Thursday, May 30, 2013

JERRY LEWIS, AND OTHER REMNANTS OF A BYGONE ERA, or WHY A MODERN-DAY VERSION OF "WHAT'S MY LINE?" WOULDN'T BE ANY DIFFERENT FROM BEFORE.



Not that anybody in particular really cared what he thought, but Jerry Lewis, while in Cannes promoting his latest film, earlier this week, Jerry Lewis got asked the female comic question. Let me explain where this started, Lewis had stated multiple times in the past before about how he doesn't particularly believe females should do comedy, nor are they particularly funny. Last week, they asked him again about this, and sure enough, the 87-year-old, reiterated his belief that females aren't funny, saying, and I quote, "I can't see women doing it, it bothers me....I cannot sit and watch a lady diminish her qualities to the lowest common denominator. I just can't do that."

This, as you can imagine caused some uproar, from the usual group of people you'd imagine, this one seemed to be led by Margaret Cho, at least on twitter who brought this story to my attentions, and I even retweeted one of her tweets about it. Well, it pissed me off too, frankly, many of my favorite comics are female. Kathy Griffin, Tina Fey, Paula Poundstone, Janeane Garofalo, Ellen DeGenerous... Roseanne! Not to mention some of the older ones like Moms Mabley, or Phyllis Diller. Hell, the Kennedy Center just announced last week that they're giving the Mark Twain Prize to Carol Burnett earlier this week! Anyway, I got into it, and afterwards I checked back and noticed that Margaret Cho appreciated my retweet and started following me on Twitter, which I'm not gonna lie, I geeked the hell out over that for a few hours and thought back on her great routines and how she can find comedy in the most private and personal things. I mean, I watched her "Notorious C.H.O." DVD once and it's change my whole idea of what stand up can be!....

So anyway, that happened, and meanwhile, this old issue of course got brought up again, and of course, Lewis isn't the only one who's been repeatedly vocal about this. The late Christopher Hitchens famously wrote a column in an attempt to prove that female comics were less funny than men. Adam Corolla's opinion on this, actually comes off as somewhat realistic. Wrong of course, but he at least leaves open the possibility that women can be funny, he just claims that women aren't as funny as men, overall. In actuality, most studies show that women aren't more funny, they're more discerning about what's funny, so men laugh at more immature humor while women don't. Think "The Three Stooges" phenomenon for instance, and the old joke about how men like them and women don't; there's actually some truth to it.

Anyway, I don't want to get into a discussion over who's funnier or not. Funny's funny to me, and discerning over sex is fairly stupid. I honestly don't notice things like that anymore, nor do I think it has any particular relevance. However, this strange, old-fashioned take on something caught my eye elsewhere this week. I've been watching some old episodes of "What's My Line?" recently on youtube. Some of you may or may not know, but I've always been obsessed with game shows. I even dressed up as Alex Trebek for Halloween when I was six. Anyway, "What's My Line?' been one of my favorites recently, because I was kinda thinking about the possibilities of a new version of the show recently. I also enjoy seeing a lot of old and unusual people, many of them before they were recognizable household names. The strangest people went through that show I'm finding, from Salvador Dali to Frank Zappa. On top of that, it's pretty funny and challenging at times. I was kinda wondering about the possibilities of bringing the show back in modern time. Who would be a good modern-day equivalent to the panel for instance, and some of the new jobs that people have now that could challenge or fool them, especially nowadays. (Think of all the computer jobs out there, for instance.)

Then I started looking at some of the comments that were left. Of course, there's a good mixture of them, spanning a lot of areas, the jobs, the way some of the celebrities react and what-not. Some discussion on Dorothy Kilgallen's death, which like any JFK conspiracy buff like myself, is fascinated by. (If you don't know that story, look it up.) Yet, there was another bunch of comments that caught me completely off-guard.  These were the group of comments about, the way the show reflect, for-lack-of-a-better-term, a more classy era. This, I found strange, frankly 'cause in this respect, I honestly didn't see any noticeable difference between, the way people acted then and now. They would note things like the clothes people wore being more sophisticated, and lots about manners. The male panelists standing for the female contestants for instance. Things that, frankly not did I not notice, but I don't see a major difference between that and modern times. Especially when were talking television. I mean, that was just the rules and procedures of the game they're talking about. Would you expect them to say "Screw you" to the contestant or something like that? Especially when we're talking the '50s and '60s when we all know that we were trying to live up these artificial and unreasonable standards of modernity, most of which, the Hollywood, or the New York Elite that were on that show, certainly didn't live up to in real life. It seems odd to me that people find something natural and better about artificiality like that.

Oh, it's definitely better in some ways compared to the over-dramatization of certain TV game and reality shows are nowadays. This is certainly not a show that would be benefitted from cutting to commercial in middle of someone saying something that could potentially determine a person's future on that show, to build drama. (Seriously, Gordon Ramsey shows, you way overdo it.) That's one of the reasons it appeals to me now, how different it is from what's on television nowadays. Yet, while shows like "What's My Line?" are in some ways great documentation of a time gone by, that wasn't really part of it. Fictional pieces about how things were supposedly better in the past somehow, that people were different and better then. I think if Jerry Lewis's recent comments are any indication, it's that relics of those past eras, are relics for a reason, and that they need an upgrade every-so-often, and we all have to have a proper context to the past, to fully understand them. The notion that somehow the way we were was better in the past is about as ridiculous to me as the notion that, one sex is funnier than another. They're both essentially part of the same delusion though, that things used to better in the past, and that certain people can and should only do certain things, and whatnot. I guess I hope I'm just not alone in seeing these differing perspectives as shameful beliefs based on past pre-ordained assumptions. Perhaps we should start a new version of "What's My Line?" with a panel filled of the funniest people of our generation, and wait until after we air to even realize that none of the panel are men.

Monday, May 27, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #64: "WRECK-IT RALPH", "HITCHCOCK", "STRUCK BY LIGHTNING", "THE CABIN IN THE WOODS", "THE INTOUCHABLES", "END OF WATCH", "CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER", "THE LORAX", "DANGEROUS LIAISONS", "AMERICANO" and MORE!

Happy Memorial Day Everybody! That great day where we celebrated those poor bastards who died for our country, those we lost in battle and conflict. (That's a "Patton" reference people, let it be.) Seriously, though, now that we're finding to the end of two wars, that have taken up, way too much of my life, and have kept me at the end of my emotional rope for awhile, it's nice to take and remember, that while I breathe a deep sigh of relief for some of the lucky loved ones of ours who've survived, hi Renee, it's nice to take a moment to reflect on those who unfortunately didn't.

So, while we all make an effort stay inside on this day off, and eat some nice hearty pasta while catching up on our Netflix and Hulu, remember to take a moment...- what do you mean people are bar-be-cuing, today, why the hell would you do that? It's a perfect day-off in the middle of Summer, why would you go outside at all! Much less swimming, and hang around with friends and family? What a waster! Well, anyway, whatever you want to do, the stupid bar-be-cuing, or the reasonable pasta thing, hope you all enjoy this 3-day weekend!

Also, before I begin, I wanted to point out some sad local entertainment news here, while it's easy to make fun of, even the idea of a theater community in Las Vegas, their is one, it is thriving by the way, and the best and the most notorious theater critic in town was Anthony Del Valle, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He, passed away recently, at age 60. He's been the major theater critic in town since the mid-'90s, among numerous other credits, including teaching, directing, playwright, and acting even. In fact, I actually got the pleasure to direct him once, in a short film of mine, that unfortunately never got finished. It died in the editing room, after numerous disasters, and-eh, I gave up on it after we lost the voiceover that we had finally recorded after a year of editing, a long drawn-out post-production disaster of mine. But, actually, funny enough, I didn't know who he was at the time, but I casted him as a judge, who was overseeing a divorce case, which was going bad for the husband, and-eh, I had Del Valle, reading a newspaper, and not paying attention to anything. The absolute perfect casting, I must say. He came in, for maybe an hour at most, did his part, shared a few tales of plays that he's seen, and some of his vast knowledge, and-eh, I remember, that he came early, before any of the other actors did, and when they found out he was part of the production, they were a little starstruck at first, and had it ever gotten finished, his cameo essentially, would've made for a nice, little local in-joke, and it was very, very good of him, to come in, for such a minor part in my little production class short of mine. So, I was very saddened to hear of his passing. Still though, very happy, I got the few brief moments I did working with him. Great critic as well, if ever want to find his writings, they're always entertaining to read; he'll be sadly missed in this local theater community.

Well, not much else happening right now. Here's the latest batch of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


WRECK-IT RALPH (2012) Director: Rich Moore

5 STARS



When you realize just what they've done, it becomes clear that "Wreck-It Ralph" is some kind of mini-miracle. I never was what some would consider a video game junkie as a kid, or even now, not in the traditional sense anyway. My games were more in the "NBA Jam", pinball and "Tetris" variety, as opposed to some of the more noteworthy games lately. That said though, I couldn't believe it when King Koopa, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and QBert, were all in the same movie. I don't know whether they had to negotiate for the rights of these characters, like the way they had to for the other major animation landmarks, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", and "Toy Story", (Much easier with "Toy Story" to get Mr. Potato Head, it's product placement.) or if they made slight differences to the characters to make sure not to get sued, but I couldn't tell. From the moment the characters made their appearance, in their retro video game animation styles, I was sold, and knew I was in for something quite unique. Apparently, just like our toys in "Toy Story," when an arcade, if you can ever find one anymore (I do miss cool arcades, wish Scandia was still open, I think I held the record on "Clutch Hitter" on that.) , is closed for the night, the characters from all those beloved games come to life, and have lives of their own. They have fun, they go get drunk at Tapper, but for the bad guys, it's a little depressing. There's a Bad Anonymous group held by one of the "Pac-Man" villains every night. (I want to say Blinky, but I get confused on the "Pac-Man" character names.) Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a classic video game bad guy. Very classic, his game, "Fix-It Felix Jr", where he smashes and wrecks a high-rise condominium while, Felix, (Jack McBrayer) fixes it with his father's magic hammer. Ralph is tired of being the bad guy who gets thrown off the roof and living in the dump while Felix keeps medals. Desperate after wrecking a party he wasn't invited too, he leaves his game and goes through the Game Station Central, and decides to jump games, in order to play a good guy and win a medal. A very risky move considering that, people have noted that, if you did in another game, you die forever, and potentially lead to the death of both games. At first, he ends up in new first-person shooter game, where Captain Calhoun (Jane Lynch) leads a team of futuristic soldiers in a battle with giant multiplying bugs, but he escapes that game and then finds himself in a candy-influenced go-kart game called "Sugar Rush", where he meets a glitch named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) A glitch in video game lingo, and btw I didn't know this either, is when a character is programmed into a game at one point, but isn't used in the final product, instead of going back into the program and digging the character out, it much easier for a programming to just leave the character in, but not use them, or have them unconnected to the actual gameplay. This is even done, when whole levels or sections or minigames for instance, are left unfinished or abandoned, they just leave them on the program. Vanellope wants to be a racer however, and with Ralph, she gets a shot, but having a glitch become apart of the game, can be devastating to the game, and King Candy (Alan Tudyk) doesn't want her to not only destroy the game, but also herself, as unlike regular characters, glitches are stuck in their games and can't jump. I love the care and imagination put into "Wreck-It Ralph". This is a film made by people who absolutely love video games, and not just playing them, every aspect of them. The design, the creativity, the history of them, how they, like animation, has evolved over-the-years, and how they have become more complicated. There's many kind of animation used in "Wreck-It Ralph", all of them done amazingly well, especially the inventive design of the candy-inspired Sugar Rush world, it's really inspiring. There's a lot of in jokes, some I caught others I didn't, but they weren't as pressing or obvious as they've been in recent animated films. Strangely, I think the key to the film was good characters, which can be rare enough in an animated film sometimes, but in the world of video games, they can really be rare, but here they really thought them through well. I don't quite know how high I'd rank "Wreck-It Ralph" in the recent animation canon, but I can't stress enough, just how much fun, it is. Visually special, creative story, that's knowledgeable, with legitimate twists and such wondrous imagination, which is really what separates "Wreck-It Ralph", one of the most fun movie experiences I'd had in a while. It's close to great, it's definitely fun; it's so rare to say that a movie is fun, anymore, but "Wreck-It Ralph", is pure fun.


