Monday, February 18, 2013
MOVIE REVIEWS #56: "SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN", "THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS", "LOOPER", "THE KID WITH A BIKE", "COMPLIANCE", "SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED", "UNFORGIVABLE", "SOUND OF NOISE", "THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD", "NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT", "PASSION PLAY" and MORE!
Happy,- what-the-hell holiday is it-, oh President's- Happy Presidents' Day Everyone! Some of you may have noticed my twitter statement earlier, but I was officially accepted recently into the Large Association of Movie Blogs, better knows as, the LAMBS. As per their agreement, there's now a link to the LAMBS on the top right of this blog, and if you want to look me up there, I am LAMB #1523. I don't know why it says that this blog specializes in "Looking at children's movies from an adult film geek perspective," and yes, I've already made a complaint about that (If you want to know what my blog is about, below the title is my mission statement), and while I have, and probably still will, criticize this group, and I want to say that I am glad to have finally been accepted by them.
Also, I had a few responses about my blog earlier in the week, regarding the TV show "Up All Night", and the many recent, behind-the-scenes ridiculousness that the show's been going through, but one reader, has left me completely befuddled. She mentioned that she enjoy the show, and tried to keep watching it, because it was funny (and last season, for awhile, it was), but she said that the show had gotten "Too Political" for her. Now, I'm very politically active and conscious. I've worked for groups, campaigns, once-upon-a-time, Poli-Sci was going to be my major in college, I subscribe to numerous political websites and Facebook pages, etc., but I watched almost every episode of "Up All Night", especially the first season, but I have absolutely no clue what she was talking about. Seriously, of all the Network TV shows, that I would say, has a political agenda of any kind, "Up All Night," just might have been the last one I'd select. I mean, you make up some allegories for practically every piece of art if you want to, some are easier than other, but I was befuddled by that statement, and I requested that she explain to me, what exactly was political about "Up All Night". She responded by saying that, if I couldn't see anything political in it, then we have nothing left to talk about. Confused even more, I requested again, and she refused to respond. I've been wrangling my brain, and going over, nearly every episode of that show I can remember, and I am stumped. If anybody can explain to me, how "Up All Night," was at all political, please tell me! Honestly, I have no clue what-the-hell she's talking about, so any help with this, would be greatly appreciated.
One other new thing, in regards to my readership. In the last 30 days, the blogpost that I've had the most internet hits on, is one I wrote back in June, where I compared TMZ with the other Entertainment News shows, and really went after some of the news shows actually. Here's the link to that blog.
I appreciate people reading it; it's actually quite a good analysis/rant about how bad the entertainment news shows are, but for a blog that I wrote, 8-9 months ago to suddenly get, 75/hits a week, and 150 hits in the 30 days, it's intriguing to me. If anybody knows, why this particular blog has grown in my readership, let me know that too.
That's all for the announcements this week, time for this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012) Director: Malik Bendjelloul
The favorite in the Best Documentary Oscar race, has to be considered "Searching for Sugar Man", an inspiring feel-good film about a mysterious rock star named Rodriguez. If you've never heard of him, I don't blame you, I never heard of him either. His two albums, "Cold Facts," and "Coming from Reality" were major flops in the early seventies, despite critical acclaim. However, a strange thing happened in South Africa, where somebody from America, brought over a copy of "Cold Facts", that was copied and bootlegged throughout the country. 25 years later, he was considered a mysterious legend, who's music was greatly inspirational to South African music, and his anti-establishment folk rock, and also became major anthems of the anti-apartheid movement. As one person put it, "No one here had heard the word "Anti-establishment" until Rodriguez. Despite attempts to have his songs banned, they became nationally-reknowned, and the mystery of Rodriguez grew, with kids growing up, hearing numerous stories about his supposed death, the most outlandish of which involved him burning himself to death in front of the audience at one of his shows. Led by a record shop owner Stephen "Sugar" Segermann, who was nicknamed after Rodriguez's song "Sugar Man", began a search for the mysterious singer. An internet search found nothing. A webpage was launched, but that garnered little notice. They poured through the lyrics of Rodriguez's songs to find some clue as to his identity or his whereabouts. They finally tracked down A&M records, where the royalties of his South African sales, appeared to be going to. When they interviewed Clarence Avant, the former chairman of Motown about the royalties, he seemed confrontational and guilty to me. The story about Rodriguez doesn't end there, and they eventually find out his entire story; I will not give away the result, but it is unbelievable. For me, personally, while I certainly liked "Searching for Sugar Man", I was more inspired by Rodriguez's music than I was the movie itself. His music plays throughout the film, and it's a unique style of folk rock that is haunting, and moving. I can see why, once people got a hold of his work, his music spread like wildfire. "Searching for Sugar Man" is quite a good film, and an intriguing investigative story about the search for the man, who never knew he was a rock'n'roll superstar.
THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS (2012) Directors: Peter Lord and Jeff Hewitt
Let me just say first, that I never thought I'd ever see a pirate movie that has The Clash's "London Calling", in it. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits", the latest feature film from the legendary Aardman Studios that brought us Wallace & Gromit, they keep their claymation aesthetic, but like "Flushed Away," they're sticking to computer animation for this one, and I think it's safe to say that it's the strangest pirate movie ever made, that Johnny Depp wasn't apart of. On the swashbuckling seas, The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), is hoping that he will finally win the Pirate of the Year Award after a twenty years of not winning previously, but his attempts to board and plunder other ships, have been somewhat misguided compared to his biggest rivals, Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayak) or Peg-Leg Hastings (Lenny Henry). His crew still loves and adores him, even after he's begun having second thoughts about the life of a pirate, his trusty number two, The Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman) can talk him back into pirating. After finally accidentally plundering a science ship, led by the lonesome Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and in the Gromit role, his human-like chimp Bobo (Himself), he concocts a scheme to become rich, after it turns out, the crew's beloved parrot, is actually a dodo bird, possibly the last one left, and it's sure to win Darwin the Scientist of the Year prize, which is reportedly, untold fortunes. However, the event is in London, home of Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who's royal crest reads "I HATE PIRATES", and she does, hanging dead pirates over the harbor as visitors arrive. (And an occasional live one) "The Pirates!..." earned a surprise Oscar nomination this year, in the Animated Feature category, it certainly has to be considered the longshot; it didn't even get a BAFTA nomination this year; they usually find a spot for Aardman films. There's nothing particularly wrong with "The Pirates!..." in fact it's quite fun for awhile, you gotta like the kind of movie, where a fight breaks out over whether looting or ham night, is the best part about being a pirate. It's quirky, absurd, and really for much of the film, it's rather fun. It's only 88 minutes, including credits; I know that shouldn't be listed as something to be too cheerful about, but it's just the right amount of time. Long enough to keep you entertained, but not so long that you get too sick of it, unless your toddler insists on playing it over and over again. I'd rather see more weighty and ambitious stuff from Aardman in the future, but it's still enough fun to recommend.
LOOPER (2012) Director: Rian Johnson
3 1/2 STARS
I was impressed with Writer/Director Rian Johnson's first feature, "Brick" many years ago, which was a film noir that took place in a high school. I didn't see his second film "The Brothers Bloom", but I was looking forward to watching "Looper", one of those films that most internet bloggers and critics seem to think should've gotten an Original Screenplay nomination, because of it's inventive script. But, is the script really that inventive? I ask, because I'm not sure doing a twist on a genre is, in of itself, different enough to merit acclaim, just for having the idea. That was the feeling I was getting as I watched "Looper". Now, don't get me wrong, I'm recommending the film, but I don't think it's as original as people think. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was also in "Brick") is a looper. He is essentially a hitman, hired by people, living thirty years into the future. After time travel is invented, it becomes illegal, but organize crime uses it when they need to get rid of people. They send the guy into a time machine, where in the present, the looper waits for his arrival at the exact spot, and blows his head off. They pay him in hundreds of bars of silver. However, in thirty years, if a looper is still alive and unneeded, they send the looper himself, thirty years into the future, to be killed by himself, which doesn't always work out, as in his friend Seth's (Paul Dano) case, who let's his looper go, and is track down by Abe (Jeff Daniels) his boss from the future. After word gets out that a new boss in the future called "The Rainmaker" is closing up all the loops, Old Joe (Bruce Willis), arrives, and gets away from Joe. He's out on a mission to kill the Rainmaker as a child, in order to change the future. He's a much different Joe, who's been hurt by the Rainmaker, and wants revenge to help change the future, and wants to be captured by both Joe and Abe, so that nothing changes, but things start changing for Joe, when he finds himself, recovering from withdrawal (Joe's a drug addict) at Sara's (Emily Blunt) farm, a single mother with a surprisingly smart and hard-to-control kid, Cid (Pierce Gagnon). There's also a hooker friend of Joe's played by Piper Perabo, which is another reminder of how she needs to get better acting parts at some point. (For those who remember her in "Lost and Delirious", this thankless role is a bit of a disappointment) I also point out that in the future, telekinesis is common enough that it's actually given the acronym TK, and is a very attractive quality in both men and women. (I can't wait until the TK "Bewitched" remake.) "Looper" is impressive. There's good performance all around, especially by Blunt, and I particularly enjoyed the chemistry and Gordon-Levitt, it reminded me of their work in Scott Frank's "The Lookout", which I think is a stronger movie than this one. I am being tough on "Looper" because I'm a bit disappointed with it unfortunately, but it's still strong and worth watching, but it's not an impressive or creative as others have said it is. I think he added a little too much, really. The great thing about "Brick", was that, it really was just a strong high school movie, that was a believable film noir, and he didn't have to create too many things that weren't as least improbable, while with "Looper", I think Johnson's being a little too cute for his own good. (You know you're in a bit of trouble, when you have to add telekenesis, just saying) He's is a skilled filmmaker though, so a mixed review, but it's definitely a recommendation.
