As to other headlines, some may have noticed that I may have been the only movie blogger who hasn't weighed in an opinion on Ben Affleck's casting as Batman in the upcoming Superman movie. Well, there's a reason for that; it's not important. I don't know why everyone's insisting on geeking out over this, one way or the other, but 99.9% of casting, is relatively unimportant to begin with, at least before we actually see the movie, it's unimportant. I'll judge whether it was a good idea or not then, and it won't be a whole blogpost devoted to it, and frankly I don't understand why everyone else has an opinion one way or another. He isn't replacing Christian Bale, it's a new series that frankly, what most of the reviews I read of "Man of Steel", which I admit seen yet; I will at some point, but it's not an immediate priority because it's not as culturally essential that I watch it. I'm sure there's a few people out there going crazy over me just saying that, but it isn't. Just because it's Superman and Batman and whatever iconic characters and controversial castings;- (Blows raspberries) I don't get excited over movies that haven't been made yet, and besides that I make it a priority to rise above such fetish worship at this blog, and not explode over every little news item about future films, and I think others should do the same. I saw the news item and moved on, and frankly I think others should start having that perspective on such things, until the movie's been made and released.
Also, I wanted to briefly mention the death of Elmore Leonard, the great pulp novelist of our time. His work inspired many movies and TV shows, including "3:10 to Yuma", "Jackie Brown", "Out of Sight", "Get Shorty", among many others. His short story "Fire in the Hole" was also the inspiration for the TV show "Justified", rarely does somebody, who really is, the premiere of his genre pass away. Elmore Leonard is pulp to a lot of people, and that's a genre that's great for movies and television, and he will sorely be missed. A truly legendary figure.
Well, enough of me this week, time to get the the RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!
THE GATEKEEPERS (2012) Director: Dror Moreh
For, obvious reasons, as an American, it's simply been easier to do our best to ignore the modern history of the Middle East the best we can, particularly Israel, as much possible, although lord knows, certain images will never leave my mind. I remember when Yithzak Rabin was assassinated, not by a Palestinian, but by a far-right Israeli, who thought he attempts at peace with Arafat were wrong for Israel. I remember the image of Clinton, Netanyahu and Arafat, entering a building for peace talks, and neither one of them trusted the other to go through the front door first. We don't quite understand it all, even as I'm engrossed in it in "The Gatekeepers," the Oscar-nominated documentary that interviews the six leaders of Shin Bet, which is Israel's version of the CIA, or FBI is you prefer. The six interviews are the only known members of the group, trace the history of the group and of Israel from the Six Days War, to today, and often involves some decisions and actions that, you'd think more of them would regret. There's a lot of talk about "morality" by the interviewer, but they mention how they can't really consider it in their jobs. Yet, they also mention that dealing with politicians, they want everything to be black and white, and they instead work in the middle ground, nowadays, often working with Palestinian agents because they don't want continuous terrorist attacks either as they actually do strive closer and closer towards peace. (Besides that, terrorism works both ways there, as is pointed out rather often, "One man's terrorist is a another's freedom fighter." There's some technical situation they discussed that I found interesting, like how collateral damage fears played a part in a failed bombing of what would've been the entire leadership structure of Hamas, because they didn't use a strong enough bomb. They were all on the first floor, the bomb, was only on the second, everyone escaped. Frankly, I was not as intrigued with the film as others have been, not for any technical reason, it just wasn't as captivating a subject for me. The interviewee are all matter-of-fact and frank, and they have interesting perspective and stories, but it felt more like a new history lesson than a compelling tale of what it's really like working for Shin Bet. Others might find it more interesting, it's probably purposefully anti-climatic as the events they're covering are so well-known as dramatic enough. Overall I'm barely recommending it, but I don't think this was a particularly captivating documentary, for me. Now I can certainly captivated and intrigued by things that I would normally never give a damn about, even in documentaries, and I don't know if there was a better way to tell this story, then it's done here, but personally, this was a struggle for me to sit through, and when I think about other films with a similar motif, Errol Morris's "The Fog of War" comes to mind, I just don't rank it in that league. If you're not interested you'll learn something, but you won't be entertained, if you are intrigued by recent Israeli history, you'll probably like it more. So recommending, with reservations, that this film is better for some than others.
