Saturday, May 4, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #62: "ZERO DARK THIRTY", "A ROYAL AFFAIR", "THE PAPERBOY", "KILLER JOE", "THIS IS NOT A FILM", "SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN", "YOUR SISTER'S SISTER", "BLACK BUTTERFLIES", "THE ISLAND PRESIDENT", "MY PERESTROIKA", and MORE!

Sorry for the delay in my posting this latest edition of my "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS", it's been busy here, and there's been a lot going on, and apparently, I have annoyed a few people. I swear, that was not at all, my intention. For those who don't know, I posted my LAMMYs ballot, on one of my earlier blogs, the link is below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/04/my-lammys-ballot-yeah-yeah-more-time.html?showComment=1367540224391#c6243792651559140079

and in doing so, not only continued my theme of being outraged at the lack of my inclusion of the ballot, but I decided to discuss nearly each nominee personally, and in many cases, criticized them, what some would call, harshly. Since then, I have gotten many comments from irate fellow bloggers, and a few positive ones, all of which I've answered. I'm sure many who haven't commented are equally at a lost for my actions. One of them, has gone on to be comment on my last blog entry, my Canon of Film piece on "The Visitor", particularly critically. Some of the criticisms, I agree with, much of the reaction was no surprise to me, but I've been called "Spiteful," "ridiculous", "pathetic,", "disrespectful," "untalented", "not knowledgeable", that last one, I take great offense too, (Some of the others, not so much, I was definitely spiteful) and a barrage of complaints from one Anonymous commentator, about how my entire blog needs a makeover, and that my header is blinding, and some have completely attacked my blog-writing style, and one attacked the syntax of my blogs. That one, hurt, 'cause my syntax is often wrong, and I absolutely hate that I think so much quicker than I type, that I do get my tenses tangled more often than I should. I responded to all of these, but I wanted to focus on one specific part of my responses, which if you'll permit me, I will restate here for everyone to read:

As to why I wrote the Lammys blog, a lot of reasons, but the need to bash others, wasn't one of them. I like writing in different voices, characters and styles sometimes, I decided to write the blog as a P.O.ed heel blogger, because I thought it'd be a challenge; it'd be entertaining, and maybe people would read it and like it (Yes like it), also it would be a nice release from my LAMMYs disappointment, so I can move on. Write about things I really want to write about. I also liked how I'm revealing my thought processes, and that I'm making light of how we decide to give Awards out like these. The piece was as much conceptual as it was serious. Some people got it; I even got some praise, but some didn't like it. It got a lot of hits, and I got more responses than usual. Whether they're positive or negative, I'm glad I got an emotional response out of my readers. That's the goal! Some new people know me now, maybe they'll look a little closer.

It's been slightly altered from it's original version, as well as the version that I eventually posted in the comment section, but that was/is my intention with that blog, and the only apologies I will make for it, are the grammatical errors. I stand behind it, every word, which by the way, I've gone through that blog, multiple times since, and while I was critical of other blogs, (And being a critic, I don't see why I shouldn't be critical, especially when asked to make such a choice for an Award) the majority of my criticisms are well-thought out, heavily-researched, and most of the criticism was praise for my fellow bloggers. There was no ill-will intended, towards anybody. If any of you believe of felt otherwise, I don't know what to tell you, other than that was not the case.

It was a lot of work, writing that blog, and coming up with my Lammy Award choices, and no matter what I say about anything, or anyone, I can respond by saying that I am my biggest critic, and that nothing I wrote, was anywhere near the meanness and harshness of the things I've said about myself and my writings. I hope all other entertainment bloggers, feel the same way about that as I do.

And now, back to the things I really want to write about, the latest edition of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) Director: Kathryn Bigelow

