Saturday, June 8, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #65: "GANGSTER SQUAD", "UPSTREAM COLOR", "BROKEN CITY", "TRISHNA", "SMASHED", "NATURAL SELECTION", "SAFE HOUSE", "LOLA VERSUS", "MANSOME", "INSIDE HANA'S SUITCASE", and MORE!

Alright, not gonna lie today. It's 100+ degrees out here where I am, in Vegas, all week, and air conditioner been inconsistent at best, and most to the movies I'm reviewing this week, were, let's say, underwhelming at best, and just like in "Do the Right Thing", when the temperature rises, so do the stress-levels and tempers, and therefore I'm frustrated, P.O.ed, and I'm starting to think that burning down a pizzeria sounds like a good idea. So, I'm keeping the opening short-and-sweet today. We had our biggest month ever in May, not only did we have our first month with over 4,000 hits, we're right on target for 5,000 this month, and the blog just keeps getting bigger. So, hopefully the temperature will go down, and our hits will go up. We've added a few more followers, and-eh, I'm gonna start making plans to have a Facebook page for this site, in the near future. I have a Facebook page for myself, which I do invite everyone to either friend or follow me, but, since my blog been growing so fast, I think it's time to make the plunge, and give the site itself a Facebook page, so, keep an eye out for that.

Alright, told you it'd be short, and it was. Now onto this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

GANGSTER SQUAD (2013) Director: Ruben Fleischer

2 1/2 STARS



I'm not exactly sure who in Hollywood thought, "Hey, the guys who directed "Zombieland", lets get him to direct and action noir gangster film."- That's all. I didn't have anything else to add to that opening sentence. Anyway, "Gangster Squad" is richly stylized, and I'm not too sure what else it is, but it's fairly entertaining, if not necessarily good.  Basically, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has become too powerful for the police in L.A. to stop, at least through any legal means. so, Chief Parker, quietly makes a somewhat-ethically dubious decision to create an off-the-books "Gangster Squad", a special forces of cops if you will, who will use Cohen's tactics to destroy his organization. It's basically a more-elaborate version of, you bring your Army, I'll bring mine, and let's shoot it out and see who wins. Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who fits perfectly like a glove, into a '40s trenchcoat and hat) leads the team, and start picking his own team, along with hotshot Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who has an unusual back-door in with Cohen, as he's seeing his girlfriend, Grace Faraday, in the femme fatale role. (Emma Stone) It starts out like a heist movie, where they have to bring the gang altogether, and then it basically becomes your typical cops & robbers movie. One of the cops, Cornwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) who gets them to plant bug in the house. They try to bust of some Cohen's places, and sometimes they don't come off well, but eventually they start getting the hang of it, and soon the body bag counts continue to rise. I don't know how accurate the movie is to what, if any actual Gangster Squad task force there was, but the movie, is pretty much as by the books as it can be. The one with the family, ends up getting killed, one of the cops, Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) sneaks up on a meeting of the gangster squad, so now, he's in the squad. Most of the main actors in scenery-chewing roles are fairly recognizable, most of the women aren't though, which mainly consist of wives, girlfriend, a maid, and the aforementioned femme fatale. Cohen used to be a boxer, so we know there's a boxing scene at the finale. Oh, also at the end, is an unintentionally funny voice-over that seemed that it's almost intentionally trying to parody "Dragnet". "Gangster Squad", seems to be on that, borderline between real and parody, and that can be annoying. I had a hard time taking "Gangster Squad seriously, on the other hand, if it's just a typical fun, action film, you're looking for, well, it'll fill that need, but it won't do much else. It looks great, but basically just touches and flirts with the subjects that previous gangster films have been dealing with forever. There's bits and pieces about "Gangster Squad" that are enjoyable, but there's nothing really deep to care about here, so it's hard to even get a real grasp on it. It's basically a bunch of good actors, given a character description, and told to have some fun, in costume. I've been to some good parties that fit that description, but it's not really much of a movie.


UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) Director: Shane Carruth

1 STAR



Shane Carruth's first feature, "Primer", despite a decent original premise,  much cult acclaim and numerous Independent Spirit Award nominations, back in '04, made my worst films of the year list, and after watching his long-awaited follow-up (Although I wasn't exactly the one waiting) "Upstream Color", I now wonder if this film is an even more unwatchable pieece of dreck. "Primer", which was about two dudes who accidentally made a time machine, but then the movie, literally had no idea what to do with that premise, and the movie, literally kept itself locked in a box, while waiting for the obsessive and sloth-filled main characters, simply got obsessed with time traveling, and kept it and hid the machine, like a bad drug habit. Speaking of bad drugs habits, "Upstream Color" begins with with a maggot-like worm, that's place into a capsule, that Thief (Thiago Martins) cultivates with some kind of special houseplant, and basically, the worm, whatever it is, when ingested by someone, in this case Kris (Amy Seimetz), begins losing most of her past, and can be hypnotically controlled by Thief, and through this, they begin some kind of relationship, by controlling and manipulating her. She of course, doesn't realize this, although she certainly feels like some things are missing, especially when on the train, she runs into Jeff (Carruth) and has some weird connection, kinda like Clementine and Joel in a far better movie about losing one's memory, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", but it's never exactly explained or acted upon. In fact, nothing is ever fully explained or acted upon in Carruth's movie, things just seem to go from one scene or line of random, very random dialogue, to the next, and supposedly there's some symbolic references that go alone with them. I'm sure one of them is simply, "We're all like pigs", which seems to be the job of someone just called "The Sampler" (Andrew Sensenig) who looks over his piglet farm, and occasionally records the sounds of nature with his boom mike. That was also about all I could make out of his character. There never real characters actually, and that's the real problem with Carruth's work. Take Kris, who is she exactly, before she loses her memories? We get a few bare glimpses that inform us that she has something to do with photography, probably an editor for a magazine, but that's it. We get no knowledge of anything else, before she takes the pull at a club, and then is soon dragged out into the streets, the first of many, many times, she'll wake up, not know where she's been, and not know how she got there. We occasionally learn about a few things that she lost, but it's not like she ever recovers them fully to grasp who she was, even when informed that she once survived a stage 3 cancer scare. Carruth tries some form of Terence Malickian filmmaking here, and he has some talent in creating beautiful images onto the screen, many of which are borrowed from better movies, like the swimming pool scenes, which are clearly stolen from "Blue". He knows a few of the words, but he has no ideas about the music, and why those other films are so much better. He starts with ideas, and then doesn't know where to go with them, so things stay the same for awhile, until somebody gets killed. Just like in "Primer", we don't care about the characters, so ultimately, nothing that happens to any of them, really matters. I'll tell you one other thing, I watched "Upstream Color" on Netflix streaming, while in the library, on Saturday. I ended up spending half the time, watching the little kid next to me, playing a computer game on, some site that had a name like coolmathgames.com, or something like that, and frankly, the kid playing the video game, was far more entertaining to watch, than "Upstream Color". Here's the lesson folks, if you don't have a real story to begin with, filling the screens with a bunch of random and beautiful scenes alone, doesn't make it a film. At least he had enough sense, for at one point in the movie, the characters just start reproducing Thoreau's "Walden". There wasn't any real reason for doing it, but at least there was something good in the film.


