Thursday, June 20, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #66: "TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE", "THE THREE STOOGES", "THIN ICE", "CITIZEN GANGSTER", "THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH", "HITLER'S CHILDREN", "GREGORY CREWDSON: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS", "THE CONQUEST" and MORE!

Well, another week, and another bunch of underwhelming films to reviews. Ugh. I'm gonna be a bit honest here, I'm getting cranky. I mean, the best things I've watched this week were "Manhattan" which I rewatched to do some editing of my Canon of Film review, "Life of Pi", which I was screening for others who hadn't seen it, and the 5th season of "Top Chef" on DVD. That's about it. Frankly, I've been trying to get through as many films as possible, but when they're coming to your doorstep, and you're getting less and less inspired, it painful and torturing, and frankly, especially as I continue through last year's film, overall it's been really underwhelming. I know Harvey Weinstein said that 2012, was the best film year since '39, well, my ass. I don't know what he's been seeing, but he hasn't seen the movies I've been seeing. It's not just the bad films, even, the film that are good, are just average or mediocre lately, and it's frustrating. I don't know about you, and maybe I've just been watching too much Tom Colicchio, decent is not good enough. A dozen or so movie a week, critics like me, watch a lot, and it's one thing when something's really bad and you can smash it to smithereens in your review, but when everything in the middle, it's frustrating as hell, and there's nothing to care about, and they're impossible to write. So, I hope this trend changes as I start my next batch of films, 'cause I'm starting to go a little stir crazy with all this mediocrity I have to sit through.

Alright, other than that, I do want to touch a bit on James Gandolfini's sad and sudden passing. I read about it, right as most everybody else was, on top of it, as it happened on Facebook, and yeah, I thought it was a joke at first, it so shocking. I'm not the #1 Sopranos fan, but still, great show, and that is such a big loss. I was just skipping channels one day, and seeing a scene of him in "Fallen", which I didn't realize he was even in. He was great in "A Civil Action", and "The Man Who Wasn't There," and I even remember him very well in the Showtime remake of "12 Angry Men" a few years ago. I was talking about the original of that film recently, but that remake was great, and he was really good in it. I gave 5 STARS to one of, what's now, one of his last films, "Welcome to the Rileys", where he ends up caring for a teenage runaway prostitute played by Kristen Stewart, a wonderful and very overlooked film. He's gonna sorely missed, and just a sad and sudden loss.

Alright, let's get to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012) Director: Robert Lorenz

2 1/2 STARS



Clint Eastwood gave up the lead directing role on "Trouble with the Curve", making this a very rare film appearance he makes in a film he isn't directing these days, but I think I wish he was behind the camera more. The film has the look, and the feel of a film of his; that's partly because Director Robert Lorenz worked as Eastwood first assistant director for many of his films, as well as a producer on most of them, but this film could've used, one really good rewrite, and Eastwood's sense of pacing, and storytelling. Seriously, I could just imagine, thinking how Eastwood would directed certain scenes, how he would've taken a line or two out, let the actors change one or two to make them sound better. In some ways, the movie is basically a rebuttal to "Moneyball", as it's centerpiece is a debate over whether to use computer statistic tracking or old-fashioned scouting to determine a good ballplayer or not. On the other hand, it's the old story of the old pro, trying to survive in a world where he's being replaced by new technology. Gus (Eastwood) is a longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, he works the Carolina region, and is sent to scout a potential #1 draft pick, Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a cocky and full-of-himself power hitter on his high school team, who's already charging for autographs. Gus is a typical tough-as-nails old bastard that Eastwood been playin' forever. His daughter Mickey, (Amy Adams) who's currently a lawyer, close to being made partner at her firm, (A firm where naturally she's the only female lawyer around.) but after some convincing by Gus's longtime friend Pete (John Goodman) the team's head of scouting, who's watching Gus's job being fazed out in the meetings, where the Billy Beane wannabe, Philip (Matthew Lillard, in what is now becoming the new prototypical Matthew Lillard role, [which is considerably better than the old one]) keeps gaining more influence with the GM, Mickey makes an unwanted trip to be with her day, on this latest scouting mission of his. This is where they run into one of his old athletes, Johnny, (Justin Timberlake) who was an up-and-coming pitcher in the minor that Gus found, but a trade to Boston, led to him blowing his arm out, and now he's a scout too. Naturally Johnny and Mickey have sexual tension and chemistry, although Mickey's been building up long-lasting anger at her father, for having her sent away after her mother died, twice. She's a bigger whiz at baseball than anybody, but she's still working on... I don't know, some major client at the lawfirm... I don't know, something from the damn cliched screenplay factory; I've gotten tired explaining it now. Those added little things that keep on supposedly raise the stakes, even though, we pretty know the ending, and pretty every possibly scenario of how this story could and does play out. The only other thing I want to mention is how amazing it is that Amy Adams manages to both, look like she belongs anywhere, no matter where the film takes place in, and yet, she stills feels almost angelically above the world that she's in. Nobody is better at playing a character that way-too-beautiful for her surroundings, and yet still manage to fit perfectly into them. That said, "Trouble with the Curve" is too slow, and not written well-enough to hold up. It might work on one viewing, but I can't imagine too many people, wanting to see it more than that. It's one of those stories where everything ends up a little-too-perfect. Couldn't one thing have happened that was really bad for these people at the end? I don't wanna sound too sadistic, but sometimes things shouldn't be so wrapped up like candy for us. Oh well. Oh, did I mention that Gus is starting to go blind, and that's why he's having trouble scouting, I might've forgotten that. I did, damn. Yeah, that too, but it doesn't hurt him as much as you'd think. Nothing hurts as much as it seems like it should in this film, actually. Could've been so much better, it's a shame. I hope Clint goes back to directing, that's where we really need him most.