SIDE EFFECTS (2013) Director: Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh has long been talking about retirement from filmmaking. Currently, there's only one other project that he's officially working on, a TV miniseries called "The Knick", since his latest projects, the HBO film "Behind the Candelabra" and his latest and possibly last theatrical feature film, "Side Effects", and while if anybody a break it's him, having made more quality work in many different genres in the last 15 years or so, and an incredibly ambitious pace than damn near anybody else, except possibly Michael Winterbottom and Clint Eastwood, maybe he is serious about retirement. He's typically gone, one for him, one for the studios, and I'm not sure which one "Side Effects" falls into, but if it his is final film, I'm glad to say that he went out on a really good one. Emily Taylor's (Rooney Mara) husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is coming out of prison soon. He's been in jail for insider trading the last few years, and it was a stunning shock at the time, for her. She was in therapy briefly afterwards with Dr. Victoria Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) at the time, but moved to New York City shortly afterwards for work. Now, her husbands getting out, and the stress and frustration with his previous lying about their lifestyle, and his insistence on getting back on top, has started making her severe depression come back. After slamming her car into a wall, she starts seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who begins writing prescriptions for her, particularly one for a pill called Ablixa, which begins to cause spells of sleepwalking, although it does clear her depression, and despite her husband's worries, she wants to stay on the pills. Then, she kills her husband in her sleep. It's clear that she did it, and was on the medication and she's arrested, but Dr. Banks is really the one in trouble, as now his practice is in jeopardy, especially after news of the story breaks. His wife and kid are worried, as she didn't get the high-paying job she thought she'd get, and Jonathan had been working multiple studies and hospital shifts doing overtime to make up for it, even having his patients participate in drug studies for which he was getting paid for, and that his patients were a little too eager to join. Now his partners are wondering about keeping him on. He still consults on the case, and Emily takes a plea deal on Not Guilty by reason of Insanity, and even Martin's mother (Ann Dowd) has forgiven her actions. Yet, something's not quite right and Jonathan begins investigating further, as suddenly, some inconsistencies in her story start to arise. This movie, seems like it's going one way, similar to one of Soderbergh's more recent films, "Contagion", which was exploitative in nature and took a look at the real possibilities of what would happen if a new deadly disease spread across the globe, and for a while, this films seems to be an indoctrination on the overuse of antidepressants in society, which their are, but the movie takes a sharp turn however, and becomes something far more Hitchcockian and I found joy in this sudden and surprising shift. Soderbergh sneaks it up on us, before we realize it, but it makes for a more entertaining mystery, and that's about all I can reveal about the film's second half I think. Well, here's to hoping that we'll still get more Steven Soderbergh over the next few years, but I'm fairly satisfied with this last film of his. The guy's been making films at a rigorous pace for a while now, so maybe he is becoming disillusioned but still, for a director who you never know what he's gonna do next, I'm gonna be sad if he's really done.
KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013) Director: Xan Cassavettes
The latest Cassavettes's daughter to make her way into directing, Xan's first theatrical feature "Kiss of the Damned" is a purposefully over-the-top throwback to the more erotic low-budget vampire tales from the '60s and '70s. Very over-the-top and very erotic. Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) is living in a house that an actress friend of hers, Xenia (Anna Mouglalis) isn't using while she's doing a play in town. (This film, based on the number of people in the industry seems to take place somewhere on the far outskirts of L.A., although there's talk of Phoenix in the film as well) She meets Paolo in a bar one night, and they fall in love, so she turns him into a vampire. Oh, right, Djuna's a vampire, I guess I should've mentioned that earlier, although she tells others that she has a rare skin condition that makes her have to avoid direct sunlight (Although she can stay inside with binoculars looking out over the world). I have a friend who actually has a condition like that, and no, she's not a vampire, but that is more common than people would believe. Anyway, she lives off dead animals, kinda like Brad Pitt in "Interview with the Vampire", without the 9-year-old Kirsten Dunst hanging around and all. Soon after, her more human-appetite sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) comes by unannounced between stops. It's about then that I lost all ability to understand what was going on in the movie. By the time Michael Rapaport's character shows up, I just thought, "Great!" someone I recognize in between all this soap opera over the top, "Eyes Wide Shut"-type feeling of over-indulgent over-erotic sexual films, this one just happens to have vampires and everybody seemingly having sex with everybody or trying to or talking about it, or acting like everybody's about to or just had sex with everybody else. You know, that salacious way some people tend to walk into a room, everybody walks around acting like that throughout the entire movie, and I'm fairly certain that's the only real point of the film at all. Not that I particularly mind that by the way. It's classic old school Eurotrash and there's something appealing about that, not enough for me to recommend it, but if you like good looking people, naked, having lots of sex and you have that erotic facination with vampires that I believe most people already have, then you'll probably enjoy "Kiss of the Damned", the kind of movie where, when somebody leaves a room, there's a cutaway soon to him/her having sex with at least one other person, and sometimes they're interrupted, other times they finish, which we don't always see, but, I don't think the audience will mind what we do.
