Sad news with the death of Dennis Farina yesterday, also shook the entertainment world a bit. Always played cops or gangsters it seemed and he was great in both; he was a cop actually back in Chicago, pre-acting career, and it's always good to see people, who kinda fell into acting like he did, make it as a success. You always recognized him, always great in whatever roles he played, no matter how large or small. He replaced a legend after Jerry Orbach left "Law & Order," and he did very well I might add, but even in small roles, just character stuff. He was the gangster in "Big Trouble" for instance. Not a great movie, but he was perfect for that small part, and it's really cool when even, throwaway parts in throwaway movies can evoke an emotion, even years afterwards, and he had a bunch of those. Very sad death.
In lighter news, the Primetime Emmys are coming up, and I gave my Post-Emmys analysts right after the awards and I'm happy to say, that in the future, an edited version of that post will be on guysnation.com, where-eh, some of you may know I write an occasional column on Ring of Honor, and I'm glad that something more in my natural entertainment wheelhouse is being showcased. Eh, that's said, it's severely edited, and it's going to be a little while until it's posted, as apparently as Rob Belote has informed me, the piece was 5,300 words long, which is apparently, a lot for a blogpost, and he is having trouble editing it, so I'll let you all know on Twitter and Facebook when it does get republished. I've been told I'm a little long-winded at time, including with these multiple movie review blogposts but, you know, I wrote that Emmys piece, in literally, 3 or 4 hours, right after the nomination were announced, and I had a lot to cover, frankly it felt quick to me, especially since a lot of it was just copying down the nominees, but, sometimes you need to write a bit, and there ain't much you can do about that. Despite what some claim, I do try to be brief, but some subject require more than just a few words.
Including many of these RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! (Hope you all liked that transition) So, let's get down to it this with this week's reviews! This week, with actual STARS!
LES MISERABLES (2012) Director: Tom Hooper
I can't pretend that I was ever a fan of "Les Mis", I'm not. Of course, when people describe it in broad strokes, they discuss the most asinine part of it, as though it's the whole. Jean Valjean (Oscar-nominee Hugh Jackman) steals a loaf of bread, and Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) chases him throughout the entire story for his crimes. And when you see how thick the Victor Hugo novel is, and he wasn't known for brevity to begin with, it makes you ask questions like "How is this story considered such a classic", and more pressingly, how come somebody make a Broadway musical of it, how depressing. (Come to think of it, it's similar to the questions I asked about the logistics involving an Amelia Earhart biopic I review recently.) Those were some of my thoughts, going into "Les Miserables", and they did indeed come into my mind in the beginning of the film, as well as thoughts like, "Did Tim Burton take over Tom Hooper's body while making this film?" or was the Fantine character (Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway) even in the last "Les Miserables", the dreadful Billie August one with Liam Neesan? And, why is the prostitutes makeup so clown-like and garish; it looks ugly, like a subpar Cirque de Soleil? But then, I started having a major change-of-heart. "Les Miserables" was clearly the most polarizing film of last year, despite the Oscars, it made almost as many Worst Film lists as it did Best Film lists, and even the Tonys recently, mocked Tom Hooper's use of extreme close-ups during Neil Patrick Harris's opening number. Oh, don't get me wrong, this is not a perfect movie, far from it, miles away from it, not the least of which is that the best medium to tell this story is the stage and not the screen, but now I understand why that is. The loaf of bread, isn't even the MacGuffin, Jean already spent his time in jail for that, his crime is jumping bail and changing identities, again, done for his own survival, but that's merely the inciting incident, and it isn't strong enough and the obsessive Javert is too unflinching of a character to make that compelling, yet thankfully, it isn't the whole of "Les Miserables", and that's the great secret of the story, and why it is so spectacular as a musical. The title is "The Miserables" not "A Miserable" ("Miserable" does mean miserable, but a more accurate translation would probably be, as slang for street bums and the poor.) The story is as much about Marius and Cosette (Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried) as it is about the Thenardier's who run the cheap inn (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), the film is about the world and the people of the streets living in this Post-Revolution Paris that has since reverted back to the Worst of Times that Dickens once spoke of. The other reason "Les Miserables" works so well on stage, is it's episodic nature. From one event to the next, years can past, which doesn't translate as well on film usually, but on a stage, when there's scenes and acts, each with it's own beginnings and endings and stories to explore, despite the often depressing material, it's more natural for one seen to be at one time and place, with the next happening at some time and place later. It's the greatest musical adaptation, but one thing "Les Mis" does great, despite it's flair for the opening of the play, is that, it makes the movie feel likes we're watching it onstage, and we can visualize it onstage. There are problems of logic, for instance, the way all the factory workers gang up on Fantine, after they find out about her secret daughter, and insist that she's fired. One, maybe two conniving workers, but you'd think a group of lowly and poor factory girls would try to help out and support their fellow employee, especially when Revolution is in the air. That said though, the movie won me over, despite some nit-picky flaws. At the end of the film, I was crying for Jean Valjean, not because that he had to spend his whole life running and suffering over a loaf of bread, but because, he spent his whole life, trying to become as good a man