at appropriately odd turns. If this is the end of the trilogy, it's a fitting end. It leaves openings, but if there's better way to end this, I couldn't think of it. Big recommendation.
ARBITRAGE (2012) Director: Nicholas Jarecki
3 1/2 STARS
No opinion of mine, on an actor's abilities, has shifted greater over the years than on Richard Gere. I used to think of him, as one of those movie stars, who got the lead parts because of his looks, and his A-list stature, over his ability. It's an easy mistake to make after watching some of his more popular films like "Pretty Woman", "Primal Fear", even "An Officer and a Gentleman", but now, I realize just how talented he is, and I'm amazed at the range of roles he's played, especially lately. Who knew he had Billy Flynn in "Chicago" in him. Or how about "The Hoax", or "I'm Not There", or "The Hunting Party". Or "Bee Season". He's far more diverse and skilled than I would've ever imagined, and now, here's "Arbitrage", a skillfully executed film, centered around Gere's performance as a sub-prime lender, who's been scamming his customers for years. He needs to unload drastic amounts of his assets, which are losing money, in order to convince his shareholders that his doctored books are accurate. There's supposedly a lucrative deal in place with Mayfield (Graydon Carter), but he's been dragging his feet, and it's getting on Robert Miller's (Gere) last nerves. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) is busy with numerous charity works and gala events that they attend. They're daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) works at the company, and has started to notice inconsistencies. All this, while Miller is dealing with mistress Julie Cote (Laetita Caste), who suddenly dies in a car accident, he started. He manages to escape the scene, and got the help of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of an old friend, but the dead mistress has caught the attention of Det. Bryer (Tim Roth), and he's starting to poke around, just as his daughter is poking around the financials. Miller, is clearly based somewhat on Bernie Madoff, who defrauded everybody, including his family who were his employees. "Arbitrage" was directed by Nicholas Jarecki, it's his first feature-length film and he wrote the screenplay, and it's a strong first effort. I think it's a little more of a technical exercise than it is a shocking expose, but still very skilled. Gere is considered to have a bit of an outside shot at getting a Best Actor Oscar nomination for "Arbitrage," it would probably be worthy, and if is does happen, and here's the bigger shock, it would be his first ever nomination. "Arbitrage" is a wonderful portrait of a fake, and yet, we kinda are curious what's going to happen to this man, and even after everything. It's been a little overrated by some critics, as film; I don't know if there's anything really new here, but it's strong storytelling, and for Gere's performance, it's definitely worth recommending.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012) Director: Lauren Greenfield
I always did wonder what-the-hell that blue-glassed sore thumb on the Las Vegas Strip, behind the Monte Carlo, with the pink neon "ph" sign on top was. It apparently is a big deal to the people in this movie, they built it, as the centerpiece of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company that a couple years ago, was the biggest private real estate company in the world, and the Vegas property, was supposed to be the prized centerpiece of his time-share empire, which has over 28 locations currently. The man is David Seigel, who once claimed, and I believe him, that he singlehandedly helped George W. Bush get elected Presidency in 2000, and decision, that even before the end of the Presidency, he seemed to be at least faining regret. When asked how he did that, he said, he won't tell, 'cause it might not be legal. "The Queen of Versailles", sounds like a French biopic, but it's actually about the Seigel, who in 2008, began production on a building that including two tennis courts, a baseball field that doubles as a parking lot, and grand staircases that Scarlet O'Hara would envy. When one person asks his wife, during a tour of the half-finished project, if that large space is her room, she replies, "No, that's my closet." Yes, designed as a modern day reproduction of The Palace of Versailles, this was going to be