BROKEN CITY (2013) Director: Allen Hughes

2 1/2 STARS



I don't think I'm gonna be able to top Richard Roeper's review of "Broken City", which you can find on rogerebert.com, where he recommends the movie, despite admitting, that it isn't any good, saying that at least, you'll have a good time watching it, but I understood what he was talking about. Maybe if it was made in 1943, it might've been good, but-. You ever get the feeling, that there was a decent script, and then somebody looked through it and went, "We should have a car chase scene here," even though it doesn't really need it, but they're gonna have one anyone? "Broken City" has that feel of a film that it might've started out as something strong and witty, but that somehow, it got smashed through that screenplay machine Hollywood has, where they can go through a script, and tell you what they can use to make it more successful and commercially appealing. Allen Hughes's first feature-length film directing without his brother Albert, and "Broken City" is a by-the-book film noir, with a little sideplot about a girlfriend who acts in an Indy movie. (Another thing that Screenplay Machine must've added, the gratuitous sex scene, in the movie, within the movie, so that it's not actually in the movie-, I'll get to that.) Every film noir needs a detective, and Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is apparently the latest occupant in Sam Spade's old office, complete with a cheerful, spunky assistant doing Dorothy Malone, better than Dorothy Malone ever did, named Katy Bradshaw (Anola Tal). Billy became a P.I. despite having to resign from the Police force, after killing a suspect in self-defense, who happened to have raped and beaten to death his girlfriend Natalie's (Natalie Martinez) sister, seven years earlier. Now, Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) has called him in, to investigate his wife, who he strongly suspects is having an affair. His wife Cathleen (Cathrine Zeta-Jones) who is already the suspicious femme fatale type. The person we suspect she's having an affair with, Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), who soon ends up dead. He's also the campaign manager of Jack Valliant's (Barry Pepper) Mayoral campaign. Him and Hostetler have a crucial debate coming in a close elections, and the Mayor is already in hot water for his involvement in tearing down houses in order to make way for a major building project, that's may or may not be legal. (Ah hell, there's no surprises here, we know it's illegal.) Now Taggart, is a suspect in Andrews's death since- Ah, you know what, it's not that interesting what the story is. Anyway, Wahlberg starts digging around, despite numerous people who should have moustaches to twirl telling him not to, and what do you know, there's a politically conspiracy that he's uncovering, about an hour after we already have. (Although I'd argue that Taggart does have it, essentially figured out, but is just playing like he doesn't just to find more information and proof, but I can see both interpretations of Wahlberg's performance) There's also another strong performance by Jeffrey Wright- Oh, I almost forgot about the girlfriend. Eh, yeah, she has a graphic nude scene in her Indy film, and Taggart believes she's having an affair with the director, so he starts drinking again at an inopportune time, and they break-up, and she's basically written out of the film half-way through. Actually, if she isn't being over bent over a table in the- Ah nevermind. I've switched back-and-forth between 2 1/2 and 3 STARS a few different times now while writing this review, I think you can argue both. It's filled with good actors, having fun with some real scheming characters, and all of them act like they're guilty and in that respect, it's fairly fun. There's no real reason to see "Broken City", you might have fun while it's on, but you'll forget it afterwards. This is kinda movie made for two-in-the-morning insomnia. The rest of the time.... eh.


TRISHNA (2012) Director: Michael Winterbottom

4 STARS



Man, I really got to walk around the library once in a while, and get around to some of these classic novels. The ultimate chameleon director, Michael Winterbottom's latest "Trishna", is a modern-day retelling remake of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Ubervilles", which I'm ashamed to say, I'm mostly familiar with through a few references made to it, in "Fifty Shades of Gray." That said, while I'm definitely more interested in reading it after watching, "Trishna". Set in modern-day India, Winterbottom does something interesting, and combines the two characters that Trishna (Freida Pinto) has affairs with into one, Jay. (Riz Ahmed) Jay happens to meet Trishna, who comes from the Indian suburbs. Her family is poor, and large. Jay, is from a different caste, a higher-up, and in order to stay closer to Trishna, he gets her a live-in job and his father, Mr. Singh's (Roshan Seth) hotel. She's basically part-maid, part-waitress. They fall in love, and it's sweet and romantic, and then, Jay suddenly changes. He becomes aggressive and cruel, and after one intense scene, which may have been rape, she runs off, back to her family. But, he comes back and gets her, and now, he's a big name in Bollywood. He gives her everything, and treats her like a mistress. Worse than a mistress, like an object. I remember when taking notes, to write down a line of dialogue Jay says to her, between humiliating acts he makes her do, in and out of the bedroom. He says, to paraphrase, "There's three kinds of women you can sleep with, the maid, the single lady, and the courtesan, which one are you?" Trishna, doesn't know, and he says she's all three. He's right, but he made her that way. Some are gonna take issue with the fact that he combined two characters so different into one, but, is it really that unusual? How many times do we see a couple, and clearly one of them is a despicable and abusive human being, and  we wonder, not only why is she still with him, but also, he he'd get the other to be with him to begin with? Somehow, some reason, people change, or sometimes, they just pretend to be one person, to fall in love with, and then, reveal their real selves once they succeed. The movie actually reminded me of Harold Pinter's play "Betrayal", if anything, another tale about a great storybook romance falling apart tragically. It's the best part Freida Pinto has played in a while by the way. It's practically a part born for her actually. Beautiful, quiet, tortured soul. It's actually not-that-far an extension from her breakout role in "Slumdog Millionaire", but that said, she's quite good here. And nobody pours out the quality and quantity of good films over the last few year the way Winterbottom has, and nobody does it, with so many different kinds of films either, and he also seems able to work, anywhere in the world. "Trishna" is a very strong melodrama, that feels right at home in India, as much as any other film feels right at home where it's at. It's dark and simple, maybe too simple, but strikingly believable and all too real sometimes. You never believe you've fallen in love with the wrong man, until it's too late. (Nor does the wrong man, ever think he's doing anything wrong, either.)

