Well, it became official today after I checked the stats, "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews" has now passed 30,000 HITS! Still, would've like to have done it sooner, but right now, we're averaging 2,500 hits a month, and we're on track to go higher than that. Still a long way to go, but we're in a celebratory mood. Especially considering how busy this week's been. Oscar hangover lasted days, and I've been watching, loads of films, including a SPECIAL REVIEW of the Oscar-Winning Best Picture "Argo" this week. Also, I must add that, since I decided to experiment with my blog this week. Now, normally I don't add photos to my blogs, as those are reserved usually for special and unique occasions, but I promised as one of my New Years resolutions to change up the look of my blog a bit, so, on top of my usual youtube clip each blog, I've decided to raid Google Images and also post some, hopefully approrpiate photos to this blog, about, whatever I happen to be talking about, in this case, the Random Weekly Movie Reviews. Now, bear with me, I'm not an expert at usuing pictures, I generally try to avoid it, but we're experimenting with this, so let me know your thoughts, as well as any other way(s) you can think of that would help improve the visual look and feel of my blog; I'm open to all suggestions. Not necessarily going to do them, but I'm open to listening to them, and considering them.
Alright, that's all for now, let's get right into this week's edition of our "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!"
ARGO (2012) Director: Ben Affleck
As expected, "Argo" won the Best Picture Oscar, and the afternoon before the Awards, I made sure that I saw it before the ceremony. I would've liked to have seen it earlier, but as opportunities go, this was the time and opportunity. "Argo" is a good film, but honestly, I came out of it underwhelmed. It's not that a bad movie by any means, but it seemed to switch moods and tones on a whim. That's partly because the story's so unusual and outlandish that it almost has to. After the hostages are taken in Iran in '79, six workers of the American Embassy left before the takeover, and escape to the Canadian Embassy where they his, as strategies were conceived by the CIA. For awhile, they were able to keep the fact that some workers had escaped secret, and CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), conceived of an improbable scenario to get them out, by hiding them out as a movie crew. This is when the tone switches, first from the intense, to the comically absurd. There's three worlds that the film constantly switched between, the Canadian Embassy in Iran, living in their own kind of prison, where they can drink wine and eat comfortably, but can't go outside, without risking death, the CIA headquarters where Politics, represented by Carter's Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan (Kyle Chandler) are constantly butting heads with the agents working in the field, their representative being Officer Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), who supports Mendez's plan as the best of bad options. Affleck, plays the role with the world-weary and matter-of-fact agent, that seems like a natural state, even with his current separation at home. He then, has to fly to L.A., to find his friend, John Chambers (John Goodman) the Oscar-honored makeup artist (They didn't have a category for makeup back then, so he was singled out individually.) who brings in Lester Seigel (Oscar-nominee Alan Arkin) to set up a fake movie. Arkin, has the movie's best and funniest lines, as he finds the script, buys the rights from the WGA, and even gets a costumed read-through of the sci-fi script, that they're thinking of shooting in Iran. I think I enjoy "Argo" more as a technical exercise than as a movie. The Oscar-winning script by Chris Terrio is really the star of the film, as it so thoroughly forces us, to switch tones and modes. That was refreshing, as too many movies, go into one emotional place and keep us there, but it felt a little to me like I was being thrown around a bit, going from these differing tones so vehemently. I didn't look up any of the accuracy of the story until after the film, although I took a guess at which parts were somewhat exaggerated, and sure enough, I got most of them right. Affleck has certainly proved that he is among the elite of directors; he did that with his first and best feature, "Gone Baby Gone" though. That and his other feature "The Town", seemed more personal to him. Maybe it was the Boston locations and characters that were involved with that, but "Argo", feels more like a well-made studio project, than a truly emotional exercise. I admire "Argo" for how well the parts are done, more than the whole. By my 4 STARS rating, you'd probably guess how I think about it's Awards, and you'd be right, although I can't say I have a big issue with it winning. It's a good film, just wouldn't be my pick.