THE KID WITH A BIKE (2012) Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
4 1/2 STARS
The Dardenne Brothers are ruthlessly ground in neorealism, and their best films reflect that. "The Kid and the Bike", won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, but was surprisingly not chosen at Belgium's entry for the Foreign Language Oscar surprisingly. (Granted Belgium's entry "Bullhead", did get nominated) The Kid is Cyril (Thomas Doret), who comes to see his father one day, to find that he's moved out. His father, Guy (Guy Catoul) loves him, but can't take care of him. He already lives at state-run youth farm, but a kind hairdresser, Samantha (Cecil de France) takes him in, first on weekends, but then permanently. I've reluctant to be too descriptive with the film. The plots of Dardenne Brothers's film are really complex or deep, but they are emotional. Similar to the neorealism films of Di Sica or Visconti, they're low-budget, usually use amateur or untrained actors, they shoot in real places, and they tell amazing stories. Their best films include "L'Enfant", about a young stupid couple, and the guy who sells their newborn without telling his girlfriend, and "Le Fils (The Son), about a carpenter, who's recently hired, unbeknownst to the other guy, "The Kid and the Bike", is about as good as those films, and it's simply about what happens to this boy. This boy, at this influential age, and the things that happen to him. He is grateful to Samantha, but still devoted to his Dad, even after he says that he doesn't want to see him again. How he gets caught up by the wrong friend, Wes (Egon de Mateo) who teaches him to assault and rob people, and what happens to him, after. The details are what's fascinating, and impressionable. When he confronts and fights with Samantha, it's a survival instinct, and it's amazing that Samantha understands that, and is tolerable. We never exactly learn her motives for just taking him in, but it's clear that there's something motherly about her. All there films, are about simple people, often children and young people, with emotions boiling at the surface, unable to realize how to tackle or control them. By the end of this movie, the Kid is contempt, maybe too contempt. It ends open-endedly after one person he wronged in the past, comes back to go after him. "The Kid and the Bike" is another powerful film by the Dardennes. Better, worse, there other, with them, it doesn't matter with them. The emotional impact is always strong, and that's what important to them.
COMPLIANCE (2012) Director: Craig Zobel
4 1/2 STARS
After reading Roger Ebert's review of "Compliance", I learned that apparently, although not surprisingly, screenings of "Compliance" included many walkouts from the theater, early in the film. I say, not surprisingly, because it will definitely be, one of the toughest films to watch from 2012. This is turning into one of the toughest reviews I've had to write as well. For instance, should I give away the entire story, or just hint at the plot? Do I make mention, of what will soon become, the obvious twist to the story, which is obvious to almost everyone in the audience pretty quickly, but doesn't become clear to the people involved? Or, should I just tell all of you to "Go watch 'Compliance', I can't tell you why, but come back and we'll talk?" If I'm that vague however, and I don't prepare you, I may encourage more walk-outs and complaints? There aren't too many film critic conundrums, but this is one of them, so let's just go with it. "Compliance" takes place on a busy Friday night as a fast food restaurant. The owner is out sick, and because somebody didn't lock the fridge right away, they're short on pickles and bacon. Then, a phone call comes in. The manager, Sandra, (Ann Dowd) picks it up, thinking it's her boss, wondering about the extra delivery that hasn't been reported yet, but instead, it's a guy who identifies himself as Officer Daniels. (Pat Healy) One of the employees, Becky (Dreama Walker) has been accused of stealing money from a customer's purse. Becky, along with Marti (Ashlie Atkinson) we're running the cash register, and small talking about boyfriends. Both of them are young, and Becky is probably still a teenager. The police are too busy at the moment to go and investigate the claim themselves, because they're searching Becky's house, because her brother is suspected of growing and selling marijuana, and this robbery charge, is apart of a larger investigation. Becky claims that she didn't steal any money. Officer Daniels, than asks that they stripsearch Becky. Sandra, reluctantly obliges, and Becky is brought to the back, and removes her clothes. Others are brought in, told by Officer Daniels to search for the money, everywhere they can. Sandra can't stay back there forever, they're understaffed as it is, and Friday night is too busy to have employees remaining in the back, not working. They takes turns watching, and searching. Some oblige to Officer Daniels, other don't. Sandra's boyfriend Van (Bill Camp) is called in to watch her, and listen to Officer Daniels instructions. If you haven't figured this out by now, I feel oblige to tell you, that obviously, this "Officer Daniels," isn't a real cop. He's some guy, at his home, who's pulling a vicious prank on this restaurant, and it's employees. He's not getting off on it per se. It barely seems like he's even enjoying it, much less being aroused. The only stressful moment he has, is when his prepaid card runs out, and he has to scratch off new numbers, extra quickly to stay on the line. This starts out as a prank, and eventually becomes a rape, and it doesn't stop there, even. This is based on a true account of an incident that happened at a McDonald's in Kentucky, but that's not the only place it's happened. There's about 70 prank calls of this nature every year, and most of the time, the criminal is never caught. You remember that Dave Chappelle joke about women dressing like whores, and how confusing is to men? "'Cause you see, if I was dressed as a police officer, and you come running at me for help and I say, 'Ma'am, I am not a police officer, just because I'm dressed like a cop, doesn't make me a cop?'" There's something to that in this film, which is an example of those infamous Milgram experiments. Ann Dowd received numerous Award nominations for her performance, including a SAG nomination in the Supporting Actress category, although I think you can make a case that she's a lead in the film. In fact, any description of this movie I can write, will begin with her, and like the movie, it ends with her. Dreama Walker, who plays June on the now-cancelled "Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23" (Bad move ABC) has a thankless and humiliating role, where she is literally naked through the majority of the film, and that's the beginning of her troubles. This is the second feature film by Craig Zobel, who made the dark comedy "Great World of Sound", which was also about a fraud, in that case, a fake recording company, and two employees who were trying to convince wannabe music superstars to pay money to get their music recorded. That film was good and relatively watchable. "Compliance" is damn-near great and almost unwatchable. Would we have done what Sandra and the others, including Becky, (Who is willingly letting this stuff happen to her) did, if we were in they're shoes? Of course not, right? We'd like to think so, wouldn't we?