5 STARS



 
After watching "Zero Dark Thirty" and thinking back on, well everything that happened post-9/11, I've become convinced that the only real reason that we actually went on a path of torture, wasn't because we thought it would help us catch Bin Laden, but we thought that, since we couldn't catch him, we thought torturing those who may have knowledge, would help us release our frustration and make us happy. Did the torturing help, yes, but not that much. Not much at all actually. It helped in the same way that all interrogations, eventually give us some information, but torturing potential terrorists suspects in an effort to find Bin Laden, was about as successful as trying to hit a Roger Clemens's fastball by learning how to throw a knuckler. What truly did eventually lead us to catching Bin Laden, was detective work. Not just the gathering of information, but the searching through, and piecing the puzzle pieces together, and following leads, working backwards, getting extra manpower on the ground to search for new leads. One FBI agent, thought baking a cake on a potential informant's birthday would help. I don't know how much of "Zero Dark Thirty" has been embellished, but I hope very much, that the birthday cake, was something imagined. I guess there's no real point in explaining the plot of "Zero Dark Thirty", we all know what happened, the movie is about how they actually got there, and the long arduous process it took, and the determined girl at the CIA, who got it done, when no one else would. At one point, Maya (Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain) has to convince her boss, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler) just how important the search for Osama Bin Laden, or UBL, as he's short-handedly referred to occasionally, is, as he wants to give up, and look more closely at other targets, like American sleeper cells. After the recent bombings in Boston, part of that reasoning could be understandable. There were numerous terrorist attacks, between 9/11 and the capture of Bin Laden, we gloss over and forget a few of them, "Zero Dark Thirty", refuses to do that, showing us how we were caught offguard by them, and some where we used the knowledge, or lack thereof to trick suspects into talking, and even a few times, where we tripped over our feet. The one with the Birthday cake was the bombing at the Camp Chapman army base in Afghanistan, when the agent, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) was fooled by a video of a supposed Jordanian doctor who was in Bin Laden's inner circle. When he arrives for the interrogation, he blew up, causing the biggest CIA casualties to date, and arguably their biggest single mission failure ever. The film is Director Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to her Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker", which was also written by former journalist Mark Boal, and there was some controversy when she didn't get an Oscar-nomination for Directing "Zero Dark Thirty", and the movie itself, caused controversy on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for it's depiction of torture. I've already given my response to that, as to the film, it's more of an investigative film than the character study that "The Hurt Locker" is. There's a subtext, about Maya, (A character based on a real person who's true identity remains secret) being a woman in a man-dominated world of the CIA and Washington bureaucrats. There's a few interesting cameos in the film that come up sporadically like James Gandolfini, Mark Duplass, and Chris Pratt, but few of them are ever elaborated on. If there was one thing curious I found, it was the lack of the a score, of any kind during most of the movie, including during the final raid scenes, if Alexandre Desplat's score was there, I didn't hear it. The only thriller I can recall that didn't have a score was "The China Syndrome", also an intense film about an life-altering event that's occurring, and it gave that film a sense of reality, and something kinda similar happens here, but it's almost done to an anticlimax, which is just as interesting actually. "Zero Dark Thirty" is a wonderful technical masterpiece, if not a perfect film. It gives us every essential detail it needs, and little more, if anything. Things could've been added or even taken out, just to get to make a more dramatic movie, but that wasn't needed, and not doing that was the correct decision.

A ROYAL AFFAIR (2012) Director: Nikolaj Arcel

2 1/2 STARS



Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel, was the writer on the Swedish version of the "Dragon Tattoo Trilogy", that I've spoken of my fondness for on several occasions. "A Royal Affair," is the first film I've seen of his that he directed, and it earned an Oscar nomination for "Best Foreign Language Film". I guess this is a film based on historical events, but pretty much all of these kinds of movies are. The kind where one royal has an affair, that amazingly parallels the country's revolution, or in some cases, actually revolutionizes the country, in this case, Denmark. It may be a true and even major historical event, but I'm not sure that it necessarily means that it makes a good movie. Princess Caroline (Alicia Vikander) of England, is betrowthed, betrowed? betrothed, (Really Spellcheck? Alright, I'll trust you) to King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) of Denmark, and unfortunately for her, the rumors about his madness are true. The madness in the Danish royalty is long used as a story plot, you can ask Shakespeare about that one, but yes, King Christian is juvenile and demented, unsuitable to tie his own shoes, much less run a country. However, he becomes fast friends with Dr. Johann Streunsee (Mads Mikkelson), and Johann and Caroline begin having an affair. From this affair, they begin planning the revolution of Denmark, by both manipulating King Christian. Their actions seem tame by today's standards, unless maybe you're a Tea Party person, but she helped institute things like orphanages, among other things in a Denmark that was previously rules by the super-rich, who Christian first started going against. Their affair, becomes the catalyst that leads to bringing the modern age to Denmark, in the 18th Century. The same way that, all the other major romances of Royal European history seem to the catalyst for their historical revolutions. Maybe I've seen too many of these lately. "The Tudors", "The Affair of the Necklace", which I saw recently, a few other historical pieces lately. Frankly, I don't know why, I really have kinda gotten tired of these behind-the-scenes Royal maneuvering and manipulation, trickery. I can admire a film like "A Royal Affair" from afar. It's a beautifully shot movie, filled with costumes and makeup, and great cinematography, but I was bored stiff. I knew where this story was going, and I didn't know the history of the people characters involved, I basically could've guessed it, and  I felt like I was watching it on autopilot, and the movie didn't do anything to take me off of it. I guess I admire "A Royal Affair", for its technical skill, but I was left cold. "A Royal Affair" might as well have been called "Another Historical Romance Drama" to me. Maybe on a better day, I'd have a different opinion, but for now, I wasn't really impressed with "A Royal Affair". I won't stop anybody from seeing it, but I can't quite recommend it.