UNDEFEATED (2011) Directors: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin
"Undefeated" was the surprise winner of last year's controversial Best Documentary Oscar. It was actually rejected originally by Sundance the year before, and considering all the reported improprieties and anomalies with the category last year, it's seems safe to presume that the film's distributor, Harvey Weinstein, must've gotten his Oscar campaigners working overdrive to get this Award. Understand, "Undefeated," it's a decent movie; there's nothing wrong with the film (SPOILER ALERT! Except the title, actually) but there's nothing really special or new about it either. The film follows the Manassas football team in Inner-City Nashville. They're known for being one of the worst teams in Tennessee, and have a long history of losing. So much so, that in the past, the only way they've managed to make money for the school, was to travel on the road to schools out of district, and occasionally out-of-state, where they would show up against the top teams in the South, get destroyed and collect a check. In the school's 100+ years, they've never won a playoff game. However, they actually have a decent team this time, including some top BCS school prospects like O.C. Brown, they're big and quick tackle who runs faster than the running back down the field, and under Coach Bill Courtney, they're starting to earn some confidence, even as many of the kid's home-life and Coach Courtney's struggle. One top player gets suspended for multiple games after his outbursts in practice start a fight. The area is heavily gang-riddened too. One game, against a rival school, there were threats of violence made, and apparently they've acted on enough to be taken seriously and the police got involved. After Manassas won the game with a come-from-behind victory, the police rushed to the center of the field, making sure that not even the coaches were allowed to shake hands, for fear of escalation or something happening. "Undefeated" is a decent documentary, hardly what you would call a top sports documentary on the level of something like "Hoop Dreams", which this and all other sports docs will get compared to, especially considering the controversy behind that film's bizarre Oscar snub. I shouldn't be bashing the movie too much, it's inspirational enough, and Coach Courtney seems to legitimately care for his athletes. When lineman O.C. Brown accepted a scholarship at Southern Miss, he said that he wanted to major in Education, so he could be like Coach Courtney, and you can understand why that's a good role model for him. There's one kid star athlete who had a bad ACL tear in the game, who recovers, but not in time for the last game of the season. When you put the words "Oscar-Winning" in front of something however, you really do expect a little more, and that is a shame. Shame that this film won that year, and also a shame that the movie itself is always gonna be looked at through this prism. Ignoring those words, "Undefeated" is a decent documentary; with them, is a disappointment in the Academy.
Note: On my 2012 One-Year-Later Awards blog, "Undefeated" as well as the documentary "Pina" were both noted for being retroactively eligible for Award nominations, because of their Oscar nominations, despite the fact that I hadn't seen them in time. "Pina", retroactively received two nominations, and the blogpost was altered to reflect that. "Undefeated", will not receive any OYL nominations.
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (2012) Director: David France
26 different names appear under the "In Memoriam" credits for "How to Survive a Plague", and those are just the names of the ones that were known. No telling how many people in the movie are now dead, but it's safe to just presume most of them are. One of the most important and best films of the year is "How to Survive a Plague", the Oscar-nominated documentary which still has a 100% on the rottentomatoes.com meter, is a piece of history, that needs to be known. I hate calling things that happened during a good portion of my lifetime history, but even I had forgotten names like Bob Rafksy, who singlehandedly made AIDS a national debate subject during the '92 elections, ironically, by being shot down by Bill Clinton, who was just a little bit smarter and more knowing about what was happening than he thought. Sprung together from loads of documentary footage, taken at the time by the protesters and activists, the film chronicles, the fight of organizations like ActUp, and other groups that fought, literally and figuratively to get AIDS medicines out on the market, as the body counts in the eighties and nineties, continued to rise. It seems so simple to say it now, "They're living a lot longer with HIV these days," or "Look at Magic Johnson," he's still alive," but it's just not that simple. Hundreds of medications were considered, the U.S. government was dragging it's feet, and to my surprise, there was far more anger directed at Bush for continually cutting funding on AIDS research, and the FDA for taking their time, decisions the community fought against that turned out to be mistakes that they made sure not to make again, when in the mid-nineties drugs that actually worked unlike AZT or DDI, which they managed to get on the market, became widely available. Inside ActUp, dissention was as common as death, and they eventually split into a splinter group, TAG, which used different tactics than placing giant condoms around Jesse Helms's house. It details news reports, rare footage of meetings to gives us a definitive history of the battle for AIDS treatments. Would it have been found earlier? It might have been, but there's an uneasiness among the survivors. "I still can't get my head around planning for the future," one of them says. I wish I wrote more names down like Larry Kramer who are as responsible for the way the world is today as Patient Zero is for making the world what it was then. "How to Survive a Plague" is one of the best films of the year. Not just documentaries, films. I still remember those old videos in health classes they showed us on AIDS, when we still had to be convinced that AIDS wasn't just a disease for homosexuals. Thankfully, I can now say that, "How to Survive a Plague" shouldn't be shown in health classes, it should be shown in history classes. (Note: As of the date of publishing, HBO has begun the process of turning the film into a miniseries. Good, the more we know, the better!)