HITCHCOCK (2012) Director: Sacha Gervasi

4 STARS



You do have to be a good director to even get half-way to having directed your 47th film, much less, have that one, arguably be your best film. Well, at least I consider "Psycho" to be Alfred Hitchcock's best film, (Sorry, "Vertigo" fans) and there wasn't a whole lot that I didn't know about the making of the film going into "Hitchcock", but they certainly found a few things, at least from a personal life standpoint, regarding the great Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins). I always did kinda picture Hitchcock to be an outwardly funny guy and sly guy, who found dark humor as much as fright in the films he made, and there's part of that here, but the movie also hypothesizes the more darker inner thoughts of Hitchcock. "Psycho" was famously influenced by Ed Guin (Michael Wincott), the famed Wisconsin serial killer (He was also the inspiration for Leatherface in "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", among other characters), and at times, he talks to him, as an inner monologue/alter ego-type character, as he wonders about his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) as she starts working on an adaptation of Whitfield Cook's (Danny Huston) novel, which Hitchcock didn't care much for. Cook wrote the adaptation for Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train", and had been working mostly in TV crime shows since, while working on a Hitchcockian-like novel. Alma played a major role in most of Hitchcock's films, often doing uncredited rewrites and even filling in as director on-set when Hitch couldn't be there. Hitchcock had just had a major hit with "North By Northwest," but was wondering whether he can make a film like his older, dirtier, grittier films. He mortgages his house, and bankrolls "Psycho" himself, with him and his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) making a deal with Paramount only for distribution, this was after he bought, every copy of the novel "Psycho", to make sure nobody would go into the movie, knowing what's going to happen. "Hitchcock" is an interesting and fun, behind-the-scenes film story, although it wasn't quite as good as say last year's "My Week with Marilyn" to name a recent example, although that was a different story, and a different. "Hitchcock," while it veers into the darker side of him, it's a fairly light film, even the more conflicting material is easily brushed away, like how he's standoffish with Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and somewhat infatuated with Janet Leigh (Scarlet Johansson) the latest ideal Hitchcock blonde, and the concern that a young Tony Perkins (James D'Arcy) has over the role reaching a little too close to home. "Hitchcock" is a shallow dive into the inner mind and workings of the master of suspense, and that's okay. I'm not sure how deeply we want to into that anyway, it might be better just to dip a toe into the pool. "Hitchcock" got an Oscar nomination for its makeup, which is moderately impressive; the real feat in that field is getting Hopkins to look like Hitchcock, and everybody else seems to have had only the slightest of makeup done to them, although during the shower scene, Johansson impressed me with how much she looked like Janet Leigh in the infamous shower scene when she was screaming. Her performance is underrated here. Helen Mirren got some major awards nominations for her work though, and I'll say she's deserving; you can almost argue that she's a second lead in this film; it's almost as much her story as it is Hitchcock's. It might be informative for those who don't quite know so much about the making of "Psycho" as I do, but I enjoyed "Hitchcock", more as a lightweight feather of a film. It give us, just enough of everything we'd want in this kind of film, but not really anything more than that, but it's entertaining, and the scenes of recreating the sets and shots of Psycho put a smile face on my face, so it's a definite recommend. It's not particularly special in this genre, but I had fun, I watched it again; makes me want to watch "Psycho" again, and it reinvigorates my love of Hitchcock.


STRUCK BY LIGHTNING (2013) Director: Brian Dannelly

3 1/2 STARS



Brian Dannelly's first film, "Saved!" was the best high school comedy of the last decade, and one of the most underrated films of that decade as well. There's not the same kind of sharp satire in "Struck By Lightning" his second feature-length directorial effort, but you can see the glimpses of that kind of rebellious anti-high school movie nature in this film, which begins, with it's protagonists death. The kid struck by lightning and dead is the overly-ambitious Carson Phillips ("Glee"'s Chris Colfer, who wrote the film's screenplay). He's the kind of student who's too smart for the town, in this case, Clover, a town of 9,000, that nobody ever seems to leave, and everybody in the high school does some kind of school activities, out of boredom. Carson, is the editor of the newspaper, although he actually is the only one who writes, as the rest of the group never does any of the work, although the video-camera wielding Malerie (Rebel Wilson) does try to write, but usually ends up just copying the most famous first lines in the history of American literature. Carson does all this, so he can leave Clover for good, and become a famous journalist who wins the Nobel Peace Prize, all of which starts by getting into Northwestern. He clearly smart enough and determined to get in, and to compare the standard of the town, the school's ditzy career/college Counselor, (Angela Kinsey) has never heard of Northwestern. His homelife also is complicated. His mother Sheryl (Allison Janney, who has never given an incorrect line reading, of anything) is a pilled-up alcoholic, who's been a mess even before her husband Neal (Dermot Mulroney) left the family. He's back in town and his fiance April (Christina Hendricks) now works as the town's pharmacist, where Sheryl visits regularly for her pills. It doesn't take too long before they realize the connection they have. In the meantime, undeterred by his need to do everything possible to get out town, Carson decides to create a literary magazine for the school. Getting anybody to participate is hard enough, especially since nobody likes him for his obnoxious way he reveals his intelligence by making smartass remarks about everyone, including teh teachers, and also because he refuses to let his life get in the way of his dreams, even if that means, forcing the school to contribute to a literary magazine through blackmail. And there's no shortage of it either by the way. The athlete's gay relationship with the with drama nerd, the cheerleader's affair with the football coach, threatening to show the goth's BDSM photos to her Sunday School teaching mother, etc. etc. There's a lot of boredom going on in this school, and the lethargy get exorcized through many different distractions. Sex, powertrips, clubs, drugs, especially perscription drugs. In some ways, "Struck By Lightning" kind of reminded me of "The Last Picture Show", in how everybody's life was pretty much defeated before it began, and if you weren't on the football team, you weren't doing anything. Here, even that's not doing anything, just killing time before high school ends and the rest of their sucky lives begins, at least that's how Carson sees it. Or saw it. There's some good performance by Sarah Hyland from "Modern Family" and Remy Baker from "Weeds" and "Suburgatory" here, as some of the other popular high school students, who get blackmailed and forced into Carson's web. I was caught offguard by how much I enjoyed "Struck By Lightning", although I must confess being disappointed  that the whole movie is taking place, knowing that Carson's efforts are futile, and that he's telling this story from beyond. I love "Sunset Boulevard" as much as anybody, but sometimes, you want to see the character's succeed and achieve their goals, especially when they deserve them. Maybe that's the point, or maybe that's just a first-time screenwriter's mistake. Well, that said, for a first-time screenwriter, Chris Colfer's effort was pretty damn good actually. It's got some problems, it doesn't dive into some of the characters as well as it should, and yes, they do all come off as types, including Carson to some extent. There's is apart of his relentlessness that makes him a little one-note at times. Still, I was entertained and very much impressed by "Struck By Lightning", if for no other reason, than it was fun to see an actual smart high school character, who actually was smart for a change. Smart and driven. It's a shame, he's actually be closer to being an adult than anybody, except him, ever realize.


THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) Director: Drew Goddard

2 1/2 STARS



This review is going to be one of the most conflicting ones I may ever write. I get what they're doing, probably more than most people do actually, 'cause being a screenwriter myself, I understood more than most that the overseeing workers who are guiding the dumb teenagers to their inevitable doom, Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) are actually the writers themselves, Joss Whedon and Director Drew Goddard, while they're simultaneously deconstructing, as well as going through the processes of writing a script. Yes, I understood the real metaphor, of "The Cabin in the Woods", the title itself, both generic and symbolic, but alas, why couldn't this have been done, with a better genre, or possibly with smarter characters in the genre. This has been the frustrating annoyance I've had with, pretty much everything Joss Whedon has ever done, which makes me dumbstruck by anybody who considers his work in such high regard. He doesn't create realistic or even believable or plausible characters,  so, instead, he extends upon cliched characters, never fully combining the elements dual elements that he constantly tries to mix together into a single character, and then, he insists on the generic natures of the plot, driving the characters, instead of the other way around. You may call this a style, and to that extent, he is unique and even talented, but he doesn't think he's doing that, and actually believes that he's creating complete, complex characters usually, and even important and seminal characters, and that mis-belief by him, and his fans, is why I've always taken issue with him, 'cause not only is he not doing that, but worse yet, he usually implies their intelligent characters in some way, when their not. Now, thankfully here, he's creating dumb characters, but at least he knows it this time, and they're dumb for a good reason as well. Come to think of it, they're not exactly complete characters either. In fact, they're basically "The Breakfast Club," without the depth, or the intellect, or much else. If it weren't for horror movies road trips to scary, middle of nowhere places, guarded by creepy inbred gas station owners named Mordecai (Tim De Zarn), would these kids even hang out together? Hey, my high school wasn't clique-y at all, but still, you didn't see this combination anywhere, including Saturday detentions. Anyway, the athlete Curt, and his slutty, newly-blonde whore girlfriend Jules (Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchinson) take Jules's, ehh-oh-ye-ikes-ooh-, hold on, I have to consult with my thesaurus for a bit here, one second-

(Eh, let's see, "virginal"'s not quite right, not celibate, not elegant, not immaculate, definitely not innocent, virtuous, maybe? Modest, we're getting there; prudish, ooh, maybe, maybe not? Moral? Ooh, this is a tricky- Vacant! Well, they're all vacant. Eh, can't quite say prude-, "more modest", does that work for everyone? "More modest"? Can you say that? Yeah, grammatically it's-it's alright, but descriptively is it accurate enough for...-, alright I'm going with "more modest", everyone alright with that? "More modest," no objections. Alright, good.)

Where was I? Oh, they take Jules's more modest friend Anna, (Kristen Connelly) the prophetic stoner, Marty (Fran Kranz), and the honorable, nice, black-guy-who-you-know's-gonna-die-'cause-he's-black, Holden, (Jesse Williams) to this out-of-the-way cabin, deep in the woods for the weekend. Little do they know... boy, how little do they know, that somehow this gathering of these fives archetypes are apart of an elaborate ritualistic science experiment, where, for all intensive purposes, they all have to die, and that they're entire surroundings are basically controlled and manipulated by Sitterson and Hadley, the two government employees who make sure they can't get out, and that, once the bad guys end up trying to kill them, they eventually get killed. It doesn't matter much who the bad guys are, especially since, there's a poll going in the bunker, on what exactly will actually kill them. Writer's trick, it doesn't matter what's killing you, as long as it's trying to kill you, 'cause the dramatic part, and soon, they start getting killed, some 'cause they're just stupid or horny, and it always does frustrate me how those two things states automatically go together in horror films. Interestingly enough, things go wrong in the killing of all the teenagers, and yes, if we're dealing with structure of a horror, especially from the perspective of film theory, then the "Final Girl" will come into effect, because the plot requires it. This is why I am so, back-and-forth, on this film, from the metaphor that's very apparent to me, and I believe to be the actual source of this story, as oppose to the actual film, at least up until the very end, when (ACTRESS NAME DELETED), will make her inevitable cameo, I have a certain affection for the film. Yet, that affection is very shallow; I understand and appreciate, the screenwriter's struggle metaphor, but he doesn't add something new to it. They haven't reinvented, or commented on the horror film and the genre therein, in any way, other than simply deconstructing, so it's all stuff we already knew. Also on that token, take the metaphor out, and you have nothing, but the most generic and vacuous of horror movies, ever. There's no new character, there's no interesting character, there's no real new twist, unless you really can't jump ahead and figure it out, but I easily could. It's interesting to see the differences between these two worlds, especially with the dialogue which is hokey horror film on one hand, and a lesser Aaron Sorkin in the bunker scenes, but neither world has real emotional pull. The directing by Drew Goddard is good, and I liked his last film "Cloverfield", which also dealt with challenging the ideas of genre. Yet, this movie feels like they just decided to pull the curtain and see the wizard, without actually making Dorothy follow the Yellow Brick Road. Normally you get the movie, and within the movie, you can find the metaphoric significance, of what they're saying, but "The Cabin in the Woods" seems to have done the opposite, they didn't make a movie at all, but they developed a fairly good metaphor. What works about it, is really good, but what works is not the part of the actual film. It's what the film represents that's good, the movie itself, isn't as good, or even really anything, so since I'm a movie reviewer, I won't stop anybody from seeing it, but I just can't find a way to justify giving it a positive review.  This film is like that Steven Wright joke, about going to the Air and Space Museum, and finding it empty. I can't recommend it, and I'm just more perplexed by Whedon's popularity and so-called genius than ever before.


