Sunday, July 14, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #68: "THE TASTE OF MONEY", "JACK REACHER", "STARLET", "PITCH PERFECT", "4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH", "FOR ELLEN", "FOREIGN LETTERS", "CONNECTED: AN AUTOBLOGRAPHY ABOUT LOVE, DEATH & TECHNOLOGY" and MORE!

(NOTE: For some reason, Blogger just deleted this entire blog, as I was trying to make an edit. I don't know how or why that happened, but that was disappointing. Thankfully, I have a back-up, so nothing that got deleted was lost other than time and google images I posted. This is a recreation of that post, the best I can. Sorry for any/all inconvenience(s) this may have caused, we're are trying to get to the bottom of why this happened. Again, our deepest apologize, we will try our damnedest not to have this happen again.)

I'm not gonna, this has been, a very trying week for me, not just movie-wise either, which really makes it disappointing. On top of that, I turn on my computer late Saturday Night, after finishing taking notes for the ROH reports I write on GuysNation.com once a month, and suddenly it's like all hell broke loose. A kid from "Glee" found dead (RIP Cory Monteith) , a man who killed a kid, found innocent, and it's starting to feel like another full moon or crazy stuff happening. I have a lot of projects on the horizon, most of it for this blog, some cool stuff especially, so I'm already stressing out a bit, and btw, before I forget, the Emmy nominations, are this Thursday, and I will be here, hours later, with my traditional, post-nomination analysis, as always, and saying that, I'm starting to get the feeling, that I'm gonna be watching a lot of TV on the internet coming up, 'cause I get the feeling that a lot of it's getting nominated. They already have Kate Mara co-presenting are her show's on Netflix, so that-that, can end up being an important day for the Emmys, so this is gonna be one of the more Emmy years in a while.

BTW, I still can use people to participate in my "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!" POLL, so if you haven't done that yet, now is a great time, 'cause I haven't gotten any ballots this time around, and we're so, so close to our goal.... Here's the link to that blog for the rules of that.

So with a lot happening, and me, working on multiple other projects and posts, I'm gonna keep this short and sweet today, so let's get right to this week's "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!"

THE TASTE OF MONEY (2013) Director: Sang-Soo Im

3 STARS



If you ever wondered what happens at that "Eyes Wide Shut" house when there isn't a lot of masks, naked people, sex and rituals, well, "The Taste of Money" kinda feels like that. It's a pseudo-sequel to Sang-Soo Im's "The Housemaid", which itself was a remake of a famous Korean film about a rich family who had a bad habit of maids killing themselves after being seduced by the family matriarch, Yoon (Yun-Shik Baek), and then terrorized and tortured by the females of the family. They're a giant corporate crime family, that's so rich now, they encourage the people who transfer bags of money to take some for themselves, something their newest gofer Joo Young-Jak (Kang-woo Kim) as they collect more money and more things through numerous deals and illegal transactions. The matriarch is finally considering to create a slushfund that can finally pay off everybody and keep more money and things for themselves. it's gets complicated after that, and there's a lot of sex and money thrown around. That's really the only way I think you can describe it. Where do the rich find all these women whose basic jobs are to basically be on call and be naked at a moments notice? Anyway, Joo gets into another affair with a maid, which gets caught by his wife Na-Mi (Hyo-Jim Kim) on one of the house's numerous video cameras, so in retaliation, she forces Joo to sleep with her. Not the first time this sort of practice has been done, before but this time, their daughter is old enough to begin being with Joo herself, and he's falling for her as well. It gets more complicated when Joo announces that he's actually in love with the Filipino maid he's with currently, and has decided to finally divorce his wife. After that, making any damn sense out of "The Taste of Money" is quite the useless and nonsensical exercise. This is one of those rare times where I'm likely recommending a movie, even knowing that it really isn't that good, but it's just so compulsively watchable. It's soap opera, it's erotic, it's sexual, and complete and utter trash. It's indecipherable and completely overblown, filled with characters that are either too outrageous to ever exist or so outrageous that they must be based on real people, i can't decide yet. Either way, I couldn't stop watching, so for that reason, I have to recommend it. Not I wanted to see what would happen next, but I certainly wanted to see what I was gonna be shown next. This is a director's film, and Im's directing makes this film way more watchable than it has any real right to be. This is definitely what I'd call, a mixed review, but I gotta say, right now, after thinking it over, I can't say I didn't enjoy myself for watching the film, nor can I say that it felt disappointed for having watched it. A little shame probably, but not much more than that. "The Taste of Money" is simply that, a little taste at what all the dread and pitfalls money can bring you, taken to such a ridiculous extreme of course, but what would you want, a boring and mundane family of corporate and corrupt crooks? No, I'd rather see this.