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012) Director: Colin Trevorrow
Aubrey Plaza is one of the most interesting people in Hollywood. She has that strange way of delivering a line, where you can't tell whether she's being serious or not. I've seen her do that on "Parks and Recreation" more times than I can count, and in a few supporting roles in films, but she's even got that nailed down in her normal life, from the few times I've seen her on TMZ or one of the talk shows. You can always tell, she's thinking, and figuring out what she's actually thinking is just as challenging and interesting as what she says and how she says it. She is the perfect casting as Darius, the misanthropic loner intern in "Safety Not Guaranteed", one of the absolute most charming films I've seen all year. The movie begins with a bizarre advertisement that reads as follows:
WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.
Jeff, (Jake Johnson), a reporter for the Seattle newspaper that Darius is interning at, notices that the ad is in Willow Park, WA, and a perfect excuse for him to go look up some old high school girlfriend, Liz (Jeneca Bergere). He takes Darius and the nerdy Indian intern Arnau (Karan Soni), to investigate, what he thinks is a nutjob, who posted the ad. When he catches up with him, a check-out guy at a grocery store, Kenneth (Mark Duplass) his arrogant schmaltz doesn't work on him, but when he sends in Darius, they strike a cord, and soon, they begin training, and getting to know each other. Here, is where I will stop describing the story. You're probably wondering what happens next and whether this guy really can time travel or not, but I want to leave this to the viewers, 'cause the way this plays out is special. Kenneth is paranoid and neurotic, and seems to be willing to break an occasional federal law, but he's so self-assured and passionate. Both Darius and Kenneth have emotionally valid reasons, for wanting to go back in time and change something. There's no actual time travel in the film, but it is the subject of the film, and the ending is more than satisfactory, and open-ended. Credit the amazing writing by Derek Connelly, it's his first feature film script, and the directing by Colin Trevorrow is unusually smart. The subplot about the other two characters, feels a little tacked on for me, so I'm reluctant to give this film 5 STARS straight up, however saying that, this is a very strong film, and actually, despite the subplot, it ranks as one of my favorite films from 2012, so far. This film is smart. Smart writing, smart directing, smart acting, and smart characters. It's hard to get one of those things in a film sometimes. They always tell us in film school, don't write a time travel script, everything already been done, but this was a new and again, smart approach. It's also quite funny too btw.
UNFORGIVABLE (2012) Director: Andre Techine
2 1/2 STARS
Even among the French New Wavers, Andre Techine can be a particular taste. Sometimes, it can be intriguing, but other times, this Chabrol-like dabbling around the issues, can be frustrating. Saying that however, I might have been somewhat biased towards "Unforgivable from the start. I made numerous complaints to Netflix, about the streaming of the film, for having no subtitles. I finally ended up watching it on hulu.com, which led to Hulu, taking $7.99 off my card that I couldn't afford, and am not happy with at the moment. (I've filed a complaint to hulu, and my credit card now, but that's neither here nor there). I saw Techine's previous film "The Girl on the Train", which was about a girl who lies about being attacked to orchestrate a far greated misdirection. That movie was intriguing, because of the way, it uses one incident, to lead to another. "Unforgivable", has a plot that so convuluded however, that I had trouble just keeping up, and felt I was being toyed with, like a plush mouse on a string, dangling in front of an angry cat. The movie begins with a mystery writer, Francois (Andre Dussolier). He's looking for a quiet place to write his next novel, and he's thinking Venice. He buys a place, but while doing so, he falls in love, and marries his real estate agent, Judith (Carole Bouquet). A year later, his daughter Alice (Melanie Thierry) arrives, along with her daughter Vicky. Soon, Alice goes missing, leaving Vicky with them. Francois hires a private detective, Anna Maria (Adriana Asti), who happens to be his new wife's former lover. While still scouring for his missing daughter, Francois, begins spying on a local gardener, who is apparently very close to his wife. He then hires Anna Maria's son Jeremie (Mauro Conte) to spy on his wife. This is all becoming far too complex. There's enough plot and intrigue for three movie here, and I think would've prefered three decent movie, instead of one complex and convuluded film, of a man, going evermore suspicious and crazed as the movie goes on. None of this can end well, and naturally it doesn't. "Unforgivable" might have been technically impressive, but it got on my nerves. At a certain point, I just want a story to be told, or at least completed after it's begun. "Unforgivable" has moments of brilliance in flashes, but overall, it just didn't work on me, as well as Techine's others films like "Changing Times", and "The Girl on the Train". I'm reluctant, 'cause there's something there, but I can't qute give it a recommendation.
