In the meantime, lots of films this week, a good majority of them are a little old this time, sorry about that. There's a reason they're called "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS", cause sometimes the film's I review end up a little random. Still, plenty of newer and major ones, starting with my review of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", so let's get right to the Reviews!
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) Director: Peter Jackson
I guess it's no surprise to most anybody who knows me that I wouldn't recommend "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", considering my general dislike of Peter Jackson's work, and especially "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy, all of which I gave negative reviews to, and the only positive review I've given to a Peter Jackson film was to "Heavenly Creatures", but that said, there's still something odd the first the "LOTR" prequel "The Hobbit...", that makes it feels, so, throwaway about it. I mean, for all the problems with "Lord of the Rings" and Tolkien in general, at least it was an ambitious and major project, and it felt that way. "The Hobbit..." feels like, Terry Gilliam took over Jackson's work. And not like "12 Monkeys" Gilliam, like "Time Bandits"-Gilliam took over. As usual, it's overly long, way over. The first act, is about, 45 minutes too long, and I'm pretty sure it was only 47 minutes. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) has a small house and a garden, and prefers to stay home and tend to it, and occasionally studies up on the world. Oh my God, I just describe Rabbit from Winnie-the-Pooh? How did that happen? Anyway, Bilbo suddenly finds himself with a bunch of dwarfs and a wizard named Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in his living room and breaking out into song while destroying his home, as apparently Gandalf has recommended him to be a thief on this journey to- to-, Oh, I don't even remember now. They have to go to a dangerous place which requires, some trickery and maneuvering to get into and-eh, apparently it takes three movies to get there even by flying bird, and-eh, what the hell, I know I wrote it down. Okay, it's a quest to reclaim the Kingdom of Erebor, which is for dwarfs I think, yes, and they need a hobbit, to hide the fact that dwarfs are coming, and the guy that's running the kingdom, is not a good man, and in the meantime, other people from other kingdoms are quietly roaming and pillaging the other lands, and they have to destroy them, on the way, and they have a history with one of the dwarfs, the main one, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitrage). Well, who the hell can keep track of this? I mean, it's an hour and a half story, spread over eight hours, and frankly, a good portion of this movie, is a lot of nothing going. The special effects are good; I won't deny, although the 48 fpm approach, did make me dizzy. Maybe it works better in 3D, but I really don't get why Jackson's experimenting with this. This is a little inside baseball, but most films, are shot at 24 fps or frames per second, which is equivalent 24 photographs taken at once, which essentially best captures common human movement. Some countries are different like India has 29, some have 30, but 24 is about what's accepted, especially for American film, and you usually use 48, to make things slower, cause the more frames you shoot, and then when you edit, which keeps it at 24, it gives the illusion that the world has slowed, but he's really pushing 48 frames a second in editing too, which again, it doesn't come off right. Most people might simply think that something's off and might not know what it is, but basically it makes things seem a little to unreal, and even in fantasy, something has to be believable for the audience to care. Anyway, I always tend to get annoyed when I think about "Lord of the Rings", and how truly frustrating Tolkien is as a writer, and at Jackson, for exemplifying all his weaknesses, but "The Hobbit" feels almost like the opposite. Like there's Jackson, now trying to stretch a story that for Tolkien anyway, was fairly streamlined at the time. It's one thing to take time with a story that's giving us an entire new world, "Avatar" did that well for instance, for an hour and a half before Cameron screwed up that film, at least, but we know this world already, we're three films into it, and yes, it's a past version of it, but there's so many things that are off. Occasionally it has some special moments, like the tree that falling off the cliff with everyone on it, that was cool, and the scene with Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) was certainly a highlight, even if it is too long like everything else. This film feels like, it had potential, and instead it was squandered, something I never felt with "LOTR". Maybe the rest of the films will be better, "The Hobbit" just really feels so sub-par and passionless. Practically screams, "Contractually-Obligated Prequel Trilogy", which is strange considering that it's somewhat more upbeat than the majority of his films, but still....
MOVIE 43 (2013) Directors: Bob Odenkirk, Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Car, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Peter Farrelly, Patrik Forsberg, Will Graham, James Gunn, Brett Ratner, and Jonathan van Tulleken
Part of me wants to just post a link to Richard Roeper's amazing review of "Movie 43", and talk about the Pulitzer Prize level of his writing and criticism.
However, with the keyword being, "just," I won't solely do that, not that I can add anything to his review of "Movie 43", except to say that, I actually did like the Super Hero Speed Dating segment,- well, "like" is a tough word, let me rephrase and say-, let's just say that when, in the future, when I am plotting my revenge against whomever I may have to do that to in the future, I will not be as satisfied, during that segment, as I will be during others, 'cause certainly, I have tied up, gagged and caged whomever has wronged me, and have placed those "A Clockwork Orange" things-that-keep-Alex's-eyes-open on them, and have forced them to sit through "Movie 43," as I have done voluntarily. Well, no actually, it wasn't entirely voluntary. It was on my Netflix. High enough to where eventually, and soon, I would surely get around to watching it, just so I can, get it out of the way, but not high enough that I would ever think of making it a priority, but, without my knowledge, my mother, decided to raid a Redbox last night, which forces me to sit through, not only this film, but another movie, which I'm reviewing later, that I had to look up, to find out what-the-hell-it-was, which knowing how I keep track of movie releases and other reviews, and upcoming projects and film festivals and awards..., well, you get the idea, that basically if I haven't heard of it, there's a reason, and most likely, you shouldn't friggin' watch it. Anyway, on top of the ten other movies I have from the library and Netflix, right at everyone's disposal, that I push himself on a regular basis to sit through, I now had to sit through, "Movie 43," without any immediate preparation. I'm told, "Here, I got two movies, we have to return them tomorrow, this "Movie 43", can you watch it!?" Whether she understands that or not, that's basically what she's telling me, and sadly, this will only be added, to the many, many issues I will discuss with my shrink, once I can afford to have one in the future. As I'm watching this, my mom and her boyfriend are watching "Movie 43" now, and they better damn well be, 'cause if they aren't and if they're asleep not watching it, there will be the constant banging of loud pots and pans against the door, making sure that they are awake and sitting through, what I will politely deem, a "lesson" to them, not to go out of their way, to pick movies, without my knowledge, especially since, I have to fucking sit through movies, for my fucking job!