DEAD MAN'S BURDEN (2013) Director: Jared Moshe
Sometimes, I'm shocked at a rottemtomatoes score, and this score for this film shocked me. "Dead Man's Burden," might as well "Fucking Boring-Ass Generic Western". I know, that for some I guess, the fact that we're still making westerns at all might be enough of a novelty to acquire acclaim, but, why are they giving praise to this piece of junk? It's cliched; it's boring, it tells a story that's been told so often and so much better.... A letter arrives for Wade (Barlow Jacobs), from his father, shortly after word got out to him that he had died. They hadn't talked in decades, and the letters warns that if he were to die, that someone was scheming him out of his property. He goes back, years later to his sister Martha (Clare Bowen) and her husband Heck (David Call) are surprised to see him. Their father's land is in the process of being sold to a mining company, represented by E.J. Lane (Jospeh Lyle Taylor), who's your typical slimy Western lawyer in these kind of situations. The film takes place in the deserts of New Mexico, after the Civil War, which Wade went to fight in, and ever since then, they've been separated, and everybody's got long-held secrets and grudges against each other that boil up. Wade tries to pin E.J. for murder, (Oh, I forgot, Wade's current job is as a Deputy Marshall in Wyoming.) but the nearest courtroom is three days away. There's only so many characters, so there's only a few ways this story can end, and the rest of the movie is a lot of bad on-the-nose dialogue, no subtext of any real kind, no metaphor of any kind, something most good westerns usually have, and acting that's bad and forgettable, and ends in people dying and a shootout, because the filmmaker had no imagination what's-so-ever, except this film barely goes off the ranch, and now we're stuck with these characters and nothing to do other than play these stupid soap opera-ish games about everyone possibly trying to screw the other, and did I mention it's a load of garbage? This is just complete crap that should never have found it's way off the festival circuit. It's the first film made by writer/director Jared Moshe, he's mostly known as a producer previously, usually of documentaries; I hope it's his last, or that at least the next one is better. There's really nothing in this movie, no twist you couldn't figure out ten minutes ahead of time, no piece of dialogue that doesn't scream either cliche Western dialogue, or worst, just plain-old bad exposition,- this is one of those movies where I just feel depressed that I wasted a precious Netflix queue space on. I'm only allowed to have 500 films on my list max, so many other things that could've been in its place, for weeks or months before I got to this, it's just depressing the more I think about it.