the largest private home in America, at over 90,000 sq. ft. They already lived with their eight young kids in a house, that's larger than most zoos, but they're moving up. It was David Seigel Day once in Las Vegas, when the ph-Westgate opened. Seigel's previous memories of Vegas were of his Indiana middle-class parents who would go to Vegas so often to blow their winnings, that they were considered big shot whales by the casino owners. Inside the time share looks spectacular, although I don't know why you'd spend money to stay there, when there's dozens of hotels literally walking distance from the place, much cheaper, believe it or not, and almost all of them are casinos. (They never learn, some moron always tries to build a hotel, without a casino, on the strip every few years, or even away from the Strip. Most of them are vacant buildings now.) Their timing couldn't have been worse as the stock market crash of 2008, and the bank foreclosure, and bailouts, and selling too many timeshares that nobody could afford. "The Queen of Versailles", mostly showcases his wife Jackie, a former IBM engineer, who became a model, and later a Mrs. Florida winner, who later married David, and started having more kids, and spending money on everything. Her garage, could double as a bike shop, and they have more spare marble than Caesar's Palace. Even as it becomes aware, that they're losing money, when she goes to Wal-Mart to shop for Christmas, she buys three Operation games. It's impossible to describe all the excess, as they struggle to transition from riches to rags. They interview some people who work for them, like their Philippino nanny, who lives in a kid's playhouse, that they never used, and frankly I've loved to live there too. She sends most of her money away, while Jackie takes limos to McDonald's, and she can't figure out why the money from the bank bailouts didn't trickle down to us, "normal people". One on hand, it's disturbing that she thought of herself as normal, but it's another to realize that the money really didn't trickle-down to the Seigels. He never did find the funding to pay for the PH building in Vegas, and last I check, their house, which is still unfinished, is still on the market, at a price way below what they put into it already, and already decaying like Xanadu in "Citizen Kane". Jackie's selling off, anything she can at certain points to local swap meets and charities, where at of the people who go there, are form Westgate employees. We never did get to see this story on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", and it's not that unusual a story anymore. I was fascinated by the people, by the situation, and how so much changes for this family over two years. I'd like to see where they are five years from now. Did they ever get out, are they ahead. David always claimed he'd jokingly trade in Jackie when she turns 40, for two 20-year-olds. On the Westgate Resorts, wikipedia page, something not mentioned is a million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit against Seigel that he settled with a former employee. He does at one point, have all the Miss America contestants in his house; he's always been a sucker for the pageant world. (I wonder who kept those things on; even Atlantic City gave that up, and gave it to us. The sad part is, we didn't even ask for it. [Seriously, we wanted salt water taffy, they gave us the Miss America pageant instead. I don't know what Vegas traded for it, but we didn't miss it obviously]) "The Queen of Versailles" has been getting a lot of year-end Awards and nominations, and I can understand why; it's a fascinating film about what happens when you fall from grace, and just long and tough it is to do that, and to readjust. Seigel isn't covered in bills and paperwork, trying to find money that's not there. Jackie's disillusioned, and has started getting rid of everything she can, short of her breast implants, and she's probably do that if she could get money for them. I don't know what I would've done with that kind, but I know I wouldn't have built a house. Buy one, maybe, but most of it, I would've kept away most of the money, and stayed away from banks and Wall Street. The Seigels, are learning that lesson the hard way, and it still looks a helluva lot nice than my house, although, it's nice to see it covered in clothes and dogpoop now. Little sad about the nannies they had to let go, but still....