JACK REACHER (2012) Director: Christopher McQuarrie

2 1/2 STARS



You know, at a certain point, frankly I got tired of it. I got it, and I got, and I got it, we have the traditional action thriller formula, except in this case, before we even get to the next scene/plotpoint, "Jack Reacher" (Tom Cruise) the international man of kick-ass mystery comes in, reveals exactly what's happening next, and then, we see it happen, or he circumnavigates it, and for awhile it's it's entertaining, but, then it becomes predictable and redundant, and you realize that basically Tom Cruise is once again, just playing a variation on this, same Ethan Hunt character again,-.... Ultimately, I finally just got bored. I was happy when I wasn't paying too much attention for a second, and heard the main bad guy finally speak, and I thought, "Who's doing the really good Werner Herzog accent?" only to realize, "Oh wait, that is Werner Herzog!" I'll admit, that was a nice surprise. The movie begins with an arrest of a man, James Barr (Joseph Sikora) who's accused of killing five people randomly, sniper-style, which by the way, let me say something about this, because, the opening scenes, which are well-shot admittedly, but they're obviously using the D.C. Sniper, as as a referential point for the main crime at the center of this, and the opening scene, is through the scope of the rifle, one very long uncut take, the scope, following the victims, and the seeing the carnage he causes, and  then we occasionally see this same thing, in flashbacks, from multiple different angles and perspective later in the film, and you know what, this was simply disturbing. I know he's supposed to be the bad guy, and we're supposed to hate him, and has to do something, despicable in order for us, to want to see him, get caught and get killed later, but you don't have to disturb the audience, and make them sickened and nauseous to do it, and come up with the most sickening murders, shot in the most realistic of ways to do it, especially in what  should be, at least I interpreted it to be, a fun action movie. I've made this kind of complaint a few other times, like "Harry Brown" was another had a particularly sickening opening scene, just to do it- You have to know the kind of violence, that goes with the kind of movie you're making. There's a time and place, to make the audience queasy and disturbed, but this wasn't it. At a certain I don't care how well-made a scene or concept is, if I'm not entertained, and starting a movie like that, it's just not entertaining. For much of the movie, afterwards, it was, and Cruise, God bless him, he damn near saves this film. He shows up, shortly after the shooter, who's now in a coma after being beaten up by fellow prisoners, instead of writing a confession, he asked for Reacher, an old Military expert, who's run more secret missions and all that, stuff than anybody, and is so hard-to-find, he has to find you. He heard Barr, was a shooter and wanted to put him away, after he had done something similar in Iraq, during the war, however Reacher is also a Sherlock Holmes-ian level detective, and he starts to notice problems with everything, which he discusses with Barr's ambitious young attorney, Helen (Rosamund Pike) who just happens to be the daughter of D.A. Rodin (Richard Jenkins). Of course. Anyway, the more Reacher's presence on the case becomes known, the more it becomes clear to him, that Barr was setup, and that people are after him, but since, he's Jack Reacher, they don't get as far. You know, I was relatively entertained for awhile, how he explains all the cliches of the genre, and see all the facts like an old pro, knowing how to win a barfight with five guys for instance, and knowing just the right time to tell Helen that either her father or the lead investigator Emerson (David Oyelowo is in on the crime, and to be careful, but, at then end, telling me what's about to happen, doesn't change, what's about to happen, so basically were getting a formulaic genre film, with the only real difference is that, we're told of what the next plot twist is going to be, five seconds before we would've guessed it. This is the first film that Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has directed in over a decade, and he's decent at directing, and of course, we know his talents as a screenwriter, having penned "The Usual Suspects", arguably the second-most influential screenplay of the '90s after "Pulp Fiction", but not a whole lot since. He did write the underwhelming, "The Tourist", and along "Jack Reacher", they're two of five major Hollywood projects he's written to be released during a five-year span, and before that his only other credit was for "Valkyrie", which was directed by Bryan Singer, who did "The Usual Suspects", and I'm starting to think that Singer might be just as responsible for McQuarrie's successes, moreso than his scripts in fact. I don't think he's lived up to that screenplay since, and that's disconcerting. "Jack Reacher", is just another play on a genre, we seen a million times before. The mood is always a little off, Cruise is being Cruise here, I'm not sure that was the right move, but I don't think was working either...- Yeah, the more I think about "Jack Reacher" the less I like it and the more it's natural flaws feel awkward. It might've been a fun piece of escapism, at times it even was, but it doesn't really even get to that enough.


STARLET (2012) Director: Sean Baker

3 1/2 STARS

 

In a indescribably bare L.A. apartment, lives Jane, Melissa and Mikey. They don't seem to do much, outside of waking up, occasionally smoke pot and play video games, and drearily go about their days. The stairs are the most glamorous feature of the apartment. Everybody seem to live, in the most unflattering and comfortable clothes around, and that's if anybody bothers to wake up and get out of their, and I'm using this word loosely, "pajamas". Jane (Dree Hemingway, Mariel's daughter, and if that isn't disturbing enough, she's just as beautiful and talented too) is young, tall and when she dolls herself up, can be quite beautiful, but is mostly content, to care for her little chihuahua, who is eventually named Starlet, and when she decides to go out, she goes searching yard sales for deals. For the most part, of the three in the apartment, she's the most active one. If I actually thought about long enough, I think I could have guessed the professions of these three people. That said, it got revealed eventually, that Jane and Melissa were porn stars and Mikey was some kind of low-level agent/producer for them, who doesn't inform them when they need one of their rooms for a quick scene, nor does he tell them about the sudden decision to insert a stripper pole in the living room. The money he got for the expensive construction job, came from Jane, who bought an old vase-looking thermos at one of those yard sales, from an old 85-year-woman named Sadie (Bedseka Johnson). When she opened it up, there's was thousands of dollars inside wrapped in hundreds.  She doesn't seem like the charitable nice old woman type, so Jane hypothesizes that Sadie probably didn't know about the money in the thermos. (A  She spent some of it, but, feeling guilty, she begins trying to befriend her anyway, find something to do with the money for her. This begins a somewhat predictable tale of these two unusual characters who happen to meet up. "Starlet" is actually not a reference to Jane's persona in the porn industry, but instead is the name of her dog, which itself has no real significance other than it's the name on his collar. The portrayals of the industry in fact, are very unglamorous. It's basically a barely part-time, okay-paying job that requires occasional appearances and the clinical performances, but not quite enough for rent, and if you aren't well-behaved liked Jane's vindictive roommate Melissa (Stella Maeve), they get blackballed quickly. (Something that few people have noticed, but since the rise of the internet especially, the job of porn star has become an overly-saturated market) Instead, the movie focuses on Jane's insistence to get close to Sadie. Joining the old woman for bingo games, against her will, and finding ways to get close to her. At it's core, "Starlet" is about a nice young person, who just wants to do a nice thing for someone, and just how difficult that can be. It's not exactly new or special, but it is intriguing. It's the first performance by Bedseka Johnson as the old woman, not a trained actor, but was discovered by writer/director Sean Baker. It's the second film I've seen of his, and I rather enjoyed his "Prince of Broadway" about immigrants in NYC's fashion district trying to get by. He seems by the ways in which, people just live. Not so much surviving, but people who do what they can to get, whether that's a lot or a little, with their days. "Starlet" got the NC-17 rating originally, and wasn't easily available in theaters, but it's a quite telling of this rather typical story and the great acting of Dree Hemingway and Johnson really carry this film. It's got moments where it's a little dead onscreen, but overall it was rather enjoyable and poetic at times, definitely enough for a recommendation.