THE THREE STOOGES (2012) Directors: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly

2 1/2 STARS



I'll start by admitting that I did laugh occasionally at "The Three Stooges". I'm not gonna pretend that I don't feel a little shame for that admission, but The Three Stooges, in the right context, and in the right mindset can be pretty funny. Well, the original Stooges, definitely had their moments, even if, by some accounts, an entire gender disagrees with that. They weren't exactly at the top of my comedy idols chart, they were probably one notch below the bottom actually, but the Farrelly Brothers, who've already been recycling the comedies of the past in recent films, like their remake of "The Heartbreak Kid", seemed to be constantly looking in the past for their latest inspiration. Possibly a sign, that they really have become partially void of good ideas of their own recently. I'm sure I'm not the first to say that, but they haven't had a really good movie since "Fever Pitch" (Which come-to-think-of-it, was also a remake), and it's starting to become noticeable. Maybe they should be trying to evolve from their gross-out physical comedy roots? Maybe that's what they're trying to do by digging into the past and pulling out new things to be inspired by. The classic Three Stooges, of course, Larry, Moe and Curly (Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso) are modernized here, (Sorry Shemp fans, [like myself]) are the centerpiece here, as they're left one day as babies at a Catholic orphanage, run by Mother Superior (Jane Lynch). From day 2, they're a pain in the ass, constantly getting into trouble and bumbling the simplistic of tasks, often accidentally involving the mean-spirited tough-old nun, Sister Mary Mengale (Larry David, in an interesting piece of casting). Also playing high-profile nuns are Kate Upton and Jennifer Hudson, for some reason. (You know it's weird, when the presence of the "Jersey Shore" cast in a film, makes more sense, and is funnier, than the Oscar-winner's presence in it. I certainly hope people know that that's weird. Anyway...) Well, years go by, and despite a close call with Moe, the three never do get adopted, and have basically resorted to being janitors at the orphanage now, and naturally, not good ones. The insurance premiums are sky high, and if they don't come up with the $830,000, the orphanage will close. So, it's off to the city, to try and find some suckers work. They get spotted by a conniving couple, Mac (Craig Bierko) and Lydia (Sofia Vergara), who are trying to have Lydia's rich husband, Teddy (Kirby Heyborne) killed, in order for her to get all his money. They try hiring the Stooges as hitmen, but they end up accidentally almost kill Mac, a bunch of times, actually. This is when they find out that Teddy was one of the former kids they lived with at the adoption agency many years ago, but Moe chooses to refuse to ask him for help, which causes a split between the three. BTW, there's an inconsistency with how Moe got that job on "Jersey Shore" with the way they later found out about his friends, that bothersome. I guess part of me, actually like "The Three Stooges", the movie, although at times, their humor doesn't work on me. Especially when it involves food for instance. That seemed too gross for me, and I was just waiting for the skit to end at those points. I like some touches, like the old music, and the exit and intros to supposedly, new "Three Stooges" shorts, but they're underutilized, and there was a few references to some of their more memorable and classic shorts. I actually do like the idea that, if the Stooges actually did exist today, they'd somehow become stars on their own reality shows, I can understand some of that humor, but a lot, especially in the beginning, falls flat. We're constantly that, while I believe the three actors are giving it their all, that we're fully aware that these three aren't the original Stooges who honed their craft on vaudeville and performed in hundreds of shorts over decades. The Farrelly's did get right the use of sound effects, the Stooges really did thrive, in a large part because of the great sound effects, many of which were invented, specifically for them, although the best use of the sound effects, actually belongs to Mac and Lydia and she's trying to help Mac climb over a wall, and let's just say, something on Sofia Vergara honked. (I'll give her credit, I think she was doing her best with this part) Also the Farrelly's so-called cameos at the end, where they were played by, clearly better-looking people than the Farrelly's actually are, warning kids not to imitate the Stooges, was a nice touch. Still, this was more hit-and-miss, and when it was missing, you started wondering, why they even doing it to begin with. I guess it was a good tribute, and maybe, late night on cable, you can kind of enjoy watching it, but I think I'd prefer a good "The Three Stooges" short in that case. I guess I can't quite recommend it, but I'll admit the film grew on me a bit, but considering the levels were at here, it's a minor work for the Farrelly's who've done better, and it's a flattery-filled imitation than it is, the real thing. It's a mixed review-, but it's one of those, if-nothing-better-is-on movies. Oh, I should also mention Stephen Collins has a crucial part too, that's, fine. Nothing special, but he's good in it.