as he could, and all that he sacrificed to do so, despite of the past, constantly chasing him down like the grim reaper. And again, even in death, he wasn't the lone miserable, there were plenty more waiting for him. I'll admit, I came into it jaded, came out of it a believer. The Extreme close-ups are not overused, Jackman gives one of the best performances of the year. Hathaway's part is unusually small, even for a Supporting Actress Oscar Performance, and I'll give her this, for such a small part, she went above and beyond for it. Making herself thinner than she normally is, getting her hair cut, short, and making one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood look like the cursed-by-life eye-soar that Fantine is; that said, I'm not sure her performance is Oscar-worthy. (Although, she should've won a few years back for "Rachel Getting Married," so if this year was the makeup for that....) I think "Les Miserables" proper place is on the stage, and not the screen, but that said, this about as good a substitute for that, that you can ask for.
ANNA KARENINA (2012) Director: Joe Wright
Yet, another entry in the "Man,-I-really-need-to-look-at-the-book-sections-of-the-library" entry, "Anna Karenina" has been remade about a half a dozen times on film, previously and this latest one by Joe Wright, I heard on somebody other blogger's podcast described mockingly as "Production Design: The Movie". It's a cute smartass line, and at times, it isn't exactly inaccurate. While the film certainly feels like that a lot of the times, Wright makes some intriguing decisions in trying to put a new twist on this story. For instance, the story still takes place among the Russian aristocracy, but nobody bothers with a Russian accent of any kind, and thank God for that, that would've been ghastly. We also, have some unusual staging and lighting cues. Much of the film in fact, seems to almost be on a stage, literally. It seems to bounce around from the real to the imagined or at least the hyper-reality of the world Anna lives in, a world of boxes at the opera and the vicious gossip circles, where even the slightest public so-called indiscretion may be a valid reason enough for social expulsion, at least metaphorically speaking. You know, it so strange, how all the classic literature about females all have to do with their societal roles, and how their trapped in them. Honestly, in today's era, they really shouldn't be relevant enough to remake or reanalyze, other than as a piece of history. Maybe they still are to woman, and somebody can quote me all the statistic showing how women are still unequal and ostracized, but man, they don't feel relevant to modern times. I mean, the basic story of "Anna Karenina" is that, she's a wife and mother, who falls in love with someone else, this one's named Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and it's because of this love, she's willing to give up her life, and lifestyle. Divorce her husband Karenin (Jude Law, who behind a beard, took me and hour to realize it was him), and leave all of St. Petersburg behind. Anna is already embarrassed at being made a fool of, but when she gets pregnant, he still allows her to have the kid take his name, while she's sick in bed. He tries to disown her, and claim he's not in love with her, but meanwhile, she's so desperately in love with Vronsky, she's unable to take a step back. She can't even tell that the world is staring at her every move. It struck me how childish Anna's demeanor is. I don't know, I started writing this review, thinking I'd be giving it a mild but positive recommendation, but the more I think about, the less and less I care about it. (The less and less it works too.) I think the appealing aspect about Anna is how little she cares or even acknowledges her perception in the circle of friends, and how she is run on emotions, which sometimes overtake, especially at the end, which, I hope was the first known use of the "Red Shoes" ending, but I sadly fear it might not have been. I'll say this, the production design and the lighting were quite exceptional, and I think Wright, who's made good period pieces and tackled classic literature in the past, especially with his "Pride & Prejudice," which I still consider, easily the best Jane Austen adaptation of all-time, and he's definitely trying to make this work, every way he can, and I gotta give him props for that. The dialogue and the acting seems surprisingly modern and even refreshing, but the story is still, and he needs the Oscar-winning Costume Design, and the exceptional production design, cinematography to really pull this off. I think he, just barely did, make "Anna Karenina", that when you're watching it, you're entertained. I think he could've gone farther. This might be an interesting project for a Lars von Trier to do his, "Our Town"-like, "Dogville" trick with it, if he wanted. I'm on the edge on "Anna Karenina"; I think there's problems, but overall they tried hard to give us something as different as possible with this story, and if it wasn't always successful, it was certainly at least, interesting to watch.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012) Director: J.A. Bayona
I thought for a long time after watching "The Impossible" trying to figure out how many stars to give it. In many way, rating a film like this is almost more of an indication of your personality than it is about the film. It could be easy to dismiss such a movie, with an admittedly horrible title that has a story that in the wrong hands can easily fall into the worst of cliche-ridden over-emotional hack-movie manipulation. That said, there's a lot of things to be impressed with regarding "The Impossible", an apparently true story about how a family survived the devastating Southeast Asia tsunami back in '04. (The family is changed from Spanish to British for this film, and the last names switched from Belon to Bennett) The mother, Maria (Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts) is injured badly, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thrown through glass and being nicked and gouged by destroyed branches and trees and furniture, all while underneath a mountain of water. She and her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) somehow manages to find each other in the waves and survive the attack. She's normally a doctor, but she's got gashes and cuts all