SOUND OF NOISE (2012) Directors: Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
4 1/2 STARS
I have some friends who are musicians, and really good ones at that, and I always feel inadequate around them. My mother was tone-deaf, so I always learned to consider the lyrics first, and then the music, which is the opposite of how musicians really work. I'm not tone-deaf, but I do consider an entirely different language than the one I speak. There are times when I love, understand, and I can certainly appreciate it, but it's still somewhat elusive to me. In "Sound of Noise" Amadeus (Bengt Nilsson) belongs to a family of world-renowned classical musicians. He's become a cop, who's tone deaf, and absolutely can't stand music. He prefers silence to music. His younger brother, Oscar (Sven Ahlstrom) is the latest musical prodigy in the family, working on a major performance of Hyden. Soon, some intriguing musical crimes start being committed. A motorcycle cop is run of the road because a van started throwing a drumset at him. Then, the abandoned van is founding ticking, and bomb squad is called in, only for Amadeus to realize rather quickly that it was a metronome, left in the van. The group of musical terrorist is led by Sanna Persson (Herself, interestingly enough) a renegade who was kicked out of a the premiere music school for flooding the place during a performance where she played water, as an instrument. Along with her partner-in-crime Magnus (Magnus Borjeson, also presumably himself), they send out an ad, looking for six drummers for an experimental piece of music, where they play the city, as instrument. The first place they strike, is at a hospital, where they kidnap a patient, gas him, and bring him in for surgery, where the perform music using the surgical tools, and the patient for their instruments. When Amadeus goes to investigate the patient, a local TV personality bragging about his upcoming hemorrhoid removal, he suddenly realizes that he can't hear him. He also can't hear anything that the musicians played, as he continuously hears nothing when he bangs a bedpan against the wall. This is where the movie-, well, it was alright unrealistic, but it jumped right into fantasy when it did that, and the detective, who strives for silence, can now, only hear silence after the musicians play the instruments. He also appears to be somewhat attractive to Sanna, after they bump into each other, at a music store of all places. "Sound of Noise" is one strange, quirky, unique little film, and I had a lot of fun with it. It's the first feature-length film by the directing team of Simonsson and Nilsson, and they seem to have very interesting ideas, and a unique style. "Sound of Noise", is quite an enjoyable, and certainly different. Lotta fun with this one.
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD (2012) Director: Joshua Marston
Director Joshua Marston's first film, was the exceptional "Maria Full of Grace," which starred Catalina Sandino Moreno, in an Oscar-nominated role, as a drug mule, who flies from Columbia into the U.S., carrying dozens of pellets of cocaine. A journalist by trade, he's spent much of the last few years directing television since, while I anxiously awaited his follow-up feature to that marvelous debut. He's finally made "The Forgiveness of Blood", and I'm sure that he'll recover from this. Not that it's a bad film, it's quite an intriguing one, but it's a bit shortsighted. This time, Marston, who is American by the way, shoots this film in Albania, a country where rituals and traditions such as bloodfeuds still seem relevant. The Brazilian film "Behind the Sun", which is also about a long-standing bloodfeud between two families, was based on an Award-winning Albanian novel. I haven't too many films that originated from the area, in some way, but two films about bloodfeuds, can't be a coincidence. The feud involves a man who delivers and sells bread, Mark (Refet Abazi). On this route, he takes a shortcut across a strip of land that was once owned by their family, but now owned by Sokol (Veton Osmani). There's an incident, and Mark and his brother Zef (Luau Jaha) stab Sokol to death. Zef is eventually taken in and charged with he crime. However, the old rule of law in Albania called the Kanun, which I'm learning about by reading Michael O'Sullivan's review of this film, is still in effect even today, and requires that the family of the killed, can get retribution by murdering a male of the family, either mark, or his oldest son, Nik (Tristan halilaj) if they ever go outside of their home. Because of this, Mark's daughter Rudina (Sindi Lacej) must take over the route, which is tough enough for a regular person, and also involves, numerous trading with grocers, who are more-than-willing to take advantage of a young girl unaccostomed to the route. "The Forgiveness of Blood" is seen mostly through the eyes of the two kids, who in a modern society are puzzled by this old ritual. They try to convince the father to simply turn himself in, to make things easier for the family, but he steadfastly refuses. The women are allowed safe passage according to this ancient ritual, and the scenes of the daughter, trying to buy cartons of cigarettes for the parents and to sell, seems perfectly out-of-place. I'm giving this film 3 STARS, can't I recommend any reason to not see it, but personally, the movie wore on me. Maybe if I hadn't seen "Behind the Sun" earlier, which I think is a stronger more poetic film, this more documentary-style film might be more intriguing to me. As it is, it holds up, but I feel it's a minor early in a great young filmmaker's canon.
NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (2011) Director: Patricio Guzman
The Atacama Desert, is a bizarre geographic anomaly. Some of you know, that my fascination with geography dates back to even before Carmen San Diego made it cool, and the Atacama is renowned for being the driest desert on Earth, which is particularly weird considering it's location. To the east of it, the Andes mountains, to the west, what little west there is, is the coast of Chile, which except for the mountains, is practically all coast, but it happens to be on a plateau, and tucked in a small corner or northern part of the country, so that, in the middle of an often ragged pacific Ocean, here lies, nothing, but sand for miles. Two groups of people, work in this area of the world. One are astrophysicists, where the lack of increment and overcast whether, makes the desert a perfect viewing area, and they've place constructed, on the Mars-like surface of the desert, a giant telescope, which they search the stars for to infinity and beyond. The others, are outside, crawling every inch of the desert, to find it's past. They're widows, looking for burials grounds where detractors of Pinochet's government are found buried in the sand, and occasionally the surprisingly well-preserved dead (Cause there isn't much that can live out there to mangle on the bodies), peek out, and mass graves are found more often that you'd hope. "Nostalgia for the Light", an Award-winning and WGA nominated documentary, takes a look at these two distinctly different people, who work alongside each other, in about the last place in the world you'd think they would. Much of the haunting of Pinochet's reign can still be felt in Chile, but the astrophysicist stuff, is only intriguing for as much as you're interested in it to me, and I can get tired of it after awhile, but the film is intriguing account of this time and place, and the strange desert, which is amazing and startling to look at throughout the film, these people come together, or not-so-much together, but how they've managed to find their lives devoted to this most desolate and strangest of places. The images of the desert alone, are almost enough for me to recommend it, and everything else, is just interesting enough for me. It's hardly the most entertaining of documentaries to me. I always say never do two, always do three, unless you're Stanley Kubrick, but it's such an unusual thing, that it's worth the exception for the experience.
PASSION PLAY (2011) Director: Mitch Glazer
"Passion Play" is startling unique, and fascinatingly bad. Very bad. This is one of those movies you can watch, and afterwards go, "What the hell was that?", and anybody who saw it with you, would understand that reaction. Nothing in the movie seems real, or remotely believable, except as symbolism and metaphor, and nearly everything in the movie is done bad. So bad, it's actually kinda interesting. Let's start with a trumpeter, Nate Poole (Mickey Rourke), who somehow survives an attempted assassination in the middle of the desert. His car's dead, so he walks, eventually finding a freakshow-style circus, where he finds Lily Luster (Megan Fox), who has wings. Actual angel wings, like connected to her, not placed on or anything. She's on display and he sees her in her trailer in the back. Soon, very soon, they run away from the circus together. Nate, decides to protect her, but he also needs money, and he's in trouble with the mob, for still not being dead, as well as because he slept Happy Shannon's (Bill Murray) wife. Happy is hardly ever smiling, as it particularly brutal and vicious, but he's quiet, and in some ways, world-weary for a life of a mobster, so when Happy sees that Nate's claims of an angel are actually true, he's intrigued. Not enough to really want to keep Nate alive, but intrigued enough to want Lily all for himself, like everyone seems to. Megan Fox, is basically seen in boxes of some kind, for all of the film. If you're wondering, she can only really fly when the wind is in the strong enough, and usually not for long. She's too big for her wings. Now, I think it's simplistic and cliche to attack Megan Fox's acting abilities; she is a little bit limited as an actress, but she can be strong when given even a half-way decent part, like in "Jennifer's Body", for instance, but she, and nobody else has really anything to do here. This movie has about as strange a cast you can imaging to begin with, and as strange a story. It look like a bad stageplay half the time, and by the end, I don't know what to make of "Passion Play". I don't even know, really what to make of the title even, come to think about it. It's strange, cheesy and metaphorical, you have to think, that at some point, this movie, must've started with, at least a germ of an idea. As it is, it's a bunch of random parts, without much whole. That the parts are so bizarre and random, makes the movie, at least somewhat interesting. I didn't even mention Kelly McGillis as Nate's tattooed-covered wife Harriet, who has a strange, naked dream sequence in the movie, that, maybe was pivotal, I couldn't really tell. "Passion Play", is a strange film, I think. I don't know what the hell it was actually, but it wasn't good, but it was kinda interesting.