SMASHED (2012) Director: James Ponsoldt

4 STARS



I think if I really tried hard enough I could teach a class on drunkenness in film, and fill it with watching some of the greatest acting performances of all-time. The latest in this seemingly unending feeding ground of incredible acting, is "Smashed", a big hit at Sundance, and-eh, I'll note a very minor Conflict of Interest here, in that I know a couple people who know people who, know people,... who worked on this film. I should also confess that until now, I'm relatively unfamiliar with Mary Elizabeth Winstead's work as an actress until now. The only films of hers I've seen at this point, were Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof", and I have to look up her character in that film, and she also played Ramona Flowers in the severely overrated "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", a character whose name I only remember because it came up in a game of "Fuck, Marry, Kill" once, and apparently nobody could believe I didn't know the character name offhand, and it disrupted the game, as it took them three minutes to even describe her to me. (I eventually gave up, and ended up killing her, 'cause it was easier. One of the others was Jessica Rabbit, and the third one was either Princess Leia or Penelope Pitstop, I don't remember, but I probably married Jessica Rabbit.) Anyway, she's a revelation here, playing Kate Hannah. She wakes up most mornings having peed the bed, usually next to her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul). He comes from privileged means, and has some gig writing concert reviews at home, which in of themselves, are another excuse for Charlie and Kate to go out drinking every night. Kate teaches first grade when- I was about to say, "when sober", but a more accurate definition is "during the day". She teaches a little bit like a game show, calling on students to come on down to the board and write, and one day, she throws up in the middle of a lesson, and without a better explanation, she claims that she threw up because she was pregnant. She goes home early that day, with Vice-Principal Davies (Nick Offerman) taking over her class, although the next time we see her, she's at karaoke, with a microphone in one hand and a beer in the other. After a couple bad blackouts, waking up on the street, she finally gets convinced to start going to AA meetings. She meets a sponsor in Jenny (Octavia Spencer) who's become a baker to stop her addictions, yet, while she's sober, things don't get any better really quickly. Her marriage with Charlie, who isn't going to AA is slowly falling apart, as it becomes clearer that alcoholism what their driving force, and meanwhile, she has to also let the pregnancy charade play itself out, as there's no real way of backing out, especially with Principal Barnes (Megan Mullally) on her tail. Kate, is one of the youngest recovering alcoholics I've seen in recent cinema, but that doesn't make it any less realistic. Kate's been letting alcohol be her crutch through life, and now is when it's not working anymore, and even though, she's sober, her life is still falling apart. This is the second feature-length film made by Co-Writer/Director James Ponsoldt, after the charming indy, "Off the Black," with Nick Nolte as a crotchety old baseball umpire, trying to make himself out for his high school reunion. So far, he's made two really good films with  two really good lead performances, and both films are about a struggle and desire for characters to change, especially from characters who seem the least likely too. His first film was an impressive debut, and now he seems to be finding his footing. Even in small roles in this film, like Mary Kay Place's cameos as Kate's mother, seem to fit naturally into this film. There's a lot to like in "Smashed", even outside of Winstead's wonderful performance. "Smashed" is a small film, it's only 81 minutes long, but it's leaves a good impression, and I'm awaiting anxiously for Ponsoldt's next feature.