through her body, and needs to be carried nearly everywhere. They save another little boy, Daniel (Johan Sundberg), they find in surviving in the wreckage, before they're saved themselves, and she's taken to the hospital for surgery. Her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) managed to survive with the two smallest kids, Simon and Thomas (Samual Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) managed to survive and comes to their senses at what's left of the now destroyed hotel, but decides to send them to the mountains as he goes from hospital-to-hospital searching for his wife and Lucas. There's a bit of a contrivance, although a believable one, in which they finally all come together, but to some extent, the fact that any two people manage to find their way back with each other after such a tsunami, alive,- well, I couldn't say it's a contrivance, it's probably some word not-yet-created describing that kind of fate, destiny and luck that such a thing requires. The two issues I have with the title are that, well, A, obviously, since it happened, it isn't impossible, (Although showing a movie that does include things that are impossible, wouldn't be an adequate excuse to name such a movie that either) but also from a screenwriting perspective, to use that for the title is almost a cheat. To say it's impossible, but it happened anyway, it's kinda like how "Based on a true story" is used to justify events in a film that may be otherwise unbelievable. This will be a film that would be an interesting debate over Plato's discussion of plausible impossibilities over unplausible possibilities statements. I'll say this about Watts's performance, she is really good in these kind of roles, which are harder to do, than most would imagine. I think about her in "King Kong" for instance as a good comparable here. Playing against a 50-ft gorilla that isn't there, and having to play tsunami victim, through a whole movie here, it is tricky to judge, but it's also tricky to do. I'm not sure just how enamored I was with "The Impossible" overall, I think it was compelling. The film, strangely didn't get an Oscar nomination for visual effects, like many would've thought, although I do believe that the tsunami footage from Clint Eastwood's underrated "Hereafter" which did get nominated, was somewhat better, even though it might play an even bigger part in this film; they did have that guideline to create it. This is the second feature from Spanish music video directo Juan Antonia Bayona, his first being the horror thriller "The Orphange," he's definitely got some talent, but I still think he's more technical than emotional sometimes. It's a lot to consider "The Impossible", but overall, there's a lotta good here, and it did overtake me, and I think it's good that a film can let you do that sometimes. I wish it did it a little more, but considering what could've gone wrong with this kind of film; I'm pretty happy it worked on me as well as it did.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013) Director: Tommy Wirkola
Well, I had some plans to start this review with the wonderful Louise Gluck poem, "Gretel in Darkness", about Gretel trying to deal with the childhood trauma of having gone through the experience of losing her brother and killing the witch at such a young age, but I threw that idea out, pretty quickly, as it had about as much to do with "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" and Grimm has to do with Mother Goose. I'm not gonna pretend that I didn't enjoy parts of "Hansel & Gretel...", but I kept thinking about, whether or not this film was casted well. The premise is so friggin' absurd that, that Hansel & Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) would then travel the country at some irrelevant time in history, and go from town-to-town killing witches that seem to constantly terrorize the villagers, usually killing children, and, I don't know scaring the village, whatever witches do that pisses everyone off, that, frankly I wonder why Renner and Arterton, and not say, Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy as the leads? Or Will Ferrell and, I don't know, Janeane Garofalo maybe. Ferrell and his longtime creative partner Adam McKay were producers on the film, the movie is clearly intended on some level to be comedic, why these actors; you might as well have gone full comedic effect. Renner, he's good, he's natural comic though, and improviser could've been beneficial in some of the scenes, especially some of the scenes with Mina (Phila Viitala), an ostracized villager, who was already accused of being a witch, but gets saved by Hansel & Gretel, and starts to take care of Hansel and his severe diabetes, which he got from being force-fed too much sugar at the-, well, you know. Arteron, can do a certain kind of comedy, like in the underrated "Tamara Drewe", but there could've been some more interesting choices here. Anyway, this latest village is a big case, 'cause the witches are usually harder for them to catch, and it turns out, to have something to do with their childhood, and the parents who left them behind so many years ago, which inadvertently led to their current destiny. There's some cool special effects, there's some good action scenes, and some cool camera moves as well, the directing helps the film a lot, but I didn't laugh enough to raise this to the level of ridiculous parody. It's not satire by any means; it's not pointed towards anything, it's borrowing characters and re-imagining them more or less. There's nothing that they're really sending up here, so basically this film has to be, just a fun, ridiculous action comedy, it's got some of got, but- I don't know, I come away from "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" very lukewarm, and the movie feels like something off, and discombobulated, personally, I think they should gone with more comedic casting, I can't be 100% that's the problem, but I didn't laugh enough, and I know simply that, general more, you put funny people in a film and let them do their thing, more often than not, eventually you'll start laughing more, and Peter Stormare, is good comic relief, but he shouldn't be the funniest character in a film like this. Even if the casting combination wasn't good, it could've at least still be more interesting, and I'll take interesting and bad over mediocre and boring most any day.