RUST AND BONE (2012) Director: Jacques Audiard
Perhaps the most emotionally powerful film I've seen this year, "Rust and Bone" could easily have been called "Water and Ice", as those motifs are used quite often in ways that determine the course of events for the main two characters. The first guy we meet is Alain (Matthias Schoenhaerts, you might remember him from last year's "Bullhead"), as him and his son Sam, (Armand Verdure) are traveling by train down to Cannes to meet up and live with his sister and her husband. He's a former boxer who wants to became an MMA fighter, but is right now splitting time between doing security/bouncing for a club while also installing surveillance cameras around town. He meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) at the club, she's just been punched by the latest guy she turned down, and Alain takes her home after he bruised up his hand beating him up. She lives with a nondescript boyfriend who's petty and jealous. She works at a water park training killer whales, when ones of the whales causes the stage to collapse. She wakes up in a hospital, having lost both of her legs. Surprisingly, I'm not tempted to keep discussing the events in the film as this doesn't become a simple tale of love and lost, but of two highly unlovable characters, who struggle through their own demons separately, coming together, for love or sex, although there's plenty of both particularly the latter, but most likely because neither one of them has anybody else in their lives. Sex to them, isn't passionate, it's a necessity; a way for each of them to feel they're alive, while both are in situations they're really not strong enough, at the moment to handle. I watched "Rust and Bone" twice, before writing about it, the first time through, I wasn't completely sure what I was watching. I knew it was good, but I way trying to figure out how good, as it doesn't have the normal plot arcs I was looking for. Oh they're there, but definitely not in the light or the way we expect, and when they come, they're far more traumatic then we would hope for. It might take a second viewing to recognize some of the details that go into the film. I mentioned water and ice, but there's subtle storytelling tricks as well, many we don't see offhand, because we've gotten so encrusted with the characters, and the fact that their journey isn't typical, has made us more intrigued. Cotillard and Schoenhaerts, give two spectacular performances, and if Cotillard's the one who got most of the acclaim and attention, it's because her character's slightly deeper and more complex, and not because Schoenhaerts's performance is lacking. The movie has a lot of turns and twists, many of them aren't feel good, despite some of the beauty and amazement. The film was directed by Jacques Audiard, it's the third film of his I've seen, after the popular "A Prophet", which got a Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, and "Read My Lips", an erotic heist thriller about a girl who's deaf. I wasn't as big on "A Prophet" as others were, but this is the best film of his I've seen. It's not enjoyable in the way that most films about characters overcoming dramatic personal obstacles are, but in a way, that makes it feel more realistic and unpredictable.
THIS IS 40 (2012) Director: Judd Apatow
I'm starting to get tired of Judd Apatow's improvisational style of filmmaking. Seriously, whatever happened to just writing a great comedy and having actors perform it. It's not that there isn't a good deal of that in "This is 40" his latest comedy dubbed a pseudo-sequel to "Knocked Up", because it's based on the same couple, Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) played in that film, although it might as well be different universes so I don't get mentioning that, really. However, it's now a thing though, where you can basically tell, every ten-to-twelve minutes, where Apatow just said "Just come up with a bunch of lines" to Melissa McCarthy or Charlene Yi, or some of the other supporting characters, and they're coming up with these, usually funny lines, but really have nothing to do with the rest of the film, tonally or even logically to some extent. Debbie and Pete's birthday's are the same week. Pete's struggling with his new record label, specializing in more season artists like Graham Parker, trying to reinvigorate their careers, which frustrates his co-workers and family as they wish he'd just sign some 15-year old. Debbie's missing $12,000 from her boutique, and with only two employees, best friends Desi and Jodi (Megan Fox and Yi), it's clear only one of them is stealing. Both of their kids, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow, yes they're Judd and Leslie's real-life daughters, and I'm sure they're proud of the scene where their Mom and Dad [Presuming Rudd's character is a stand-in for Apatow] get high on pot brownies while on vacation away from the kids.) There's also the struggles of their own parents, as Pete's dad, Larry (Albert Brooks) keeps borrowing money off of his son, and it's partially putting them into debt, while Debbie's dad Oliver (John Lithgow) has been absent for most of her life, and they struggle to even get the barest of true feelings for one another out, the few rare times they do get-together. The title is very accurate, both Pete and Debbie's birthdays fall within the same week, and the movie doesn't really have a plot of any kind of through-line, it's the random everyday bullshit that people who are 40 go through, especially as the strain continues to be placed on their marriage. Staying in shape, spying on the kids' facebook, dealing with their parents, dealing with their employees, the struggles of marriage, and yes, in these modern times, the unplanned late-in-life, what once-was-called a change-of-life unexpected pregnancy, those things do happen at the most inopportune time. The going-around behind the other's back to keep secrets, the seeking out of those secrets, those rare few minutes of pleasure behind a bathroom or bedroom door before the kids begin screaming, these are really of the film. It's also Cassavettes-like when you think about it. I just wish Apatow would be more trustworthy of his core material, and just presume that if he's got a great script and good comedic actors that they can just say the lines and make them funny as written, or poignant as written if need be, or whatever other emotion necessary. (Comic actors are the best ones out there, don't forget.) I'm starting to get a little tired of him, but as long as Apatow continually produces great characters and stories, he won't be making a truly bad film anytime soon, and "This is 40" is certainly strong, and worth recommending, but I hope he gets a stronger conviction with his work in the future.