PITCH PERFECT (2012) Director: Jason Moore

2 STARS



As we finished defeating Knudsen Junior High, in the 1st of a double-header playoff day, back in 8th grade, the Brown Junior High Varsity Quiz, for which I had captained for two years, passed the Greenspun team in the outdoor hallway, as they were going in for their playoff game. We were the number 1 seed, we were the 2 seed defending champions, and we'd see each other in the finals on TV eventually. There was a brief intense pause between us, as we  were confronting each other for the first time, both of us in our team shirts, me in my, what-had-now-become my trademark Fonzi-esque leather jacket, which I was renowned for wearing during games, (and every other place/time as well) in this rare instance, increased the rival-like tension, in a "West Side Story" kinda way, but we made quick jabs about meeting each other in the final, even though neither team had technically won their spot yet, and we went on our ways, them playing their next game, us preparing for ours. This rather barely-existent conflict,  is the only incident in my life that I can claim, that didn't take place in the parking lot at Veteran's Stadium that has any similarity to the kind of high school level rival vs. rival, group vs. group tension that "Pitch Perfect" is trying to imitate. (I say high school, although it is college technically in the film, but the behavior feels high school to me.) I've noticed the growing appeal lately of A Capella groups, for some reason. Nothing against them, the best of the bunch are certainly talented beyond description, but still, it seems like an odd thing to fall into, even if you are musically-inclined like Beca (Anna Kendrick) who doesn't want to go to Barton College, but has a free ride scholarship because of her dad being a professor there and all so her career as a music producer is hold, and apparently this college is notorious for being obsessed with a capella, with multiple groups that are rivals and compete against each other for national titles. The all-girl group, The Bellas are led by the Aubrey (Anna Camp) the obsessed and controlling lead, who costed the Bellas the National Championship last year, which would've been the first all-girl A Capella group to win, but in the middle of the very timely Ace of Base performance, she vomited all over the audience, and even the announcers, yes apparently there's announcers to these things (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) and both did their best Fred Willard impersonations on this, and did it very well I might add. This wasn't particularly funny, and not a whole helluva lot was. (And btw, is it just me, or do people through up way too much in movies?) Anyway, their main rival group, are the national champion men's team, the- the,- oh, hold on, let me find my notes. (Moment pause) Ah, dammit, I didn't write it down. Give me a few minutes, I gotta look it up. ("Please Stand By" reads on screen next to musak of "Physical" by "Olivia Newton-John",  while random statements David says are overheard in the background.) C'mon, rottentomatoes, load! This got an 81 on there, Fat Amy wasn't that interesting. Oh come on, even wikipedia isn't loading. Dammit. Oh, great, now Hulu isn't working either, c'mon! Treblemakers! That's it. Damn, that wasn't worth- Oh, why is my "Project Runway" unavailable, what-the-hell Hulu. (Turn off Musak, starts talking again.) the Treblemakers, that's the name, and they're lead by Jesse (Skylar Astin) who works with Beca at the college radio station sorting records. Chloe ambushed Beca into joining the Bellas by cornering her in the shower, where Beca was singing and Chloe was doing someone. Basically the team is short on it's classic pristine image from year's before, so we get a Bad News Bears-type group of a capella, most famously Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) who's somewhat more interesting and boisterous than the most. She calls herself Fat Amy, so no one does it behind her back. (Although, we later learn her first name is actually Patricia.) Others includes, a girl who was gills like a fish, and barely talks above a whisper, although apparently she can rap and beatbox, in between barely heard strange comments. There's a few others, but basically, it goes, Aubrey won't let the team do anything newer than 1990, for some reason, and that includes Beca's ideas on mashing-ups and overlaying music while A Ca-pel-la-ing? (Shrugs), while meanwhile the Treblemakers are constantly reinventing themselves through modern music, and that because of an, ancient ritual that's about as dump as any other fraternity/sorority ritual, no Bellas are allowed to sleep with a Treblemaker, something which most of the Bellas probably are doing, except for maybe the gambling-addicted lesbian. I got some laughs out of "Pitch Perfect," and admittedly the performances, and songs were rather entertaining, but I really had trouble grasping this. It was written by "30 Rock" and "New Girl" writer Kay Cannon, and I've liked much of her TV work, but the real key to the Tina Fey style of referential style of writing, is the real true drama that's built into it, as well and great character. There's okay-to-good characters here, but most of the drama, is made-up for the convenience of the plot. Also, I guess it's okay that we're talking college kids here, but honestly some of these actors looked way too old for the parts. That might've been intentional, but especially with Anna Kendrick, who I wrote about recently in my review of "End of Watch", "One of those actresses who I'm always happen to suddenly see onscreen," and frankly this movie, made me start doubting that statement. She's good, and even talented, I don't think she was really right for this part. Well, let me put it another, I think she's too good for this kind of role. I just saw her in "End of Watch", a small role, that she made feel believable by just walking into the room, and yet here, I have to buy here as a freshman coed, even in a movie with a bunch of actors playing younger than their age, this seemed wrong to me. Maybe she should've played the Aubrey part, be the controlling stuck-in-the-past bitch, this felt like a cliched role. Very cliched. I'll give it points for cool use of "The Breakfast Club", and some of the jokes worked, although none of the vomiting ones did, but this film wasn't so much a sharp satire on this world and this kind of movie, as it was, just another one of these kind of movies. There's potential for a decent film here, but I think I'd have preferred a documentary on them instead of "Pitch Perfect".