Now, as to why I'm giving this 1 STAR instead of ZERO, or even 1/2? Well, I don't know. I liked half a sketch, and occasionally chuckled at a couple others. The leprechaun sketch had a cool gem of an idea, if it wasn't predictable. It is most certainly not, good sketch comedy, which is a genre that I am fairly knowledgeable at, but even if I wasn't, most of it wasn't funny. None of it was funny enough to standout or even really mention; if fact, most of them weren't even really sketches, they were half-an-idea, sometimes they were even just a commercial, or they did the opposite and took what,- well, they weren't really ever gonna be funny, but they took an idea with "potential", and they just kept making it, worse, and worse and worse, and worse, and worse... until you either wanted to through up,- if you were lucky, you only wanted to through up, and there's a lot worse done to the human anatomy in this film. Ugh, it's making me nauseated just thinking about it. Bob Odenkirk's segment was cut from the film, which should be a blessing for him, but unfortunately he didn't get cut from a director's credit. I will say that, with the exception of Peter Farrelly whose pet project this was, and he's getting all the blame for it, (oh boy, he better) what can graciously be clarified as "not-the-worst" segments, were directed by the most talented of the above names. The reason James Duffy's segment about "Super Hero Speed Dating" worked so well, was that it was originally a short film idea he did over eight years ago, so that one's had time to develop. The segments by, Elizabeth Banks, Griffin Dunne and Brett Ratner were almost tolerable. Well, the segment Banks directed, not the one she starred in, which again, could've been better, but it wasn't even good enough to come before the credits, which come at around 75 minutes, of this 90+ minute movie, probably just to fake us out. "Movie 43", may in fact the first film that people sat through, because we had a gun to our heads. Literally, the Dennis Quaid character, who's pitching most of this crap, holds a gun to to movie producer's head, as he's pitching us the film. Frankly, I can't believe that, there was indeed any other way in which "Movie 43" could've gotten made, and worse yet, I sat through it. Thanks, Mom.
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS (2013) Director: Daniel Schechter
It didn't take me too long to realize that I was never gonna become a film editor. I'd spend every free hour I had for two days in the architecture lab, which at UNLV, doubled as the film editing bay 'cause those were the only computers with Final Cut Pro, and when I showed at editing class, the teacher immediately presumed that I was going to finish the project later. People who are really good editors can do in hours what would take me a week to do, at least. It's a language to them, like people who are naturally born musicians, you can see instantly, they get it. They see it, they can piece together things, so much better than anyone else can. "Supporting Characters", is a film that deals with those weird people who work in the dark rooms in front of a computer all day; the last people to work on the movie, essentially making it really. These two editors are Nick and Darryl (Alex Karpovsky and Tarik Lowe) Nick is the lead editor, and he's been working with Nick, his Asst. Editor since Nick was teaching at film school. Oh, assistant editors btw, are a more particular breed than regular editors, and yes, it's not just being an assistant to an editor, they have very specific jobs that require even more time in those dark rooms than the regular editors. This is not lost at all on Nick, who rejects numerous offers to work alone on a later project for Mike (Mike Landry) a New York producer who makes movies on the cheap. The film they're currently working on is a romantic-comedy made by a director, Adrian (Kevin Corrigan) who never shows up to the editing bay, and seems to be in a constant disheveled shape of ambivalence towards everything, including his own movie. They have a few weeks to make final cuts, and they're arguing about whether or not they need the performance by the doorman, and whether Tarik, while doing some overlapping voice over, needs to sound more "urban" or not. Nick has basically taken over the directing, even as the film's star, Jamie (Arielle Kebbel) comes in for some reason to check on the film, probably presuming the director would be there, and Jamie and Nick start kinda hitting if off. Nick is engaged to Amy (Sophia Takai), although they've started becoming distant. She's got a new promotion at work, which she really doesn't want, as she'd rather be a stay-at-home Real Housewife of somewhere, and Nick is always too tired from editing all day to do anything. Darryl, is also in a relationship with Liana (Melonie Diaz), and that relationship seems to be doing well, and doing well for him, but pretty soon, he's knocking on Nick's door to sleep on his couch more often than not. There really isn't a whole lot that describable with "Supporting Characters", if you just describe the actions. What really makes this into a smart and observant film is the dialogue. Always rich and naturalistic, but also full of truths and observations, and funny. The film's been compared somewhat to the shows, "Girls" which Karpovsky acts in, and there is that realistic tone of that rye New York disconnect, where you don't quite feel grown up, but you do feel pressured to be an adult already. Lena Dunham even has a small, funny cameo in the film as an intern editor he hires to help dub a voiceover from Jamie. I'll starting to really dawn on me, that if Dunham didn't invent this new indy filmmaking style, she's certainly become their representative for it. If you wanted to put them together, "Supporting Characters", could hypothetically fit in the same world as "Tiny Furniture", but definitely on the other side of the street. It's also very smart, and skirting that line between, what happens in movies, and what happens in reality. There's a scene where Darryl is gonna propose to Liana, and he makes big grand gesture interrupting her dance class, and the way that that scene, played out, and then the scene immediately after, than in any romantic-comedy I've seen in a long time. Somebody thought that through, very thoroughly about how to address this part of the story, and they came up with a very smart way of approaching that. Definitely recommending "Supporting Characters".