THE INTOUCHABLES (2012) Directors: Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano

4 STARS



"The Intouchables" is one of those films that an absolute delight to watch, while you're watching it, and then afterwards, you sit down, and think about how it's a completely manipulative and cliched story you've seen many times before about two people from different worlds, who end becoming lifelong friends, and learning from each other, and so on and so forth. Basically, you have to decide whether or not you like these characters enough to follow them from the beginning, and then let yourself be lead, or not. This one, has two very likeable characters, and is very well-made and well-acted, so we decide to be lead, and thankfully it's good enough to allow that from us. It's also a very popular movie, currently ranking #62 on imdb.com, Top 250, setting records all through Europe, and was France submission for the Foreign Language Oscar this past year. The two so-too-be close friends are Philippe (Francois Cluzet), an older widowed millionaire quadriplegic, and Driss (Omar Sy) an African former criminal, who comes in one day for an interview to be his home health care worker. Well, actually, he came in fo Philippe to sign a paper, saying that he came in for the interview so he can show his parole officer that he was out looking for a job, but despite constantly hitting on Philippe secretary Magalie (Audrey Fleurot), and talking about music, he gets a trial. He gets a live-in room and bathroom, and has to learn how to wash, clothe, feed, drive, Philippe, etc. Personally, I'd like in just the bathroom which is bigger and more glamourous than my apartment, but he gets a bad himself. The basic differences between these two, get explored throughout the film, through their many adventures and conversations. Occasionally some other characters come into the story, and we get a sense of their personal lives. Philippe adopted a daughter, Yvonne (Anne Le Ny), after they weren't able to conceive previously. She's a moody teenager now, (Well, what teenagers aren't moody) Driss's was kicked out of his mother, Mina (Absa Diatou Toure) but soon, he starts trying to help get his younger brother out of a similar life of crime that he went through. I've been going the movie a second time briefly, just to find out the brothers name, and the actor who played but I can't seem to find. In fact, I'm having trouble even finding a movie review that even mentions the subplot, I guess it isn't really an integral part of the movie, but I thought it could've been brought up, the comparisons between the daughter and the younger brother. The movie is more enjoyable as a deconstructionist tale anyway, and thankfully, most of these minor plotpoints are brief and light. The clash of cultures is really the important part. Opera vs. soul, stuffiness vs. energetic, rich vs. poor, high class, low class, wine vs. weed, and how the two of them mix, and whether or not we smile and laugh enough to enjoy ourselves watching it. The movie's well-acted, well-directed, Cluzet and Sy have wonderful chemistry, and the movie knows that if you want to play music that will always make the audience smile, play Earth, Wind & Fire. So, the movie works, just don't think, don't compare, just put on "The Intouchables" watch, and have fun.


END OF WATCH (2012) Director: David Ayes

4 1/2 STARS



You know, oddly enough, despite the fact that I work in film, except for a once-in-a-blue-moon acting gigs I've taken, I'm rarely, if ever photographed, much less, have my actions and appearance filmed. Yet, I know that, somehow, on this cheap-ass little cell phone I have next to my keyboard, I could start filming a movie if I wanted to, and even this computer has some kind of camera feature, that can take my picture, but I never use it. The two photos of me on my Facebook page aren't even taken by me, just by someone from a local website who was taking photo of a film festival I was at one weekend, and I still only ended up in those two photos, and neither is my profile photo, which is reserved for my pic of Statler & Waldorf. Yet, "End of Watch" exists in a world where everything is being recorded, and everyone's doing the recording themselves at that, almost as though, they want to make sure there's documented confirmation of their existence on Earth, for it's likely that there lives will be cut short. Very likely. "End of Watch" is a cop movie, and a rather traditional one at that. Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) are patrol cops, working South Central L.A., which is exactly as rough as it sounds. Mike's going to college in his spare time, and has taken film as an elective, and the movie begins with a true-to-film, behind the scenes of his average day, which may include having to bust a guy, who refuses to cooperate, and then dropping the guns and badge, and really fighting until he's knocked out. It helps earn them respect, and an occasional new informant, since they didn't charge the guy for attacking a cop, just the minor disorderly conduct for being drunk. The cops are both lucky and good. The movie opens with a high-speed chase, shown from the it's beginning, to it's end, and to the afterwards, with the cops standing around, to the detectives and EMTs come in, investigating the scene, and everything's being recorded from that desk car cam. The next time we see them, they're back on the force, after the investigation into the case concluded. It's almost cliche, but yeah, Mike's a single white guy, while Mike's married his high-school sweetheart Gabby (Natalie Martinez), who's pregnant again. The work on the job, basically resembles a modern-day version of some of the more exciting episodes of "Adam-12". Some calls are more normal than most, others require heroic efforts beyond the call of duty, even for cops. In between, they're joking, listening to rap music, and giving advice to each other. They get caught up accidentally on a major drug cartel accidentally. When they were investigating on their own, they stumble across a bloodbath and a human trafficking operation that's so horrid, it shocks even them. The second cameraman in the film, belongs to one of the young members of the cartels, who records the drive-by shootings from inside the car, which to my surprise at least, were being driven, and practically run by a women, although the dominant male seems to be in charge, as he teaches his son how to be man during these shootings. Meanwhile, life goes on, and freewheeling Brian suddenly has a girlfriend, Janet (Anna Kendrick, and boy, she's becoming one of those actresses I'm always happy to suddenly see onscreen). Right away, you get the sense that she's perfect for Brian, although always heeding warnings from Gabby, who's funny and unusually frank about being married, and married to a cop during those, ever-more-often-occurring double dates they have. Writer-Director David Ayer, isn't exactly breaking new ground, but he doesn't have to. Every-so-often, this material needs to be revisited, and when it's done really well, it can be special. This time it's very special. "End of Watch" doesn't have the feel of the normal cop partners you see in movies, or a forced friendship that's manipulated because of high-action. "End of Watch", is a film about two people who really do care about each other, and will sacrifice their lives for each other, even if they weren't doing it already because of their job. It's gritty realism, it's emotional, and incredibly well-acted. Gyllenhaal and Pena give two of the performances of both of their careers. Ayer's been making gritty street-level cop movies for awhile now, he wrote the script for "Training Day", among other films, this is his second directing job after "Harsh Times", which I haven't seen yet, but I might go search for it now. "End of Watch" is certainly the best pure cop movie in a long while, and a reminder once again, that you don't have to break new ground or be as original as possible to make a good movie. I was delightfully surprised how much I enjoyed "End of Watch", and just how caught up in the lives of these two cops, that I got. Two good cops, by the way. I should point that out as well. This isn't one of those movies either where one cop's corrupt or some twist like that. These are two good cops, who we care about because they're two good human beings.


CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (2012) Director: Lee Toland Kreiger

4 STARS



Before I begin this review, one of my friends mentioned having seen "Celeste and Jesse Forever", right as I was about to watch it, among his complaints was that the film didn't seem like a realistic romantic-comedy to him. I paused the movie for a second, and asked what he considered a realistic romantic-comedy, and he finally replied "Sleepless in Seattle". In his defense, I think he meant to say "You've Got Mail", but either way, I thought I should mention that as the mindset I had going into the film. (And btw, I was working on "Realistic Romantic Comedy" myself, and the only I could come up with was "Annie Hall", so if anybody else has a good answer to that question, let me know.) Anyway, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" isn't what I'd call a romantic comedy. Celeste and Jesse (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) are married and have been together for years, but right now, they're separated, but they're still so close, that the only way that the audience even figures that out is by their friends Beth and Tucker (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen), on one of those couples' night out, get so frustrated with them for still seeming like the perfect couple, while he's living in the guest house and she's living in their room. Their friends want them to either be back together, or at each other's throats. Celeste works at a publicity firm, and is a widely-regarded trend forecaster. Yes, that's an actual profession, with a moderately-selling book and everything, including a helpful gay boss, Scott (Elijah Wood), who's ironically not that great at the flamboyant aspect of that typecast in this film. Actually, while the film plays with typecasting a bit, it doesn't allow for any character to be a complete cliche, even Riley Banks (Emma Roberts) the ditzy, talentless pop star whose image she's reluctantly working on, currently. Jesse is an artist, who's known for sculpture using found materials. I went and reread Roger Ebert's review of this film, and he chose to leave out the catalyst event that suddenly spearheads the divorce, and the inevitable blowup between them, and since I've staring at the computer screen for half-an-hour, trying to figure out what to write next, I'll trust him, and leave it out as well. The movie isn't about how these two eventually move on from their divorce, but how these two characters struggle to move. It's a character piece, seeing how one Celeste crumbles under her snobby professional veneer, and how Jesse finally has to get thrust into adulthood. The film was written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, he plays a stoner friend of the couple in the film. Jones, who's had some major film roles, is mostly known for her work on TV's "Parks and Recreation", and it's a good first script for them, and it's a far better film from Director Lee Toland Kreiger after his dreadful "The Vicious Kind"; he might found a genre he can work well with, with this character piece. There  isn't a whole lot of new, but there's a lot of good, good acting, good characters, and a good script, in "Celeste and Jesse Forever". It's one of those rare adult movie about relationships, that we're begging for more of from Hollywood these days. As despite my friend's earlier claim, I found it quite a believable tale, not a romantic-comedy, but of two people who try to deny the love-lost between them, and fail. Roger Ebert's review was also right about one other thing, "The way things are going now, if an actress doesn't write a good role for herself, no one else is going to write one."


THE LORAX (2012) Director: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

2 STARS



While I usually consider myself well-read in the seminal literary works of one, Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, yet somehow I missed "The Lorax", growing up, so this puts me a little behind the eight ball, since I really can't compare this one to the book. That said though, Dr. Suess has always been a difficult author to transition to the big screen to begin with. The best of the bunch, was the '53 film, "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.", which wasn't a book at all, as it was created for the big screen. The recent film bastardizations adaptations of Suess's work, have all been relatively disappointing, and "The Lorax" really isn't any different, except it's one of those animated movies that seems to have been made to push an environmental agenda. The biggest sin among this extreme subgenre would have to be, "Ferngully: The Last Rainforest", which even as a kid, was two manipulative for me. There's nothing inherently wrong with a "message movie", but it should be about a messenger, and not about the message itself. A person who cares enough to change the rules, and not a call to action so much. We need a Jane Goddall to care about monkeys, and in this case,... well, I'll say they're interesting-looking trees at least. Thneedville is a town entirely without trees, is all entirely made of plastic, and everything is artificial. The town's Mayor Aloysius O'Hare (Rob Riggle) became the richest man in town by bottling air. (Whoa. that was written in Suess-ical verse, completely unintentionally.) Young Ted (Zac Efron) wants to impress Audrey, who's fascinated by nature and wants to give her a tree. In order to do this, he's instructed by his Grammy Norma (Betty White) to go see some mysterious man called the Once-ler (Ed Helms) who tells the story of how, he was responsible for there not being anymore trees, after he destroyed them to make Thneeds, a popular multi-purpose item, that everybody thneeded.- I mean, needed, or so they thought. The people are quite gullable in this film, and rather loose on conviction, I must say. Easily swayed and manipulated, without much real dissent or discontent, especially during a couple crucial scenes, they seem to go from oblivious to all-caring, all-worrying in the blink of an eye. The musical numbers are sub-par. The animation is okay, and the trees themselves, colorfully look like cotton candy lollipops to me. The title character of the Lorax (Danny DeVito) a smallish-little minion-like creature, asks as a spiritual voice or presence over the trees, but we're not exactly talking "Princess Mononoke"-level spiritualism here, frankly his character is barely needed, except possibly for a rhyme. So far, I'm pretty sure it's not really possible to transfer Dr. Suess's work to the big screen rather well; although I'd be looking forward to any future filmed version of "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish", his work really isn't a natural fit for film. I don't know, how accurate or not, "The Lorax" is to the book, as I mentioned, but it really is a rather unimportant and innocuous animated film. Music numbers aren't that inventive or inspiring, the story is manipulative; it might keep a five-year-olds attention while it's on, but they're gonna forget about it, right afterwards.


DANGEROUS LIAISONS (2012) Director: Jin-ho Hur

3 STARS



Every-so-often, it's been deemed that somebody must create a new version of "Dangerous Liaisons" every few years or so. I keep meaning to watch some of the other versions, which for some reasons, I haven't yet, (Well, I thing I might have seen "Cruel Intentions", but now I'm not so sure; I always get that one confused with "Wild Things" for some reason, I might have watched that one instead) but since the story's so well-known and basic, that even if you haven't seen it or read the novel (Another book I haven't read. Sigh.) your usually fairly familiar with the basic plot, which, the good thing about it, is that it's fairly adaptable. It's a story that really can be set at nearly any time and place that one chooses to tell, in this case, we have a Chinese version, made by South Korean director Jin-ho Hur, that takes place in 1930s Shanghai, which was essentially the Far East equivalent to the Jazz Age of Paris or New York in the '20s. Xie Yifan (Dong-gun Jang) is the playboy, and his former girlfriend Mo Jieyu (Cecilia Cheung) is the playgirl, the two, who go around bedding, well, everyone, for their own hedonistic enjoyment. Xie's in the middle of bedding the virginal Beibei (Candy Wang), who's got a crush on her art teacher Dai Whenzhou (Shawn Dou). During this time, Xie also has a crush on a the widowed Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi). Mo bets Xie that if he can't bed the widow that she's gets a piece of land he owns, but if he does, than he gets her. As they say in "Casablanca," human life is cheap. The movie, like the story, becomes a melodrama, soap opera from here, so basically what I'm determining here, is how well the telling is, and while I doubt this is the best version of "Dangerous Liaisons", but overall I think it's a good one. It's beautifully show, with incredible sets and costumes, can the film can be very erotic, and during the less sexual moments, the film seems to ooze lust and eroticism. A very good setting to tell this story, and it's well-acted and told, so I'm recommending it. Is it that good a story to tell, well, that's another discussion, but I think those come in expecting what they expect to get out of "Dangerous Liaisons" will get it, and for that, it's worth recommending.