KAGEMUSHA (1980) Director: Akira Kurosawa
4 1/2 STARS
Akira Kurosawa's "Kagemusha", is utterly fascinating to watch. It's beautiful to look at, and completely absorbing, as a story. What it lacks is any real succinct answers about it's message. Is there a message to the film? It's a grand epic, with spectacular battle scenes, by the one of the master filmmakers, so it's natural to think so. I was actually shocked to learn that it's based on an actual event, when looking it up. Shingen is the warlord leader of the Takeda Clan. In the beginning of the movie, he's interrogating a thief, Kagemusha, who happens to look exactly like him. (Tatsuyi Nakadai) Shingen is vicious, known for murdering hundreds, including his own family, and he's at war with the Nobunaga, one of many wars he's fought, and he is on his way to conquering. In battle however, Shingen is killed, but this fact is kept secret. If they say he's dead, nobody will fight, since their bloodthirsty leader is gone, and his opponents will attack without fear, and they'll be conquer. They then begin an elaborate ruse to delay the report of Shingen's death, for three years, and have Kagemusha pose as him, until the end of the war. Kagemusha, means "Shadow Warrior", and the thief, was indeed in the shadows, posing as the actual Shingen, even able to fool family members, including his wife, and grandkid, and his mistress. The movie has some of the most amazing battle sequences ever shot. One opening scene sticks in my mind, which follows a messenger running through armies of troops to deliver a message, and he's followed all the way through. Kurosawa was heavily influenced by Western literature, and I have to imagine the idea of the commoner becoming the king, must have appealed to him. It took forever to fund and make "Kagemusha", which he finally did after Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas helped put up the funding. He wasn't popular in Japan anymore, and had to get outside backing. Kagemusha feels a little long to me, more like a historical educational piece, than rather his more philosophical pieces like "Rashomon" or "Ikiru", or his best western-lit influence films, like his King Lear re-imagining "Ran". (Which was the film Kurosawa really wanted to make before making "Kagemusha", but he had to make it later.) Perhaps he was just putting a period to the straight samurai genre that he helped bring to America with films like "Yojimbo" and "Seven Samurai", marking he was done, killing the genre, but still pretending it's alive, with the shadow warrior. I don't get the sense that "Kagemusha" was as personal a film for Kurosawa and his other works, but the technical craft is incredible. Yet, under the surface, the movie makes us think and consider. About what, I'm not sure, but a lot.
PATTON (1970) Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
When going one-by-one through all the important and essential old films, some movies are absolute delights to go through, while others, tend to be chores. "Patton" is a chore. It's not a bad chore by any means, but a chore nonetheless, and you know you're in trouble when the best scene in the movie, is the first. Still, "Patton" is impressive, especially George C. Scott's Oscar-winning performance and the mad general, who's an expert on military history and strategy. He reads his Bible from cover to cover, is hated by every one of his soldiers, yet, he gets results. He holds back the Germans in North Africa, and then begins a march towards Berlin, if wasn't for his own foulmouthed ruthlessness getting in the way. He's suspended for hitting a soldier, and has no tolerance for cowardice. In America, the film was portrayed as the story of a heroic soldier, but overseas, the movie was often read to show a man so obsessed with winning and war, that it borders on the insanity of a crazed dictator. The full title in Britain of "Patton" for instance, was "Patton: Lust for Glory", and he is. He's one-of-a-kind. He seems to be believe that in past lives, he was in battles all throughout history, feeling the memories of such conflicts as though they happened to him yesterday. He's honored as a hero wherever he goes, always pushing the troops towards the front, never backing down, and convinced that after Berlin, their should still continute to march on towards Moscow and take out the Russians. His friend General Bradlee (Karl Malden), knows how smart and needed Patton is, but is also reluctant to use him, knowing you can't only take the good with Patton, you have to take the whole thing. "Patton" won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, a thought that seems unbelievable nowadays, considering it was up against both "M*A*S*H" and "Five Easy Pieces", and earned Francis Ford Coppola, his first Oscar for the screenplay. "Patton" is long epic, that's hardly ever boring, but it's certainly weighty. Like Patton himself, the movie is a relic of an earlier time, when such movies about the glory of war and battle, have long outlived it's usefulness. The Nazis seem to mourn Patton's uneniable, post-war life, than they do their own demies at his hand, as Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler). The movie has a few unlikely scenes like that, mixed in with some exemplar battle scenes and images, like Patton, following his soldier through Berlin in a tank, waving and answering back with his troops, and the locals. There's a lot to admire about "Patton", not a lot to like however. It's a must-watch though, an important film, and exceptional performance, but, it's a chore.