Wait, hold on-, um, before I finish this review, since were talking A Capella music, there is one thing I wanna do, just give me a second to set this up. Where's that old CD; where's my gumshoe jacket, eh, hold on, this'll just take a second. (Under breath) Track 1, okay. I'm I time this right.... Okay, alright, I'm ready. One, two... (Screams) DO IT ROCKAPELLA! (Theme to "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" by Rockapella plays) Yes! (Singsongy) "Well she sneaks around the world..." I'm sorry, people who know me, know why I had to do that, but I might never get a decent enough context for that again, so I'm taking it!


4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2012) Director: Abel Ferrera

2 1/2 STARS



I must confess that I'm not exactly sure why there's all this fascination with end-of-the-world films lately. Some are good like "Melancholia" and "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" and a few others, but honestly, what's with everybody and all this, dreary doomsday kick everybody's on? Lighten the hell up, people, and stop reading Revelations by the nightlight when you go to bed. I mean, yes, there are problems with the world, and some of them can be disastrous, potentially even, Earth-ending, but do something about them, don't just sit around and wait for the end of the world, so defeated. I know that's not something that Director Abel Ferrera is gonna do, but what's the rest of you's excuse? Ferrera's made a career out of the showing us, the downtrodden and the morally-lacking, the grittiest side of humanity. His masterpiece is "Bad Lieutenant" about a cop who's so corrupt it's impossible to find any redeeming value to him. His characters are obsessive and excessive, and the end of the world, is not a good enough excuse to break that, in fact it only enhances it for Cisco and Skye (Willem Defoe and Shanyn Leigh). Cisco is an actor, apparently, according to imdb, and Skye is a painter. In between moments when they're not fucking, he's listening to many of the constant replays of the Dalai Lama and Al Gore and others who basically predicted the sudden end of the world, which will happen at 4:44a.m. the next day. He occasionally calls people on Skype, and lets others, like the Chinese Food delivery guy use it, as it's their only real communication with the outside world. He sees one guy, jump off a building while walking out on his patio, and can't believe how others begin covering him up or helping him. He's pissed off more or less, at himself, at the world, at the people and Skye, has simply continued to paint and continued to paint. They're almost like, not real characters, they're almost like toys in a little music box or something, and you turn the handle, and Skye starts painting and Cisco starts walking around, skyping and there's an old interview on TV. At one point, he finds his way to his brother's (Freddy Kuipers), and spends a dinner there, mainly trying to get drugs, but he enjoys himself. There's some intents moments on Skype, especially when he calls his daughter (Trina Jackson), and Skye freaks out when his ex-wife (Deirdra McDowell) is on. There's some other interesting casting choices throughout the film, with Natasha Lyonne, Paz de la Huerte and Anita Pallenberg, making cameos appearances, usually over the Skype. The Skype is almost as big a character as Cisco and Skye come to think of it. (Which does remind me, that I should figure out how to get it one day, but anyway...) I don't know, they're all just waiting around for the universe to end, and there's not much else to the film. I always tend to like Ferrara's work; I met him once at a film festival, that was interesting, especially since he was clearing drinking for most of the day. That said, usually his characters are more active, even when they're elusive and erratic, they're at least doing something and things are happening, and I don't particularly think the end of the world would suddenly change that, so I'm frankly just as confused as I am disappointed at "4:44 Last Day on Earth". Maybe its his attempt at trying something different, but there's seems to be so much lacking here. I don't know what he's saying, or if he's saying anything at all, and the movie just feels aimless, which is certainly odd for an apocalyptic film. I'm trying to talk myself into recommending it, but I really just can't do it; there's not enough here.


FOR ELLEN (2012) Director: So Yong Kim

3 STARS



The success of "For Ellen" depends on two things being completely, the emotional feel of the movie, and the quality of its acting, particularly that of Paul Dano. This is the second film I've seen from Korean-American Filmmaker So Yong-Kim, after her film "In Between Days". I just double-checked my review of that film, which I recommended, and I talked a lot about the relationship between the two main characters in that film, which was going through this transitional stage from friendship to first loves. "For Ellen" is about a father-daughter relationship, or at least it tries to be. Maybe it doesn't, I don't know, but I am struggling with this film. Dano plays a musician named Joby Taylor, and while he is being thrown out of his own band, and basically on a neverending bender, he's also broke, and in a life-draining divorce battle with his ex-wife, Susan (Jena Malone), the kind where the lawyer insists on directing all questions to him, and not his ex-wife, even though she's in the room. His lawyer Fred (Jon Butler) is probably too nice to be a lawyer, especially for a rock star; he seems like he'd rather be a friend. He lives with his mother, knows he's outgunned on the law, and in the courtroom, but still doesn't see a problem inviting his client to his home for dinner, even after explaining everything wrong with the case to him over the phone. You see, the thing he's trying to do is sell his half of a house they have, for the money; Joby is pretty much flat broke, and his music career has long stalled, and didn't pick up much steam to begin with, so, that's the first issue with the divorce, but according to the documents, she won't let him, sell the house, to her, unless he gives up parental rights of his kid Ellen. (Shaylena Mandingo, in her first performance) Now the second half of the film, basically entails a couple meeting he has with Ellen, who he really hasn't seen much of, and is trying to find out, not only what kind of connection he has with her, what kind there could be, but also, what's in the best interest for her. Susan is getting remarried soon, and Joby is somewhat seeing a pseudo-groupie, Cindy (Dakota Johnson), although he probably wishes he didn't. I think there's enough decent ideas here to recommend "For Ellen", and the acting certainly saves it, but I do think this film, really struggles to come together in a way that makes much sense, when we think back on it. For instance, the reasons why these two broke up are never really clear. I guess we're supposed to just insinuate, I wanted to get closer to these character, and I think the film continued to put walls up for me; I really couldn't quite get there. Yeah, this is a really mixed review I'll admit, but there is enough here, especially with the scenes of Dano and Heder oddly enough, couldn't have pick two more unconventional actors of that age if you tried, but they actually are really well-cast here. The scenes with him and his daughter, were nice, I don't think it was anything I hadn't seen before however. Very conflicting review, but there is something here, and I think for certain people who tend to like these kind of artistic, poetic, spare indies, this is one that they'll probably like. For that reason, despite my ambivalence, I am recommending "For Ellen".