MAGIC MIKE (2012) Director: Steven Soderbergh
LOL. Alright, I'm still getting all the giggles, double-entendres and cheap puns out of me, so I can talk a little bit seriously about "Magic Mike", but I gotta tell ya, it's a pretty fun movie. That's not too surprising I suppose; Soderbergh's made some fun ones in the past, "Ocean's Eleven" come to mind quickly for instance. The story isn't that unusual, it's practically cliches, but it's a good world to live in, for guys with better bodies than me. (BTW, this is coincidentally the second films I've seen this week, that starts with the 1970s-era Warner Brothers logo, which "Argo" also used. Not 100% sure why it's incorporated here). The place is a chippendale club in Tampa, where the Cock-Rockers of Tampa perform on the weekends. Mike (Channing Tatum, based loosely on his own brief career as a male stripper) is the film's start attraction, Magic Mike. The owner, a former dancer now host, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) presents the dancers every night. He's cut in Magic Mike, as he's called, into his production, which he's hoping to soon be able to move to Miami. (Although Tampa is a big strip club area, it would be an upgrade) Mike, is now 30, and has multiple entrepreneurial ventures. He saves up his money, but he hopes to eventually earn enough capital to live off making furniture making. He has a pretty nice life considering. He has a bisexual fuck buddy in Joanna (Olivia Munn) who studies behavioral psychology. While working at his roofing business, he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year old, former college football player, who got kicked off his team, and is looking for the easiest money he can make, without having to wear a tie. This is when, the movie becomes a mentor-student relationship, as he gets Adam into the world of chippendales, originally doing props, but when one dancer suddenly can't go on, he gets out there, and with limited skill, makes some money. Adam currently lives with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), who is certainly shocked by Adam's new career choice, but is at least happy he's doing something that makes money, and recognizes correctly that Magic Mike is a pretty trustworthy. There's a few good films you can kinda push for comparison; it is your basic plot of a mentor teaches student, who isn't reliable, and it ends up costing teacher, but it's pretty entertaining. The dialogue is really strong, and much of the acting, especially by Channing Tatum, this is some of his very best work. There's not a moment where he doesn't seem natural, and always makes the right choices with what could've been some really cheesely acted dialogue if it had gone another way. Matthew McConaughey won a lot of acclaim, including a Supporting Actor Spirit Award for his role, and was considered a serious Oscar contender for awhile. What he does really well in this film, is presence. His character walks into the room, and you know who he is, and his life story. He only performs on stage stripping once himself and he was exceptional at it, but I'm actually a little caught offguard by some of his acclaim. I think some might be shocked that he's in anything decent at all, much less a part tailor-made for him, and it's hard to imagine anyone else doing his role, but I was more impressed with Tatum. He's got a lot more to do, not just the dancing, and he's pretty rich character. I haven't been the biggest supporter of him, but this is the film that's making me a real fan. It's his best part since the underrated, "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints". "Magic Mike" works a little less as it goes on, and turns into this really basic plot involving drugs, partying and women, (Well the women are always in this movie, and God bless the extras, most of them must've loved this assignment) and it's a little over-the-top, but there's a lot of interesting slice-of-life here. It's also one of Soderbergh's most interesting directing works in a while, There's a montage or two, but he's using a lot of master and long takes in this film, and not the simple masters either. He's using a lot of cool angles especially some scenes inside a car, the camera's low to the ground at times that are unusual, almost Ozu-like. There's a lot of interesting things going in with "Magic Mike", across the board. I didn't know quite what to expect going into this film, but I thoroughly enjoyed "Magic Mike". Other than, some of the plot mechanics in the 2nd and 3rd acts, which were a little cliche, although done differently and well, everything else worked pretty well. A lot to like here.