THE JAZZ SINGER (1927) Director: Alan Crosland
I don't think I have to go over the importance of "The Jazz Singer" in cinematic history, as the talking picture, but it has to be mentioned that it was, and it represents a critical change in cinematic history. It's historic importance will always trump the actual film, but to watch actual film is surprising. For one thing, the film is only about, half in sound, and mainly, only for Al Jolsen's musical numbers. Most of the film is actually traditionally silent with title cards for occasional dialogue and exposition. It must have been shocking to see this film at the time, when you compare it, like you can here, the way it was before, and the way it is now, and forever. Also, somewhat surprising, is that the film actually holds up pretty well. Based on Jolsen's true story, he plays Jakie Rabinowitz, a young Jewish man, who wants to sing jazz, but is taught and brought up from the earliest ages to sing in the synagogue for his father, (Warner Ohland) a Jewish Cantor. Afterwords, when he sun refuses the position, he goes out and begins making a name for himself on stage, eventually appearing in a Broadway revue. There's one memorable scene when he visits his mother and plays the piano for her, talking about all the nice things he'll buy for them, but his father, has still long disowned him. There's a particularly intriguing scene, after he's met May (Mary Dale) and he's distraught over his father, being on his deathbed, while he's in his dressing room, putting on blackface. He's considering going back, and singing for the church, replacing his father for a few years, and the thought is killing him. As he finishes putting on the blackface, he screams allowed how he just wants him to let him be me, and that he's not defined by his race. The commentary seems startling now, with Jolsen in blackface, complaining about how his Jewishness is what's keeping him down. I wonder if the irony was intentional? Probably not, but it plays well now, and the music is quite good. Old-fashioned, and yes,in regards to the blackface, we have to understand and accept the time, but overall, I was actually surprised at how well "The Jazz Singer" holds up nowadays. It's a landmark film to be sure, but don't let that overshadow the fact that it also happens to be a good film.
FORBIDDEN LIE$ (2009) Director: Anna Broinski
4 1/2 STARS
Norma Khouri grew up living in Jordan, on the outskirts of Amman, where her and her friend Dalia, ran a rare unisex hairdresser shop that was frequented by both Christians and Muslims. Dalia, was killed by her father and brothers, in an honor killing, which runs rampant in Jordan, and is practically legal. Dalia's crime, was falling in love with a Christian guy. Norma escaped Jordan to Greece, and began writing about the incident in a book called "Forbidden Love"; it's American title was "Honor Lost", and became an International Bestseller and Khouri, became a worldwide advocate for the end of Honor killings. The story was pretty good, except it was just that, a story. In "Forbidden Lie$", Director Anna Broinski dives into Norma Khouri, the real Norma Khouri, who's true novel, was revealed to have dozens of inaccuracies in it. For instance, there aren't unisex hairdresser shops in Jordan, and the few that are, never does a woman cut a man's hair, as she claimed. She used locations that she's never even been to. "Yeah, I changed some things, so as not to tip off who the real Dalia is?" Ah, yes the real Dalia, they get to that to. How about, miscounting the amount of honor killings in Jordan? She claimed 1000s, it's more like, 15/yr. I thought it was strange picking Jordan, when Pakistan would've been a better candidate. She claims that you can send money through her e-mail to donate to the organization to prevent honor killings, but the leader of the group who studies honor killings in Jordan, has never seen her, or money. Her organization is right in the middle of where the book took place, and people come to her, if women are worried about being murdered in such a manner, they, or they're friends, go to her. And for somebody who's lived in Jordan all her life, her English, and writing style, is distinctly Western. There's so many errors-, she doesn't even get the countries that Jordan borders correct! Seriously, couldn't she have just looked at a map? It turns out, she's lived half her life in America, and has a husband and two kids in Chicago, is being investigated by the FBI, as a con artist. Her husband is a piece of work as well, who supposedly has ties to the Greek Mafia underworld. The Australian journalist who cracked her fraud, won Awards for investigative journalism, and the book was pulled from the non-fiction shelves, and what about Dalia? Who was she, where was the crime, and when exactly was she killed? Norma has only one picture of her, and nobody knows who she is, although a few people seem to think its Norma's sister, who lives down the street from Norman in Chicago. When she finally goes to Amman, along with the filmmaker, which she claims is a possibly deadly-visit considering what and who she's written about, to prove that Dalia exists, it turns into a wild goose chase, revealing some of her lies, and creating new ones, or new truths. There's numerous shots of Norma getting a lie detector test, which at first she passes, but then, when some of her past comes out, not so much. This is a fascinating documentary, that's not only about investigative journalism, is itself, a great investigative journalist piece, and also a intriguing rare, personal glimpse profile, of a fake. It's also kinetically entertaining. This movie feels faster than it is, and it's amazing how nothing comes expected. I think this story has even more layers to it, and that we're still just peeling it away. Part of it, is that we're still trying to get down to the real Norma Khouri, (Who's real birthname is Norma Bagain) as her lies become more elaborate, complicated, and disturbing more believable at times. It's impossible to know the true Norma, at least from Norma herself, but she's more than willing to discuss it. Maybe most disturbing is the timing of the book, and some of it's most loyal fans, like Liz Chaney, who was advocating for the book back in '02 & '03, before America invaded Iraq. Seriously, she couldn't have even looked at a map to see what countries border Jordan?
Posted by David Baruffi at 12:37 PM