FOREIGN LETTERS (2012) Director: Eli Thier

3 STARS



There is more to "Foreign Letters" than the part that I'm most attracted too, like the immigrant experience story part, for instance, as well as the personal doubts and shames that come with your own family traditions and having to transition from one culture to another, but really, the story is about the friendship between two little girls. It's so natural to see stories between people who become fast friends, that we don't think about just how much of a struggle it can sometimes to try and befriend somebody, and on other side, to allow for someone to be close enough that you can open up and let them into your life, especially at a young age it's hard. Hell, I'll just say it, I didn't let anybody do that with me, 'til late high school at the earliest, and I did it kicking and screaming and being dragged by my hair, and not even being metaphorically, there was actual hair-dragging involved and it hurt. Ellie's (Noa Rotstein) family is from Israel, and now they've come to America, and so far, most of her time is spent with her penpals, most of whom are friends back home, although she has one she writes to in Vietnam. For those who are too young to remember, kids often wrote letters to other kids across the country and even the world; I had one in Massachusetts in, 4th Grade I remember. He was kinda of a dick, so I didn't really keep it up afterwards, but some people used to keep up many of them, and often for years. Of course, such a practice is extinct now thanks to the internet but.... Anyway, she's now entering school, she's naturally ridiculed for being Jewish, (although there's some ambiguity over that) by some of the meaner girls, and doesn't naturally fit in. The only other foreigner in the school is Thuy (Dalena Le) a Vietnamese immigrant, who is constantly studying and seems to like to be alone, but despite this, Ellie is resilient. Talking to her afterschool and during lunch, even as she tries to run off and finish her studies. She's studying for a PSAT, despite only being in Junior High. After some persistance, they finally arrange a playdate, at which Thuy comes over to Ellie's house, and stands outside the door for two hours, not knocking. I related to that, I have a similar paralyzing fear of knocking on doors in general. They're not a natural fit. Ellie's more loose, Thuy's uptight. Thuy is reluctant to do, everything, even having a birthday party is pulling teeth. Their big fight starts over, how to keep a letter they wrote. Thuy folds it and puts it away, (She really wants to through it away) and Ellie keeps all her stuff, much more sloppily. Like I said, there is more to the film, but there's always more going on around a child's life, but the focus is correctly just on this friendship. Director Eli Thier based this on her actual longtime friendship with her best friend, and the movie ends with numerous photos over the years, and the two of them hugging at the end. It's slow and paceful at times, the film was based on an Award-winning short of Thier's, and to some extent I think film, really should've remained a short, a lot of the other stuff just doesn't work and isn't particularly memorable, and the relationship between the two girls is what we really care about. There's enough of it so, it's definitely a recommendation. It could've been better, but that's a struggle, sometimes, determining how long something can be, I'm glad she took the shot at extending this story. It's so rare to get, this kind of complicated friendship between young kids well, without really just skimming over and telling some other elaborate story; this film is about the struggle for friendship, and not about two friends having an adventure.


CONNECTED: AN AUTOBLOGRAPHY ABOUT LOVE, DEATH & TECHNOLOGY (2011) Director: Tiffany Shlain