THIN ICE (2012) Director: Jill Sprecher

3 1/2 STARS



The Sprecher Sisters, Jill and Karen are often overlooked in the film world of great and talented siblings behind the camera, especially since "Thin Ice" marks their first feature film in over a decade, but it comes off the heels of their first two wonderful films, "Clockwatchers" and "13 Conversations About One Thing". They're visual often invoke paintings, and their use of space is a specialty of theirs. "Thin Ice" is admittedly their weakest film, by far, but it's not exactly their fault. They've picked a genre that's frankly been so oversaturated that, we're just a few steps ahead of them from minute one now. I often wondered if there's any new way to do a con movie, anymore. There's basically two ways to do it, set up how the con is going to happen, and then leave out just enough info for us to not be 100% sure what's happening until the final reveal, or, there's the way it's done in "Thin Ice", which I won't completely give away, but if you've seen films like David Mamet's "House of Games" or particularly, the Argentinean film "Nine Queens", or it's American remake "Criminal", you'll have a half-way decent idea of what's happening in the film. (Hell, if you want to go all the way back, you can essentially trace nearly all these films to "The Sting" or even Kubrick's "The Killing".) At an insurance convention, we meet Kenosha insurance man, Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear), one of the best in the business. He holds seminars and has won numerous awards for selling insurance. However, he's in a bit of a career slump. His wife Jo An, (Lea Thompson) is separated from him, and he's on a losing streak at the casino, when Sherri (Jennifer Edward-Hughes) a drunk floosie fellow insurance agent, falls into his lap and hotel room, where she steals his wallet, and maxes out his credit cards gambling. It's then that he befriend Bob Egan (David Harbour), who attended him seminar earlier that day, and he steals him away from a job with his rival, and gives him a section to canvas. He keeps bringing in new claims, but he spends much of the time, with the elderly man named Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin) who lives for his dog Lucky, and has a house full of old junk. Possibly a rug that could raise in value, but not much else. Soon, he buys a small policy, to help fix a broken TV. However, amongst the valuables, is a violin, that a mysterious stranger from Chicago, Leonard Dahl (Bob Balaban) claims that a buyer is interested in purchasing it for $30,000. This grabs Mickey's attention, as he owes money everywhere right now, and with his credit cards maxed, he decides to sell the violin, but Gorvy, becomes more interested in keeping it, even getting Randy (Billy Crudup) a local locksmith/former criminal, to come in, and set an alarm system up, so that the violin can be put away. Mickey tries to get Randy, to help him break in and switch the violin with a fake he just bought, so he can sell to the highest bidder, but things go awry, and Randy and Mickey, end up having to bury a body, and now Mickey's got blackmail threats on top of everything else. He can't even keep from pissing off his secretary, Karla (Michelle Arthur) who's about to receive her insurance license, and is technical the company's CFO, wondering what's with all the constant fluctuations in the balance. Kinnear is quite good at playing a guy, who is just slimy enough to understand why his dilemma is his making, and that he deserves what's happening to him, but not so slimy that you can't empathize with him. It's basically, we're watching, waiting to see, how things are finally going to be played out, and how he'll lose everything. I don't think there was much surprise or shock. The movie is basically a black comedy, definitely the broadest thing the Sprecher Sisters have done. In some ways, it's a very sharp departure from their more realistic and grounded characters and stories. I'm torn on "Thin Ice", but I am gonna recommend it, for what it does well. It's a good con movie, but we've just seen too many of them over-the-years, and this one got lost in the shuffle. There's a lot of good acting, and great performances all around. (Although Lea Thompson should've been used more) I guess I'm disappointed considering their previous work, this sharp change in direction and mood for them, but if anything else, it shows that they can do almost anything.