STOKER (2013) Director: Park Chan-Wook
I think I know what happened here. Somebody had a fairly benign and boring psychological horror/thriller film script, and they thought, "Maybe we should get a really well-known director, or at least a good one?" Well, since the best horror/thrillers have been getting made in Korea lately, it didn't take too long before they somehow convinced Chan Wook Park to direct the film, which is titled "Stoker" because that's the family's last name, because it sounds close to "Stroker" which is the kind of thing an immature idiotic high school boy would call an attractive but distant teenage girl, if she was walking near him, and her name happened to be "Stoker"? (If you can find another reason for that title, please let me know. What's with the stupid titles this week? First "The Impossible" now "Stoker". Thank God, I'm reviewing "White Irish Drinkers" later.) Well, this isn't a film that Chan-Wook wrote himself, unlike some of his best films like "Oldboy" or "Thirst", but that still didn't detract them from getting A-list level talent to jump aboard, for the rare opportunity to work with Chan-Wook Park, and I don't blame, Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney or Jacki Weaver for taking that kind of opportunity, that might frankly, not come again. But that said, they must've know their wasn't much that could be done with this film. Kidman was in "The Others", she's knows the difference between good psychological horror and bad psychological horror, and Chan-Wook Park's only so good at speaking English, not that there were too many ways to read the film's dialogue as though it were believable or credible, but nobody in the film sounds like a real person. I mean, when the masturbation scene has the highest emotional impact, you know you're in trouble, and even then, Wasikowska and some great quick-cutting between the shower and a piano duet that may or may not have occurred, really helped that along. The story is fairly simple, the father, Richard (Mulroney) rides of a cliff, and at the funeral his long-estranged and mysterious brother, Charlier (Goode) arrives, and begin staying and making himself at home, even seemingly trying to replace her brother, which seems okay to his wife Evelyn (Kidman) for some reason. There's a little "Shadow of a Doubt" here, as the daughter India (Wasikowska) doesn't exactly trust her Uncle's motives, and of course a lot of people seem to go missing all of a sudden, and we know at least one's in the basement freezer. There's some shock when you realize afterwards, reading the credits on imdb.com that Harmony Korine of all people had a part in this film, although it was so insignificant you don't ever remember the character and it's not wroth going back to find. I think Chan-Wook did all he could to stylized "Stoker" into something that was remotely interesting or watchable, which is certainly a task I wish on no filmmaker, but what good is having to do that, instead of having a story that's actually able to carry it's own weight, and then be exemplified with the talents of the director, cast and crew? At best "Stoker" could've been an interesting filmmaking exercise, but who am I kidding, this film is nothing more than a waste of everyone's talent and time, including my own.