3 STARS



"Connected..." isn't really so much a movie- well really it isn't a movie, it's more like a one-woman show mixed with a thesis paper on the history and future of communications through technology. Since it's a good, if not always a perfect combination of the two, I guess, I'm recommending it, and besides that, it is a fun and thought-provoking documentary. Director Tiffany Shlain is most famous for creating the Webby Awards, which continually chosen to completely ignore this blog's despite such a continuous and unparalleled quality of excellence,- Oh, nevermind, sorry, that's-eh, that's was from next year's piece where I trash the Lammys for not nominating again, sorry about that. Anyway, she created the Webby Awards, considered by many the most prestigious of internet awards, but she's also made several short films, mostly documentaries, and this film, is two-fold. On one hand, the story takes an overall look at the patterns in human history through advancements in communication technology, beginning with the invention of the alphabet, which separates the line between history and prehistory, as we started to document our existence, and how this structured, rigidness to dissecting of communication, led to a more left-brained way of looking at the world. For instance, the introduction of a male-dominant religious figure as well as a male-dominated society, can be traced, directly to the point in which a culture learns a written alphabet and gains a way of communication while previously, all cultures had a female-led society and goddesses outnumbered gods. It gets more intricate and complicated than that folks, so if you don't appreciate that kind of lecturing, you're not gonna enjoy the film. Many of these concepts, particularly the idea of right and left-brain thinking, and how it's evolution can be traced throughout modern civilization, were major interests to Shlain's famous dad, Dr. Leonard Shlain, who's a famous brain surgeon, as well as an academic who's best-selling books have been widely influential across numerous fields of study including anthropology, philosophy, sociology, most sciences, and he's been a major influence to people as wide-ranging from Al Gore to Bjork. However, in his final days, as he was writing his eventual final book which hypothesized that Leonardo Da Vinci's ability to combine art and science, the two contrasting sides of the brain, marked a transformative link in the evolution of the human species and this was an indicator of how the internet, which is the ultimate is communication technology and interdependence, marks the early stages of a human evolution in which the right-brain and left-brain...- dammit, I went off there again, this time in the ideas of his, which I myself also find quite inspiring. Unfortunately, the last nine months of his life, this inspirational author and speaker, couldn't speak much, as he had stage 4 cancerous brain tumor that temporarily, and then permanently eliminated his ability to speak. At the same time, Tiffany found out that after numerous miscarriages and attempts that she was pregnant, all while making this movie about are technology epidemic. Despite everything I've been mentioning, all this actually started with Tiffany in a New York cafe, which she flown to meet a close friend, and couldn't even the finish the meal before excusing herself to go to the bathroom and check her twitter. The movie begins with something that annoys me too with twitter, it starts with a quote, which has to then get shortened and hashtagged until it's under 140 words. Just so you guys know,- well, actually you don't need to know anything I just want to brag about it, but I once wrote a 161-word sentence, in a college paper, and got away with it, and was an actual sentence; it wasn't a run-on, I know that's what you're all thinking, but I had it double-checked, it was a sentence; it just had an incredibly complex structure. If you've read, even a slight portion of much of my work, you probably don't find that surprising, but you know, considering that, and then consider how it can be tricky for me to have to limit myself to a fraction of that on a tweet, and still say everything that I want to say.... It's not as easy to communicate as it seems in this interconnected, interdependent world that we live in now, but apparently, since the brain's second biggest function is to search for love and companionship  as well as our ability to think, that means oddly, we become more in need and search for those connections with people than ever before, and I think that's a good thing. Like I said, this is probably the wrong medium for this material, but I enjoyed despite the clunkiness of the documentary, "Connected: An Autobiography of Love, Death and Technology", was greatly inspiring to me.

SABRINA (1954) Director: Billy Wilder

5 STARS


I don't know for sure if "Sabrina" seems to be the overlooked entry in the Billy Wilder canon, although I can tell you that I've certainly overlooked it until now, and being a fan of his, I'm a little surprised I did now. I guess when you make "Sunset Boulevard", "The Apartment", "Some Like It Hot," "Double Indemnity", "Ace in the Hole"... I mean, classics can get lost sometimes, and this one slipped through my cracks for some reason. The film is based on one of those classic plays about the eccentricities of the rich, and the foils they make of themselves, although saying that, the lower class also has a bead of foil to them. The Larrabee is exceptionally wealthy, wealthy enough to make sure it doesn't rain on the nights of their parties, and they have a car-phone, back in 1954. The family's line is the two brothers, Linus (Humphrey Bogart), the workaholic who's control the family empire, and David (William Holden) who is the family playboy. Fun-loving, getting married and divorce more often then he changes his socks.... He supposedly has some job with the family company, but all he really does is screw around with the next cute thing that passes his eye, often at one of those parties, and often at one of the family's tennis court. (They have an indoor and an outdoor tennis court, although they're rarely used for tennis. Now at their estate, among their staff is the chaffeur Thomas (John Williams, not the composer) who drives Linus around town and takes care of all their cars. His daughter Sabrina (Oscar-nominee Audrey Hepburn) is madly in love with David, who doesn't know she's alive, and I can say the word literally, after that phrase, and probably mean it. She makes a childish attempt at suicide one night, and is saved by the older wiser Linus, but still madly determined to get David to recognize her, she goes off to France for cooking school, where she constantly writes homes about how difficult sauces classes are, and still raving about David like a prissy little schoolgirl. When she finally returns, older, more outspoken and the life of Paris still inside her, suddenly David picks her up at the airport, and doesn't recognize her. Bad enough that he's set to be married again to a family's daughter that has some kind of business holding involving sugarcane, but now, he's fallen in love with the help, what scandal! Of course, worse yet, is that Linus the aged ole business savvy brother who has practically abandoned all feeling of love for years, is now suddenly falling for Sabrina too, and they be a better match, but she's been obsessing with David for so long, and now that she's got him. "Sabrina" is wonderfully sharp and funny. Strangely, this doesn't feel completely like a play; there's a lot of interior scenes in boardrooms and mansions of course, but it really does feel opened up. No, I think my instinct is correct to say that "Sabrina" isn't in the upper tier of Billy Wilder's work, but all that really tells you is how special and great the upper tier of his work is, 'cause damn near anybody else "Sabrina" would've been their masterpiece. The movie still feels slightly modern too, in fact it was remade in '95, and probably is being performed on a stage somewhere still. It's great dialogue, great characters, and a wonderfully classic story all together making a special film that you can watch anytime and enjoy.