THE PAPERBOY (2012) Director: Lee Daniels

3 STARS



Especially since she won the Oscar, Nicole Kidman has become one of the most peculiar and underrated actresses around. She's shied away from mainstream Hollywood roles in recent years and taken some of the strangest, most daring and toughest roles around, yet she still has the aura of the Hollywood superstar that she is, and even in some of her best and most interesting roles, like "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus", or her Oscar-nominated turn in "Rabbit Hole", she seemed reluctant to accept her new role as the Indy Film Queen. In "The Paperboy," Lee Daniels's follow-up to "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire", she's lost all her reluctance. The movie takes place in Florida in the late '60s, right after the murder of the vile and racist local Sheriff Call (Danny Henemann). Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) is  a successful investigative journalist, coming back home, to study the case of the convicted murderer Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), whose case was somewhat shotty in terms of the law, and like many were at the time, are investigating the practices of the local smalltown law enforcement, in regards to trials. He returns to his old home, along with his writer, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) a London-born Black man, who's getting his first real taste of the Civil Rights era American South. Ward sets up shop in his father's Tyree's shed (Ned Bellamy) who runs the town's local newspaper, and is about to get remarried to Nealla (Ellen Guthrie) who's clearly the one, the least enthusiastic about having a black man eat at the dinner table. So far, I've given you backdrop, but the main character of the film, is actually Ward's brother's, the teenage Jack (Zac Efron), and is told in flashback, to a different reporter, presumably, by the family maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray, is a surprisingly strong performance). Jack, is a good-looking young kid, but instead of hunting girls his own age, he spends his time masturbating to Playboys, and fixated on the hypersexual Charlotte Bless (Kidman), the woman who's engaged to Hillary, and has been having correspondence with him, and many other prisoners for years through the male. She's convinced that based on the sexual fantasies he describes, that he must be innocent. She's the one that contacted Ward and Yardley, as they begin investigating the case. They use Charlotte as they try to interview Hillary in jail, but they never actually get that far, as their visits amounts, to the jailhouse interview version of phone sex, complete with insults. It's hard to describe the movie from here. I can describe some scenes, especially the ones with Charlotte in them, but that's gonna make this film seem exploitative. Charlotte is in love with Hillary, but is a sexual creature at her core, eventually, there's a tender relationship she forms with Jack, that's both inevitable, yet destined for disaster. The second half of "The Paperboy", takes us in an entirely different direction. If for some reason you think so far that this film is some strange combination of "Mississippi Burning" meets Mrs. Robinson, be forewarned, this movie takes a few bad turns, in terms of quality and content, and becomes a far darker picture, as well as a somewhat incomplete one at that. For instance, we never get any closure with the voiceover, which suddenly switched from a storytelling narrative, to one that seems aware that we're watching a movie, and for all the sex, and especially the rough sexual acts in the movie, most of which involves Charlotte, arguably the roughest, and most shocking sex scene actually involves McConaughey's character. Despite the last half of the film, which could've benefitted from a rewrite, I still have to recommend "The Paperboy" for what it does well, and particularly the performances. Kidman got surprise Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for this film, and I can see why. In a way, the movie hinges on her performance, and this character, and the movie fails most, when suddenly it's out-of-her-control what happens next. It's based on a Peter Dexter novel; I don't know how it compares content-wise to the book, but Daniels's tries about as much as he can to make it structurally sound for a film. I think he's got just a few too many pieces to juggle, but I certainly admire the ambition and the attempt.