AMERICANO (2012) Director: Mathieu Demy

2 STARS



Does any actress keep getting casted as a stripper more than Salma Hayek? Not that I'm exactly complaining about it, but she does keep getting that first call. "Dogma", "From Dusk 'til Dawn", "Midaq Alley", (Okay, they last one, she wasn't a stripper, she was a prostitute, but still) and now, here she is in "Americano", playing another stripper. Anyway, I can write material about that for awhile, but the movie itself, is a lyrical tale about the journey that Martin (Mathieu Demy, who also wrote and directed the film) takes, after hearing about his mother's death is the States. Martin has been estranged from his mother for years. His past is a little complicated in terms of geography, but basically he was dual-citizenship, and he's actually a legal American, as well as a Frenchman, and this trip back to Southern California, is a trip back to, what was very briefly his childhood home. There, he meets his Mom's neighbor friend Linda (Geraldine Chaplin) at the airport, and a few other friends, who are strangers to him, but treat Martin like the prodigal son. Soon, he learns of an old childhood friend Lola, (Hayek)  who his mother kept in touch with, and a letter she sent her, that got returned-to-sendered, says that she gave Lola the house. At first, Martin is furious, but soon, he's off to Tijuana, to find her at a dingy hole-in-the-wall strip club called "Americano", which is naturally run by a tough Mexican gangster type, Pedro (Pablo Garcia), who's not lenient on the drinks or the girls. Lola is standoffish and cold with Martin, who we're not sure if she remembers from when they were kids. For some reason, she strips in a hot pink wig, which I guess nobody bothers to notice considering what else she's usually wearing, which isn't much. She still looks great at 40something Hayek, but there isn't much else I got from "Americano". Martin's car, with the paperwork and his passports are stolen in Mexico for most of the film, so he's stuck in a country that he's completely unfamiliar with, and losing money fast, just trying to talk with Lola, who doesn't believe him, even after he finally tells, which takes an unreasonably long time to begin with. There's a beauty in the pacing of the film, that's lyrical at sensual at times, but mostly the film just drags on, especially in the second half of the film, and the ending also, was confusing and both non-nonsensical and ironically cliche. I don't know how they pulled off both of those things at once, but "Americano" is a mood, more than it a movie, and for that, I can't recommend. It's relatively entertaining as you're watching it at first, and you think it could go somewhere interesting, and it really doesn't.


HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (2004) Director: Danny Lenier

3 STARS



Somehow I never seemed to be able to get "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" until now. Not that I wasn't interested in watching it, but it didn't make a priority list of mine until it's first sequel came out, and even then, it wasn't exactly a high priority, no pun intended. I actually tend to have a minor quibble with these kind of films, well in this one two quibbles. One, nothing personal, but White Castle, isn't really that great a place to eat; maybe that's part of the joke, although I'm sure they didn't look at it that way. The other being that, there's an impossible-to-meet threshold with these kind of films, with an entire 2nd act, where literally anything can happen. This was actually one of my complaints with "The Hangover," in that, while the script allows for the absolute most outrageous things possible to happen, because it's so wide open that, it's practically impossible for a film to live up to those expectations. So when Harold & Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn), after a early night of, as they say now on "How I Met Your Mother", eating "sandwiches", and suddenly they have a wicked craving for some White Castle sliders. Seems simple enough, but things get in the way of their humble goal. Harold is a shy, junior finance speculator, or something like along those lines, who's got a lot of work to do this weekend, 'cause his boss Billy, (Ethan Embry) made him do his work, while he's out in Atlantic City for the weekend. Kumar is a future, reluctant med student, who actually is quite a talented doctor as we see in one scene, when someone he ends up in an emergency surgery, removing bullets from a GSW victim, but would rather give up his free ride, and his father's (Errol Sitahal) money and connections, in order become a pothead. I should mention, although I doubt anybody out there doesn't know, that Harold is Asian-American and Kumar is Indian-American, and the movie plays with some of the, for-lack-of-a-better-word, stereotypes and customs of both nationalities. Harold, for instance, is constantly frustrated with Cindy Kim (Siu Ta) a fellow Princeton member of the Asian-American Outreach program, which she keeps trying to get Harold to help participate in, and also, has an obsessive crush on Harold, while he has a crush on Maria (Paula Garces) a neighbor girl, who he can't quite make himself talk to on the elevator, despite his best efforts. Actually compared to some of the other movies of this nature, Harold & Kumar are two really well-drawn characters. It's easy to see why two sequels have been made, I kinda want to see what happens to them, which is something I rarely say about most stoner comedies. As to some of the other pitfalls they run into, they get arrested, they get high a few times, they run into a character named Freakshow (Christopher Meloni), who looks like his name indicates, and his unusual horny wife Liane (Malin Akerman) who doesn't, a runaway cheetah, and of course, a regrettable run-in with Neil Patrick Harris, playing, an interesting variation on himself. I laughed a bit with "Harold & Kumar...", although not as much as I would've liked. I guess, I should recommend this film, for people who are predisposed to like this kind of movie; it's possible that the hype I've heard around the film was a little too much for me to overcome enough to enjoy it, as much as I would've liked. I actually had 2 1/2 STARS written on top of the review for the majority, I think I will change it to 3 STARS, because I think the people who like these kind of movies, will like this one, but overall, while there's definitely some high points in this, again no pun intended, overall I was actually disappointed. I don't know if this is quite as good as something like "Up in Smoke" in terms of stoner comedies, but I've seen a lot worse too. A mixed review here, while I hold out hope that the sequels are better. I guess I'm also giving points, for being a film that fairly knowledgeable in the geography of New Jersey, although, it should be noted, their aren't any White Castles, anywhere near Cherry Hill, which is Southern New Jersey, while White Castle is predominately a North Jersey tradition.


KITES (2010) Director: Anurag Basu

2 1/2 STARS



KITES: REMIX (2010) Director: Anurag Basu. Remixed: Brett Ratner

2 1/2 STARS



"Kites" marks a milestone in Bollywood cinema; it's the first Bollywood film to break into the Top Ten at the U.S. box office. Actually, there's two different movies called "Kites" out there. The first one, is the original Bollywood version, which was actually shot, mostly in the Las Vegas area, and a remixed version, that's was reedited by Brett Ratner, which cuts almost 40 minutes, uses different footage occasionally, and was designed as a streamlined version of the film for American audiences. More driving the plot forward, less dance sequences (Actually, no dance sequences)  and more emphasis on the actions scenes, which actually looks and feel more like American actions scenes. I can completely understand Ratner's desire to remix or recut the film, "Kites" is the most American-influenced film I've seen come from India. Hollywood-American too at that. The original version already has more drama and and action and less music than most of the Bollywood films I've seen, and much shorter as well. Jay Ray (Hrithik Roshan) is a dance instructor in Vegas at night, and a con artist during the day. Small cons like the palming the ten trick at bars, as well as a green-card husband for many women. One of those women is Natasha (Barbara Mori) a Mexican immigrant, who, doesn't speak any Hindi, and only little English. (Jay Ray, can't speak Spanish either) We soon learn that she's engaged to Tony Grover (Nicholas Brown) just as Jay Ray, begins falling in love with his dance partner Gina Grover (Kangana Renaut), both of whom are the children of Bob Grover (Kabir Bedi) and in the tradition of Bollywood, the guys falls in love with the girl, with the disapproving in-laws. Although, in the tradition of American films, these disapproving in-laws, will simply go to the ends of the Earth to kill those who fuck with their family, and when Jay ray and Natasha suddenly run off together, well, that's fucking up their family. One the run, they becomes bank robbers, escape through some really entertaining car chases, including one that amazing involves a hot air balloon escape, and running off to Mexico to get married, again, and that's the beginning.  Ironically, while I can't quite recommend eithr film, I think I preferred Ratner's cut, which pushed the plot more forward and also fasttracked some of the important plot details so that, it's easier to keep track of what's going on. I do like the pace of the Bollywood version as well however, from Director Anurag Basu, but this really isn't a great story, no matter how it's edited. It may be a Bollywood film, but I've seen quite a few American films that "Kites" is basically a rip-off of, and most of those movies were better. I'm a little new to Bollywood, but I was finding myself getting used to the pattern and rhythm of those films, and "Kites" certainly differes from that however, but that might not necessarily be a good thing. "Kites" is an interesting anomoly, both versions, but neither one of them are good movies, although from an auteur theory perspective, you might get a kick out of comparing the versions.


THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1993) Director: Michael Mann

1 1/2 STARS



Well, on top of  every review I've read about "The Great Gatsby" this week, and reviewing both a version of "Dangerous Liaisons" and now, "The Last of the Mohicans", I'm starting to feel very illiterate, and not as well-read as I like to think of. I guess I should veer more into the classic sections of the library, more often-, ah, whom am I kidding, I have to veer into the book section, and take a few minutes away from the DVDs. Maybe read, instead of work on that damn crossword in the Las Vegas CityLife while waiting for the bus. Maybe get back into coloring while I'm at it, it's been awhile since I worked in crayon, and no mean teacher gonna tell me that I have to color inside the lines anymore. Well, all of those options would've been better than sitting through "The Last of the Mohicans". I haven't read it, no, although I'm told that content-wise, the film was pretty much a accurate adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel, but I think this story needs to be told from a more down-to-Earth gritty perspective, and this, epic, old-fashioned, sprawling Hollywood film with that overbearing score beating us over the head with every scene. Ugh, the score really did frustrate me by the way. The story takes place during the French and Indian War, and Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a disgruntled Native American, like many of the Native Americans of that time and weren't exactly sure which side of the war to be on. They're disrespected by the British when they talk about how one attack in one direction, proves that an attacks coming in a certain direction. He also has an affair with Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), a British officer's daughter, who's slowly realizing that the war, isn't exactly fought to win or protect the soldiers as it is, fought more out of pride and ego. The higher-ups in the British soldiers reminded me of  Ralph Meeker's character in "Paths of Glory", making soldiers attempt an advance, knowing full well that is would cost lives, and have no bearing or chance of success or any positive impact on the war. While the details of the story, and the romantic tone make the feel like a sub-par David Lean epic, but this was a battle fought on the ground, with people of the land, I think a more realistic and down-to-Earth approach to this material would've made the material even powerful, not having every moment seem like a life-or-death melodramatic plotpoint. If that was the case, we would've actually cared the romance for instance, instead of it just feeling like an arbitrary necessity. It's like somebody went, "It's an epic, there should be a romance, there should be a battle, there be magnificent vistas and ghastly overbearing orchestral music, over everything!" Director Michael Mann has made good and even great movies before and since this film, and nothing here is technically bad, Day-Lewis, gives another one of his memorable performances, but these technical choices are wrong, and sometimes that really does determine the difference between a good movie and a bad movie, and unfortunately, it made the difference here. "The Last of the Mohicans" may not be the greatest story to begin with, but it could've been if it was told well.



Friday, May 24, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "DUCK SOUP"

DUCK SOUP (1933)

Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (Story) with additional dialogue by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman



To paraphrase, George Carlin once said that the Marx Brothers were the first time he saw pure anarchy on film. Never have they been more anarchistic than in "Duck Soup". There's several of their movies that you can easily pick from them, especially their early ones, but "Duck Soup", is pretty much the one that you have to watch to get a good basic sense of everything the Marx Brothers represented, although to see all of their work is to see the roots of American comedy as we know it. They were the first true comedy film superstars of the talky era, and they took full advantage of it. Old vaudevillians whose Jewish humor, included practically every form of comedy, you can imagine. Groucho's quick-wit sarcastic comments, always looking for loops in conversation and innuendo-filled puns, while breaking the fourth wall (and every other wall at that), Chico's character work, playing the schemer, the Italian persona, playing with stereotype and character, even mime, with Harpo, who refused to speak back on the vaudeville stage, and became a master of props and music, sight gags,-, there is almost literally nothing in comedy that doesn't have a link to the Marx Brothers. The Rat Pack, "Saturday Night Live", Mel Brooks, the Farrelly Brothers, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, "Monty Python", "South Park",...- you name it, you can trace it back to the Marx Brothers. I can spend days just looking up Groucho's greatest lines. My favorite's "Hello, room service, send up a larger room," which is from "A Night at the Opera". "Duck Soup" is considered their best and more important work, for a number of reasons. It's the last film to have four Marx Brothers, with Brother Zeppo retiring from performing to become their agent, and also work as an engineer. (Gummo Marx, left the act years earlier to fight in WWI) Also, this was their last film for Paramount Studios, who dumped them after "Duck Soup" wasn't as big a hit, as their previous film "Horse Feathers", and MGM decided to make sure their movies had more straightforward and defined plots, as well as legitimate musical numbers and even minor romantic interludes in them fearing that audiences couldn't take too much of the Marx Brothers. So some of the other films are entertaining, like "A Night at the Opera" which was beloved enough, despite those breaks between the comedy sketches to make AFI's latest 100 Greatest Movies, they're better if you have a fast-forward button so you can skip to the good parts. What a waste of film to have to sit through an unromantic-romantic material with people like Kitty Karlisle when you could have an extra half-hour of excellent comedy.