NATURAL SELECTION (2012) Director: Robbie Pickering

3 1/2 STARS



I've always thought of Rachael Harris, as one of those great go-to comic actors who's got a good comic persona, disguised by her good looks, which themselves, are disguised by black-rimmed, Buddy Holly eyeglasses. Yet, if I didn't know she got an Independent Spirit Award nomination for "Natural Selection," I'm not sure I'd even know she was in it. Her hair's unkempt, her glasses are different, and I can't tell whether she's not wearing makeup, or she's wearing makeup to make her look worse than she actually does. Linda (Harris) is a devout Christian woman, whose husband, Abe (John Diehl) refuses to have sex with her, because she's barren, and he firmly believes that sex not for procreation, is a sin. Then, he has a stroke will at a sperm bank, and it seems like he's on his deathbed. How long has he been coming to the sperm bank? The  nurse says that she's only been working here since '88. This startles Linda, but when he mumbles something about wanting to see his son, she decides to spring into action, and heads off to find a name from his file. The guy, turns out to be Raymond (Matt O'Leary) who's just broken out of jail by hiding in a bag of lawn clippings, and has turned out at a friend's apartment/methlab to hide, when Linda knocks on the door. He doesn't want any part of her, and has no intention of seeing his father, but she's offering a ride to Houston, which is not Tampa, so begrudgingly, he accepts the offer of the kindly religious older woman, figuring, if nothing else, he can give her the slip soon enough, possibly taking her car. He tries at certain points anyway, with varying degrees of success, but Linda keeps pursuing, and soon enough, they start bonding. It's a strange bond to say the least, even for road trip movies. They're not mother-son, they're not exactly a soon-to-be couple, but there's aspects of both. (Although it's closer to the latter, strangely) They are essentially lost souls, one who's gotten used to wandering through life, and another who really should've been, long ago. It's hard to describe the rest of "Natural Selection" without giving away some major plotpoints; I've been trying to figure it out what to write for a few hours now, actually. It's the kind of movie, where we start with two characters and one goal, and then the characters get complicated, and by the end of the movie, the situation gets more complicated, and frankly, revealing much more than that would be disservice to the film. This is a truly deconstructionist piece-of-work, in plot and character development. It's also a film that deals with religion, to some degree comically, in other areas, it's realistic. You feel that Linda is a good Christian woman, who's trying to help out and do God's work, but at a time and place, where it just isn't appreciated or helped. Actually, if anything, it seems like the two characters should've had the opposite traits that they should of, and that Linda would've benefitted from being a traveler with a rebellious outlaw spirit, while Christian, might've benefited from have a religious core in his life. There's a poetic beauty in how each of them have come unto their road less traveled, and Rachael Harris gives us a great character, who seems outrageous on the surface, and she finds a way to be completely convincing and believable, who we hope finds happiness in the end, through herself, and not through God, or her husband.

SAFE HOUSE  (2012) Director: Daniel Espinosa

3 STARS



You ever notice how in any CIA/FBI movie where they're tracking someone, there's always at least one person, who turns out to be a traitor, and has been playing the other side all along? Maybe I'm looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but that can't possibly happen in real life, as often as it occurs in these movies. If it did, half the time, the CIA is just fighting among themselves, investigating each other as they try and figure out if each one of them is a spy or not, and while they do that, all terrorists plan their next attack. That seems extremely unlikely to me, that so many people would climb so high up in the ranks of our nations biggest protecting body, happen to be KGB or whatever. Anyway, "Safe House" has two of these characters. One, comes in later, the other, is Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) who was so good at his job, he's studied by the CIA for the tactics he invented. (It's always some major name like that too, it's never the CIA mailroom guy, who becomes a traitor, you ever notice that?) He a few decades ago, and he's wanted on four continents, but suddenly, after one quick exchange that lead to a chase and gunfire, he showed up at U.S. Consulate in Cape Town. Naturally, everyone's in shock, and wondering what's he up to. Following protocol, they take him to a safe house, which is where Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) has been stationed, although naturally, he wants more of a field position. His girlfriend, Ana Moreau (Nora Arnezeder) doesn't even know he's with the CIA, but that's rather expected, as the girlfriend's really only there to help make us care about him a little bit. Shortly after they arrive at the safe house, it's attacked and everybody killed, except for Matt and Tobin, after Matt somehow manages to get keep Tobin under his custody, as they escape. It's clear to Tobin, that someone from the inside must've tipped off, whoever was trying to get at him, but Matt, is wary of trusting Tobin,  even though, he knows the CIA practices inside and out. Anyway, there's hundred, if not thousands of people who work at or for the CIA, worldwide, and the traitor/leak currently there, is either one of three people, because they're the famous actors. One is Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga), who was in charge of the detail and the safe house that was attacked, and who highly suspects that possibly Matt has turned himself, and is working with Tobin. Another is Brendan Gleeson, who plays Matt's boss, who knows that he's been waiting for a moment to prove his worth, so he's taking it. And the third is, Sam Shepard, who's the head of the entire CIA. Well, I guess for the hell of it, I won't reveal which of the three is the real traitor to the country. "Safe House" is the kind of movie that can only really work for you, if you're in the moment of watching, 'cause it's not gonna have any real, long-lasting importance, but that said, in the moment I enjoyed it. The acting was good, even in the most cliched of scenes. The directing was relatively well done by Swedish director, Daniel Espinosa, this is his first Hollywood film, and the first thing of his I've seen, and I actually enjoyed the chemistry of Reynolds and Washington. I'm not gonna lie, there was about a couple seconds or so when I thought about Poitier and Curtis in "The Defiant Ones" while I watching those two. Not much, I know, but still.... Reynolds, keeps finding ways of surprising and impressing me, and Washington didn't completely sleepwalk through this one. Don't think too hard about "Safe House", for an action film, on a lazy afternoon, I was entertained despite it's flaws.