DARK HORSE (2012) Director: Todd Solondz
(Sigh) You know, I'm just about ready to give up on Todd Solondz. That's a tough thing to say about such an important and personal director, with such a unique vision, but it's getting harder and harder to even like him, much less, appreciate his work, film after film. He's made some great and special films like "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness", and films like "Palindromes", are certainly important, and really do challenge us with new ideas and concepts, ways of telling a story in a different way, but I think I'm really done this time. It's a shame, 'cause "Dark Horse", starts out better than most of his films, and you think it's going to find something new in his work, but it turned into another one his films that really deflates his characters to the point, where, he doesn't allow you to care anymore. I wonder if he cares about his characters anymore? They use to be so interesting, and would go on such journeys, literal and figurative, and now he's just so stuck, in his own mind so much, that once he creates something, he must then immediately destroy it. "Dark Horse", begins at a wedding, where everybody's dancing, except for Abe (Jordan Bartha) and Miranda (Selma Blair). They're not together, but Abe believes that their lack of interest in dancing, might be a sign, and he asks for her number. She doesn't appear interested at first, but gives it to him anyway. Abe works at a dead-end job for his unemotional father Jackie (Christopher Walken, in one of those unexpected roles you occasionally see him in.) He lives at home with his father, and his overcompensating mom, Phyllis (Mia Farrow, in one of those unexpected roles, you,- well, you really never see her anymore actually) They occasionally try to talk to Abe, an overweight 30-something into getting back on his feet, and out there in the world. Often talking about a college education, which his brother Richard (Justin Bartha) got, and is now a success, despite the fact that Abe and Richard aren't close and never got along. He lives thirty miles away from Miranda, but decides to take action, and asks her out. The invitation surprises Miranda, who forgets that she said yes, but is happy to see him when he does arrive, and then, actually thinks about his sudden proposal, later in the night. Why is this pretty girl, so willing to consider being with Abe? She tells us that she has hepatitus, most likely from a previous sexual experience. The only other boyfriend of hers that we here about, is Mahmoud (Assif Mandvi), who's a fun guy, and still a close friend to Miranda. It's around here, where the story flies off the radar, and suddenly makes us reexamine everything we've seen until now. For instance, there's two scenes involving Abe, trying to return something to, well, on "Hulu.com", where I watched the movie, it was blocked up, but it's clear to anybody that it was a "Toys R Us". The first time, he's trying to return a toy, that after he opened it, it turned out to be scratched. Afterwards, he arrives, to return something else. This second time, may or may not have happened, or it took place in his mind. He occasionally has conversations with his mother in his mind, and fantasies about Marie (Donna Murphy), another fellow employee, who's boring at work, and damn-near Mrs. Robinson, at her spare time, apparently. It becomes hard to tell fantasy from reality by the end. Too hard, and not worth the trouble. Usually, in the midst of all of Solondz's work, he's trying to say something in his films, of a higher stature, but I don't think he's making any larger point here, and frankly if he thought he was, it was probably a bad idea to begin with. I thought about his last film, "Life During Wartime" was a sub-par film, but one of the film's strengths, was a tender relationship that two forty-fifty-something were trying to have, played by Allison Janney and Michael Lerner, while her teenage kid, disapproved, and tried to stop at every turn, after learning a truth about his real father. This movie had all the potential to be a film about a tender relationship, between outcasted and broken people, just trying to get through life, through all it's unexpected problems and heartships. It even sounds like a good film, as I write it, but unfortunately, "Dark Horse", is not that film.
THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS (2012) Director: Justin Kurzel
"The Snowtown Murders" quickly became one of most-watched films on Netflix watch instantly, which I found a little surprising personally. I actually barely put it on my Netflix, before I read that stat, and then quickly moved it up a bit. Nothing against the film itself, I just would've thought something lighter with more female nudity would've been the top, and not something with so much sadistic murdering and child-raping, but for what it is, "The Snowtown Murders" is quite a powerful true story about some of Australia's most notorious serial killers. The movie starts with Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) a 16-year old, who was sexually abused by his Mom's boyfriend, and by his older brother. At first, when his mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris) brings home John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), it seems like she's made a drastic upgrade, and you can argue that she has. He's a bit of a talker and drinker, like most of his buddies that he hangs with, who all feel like they're essentially yes men, to all of Daniel's thoughts and ideas. There's few police in the film, but they seem to know everybody's business, and everybody skeletons, and they talk, almost intellectually about what sort of punishments such people should have. Jamie starts to admire this guy, who, let's face it, despite everything, might actually be the best male role model around, and he can use a decent male role model. I always think of Australia as full of sun and light, even in the most violent of crime films that take place there, and there have been a few, especially by new filmmakers. "Animal Kingdom", for instance, and one of my recent favorites "The Square". This film, is about a vicious killer, and community that he seems to get us to slip into. He's a charismatic and sensible-seeming presence. Social and thoughtful, and yet, that masks the viciousness of a maniacal cult leader. "The Snowtown Murders", is as much about mood, as it is about the crime. Their no police investigations, but it's ironically the flows of life, living with a killer, that it's first-time director Justin Kurzel wants to show us. The situation, and the world in which a kid like Jamie, could rather easily, get caught up in such a world of torture. I don't think "The Snowtown Murders" is as good as some of the other recent crime thrillers that have come from Australia, but it is effective. It's a first film, so I'm thinking Justin Kurzel can only get better from here, and I think he could, so for that basis, it's worth recommending. One other thing I found interesting about the film though, was how often, the background noise was a television that was left on, and no one watching.