KILLER JOE (2012) Director: William Friedkin

4 1/2 STARS



In other hands, the material in "Killer Joe" could be reconstructed into a farce. That's not to say that there aren't laughs in "Killer Joe", but this film is pure, fucked up, American tragedy. It's actually the second film directed by William Friedkin, that's based on a play by Pulitzer Prize winner, (And as of Wednesday morning, current Tony-nominated actor) Tracy Letts, after Friedkin's last film "Bug", which I actually reviewed, on my blog awhile ago, and I gave that film a negative review, which I was probably a little harsh on actually; I probably should've bumped it up half a star, but I stand by my note that "Bug" should really remain on the stage, and not on film. "Killer Joe", is vastly better than "Bug", and is one of Friedkin's very best films, arguably the best thing he's done since "The Exorcist". Similar to "Bug," it takes place in the American South, and much of it, in a trailer. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) comes home, to his stepmom's pubic hair, at the door. His father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) works as a mechanic, who's not exactly the dimmest of bulbs, but he is a little too simple, for the situation he's about to come into. His wife Sharla (Gina Gershon, man, it's always good to see her in something) works at a pizza joint, and I use the term "work" loosely, as she spends much of her time having affairs. Chris is in deep to the Mob, not surprising anyone, but he needs money fast, and he has a solution in having his mother and Ansel's ex killed, to collect on the insurance. The only problem, is that the insurance money all goes to Chris's waif sister Dottie (Juno Temple), who also lives in the house, and is slightly older than a teenager, but she's still is rather innocent compared to the rest of the family, and is probably a virgin. The only boyfriend she talks about, was when she was in elementary school. The title character is Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, and I can't remember the last time I've seen two good films of his in the same week either), who's a police officer by day, but is a hitman for hire, who the Smiths were willing to pay half the insurance to, but he won't kill, unless the payment comes ahead of time, however, he takes a liking to Dottie, who he met earlier at their house, trying to mimic Bruce Lee by studying his films, and makes a counteroffer to accept Dottie as a retainer. Well, they're already trying to kill the mother, so, using Dottie as payment, isn't exactly out of the question, and Dottie, actually didn't care much for her either, or for some of her ex-boyfriends. They don't tell her about the deal, until after thye buy her a dress for the date she has with Joe. Joe doesn't like that she wasn't informed ahead of time, but strangely, he's genuinely sympathetic towards her, mostly, even during some of their most sexual-based foreplay. Soon, Killer Joe, has basically moved into the house, and into Dottie, (Yeah, that's a bad pun.) as it seems as though he's delaying the murder, but sure enough, things go as plan, and their Mother is blown to pieces. Some have noted the film and plays, humor, like I did earlier, and there's some scenes that can be played humorously, but at it's best, "Killer Joe", works as the nightmarish family drama that this film is. There's a lot of violence in this film, as well as sex, almost all of it graphic, and one scene involving a chicken leg, that-, well, I'm not quite sure how to describe that scene, but you'll remember it. McConaughey has deservedly gotten most of the acclaim for his acting in this film, as he has a role that's really tough, as Killer Joe. He's gotta be a luring presence all over the film, but still in crucial scenes, particularly with Temple, seem almost human. This is only the second film I've seen her in, after a couple weeks ago when I saw the dreadful "Dirty Girl", but after those two performances, I was shocked to find out she's British. She's about as good a young actress you're gonna find. Also, Gina Gershon, she's always been one of the most underrated of actresses, continually gives some really good, really brave performances, in a variety of films, even when you see her, she hardly ever gets a good part, sometimes if she's in an even halfway-decent part, she can steal a movie like "Showgirls", and make a bad film bearable, but this is a very good performance that a lot of people have overlooked. This is the kind of role, that shows just how great she can be. Same with McConaughey, I guess his fall from the heights of stardom, was a little more high-profile, but there's good acting all around here. "Killer Joe" is quite a good little dramatic thriller, that makes me want to see, just how good it can be on the stage. It was opened up a bit, I imagine from the play, but still, this is a very good film, that I wouldn't necessarily have known that it was a play, but it makes it all the more intriguing to see it onstage.

THIS IS NOT A FILM (2012) Directors: Motjaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Pahanhi

4 STARS



"We artists are indestructible, even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would be almighty in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell."---Pablo Picasso