SIDEBAR:
I happened to check Roger Ebert's review, after I finished writing mine above. Jill Sprecher, wrote a note to Roger, explaining that the film was completely re-edited by the producers and distributors, which completely took out twenty minutes from the film, including, them rearranging scenes, eliminating a majority of a voiceover, and even occasionally used outtakes as opposed to their takes. I knew there was something fishy going on. Legally, they're names are on the film, but they're refusing to take credit for the project, in it's current state. I knew something felt fishy, this film doesn't have the feel of their previous works. Here's a lesson to people, occasionally, something like this happens on a film, where producers and studios  have a way of taking final control of a project away from the directors. If anybody's interested, I highly recommend finding their previous films "Clockwatchers" and "13 Conversation...", before watching "Thin Ice", and compare their films with their final cut, compared to "Thin Ice" where control was taken away, and try to imagine the film they were trying to make. That is, until if/when their director's cut ever gets released.


CITIZEN GANGSTER (2012) Director: Nathan Morlando

3 1/2 STARS



Edwin Boyd (Scott Speedman) needed money, so one day, he went to the Lorne Greene Acting School, thinking that he could one get some quick money and be famous as an actor. It's nice to think that had he been accepted, and Taft-Hartley approved, maybe he wouldn't have become Canada's most infamous bankrobber. Boyd was never given good cards to begin with, but he wanted to try and bring in enough for his struggling family, and have his wife, Doreen (Kelly Reilly) not have to worry about losing the house. Once he begins robbing banks, with his dashing good looks, elaborated on by the makeup he uses as a signature, he starts becoming a bit of a cult hero in Canada. Even getting hit on by the bank clerks while he's robbing them. Eventually of course, he gets caught, and sent to jail, but he runs into some other robbers, led by Lenny Jackson (Kevin Durand), and soon, they breakout of jail, and become a second-tier Bonnie & Clyde-type gang, constantly hiding out and committing crimes, all through Eastern Canada. The style of the movie is quite intriguing, lots of dark blues and greys that seemed to pepper the snowy darkness of the settings. The movie though, relies mainly on Speedman's performance, as he's onscreen for most of the film, and the movie doesn't always succeed at this, but it's interesting how it transitions from one kind of film to another and to another. The title "Citizen Gangster," is a bit tricky to explain, 'cause it involves a title Boyd won years after his criminal activities ended, but other than the stylize nature of the film, the other really important part is a very underused Brian Cox as Boyd's father, who splatters his harsh, but true words about Edwin not making any good decisions. It sad that he really was trying, to do good with his life, but they chose to portray his as unable to, and not always because of his own issues; there's a lot of class and economic subtext to the film. There's nothing truly new here in the genre, but I still thoroughly this most true-to-life tale, of one of last folk hero's who became infamous right at the end of radio and the beginning of television era in Canada. It's the first feature film by Canadian Writer-Director, Nathan Morlando, and it's a good first film, despite some pacing problems, he got a great command of both vision and style, and I'm interesting, throughout the film, what I was gonna see next. This kind of story's been done better plenty of times, but "Citizen Gangster" is still a good one.


THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH (2012) Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

1 1/2 STARS



You ever start watching a movie, getting interesting, wondering what's gonna happen, and then, the movie adds a twist, and you're going, "Oh, we're-, we're going, this way, aren't we?" in that disappointed Stewie Griffin voice. It's not OH!, it's A-o-o-oh. down, to the bass of your voice. That's what happened to me, after almost an hour of "The Woman in the Fifth". Like, real-l-l-l-ly, we're going with that plot device. Huh. And it's a bad plot device, the kind they made fun of on an episode of "Friends" once. This is the second feature I've seen from Polish-British Director Pawel Pawlikowski, after the romance "My Summer of Love", which I think I watched twice, and still don't remember too well, and "The Woman in the Fifth" is kinda like that as well. The movie begins with Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) an American English lecturer, who, had a novel once upon a time, but has since been struggling to fight for custody of his kid. He's flown to Paris to see her, and he barely recognizes her in her new glasses. On the way to the airport, his bags are stolen, including all his money and plane tickets. Left with, basically just a passport, he finds lodging and a job from Sezer (Samir Guesmi), who runs a hole-in-the-wall cafe. He also attends a literary get-together that he gets invited too, after someone in a bookstore recognized him from his book. He's not much of a writer anymore, isn't even interested in it, and spends much of his time writing, just writing a long letter to his daughter. Then, her meets Margit (Kristen Scott Thomas). They form a bond, at the get-together, talking alone on the balcony. The "Fifth" in the title, is the apartment number that she lives in. She's a widower who's husband was also a writer, who lost his mind a bit years ago. There's an intense loneliness in Tom, even as Sezer's girlfriend Ania,  (Joanna Kulig) keeps making friendly motions towards him. He knows, to some extent, that he may forever be stuck in Paris, working at a strange job that reeks of suspicious behavior. Where the movie goes from here, I won't describe, but with these kind of set-ups, I think there's too kinds of reactions to it. One is either, shock of some kind as though a lightbulb just goes off and we're delighted that we've been fooled, but that only really works if we're interested enough in the character and the story, to begin with, to allow us to accept these kind of revelations. I didn't get that reaction. I was still wondering, "What's going to happen to this guy," or more accurately, "What is this guy going to do, eventually?" and then to have the rug pulled from under me, just came off like, he had a character, and a setting, and a situation, but he didn't have a story, and so, he cheated. The film is based on a popular Douglas Kennedy novel, and I think the material would've worked better in novel form, where you can get the true essence on the insights on Tom's mind, but in film, we don't get that, and we just get a film that seems to be flowing aimlessly, searching for an ending. I didn't feel cheated in "The Woman in the Fifth", but I feel disappointed. I thought something more thoughtful and inventive would happen, and instead, we got a tired, old story, and a tired old cliche. I was hoping to like "The Woman in the Fifth", but overall, I ended up leaving it going, "Is that all there is?"