PERFECT SENSE (2012) Director: David Mackenzie
2 1/2 STARS
I guess you can set a movie anywhere, and essentially make a movie about anything. Yet, "Perfect Sense," seems odd, more like a filmmaking exercise than an actual movie. The movie takes place in a future where slowly but surely, everybody's loses one of their senses, one at a time, starting with an alarming number of people, sporadically located throughout the world, who suddenly have no sense of smell. One of these people, is a chef, Michael (Ewan McGregor), who meets Susan (Eva Green) a scientist, who's tryig to figure out what's going on. It strikes everybody, suddenly and randomly, causing drastic reactions, and an increase in attempts at controlling it. They know it's some kind of virus, that transports through the air, but that's about it. If you can guess the movie's genre from the description I just gave you, would you name it as "Erotic romance"? No, you wouldn't, but that's what this film really is. After meeting a relationship develops between Michael and Susan. They help each other update on the virus, and protect each other, but the rest of the time, they spend naked in bed, either having sex, or talking afterwards about the end of the world, that seems to be approaching. I've noticed that there's a lot of movies out there about some kind of apocalyptic scenario lately, that causes worldwide panic. Some of these are good, others are more, eh. This movie's comparison film, is the film "Blindness," which I think I was the only one who liked, but I that film, actually dealt with the subject of what would happen if you lost sight, and took it to a logical metaphorical place. Instead, "Perfect Sense," uses these, sudden losing of senses, to experiment with filmmaking. When they lose sound, we lose the sound, when everybody's eating everything, we use an orchestrated dolly shot of people eating themselves into a stupor in a five-star restaurant, etc. etc. And in between all this, there's a lot of scenes of Michael and Susan, enjoying each others company. "Perfect Sense," doesn't say anything new about these future apocalyptic scenarios, and mostly films like a filmmaking experiment, just to see what Director David MacKenzie can shoot. He directed a film I liked a few years ago called "Young Adam," also with MacGregor, which also had a lot of sex in it. That also had a provocative and interesting story, while "Perfect Sense," seems to have little story, and less points. Technically interesting, but not really a movie.
CRAIGSLIST JOE (2012) Director: Joseph Garner
1 1/2 STARS
This movie might have been more intriguing if I hadn't seen "We Live in Public" a little while ago. Or if, there was some kind of, I don't know, doubt over whether somebody would succeed at such an experiment as, having to survive on nothing but Craigslist for a month. The Joe of "Craigslist Joe", is Joseph Garner, the film's director, and he's gonna criss-cross the country on no money. It starts, in California, and he's doing odd jobs for food and shelter, and meeting new strange people everyone, from eccentric terminally-ill former actresses, to a dominatrix to eventually Craig himself, the man who, almost accidentally invented Craigslist. He talks with the people he meets, and there are some interesting popups, in Craigslist style-type, sprinkled throughout the film, showing their names, and the ads they posted. I don't post on craigslist too much myself. I did find an editor there. One guy, does, what, on very uninteresting, lonely nights I do, and that's occasionally sprawl through the personals. I also look for work; I got a job where I review movies for a film festival through a craigslist ad, and I still occasionally do that by the way. I know for instance, that Bobcat Goldthwait often finds his entire crew for the films he directs through craigslist. I think they show these things, just to give us an effect on what critical to our world craigslist has become, and can possibly become in the future. I don't think this is news though, and I hardly think this was a viable subject for a feature-film documentary. "Craigslist Joe", is marginally interesting at best, and maybe, five, maybe ten years ago maybe, this would've been an interesting documentary. Now it's old news.