IT'S A DISASTER (2013) Director: Todd Burger
The aptly-titled, "It's a Disaster", is a film about eight people, four couples, who are having a Sunday couples brunch when the end of the world starts happening, and we wait for these eight morons to die for an hour and a half, while they only occasionally make us laugh as they deal with their drunken, drugged up, marital, or some other kind of problem of theirs that don't amount to a hill of beans-, hell, they don't even amount to a line of cocaine. I guess I'm partly already frustrated with these end-of-the-world movies, and it can be done well, even as a comedy, like we saw last year with "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World", but with a film like this, my first thought is, "Why does the world need to end, in order for us to enjoy a movie about a couples' brunch, the kind where revelations get revealed and major announcements get made, and people evolve from who they were at the beginning of the dinner, to the end, when they seem like other people? There's plenty of great plays that do that already, without having dozens of dirty bombs going off everywhere in America. And even then, you'd think they have more interesting things to say and do, even in a comedy. Well, actually that's not true, they could've done almost everything they did in this movie for comedy and be funny, with the same premise, but you needed characters that are decent and that we already give a shit about to begin with. The first couple is Trace and Randolph (Julia Stiles and David Cross). Now Tracy's been to dozen's of these brunches that Pete and Emma (Blaise Miller and Erinn Hayes) have held for years, with numerous other guys, most of whom have been crazy, as she describes, but Randolph seems like a quiet, nice-enough good guy, and he's nervously uncomfortable around all of Tracy's friends. Lexi and Buck (Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan) met at Pete and Emma's wedding, and they got drunk and married each other a couple days later. Lexi, btw, has been high on coke for about a day going into this brunch. The other couple is Shane and Hedy (Jeff Grace and America Ferrera) who aren't married, but have been engaged for six years. He's some kind conspiracy/UFO geek, who's never really human, and keeps who-the-hell attacked us, instead of, how do we survive, or what do we do now that we're gonna die. She, I don't remember what she does, I think teach. Two of the girls are teachers, one of the others is a doctor or a nurse, which comes in handy when they find out what gas will be killing them. Come to think of it, I don't remember if the men have any jobs. Oh, Cross is a teacher too. Anyway, mostly they're hanging in the living room trying to figure out why the ballgame, the TV, the internet, the phone, the landline phone and eventually the electricity is out, which at first Pete blames on Emma for not having paid the bills, 'cause, as they were to announce, they're getting a divorce, and she's moving out. She was having an affair with Buck. Lexi, also later, started having an affair with Peter, and both Lexi and Buck, tried to hit on Randolph before the end of the world, 'cause they do that sort of thing together, and all that. A couple of the girls are in shock, Hedy starts making ecstacy of whatever drugs are left in the house, 'cause, it's the end of the world, and because she wants to get out of it, with her way-too-long-together-now, fiance. This movie had a few good jokes, like when a phone suddenly starts working and it's an insurance salesman from a callcenter in Manilla, not aware of what's happening as they to get him to turn on the TV, that was pretty funny; almost good sketch material. There were a few other moments for awhile, and I liked how, at least until the end, the David Cross character was the likable outsider who's coming into this world full crazy people, until he reveals how crazy he is, so that became moot at the end. Yeah, "It's a Disaster" isn't good. It's the first feature film written and directed by actor, Todd Berger, he has a small role as the other couple who are always a few hours late for these things, and when she show up, clearly dying from whatever they inhaled, they don't let them in, and all future exterior shots of the house, has that dead on the front porch, that was actually kinda funny. That's the real problem though, things aren't funny in a vacuum. Doesn't matter if it's a SNL sketch, or a novel or a play or even a movie, in order for this kind of material to be funny, you do have to actually have complete characters that are realistic and believable at first anyway, that you actually could care about. There all about to die, if we aren't caring about them, then we start cheering for the infectious gas, and that's really what happened here. There was a shot at a few of these characters being interesting, but by the end you really didn't care. Yeah, this was a mess, not worth talking about, 'cause the only thing left is to make a bad pun with the title, just skip it, and let's move on to the next movie, shall we?