HITLER'S CHILDREN (2012) Director: Chanoch Zeevi

4 STARS



I happened to flip to PBS one day, awhile ago, and they were showing the actual video footage of the hanging of Amon Goeth. I stopped writing for a big, as I pondered whether or not to explain who Amon Goeth was, 'cause most people should know who he was, but on the same token, you can easily claim that not enough people do. Anyway, it took them, three tries to hang him. The rope was too long, the drop didn't work another time, and it took them three tries, to finally hang him; I never forgot seeing that footage. "Hitler's Children" includes interviews, with the surviving blood relatives, of the leaders and most notorious members of the Nazi party, include Amon Goeth's daughter, and details some of the choices they've made over the years, or in some cases, had to make, in order to separate themselves, if they could, from the legacy of their namesake. I can't imagine would it would mean, to have a name like Himmler or Goering or Goess, but these people have been living with it for quite some time. Monika Goeth, recalls running into someone who was at Plaszow, and the way she describes it, when the guy realizes who her father was, is startling. She wasn't told about the amount and viciousness of the people he murdered. Other relatives, search out the places they lived, even comparing old home photos of their relatives to the locations, which haven't changed much. Others actually start talking, and touring about what it's like. Bettina Goering said that her family was always happy when someone would think they were Finnish or Dutch, as hey tried desperately to rid themselves of their German ancestry completely. Many of them went overseas, took their husband's name, and learn to speak multiple languages. Few of them stayed in Germany. Niklas Frank's family, still had a box that Hitler gave his great-uncle Hans Frank. One of them found out that even after their grandfather was killed, their grandmother remained a Nazi, and in close contact to some of those former Nazis that were in hiding for decades. I read a news story recently that they're still finding ex-Nazis, and holding trials for their crimes, some seventy years later. "Hitler's Children" is a striking and haunting documentary; one more aspect of the war that we haven't looked through. Last week, I reviewed a documentary called "Inside Hana's Suitcase" about children, who were still just learning about the atrocities of the Holocause, and here's a movie about people who have to personally live with that the history and knowledge of their family's most gruesome acts. It's striking how normal they all seem, and how sullen they are. I wish I could think of something more thoughtful or profound to say about the film, or the history or something, but frankly there isn't much you can say. These peoples' relatives committed horrible acts of genocide, and they have to live with that. We get, the briefest of glimpses into what living with that kind of burden entails, and that' s it, the briefest of glimpses, and the realization that they live with it, twenty-four seven. It's an intriguing documentary, and I can't fully grasp their lives, other than through the prism of my own, and mostly when I think of that, I think about how lucky I was to have not been born into their families. Not an easy watch, but probably something you should watch, even if, it's only a minor glimpse, and that's probably all we can deal with anyway.