THE IMPOSTER (2012) Director: Bart Layton
4 1/2 STARS
There's two truths that I got out of "The Imposter". One was that something happened to that little boy, and two, that the person who's opinion on the little boy's disappearance I most believe, is a certifiable liar. One of the strangest stories I've seen this year so far, is in the BAFTA-winning documentary "The Imposter", and it starts with the disappearance of young Nicholas Dollarhide, from a San Antonio suburb. He had been missing for three years, when suddenly, a break in Spain of all places, where apparently, he was found. Safe, but clearly physically distraught. He went home, and starting living back with his family as the story gained national attention. Except, the boy, now 16-years old, didn't look a whole lot like Nicholas. He has a Spanish accent, and brown eyes. Nicholas's were blue. Turns out, this man, in his twenties at the time, was a con artist named Frederic Bourdin. In order to escape jail in Spain, he convinced the police that he was American, and managed to pass himself off as Nicholas, even fooling his family. How did he do it? We get to learn about the family and Frederic through both actor reenactments as well as interviews, which seems to use the similar interrotron interview process of Errol Morris's films. We get the sense that Frederic is a very good fake, but the more he went through the events, and the more we go through the events, something doesn't quite add up, even to him. When Nicholas's sister traveled to Spain, to confirm that he was Nicholas, she never doubted for a second, and spent the plane ride showing pictures of the family, as though believing Frederic's claim that he doesn't remember too well, the details of his family after the abuse he's gone through, (I wonder about his stories of abuse myself.) but in hindsight, why was she going over the family member's so vigilantly to Frederic? He did have to past the test about his family later on. I'm not even going to go into how he changed his physical marks on a whim, to match some of Nicholas's tattoos. Nicholas has yet to be found, and no new evidence has come to light, before or since Frederic made his way into the family. He suspects something's amiss with the family, and I agree with him. It's one thing to fool, one, maybe two members, but all of them? I had a hard time, turning away from "The Imposter". It was an increasing engrossing film, that starts out, as a profile of a con artist, and the execution of a fraud, that suddenly takes a far darker and more mysterious turn, as we get out of the technical how the crime was committed, and dig deeper into, why it was so successful, and ponder, who is exactly is hiding what? The more I go back over the story, it's both improbable and believable with and without any insinuations of darker thoughts. I buy that Bourdin is a good enough con man to pull off this crime, and a good enough liar to make up anything that makes him looks like the victim. Yet, I believe him, and frankly, the circumstances back him up. "The Imposter" is Director Bart Layton's first feature, as already he seems like a pro. He picked a good subject matter, and sculpting a truly fascinating film that's part con, part mystery, and all, very upsetting, but in a very entertaining way.
CONTRABAND (2012) Director: Baltasar Kormakur
1 1/2 STARS
A remake of the film "Reyjavik--Rotterdam" which was produced by the film's Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, "Contraband" is a dark and ugly movie that uses just about every cliche there is. It's the kind of film where, the minute you know that the protagonist has a family, that that family was going to be threatened and/or killed, as a way to bring him back to a life of crime. Hell, it said on the damn DVD case. If that wasn't enough, when Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) enters the bar, everybody immediately talks about how he was the best smuggler of all-time. In his respect, it does seems to be some kind of celebration with friends going on, but still, you'd think they'd find something new to talk to him about. He has a wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale, and talk about the sad state of parts for women; she can't get a decent role anymore without the word "Underworld" in the title and having to wear skin-tight leather everything, can she?) and two kids now. However, his wife's nephew Danny (Lukas Haas), despite Chris's warning got into the smuggling business, and after his last journey got his boat boarded by police, forcing him to drop the stash of cocaine into the Ocean, he gets beat up by Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) and his cronies, who apparently really needed to stash, because he doesn't just threaten him, he threatens Chris and his family, invaded their home, holding the kids up at gunpoint, all that stuff. Chris's friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) takes the family into his temporary protection, while Chris boards a boat from Panama, working on a plan to smuggle counterfeit bills in America, which he can exchange for the money Tim wants for his lost cargo. Of course, it's never that simple, as there's some double-crossing and some action scenes, where Chris now has to serve as live bait for an armed vehicle to hit when it's forced off the road. He also has precious little time to sneak the money and an unwanted stash of cocaine onto a boat, that's going to be flooded with the Coast Guard, and a sea captaion Captain Camp (J.K. Simmons) who's out for Chris on an old grudge against his father, who btw is in jail. This is Kormakur's first Hollywood movie, but the first one of any of his films I've seen from the Icelandic director. so I don't have much to compare it, but this film was ugly-looking. Everything in the film, was shot with this really dark lighting, hard-to-see sometimes, and when you could, you didn't wanna look it, like ultrarealism for a 40volt light bulb. The action is overly violent, and the ending, and I'm not gonna give it away, but there's a hidden con going that Chris is pulling during this whole thing, and it takes away every reason that he had for doing this, and makes it all about, doing it for the money. Like a tacked-on, here's the real con ending. I didn't buy it, not that I cared anyway. This movie really bored. It took me three viewings before I could stay awake for the entire film, just to write about it. As hard as it to believe, I really can't sit through the same movie over and over again, and "Contraband" is just a retread of a retread of a retread of a retread... I can't keep watching the same films, I need things to be different, in some way, and some how and this one wasn't really different.
THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON (2012) Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
2 1/2 STARS
I think even the Duplass Brothers considered "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" a minor entry into their canon. It only had a very limited theatrical release, and it's very minor and trivial film. It's got a few moments of inspiration, but the pioneers of mumblecore, have certainly been better. A do-deca-pentathlon, is, according to this movie, is the 25 events that the two brothers, Mark and Jeremy (Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly respectively) competed in as kids, that included everything from swimming, basketball, leg wrestling, holding your breath underwater, etc. It's Marc's birthday and his mother, Alice (Julie Vorus) is having a family get-together, and to everybody's surprise, Jeremy, unexpectedly shows up. After their original competition as kids, ended in controversy, they've basically gone their separate paths. Marc is married to Stephanie (Jennifer LaFleur) and they have a kid, and he has a heart condition, but Jeremy, a professional poker player, has come to revisit the Do-Deca-Pentathlon, but now they gotta do it in secret, so that nobody else knows they're playing. Late night ping pong tournaments and day trips to the gym for swimming, things like that. "The Do-Deca-Pentathlon" is a cute idea, but that's it. The brothers motif, that's common in the Duplass's work is strong, as usual, and there's some intrigue in the adults still fighting and competing with each other, over stuff that happened as kids. I panned their last film "Jeff, Who Lives at Home", and I think I might've been a little bit harsh on that film; I think a lot of that film still went wrong, but in hindsight, I think it was a little bit better than the 1 1/2 STARS I gave it, 'cause at least that film was something. Good, strong characters at the center and stuff like that, multiple facets of conflict, it was far more ambitious, etc. I can be more appreciative of that film than I could this which, is just, blah. It's cute, it's funny, but they're being lazy with this film, and they're so much better than this. Yeah, it's a rather ho-hum movie, so they're getting a rather ho-hum review.
BEL AMI (2012) Director: Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
I was discussing Kristen Stewart with another blogger (I was defending her, as I find myself doing constantly nowadays) and the subject of her "Twilight" co-star Robert Pattinson came up. I haven't quite brought myself up to the ability to defend him yet. I'm sure he's got some acting ability, but what limited roles I've seen him in, I've rarely been convinced of his worth. He's got a bunch of stuff in pre-production though and I haven't seen his latest film David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis", so I'm gonna withhold judgment until I see that. Not that, a better actor would've definitely improved "Bel Ami", I don't think anything really could've but, it might've made it more memorably bad at least. I'm trying to recall the specifics of "Bel Ami", but basically Pattinson plays George Duroy, who tries to sleep with his way to the Top of,-, oh what-the-hell era was this? Hold on, I gotta look it up. (Yawns) Searching the imdb.com page, just give me a second. You know you're in bad shape with a period piece, when you can't remember what period the damn film takes place in? Oh, Belle Epoche Paris, really? That really could been anywhere, it was so unimportant. Basically, he sleeps his way to the top of high society. First, he sleeps with a prostitute, (Holliday Grainger) then he sleeps with Uma Thurman's Madeleine, who's the wife of a former Army buddy, Charles Forrestier (Philip Glenister) he knew during the war. in Algeria. Then, he starts working as a journalist for Monsieur Rousset (Colm Meaney) who's a big player in the social revolution. Madeleine's the one that writes much of it. He then sleeps with Christina's Ricci's character, and then somewhere along the way, marries Kristin Scott Thomas's character, and in between affairs, he's sleeping with the other women, and occasionally, somebody talks about politics. If anything, all I'm really wondering is how this most uncharismatic of people can sleep with all these women? They can do a whole lot better and more interesting. I don't think Robert Pattinson's as the lead made "Bel Ami", a bad movie, but it could've at least been memorably bad, with anybody else in it. Daniel Radcliffe might have been an interesting against-type choice perhaps. For a movie with so much sex, I've rarely been so bored watching it, and rarely so forgetful of the movie after watching it. This movie went in one ear-, actually I'm not sure it did that.