SEXTING (aka TEXTUALITY) (2011) Director: Warren P. Sonada
Can anybody make a decent romantic-comedy anymore? Nice even a good one, just a decent one. Just one, where I don't know every single thing that's going to happen in the movie, after the 15 minute mark, how about that? Is this too much to ask? How about one, where two people, don't meet cute, and they just, meet, and get to know each other? Something, anything of substance, that says something about something! How about a movie with two characters, who's entire existence is believable, outside of the movie, like real people, or real-ish people, or even somebody I might like to want to be? I picked up "Sexting", which is only slightly better, than the movie's original title "Textuality", thinking, well, at least it's got an intriguing title. The movie, which wasn't released in theaters in America, or most anywhere else, and thank God, follows a financial player named Breslin (Jason Lewis), really, Breslin, who's a player that sleeps around with a bunch of women. One day, he accidentally hits Simone (Carly Pope) with his car. She's fine, and gets back up, and they become fast friends. Friends who text each other after having sex with someone. She has three friends, who she sleeps with on a rotating basis, that all know about each other, but she also has an affair with a sleazy married guy Clive (Eric McCormack), who she thinks she's in love with. In what universe, is this a believable and sane-behaviored real-world situation, and not a Jerry Springer episode? While she has these friends with benefits relationships with the three stooges, which I'm just gonna call them, and not bother looking up the actors' names, she doesn't realize that she's falling in love with Breslin, and that he, who's with a new girl every night, is falling for her? Anybody want to guess the rest of the movie, and I'll give you a missing piece, about her taking art classes that involve human models? Why is she taking that class? That's not rhetorical, I was asking, why is she taking that class? I think it was Whitney Cummings who when she isn't butchering the primetime lineup of two major networks, talks about how women relate to romantic-comedy, for there search for love, while men relate to porn, and search for love in the same way. That may or may not be true, but I think I'd recommend random porn over "Sexting" to both men and women. If you're wondering why men watch romantic-comedies, it's the same reason as women believe it or not, we like to imagine falling in love and meeting the perfect girl too. The problem is, I can damn near count the really good romantic-comedies in the last decade on, one hand, top, two hands, if I really think about it. "Sexting" is a perfect example of what's wrong with romantic-comedies.