GREGORY CREWDSON: BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (2012) Director: Ben Shapiro

3 STARS



A city street has been shut down for the day. There's camera, lights, a lot of people hurriedly walking around, looking very busy, and a long-haired overweight guy, who pacing slowly from each part of the scene to the next, making sure everything is perfect; he's even waiting for the golden hour, to get exactly, just the right light to shoot. Movie set, right? No, this is all, just for a single still photograph. Gregory Crewdson has becomes a major name in modern photography, and his process is some of the most complex and intricate around. And the most expensive. His photos sell for the tens of thousands, which is good, because he uses to money to fund his next photos. A whole series of his photos, can cost the amount of a small movie, and they're shot like one too. He'll set fire to house, or flood living rooms, to get the shot he wants. He doesn't come off as such a determine artist, just one who's got an image in his mind, and wants to visualize it. The series of his that the film focuses on, are the ten years it took for him to make his "Beneath the Roses" series, which was inspired by classic cinema. His images are fascinating portrayals of Americana, often dark imagery. He mentioned inspiration came from people as wide-ranging as Edward Hopper to David Lynch, and it shows. Strangely, Crewdson doesn't seems to resemble his work much at all, in hindsight. He's big and funny at times, underdresses in big t-shirt and comfortable shorts and slacks. He looks like he never moved out of his mother's basement. As I watched "...Brief Encounters" I find myself fascinated by the process at which he makes his pictures, which, really does resemble a movie set. He even claims they're essentially film, with the dialogue and the narrative. I'd like to own a few of his pictures, and possibly hang out with Crewdson personally, although we never really dive into this disconnect in his work. He seems to be inspired on a whim, when it comes to a theme or an idea. He mentioned that his next series would be inspired by Rome.It's as good an inspiration as far as I'm concerned, but personally, I don't quite know what to make of it. I was entertain by the film, so I'm recommending, but I suspect that we really didn't dig too much into Crewdson, the person, with the documentary, and I have a feeling that, to get a better sense of that, we should dive more into his photography than this bio-documentary. I can see, his process is worth keeping a record of, but a very mixed review from me, especially with hindsight, my appreciation for Crewdson grew, but my appreciation for the film, didn't. 


THE CONQUEST (2011) Director: Xavier Durringer

3 STARS



I didn't really have the greatest reaction to "The Conquest," and it's a two-fold response, from me. One being that, since I do follow politics closely, even once seriously considered Poli-Sci as a major in college for awhile, that part of me, feels that I've simply seen most of what's in "The Conquest" at several other different times and ways, secondly, I've always found that, when we're discussing these major and historical presidential campaigns, it's actually more interesting to see a documentary on it, then to actually see a dramatization. For instance, I can never get some of the images out of my head from the great D.A. Pennebaker documentary "The War Room", which gave us this amazing behind-the-scene look at Clinton's presidential run, or the legendary short film "Primary" about the '60 Wisconsin primary battle between Humphrey and Kennedy. Even the recent HBO doc, "By the People..." documenting Obama's election, there was a truly thrilling nature to the project, that you just don't get in these adapted films. (Haven't seen "Game Change", btw, but I read the book, which was indubitably intriguing) It may also help knowing the background going in, and unfortunately, I wasn't as familiar going into "The Conquest" about the battle between Jacques Chirac (Bernard Le Coq) and Nicholas Sarkozy (Denis Podalydes). It's not exactly new, or even news, that it's possible for members of the same political party to be mortal enemies that can't stand each other, and curse each other when the camera's off, (or occasionally, when it's on.) even in France's right-winged party (Which is more like, what we in America would consider the Center-Right here, but whatever...) and the rise of the young Sarkozy has always been one of intrigue, fighting for better and better cabinet positions, while Chirac, can't standing his brashness and youthful insistence and drive, keeps hoping to relegate him to lower, and more unimportant posts. Sarkozy's first big splash in national politics, was when he stubbornly refused to place a key vote, until his then-wife, Marie-Dominique, who he was fighting with, refused to make an appearance and be at his side. That is, unusual, compared to America, where we practically have special training for the wives of candidates nowadays. Now, we fast forward, to Sarkozy, determined to defeat Chirac for the '07 Presidency, and his current wife, Cecilia (Florence Pernel) is one of his most trusted advisers, yet, she remains on her way to becoming the second future ex-Mrs. Sarkozy. It's fairly well-know Sarkozy's difficulty in keeping a wife, and it's fairly well-known, despite having a kid with his current wife, supermodel Carla Bruni, that they basically, live in separate houses and have an open-relationship. That's not shown in the movie though, what we mostly get, outside of the slow deterioration of Cecilia and Nicolas's marriage, is the divisive battle of wills and power plays between Chiraq and Sarkozy. This, tet-a-tet which is both deadly serious, and times, completely ridiculous, as is all election campaigns. The reality of politics, often takes surreal detours. I always think of the opening of "Fahrenheit 9/11" when I see a politician start going off on another, while in front of a camera, seeing the makeup and the preparation that the live feed picks up, before they go live. The whole show of politics, is possibly makes the behind-the-scenes grind so much more interesting in hindsight. Still, I missed the sense of urgency that I hope for in campaign films, that absolute need for both sides, or at least, even one side, to be continuously striving for victory, and win-at-all costs. It was there, but I think "The Conquest" was more about the mudslinging than the actual prize. They don't even really deal with the inevitability of having to defeat the next opponent, which is interesting in hindsight, seeing that Sarkozy became a one-term French President. I guess, for what was good about it, I'm gonna recommend "The Conquest" but under a caveat that I think we've seen this done better, of course, being an American, we might just presume we've done everything better to begin with.

SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (2006) Director: Todd Phillips

1/2 STAR



There's been a lot of me, starting to write a movie review, and then, getting bored or tired or disappointed (or all three at once) at the prospect of having to write about something that, frankly, the kind of thing that, nobody goes into film criticism, wanting to write. We don't want reviews of "School for Scoundrels" as some of you may be shocked to believe! We don't want to have to explain a plot so irrevocably inept and have to go over a so-called "comedy" in lengthy detail, with focus on our thoughts and opinions as we watched the film, or immediately thereafter. They aren't really worth the wasting of precious seconds and minutes of life, to actually have to place my palms over my keyboard in typing position, and have them use there power to be a medium of my thoughts, for a film like "School for Scoundrels". (And many other films for that matter.) I feel sorry for my fingers at this moment, knowing that the joy they usually feel when I crack them and ready them for work like this, so excited to do their job, and be the great communicators and mediators that they are when I type, but alas, it's not to say of anything of value or importance or even, to discuss something that requires a great deal of thought and reflection. It's the way people feel, when they're excited to go to work in the morning, only to find that there car's missing, and their job sucks that day. Todd Phillips has always been, more or less erratic in general. I've skipped most of his work, only catching "Old School", "Starsky & Hutch" and of course, the first two "The Hangover" movies until now. I thought the only thing funny in "Old School" was Will Ferrell, I think I did recommend "Starsky & Hutch", for reasons I couldn't explain if you place a gun to my head right now, although I think it had something to do with casting Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear. I liked the first "The Hangover," although I thought it was overrated, and the second one..., well, the second one, was the second one. "School for Scoundrels" believe it or not, is actually a remake of a 1960 comedy, although I seriously doubt that I'm gonna search it out. The movie starts out, slightly promising with Roger (Jon Heder) a meter maid who's often berating and beaten up by those who he gives tickets to. He complains to his Boss/Counselor Seargeant Moorehead (Luiz Guzman) who's no help. Neither are any of his friends. Even the little brother's he mentors, don't want anything to do with him. He finally takes some advice from Ian (David Cross) to go take the class from Dr. P. (Billy Bob Thornton), who is a-..., I don't know, what do you want to call him? There's nobody there; I don't know who I'm talking to. Well, it's in the damn title, he teaches them how to be, I don't know, scoundrels, or pricks, or whatever. Remember that character Tom Cruise played in "Magnolia", kinda like that guy, without the ego and glitz. Yeah, kinda like that guy, only more hands on, and personal, and in-your-face. He's basically teaching them, how to be cool, and assertive, particularly when trying to get women. Oh yeah, Roger has a crush on Amanda (Jacinda Barrett) a cute, albeit and boring, Australian- what-the-hell is her job? I want to say flight attendant-, oh it doesn't matter, she's basically got the personality of a houseplant, and is about as morose as Jon Heder, so maybe their a good match, although it would've been interesting if Barrett switched roles with Sarah Silverman's who played her pushy, annoying roommate Becky. Other than that, if I laughed once or twice at this senseless movie it was probably just to break up the monotony, and not for anything onscreen in particular. The men in the movie are all sleezy, shallow pricks, and the women are brainless morons who are apparently eager to be with the sleezy shallow pricks, and that can only be so funny for so long, when it's intentionally ironic. When it's not done with irony, well...- it was sad to see Michael Clarke Duncan having to take a role as some kind of strongman/bodyguard to Mr. P. in this too. Not much to like about "School for Scoundrels", and the few "good parts" that would explain my 1/2 STAR rating, well they're not good enough to waste time writing about them.