ABDUCTION OF EDEN (aka EDEN) (2013) Director: Megan Griffiths
I must to admit to being a little surprised as I check rottentomatoes.com to see just how many film critics have given a positive review to "Eden", or "Abduction of Eden" as it's called on the DVD jack. Yes, it's based on a true story, and all that, but, couldn't there once, ever, be reluctant human sex trafficker. You know, just to change it up a bit; one who's low on the totem poll, doesn't like his job, has a heart, only doing it to pay his way through dental school, something like that once in a while? I know it's probably unrealistic, but Christ, much of this happens in my backyard of Vegas, and it still seems cliche. And high-tech. Where do they find all these people, to help search the girls and kidnap them and take phone calls, and places to keep girls when they're pregnant so they can sell the babies and kill the hooker and bury her in the desert? The way this happens so often in film, you'd think this was an epidemic. Frankly, you'd think it'd be easier just to find underage runaways willing to do half this stuff, at least they used. Most of them used to hang out at Circus Circus once upon a time, but they still should be around. Anyway, Eden (Jamie Chung) gets picked up at the wrong bar, by the wrong guy one day, who correctly figured that she was underage, but only to be drinking. She's actually 19, but looks younger, and is Korean-American, and Asians are highly-tauted on this market. She's taken to some kind of jail-like dungeon that's miles away from nowhere with numerous other girls. The boss is a U.S. Marshall, Bob Gault (Beau Bridges, and thank God somebody with talent was in this film) who runs this ring. His right hand man is Vaughan (Matt O'Leary), who's his drug-addicted right-hand man, and he begins taking a trust with Eden, even though she tries to escape, and does something pretty vicious to one of her johns, that-eh, let's say it's the kind of thing where you would imagine it incredibly hard to keep under the rug. (Think Lorena Bobbit with teeth, and then forget that I wrote that) Eventually though, she begins to start working with the organization, keeping an eye on the enslaved women, answering phones and doing the books. It was her way of surviving as she was already too old for the place when they grabbed her, an then slowly forces her way into convincing Vaughan to try and take over the enterprise from the Marshall. Somehow, believe it or not, this film doesn't come off as the compelling tale of harrowing escape as it should; it just felt like borrowed elements from older, better movies.
NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (2012) Director: Kleber Mondonca Filho
To some extent, what you end up finally caring about in "Neighboring Sounds" is what you will bring into it. There is a lot here literal and metaphorical to capture your attention, and critic-turned-director Kleber Mondonca Filho, certainly has a lot to say. The film is separated into three sections, and they all revolve around a neighborhood in Recife, Pernambuco; a state in Northeast Brazil. (To those who think my geography is that good, thanks, but no, I got help on that one from Pablo Villaca's wonderful analysis of the film on rogerebert.com.) There's dozens of characters, and each section is separated by a growing level of a so-called "security presence". The neighborhood itself is already predominantly upper-middle class, but the simplistic blue and gray concrete look of the neighborhood already makes the area seem prison-like. There's always a teenager couple hiding in a corner making out, and another kid, who always seems to have trouble playing soccer. There's a few petty robberies in the beginning, one car was broken into, Sofia (Irma Brown), who's dating Joao (Gustavo Brown). He's got a cousin he suspects. Soon, as the crimes keep occurring, a somewhat over-aggressive neighborhood watch is set up, although it's more of a local militia-type service the neighbors have concocted, complete with walkie-talkies and cameras, and doorman, who they now keep an eye on with cameras and have meetings about whether or not they should fire him with a pay package or not, since he's been falling asleep on the job. Meanwhile, the days of modernity go on. A couple trying to get the rent down on their new place because a last resident committed suicide, one neighbor's extreme attempts to quiet a darking god, which she does between, blowing her joint into a vacuum or rigging the washing machine to masturbate. By the end of the movie, the town is suspicious of everyone, and we start to get inside the minds and dreams of the residents. The occasional get-together and block parties. People living in memories, back to a time when they could reach for the stars. Some will see this as metaphorical, and some kind of commentary on the state of the world or the middle class, or government practices. It's all there, but something tells me the real key to the film is just the slice-of-life look at a neighborhood that's really what's more interesting. Even in the middle of that discussion about firing the doorman, the one who argues in favor of him getting a severance package, that would've come out of the residents' rent, he leaves to go be with his girlfriend, before the vote. Certain things are really important to people, and certain things aren't. Some it's family, other it's privacy. Sometimes it's getting the damn dog to shut up. I think that's the clear message and point in "Neighboring Sounds". Would one care if someone's car got broken into, if it wasn't their girlfriends, or if it didn't happen on their street, even if that street is rather dull and innocuous, but it's home to them, for good and bad. Some have called "Neighboring Sounds" the best Brazilian film since the '70s, I think that's stretching it a bit, "City of God," and "Pixote" probably has a better claim but, this is definitely to a very unique and talented filmmaker in Filho; I'm definitely looking forward to what he'll do next. He was already short film director, and this first feature is a definite must-see, even if it's not as beloved as other claim, but it should definitely be taken it. A very strong and emotionally thoughtful film.
SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927) Director: F.W. Murnau
"Sunrise" is a very simple tale. Too simple in fact. It made the most recent Sight & Sound poll of the Ten Greatest movies of all-time list, and from a technical perspective that makes sense, but boy if you don't know the ins-and-outs of filmmaking of the time- even I needed a second viewing to realize just far ahead of it's time it ended of being. Unfortunately, it's now behind the times, and the movie's long tracking and moving shots will go by unnoticed to most viewers. Arguably the last great silent film of the silent film era, it came out, right before sound, which, limited the camera movement, which was already fairly limited because they only just figure out how to move a camera, which had to still have a guy cranking the giant couple-hundred pound monster while moving it at the same time, and they didn't solve that problem, 'til, well, "Sunrise...", and then with sound, with needed numerous hidden microphones, which weren't mobile and required boxing in scenes tighter, so that people can hear the dialogue. Basically, "Sunrise" remained a single entity of experimentation for about, at least a decade, and frankly steadicam didn't really get master until within the last twenty years. To study "Sunrise" technically, is a marvel. Now only did Murnau get the camera to move, he got it to fly. Storywise, it's actually very traditional. There's a Man (George Obrien) a Woman, his Wife (Oscar-Winner Janet Gaynor) and a "Woman of the City" (Margaret Livingston) and they have a love triangle. The Man, a country guy, begin an affair with the Woman of the City, and when he ends it, she tries to get back with him. Then, there's an epic disaster that helps reinforce Man and Wife's love for each other. There are more details than that, but that's pretty much the entire story. It's simple, and told well, most of that is the technical achievement of the great German Expressionist, making his first feature in America. The movie was a flop financial, but three of the first Oscars, including "Outstanding Artistic and Unique Production", which was different at the time from the Best Production Award, which of course, went to "Wings". "Sunrise" even then, was obviously distinctive, a master of a craft that and style, that ironically, had just ended with the influx of sound. As a piece for study, I can admire and review "Sunrise" multiple times over, but as a piece of entertainment, I found it too simple, especially when you do compare it to some of the most complex silent films, like von Stroheim's "Greed" for instance, even Griffith's "Broken Blossoms", what I consider his best film, or even Chaplin best film that ironically would come later like "City Lights" and especially "Modern Times", films like those seem to have more to say than just technical expertise, and challenged what would be the norms for decades. Maybe that's part of why it's such a classic, that a simple can seem new, and maybe it did at the time, but I find it harder to make that argument now.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) Director: Herbert Ross
I don't know quite where to begin with "Steel Magnolias". I guess it's exactly what I expected and long heard about; it's one of those films, that's-eh, supposed chick flicks, which women seem to gravitate more to than men, like "Beaches" which I believe came out the same year for instance. Well, "Steel Magnolias" is certainly female dominant, that can't be understated. Men are barely there, often seem non-existent except to occasionally be the butt of a joke, or making an ass of themselves, go to jail or getting someone pregnant eventually. The story is based around a group of, about six close girlfriends in one of Louisiana Parishes where it seems like the entire parish is always together for some everyone seems to have come from Tennessee Williams plays. The movie is based on Robert Harling play, and he adapted the screenplay himself, and I have to imagine that the play is seriously opened, especially with the amount of extras they through in; I can't imagine a stage big enough, except maybe on Broadway, and even then. Strangely, that didn't help the film, the opening up of the play, it just made it more obvious that it was a lacking substance and preferred style. Another thing that would've made me question the adaptation, the movie's structured very oddly. For instance, the first character we're introduced to is Annell (Daryl Hannah). She's the one who enters this world, mysteriously from the outside, looks disheveled, and as Truvy (Dolly Parton) notes, "I like the idea of someone with a past." But she's a red herring, we find out. Just a girl running away from a no good husband. Anyway, the real story involves M'Lynn (Sally Field) and her daughter Shelby (Oscar-nominee Julia Roberts). It's Shelby's wedding and everything's going to hell, at least at the start. Everything's normal and filled with witty lines and jokes, but Shelby has diabetes, apparently a pretty bad kind too. I'm fairly familiar with diabetes, and I've rarely seen it that severe. She passes out in the salon Turvy's salon, while everybody gossiping and immediately gets awaken up with candy and orange juice. That's true, that can happen, but usually it's a lot more severe when it does, and it's fixed that quickly. The other pairing is the town's rich old widow bitch Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) and her close friend Clairee (Olympia Dukakis). Clairee keeps picking and insulting the stern Ouiser, especially as she's started dating an old flame again, Owen (Bill McCutcheon). The movie was remade on Lifetime recently with an all African-American cast, and to some extent that make a little more sense then the cast we have. I mention the lack of men, and it's strange that after Shelby dies, (24 years, I hope I'm not giving anything away at this point) that her husband, Jackson (Dylan McDermott) is so inconsequential that, when we meet the characters at the end, her daughter is around, but the husband isn't, and apparently M'Lynn is the center of her life now. I will, that easily Sally Field gives the best performance in the film, and if there was an Oscar-worthy one, it would've been her. Nothing against Julia Roberts work here though, but considering everything, she's inconsistent acting in this film, and her part's underwritten. It's not as believable that she is as crucial a centerpiece of the group as she turns out to be. Not that any of the parts are complete characters, except for M'Lynn, but I'm amazed this film has become such a popular film. Why did she have to die, Shelby, by the way. Except for that, the entire film is laughter and style; her death is thrown in, apparently to add something else, but it's not essential if you pay attention, and the film might have been better if she had survived. "Steel Magnolias" really doesn't hold up that well. Good acting, but too many eccentric characters to care about, and frankly the main character is among the least interesting. I don't mind chick flicks, but I mind bad ones. I use this term, because it's certainly intending but it's severely lacking.