I thought about that quote as I watched the controversial, "This is Not a Film". Actually there's nothing really controversial about it, other than the fact that it exists at all. The great Iranian filmmaker Jafar Pahanhi, was arrested in 2010, and sentenced not only to prison for six years in prison, but he's banned from making movies for the next twenty years. He's been making movies since the '80s, although the only one I've seen is "Offside", which was shot and made during the soccer game where Iran became eligible for the '05 World Cup, and was about the encampment in the stadium, for the women who were caught trying to sneak into the games disguised as males. (It's illegal in Iran for women to attend a soccer game) That's actually one of my favorite Iranian films, which despite restrictions, has been going through a golden age of cinema over the last couple decades, but it's been at a major cost for some of it's filmmakers, Pahanhi, being the most high-profile of them. "This is Not a Film", was shot, over one day in Jafar's house, by Motjaba Mirtahmasb, and it's a documentary, detailing the life of Pahanhi, as he awaits word on his appeal, and looks out on the world from his high-rise apartment, for which he is under house arrest and can't leave. The footage of the movie, and the title is apt, not only is it politically adept, but it's also barely a film in terms of length, and content, was smuggled out Iran, in a cake. He sits around the house, and he and the documentarian talk occasionally. He tries to read the screenplay of what was supposed to be his latest film, which eventually got him in trouble. There's some old footage of his other movies, he even looks one up on DVD, just to show and make a point about the acting in a particular scene. He even uses tape to simulate the images of the script, and how exactly he would direct them. There's footage on the TV occasionally, the film was shot on the same day as the Japanese tsunami, and there were many illegal fireworks (Which Ahamdinejad declare illegal for being nonreligious) and explosions going on, outside that night, as Motjaba left the building with the trash collector, as unrest continues in Iran. The film isn't what I'd call clean. It pauses to switch the camera angle, by telling us it's doing it and the purposeful keeping the camera on, like a found footage horror film, help exemplify the quiet and uselessness of Jafar, and he looks out the window, recording footage on his cellphone, wondering whether or not that counts as filmmaking. He even turns the cell phone on Motjaba at one point, and the roles of documentarian and subject get temporarily reversed. "This is not a Film", is essentially the wet tongue on the dusty cell floor for Pahanhi. It's barely filmed, it's barely survived, and it's barely anything, but his solitude. A glimpse into the life of an artist, who can't practice his art. There is no real greater prison than that, as far as I'm concerned. I take some solace in the fact that his cell, is rather nice, and filled with beautiful furniture and modern technology, but even the internet remains mostly blocked. Even in the deepest of despair, he still fights to create his art, at all costs. You got to admire Pahanhi, and the fact that he succeeded and made something so memorable and powerful in these circumstance, is quite inspiring. There's another quote I think about when I think about Pahanhi, that famous one about raging against dying light. Amazingly, according to imdb.com, he's got another movie set for a 2013 release, entitled "Closed Curtain", which has already won Awards at the Berlin Film Festival. The rage of an artist cannot be stopped.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012) Director: Lasse Hallstrom

2 STARS



If you've always thought that there should be a movie called "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen", well, you're fucking weird. I don't know what I thought about a movie called "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen", would be about, but oddly enough, the film is about salmon fishing, in the Yemen. Who knew? Even odder that that, the movie fails, because it's not about salmon fishing in the Yemen, enough. If you ever thought I'd write a paragraph like that by the way, please tell me, and let me know the next time your in Vegas. To meet you, yes, but mainly because I'm taking you to play blackjack with me, 'cause you're obviously fucking psychic. (Hell, you're so psychic I might take you to the roulette tables.) What's so interesting about salmon fishing in the Yemen? It's that there isn't any, yet. Yemen, as everybody know, is on the Arabian Peninsula, and is basically a desert, or has been for much of the time, but there's a few areas, where a well-placed dam, could be built, and possibly create the perfect spawning conditions for salmon, and for salmon fishing, the Sheikh's (Amr Waked) favorite pastime. The job of doing this, unbelievably tricky ecosystem shift goes to Harriet Chetwolde-Talbot (Emily Blunt), and a little more reluctantly, to Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a government consultant on fishing, and a famed inventor of the Woolley Jones, a popular fly fishing bait. The project gets approved by the overzealous Prime Minister's chief of staff, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), who needs a good story to detract from, everything else going on in the Middle East, and this is basically the best option they got. Apparently this film is based on Paul Torday's novel, which is a political satire, which I never would guessed unless I just looked it up. This didn't feel like a comedy of any kind, much less satire, and frankly, as I thought about it, I was wondering just how plausible it is for there to transfer salmon to the Yemen, and how good of an idea it might just be. Apparently the locals don't particularly think so, as the Sheikh suffers from two different assassination attempts, although that seems relatively routine in the Middle East. The film's earnestness in hindsight, doesn't really make much sense, but if they were gonna go in that direction, I wish they stayed on the technical aspects of such a project, 'cause that was the most interesting part of the film. But, just as I was screaming "Please don't turn this into a romantic-melodrama, please don't have Harriet's new boyfriend, Robert (Tom Mison) come back from being MIA in Afghanistan, right in time for a photo shoot with the Prime Minister!", sure enough, that's what happened. Oh, and also, Alfred's wife, Mary (Rachel Stirling) is a bitch, so him and Harriet are gonna end up to- (Oh, sorry, SPOILER ALERT!) -gether. I was disappointed in the final result, the movie seemed to be disjointed in want kind of film it wanted to be, so it decided to be a little bit of everything, and it ended up being a little to much of a lot of stuff that just didn't work. A shame too, the script was done by Simon Beaufoy, who's written "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours" among others, and Lasse Hallstrom, is a favorite director, who I admit has a tendency to be erratic with his films, although I generally enjoy them, even though he can be sappy and manipulative. They're often hit or miss, but this might be one of his bigger misses. Especially after seeing "Zero Dark Thirty" a film about the procedure and details involved in getting an impossible mission completed, this films just comes off as flimsy.

YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (2012) Director: Lynn Shelton

3 STARS



After I had watched "Your Sister's Sister", it was later the night, way later, that I was flipping through channels, and noticed on the bottom of "The Jeremy Kyle Show" screen, what, minute and a half I watched of it, before my brain cells insisted I stopped, that the title of this particular episode, was "I Caught My Husband in Bed with his Mistress", or something along those lines. I couldn't help but wonder what all the wives were complaining about? I mean, wouldn't you expect to find your husband in bed with his mistress? Seems perfectly reasonable to me, considering all the things he could've been in bed with. A relative perhaps, or a best friend, or an animal, or a Republican. I mean, that'd be really problematic. Imagine finding your husband in bed with your best friend? His mistress would be pissed off. Alright, jokes aside, that caught my attention after watching "Your Sister's Sister", from Mumblecore Writer/Director Lynn Shelton, which, if it were an episode on what's-his-name's show, it might've been called "My lesbian sister had sex with my husband's brother!". (I know, it took forever to friggin' get there for the punchline, and it wasn't even that good, but I had already committed to it, so....)  The film begins at a funeral for Tom, Iris's (Emily Blunt) husband. She also is best friends with her husband's brother, Jack (Mark Duplass), who's even more upset about Tom's death than Iris is, and takes it very hard at the get-together afterwards, even going after his friend Al (Mike Birbiglia). Iris recommends that he go to her family's vacation cottage on the coast. When he gets there, he's surprised to find Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). She's just recently gotten out of a seven-year relationship, and both are..., well, since I already gave it away, I guess you can figure out what happens next. Anyway, the next day, Iris shows up, and eventually, for their own separate reasons, they both want to keep this one-night stand a secret from Iris. You may ask why, since, technically, neither one of them did anything wrong, and as response to that, I'd tell to you to watch the movie. If it was just a movie about a best friend and a lesbian sister having sex, than I wouldn't be recommending it. It's just the catalyst that brings out, and starts all the other stuff. The scenes are half-written, half-improvise, keeping in tune with the Mumblecore movement, that Duplass himself helped create with the masterpiece "The Puffy Chair", but he's become a great go-to actor. I don't know why this week, a lot of the same actors keep showing up, but is the second film I've seen both him and Emily Blunt in this week (Duplass in "Zero Dark Thirty", Blunt in "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"), and both are quite good, especially Duplass, who's really becoming a great actor. His performance in "Safety Not Guaranteed," is one of the most underrated from last year, and this is yet another good performance from him, and from Emily Blunt, who's also had a relatively great year, if you also add her work in "Looper" and "The Five-Year Engagement", particularly the former. She's proven to be capable of doing anything if she's given a good character and good direction. Rosemarie DeWitt, has been one of my favorite underrated actresses for awhile too. I've seen her in a few movies previously, but she's probably most familiar to the public from her TV work in "Mad Men" and "The United States of Tara", this is the first good juicy film role she's had as well. "Your Sister's Sister", is a bit of a minor note, admittedly, but it's still a good one. This is the second film I've seen from Lynn Shelton, after her previous feature, "Humpday", which was about a bad idea for two male straight friends, to try and film themselves having sex to enter a famous amateur porn contest. She seems to be interested in how sex can complicate relationships, and she does find new ways of approaching that subject. They're small films, and they end on more melancholy subdued notes, but I enjoy that about them.