LORE (2013) Director: Cate Shortland
"Lore" is the kind of movie that keeps your stomach in knots for most of the film. It's kind of a combination "Grave of the Fireflies" mixed with,- (insert film about teenage girl discovering her sexuality at an inopportune time/moment here). Actually, anybody ever read, "The Girl Who Owned a City" by O.T. Nelson? I had to read it in middle school. That's a dystopian book about kids surviving in a world where everyone over the age of 12 has died, and a young girl has to protect her brother and street from being ambushed by newly-formed anarchistic street gangs. Anyway, "Lore" takes place in Germany, near the end of WWII, and Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) gets abandoned by her Nazi parents who are out for themselves, and she's forced to take her four siblings, including a baby on a harrowing journey through Germany to get to a relative's house, while American is continually gaining more and more ground. Based on the novel "The Dark Room", "Lore" is a harrowing film about survival. Not the most fun or easiest to describe, I'm getting queezy just thinking just writing this in fact. Not that it's overly violent or anything, but it such a mind-blowing task, especially for a young girl, that I have trouble even being judgmental about it, either way. This isn't a film, that I'd call something, I like; rather, just concede that, it is good, very good. Of course, the story is episode, and they go from one potential life-threatening situation to another, and images of the siblings, crawling through woods, trying to push a baby carriage over a ditch, these are the things the movie is about, essentially. Eventually, the group gets help from a Jewish refugee wanderer named Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), who both disgusts Lore, but is always attracted to him. He also manages to get through through American lines, fairly easily. It's a bit of an odd conundrum, having to watch all your siblings at way too young an age, while still realizing that she had to deal with the biological perils of growing up. "Lore" was directed by Australian director Cate Shortland, it's the first film of hers I've seen; she's most well-known for the independent film "Somersault", and "Lore" is simply a powerful experience, and if this was done poorly it could've really been bad, and possibly offensive, she manages to get just the right notes for this film. It has that terrifying feel of a good young adult novel that even adults can enjoy it, while mature teenagers will probably relate more to it than they'd prefer to admit to. I can't really stress enough how hard it is to sit through "Lore", but if you do, you'll be rewarded with watching a good movie that will shake you to the core.
LITTLE WHITE LIES (2012) Director: Guillaume Canet
You know, I tried to really like "Little White Lies", I really did. But the more I thought about it, the less and less I liked it, and the less and less I cared. Nobody seems to care about much or anything important 'til the end actually. There's a groups of friends, all of whom seem to have a tradition of vacationing together each year, for Max's (Francois Cluzet) birthday and Max and Vero's (Valerie Bonneton) beach house. This year however, one of their friends, Ludo (Jean Dujardin, in a brief cameo) gets into a serious, life-threatening car accident. They visit him in the hospital breifly, and then there's some other things between them that occur, but eventually, they decide to go off and continue their vacation, as it's best and most convenient thing for them all to do. If you haven't figured out which movie "Little White Lies" is trying desperately to imitate, the soundtrack will be the major clue. Nothing but old classic pop/rock standard playing as they waterski or sing kareoke or play soccer, in between meandering meaningless conversations.... Yeah, this film is sorta like "The Big Chill" in reverse, which gives away the ending by me saying that, but that's kinda my problem with the film. It's okay for an adventure or vacation to continue in the most perilous of circumstances, perhaps when its a character study like Antonioni's masterpiece "L'Avventura", but what does that make these characters? Self-important, self-involved, or just plain selfish? How am I supposed to really care about any of these characters, no matter what's happening with them? Even Marion Cotiallard can't really help this film, (Which, might be the first time two French-born actors who both have Acting Oscars appeared in the same film together.) but the film just drifts and drifts and pretty soon, we practically forget about Ludo, as everyone else seems to, despite them occasionally talking about him. And btw, why is the music almost exclusively this old-school classic rock, the film takes place in modern times, shouldn't the music be, at least '80s heavy, if this is as intended, as some kind of modern-day "The Big Chill"? I wanted to enjoy "Little White Lies" and have as much fun watching the movie as the characters seem to be having most of the time while they were watching the movie, but I didn't wanna know any of these characters, and I had a very hard time caring enough about them to even get involved in their lives, beyond the superficial, which is mostly what they were discussing anyway. "Little White Lies" is the third feature directed by Actor Guillaume Canet, he previously did the action thriller "Tell No One," that's a quite a good, in fact, there's an American remake of it coming out soon; you probably most know him as an actor for playing opposite Cotillard in "Love Me If You Dare," a popular film that I was one of the few people who didn't care for at all. I hope he gets out of this sophmore slump film with his next project, 'cause "Little White Lies", is just dreadful. A blatant attempted remake, about characters who aren't as interesting and are way too self-involved-, it's just a pale imitation, of a better movie, and that's about the worst thing you can say about a film.
NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU (aka POUPOUPIDOU) (2012) Director: Gerald Hustache-Mathieu
Some formulas are simply impossible to change, and for good reason. The detective story is one that can only be twisted and adapted in so many ways before eventually you just have to trust that the story and characters are strong enough on their own to work. It's not new for instance that a crime novelist is the investigator, or that numerous people, including the head of police tell him to stop investigating no matter how obvious and interesting the original claim of suicide seems obviously disputed. "Nobody Else but You" follows this structure. The dead girl is Candice Lecouer (Sophie Quinton) who was apparently frozen to death after passing out in the snow, taking a bottle of pills, which were found on her person. She's a local celebrity for the salacious way she does the weather reports on the local news, and for being the face of a favorite brand of cheese. She's a tall, beautiful blonde, who bares a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, who ironically, I happen to be wearing on my T-shirt today. (Okay, that has nothing to do with anything, that last part, but I-I just like wearing the t-shirt) She was discovered by a crime novelist David Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve), who thinks the case might make for an interesting story, but clearly there's some kind of coverup going on, and he begins searching for trying to find out. In flashbacks, told through diary passages and other writings, we meet Candice, who's real name is Martine Langevin, and how she met and knew all the particular and suspects that we meet along the way, and occasionally, there are half-assed attempts at killing Rousseau as he seems to continually get closer and more people start helping him out. Strangely though, the most interesting twist in the whodunit, isn't about the who, it's about Candice herself. We learn that, do to many similarities, she believed that she was in fact the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe, up to and including the suspicious death, after dating a prominent politician, and his prominent politician brother. She also turns out, to have been a huge fan of Rousseau's work, even apparently wrote a fan letter or two to him. If there is a twist to the formula, it's this, and how the story that is a murder-mystery, tries to abe a story about a missed opportunity and chances. "Nobody Else buy You", is a creative and interesting little film, that doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, but it does make the wheel turn a little bit sideways, to great effect. The Candice character always comes off as this slightly unreal presence, which is correct for the character, especially in flashback, as we try to get to the bottom of her. Almost like the vision of pure beauty and excellance that's just out of reach, kinda like Julie Delpy's character is Kieslowski's "White", how she's shown as an ideal. The sad part is that, he just missed a chance at the ideal, and possibly getting to know the real her, if things had worked out just slightly differently. The film works best as the whodunit, but, the curiousity of the hidden subtext makes it just a little more interesting than a normal film. This is the kind of French movie, where an American remake, might actually be better, if they actually tried it.
ONE DAY (2011) Director: Lone Scherfig
I have an affinity for stories that are structured like "One Day", where we only get to see brief glimpses of characters, over a period of time. Michael Apted "Up Documentaries" and Richard Linklater's "The Before Trilogy" have used a form of technique masterfully over decades to great effect. "One Day" isn't so ambitious, but it takes the relationship of a couple, Emma and Dexter (Anne Hathaway and Jim Strugess) and each year, starting with, when they both graduated college, where they had a memorable and drunken one-night stand, that turned into a lifelong kinship, and then we go and see what's going on in their lives, on that same day, July 15th in the film, St. Swithen's Day, and see what's going on in their lives. It's always amazing how, when done well, these briefest of glimpses can give us a complete rundown of the way that people are, and how well these timelines can be. It's not simply them alone, in fact, they're each usually separate, living their own lives. Many other boyfriends and girlfriends and parents, occasionally come into the picture, even wives and children at certain points. Jobs come in and out, as career and confidences begin to expand and match up, or as demons take over. Sometimes they're inseparable, other times, they aren't even talking to each other. Other times, they should be together but aren't... well you get the idea. I'm trying not to give away too many plotpoints, I will say that, they are together at the end, although don't confuse that for a happy ending. In fact, the ending is where I had issues, A. because it's so unnecessary and B. because sometimes you just don't really need to take the piss out of something, and it's a bad cliche done by early writers to, come to a conclusive ending.... You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it, but it's one of those, "Why did they have to pick that plottwist, when they could've just as easily picked something else, something we probably would've preferred to see. You don't need to pull wool over the audience's eyes just to make sure they're paying attention. It's also a good acting challenge, not only because you have to play people at different ages, but through ranges of events an emotions that have happened to them, that they suddenly have to play. Anne Hathaway is such a gifted actress that it's just scary how well she can play anything, and while Jim Sturgess is also good here, Hathaway really shines to me. The film was directed by Lone Scherfig, The Danish-born Director who now works mainly out of England; she directed the amazing "An Education" a couple years ago, which I think in hindsight was very underrated despite the Best Picture Oscar nomination it got that year; that's a film that's stuck with me over time. "One Day" is not of that league, it's based on a David Nicholls novel, and he wrote the film's script, and yeah, I believe the flaws are in some of the amateurish tendencies of the script as opposed to anything else, but there's still a lot here to like. I've been waiting to watch "One Day" for awhile, I've actually had to return the Netflix Blu-Ray copy, 3 times before I finally got a DVD copy that worked in my machine for some reason, so on that basic, I was hoping it was a little better than it was considering the wait, but other than that, I was pretty satisfied with "One Day".