ROLLERBALL (1975) Director: Norman Jewison
As a kid, usually when waiting for afternoon pro wrestling on at, some time with an ":05" at the end, (Thanks Ted turner for that) I often caught the end of movies like "Iron Eagle II" or "Carrie", or whatever happened to be playing that day, before the show I was waiting for went on. At least 3 or 4 times it was the original "Rollerball", and it was one of the strangest-looking films I remember seeing. So strange that I didn't particularly think it could actually be anything other than the deranged meanderings of a crazed mind. Not that it isn't, but no, it's much more than that. It's an intense Orwellian sci-fi film, about a future where the Corporate Wars are over, and now, a game of Rollerball has consumed most of the popular culture and is basically the only sport and possibly the only entertainment available to the people. Rollerball is basically some form of extreme roller derby meets human demolition derby, which the rules keep getting changing, and become more and more violent. The star of the Houston team, a town which survived the wars because of the energy corporation, is Jonathan E. (James Caan) and Houston is three wins away from the Championship, if they can survive. And by survive, I mean survive. People do get killed, in a multitude of ways, when it's not only more violent and nasty than an average '70s Raiders/Steelers game. The Corporation determines everything, and now, they're telling Jonathan it's time to announce his retirement. He's reluctant; they already took his wife, for reasons he doesn't understand. He has to go to Geneva, where the keeps, all the knowledge now, as library and books are edited and computerized and catalogued. "Why do you want to look it up, the Corporation, represented here mostly by Bartholomew (John Houseman) could just send down a tutor for you?" says his best teammate Moonpie (John Beck). He's right, people do seem to live in luxery. There's no poor, no money it seems like, but a definite power structure and the actions of a few determine the future for the rest of us. I'm not gonna pretend I don't see the numerous modern-day parallels one can make with the film, they're there, and in some ways "Rollerball" was indeed prophetic. The actions scene of the game, are some of the most amazing sports footage of any kind I've ever seen in film, that this is a made-up game makes them all the more impressive quite frankly. Lots of work must've gone into making this. The Director was the great Norman Jewison, who's made films like "In the Heat of the Night," "The Russian are Coming! The Russians are Coming!", "Moonstruck", "...And Justice for All", "Fiddler on the Roof", and "The Hurricane". He's tough to pinpoint as a director, as his films don't seem to have much in common on the surface, although one minor somewhat-prevalent theme that comes up is "injustice," and a need to fight a system to survive, and that's probably the core of "Rollerball". The oppressive corporation, trying hard to destroy one man. Part Orwell, part "A Clockwork Orange," and part sports movie, "Rollerball" really stands out as a unique film that was way ahead of its time. They did a remake about a decade ago, which I didn't see 'cause the reviews were godawful, and I'm pretty sure I made the right decision, but the original really does stand out. It's weird thinking this was made is '75, even the computers in the film, and the screens seem like they could've been thoughts of the future, from maybe five years later. Lots of good, underrated things about "Rollerball".
IMITATION OF LIFE (1959) Director: Douglas Sirk
It's actually quite amazing that Douglas Sirk got away with making "Imitation of Life". Sirk a German immigrant to America during the war, he became famous in the '50s for his popular melodrama like "All that Heaven Allows" and "Written on the Wind", that were quite popular as they were some of the first portrayal of modern-day suburbia, and bordered on the melodramatic. ("Written on the Wind" for instance, is practically the direct link to what became "Dallas") He's not popular anymore, but now critics, who used to dismiss have started taking a second look, myself included in his films. This remake of an already-known 1934 film, (It's probably the remake part that helped him get away with it) was his last feature before retiring, and is about two women, both with kids from previous marriages, who begin living together to help support each other. Lora (Lana Turner) is an aspiring theater actress trying to make it on Broadway; she's also white. Her friend Annie (Oscar-nominee Juanita Moore), is an unemployed maid who's black. They find each other at the beach one day, and Annie and her daughter Sarah Jane (Karin Dicker at age 8, Oscar nominee Susan Kohner at age 18), are homeless when Lora decides to take them in until their back on their feet. They begin living with Lora and her daughter Susie (Terry Burnham at age 6, Sandra Dee at age 16) while she's still barely keeping rent on a dump of an apartment, when amazing she starts getting acting work, and decides to hire Annie on as a live-in maid, although their relationship is much deeper than that. Lora also starts dating a few theater people herself, including a major playwright, Allan Loomis (Robert Alda) and becomes his muse for awhile. She eventually gets back together with a former musician-turned-beer executive, David Edwards (Dan O'Herlihy), who goes through numerous life transformations of his own. I should mention that at this point that while Sarah Jane is black, her father was light-skinned, and she herself is able to pass as white, and does so, starting in grade school. This continues as she becomes a seductive teenager and as Annie's health begins to deteriorate, meanwhile, Sarah Jane continues to pass for white as she quietly begins a career singing and dancing in a bathing suit at a nightclub. (Strip club, Sirk loved using metaphors for what things really were.) Douglas Sirk not only earned all the melodrama in his film, but more importantly, they're so rich in subtext that they've long after most of his imitators long haven't. This might be his best film, and in many ways, I can't believe he got it made, much less, made it so well. A story about passing as white while being black, of a sisterly relationship between two people of different sexes, a story of two women with kids sharing an apartment, there's a lot of groundbreaking material here. Now, granted, I have yet to see the original John M. Stahl film, which was made in '34, but I'm still willing to bet this is one of the better remakes ever made, especially at that time. Yeah, it's the over-the-top emotional, and every bad mistake someone makes can be seen a mile away, but when it's done well, it's as powerful as any genre, and Douglas Sirk was a master. "Imitation of Life" remains a marvel. An emotionally-powerful film that deals with subject matter way ahead of its time even now. This might be his best work, and you strangely, it's basically the only film that, generally lacked the real metaphors, and was told very bluntly. This could easily have just been a movie about an angry mother/daughter relationship, without an explanation as to why she's so frustrated with her mother, being her skin color, and it would've been effective, but we wouldn't completely know why. (At least not at the time.) Putting it out there though, really makes his work even stronger to some extent. It's sad that it's last feature and he left Hollywood afterwards, who know what Sirk could've made, after the Hays code was lifted; that's more than anything, is what I really get out of "Imitation of Life", and what makes it really special, even among his work.