BLACK BUTTERFLIES (2012) Director: Paula van der Oest

4 STARS



I'm just gonna say it, we, as a culture, need to learn and read more poetry. There's no other way to go about that, and in a way, we're taking the rhythms and beats of poetry, and using them for other art forms, such as film, but we really lack in poetry. Ingrid Jonker (Carice van Houten) the subject of the biopic "Black Butterflies" is often referred to as the South African Sylvia Plathe, and frankly I learned that about her by reading the back of the DVD jacket, and that amounted to my entire knowledge of her going into the film. Thankfully, I do happen know Sylvia Plathe's work, but while I am a huge fan of hers, that didn't exactly leave the greatest of expectations, but "Black Butterflies," is in a good film, held together by a great performance by van Houten. She's the daughter of Abraham Jonker (Rutger Hauer), a major political figure, in the Apartheid era which she rallied against, in her political actions and poetry, much of which, would've been banned by her father, but he was outvoted on the board. He had a secret abortion, when her affair with novelist Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham), who was 20 years her Senior, and had a wife and kids, but he claimed many times that he loved her. She however, was a borderline nymphomaniac, and yes, there's lots of sex in the film, much of it graphic. These pieces of her life, are fragmented together with her poetry, which she writes, anywhere, many times on the walls of wherever she's living that day, until the house is covered. We hear her beautiful words with are filled with struggle, torrent and pain, that nobody else can grasp, 'cause their from a mind, that's quickly moving towards chaos. A year after Plathe's suicide, Jonker drowned herself, she was only 31. Her poems lived on in South Africa, and got worldwide acclaim after one of them was read by Nelson Mandela at his Presidential Inauguration. Together, the movie doesn't add up, and I think that's the point. It's fragmented and chaotic structure, resembles her mind, as she tries to contemplate the cold uncaring nature of her father, with the world around her, and the people around her. It's a good portrayal descending into madness. It's a mess, but it is poetic. "Black Butterflies" is probably not the greatest film of this sort, but anything that introduces me to a new poet, certainly has to get some credit, and this film, directed by Dutch filmmaker Paula van der Oest, she directed the Oscar-nominated Foreign Language film "Zus & Zos" a few years back, but this is the first film of hers I've seen, is an emotional rollercoaster, that leads into a trainwreck. Surprisingly good film, about an unfortunately tortured soul.

THE ISLAND PRESIDENT (2012) Director: Jon Shenk

3 1/2 STARS



I thought I'd begin this review with a photo I saw once, that was circulating around once before one of my college classes a few years back. Let me see if I can find it:


Yes, this looks like the photo, a surrealistic island paradise that's literally filled to the brim with so many modern structures, you can hardly see roads. Hell, you can barely find a beach on the island, which is small enough that it's relatively easy to get an overhead view of the entire island, and one of the smaller ones. If you're wondering how this island even stays afloat, you're not alone, and it's only barely doing it. This is the main island of the Maldives, a small archipelago country in the middle of the Indian Ocean, that's lowest-lying country in the world. Shortly before he was ousted, in either a military coup, or whether he resigned, Mohammed Nasheed, was the President of the Maldives, winning the post in 2008, after democratic elections were held for the first time, which ousted the dictatorial rule of Ibrahim Nasir ended. Nasheed, was somebody who spent years as a political prisoner in some of the Nasir's prisons, before helping to reform the Constitution. Since then, and even before, the country, as you can plainly see, is in trouble. In "The Island President", we get a close-up view of President Nasheed as he strives for worldwide environmental change, beginning at home, where he contends that The Maldives will become the first carbon-neutral country. He's in negotiations, with countries like India, trying to convince them to lower there carbon footprint drastically. Obviously, with minor and mixed results. Apparently, according to wikipedia, the country, has been looking to buy land in India or Australia, as a place to go, when/if it becomes apparent that the islands won't be saved. About a dozen of the islands were destroyed by an '04 tsunami, and the sea level, continues to lower everyday. It's strange to see the President of Maldives, working in all the modern conveniences that resemble buildings I've walked in, next door. Nasheed seems genuine in his motives and desperate in his actions. There's somewhat of a Mandela-like quality to him, and his presence is both commanding, yet approachable. He's often seen giving interviews and such. I couldn't help but admire Nasheed, for his determination, but worried about his inevitable failure. Not politically, but-, well, literally, this could be one of the last remaining documents of the country of Maldives, if God forbids something happens tomorrow. There was an island in the Bay of Bengal that sunk a couple years ago, and Maldives looks closer than most to perishing. A shame, it looks like such a beautiful place.