"Heavenly Creatures," was both Kate Winselt and Melanie Lynskey's first film roles, and earned Peter Jackson his first Oscar nomination, for the screenplay, is somewhat held up as a classic in lesbian cinema. I mentioned on some Facebook post last week I think, that I hadn't seen a Peter Jackson movie that I liked yet. Well, that's changed, as I am recommending "Heavenly Creatures," barely. The movie, is based on a true story and true writing of the two main characters, Pauline (Lynskey) and Juliet (Winslet), who meet as teenagers when Juliet's family, is relocated to Australia. Juliet is well-traveled, artistic, I don't want to dirty minded, but let's just say she's read "The Miller's Tale", and "Lady Chatterly's Lover", on top of all of the other classics. She also knows French better than her french teacher. She quickly befriend Pauline, who's more reserved, but and is definitely influenced by the insouciant Juliet. They go off in fantasy worlds, on their own, and those worlds are seen, as they are written in Pauline's journals. There's one scene where they run through the woods in their underwear, and kiss. Both their parents are worried about the two, and they've noticed their closeness, which is overly intense, by the end of the movie, these two can't be away from each other, and their blissful delusions leads them to murder. Well, you can clearly see the talents of both Winslet and Lynskey, Lynskey, might know her most nowadays as Rose on "Two and a Half Men," some might remember her from "Ever After," a few other performances, in supporting roles, she is generally one of the most and underrated actresses in Hollywood. (She has one of the most beautiful and sad pole dance scenes I've ever seen in Sam Mendes's underrated "Away We Go".) Winslet, of course is the superstar she is now, and an amazing actress. As to Jackson's work, it helps a little, but what struck me, some of his visual, and camera angles, was how he reminded me of Baz Luhrmann, the great Australian director, (Jackson's a native New Zealander, so I guess it makes sense) with the choices of how to show the fantasy sequences, and even in the some of the normal scenes, there's some unusual close-ups, like of a character's mouth that are strange, and some of the quick-cutting I think diluted the pace a bit. I think this film was a good script, and I think a decent idea, but it could've been a little darker believe it or not, than what it became. I'm recommending it with reservations; it might have been one first kinds of this story, but I don't if it really was the best.
HOPSCOTCH (1980) Director: Ronald Neame
4 1/2 STARS
"Hopscotch" is a fun movie about the CIA screwing over the wrong employee. You might be thinking, "The Bourne Identity", or something like that, but maybe you should be thinking "The War of the Roses," or even "The Pink Panther". Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) has been a CIA top guy in the field for years, spying and photographing the Russians forever. He's close friends with Yaskov (Herbert Lom), his Russian counterpart, who respect each other like two old men, who've been playing chess for years. He doesn't arrest him, after one case, and for that, the new boss Myerson (Ned Beatty), who's got the sense of humor of a brick and practicality of a two-sided knife, decides to send him to desk duty, he quits and runs off to Europe to stay at an old friend's, Isobel (Glenda Jackson). Not sure of quite what to do next, he knows that what he really needs to do, is get revenge on the agency, but he's too old and practical to attack with action, but he can toy with their seriousness, or at least Myerson's seriousness. He starts writing a book, revealing all their secrets. Not in hiding, he's letting them, and everybody know, sending copies of the novel, chapter by chapter, to all the world police agencies. He hits the road, using disguises and fake names, and keeps them off track. When they do seem to get a hold of him, it's by accident, someone happening to spot him at an airport in London or Washington or Toronto. Fake passports and disguises confusing everybody. At one point, he calls the CIA from Myerson's own house, only to have long left. Once in a while, they spy on Glenda, poorly, and she gives them nothing, and doesn't know anything. Kendig's replacement at the FBI, Cutter (Sam Waterston) gets the joke, but still wants to stop him before he goes to far, and gets a publishing deal. It's the first I've seen strangely by director Ronald Neame, and he seems to have been a good go-to director over the years, this was one of his last films, he's known for writing David Lean's films "Great Expectations" and "Brief Encounter", and some of his noteworthy directorial efforts include "The Odessa File," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", "The Poseiden Adventure", "Tunes of Glory" and "Gambit". He seems to vary wildly genre and style-wise, but I like "Hopscotch," mostly for the attitude of Miles Kendig. The sly, manipulative jokes he pulls, and how he enjoys the ironies and awareness of his work. He sees spying as an elaborate game of, We-try-something, You-stop-us, and so-on and so-forth, and not some national security threat. The ending doesn't really work, but I didn't particularly mind. "Hopscotch" is surprisingly fun and fresh, even today. Few movies are both comical and somewhat realistic about the spyworld or any policeworld, it's either usually either drama or satire, "Hopscotch" is somewhere in between. Plausible, and yet funny.