PROMISED LAND (2012) Director: Gus Van Sant
I've known a bit about fracking for awhile now; it's been running havoc up and down the East Coast's water supply for a few years, and if you want to learn more about it quickly, I'd recommend Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary "Gasland", but basically it's when natural gas company dig deep underground, even deeper than for oil, where they break the shell of the natural gases that are under the Earth, and the idea is to extract the natural gas, to use, instead of oil. Of course, what happens is that the layers of dirt, as well as gasoline, chemicals and everything else they use to drill, contaminates water supplies, and if you ever want to find out if your house is contaminated, light a match under running water in your sink, and if it lights on fire, and yes, that's actually happening now, A. don't drink the water, and B. it's contaminated because of fracking. Of course Steve Butler (Matt Damon, who also co-wrote the script with co-star John Krasinski, his first screenwriting credit since his Oscar for Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting") has certainly heard and probably read about some of this, but as we all know, an ability for a worker to do harm requires the conscious effort to disbelieve that he is causing harm. He has just been promoted over at Global, the company he works for that goes from small midwestern town to small midwestern farming town, trying to get the owners of the land to sell them at a hefty markup (although lower than they should get) for their land, for them to start drilling. In this latest town him and his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) head to, it starts off well enough, until the townspeople get a little educated by a science professor, who's worked at some of those more destructive companies in the past, Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) who calls for a town vote, on whether to even allow Global presence in their town. The script requires added complications so this is when an environmental presence enters the town, Dustin Noble (Krasinski), and both Steven and Dustin have their eyes, not only on the vote, but on a local high school teacher, Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt). Steve isn't what you'd call a bad guy, he has good reasons for trusting that selling to Global is a good idea, and it is tough for farmers, or anybody to turn down 5,6 or even 7 figure checks when they've got next to nothing. The movie has multiple twists late, that give us an even deeper mistrust of large multi-billion-dollar companies, and the practices they engage in, or at least do in this movie, probably in real life as well. "Promised Land" is a strong film structurally, not nearly as impressive as "Good Will Hunting", but it's a good twist on an otherwise often-told tale, right up until the very end, when Damon's character gives, what I would refer to as an homage to Chaplin's speech at the end of "The Great Dictator", it's good, but probably not right for the character or the film. (Or at least, not the strongest choice the character could've made at that moment. That kinda, doesn't even work that well in "The Great Dictator", but that's was the purpose of that film, I think it was done here 'cause they were stuck on another way to come to a complete resolution. Still, that's a minor complaint, and at it's core, if you take away the politics of fracking "Promised Land" is a good movie about the ways that large companies do come in and piece by piece, start infiltrating and taking over a town, even in a short time-span. They make offers, they put on carnivals, they change their clothes and cars, hang out with them, support the local teams.... It would be a nice gesture if wasn't solely for a greater gain, which to me, is the difference between a corporation and a person. (Make with comment what subliminal messages you wish, they're there) "Promised Land" is probably not the smoking gun that'll end fracking, but it's a good warning, and a pretty good, well-acted movie.