MY PERESTROIKA (2011) Director: Robin Hessman

3 STARS



The first generation of children who were born in Russia, without ever having lived under Communist rule, are now adults, or becoming them, very soon.The documentary,  "My Perestroika" gives us two worlds, one showing the lives of Russia now, and of the Russia in the past, that Pre-Revolution era, when political upheaval and revolution was a romantic goal, that amazing came true, under the reign of Mikhail Gorbachev. "Perestroika", was the economic system that he began instigating back in '86, which in part led to the breaking of the U.S.S.R. Actually, it didn't all go at once, the Balkan states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, announced their freedom, before the fall. Things like Patriotism, were taught in schools, and strangely, the Communist Russia, doesn't seem like that iron a curtain that we were once led to believe. Well, in some ways it doesn't, others it does. If there's any real meaning of "My Perestroika," I think it might be that, no matter what, life goes on. The movie follows five people's lives now, and we seem them talk about their memories of the Soviet Union. One of them was in a popular punk rock band, that still tours, but he decided to stop shortly after the Revolution. This sense of reality closing in, on the after the Revolution is a common theme. The arguments between mother and daughter fighting over whether or not Lenin was any good, get replaced by disenfranchisement over the next election being rigged for Putin, or Medvedyev, with neither choice stirring up any passion. The old footage of the teenagers, especially in the '80s, struck me as a strange combination of MTV meets Mod Era London, meets CBGB's Punk. A revolution that was still trying to find itself, when it suddenly started succeeding. I like "My Perestroika" for what it was, I would've preferred it to have said something more. I enjoyed the contrast, but for a country as big as Russia, I thought there could've been more points to make, and more contrasts. I enjoyed the file footage from the Soviet Union era, because we've seen so little footage from Russia of that time, and much of it was quite intriguing, especially the things that were on TV and popular. I remember the old joke used to be that there's Russia, one channel is the government's channel, the other, a channel telling you to turn back to the Government channel. (Or something like that.) So it was cool to see how many concerts by modern rockers were performed, and you can see the evolution of the Soviet Union, as it begins to morph into Russia. Still, "My Perestroika" feels like a little sampler entire of the entire box. It's a good sample though.

MURIEL'S WEDDING (1995) Director: P.J. Hogan

4 STARS



I'm not exactly the biggest ABBA fan, but after I saw "Mamma Mia", I felt sorry for them. How could someone's entire life's work be used as an inspiration by someone to be the base of their own work, and to come up with "Mamma Mia"? Ugh! Like I said, I don't like ABBA but I thought their work was worth more than that, and wondered myself, if it was possible to create a piece of art, using their music to tell the story, if it could be good. Little did I know, that had already happened with "Muriel's Wedding". Muriel (Toni Collette) lives in one of those Australian movie towns where everybody seems to be domineering and completely unaware of how hurtful and hateful their insistent behavior is. She's constant looking to show her cartoonishly smug friends. Well, either show them up, or be apart of them. She's not a natural beauty, she's a little overweight, she's a habitual liar, and a thief. She's stolen the dress she's wearing to her friend's wedding, which she catches the bouquet at, to much chagrin from all her friends. Her father Bill (Bill Hunter) is a local politician who has some pull, so he often bails out Muriel of her jams, but she still mopes and waifs around the house, listening to ABBA sounds, drowning out her blowhard father, bitching about all the money he's wasted on her, while her mother Betty, remains a moping sad sack who always seems to be in another world then the conversation they're having. When she's given a blank check, and an offer to sell cosmetics door-to-door, in Sydney, she blows off the cosmetics and robs the family's savings, and changing her name to Mariel to start a new life. She connects with the free-spirited Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), who was more disgusted in Porpoise Spit (The Northern Australian town they're from) than Muriel, as well as more antagonistic. They share an apartment, and work at adjacent strip mall stores, and they go out partying and occasionally getting laid. Well, Rhonda, much better at that then Muriel, and in one of the movie's funniest and strangest sequences, it begins with a Muriel sexual misadventure, and somehow, ends in an ambulance ride where Rhonda, finds out she has spinal cancer. Muriel begins helping her out, but trouble at home, make it insistent that she come back, especially after Bill gets caught up in a bribing scandal, as well as her father's affair with Dierdre (Gennie Nevinson), and her family goes through more hardships. In a get-rich quick scheme, she agrees to marry Daniel (David Van Arkle) a South African 1500m swimmer, who needs to marry in order to stay in the country and race for Australia in the Olympics. The movie is insucient and light in it's feel and insistent and direct in it's satire. It's actually quite a dark film, when you go back over the film, and how it's hard to tell whether Muriel's drastic actions were inspired by the way she's treated by everyone, or vice-versa. There's this disconnect between the grown-up actions of the authority figures mixed with the, caricature-like personas they insist on portraying to the others. Their were a bunch of Australian light comedies made at around this time, probably the best know of these is Baz Luhrmann's "Strictly Ballroom", which still ranks as my favorite film of his. Writer/Director P.J. Hogan, like Luhrmann, has been working consistently in Hollywood since, although the only one of the films I've seen was "My Best Friend's Wedding", which I always thought was an overrated film, that didn't take as much advantage of the comedic aspects of the film that it could've. That, also wasn't a film he wrote, and in fact, he hasn't written since "Muriel's Wedding", except for last year's "Mental". which hasn't had a major U.S., or Australian release yet. (It's imdb.com page announces that the film has made only $750, in America, so far). "Muriel's Wedding" feels like the personal story that early films by directors should feel like. The perspective of the hometime, the triumph over personal demons, great leading and one good supporting star-making characters, played by great character actors, and it's a lot of fun. ABBA should be happy that their music is the soundtrack of such a strong and memorable film.




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