THE FOUR-FACED LIAR (2010) Director: Jacob Chase

3 STARS

The Four-Faced Liar (2010)

The thing that makes "The Four-Faced Liar," just barely recommendable is that, it's a film about two people finding out that they're falling in love with each other, and not about two girls who find out that they're lesbians. My friend Melissa has been recommending "The Four-Faced Liar" to me for awhile now, among other titles, and I finally got around to it last week. As I searched for a decent movie review to look at and recall some of the details of the film (Which I do occasionally, when they are harder to recall than say, more memorable films, like "The Dark Knight Rises" for instance) and to my surprise, there weren't any reviews on rottentomatoes.com, and I had to scour the internet a bit, before stumbling to afterellen.com to find Danielle Riendeau's smartly-written review. The title comes from the name of the New York bar, conveniently located between sex shops, in one of those areas of New York that you're more likely to see on "Girls" instead of "Sex and the City". Greg and Molly (Daniel Carlisle and Emily Peck) are new in town, and have been a couple for awhile. They soon hit it off with a trio of sorts, Trip and Chloe (Todd Kubrak and Liz Osborn) and Trip's lesbian roommate Bridget (Marja Lewis Ryan). Molly is attending college and while she's in love with Greg, he starts to become rather dull after awhile. He also cheats on her at one point. Meanwhile, Bridget, is outgoing gothic-y, and fun. She has days of the week assigned to her booty, in between being obsessed over "Wuthering Heights". That's the kind that would work better in a play than a movie, and sure enough, the film was written by Ryan, and adapted from her original stage play, and at times, I think it would've played better on a black box stage. There's a lot of quick-witted dialogue, but the action remains a little too slow for film. I think it was done to extend the runtime of the film, 'cause I have a feeling done at the right speed and pace, the play is probably just a one-act-er. (Is that a word, one-act-er; that doesn't sound right. Oh well.) It works however, especially during the last half-hour or so, on the performances. Greg, at one point, cheats on Molly, but he rededicates himself to her, meanwhile, Molly's clearly falling in love with Bridget, who frankly, can't fathom the notion of a meaningful relationship, although she's getting much inspiration from Catherine, which, as most of you have probably figured out by now, the film is loosely inspired by "Wuthering Heights" and Molly is Bridget's Heathcliff. (Or it might be the other way around) The last scene really got me. The two girl lying in bed, looking up, and just talking about, the unknown that's next between them. Ryan is really good with dialogue. The movie is erratic, and the beginning and the ending are the strongest parts, while the middle dwindles a bit. So 2/3 of the movie works, and the dialogue had some real moments of strength and insight. It's a small recommendation for this low-key rom-com, but there's interesting stuff here.

KADOSH (2000) Director: Amos Gitai

2 1/2 STARS



You know, I've often discussed how it's usually easy to remember a movie on recall for me, but "Kadosh" is one, that I am having trouble recalling. In fact, when I watched the opening shot, a long single take, of a couple that's getting out of bed and beginning their day, I swore that it was so familiar that, perhaps I had seen the film before, or at least had started watching it at one point, and just never finished. (I'm pretty sure it was the latter) Yet, I still had a difficult time, getting a real grasp for "Kadosh" and I think I know why. It's because the movie, isn't so much interested in plot, as oppose to recreating a reality of the world the film takes place in, in this particular case, a look inside the life of women, is the ultra-orthodox Hasidim faith of Judaism, and taking place in Mea Shearim, a very Hasidim area of Jerusalem. In that aspect, the movie works, but what that means it lacks, is a more driving story and plot to follow. That makes sense, considering Israeli Director Amos Gitai's background as a documentarian, although the one previous film of his I've seen, a movie I do remember quite well called "Free Zone", also dealt with the complications of modern-day life in the Middle East. Kadosh, has a small plot, involving how one young woman, Malka (Meital Barda) falls in love with Yaakov (Sami Huri) but he is rejected by the sect, for his radicals views (Which aren't that radical) and insteal Malka is to marry Yossef (Uri Klauzner), while another marriage, Meir and Rivka (Yoram Hattab and Yael Abecassis) is being forced to be divorced, since Rivka is now barren. These decisions, seem guided by the Yeshiva's Rabbit, who happens to be Meir's father, but in reality, it's the old traditional and male dominance of the orthodoxy that dictates the procedures. The women's only job is to bare children, and the men,... well the men can do pretty much anything within the bounds of the religion. They study and debate the Talmud quite a bit for instance, often looking for loopholes in the Sabbath procedures. Not all marriages or lives or the women are bad, but essentially, they're all subservient to the men in this closed-in, sect. It's a film about the way people live, and not about what someone does. This is why, it isn't strikingly entertaining. It's well-made, albeit slow-moving, and frankly while I normally love long takes in film, even this one was starting to bother me a bit. It had good motives, and it does showcase a part of the Middle East, that a lot of us aren't familiar with and haven't seen, especially in terms of the way women are treated. (It's hardly the Taliban, but still, it's shocking behavior) That said, does good motives, make a good movie. The fact is that a truly entertaining film, need slightly more than that. I respect and admire "Kadosh", and may even recommend people see it, under certain circumstances, but I can't say that I ever want to see it again. It took me two viewings to sit through it, and there's still, very little driving this movie forward. 

Post a Comment