WHITE IRISH DRINKERS (2011) Director: John Gray
When in doubt, it's probably always a good idea to name a film after the audiences you want to attract, which will usually coincide with the characters you're depicting, as is the case with "White Irish Drinkers". The film is about one of those Irish families in one of those low-income neighborhoods that looks down on college, thinks student aide or any kind of help is a lack character for some reason, is somehow looked down upon, and being helped is inferior, and characters say the kind of things like "I don't get it, why would somebody go and study computers?". Oh, I forgot to mention, the film takes place in Brooklyn '75, which is a time and place I usually associate with "Welcome Back, Kotter", especially when they bring up how Brooklyn's the nation's 4th largest city, made famous by a sign in the show's opening credits, and sure enough, these kids could be rivals of the Sweathogs from the other side of the tracks essentially, you know, if this was a real high school I was talking about- You know what, I kinda went off-track on the "Kotter" analogy, let's start with the Leary family, and the two brothers. Brian (Nick Thurston) is the artistic one, younger, who spends hours a day hiding his drawings in his basement while Danny (Geoffrey Wigdor) is the older bad influence, that the drunk father Patrick (Stephen Lang) often beats up, and he often goes and steals something, or gets in some other kind of trouble. He's loyal to a fault, the kinda of guy who can talk any trash he wants to and about his brother, but if somebody says the same thing about him, he's ready to fight whether he should or not. The Mother, Margaret (Karen Allen, and boy, you don't see her too often anymore) is in a bit of thankless role here, as the mother who probably should've gotten a divorce years ago, but stayed with it for the kids and all that. Brian's got a job working at a local movie theater that's trying to get a make a little extra money playing bands, and one day, the owner Whitey (Peter Reigert) announces that he was able to call in a huge favor and book The Rolling Stones, one night only, no advertising 'til day of, for a surprise concert at the place, for an hour, before they play Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, Danny's trying to get one big heist in, so that he can take the money and leave before he gets sent to jail, and frankly, just to get the hell outta Brooklyn. Brian's trying to do the same with his writing and photography, which he sent to Carnegie-Mellon, where Andy Warhol went, and sure enough, even with an application, they seem interested enough to call him personally to get him to apply. There's also a girl-next-door who Brian's just noticing, this one's Leslie (Shauna Friel) and they run naked through a cemetery together on their first date, which seems like an unusual thing, but if you've been back east, and you'll notice there's a lot of cemetaries around and not exactly much else, so it's probably not that uncommon a teenage activity when you think about it, especially when alcohol is involved. They are prideful of that, no needles, no pills, no cocaine, but they just drink. There's something enjoyable about "White Irish Drinkers"; it's not the newest or the freshest story in the world, they know that, but there's a reason it does keep getting retold, probably cause the cycle of it continues from generation to generation, and frankly that sucks, so it keeps finding a new way of getting fresher. "White Irish Drinkers" is lighter than some of the other versions, and it's done well, so it's a rather enjoyable telling, so I'm recommending it. Don't think it's anything deeper than that; it is just a bunch of "White Irish Drinkers", to quote Dudley Moore in "Arthur", "Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Maybe some of us drink because we're not poets."
THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER (2011) Director: Eran Riklis
Hmm. I didn't realize until I looked it up on imdb.com, that the main character is "The Human Resources Manager", is never given a name. In fact, none of the alive characters are ever given names, other than simply descriptions. I guess this is paramount nowadays to adding an extra level to the satire, that this could be anybody or any company, and not just a large industrial bakery in Jerusalem where HR Manager (Mark Ivanir) is about to have a pretty lousy time at work. One of the bakery's employees has died, under odd circumstances as it appears she may have been being paid under the table, and she also wrote about the horrid conditions she worked under. She's a Romanian immigrant, and it's HR's job, to now accompany the body, which first has to be identified, which he does, despite having little-to-no idea who she even was, back to Romania, all under the guise of the company, trying to do the right thing. Yeah, they talk a lot about corporations having the rights as people too, but they do seem to always act like selfish pricks who only do anything when forced to and/or when it would put themselves in a positive light, or at least that's the plan. Of course, naturally, things get in the way, like the airlines losing the body for awhile, not that anyone could find where the girl's family lived to begin with, from the obscure Romanian village, where HR doesn't speak the language, and has long-been lying to his wife how long/late this trip will take. "The Human Resources Manager" was Israel's entry for the Foreign Language Oscar a couple years ago; I've been intrigued recently by Israeli cinema, but this one, doesn't have the legs of such good film as "Footnote" or "Ushpizin", to name some recent memorable ones. I get what they're doing but the character-less approach make everybody feel like archetypes and not really characters, and that's frustrating. It's hard to get close to this movie, no matter how hard you try, and it gets harder afterwards to really look back on it. There's a good story at its base, and some nice to say about the modern industrial world; it's interesting that it does take place somewhere like Israel, it could be very tempting to set a story like this in America or even England for obvious reasons, like the richness of material of their foreign-born inhabitants, but "The Human Resources Manager" really only scratches the surface of this, and chooses not to dig any deeper. Even after we meet the girl's family, there isn't really much learned about her, and not much reason to care either. That's unfortunate. I guess it's a very mild recommendation for what it does well, but a stronger point of view, could've done wonders with this concept. It's a missed opportunity.
MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995) Director: Woody Allen
There should always a Greek Chorus in our stories, shouldn't there be? Essentially the idea hasn't left literature it's just been replaced by narrator and occasionally emcees, but there's something about actually seeing a chorus, singing and moderating through a story. Woody Allen switches from drama and comedy so freely that, even in a comedy, it seems appropriate for a film of his, to simply play like drama. Lenny and Amanda (Allen, and Helena Bonham Carter) have been married for awhile, but they're starting to have issues. She works as a curator of an art gallery that soon moving from the Upper West Side, where Lenny is a sportswriter, that specializing in boxing. They decide on a whim to adopt a kid, Max, another thing that Amanda wasn't in favor of once upon a time, but to Lenny's surprise he is immediately touched by his young son, who's unusually smart and talented. Yet, as the issues with the marriage remain, and Amanda starts getting closer with Jerry Bender (Peter Weller) a gallery friend of hers who's clearly got a thing for Amanda and won't let up, he begins wondering about Max's birthmother. It takes a while, and certainly a few laws being broken, but eventually he find a quirky prostitute named Linda Ash (Oscar-Winner Mira Sorvino) who goes by a lot of names, sometimes Leslie, for instance. She goes by Judy Cum when she's starring occasionally in adult films. Sorvino gives one of those amazing performances, where it's almost impossible to imaging how she picked apart her character's dialogue, and especially with this obnoxious accent, that its quite amazing how much we eventually care about her. Lenny doesn't reveal to Linda about the origins of Max, but after one awkward encounter, and soon a couple more, they begin to trust each other, and in that way of saving the damsel in distress that male characters tend to do, he begins trying to change the hooker with the heart of gold, roughing out the edges, getting her out of the sex trade, that's a must, etc. Eventually they become friends, he even tries to hook her up with a dimwitted young boxer, Kevin (Michael Rapaport) who Lenny convinces that she's a hairdresser. Naturally, the Chorus, led by F. Murray Abraham, are giving many warnings about what Lenny's doing. Some he listens to, others he argues with, many times, while in the middle of what he's doing. Laius (David Odgen Stiers), Jocasta (Olympia Dukakis) Oedipus (Jeffrey Kurland) and even Tiresias (Jack Warden) give in their two cents and elaborate and when needed, move the story along. The movie even has, a literal and figurative deus ex machima, right when we need that happy ending, although when the chorus tried to call Zeus, they got an answering machine and a busy signal. "Mighty Aphrodite" strangely has all the hallmarks of being one of Woody Allen's best films, but oddly, it doesn't quite become one of them. Oh, it's definitely a good movie, and I'm highly recommending it, but I don't think anybody would nowadays rank it as one of his very best and essential films. It's more like one of his throwaway experiments that would lead to a more interesting film, but there's still incredible Linda character that Sorvino plays. It is one of Allen's most unique creations, and the way the scripts handles this, what could normally a clumsy and cliched situation, seems more thoughtful an observant. Actually, the issue with isn't so much the Lenny and Linda part, but the Lenny, Max and Amanda family that seems like a throwaway piece. What's there is good, and it's always great to see Helena Bonham Carter in a non-period, non-Tim Burton way, but could've used something extra to make it more interesting, therefore making the juxtaposition more strong, instead, it's a contrivance of the plot. Maybe with all the Greek storytelling devices in "Mighty Aphrodite" that that was the point, it still feels like an afterthought. "Mighty Aphrodite" remains only close to being a great Woody Allen film, but it's definitely a good and memorable one.