SMOKE SIGNALS (1998) Director: Chris Eyre
"Smoke Signals", when released, was considered the first feature film to be directed, written, produced and acted, by Native Americans. I'm not sure how true that is, but, since I can't think of any film that predates it, I'll take their word for it. The movie certainly feels like it was. The movie begin on the American bicentennial, which must certainly be an interest and thought-provoking date for all Native Americans, but in this case, their was a fire which killed many, but two young lives were saved. One was Thomas (Evan Adams), who is now, a squiggly little man, with glasses and very talkative. The other was Victor Joseph, who's an angry young man who's activities seem to be, being an angry young man at home, and occasionally on the basketball court. They were saved by the fire by Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), who was a tough, and abusive drunk, who years after, left the family and the reservation. Victor is still frustrated with him, when words comes of his death, in southern California. Thomas has the money to go on the trip, which Victor would rather do himself, but we're getting into road trip movie, as the head off the reservation. The core of the movie, are the conversations Victor and Thomas have on the bus. Often with each other, other times with other people, but Victor tries to discourage Thomas from that. Some of the passengers are cliched, others are interesting. I like the supposed former gymnast, Cathy (Cynthia Geary), who claimed that she would've been an alternate on the 1980 team, had the U.S. not boycotted the games. When they get to his new home, they meet his Arnold's wife Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal) who has a few different stories about Arnold, particularly after he quit drinking, and how he was trying to go back to the reservation. "Smoke Signals" doesn't tackle any new ground story-wise, but for a Native American film, which isn't exactly a term most are used to, it's quite a good one, and probably a special one. There's some talks about John Wayne, and other such symbolic diatribes, but at it core, the movie is really simply a tale of a two young men, going to a funeral of the person, who left as one person in their minds, only to learn about him after his passing. "Smoke Signals" still holds up rather well, and is surprisingly entertaining. Funny and dramatic at times, it's also benefitted by good actors like Beach. Director Chris Eyre's worked mostly in TV since the film, often for PBS documentaries like "Freedom Riders". "Smoke Signals" also has the occasional sounds throughout the movie, of the reservation local radio DJ, echoing throughout, and it's one of the most interesting DJs I've heard in a film in a while.
THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR (1962) Director: George Seaton
"The Counterfeit Traitor" was shot on location in Stockholm, Berlin, and Hamburg, to portray the actual locations and events. This is one of those movies made back then, that boasted about that by thanking the cities in the opening credits. I don't know if it was necessary, but it does help. The story's based on the true story of Eric Erickson (William Holden), who traveled the world, but after starting his oil and trade business in Stockholm, the New York born Erickson, became a Swedish citizen, who traded with both, the allies and the Nazis during the war. (Sweden remained, technically neutral throughout the war, although if anybody's gone through "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", series will attest, their was definitely political activity happening in the country, on both sides.) Because of this, he was placed on a blacklist by America, which would surely hurt business. On the morning where his picture's in the paper however, he gets an unexpected, mysterious visitor named Collins (Hugh Griffith) but whose code name is Dallas, despite him having nothing resembling Texas about him. He offers him a deal he can't refuse, which involves becoming chummy with the Nazis, and spying on them. He even convinces them to start building an important weapons manufacturer in Sweden, which would elude Nazi control, and he helps coordinate this with the Nazis. At the same time, he starts to really fall for one of his contacts, Frau Marianne Mollendorf (Lilli Palmer). He's already married, but since taking part in espionage, he's had to at least appear more sympathetic to the Nazi cause, even losing his best friend, a Jew, and eventually his wife. "The Counterfeit Traitor", is a fairly good spy thriller, not a great one. Come to think of it, I'm not quite sure how it got so high on my library waitlist, but it did, and I'm happy I saw it. The film was directed by George Seaton, who I know best from his holiday masterpiece, "Miracle on 34th Street", but he wrote and/or directed a lot of good film, including "Airport", "The Song of Bernadette", "The Country Girl" and even helped write the Marx Brothers film "A Day at the Races". We're still rediscovering much of his work, but "The Counterfeit Traitor", is a pretty good rediscovery.