HALL PASS (2011) Director: Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
2 1/2 STARS
Sigh. I haven't seen "The Three Stooges" yet, which has reportedly gotten bad reviews across the board, but, I think it's safe to say that The Farrelly Brothers have peaked, and as long as they continue with these over-the-top comedies, they're just going to become bigger and bigger shadows of their former selves. I know, they've always been somewhat hit-and-miss. For every "Kingpin", "There's Something About Mary" and "Shallow Hal", they've done a "Dumb and Dumber", or two. But, even their failed attempts used to be inspired and new. A zany, off-the-wall comedy that only the Zucker,Abrams,Zucker team ever approached previously. They made one, adult, smart rom-com in "Fever Pitch", but other than that, they haven't made much of note in the last few years. With "Hall Pass", they're basically trying to make a Judd Apatow-style movie. It even has the prerequisite amount of penises, like all Apatow movies have. Clearly, they're uncomfortable with it. "Hall Pass" revolves around two couples, Rick and Maggie (Owen Wilson and Jenna Fischer) and Fred and Grace (Jason Sudeikas and Christina Applegate). Both Rick and Fred, are obsessed with sex. They talk about not much else, and often complain about how much sex they've missed out on being married. The women are both a little fed up about it. (The men aren't that good at hiding their thoughts) They discuss their dilemma with their friend Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar), I'm not sure exactly how she's their friend, but she recommends giving each of them a week off of marriage to let all the singleness- (Singleness, is that right? Singledom? Singleton? Hmph. Alright, it's saying singleness is a word so I'm going with that.) singleness out of their system. Reluctantly, they decide to give their husbands a week free pass, and the wives head over to Cape Cod. Well, obviously, if they were at all successful at this venture, then the movie wouldn't be a comedy. It would be very disturbing and possibly the most misogynistic piece of film ever created, not counting, 80% of all porn, but thankfully they weren't that successful. Instead, they pig out too much on one failed trip to hook up with hot chicks at Applebee's. They got stoned out on pot brownies at a golf course, and they occasionally sleep in all day. Rick does have some success at attempting to woo a coffeeshop girl, Lee (Nicky Whalen) and unintentionally so, his babysitter Paige (Alexandria Daddario), while Fred, can't even get laid at a massage parlor. Meanwhile, the women are having fun, away from them at a resort, and getting hit on other men. Natural I suppose. There's nothing philosophical that I particularly disagree with per se, this is probably how I'd imagine an event like this happening, but I wasn't laughing that much. In fact, the last segment of the movie, which involves Stephen Merchant's character, thinking through on a dream scenario about what would happen to him if he had a hall pass, and that 2 minute segment was the funniest thing in the movie by a mile. Maybe I expect more out of the Farrellys, but they shown us to expect more from them in the past too. "Hall Pass" is, okay. For others, that might be good enough, for the Farrellys, it's not.