“Duck Soup,” is also their most ambitious film. This movie, on top of being a bunch of ridiculous scenes based around getting laughs, is also a great early example of political satire. The story, which like all Marx Brothers movies really doesn’t matter, but anyway, Groucho, playing Rufus T. Firefly, gets appointed Dictator of Fredonia after Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Rutherford), the rich widow, who basically buys out the country from bankruptcy. Harpo and Chico play spies for the neighboring country of “Sylvania,” spying on Groucho, kind of. One of the best scenes is one where Harpo and Chico torture a lemonade salesman by continually switching each others hats with the poor guy. Eventually, Fredonia and Sylvania go to war over something, whatever, and the war scenes are hilarious, notice how Groucho’s outfit changes continually during the war scenes to represent the insanity of war. Like I said, the satire might be sharp, but nobody care if it wasn't funny, and the real treat of "Duck Soup", is wonderful joyous, continuous laughter from beginning to end.

Well, I’ve purposely backed myself into a corner here, so I can finish this paper with one of my favorite pastimes, quoting Groucho Marx lines: 

“Married. I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. But I can’t see the stove.”

“Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more that she ever did.”

“…Clear? Huh. Why a four-year old child could understand this report…. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail or it.”


“Well, that covers a lot ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it – I hear they’re going to tear you down and put up an office building where you’re standing…”

"You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there, risking life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here, thinking what a sucker you are."

"I could dance with you 'til the cows come home. On second, I'd rather dance with the cows 'til you come home." 

"Three men and one woman trapped in a building! Send help at once! If you can't send help, send two more women!" 



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

REFLECTIONS ON DUNDER-MIFFLIN: FINAL THOUGHTS ON "THE OFFICE"



I don't know of any show has more divided my household than "The Office". I recognized it's greatness nearly right away, but still nobody else in my family likes it, and I've never understood why. I personally believe that everybody who doesn't like something that's good, should be forced to sit through it until they like it, but for some reason, I've been advised not to do this, for several reason. Something about a Geneva Convention and Freedom of Choice, or some political bullcrap, but besides that, I've always wondered why this show in particular has caused such a split among people. Seriously, there are people who get it, and people who don't, and I truly believe that those who have chosen to not accept it until now, just don't fully understand the show.

Case in point, I talked about the show a few months back, when they introduced the Sound Guy character, Brian, into the on-camera story involving Jim and Pam's marital troubles. When I discussed this moment with my mother, who I know has seen many episodes of the show, whether she wanted to know, I then had to explain to her, that the show is being documented. It's been on nine years in America, and was created by Ricky Gervais in the UK two years before that, and she didn't figure out that the concept of the show was that, a documentary was being filmed of this office. Not understanding that, or why it's shot with the moving handheld camera from distance angles and such, is a very key aspect to understanding the show and the comedy there-in, and unless you had seen the British version on BBC America, you wouldn't have seen a sitcom with this kind of style and formula. Now, the single-camera sitcom structure's being stolen from everybody to some extent. "Modern Family" just blatantly stole it in fact. 

When it first was announced that "The Office" was getting an American version, I was skeptical at first, because I actually had seen the British version, and didn't quite get it myself. At that time, it was so unusually-structured that it took a couple viewings, to understand what was happening myself. Actually, when I was watching BBC America, way back to when I last has cable because of another show that NBC was making an American version of, Steven Moffat's "Coupling". Most of you know the name for his work since on "Doctor Who", which is still, waiting on my Netflix (I know), but the British version of "Coupling" is one of the funniest shows I've ever seen in my life. Still is. Basically, that show was "Friends" meets "Sex and the City", only it was twenty times smarter and funnier than both of those shows, and for all intensive purposes, it looks and seemed like a perfect natural fit show to be remade in America, and of course, "The Office", did not. We all know the results now, "Coupling" flopped badly, as it should have, it didn't transfer well. "The Office", wasn't an immediate hit either, but it caught on eventually, and despite bad ratings, it became a hit on itunes of all things, proving a fanbase that wasn't being counted in the Neilsen's. 

The show had things going for it. For one, it was character-based humor, not plot-based or gag-based, so they created rich characters. Very rich, and they kept doing it too. Few shows were able to be so successful by continually adding and subtracting characters. Steve Carell's departure was the biggest blow, and even during the look back, they seemed to have decided to just completely skip over the entire part with James Spader's role as Robert California, which slowed down season eight. Yet, look closer, Ed Helms became a star in his own right, wasn't on the show until the 3rd season, Rashida Jones's character came and went flawlessly before moving her to "Parks and Recreation". Melora Hardin's Jan character, change and evolved drastically from when we first saw her character. One of my favorite characters is Erin, the Ellie Kemper character, who came in after Michael and Pam left to temporarily start his own competing paper company. Temporary character? No, she became one of the show's most interesting ones, with an incredible backstory that developed over years. I can never forget the Secretary's Day Lunch Michael took her out to, where she found out about about Andy's previous relationship with Angela, and she hid her face with her hair, which she explained that being an orphan, was her equivalent of a room for her to hide in when she was a frustrated teenager. They never stopped growing characters, or introducing them even, and none of them were ever simple, and a slight nod to the camera spoke volumes.

They also, weren't all young and good-looking. I always find myself thinking about this, when I see some TV shows, where clearly, they're looking for the next "Friends", and cast all young and reasonable good-looking people. I always think of Tina Fey's observation in her book "Bossypants", that "Friends" was the exception, and that no other successful TV show, casted with that formula. Sure enough, very few shows needed a cast of irregulars more than "The Office", and then got it. Big, tall, smart, dumb, heavyset, skinny, multiple races, multiple personalities, gay, straight, etc. No show absolutely had to have a more contrasting cast than "The Office," and they did, and all of them were talented actors. Much less of the show is improvised than people think, and there isn't much harder on television than making a show that seems natural and improvised when it isn't, especially in comedy. You don't need just good comic actors, you need great actors, period. Actors, who are multi-talented as well. Many of the cast actually worked as writers and/or directors on the show. (Many of them, like Paul Liberstein, and Mindy Kaling were writers first, then became cast members.)

Another issue that had to be overcome, was the setting. Historically, TV shows and movies, set in an office, never do well, and are considered cult hits at the most. There's no real good explanation for why things like "Office Space" and "Clockwatchers", weren't hits at the time they originally came out, but the traditional thinking has been that, nobody wants to see a show about working in an office, because it usually ends up too close to their real life work. With all entertainment being escapism, why would somebody who's just been working all day in a dreary office job they don't like, with a boss they can't stand and co-workers that get on their nerves, why would you want to go home, turn on the TV, and relive it?

It's a fair point actually, but then again, if you can't find comedy in your average day-to-day life, then you really can't find comedy at all. The banalities of day-to-day life, and the things we do to try and get us through the day, whether it's meetings, or pranks, or falling in love, or whatever, it's all comedy. Thinking back on "The Office," as I've been since it had its emotional series finale last Thursday, I couldn't help but think that NBC knew enough to give this show the credit it really deserves. (Especially since, they kinda skimmed over the "30 Rock" finale, which should've been bigger than it was) In many ways, it basically rejuvenated a struggling network, as well as reinvent the kind of comedy that situation comedies can have. Based in a plausible reality, it was one of the few shows that could constantly switch from comedy to drama so seamlessly. It was consistently one of the best shows on television, even during it's worse year. The humor in the show really effected me, I'll say that. It's a different way to look at a joke. A guy, wears a funny hat, that's not funny. Guy doesn't know it's a funny hat, now you got something. That's where comedy usually starts, but where "The Office" came in was, "Can you believe this guy's wearing that crazy hat?" That where it starts, but then it goes beyond that. "Does he understand how crazy his hat is?" and then it asks, "Why doesn't he know..." The joke doesn't end, it keeps evolving. This is the real key to "The Office", like a documentary, it's not simply looking at the surface layer and letting it be, it's going beyond that, and digging in to the emotional cores of it's characters. We're discovering them, just as the workers are discovering them, just as the documentaries crew is learning about them.

Few shows are this unusually layered, or are even given the chance to evolve and grow as "The Office" did. I guess all shows that last awhile grow and change, but never has a show ever been so much about the changes over time that the people go through. Remembering "The Office" from the first episode, the unrequited love, Michael's fake firing pranks, and Jim jell-o-ing Dwight's stapler and all, it's amazing just how vastly different the lives and the characters were at the end. You see a place one day, you follow it, walk past it, go inside it, nearly every day, and then suddenly, you turn around, and it looks nothing like it was before, but it's still just as good as it was when you first see it. That's the legacy "The Office" will leave behind. It wasn't just a show where the characters changed and grew over time, it was a show about, how the characters changed and grew over time.

Actually, no, it's also about how we changed towards them as well. The audience watching the documentary's raw footage. That's the things, no previous show, so well incorporated its viewers into the show. The nods and winks to the camera, made us apart of "The Office", didn't they? Maybe I can understand why it might've been a little too much for some to comprehend, but I think the more you look, the funnier the show gets, and the more you begin to care about the people at Dunder-Mifflin, Scranton.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

POLL UPDATE! "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!": THE ONE WITH THE CLIP FROM "FRIENDS" AND WE ASK THAT MORE BALLOTS COME IN.



Well, we keep inching closer, towards our goal of 100 participants in this "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!" poll, but, like the inchworm, it's become a slow crawl, as oppose to the great sprint that I had once hoped this poll would be. You think that would deter me, but if I've learned anything about the film industry, it's that, you have to be persistent, if you're going to get anything done. So, we continue on, even though we're only getting a handful of ballots at a time, we keep on, and eventually, we're gonna get to triple digits.

So, here's the latest ballots that we've gotten, and also, I want to note that I'm glad were getting more fellow-entertainment bloggers participating in this, thanks James the Movie Reviewer!

JAMES THE MOVIE REVIEWER (J and J Productions) http://jandjproductions1809.blogspot.com/
1. Doctor Who ('05)
2. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
3. Seinfeld
4. Fringe
5. Stargate SG-1
6. Batman ('92 Animated Series)
7. Stargate: Atlantis
8. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
9. Sherlock ('10)
10. Hatfields & McCoys ('12)

JARROD ROETTGER
1. Firefly
2. Angel ('99)
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
4. Eureka ('06)
5. Grey's Anatomy
6. The Walking Dead
7. Dollhouse
8. Friends ('94)
9. Mythbusters
10. Star Trek: The Next Generation

JANE MASTANUONO
The Wire
Seinfeld
All in the Family
M*A*S*H
China Beach
Homeland
Mad Men
Rescue Me
The Sopranos
The Following

DAN McCULLOUGH
Arrested Development
Seinfeld
M*A*S*H
The Wire
Law & Order ('90)
Cheers ('82)
The X-Files
Southland
Archer
30 Rock

As always, there's no requirement that everybody rank their list, as average rankings only come into play with the results, as tiebreakers, and as you can see, two of our latest entries, chose not to rank their ballots. As to the full results, well, "Seinfeld" came in, in a big lead, and they've gotten they got the most votes again; they're starting to look a little like Secretariat in the '73 Belmont Stakes. Not many changes on the Top sheet results, although the recent votes for "Breaking Bad" and "Friends" bumped them into the Top Ten, but it's incredibly close. "Seinfeld," "All in the Family", and "M*A*S*H", have practically become consensus, while after that's it's pretty much up for grabs. Out of the 281 shows that have gotten a vote, 121, have gotten at least 2 votes so far. So, there's a lot of parody, a lot of different shows getting votes, and an extra vote or two, for one show or another, can put it in the Top Ten, but still, it'll take a lot of votes, to top those three, and they keep getting them.

No matter the results right now however, we still need some more votes, and more ballots submitted, to reach our goal So, for those who haven't voted yet, now is the greatest of times to do so!

Basically, this started out as an attempt to create a television equivalent to "Sight & Sound"'s once-a-decade greatest movie poll, and I started asking for people to submit their ballots of the "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!" I don't exactly have "Sight & Sound"'s readership, reputation, or for that matter, their ability to get critics and directors to participate in polls such as these, so it's open to everybody. If want to submit a ballot, just comment on this blog with your ballot, find me on Facebook, or one of the dozens of links I post of this blog, and post them there, or on Twitter, etc. However you can submit your ballot, submit your ballot.