THE BOXER (1997) Director: Jim Sheridan

3 1/2 STARS



Jim Sheridan's "The Boxer", has all the hallmarks of a traditional fight film, but none of the feel. Frankly, the boxing aspects, to some extent, don't even have to exist for the movie to work, any kind of career essentially that one would have a rough time returning to after spending 14 years in prison, could've done just as well here. The boxer is Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis). It's the mid-90s in Northern Ireland, and Danny is finally released from jail after 14 years, having gone to jail at 18 for his IRA activities, and not naming names, finally out on good behavior, and the IRA head, Joe Hamill (Brian Cox) a rough old man who's probably ordered more killings than most but, he's currently closer fighting for peace, and he's closer than ever before. Danny used to be in Jim's daughter, Maggie (Emily Watson) as a kid despite a couple years age difference, and they still got feelings for each other as she spots him, sledgehammering his old place next door, and as he restarts his boxing career, by building a gym with his old manager. She's currently married now to another IRA member, who in prison, which makes a possible relationship fairly complicated in of itself, especially considering the way these groups think about such transgressions and the way they tend to deal with them, but also troubling is that she has a child. On top of this, the IRA is naturally at odds with themselves because of the peace accords, led by Harry (George McSorley) who's never liked Joe, and now that there's clearly a relationship going on between Danny and Maggie, he's determined to make sure that both their peace attempts are doomed to fail, and worse, put everyone's lives in danger as the IRA begins imploding from within. Danny is doing his part through boxing, opening a gym that for everybody, Irish and British, as he has long taken himself out of politics, not even bothering with other IRA friends/members who were in prison with him, and taking up fights to promote peace. There's lots of great boxing scenes, and they're all shot well. The last fight I recall the most, taking place in the most upscale of restaurants ironically, and the referee keeps refusing to call the match, despite the guy he's facing being beaten up so bad, he can barely stand, much less put his arms up. "The Boxer" is a good film, albeit, an uneven one. It's core is the level of tension underneath the surface of the events, the kind of where turning on your car could lead to you being blown up. Living life under the a true threat of terrorism. Director Jim Sheridan has always made some good films, usually based around a family, often involving Irish or Irish immigrants. Often including Daniel Day-Lewis too, he directed him in his directorial debut "My Left Foot..." which won him his first Oscar, as well as "In the Name of the Father", this was his third feature with Day-Lewis. There's a gentle approach he takes, that give a softness to the rough existences of his lower class characters, and there's something truly appealing about that and his films, especially his best one like "My Left Foot..." and "In America". I think "The Boxer" is good, but definitely second-tier for him. It's covers a lot, maybe too much, we don't really get as close to the characters as we would've preferred. We feel more like we're spying in, and getting brief glimpses of their lives, instead of really walking in these characters' shoes. "The Boxer" did receive three Golden Globe nominations including Picture and Director, but was the first film of Sheridan's film to be completely left out at the Oscars. You could make a good argument that at least some of actors should've been nominated, but since we know Sheridan can do better, they'd probably made the right call.

THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) Director: Josef von Sternberg

3 STARS



Von Sternburg's "The Blue Angel" is available in both an original German version, as well as a famous English-dubbed version that was shot at the same time, which was the version usually available in America until recently. I borrowed both from my library, or so I thought, until I got home and it turned out to just be the English-language version, which is generally considered to be the inferior version, so I returned the Disc 2 copy to the library, and watched teh German version on Netflix, so that's the version I am reviewing. I may go back and watch the English version some other time, but von Sternberg films are already, usually a chore for the film scholar to watch, as opposed to a filmmaker we watch for enjoyment already, at least for me his is. Don't get me wrong, I liked his film "Blonde Venus", although I thought "The Scarlett Empress" was basically an overbearing costume piece. he loved films to showcase women, especially in this pre-Hays code era, that looked at the complicated relationship between women's choices to be in the home or at work and other roles women play in society, often using his favorite muse, Marlene Dietrich. Here, she plays a popular nightclub singer/dancer named Lola Lola, at a particularly-for-the-time risque cabaret club that grabbed the attention of many of the student body at the local University. It's where the lifelong bachelor professor Immanuel Roth (Emil Jannings) teaches, and was frankly upset at the fact that all his students seem to be fascinated, way-too fasctinated and distracted by Lola, so he finds himself heading to The Blue Angel nightclub, to confront Lola, who, naturally he falls in love with. He's abrupt with the idea of falling in love with her to begin with, and now it's dangerously inconvenient, especially as more typical characters get involved in this comedy of manners and errors and behaviors. Comedy-musical, there's quite a bit of singing. I don't know, the thing with von Sternburg is that, while all his films have some kind of elegance to them, whether it's in the costume or the plot, or sometimes it's just the feel of the story, and maybe that's the problem, no matter the intention, his films always feel stylistic as oppose to entertaining, like we're supposed to be impressed with the how, and the what's and not-so-much be enjoyed. There's rarely anything that's truly just fun in his work. Even in his best film like "Blonde Venus", it's all about the sacrifices a mother makes, and how unsatisfactory and the quiet desperation she feels as she grows up. This film is somewhat more joyous because the story and plot are just naturally ridiculous and lean towards the screwball, but even still, it at times seems too forced. I'm recommending "The Blue Angel", partly out of obligation, partly because it is a great Marlene Dietrich performance, and because it is an important film. It is one of the earliest of these kinds of screwballs and even a lackluster one, is still better than the ones today (That is, if you can find any screwball comedy at all, much less one that's good nowadays.) For serious scholars, it's a must-watch, for the rest, eh, wait 'til it's on cable late night.