IN TIME (2011) Director: Andrew Niccol
3 1/2 STARS
You know, I didn't come into this film with a lot of expectations, with a vague recall of the plot from the mixed reviews and ads, but I gotta say, this is certainly no masterpiece, but I found myself pleasantly by "In Time". In the future, everybody stops aging at 25, but then you only have a year to live, but time is currency, and you can acquire time. A cup of coffee on a lunch break is four minutes, for instance, and you die once you run out of time, which is kept and transfer through everyone's wrists, and green digital readouts show what time everyone has left. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is 28, and literally lives day-to-day. His mother, as does his mother Sylvia (Olivia Wilde) who he stills lives with. He's a reliable friend that everybody seems to like. He wants to compete in wrestling matches like his father, and we would be skilled at getting the other's time. At a bar, he helps save Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) from minutemen, the gangsters of the day, after he showed up at a bar with a century left, and began paying drinks for everybody. He's not from there, as he lives in a time zone that's ruled by the richest of the rich. Oh yeah, the place into time zones, and it costs time to enter another zone. The richer the zone, the rich being the ones who are controlling time, the more it costs to enter, and it costs more to do anything there actually. Anyway, Hamilton commits suicide, but not before giving Will all of his time. Now, he's got a century in a place where having that kind of time can get you killed. After his mother runs out of time, he heads out to a rich time zone, gets some new clothes and wins at no limit poker (Which is really no limit) against Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), one of the richest men in the world, who is ultimately immortal. Naturally, Will is attracted to Weis's daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), and she is relatively bored with the banality of richness. Since people can still die from getting shot or having an accident, the rich don't exactly do much other than flaunt their wealth stoically, and Will as an outsider, when he sees an ocean, he goes for a swim. After the timekeepers, the cops of the era led by Raymond Leon (a perfectly cast Cillian Murphy), suspect Salas of murdering Hamilton, and to escape, Salas kidnaps Sylvia and jump time zones. One of the things that impressed me about "In Time", was how well it managed to switch tones and turn into a different kinds of movies. The sci-fi original world, turning into the fish-out-of-water upstart trying to break into high society, the action movie, which keeps coming back and forth, and then finally the "Bonnie and Clyde" style movie, when Will and Sylvia, already on the run, begin breaking into her father's banks and loan offices, and they give away the time that they steal, which quickly begins the breaking down of the economic structure that's been set up. The movie has a lot of heavy-handed time is money metaphors, and a few plotholes; there's one near the end of the movie that bothers me a bit, involving which car exactly was Raymond driving at a certain moment, but despite this, there's a lot of creativity here. The film and script was by Andrew Niccol, who previously made "Gattaca" and "Simone" as well as the underrated "Lord of War", and he's most famous for the masterful screenplay for "The Truman Show". He's always got something interesting going, and "In Time" is definitely interesting, and a lot more fun than I thought it would be. It's a little bit more of a mindless thriller that just happens to have some intriguing thoughts behind it, as oppose to a thoughtful film that happens to play like a mindless thriller, but still, quite enjoyable.
HIGH AND LOW (1963) Director: Akira Kurosawa
It's not unusual at all for Kurosawa's influence to be Western in nature, but to really show just how western his tendencies arrive, probably are most clearly shown in "High and Low", a police procedural film noir that's based on a novel by hard-boiled detective serialist, Ed McBain novel. Can't get much more American than that, and yet the stories feels just at home in Japan. The story begins with a high-level meeting at a major shoe company, and Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) is being pulled multiple ways, as his boss is stuck in the old way of selling shoes that are comfortable, and long-lasting, while other stockholding executives are trying to convince Kingo in their cou to take him out, but he's not sold on their idea of making more fashionable, unstable shoes, and he's working on screwing both of them over, even if that entails putting his entire fortune at risk. It is as this time, at home, that he gets a phone call, saying that his son has been kidnapped, and don't call the police, and follow our instructions. The next phase of the movie, is the intense moments of the family, being caught in this kidnapping plot. The police are called, and although they got the wrong kid, actually kidnapping an employee's kid, they still have to figure out what to do. Kingo was willing to give up all his money for his kid, but for his friend's, he isn't as sure. Not only that, he doesn't have much money left. He's his home and belongings up on mortages to pay for the takeover. He calls the police, and they try tracking the phone, but they're never on long enough, and apparently are staring right into the home from somewhere on the street, insisting that the money come with him on a train ride, to help get the kid back. There's some incredible sequences in which this takes place, and how they transfer of two suitcases, are so well-orchestrated, that it seems all attempts of the police to outsmart the kidnappers are all defeated. The kid is returned, and now, a police-wide investigation goes over every possible detail they can, from a picture of a view the child wrote, to following the serial numbers, to finding the stolen car he kidnapped the kid in, etc. They investigate his fellow employees, who have the biggest motives of all to pull off such a crime, but instead the investigation goes from the high of high society, to the lowest of crack, or I should say, heroine houses. The last epilogue scene, when after the guy has been caught, and sentence to death for the kidnapping, as well as murder for giving heroine too pure to addicts who died from overdose, where he calls in Kingo to visit him before he's executed. He's switched to a lower-paying job at a rival shoe company now, and we expect something from the meeting, but we don't get much. No confession, no apologizing, no regret, at least that's what he claims. "High and Low" is one of Kurosawa's better films. A rare oddity in his canon, that's not a historical samurai story or a Shakespeare adaptation. It's more of a technical exercise but it's a great one, a look at what film noir might've been had it started in Japan.