There are a couple rules, by that's it, only two big ones, and they're fairly simple:

RULE #1: As long as it originated on television, it's eligible for the poll regardless of genre.
That means, you can vote for anything you want. Sitcom, drama, talk show, reality show, soap opera, news magazine, children's show, animated show, instructional show, miniseries, TV Movie, miniseries, network, cable,... etc. As long as it originally aired on television, it's eligible. (ie. you can't vote for "M*A*S*H", the original movie, because that was first shown in movie theatres, but you can vote for "M*A*S*H", the TV series, 'cause that aired on TV)

RULE #2: You must select 10, and ONLY 10 SHOWS. No picking more, no picking less. Just 10.

Now, other than that, just be as specific as possible with the shows you select, in case more than one show exists with that title or some other technicality. Also, in fact I do have to ask a question about your ballot, make sure to, A. have a name (No Anonymous Ballots will be accepted), and B, a relatively easy way I can contact you.

Other than that, that's it. So, take a little time, it's more difficult than it seems, especially the narrowing to ten shows part, for some people, is quite difficult, but once you make those tough decision, submit your ballot, and be counted.

So, what do you think are the "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!"




 for "M*A*S*H", the TV series, 'cause that aired on 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #63: "JOHN DIES AT THE END", "TO ROME WITH LOVE", "ROCK OF AGES", "SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD", "SOUND OF MY VOICE", "THE FAIRY", "KISS ME", "GIRL WALKS INTO A BAR" and MORE!

Don't ask me, how the hell this happened, but I somehow got a job writing an occasional report on Ring of Honor pro wrestling. Don't worry, I'm just the link here, you can read it on GuysNation.com. I mentioned to them, that I watch ROH and was bored by the WWE, and anyway, now I'm writing a brief report for them occasionally. It's fun, it's light, nothing too serious, so, if you, or anyone you know is a pro wrestling fan, let them know about the ROH Reports, on GuysNation.com, and here's the first one, posted yesterday:

http://www.guysnation.com/ring-of-honor-report-for-5122013

Alright, enough plugging, back to this blog. I don't know about you, but I'm glad we've finally met the mother in "How I Met Your Mother", and depressed, knowing that "The Office" is going to be over tomorrow. I might post a blog on "The Office" later this week, but also going on this week, the TV upfronts, and I'm already seeing a bunch of trailers and ads on facebook for all the new shows coming in 4 months, at least, and about five of my friends have already liked that damn "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." show on Facebook. Anyway, I'm gonna not discuss any of that, until they actually air, and I'm certainly not gonna like any of them until I see them. Oh, and NBC, you should've kept "Go On" on.

I don't know what anybody else thought about Angelina Jolie's mastectomy, but that was a helluva wake-up call news story yesterday morning. My tweet on that, led to some interesting discussions. Well, that's what she wanted, and good for her.

Alright, that's enough news and thoughts for the day, time for this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013) Director: Don Coscarelli

2 STARS



First things first, to quote "Shakespeare in Love", "Good title". Unfortunately that's probably the best thing about "John Dies at the End", but it's definitely worth noting. It's the first feature from cult horror filmmaker Don Coscarelli since 2002's, weirdly wonderful cult film "Bubba Ho-Tep" and you can find some shreds of inspiration here, but eventually the movie got so convoluted, with the continual double-backing into it's own gimmick so often, that by the time you can even comprehend the complexities of it, you've long stopped caring. Frankly, I'd have an impossible time, tying to explain every single action in "John Dies at the End", but basically, this is one of those movies where there's a big new drug out on the streets, this one's called soy sauce, for some reason that they thought was funny. (It was the first time, not much after that) What does this soy sauce do exactly? Well, either it turns you into some kind of lizard-like creature, or you can turn people into lizard creature, or it can open a portal into numerous multiverses, where you can find excuses to make an "Eyes Wide Shut" reference, or it can help you see the future, or, you can end destroying everybody in sight, including yourself, unless you maybe take a new body before the lizard-like takes yours...- I don't know what it does. It does a lot of crazy shit. Too much to make any sense out it, although how many drug trips, do actually make any sense? (Well, I guess Hunter Thompson and Aaron Sorkin probably had a few, I imagine, but other than that). The movie is being told in flashback by Dave (Chase Williamson) to a reporter he called named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) and he finally impresses Arnie, by doing a few cool mind tricks, like telling him exactly what dreams he had last night, one of the powers of soy sauce. He's also able to count how much change is in his pocket. I guess he's got, x-ray vision, psychic, telekinesis, abilities, or something. I guess it doesn't really make much difference what it actually does, as long as everybody's using it, and it's bad for you and possibly good for you, so that people from both sides want to get ahold of it, or the people using it. John (Rob Mayes) does sorta die a couple time, but ironically not the end. Hope I'm not totally spoiling that one, but by the time I understood any of it, I couldn't care less who lived or died, except possibly for Giamatti. And the rastafarian guy, Robert Marley (Tai Bennett) was pretty cool. There's a lot of small jokes, I guess it was intended as a comedy, and some kind of satire on a few different genres, but I really wasn't laughing that much. I was entertained I guess, by what they were coming up with, but the film lacked so much coherence that, I'm not sure any of it ever actually existed. I guess if you like horror comedy, you might be intrigued, but especially after knowing that Coscarelli is quite adept at telling a good story, this mess just feels like throwaway bits from unfinished scripts he was pushing together, and praying it worked.


TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012) Director: Woody Allen

2 STARS



Woody Allen's late-career surge through Europe, has been fairly hit-and-miss. While, it's easy to remember his recent masterpieces like "Match Point", "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," and "Midnight in Paris", it's tough to remember sometimes the forgettable ones like "Scoop", and "Cassandra's Dream". "To Rome with Love", which was originally titled "Nero Fiddled" (Which would've been a better title for the middle), belongs to the latter group. It feels like a combination of some of Allen's lesser ideas from long discarded scripts, pushed together, without any real connecting thread. Actually, it kinda does feel like three or more different movies altogether, two of them in Italian, and two in English. I'll start with Michelangelo and Hailey (Flavia Parenti and Alison Pill). Michelangelo's a human rights lawyer, while Hailey is an American tourist, looking for the Trevi Fountain. They soon meet, and fall in love, and now Hailey's parents, Phyllis and Jerry (Judy Davis and Allen)  come to Rome, to meet Michelangelo, and his family. His father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) is a mortician, which already freaks out Jerry, but after hearing his voice in the shower, the former classical music exec, thinks he's struck a goldmine. The only problem is that, he can only sing that well, when in the shower, but that doesn't stop Jerry, who his psychiatrist wife points out, affiliates retirement with death, so he decides to press on. The second story, is so quintessential Woody Allen, it comes with a running commentary. Two students, Jack and Sally (Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig) are in Rome. Jack, see an architectural mentor, John, (Alec Baldwin) one day, and invites him to come to his place for a cup of coffee. Jack used to live in Rome, near where John lives, many years earlier, and he knows when even Sally warns about her incoming friend actress friend Monica (Ellen Page) is coming to stay, it means trouble. John, then goes from, real person, to inner monologue, who sometimes can be seen and heard and talked to by everyone, or sometimes, is just heard by Jack, but either way, Jack's going to fall in love with Monica, despite all attempts not to. The third story, I think would've probably been the best film if, it was extended into one, involves an engaged couple, Antonio and Milly (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi), who are both anxious about their wedding, and his family is coming down. Then, Antonio somehow ends up in bed with a prostitute, Anna (Penelope Cruz), right as his family walks in. Anna now has to pretend to be Milly for Anna, as they travel and see the sights of Rome. Meanwhile, Milly walks onto a film stage, and begins debating whether or not to have an affair with Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese), a big-time movie star, who he claims, his marriage is secretly separated. This comes ahead, in two hilarious romantic scenes, one happening at a convention, where Anna has to inform nearly everybody who recognizes her, that she's going by Milly today, and another, involving a hotel room, and a robbery; all this after a close call at a restaurant, where both parties nearly run into each other. The fourth story, works because Allen knew enough to cast Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo, a typical office worker, who suddenly wakes up one morning, to find that he's very famous, for no reason what-so-ever. He goes on TV interviews, suddenly he has a hot secretary, and multiple mistresses, and even his wife Sofia's (Monica Nappo) run in her stocking, becomes a fashion trend. This probably would've been better as a short film, but, it is done well, even a little handicapped here, playing more of an everyman than usual for him, Benigni saves this bit, from really being a dud. "To Rome with Love" feels more like a bunch of fiddling around with a couple different plots, not really connecting us with any one in particular.This feels like Allen's way of getting some ideas out of his head, that have been bouncing for years, so now he can move on. There's some good stuff here, but it's a bit of a letdown, especially after "Midnight in Paris", for Woody; yeah, I can't really recommend it, knowing what else he can do.


ROCK OF AGES (2012) Director: Adam Shankman



Folks, I take great pride in the fact that I usually don't write too many notes when I'm watching a movie. This is counter to what I really should be doing, as a critic; I don't recommend that, but I usually have very good recall, especially if the movie, is any way memorable, I can usually remember what I want to say about it, without any more than, 2 or 3 notes per film. Sometimes, and you'll know it occasionally as I'm writing, if I watched the movie a week or two before I wrote it, and sometimes, I'm struggling to remember some details, especially if it's a forgettable film, but you know if it's a memorable movie, no need. I also like to do this, because the emotional response to the film, I feel is more important, than knowing every single detail about it. A movie is an experience, not something to study for, like a final exam. At the 58 minute mark in "Rock of Ages" however, I had to break this rule. I've paused this DVD, because I needed to write down, every single thought, going through at my head, as I watched this, film. Here is what I wrote down,  and keep in mind, it's rare that I ever write more than three of these notes:

ROCK OF AGES
Did she have to literally come off the bus?
Bourbon is obviously the Whiskey
Really? What is this, musical by number? Housewives hate the music, even Tipper Gore's saying shut up!
They made about 100 documentaries on the era, and one mockumentary, and this is the best story- I'm beginning to understand of a "Rocky" the Musical exists, they've run out of ideas!
Why are they doing the dancing from "Beat It", in the Pat Benatar musical number?
Bryan Cranston, gets whipped with a ruler.
This got how many Tony nominations?
Oh come on! She loses her suitcase, with all records, but somehow her bikini wasn't in the only suitcase she had? Is that what you spend your last $17 bucks on?
Of course her name's Sherry.
Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is a rock star who's so reclusive, so untrustworthy and who's behavior is so beyond outlandish ever for a rock star, that he could only have been inspired by Axl Rose, and I swear to God, I said that before he took his hat, and revealed the bandana.
This movie is literally, great actors in terrible roles, having a scenes, one-by-one with Tom Cruise
Wait, let me guess, she take off the glasses, unties the hair, and she's a slutty rocker at heart?
Is Malin Akerman, really singing a song, on her knees, while she's untying Tom Cruise's pants, with her teeth!?
Oh, dear God,  Akerman and Cruise, are literally reenacting the "Creature of the Night" scene from "Rocky Horror"! to Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is"?
Malin Akerman's ass has the best two-shot with Tom Cruise.
Malin Akerman is so talented, and her role is basically, show up, get fondle by Tom Cruise, and sing a song!
Okay, how did get Kevin Nash get a SAG card, and why he is now in everything!
I don't know who's "Behind the Music" they based this movie on,  ("God, I hope it wasn't 'Poison''s) but no matter few clothing you put on the girls, you really can't tell this story without tits. Flashing, bare-chested tits. You really, really can't. Seriously, this is Sunset Strip in the '80s, not Elton John at the Troubador!
Really, no nudity, in the strip club scenes!
This movie's so ridiculous, it's taken me this long (an hour) to realize that there's a monkey in it, the absolute clear cut sign of a movie's desperation.

After Stacee Jaxx, managed to drink and urinate at the same time, on purpose, and onto Paul Giamatti, I decided to stop taking notes, so it ended here. What else can I say about this film? How come the only new song they came up with was the Boy Band's one? Nobody could write an entirely new song, that might either, be a better fit than some of the actual songs, at least one, so that we don't keep saying stuff like "You didn't write that, Jon Bon Jovi did!" I think I saw Sebastian Bach as an extra, let him right a song for it! I better stop, this is turning into an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000", minus two robots, which thankfully weren't in "Rock of Ages". I don't even know how to grade this movie. I can just as easily give "Rock of Ages" 5 STARS, as I can give it ZERO STARS. This is one of those truly memorable, truly godawful- that it's so bad, you almost have to show it to people, to make sure that they know, you're not lying. Yet, it's entertaining enough, that I would actually show it to people. It's bad. It's tremendously bad, on multiple different levels. This is one of those films, where a rating, really means nothing. You're either gonna just enjoy it, or not, depending on-, well, I don't know what it's depending on, a state of mind, I guess. Maybe this is a good drinking game to play with some strippers, who actually do, strip.