LOLA VERSUS (2012) Director: Daryl Wein

2 STARS



I had one, really good laugh while watching "Lola Versus," and that was pretty much it, and even you had to have a familiarity with the reference to even get the joke. (To those who've seen it, it was the sudden reference to Jessie Spano that I laughed at.) Lola (Greta Gerwig) is turning 29, which according to her astrology book means that Saturn is going to return to the place it was when she was born, and start causing chaos. I don't know why she lied; she's practically the same age I am, so we both must've learned that, not from an astrology book, but from Gwen Stefani, who titled No Doubt's third album, "Return of Saturn", which came out when she was turning 29, which also begets the question, why didn't they use songs from that album in the movie? Is there was ever a place where "Ex-Girlfriend" could've been used to great effect, it was probably this one. (Although, I've always preferred "Bathwater" and "Simple Kind of Life" myself, but I digress.) She thinks she's on top of the world, after becoming engaged to Luke (Joel Kinnaman) who she's been with since college. She's currently a waitress at her parent's restaurant, has one of those giant New York loft spaces that nobody who only has a waitress job can afford. Luke, suddenly decides to break up with Lola and call off the marriage, and everything goes to shit with her. Not real shit, literal or metaphorical, but in those movie-cliched, character-invented only half-based-in-reality problems, shit. Can't get over your dumbass boyfriend-type shit, and the wild salmon guy, Nick's (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) penis is too big, and accidentally falling in bed with the wrong people-type shit. She occasionally consults with her actress best friend, Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones, who co-wrote the script with Director Daryl Wein) and she occasionally talks Lola up to go to some club that YELP liked, or spray some marijuana in her. (Yes, spray marijuana, apparently it's a thing in L.A.) Sometimes Lola gets drunk or high on her own, without Alice, and at times with her other friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) who's a lead singer in a club band, and was mutual friends with both Luke and Lola, so he's supposedly caught in the middle of the two, and even after Lola and Henry start making out and dating, Lola's still obsessed with Luke, and Henry and Alice's flirtation slowly gets more serious, unbeknownst to Lola, who's trying to struggle with all this while writing her thesis paper on the importance of Silence in British Literature. If any of that, had any resemblance to your own life, well, I wish could say I felt sorry for you, but really, this isn't exactly tragedy on a high scale, nor is that funny, although, occasionally there's an interesting set-up to a joke, but it usually doesn't work. I'm a fan of Greta Gerwig, I first saw her in the Duplass Brothers's film "Baghead", and she had one of the most underrated performances in recent years in Noah Baumbach's film "Greenberg", with Ben Stiller, and she does what she can with this material, although I get the feeling that it wasn't exactly written for her. Maybe a Zooey Deschanel or a-eh,  Brittney Murphy ([Sigh,] I know, but...) would've made some more interesting choices here. Not that it would've completely overtaken the weak material, but it might have helped. Lola is rather shallow and flimsy and maybe to be a modern-day, way-way-way-way-way-way subpar Woody Allen but, there's really nothing here. And the title sucks also. "Lola Versus" who? Herself? the World? She's not fighting anyone in the film; that was just stupid. Should've just called it "Lola". Terrible film really, get more pointless the more you dwell on it, which you really shouldn't do to begin with.