AMERICAN TEEN (2008) Director: Nanette Burnstein

4 STARS



You know, I know this was a documentary, and that apparently these kind of high school experiences, actually exist, the incredibly cliche ones where the mean girl clique rule the school, and things like prom and homecoming and big games are actually important, but I swear to God, I can't relate to any of this shit. It all just seems like,- I don't know, none of these things happened in my high school. You know, there's some FB page up right about a ten-year high school reunion that I apparently have coming up, that somebody from my class is preparing, and trying to raise money for, and all that. First off, I have no idea, who 80% of the other kids are. Maybe I'd remember them if I see them, I mean even some of the ones who are FB friends of mine, like,- I'm drawing half-a-blank. I often joked that, out of a class of, I wanna say 162 kids, might've been over 200, but that number's in my head, I don't think eight people showed up at Prom, but honestly, I don't know too many people who did, if any, and certainly none of them intentionally. I'm pretty sure a few drunkenly stumbled in, unaware that a prom was going on. And come to think of it, I have no idea who my class' Homecoming or Prom King & Queens are. I remember the valedictorian 'cause I did know her, although I probably would've forgotten her too if her valedictorian speech wasn't based around a bad joke from "A Goofy Movie," (I know, I couldn't believe it either) and frankly I seriously considered skipping graduation if it wasn't for the fact that I was able to arrange my arrival to the Thomas & Mack Center, via limousine in front of everybody, so that was worth it. Maybe I was just delusional and in my own world, and I wasn't in my own clique although I was invited to join many of them, and a few of the really persistent ones rather forced, physically to be apart of them, but I don't know, it never really did work. Everybody seemed friendly and there were a few people who partied too much and one girl I'm pretty sure only graduated because she was sleeping with someone but, eventually you realize it's all just bullshit and that the imagined pressures of high schools were simply that, imagined and didn't mean anything after all. "American Teen" takes a regular mishmash of "The Breakfast Club" types from a Warsaw, Indiana high school, a very affluent, right-wing Christian neighborhood, about equal distance between Ft. Wayne and South Bend, and just a drive on the Skyway away from Chicago. I related mostly to Hannah Bailey, the artist who dreams of getting out of Warsaw and heading off to film school in California. She's easily influenced by boys though, and after a terrible breakup with her longtime boyfriend, she goes into a deep depression, missing almost a semester of school, possibly threatening to have her hold back a year because of it. She plays guitar in a local rock band, and in general would've been the girl I wanted to be in high school (Yeah, I know how that sounded, but you know what I mean) and the one I'd be most likely to hang out with. Jake Tusing frustrated me. He's a typical band geek, who spends his days playing video games and collecting sci-fi memorabilia that make his walls look like a trendy comic book store, but tries to act like the other freaky normal teenager, especially one who's so consistently trying to get girls. He's young and tries very hard, even manages to get a new-to-town freshman to date him for a bit, although she wasn't shy about cheating on him. He has a good time when he visits his older brother in San Diego, who takes him to Mexico to get him drunk, where, let's just say he does lighten up a bit, but still seems completely unwilling sober to, adapt. I mean, at one of the formals, he managed to have a date, and she immediately leaves him, before he's even sat at the table, and has brought over a bunch of her friends to hang out with. When she tries to get him up to go dance, he just outright refuses. He doesn't want a girlfriend, he wants a princess he can save from a castle who worships everything about him for saving her life. Yeah, I wasn't great-looking and didn't much in high school, but I wasn't trying so hard to date. (If anything I rejected many chances/offers to date people, most of which admittedly, I wish I knew I was rejecting at the time, which is a topic of another rant of mine, but it's not worth discussing now.) Colin is the star of the team's basketball team, which remember Indiana, it's a basketball state, not a football one, so he's under an immense amount of pressure, especially from his family to get a scholarship. It begins costing some of his teams games too, when he starts taking too many bad shots in an attempt to get his scoring up. He's rather uninteresting and boring unfortunately, although a nice kid. Megan Krizmanich, if I were to ever see her walking the streets somewhere, I would punch right in the face, over and over and over, and over again. Screw the men shouldn't hit women or whatever thing, somebody should've beaten the living shit out of her, if no one has yet. She's the so-called most popular girl in school, although now that I think about it, there wasn't one of them either, just some prissy girls nobody talked to other than other prissy girls who basically are in charge of all the ridiculous high school activities, but outside of that, she's a petty, manipulative jealous bitch, who if she doesn't get her way, coaxes people and the situation to her advantage. When she didn't get the theme she wanted for Prom, she graffiti-ed the kid's house, and wrote "FAG" and a giant penis on the school, and was given only a warning when she was caught, (Which wasn't hard 'cause it was all seen in front of the cameras.) I would've expelled her, and killed all her dreams of following in her family's footsteps and going to Notre Dame. She also passed a topless photo of one of her ex-friends who sent the photo to someone her friend was dating, and makes threatening and obnoxious phone calls just to bully and humiliate her. She also antagonized another one of her followers friends, who was getting too close to her best plutonic guy friend, that she so obviously has a crush on, that she blocks any attempt for him to have a friend. She also probably convinced another jock, Mitch, to breakup with Hannah, who he had started dating after she finally got back to school. There's frank talk about sex and cigarettes and other things as well, but the behavior is far more intriguing to me than the actual shock of anything. Seriously, somebody who acts like that, wasn't acceptable. It's almost too unbelievable to be real these characters. I'm sure some of it was staged, but I prefer to think of these behaviors as apart of the microcosm of living in such a community that's insistent on these high school experiences to continue and be ongoing one generation to the next. I don't know why they don't just rebel? Why is Jake still trying to even go to Prom, like it's an obligation? Maybe I was just too radical or observant and looking too much at the bigger picture but, the easy solution seems to exist, to just abandon all this high school crap. Why they don't do it, I just- (Shrugs, scoffs) Seriously, I don't know where all this crap started or why it exists, but it does and apparently it's stressful for them. Yes high school was stressful for me too for awhile, but not for these reasons. "American Teen" is certainly a powerful documentary, and a good one from Director Nanette Burstein who makes great documentaries; she made the wonderful bio-documentary, "The Kid Stays in the Picture". This wasn't my high school experience, any of them, although a few of the notes are familiar to me, the look and feel just,- just seems like an alien world, you could've said this was Klingon and I'd believe you. My high school didn't have a TV station, or TV, or a film department, for instance, and definitely not a sports report that anybody listened to. Perhaps I shouldn't be judging a high school film based on my memories and experiences of high school, but I've seen this in so many high school films and TV shows, and you know what, I'm sorry, but, this just doesn't feel like it actually exists to me. Although I did try to look up Hannah on facebook, 'cause I wanted to follow her and see what she's up to now, but I couldn't find her, although I'm glad to see she's got imdb credits more recent than "American Teen" now; she's the only one who kinda had a sense that something was off about this world.
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