Well, I've only done this three times previously, but here, sadly is number four:

ZERO STARS

I have to. I don't want to, but if I'm criticizing on my emotional feel, when watching this movie, I have to give it  ZERO STARS. I know, that this is an anomaly, everyone's too talented. Adam Shankman made "Hairspray" a couple years ago, and he's one of the best Broadway directors around, and almost all of these actors, have been better, and been in better movies. They will recover from this. But, for now, for "Rock of Ages", I have to do it.


SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012) Director: Lorene Scafaria

4 STARS



It's been years since I thought about this, but back in, I think it was 10th Grade, my English teacher would post a random question of the day for us to ponder and answer, and there was that question about, knowing that the nuclear war was going to happen a week from today, what would you do. Anyway, I didn't understand the question; it was just after 9/11, and I was pissed at Bush, and I wrote a long angry-hippie diatribe about dodging the draft and the inhumanity of a useless nuclear war, and totally missed the point, to consider what you would do, if you knew the end of the world was near. Honestly, I wish, even now I could say that, I'd break my habits, go out more, commiserate with people, party, maybe start smoking pot and injecting heroin, have all the sex I can, and be as carefree as I'd like, but I really doubt I'd do that, and I'm not sure what I'd do. But despite all my misanthropic tendencies and preferences, I don't think I'd want to be alone. Seems to me like nothing can more pointless or lonelier than to be at the end of the world, and not have anybody to at least feign celebrating it with. In "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World", Dodge's (Steve Carell) wife Linda (Nancy Carell) goes up and leaves him to go be with her boyfriend, right after news of the impending apocalypse is official, and the radio stations start their end of the world, classic rock coutndowns. He's an insurance salesman, who abruptly quits, and tries to have fun and party, while his friend Diane and Warren (Connie Britton and Rob Corddry) try setting him up with their single friends, at their dinner parties/dynamite-infused orgies, but no luck. At home, he suddenly gets mail, months late, from his old high school girlfriend Olivia, who he let get away years ago, and now she wants him back. He would've gotten the letter sooner, but it was in the wrong mailbox, but luckily, his neighbor Penny, (Keira Knightley) between sleeping through everything, ignoring her loser boyfriend and getting high listening to records, managed to save it. The rest of the movie, finds Penny and Dodge, on a road trip, through America, where God knows what's in the Mudslides at the way-too-friendly party restaurant,  the Trucker (William Petersen)  who's more than happy to give a ride to hitchhikers,  and the military survivalist, Speck (Derek Luke) who's enough gas mask and underground titanium walls in his bomb shelter to survive multiple apocalypses. Not all of this was played for laughs though. Yes, the satire is biting, but I found the movie for thoughtful, and forboding, and that's how I imagine the end of the world would be. There's been a few movies lately about the end of the world, Lars von Tiers's "Melancholia" being the best of them, as people do their best to cope and adept themselves for the inevitable. This movie isn't so neat; it suggest a more improvisation and sloppy but tenderhearted image of people coping and trying to fully grasp the depths of their feelings. I enjoyed "Seeking a Friend...", despite some slow points and flaws. The chemistry between Carell and Knightley is intriguing, but not exactly great, and at a certain point, the movie did seem to be, just a road movie, where we're wondering, which famous actor's gonna show up as a crazy character next. But, those are minor complaints. It's the feature film from Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria, who started as an actress/musician, but has begun transitioning to writing and directing. When Penny, leaves the house to run from the rioting looters, she collects dozens of records, and her dog, and music plays a key role, throughout the film, and I don't think it's satirical, I think she really can't imagine an end of the world, without music. When your life flashes before your eyes, there is usually a soundtrack, isn't there, why not one for the Apocalypse?


SOUND OF MY VOICE (2012) Director: Zal Batmanglij

3 1/2 STARS



"Sound of My Voice," is the first feature-length film from Zal Batmanglij, but it's the second film that's co-written and starring Brit Marling, after working with Mike Cahill on the transcendent film, "Another Earth", about a second planet Earth that suddenly became visible in the night sky, and Marling played a former high school graduate who enters a contest to join a flight crew up to the mysterious mirror planet. "Sound of My Voice," also takes an emotional approach to the possibilities of science-fiction, and the moral and human struggles involved. Peter (Christopher Denham) is a substitute teacher, but really, he's a documentary filmmaker along with his girlfriend, Lorna (Nicole Vicius), and they've begun an investigative documentary, by joining a cult led by the striking Maggie (Marling). After a blind car ride, and elaborate handshake, a change into more Grecian white clothes, they finally meet the mysterious Maggie, who usually drags an oxygen tank, and tells a story of waking up, drowning in a hotel room, and starving on the streets for days, before finally remembering her past, and that she's a time traveler from 2054. We get brief introductions to Lorna and Peter. Lorna's childhood resembled Drew Barrymore's rehab history, while Peter's mother was in a cult, one that probably resembled Christian Science, and after she was diagnosed with Cancer, she refused treatment, dying when he was 13. This vendetta against cults, would make it seem like he's the ultimate skeptic, and he starts out that way, even ingesting a recording device, in order to sneak it into the secret basement where Maggie lives, and never leaves. She even has her followers grow her organic food for her, as she's apparently allergic to food from this time. She however is quite powerful, even one time getting her followers, including Peter to vomit, as a way of supposedly purging out their energy. This scene, which opens some emotional boxes for the closed-off Peter, makes him more conflicted. Lorna realizes this, as she wonders why one of Maggie's followers brings her out into the woods, with no preparation, and holding a gun. Is she from the future, or a con artist? The movie doesn't quite say either way, although there's clues, and insinuations from Maggie's behavior. When asked to name a song from the future, she starts singing one, from the '90s, that she claims, a different artist remade. She also throws out members, who she claims, aren't there in the future, but it might be for confronting her on her future claims. When she mentioned she had a 54 written tattooed on her, and said that's where she was from, I thought it was Studio 54, at first. Shows you where my mind goes, but not important. "Sound of My Voice," is an intriguing film, and Brit Marling is one of the most interesting people working in film today. Filled with new takes on old genres and ideas, her acting and presence might be more powerful. It's one to write a character like Maggie, but it's another thing to play it, having to come off as a believable prophet that many would follow to a hidden basement hideaway, it's hard to imagine an actor, knowing that she can have that kind of presence, yet she does, and if it wasn't for her, the whole film might not have worked. It's certainly not up there with "Another Earth", for her, and even as a film about the insights of a cult, it's hard to top last year's "Martha Marcy May Marlene", but here's a rare talent with a distinct vision with the pen, and a natural ability and presence in front of the camera. It becomes a little too procedural at the end, and I'm 100% sure ambiguous ending works completely here, but more than enough to recommend, and we're certainly awaiting Brit Marling's next projects, with great anticipation.


THE FAIRY (2012) Directors: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy

4 STARS



The word you're gonna hear a lot this review, is quirky. Quirky, quirky quirky. Somewhere between Coen Brothers quirky and Aki Kaurismaki quirky, lies "The Fairy", from the Belgian directing team of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy, who did the strange film "L'Iceberg", a few years ago, about a mother who spends a day locked at her work's walk-in freezer, amazed to find that her family doesn't notice she was missing. The film also leaned toward the cerebral the obtuse, but compared to "The Fairy," it might as well be as straight-forward as any three-piece structured film. Dom (Abel) works as one of those oddball nighttime hotel clerks, who's annoyed every time, some new customer comes in, because he can't watch his TV show. One guy, Jon, an Englishman (Philippe Martz), first tries to get a hotel, with a small little dog. Then, a few minutes later, he comes back without the dog, and a bag that's walking up the stairs, while he's still trying to to figure out that the elevator's broken. Then, a woman walks in, Fiona (Gordon), announces that she's a fairy, and that Dom now has three wishes. He gives her a room, with a bum lightbulb in the nightstand table. Dom, then gets saved from choking to death on a sandwich by Fiona, using, what, has-to-be-considered the absolute definite incorrect way to perform the Heimlich Manuever. He then wishes to never spend money of gas again, and a scooter. The next day, there's a scooter in lobby, that he, usually is able to ride down the street without the scooter getting away and chasing it down. Then the movie gets strange. Wonderfully carefree, bizarre, quirky, strange. Fiona steals some shoes, there's a romantic skinny dipping, nude-ish, dance at the bottom of the Ocean, there's another dance, with a very pregnant Fiona on top of the roof, and complete with complaints that they're being too loud, after she goes into labor, and they keep it down. Oh, that dog goes missing, and the Englishmen, accidentally puts down, the wrong dollar amount on the reward flyer, which leads to some locals going to great lengths to find the dog. One of the times, when Fiona's captured in the insane hospital, one of her punishments is apparently writing "There's no such things as fairies" on a blackboard dozens of time, a punishment that usually only reserved nowadays for Bart Simpson. I don't know whether she is a fairy, or just some strange girl who thinks she is one, or something else, but the walked into Dom's life, she might as well be supernatural. Every once in a while, especially during moments when it seems like it can be useful, Fiona asks Dom about what to do about his third wish. He never answers. "The Fairy" is sweet, over-the-top, fun, that has to be seen to be appreciated. It's almost more cheerful Saturday Morning cartoon than a film, complete with a kiss that needs more than one police force to separate, and actually surviving a fall off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote. It's quirky, but it's fun to watch, and was probably fun to make. It's one of those films, where you get that sense of pure joy, and it's infectious. Quirky, quirky, quirky, quirky.


KISS ME (2012) Director: Alexandria-Therese Keining

2 1/2 STARS



Despite not being theatrically released in the United States, I was looking forward to "Kiss Me", because the last Swedish Lesbian film I saw, "Show Me Love", was such a good one. It was an older one, so I was hoping the next one would be better. "Kiss Me", isn't bad but it isn't anything special either, just another passionate story of two people who, for one trivial reason or another, fall in love, but take the entire movie, before they can fully commit to each other. In this one, the girl is Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez) who is engaged to Tim (Joakim Natterqvist). Her father Lasse (Krister Henriksson) is also engaged, to Elisabeth (Lena Endre). She takes Tim, to see her father, at the engagement party, it's the first time they've seen each other for years, but as they slowly rebuild their bonds, Mia sees Frida (Liv Mjones), Elisabeth's daughter, and they fall in love with each other. Practically falling into bed with each, in passionate love, and yes, there's a lot of love scenes. A lot, considering how this relationship, is basically kept secret for most of the film. Mia, continues to plan her wedding, and Frida has a girlfriend in Elin (Josefine Tengblad). Still, Mia's wedding plans, and her father's wedding plans continue on. They also continue to see each other sporadically, and yes, the sex scenes are romantic. This basically was the entirely of the film however. I could've been Romeo and Juliet, (Or, insert female equivalent name for Romeo,-, wait, what is the female equivalent to Romeo?) two star-crossed lovers, but there isn't nearly the built-in tension their affair would actually casue, other than a couple people's feelings getting hurt, and it's way too much meandering. There's a bunch of great stories about two people, gay, straight, whatever, who fall in love, and delay being with each other, for trivial reasons, many of them are actually rather good, but "Kiss Me", really isn't one of them. The fact that the movie's well-made makes this a particularly difficult negative review, 'cause the good performances and directing damn-near save the film. It's only Director Alexandra-Therese Keining's second feature film, after her '02 film, "Hot Dog," which was widely-talked about, but did rather mediocre in the theatres. The trouble is that, sometimes good and well-made aren't enough to make up, for the same story told again.


GIRL WALKS INTO A BAR (2011) Director: Sebastian Gutierrez

1 STAR



"Girl Walks into a Bar", can, and has been a catalyst for dozens of movies and stories. "Casablanca," comes to mind, that whole film wouldn't happen if a Girl didn't walk into a bar. I would've prefered if "Girls Walks into a Bar" didn't happen at all, but it did. This movie, wasn't based on the wonderous hypothetical that I just pointed out, that I could've written dozens of wonderous stories from, but it was actually based on a scene in Gutierrez's cult hit film "Elektra Luxx" (Haven't seen, I think it's on my Netflix like everything else it, but I'd actually have to double-check that one to be sure), and does in fact, begin with a girl, Francine Driver (Carla Gugino) a cop, who's actually working as an undercover hitman, who's just got Nick (Zachary Quinto) a dentist, on tape, ordering the death of his wife. After this encounter, Nick goes off to get money that he had previously loaned one of his patients, a well-known gangster, Aldo (Danny DeVito, in his only scene), and Francine, gets her purse stolen by Herny (Aaron Tveit), which happens to have the leave with teh tape of Nick, confessing to hiring the hitman to kill his cheating wife. This is when the sub-Altmanesque narrative begins, and we meet Herny's sister, Theresa (Emmauelle Chiriqui) who's used to working cons with her brother, but currently, she's on her own, with a distinctive "Lucky You," tattoo on her shoulders. The film, opened very briefly in L.A. before, becoming the first feature film, available for free download on Youtube, with major stars in it. The movie goes from person-to-person, from bar to lounge, all over L.A., and at one point, to a nudist ping-pong club, where an attempted robbery occurs, which is as boneheaded as it sounds, but on top of that, the movie, on Netflix at least, black barred all the nudity during a crucial scene, probably so that it can play on Youtube. This is the kind of movie that thinks it's got smarter and more observant dialogue than it actually does, while most of the characters don't have much to them, so they come off as set pieces at best, and cliched characters at worst. I kept watching the movie 'til the very end, thinking that there'd be something after the line dancing sequence at the end worth noting, but there wasn't. There's great actors coming in and out of the movie, and some coincidences and ironies, but all this has been done, so much better and smarter in so many other movies, all I wondered by the end, was "Why didn't he start all over with the original catalyst, and come up with a real story worth telling?" Gutierrez is style over substance, but even the style feel flat and dated. There's a lot of good actors in this film, like Josh Hartnett, Rosario Dawson, Xander Berkeley, Robert Forster, Alexis Bledel, etc., There's no character here I haven't seen before, no witty dialogue, nothing new that I can even point to, that's even remotely memorable or interesting; except for the fact that he uses film noir as his motif, there wasn't anything I liked about "Girl Walks into a Bar". I can see on rottentomatoes.com, that so far, no professional film critic, has even gone out to review the film, even thought it's been free for everyone to watch for two years, and frankly I'd tell them to stay away, and go watch one of the dozens of great films, stories, oh, TV shows, can't forget "Cheers", which begin with a girl walking into a bar.


THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) Director: Harry Selick

2 STARS



A few close friends of mine, will be happy to know that I have finally crossed this one off my shame list, but they will not be particularly happy how I feel about it. My original reason for having passed over this one, when I was eight-years old, was that, as a kid, I simply hated Halloween. I don't have that natural appreciation for being scared that some people do, nor do I like scary things, or dressing up and trick-or-treating, as it directly confronted my big fear of knocking on people's door. (Understand this, I was not afraid, of what was behind the door, I knew that was candy, but I was afraid of knocking on them, at all. It's an important distinction, I insist all be aware of.) On top of that, I was never the biggest Tim Burton fan. I gave his latest animated adventure, "Frankenweenie" a negative review recently, for much the same reasons that I've giving "The Nightmare Before Christmas", which he wrote and produced, a negative review, as always, amazing and unparalleled visuals, but he never follows them through with a story, unless it's something like "Ed Wood", or "Sweeney Todd...", where the story is already provided, and in the latter's case especially, practically a ready-made project perfect for Burton visual sensabilities. "The Nightmare..." begins the night after Halloween, in Halloweentown, where the whole town is done with it's traditional wonderous night of scaring and freaking people out. However, Mayor Jack Skellington (Danny Elfman, when singing, which is often, and Chris Sarandon, when not), is bored and tired of Halloween, and scaring, and one day, as with Plato's allegorical caveman, (I don't know why I'm throwing in the obscure references today, must be coming down with Dennis Miller Syndrome) he eyes become open, when he accidentally wanders into Christmastown, and begins studying up on Christmas, hoping to take over for Santa this year, just so he can have one enjoyable night. The townspeople, are loving the idea, because they think the goal is to take Christmas for themselves, and begin scaring everyone when they least expect it, and another night of scaring, is widely-regarded, except by Sally (Catherine O'Hara) who's a science experiment turned prisoner of Dr. Finklestein (William Hickey), who's constantly stealing body parts of her, so that she'll have to come back after she escapes, to be put back together. She sees Jack's earnestness, and foresees the bad things coming, when the Halloween people take over Christmas. There's a lot of music in this film, a lot! I can't remember an animated movie with so much music since Don Bluth's disastrous "Thumbelina", which I'm pretty sure had three songs sung, before it had ten words of dialogue. Thankfully, the music in "The Nightmare Before Christmas", is much better, The problem however, is that, this isn't really a full story as it is, a cute sketch that's been stretch to an hour and fifteen minutes, and like I said, and unusually high amount of it, is music. The visuals, are amazing, as always, and the stop-motion animation truly is something to behold, but the movie is only half a good idea, and a lot of visuals and music, stretching it to a feature-length film, and I can only be distracted by music and visuals so often, while waiting for Act 2. I'll admit, to appreciating Halloween a little more now, and my fear of knocking on doors has mostly subsided, but "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is lacking.


BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA (1996) Directors: Mike Judge w/ Mike De Save, Yvette Kaplan and Brian Mulroney

3 STARS



For a while this week, I thought "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America", was gonna be the bright spot of this batch of movie reviews, and then I saw "The Fairy" and then "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World", and my faith in movies, was once again, rejuvenated. I was never that big a fan of "Beavis and Butt-Head," I was always more of a "Daria" fan growing up, but I certainly knew who they were, and definitely knew some people who were a little too addicted to "Beavis and Butt-Head". One of my old friends from middle school, could've been mistaken for either one of them or both at any given time, (He knows who he is) and once in a while I'd occasionally see an episode, which basically consisted of Beavis and Butt-Head, sitting on the couch, watching music videos on MTV, and making the childish remarks of and grunt-like laughs, when anybody said a syllable that could even remotely be considered rude. Man, times have changed. Music videos on MTV, that was awhile. Anyway, in "...Do America", Beavis and Butt-Head (Both voiced by Mike Judge) wake up on their couch, only to realize, eventually that the TV is gone. It takes them a while to realize it was stolen, (Actually, in hindsight, I'm not completely sure they did come to that conclusion, but they definitely knew the TV wasn't there anymore) so, they head out, and search for TV. Eventually, this leads to them, being confused for hitmen by Muddy Grimes (Bruce Willis), who sends them out to Vegas to kill his wife Dallas (Demi Moore), who's got a stolen, deadly explosive, and manages to hide it in Beavis's pants, and send them on their way to Washington. There's no real point in explaining the rest of the plot, but as they're heading through America, including the White House, and Yellowstone Park, and the desert with a couple of old Motley Crue roadies, who don't realize they're their fathers (Earl Hofert [aka David Letterman] and Tony Darling) occasionally finding time for masturbation in Tom Anderson's camper. It's nice to see that early Mike Judge character, which clearly was the original inspiration for Hank Hill on "King of the Hill". There's a few other characters they run into, including an old woman (Cloris Leachman), who loses everything in Vegas, and apparently everything she says is heard a lot dirtier in Beavis and Butt-Head's mind. Their objectification of women is interesting to study, as they seem to be completely inept at all forms of human emotion, but do in fact have their pre-pubescent urges towards women; probably a side-effect of their TV viewing habits, but that would be taking Beavis and Butt-Head too seriously. There's also a funny cameo by Robert Stack, playing an ATF agent, who's determined to be thorough on all his cavity searches, playing a bit off of his famous role in "Airplane!", and it's always good to hear Robert Stack's distinctive voice again. I don't know, if I ever really laugh at Beavis and Butt-Head, I more or less, hold in my laughter, with a tight-lipped shy smile, while I look down, close my eyes, and shake my head going, "Yep, people like this actually exist, don't they?, and a few of them probably are in Congress?" Part time-warp to the '90s, and part cultural satire, "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America", surprisingly still holds up rather well, even today, which makes me feel disappointed in humanity, but glad I got to watch a decent movie. Although, I'm pretty sure I'd be satisfied with my life, if I never hear the word "Cornholio", again.


SLIDING DOORS (1998) Director: Peter Howitt

2 STARS



There really isn't much to "Sliding Doors".

I guess I should write a little more, huh? Very well. "Sliding Doors" was the directorial debut feature for British actor Peter Howitt, and the original idea has some possibilities, if only they were actually explored. Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a P.R. consultant who gets fired one day, and from there, we get two different versions of what took place next, one in which, she catch the subway, and gets home to find her fiance Gerry (John Lynch) having an affair with Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and another where she doesn't catch the train, and she doesn't realize her fiance's having an affair. After she catches her husband, in that scenario, she starts seeing James (John Hannah), who's nice, and everything he seems at the surface, and even convinces her to start her own P.R. firm, but is secretive about something, that's trivial, it's not even worth revealing for the spoiler, but it's dumb. Anyway, in the other scenario, Helen starts working at her fiance's family restaurant, and even delivers food at one point, to a vindictive Lydia, who's preparing a trap play of her own, to have Gerry all to himself, and Helen, only at the fringes of her, thinks that there may be something going on with Gerry. Both scenarios involve pregnancy, and an accident, and in both scenarios, the ending is essentially the same, or at least, on it's way there, begging the question, "Well, then, what the hell was the point of all that?" There's a general rule that if you're gonna do something, you should always do three, instead of two, with of course, the exception being Stanley Kubrick, especially when regarding how things change, and how, if things happened just a little different, and chance and coincidences beyond our control, beyond our control have a way of altering our life, you really want to make it worth it, to distinguish, and in interesting ways. Kieslowski was good at this, with films like "The Double Life of Veronique", but I think version of this two stories, same incidents, scenario was the underrated Woody Allen film, "Melinda and Melinda", which involved the same plotpoints, and essentially the same story, but one told as a comedy, and the other as a drama, and both stories were being told by two New York playwrights, having an argument over dinner about whether life was tragedy or comedy. That film came out after "Sliding Doors", so that couldn't have been used as a prototype at the time, unfortunately. I think it's nice to tell multiple stories, but at least one of them, has to really be interesting, and neither one of these are. Gwyneth Paltrow does a good job with the two scenarios, their isn't much else to say about that. The movie is dreary too. They couldn't have changed, the lighting cues for both stories? Well, since there really isn't that much difference between the two stories, I guess not. "Sliding Doors", is in intriguing for a minute, then it's cliche-riddened boring melodrama, that's filled with some plot-driven manipulation, that's kinda frustrating. I'll say this, the actual sliding doors, is a good visual motif idea.


VEGAS VACATION (1997) Director: Stephen Kessler

1 STAR



Ah, Vegas in the nineties, when we were portraying ourselves as a family entertainment tourist attraction. I remember those Mayor Jan Jones years well. There could've been a decent film or parody made about that at the time, "Vegas Vacation," though.... Even "National Lampoon's chose not to have their name attached to this one, and considering some of the straight-to-video crap they have put their names on, that's saying something. I'm not the greatest expert on the "Vacation" movies. I've seen the first one a few times, and it's funny as hell, and behind "...Animal House", I think it's pretty safe to say it's the 2nd best National Lampoon film. I've also, tried to sit through "...European Vacation" a few times, I seem to have recalled listening to Amy Heckerling's director commentary on the DVD of that film once, although now that I'm thinking about, I might've just been dreaming that I did that. (Wow, what a weird dream) "Vegas Vacation" also marked the first time John Hughes didn't write the script to a "Vacation" film, so there's a lot already against this film, and sure, if it was Mighty Casey, it would've strucken out, but since it's Vegas, let's say it hit on 19, and busted. Oh, and speaking of that, somebody should tell Clark (Chevy Chase) that the only casino game where the house doesn't have a mathematical advantage is poker, not blackjack, although the scenes of him losing to Marty (Wallace Shawn) the vindictive, blackjack dealer are entertaining  enough. The Griswald kids are teenagers now, but to Rusty's (Ethan Embry) disappointment, he's not old enough to gamble, although he tries to find a way, eventually getting a decent fake I.D. Clark intends to head down to a wedding chapel to renew his vows with Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), but she soon becomes the object of Wayne Newton's (Himself) affection, as he begins hitting on her during his show. Audrey (Marisol Nichols) can't find much to do either, until Cousin Vicki (Shae D'Lyn) gets her to lose herself a bit at the boneyard, and later gets a job as a go-go dancer. Oh yeah, Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) is around in Vegas, living near Area 51 and getting radioactive or something. There's a cute scene involving a callback to Christie Brinkley from the first movie, still in her red ferrari and looking the same, and if anybody's seen her even lately, fifteen years later, not much has changed about her since. Anyway, there's a parade of the typical Vegas tourist spots. The Hoover Dam tour sequence wasn't that funny, and frankly should've been played as more terrifying than it was. It's always good to see Seigfried and Roy again, in anything, even this. I actually happened to be watching some old videos of them recently, and boy, are they missed. I mean, somebody like me, who's born, raised and still living in Vegas, is six degrees from every magician in Vegas, knows more about the secrets of magic than most, but knowing all that, and still asking "Where/How the hell did they hide the tiger?". We're never gonna see that again. Anyway, it was nice reminiscing, but it wasn't much of a movie. Chevy Chase's detached acting style of comedy gets on my nerves after awhile, since there's nothing to grasp or hold onto with him, and in a really bad film, like this one, it's not worth it. Also, Wayne Newton shouldn't be acting, ever. Even as himself here, just, really bad. Nice of him to let them use his house, but still, those scenes were hard to watch. Well, a documentation of a Vegas that doesn't exist anymore, there's some old memories brought back, but I still contend that there isn't much reason to bother with any of the post-"Vacation," "Vacation" films. For locals only, and frankly even then....