LOOKING FOR RICHARD (1996) Director: Al Pacino
According to Pacino, "Richard III", is Shakespeare's most produced-play, worldwide. That result surprises me. Just based on high school alone, I would've thought "Romeo and Juliet" would be number one, but certainly, if you want to perform a Shakespeare, especially for a leading actor, "Richard III", is probably the most interesting choice one can make. He's the one who's pure evil, and tells you he is. No, actually he tells us, the audience that he's evil, and then proceeds to do everything possible for the throne, which he eventually, and eventually would famously give up in the field of battle, for a single horse. It's not too much more complicated then that, for a cliff notes version anyway. But for an actor, the tackling of Shakespeare is the ultimate challenge. Pacino directed this documentary which combines rehearsal footage, and performance footage of "Richard III", with an in depth analysis of the play from Pacino himself, fellow actors and scholars. I always typically enjoy these king of analyses of Shakespeare to begin with, but the ultimate analysis of Shakespeare belongs to actors, and this is the rare chance to actually see actors working out the play for themselves. The process it long and torturous. At one reading, Pacino realizes that we're gonna need to spend a couple weeks just trying to figure out who plays what part. The complexity in Shakespeare does make for such rigid and thorough analysis, particular with Richard III, one of the Shakespeare most complex characters, so in-your-face, that audiences need road maps and guides for other audience members to follow. Pacino even visits the home of Shakespeare, to try to get a better understanding, but what's really special is seeing the process of actors, trying to transform into their characters, and analyzing the texts. No work is harder than Shakespeare. It's old English, written in iambic pentameter, and you gotta make people understand it, and make it seem relevant. Actors have to translate the text into their own vernacular, and then translate it back to Shakespearean, but even in the nuances of Shakespeare- what is he asking? What's he doing now? All these elaborate and complicated choices are differences between good acting and great acting, and Shakespeare is the ultimate test. Pacino, who won a DGA Award for directing this film, shows us all parts of this process, and how we, the laymen interpret Shakespeare, to what it meant then, and what it means now, and then recreating these ancient, but very real characters, who did once upon a time, live and breathe, and then we see, the complete transformation and performances, as they all perform "Richard III", in full character and Shakespearean verse. "Looking for Richard", is probably one of the truest achievements in which we fully get inside the inner workings of an actor. I thought about Pacino's performance, in film and onstage most recently, where he played Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice", and how amazing it was to see that great performance. To some, it was a revelation, but "Looking for Richard," already shows us the seeds of that. Other great actors show up periodically as well, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey and Estelle Parsons for instance. Some playing roles, others spouting wisdom, all of it engrossing. "Looking for Richard" is a special and great documentary, one that really doesn't have an equal, it's quite a unique film. Maybe something like "American Splendor" on Harvey Pekar, might be a good structural comparison, but that's stretching it. It's like seeing the mind worker, and wander, and go back and forth, from the achievement to the mundane to the specific, very well done film, a must for all acting and Shakespeare scholars.
SPACE COWBOYS (2001) Director: Clint Eastwood
In 1998, John Glenn, the legendary 1st of the Mercury Astronauts to go up in space, retired as an Ohio Senator to become the oldest person to go into space at age 77. No doubt, that has to be the main inspiration for "Space Cowboys", made just two years later, and ranks as one of Eastwood's few comedic directorial works, and it's a fun premise, if for no other reason than to simply get all these old-time, all-time great actors working in the same movie. Other than that, the movie's plot is about as ridiculous as "Armageddon"'s, but when you got Eastwood, Garner, Jones and Sutherland around, trying to save the world, generally you feel like you're in good hands, and that you don't really need to discern yourself with plausibility. Frank Corvin (Eastwood) had long been replaced, with a monkey, famously. (Which has a double-inside joke, when you consider Eastwood's memorable performance in "Every Which Way but Loose") His group was supposed to predate the Mercury astronauts, this was even before NASA was created, and the job of heading into space was still mainly a side project of the Air Force. However, an early Russian satellite, is about to fall through the atmosphere, and somebody need to redirect it out of space, for reasons that become clear later. Also, for reason that become,- well, not clear, but obvious, the satellite guidance system is so old, and out-of-date, that the only person who actually knows how to use it is Corvin. How did the Russians in the Cold War, get Corvin's guidance system? Well, too late to worry about that now, time to round up the old crew. Tank Sullivan (Garner) who's become a Baptist minister, Jerry O'Neill (Sutherland) who designs roller coasters and needs glasses to see, although he always manages to see the nearest skirt around, (He reminded me a bit of his role in "Animal House" with his loquasciousness in this part), and Hawkins (Jones) the toughest S.O.B. among them, who does trick flying lessons for the advance/crazy/don't know what they're actually asking. They have a month to pass physicals and manuever through any/all paperwork/politics put in front of them by their old rival boss Gerson (James Cromwell) and Marcia Gay Harden has an affair with Jones's character, which is good for him. Oh, eh, there's a backstory regarding Corvin and Hawkins, regarding a woman who they were fighting over and eventually, one of them ending up marrying, ruined their friendship until now. Anyway, this is a light minor film for everyone involved, but it's a good one, that, kinda holds up. I think it needs a bit of explanation to explain the timing significance, that is place in time. I'll say this though; it's 2013, and one thing I do like as I look back on "Space Cowboys" is that, every member of the main cast is still alive, and still working, some of them are at the top of their careers in fact. For a film, that most probably thought could've been some of these actors' last hurrahs, that's pretty cool.