MANSOME (2012) Director: Morgan Spurlock

2 STARS



Well, it isn't exactly force-feeding yourself McDonalds for a month, nor is it, completely financing your movie, and your art to corporate sponsors, but in "Mansome," Morgan spurlock, does shave his moustache, which temporarily frightens his young son. It's not exactly the performing art aspect of Spurlock that exemplifies his best work. "Mansome" is about a couple years too late, with it's message-, well, not really a message, just an observation about the necessary and under-reported story about the grooming and well-kept nature of men in modern culture. Like I said, this isn't exactly news. When did "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" go off the air, five, ten years ago almost? I've never actually bought into this logic anyway, that there's this typical masculine male, or effeminate female, roles, and that certain things should be done a certain way, by a certain sex, or at least they have been. There's still the over-reaching eye of the mainstream media that encourages this stuff, and news flash, men are in fact, just as vain as women. If not moreso. The issue of manliness is occasionally discussed between segments by Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, as they spend a day getting pampered at a day spa, probably on a break from shooting the latest "Arrested Development' season. I don't know what the message is either in this one? Should men be more aware and care more about their looks, or should they not; there seems to be no exclusive opinion on the subject from Spurlock, who's barely in this film come to think of it. I know, I care very deeply about the way I look and how I'm presented to people,- (Mom, stop laughing. I do! What do you mean, I don't care, I very much care how I look- I don't look like a bum! I look the way I want to look-Seriously, stop laughing. C'mon! Really, I'm not being funny! Ah-there you go, you laughed so hard, now you got the hiccups, good for you. Go get a glass of water, now, okay.) Despite some opinions on this issue, I do care about it, my appearance, and am trying to improve it. It's not easy, especially when you're sitting around all day watching movies, writing movies and blogs, and staring at a computer screen for a living, it can be rough, but I try to look as good, and distinctive as I can, and frankly, although Rex Reed takes it too far, if the media image helps men try to look as good as well, as long as they're not pulling a Karen Carpenter or, I guess our equivalent of that would be over-bulking with steroids, I don't think it's that bad a thing. Either way, "Mansome," only scratches the surface of this subject, which has been scratched much harder, deeper, and better on many occasions, it's not an interesting subject anymore, eh, this is minor, minor Morgan Spurlock,... I can go on, but there's no real reason to watch it, even if it is, occasionally entertaining.


INSIDE HANA'S SUITCASE (2012) Director: Larry Weinstein

2 1/2 STARS



(Deep breath) You know, some of may read this, and think that what I'm about to write is blasphemous to some extent, but, "Inside Hana's Suitcase," was too long. It really shouldn't been a feature-length film at all actually. I know, that may troubling for some considering the subject matter, which yes, is one that worthy of not only feature-length film, but miniseries. (And it has), but we're not talking about whole Holocaust. It's good that teach that whole context to a Japanese elementary classroom, (or any classroom for that matter) but, is it completely necessary for this story, about one girl's suitcase? I'll start at the beginning, Hana Brady was a name on a suitcase found in Auschwitz, and she was a 13-year old girl, who died there. It had a few personal items inside it, and when a teacher in Japan was trying to teach her children about the Holocaust, as well as find pieces for Japan's Holocaust Museum, that the teacher, her name is Fumiko Ishioka, is also working on correlating,  one of the pieces, that got sent to her, was this intriguing and famous suitcase. Her goal in teaching the Holocaust, was actually out of a duty to not only, have her kids behave better in class, (Japan has, in recent years, had an increase in bullying in schools) but also to give them a further on the era, which, as you may imagine, Japan hasn't exactly elaborated on as much as it probably could've; considering it's own involvement and devastation in WWII, it's somewhat understandable. They have their own Monuments and dates to remember. That said, the Holocaust is difference, and the kids, as they learn about the Holocaust, and slowly, they learn about the origins of the suitcase, they begin to narrate the film, Discussing their own thoughts on the Holocaust, and even imagining what Hana's life must have been like, before it, and, at times during it. She was a Czechoslovakian, and she went to Auschwitz with her older brother, who they soon track down. He's still alive, and now has a daughter in her late '20s-early '30s, whose named after Hana, and she spends a good portion of her time, tracking down the paths of her Aunt. Visiting the places she lived, before and since. It's an intriguing story that was originally made into a popular book, but translated to film, this documentary doesn't do it justice. It's a remarkable tale, but you don't get the grand scope of the amazing jounrey, as much as you get, one more history lesson on the Holocaust, and while I think you can never have too many of those, some are unfortunately better than others. Like I said, if this was  streamlined into a 45-minute short film, I might've enjoyed it more, but as a not-even 90-minute feature, it's unfocused and tends to dwell a bit. in certain classroom settings, it might be good to watch "Inside Hana's Suitcase," but I can also think of better docs and films to show, and on it's own, outside of right setting, I don't think it really works enough. I tried to force it a bit for awhile, but reluctantly, I hate to say this, but I  can't recommend "Inside Hana's Suitcase".


HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX (1993) Director: Jim Abrahams

4 STARS



You know, usually whenever I see something made either Jim Abrahams or the Zucker Brothers, or both, I tend to wonder, what can't the spoofs of today be this funny? I don't know what the real problem is, maybe they're just too intent on going for the most gruesome joke, or disgusting joke, or maybe they're simply making spoofs of films they don't like to begin with, so the comedy's too mean-spirited. Maybe it's just because the ZAZ teams is funnier than the rest of them, I don't know. There's no shortage of them, especially if you count a lot of the straight-to-video ones; I don't know, which "Scary Movie", were on to now, but the first one sucked, so I didn't bother with the rest, and that one was still funnier than "Scream". The last one I remember even remotely liking was "Not Another Teen movie," and even then, it was borderline, and if I recommended it, I must've been in a good mood that day. I've caught glimpses of a few others skipping channels, and wondering how they got to make a spoof, when my comedic instincts on some of the movies they satirized and parody was much funnier than there's. I certainly can't say that about the ZAZ team, and Jim Abrahams "Hot Shots! Part Deux", is somewhat dated admittedly but still funny as hell. The original "Hot Shots" made fun of the stream of '80s, air force movies, like "Top Gun", "Maverick", and "Iron Eagle," to name a couple but all of them, needed to be made fun of, most of them sucked, including "Top Gun". (Sorry, Goose.) This time, with "Hot Shots! Part Deux", Topper Hartley (Charlie Sheen) the hero from the last film, is needed by his country. President Tug Benson (Lloyd Bridges) is in a close reelection bid, while the Persian Gulf War rages on with Iraq, and now, they need Topper to go in, and get the soldiers, that were sent to get the soldiers that were sent to get the soldiers, to get the American hostages that Hussein (Jerry Haleva) is holding. They find him, working in southeast Asia in the fields with Monks who haven't seen a woman in decades, and he also occasionally does some organized underground fighting. The CIA head, Michelle Rodham Huddleston (Brenda Blake) eventually convinces him to help out. He goes on a death-defying mission that breaks the record for largest body count in one film, by a good 100 or two. (We know this, 'cause there was a countdown) In the jungle, he eventually reunites with Ramada Rodham Hayman (Valeria Golino, man, remember back when it was weird that a high-profile woman like a first lady, would still use her maiden name?) She left Topper after her husband, who she thought was dead, turned out to be alive, and he left Topper with a letter sent to him from Western Union, by the last train. (P.S., if you don't know the movie they're parodying with this plotline, and you're thinking about, of have begun writing a movie blog of some kind, either don't, or stop. Seriously, I know blogs are free, but you're not knowledgeable enough to do this, even by the bare minimum standard, you're not knowledgeable enough.) Actually, you what know what really separates this team of spoofs from the rest, they actually know comedy. Abrahams, doesn't just make random references, or make fun of genres, they throw in, damn-near, every classic joke they can, and it's not done to make any sort of point, other than, making us laugh. In the middle of all these movie references which range from "Apocalypse Now," to "Lady in the Tramp," there's funny jokes. In that train scene, the Conductor yells "Board! Board!", and then, the guy standing near him, get hit in the head by a passing 2x4, and he says, "Hey, I warned you twice." There's no reference there, it's just a classic joke. Sid Caesar probably told that joke, but it's still funny, and they just throw it in to see if you laugh. It's not "Airplane!", or some of the better films they did, but the jokes are funny first, and then, whether they're making fun of pop culture, or whatever, is secondary. Comedy is a craft, and when I see spoofs done right, you can tell, they've worked hard on them. I laughed a lot during "Hot Shots! Part Deux," even more than I did the first film, which I must confess, I only got around to in the last couple years myself. It's funnier if you know the references, but either way it's still funny, even if you may have to explain to somebody what "American Gladiators" was. (That itself, would be a funny conversation actually.)
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