VIVRE SA VIE (aka MY LIFE TO LIVE) (1963) Director: Jean-Luc Godard
4 1/2 STARS
One of the most popular of Jean-Luc Godard's films, "My Life to Live" or "Vivre Sa Vie," starts with a conversation at a diner, where both people talking have their backs to the camera. Godard is always confrontational isn't he. In many ways, the film is a bunch of different ways to shoot a conversation as one critic once put it. The story takes place over twelve parts and follows Nana (Anna Karina) as aspiring actress as she eventually head down a destructive path of prostitution. Each part, we see that she's gone down a little more, meeting up with the worst and worst men, and using her body to try and hopefully convince some producer to put her in a movie or two. Eventually, she's got a john in a room, and she's going door-to-door and across the hall looking for someone with some free time, to earn money with a three-way. The movie isn't really plot-based, not that most of Godard's films are, (and one the occasions when you can find an imprint of a plot-line, it's usually just an excuse to get to a place where Godard shows us what he really wants to show us. The scenes themselves are what's more memorable, like Karina dancing to the jukebox in a poolhall with an oddly euphoric glee at that moment, or when she's writing a letter to help advertise and note herself for prostitution, and in the middle, she pauses, stands up, and then measures her height with outstretched hands, before writing it down in the letter. Godard's playing with the hooker with a heart of gold myth here. It's also one of his more depressing films really. And his films that ended sadly like "Pierrot de Fou" one of my favorites of his, they're usually more insucient and exciting as he plays with the form of cinema more than simply telling a straight story. He does that sometimes here, and occasionally, you can even hear him giving Anna instructions off-camera. Still, "My Life to Live" remains one of his most beloved films, and it's quite good. I think it's just below his first film "Breathless", for his early French New Wave stuff, but still quite good and just memorable. Godard gives us so many memorable shots and scenes from his movies, it's like watching best of montage of his work nearly every film.
STORYTELLING (2002) Director: Todd Solondz
Todd Solondz is always gonna be one of those filmmakers that's gonna a loyal devout following, while many others are simply just not gonna like him at all. I thought about saying "get" instead of "like" in that last sentence, but I think most people, even those who don't care for him, do get, somewhat at least, what he's doing. I have always been more of a mixed bad, in regards to Solondz. His masterpieces are "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness", the two films he made prior to "Storytelling", which is about when he started to lose it a bit for me. I'm recommending "Storytelling", and I get what he's saying; I just don't think he always has much of a point in this case. This also marks the first time where Solondz really started experimenting with the narrative structure and inserting some metaphorical ideas into his films, like in his film "Palindromes" where nine different people played the same character or in how his dreadfully bad "Dark Horse" where the line between reality and fantasy and delusion blur so much, it's seems like he's not only cheating his characters, he's cheating us. This film is separated into two different sections, labeled "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction", which would probably fool anybody who still thinks "Fargo" was based on a true story, but I'll just go with it. The "Fiction" is about Vi (Selma Blair) a creative writing student in college whose boyfriend, a kid with cerebral palsy, Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick). She seems to be in love with him, as he reads her his stories after sex most nights, but is getting bored by him, and when he calls her on it, it's viciously mean and upset. She ends up taking the night to get drunk at a bar, and maybe laid. She ends up seeing her creative writing teacher Mr. Scott (Robert Wisdom) the tall, imposing black man, Marcus said that she wanted to fuck. There was already a rumor that he was fucking one of the students in the class, and when she arrives at his place, and mumbles to herself to "Don't be a racist" in his bathroom, the sexual encounter turns into a rape fantasy roleplay, where he instructs her to among things,