BEYOND THE MAT (1999) Director: Barry W. Blaustein
I was in the middle of taking notes for the ROH Report that I write once a month for guysnation.com, when suddenly, the strangest thought came into my head, "Did I write a review for "Beyond the Mat"? I finally got around to watching the infamous pro wrestling documentary by former "SNL" and "Coming to America" writer Barry W. Blaustein, a few weeks ago, might have been a month ago even, and I wrote down that I gave it 3 1/2 STARS, and I thought I remembered writing it. Well, I guess it was all in my head, and well- that happens sometimes, you think you're doing something, and then you don't realize you're not doing it. This especially frustrates me when people turn off the TV while I'm supposedly sleeping, or in another room, completely unaware of just how closely I am in fact, paying attention. Anyway, I'll try to remember some of my thoughts on "Beyond the Mat" now, most of which, seemed to me like a travel back in time. It was famous, for being one of the really first documentaries to turn back the curtain on all levels of the industry, and since I am a fan of pro wrestling, and more importantly a much bigger fan of it at the time the film was made, a lot of it, seemed like time-traveling, and looking in on something, that you already know the ending to. That's the part of pro wrestling, that a lot of people don't fully understand, it's the storytelling aspect of it; that's essentially just, what they're doing, telling stories with their bodies, and it ain't easy. One of the first sequences was in WWF headquarters (It was called WWF back then) and Darren Drozdov was signing his WWF contract, because he has a great look, and the ability to puke on command, which is a very promote-able skill. It was the biggest moment of his life arguably, but I know before they tell us at the end, that he was gonna be paralyzed from a pro wrestling accident, just a couple years later. Some of the film's moments have become legendary, like Jake "The Snake" Roberts, high on crack in a hotel room, something he's had trouble with, to this day in fact. Mick Foley, in another life and body, could've probably been a philosopher or something, he actually is an unusually-talented and successful writer of fiction and non-fiction books, but you'd never guess that by his ring persona, or the punishment he takes to his body. After re-watching a particularly brutal match which his family left the ringside area, because they couldn't stand watching him take, and it's one of the first times that he truly realizes the brutality with which he puts his body through, and just how violent, and real his job can be. Yeah, him and The Rock shake hands and hug backstage after hours of stitches in the back, but we only see that in the documentary, we don't really see that in the ring, at least we didn't back then, now everything's on the internet, and all that.... Overall, "Beyond the Mat showed all the aspects of the industry from the little half-a-basement halls to the big time and back again, and the lengths people go to to be in this crazy business, sometimes long, long, long after they should've gotten out. It really is, similar to an artist's journey I must say, although that said, it still basically felt a little like fan worship to me, from the filmmaking style to some of the interviews; it's not really what anybody would call an expose, even though it has those aspects, I didn't learn anything particularly new, but others might. I don't know, I think it's a good look back for fans, and probably an interesting curiosity to those who aren't. Now granted, this is after a few weeks time, so, maybe I'm missing some details that I wanted to mention, well, better late than never. I can't believe I did that. Hmph! I hope I haven't forgotten to write about any other films.
NOT THE MESSIAH: HE'S A VERY NAUGHTY BOY (2010) Director: Aubrey Powell
I'm not gonna lie; I wasn't exactly planning on writing a review of the concert documentary, "Not the Messiah: He's a Very Naughty Boy"; frankly, I always like to take time to find DVDs that, I don't have to think about when too deeply I'm writing more reviews, so I try to get stuff that didn't play in a theater for instance, like TV movies for instance, which I don't review. I watched 'em, I saw, "If These Walls Could Talk 2" last week, didn't write about it, but it was a good film. I watch most of the big TV movies, but writing reviews for every damn thing, can really be stressful, and sometimes, I just want to watch a Monty Python sketch on youtube or something, like I'm doing now, the Upper Class Twit contest for those who are curious, laugh a bit, and relax. Well, turns out in England, this doc did in fact play in a movie theater briefly, so that idea went out the window. The film is a documentation of a one-night only show done as a celebration of the Python's 40th Anniversary, and partially combining some of their more famous material, but mostly its a production of the title musical. They did the Broadway musical "Spam-a-lot", which is more well-known in America, which of course was inspired by "...Holy Grail", but when Eric Idle adapted "...Life of Brian" to the stage, he puts in a way more absurd environment, a classical music concert, complete with orchestra, opera-trained soloists, and a gospel choir, singing songs that kinda reconnect and retell the story from the original film. It's a lot more music than it is comedy, although there are some funny moments that are revisited. I would've liked a "Blessed are the Cheesemakers" reference, but the whole show was only an hour and a half, and since they're combining it with other elements, I imagine we're getting a truncated version, and frankly it's still mostly a lot of music. Good music, but it's not what you'd prefer when you think of Monty Python. It was nice to see almost all the surviving pythons make brief appearances, only John Cleese was absent, and of course, I smiled when they ended with "Almost Look on the Bright Side of Life", the wonderful ending song to "...Life of Brian", and especially happy after that, when Michael Palin announced that he didn't want to Roman; he wanted to be a lumberjack, and everybody came out in character to do "The Lumberjack Song", which is my all-time favorite sketch of theirs. I've analyzed that one to death multiple times. Well, it was nice to see, I don't think I particularly loved it, but it had some endearing parts, but it's not the first way I'd introduce people to Monty Python.