SAMSARA (2012) Director: Ron Fricke
"Samsara" is the kind of movie I enjoy putting on and watching as I'm falling asleep. That is not an insult, far from it, it's one of the best films of the year, a transcendent, meditative and beautiful experience. Shot in 25 countries over the last five years on 70mm camera, there's no plot or story; yet in some ways, it's filmmaking at its purest form, the combing of images editing together. Describing the film, would basically be describing the images, one by one, and that's not really gonna help you guys to completely understand, but I couple of the images I recalled most were the sandpainters that opened and closed the movie, along with Indonesian dancers, and numerous other images, but the sandpainters stuck in my head. If you've never seen it, it's what it sound like, people who use different colored grains of sand to create beautiful painting, on tables. It's a time-consuming and painstaking process that takes weeks or months to finish one painting, and then, when they've completed it, the sand is soon wiped away. I read this, in terms of the film, as that we are all grains of sand, on this planet, and that while we can be placed together in an effort for a common goal, like working in a chicken factory for instance, one of the many other images in the film, and more particularly nauseating ones, we still are only here for a short amount of time. "Samsara" means a few different thing in Eastern religions, in Buddhism, it's the coming into experience of mortal creatures, the process of achieving nirvana, while in Hinduism, it's the endless series of births, deaths and rebirths, both of which are good descriptions of the film, but I prefer the Sanskrit origin of the word, which simply, "Running together". The film, is nothing more than the running together of these numerous, seemingly random images, mixed with music. Sometimes, the images are sped up, usually when there are a lot of people to show the ways the constant traffic and busyness of people, but many times, the camera seems to slow down and focus, and let's just remain in awe of the natural wonder and beauty of the world. The soundtrack feels like one of those Mood piece compilation albums that are meant to calm us down so much that there's usually a warning label on the CD case, telling us not to listen to the album while driving. "Samsara" is a movie that brings us to peace with ourselves, while transporting us to an epic, beautiful and amazingly grand world. This stunning and awe-inspiring experience is the second film directed by Jeff Fricke, a man who's made a career out of simply photographing the world and turning the random images into film. His last feature film was twenty years ago, "Baraka" which I'm definitely gonna try to seek out, is also just a collection of random images, although that one leans on religious ceremonies all over the world, and he worked as a writer years ago. His first project was as a writer on the Gregory Reggio documentary "Koyaanisqatsi", another film that's formatted this way. This is his way of documenting the world, this fiercely rich, vibrant, beautiful world, that we are all mere grains of sand upon.
HYSTERIA (2012) Director: Tanya Wexler
I must confess that going into the film, "Hysteria" I was excited to see it, because I thought this was a film adaptation of the Tony-nominated play, "In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)". It seemed similar when I heard the early descriptions of the film and the play they similar so similar I thought there as a connection, but apparently not. Anyway, "Hysteria", was the catch-all condition given to women who acted anything unlike June Cleaver, for hundreds of years. You know, emotional, independent, horny, everything that'd describe what Gloria Steinem fights for. The movie takes place in London in the 1880s, which was a particularly pioneering time for medical advancements, although getting his bosses to understand why clean bandages make people healthier and that germs are real and that bloodletting and that Beecham's Pills don't cure much of anything, and in fact kill many, has left Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) out of a job and staying at his friend Edmund St. John-Smythe's (Rupert Everett) place as the eccentric heir works on patenting new inventions, when he gets a job for Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) London's leading private doctor on hysteria, who's found a treatment involving massaging the inner clitoral muscle, which soon eliminates womens' more alluring and regrettable thoughts at least temporarily. He's very popular, needs an assistant, and it doesn't hurt that he has two attractive daughters. Emily (Felicity Jones), the quieter artistic one who studies phrenology, the astrological-like study of the bumps on people's heads. Then there's Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) the emotional, college-educated daughter who runs a young school for the less fortunate kids, and constantly yells and screams and occasionally insults police officer who try to get in her way when her school's short on funds or she needs to get a prostitute a job. Mortimer falls first for Emily, but eventually, he becomes more in-tuned to Charlotte, especially after he gets fired for be unable to completely finish with a patient. This is when he gets the idea, after playing with his roommate's electric featherduster to invent what would become the "personal massager." Believe it or not, that part is actually based on a true story. The rest is a little more iffy and simple. It's a fairly light movie, on a very light subject, although one that probably should be studied more as it's an invention that radically altered all lives. Maggie Gyllenhaal's casting is odd here, I'm normally a fan of hers, and I usually think she's a good fit for a bunch period era pieces, specially as ambitious young women trying to buck societal trends, but she never came off here more than as an estrogen-induced force that enters a scene and storms out. I think the part was a little underwritten, and much of her dialogue is fairly weak exposition as well, especially during a critical scene in the middle that could've made the flirtation with Mortimer and Charlotte more interesting. I guess I don't mind it too much, 'cause the whole film itself is rather light as a feather, and I guess it can't be much more than that given the material at hand, but since I've seen her be so much stronger in numerous other roles, it's a little disappointing. Still, recommending "Hysteria" as a cute but minor little movie one of the most important of modern inventions.
THE OTHER DREAM TEAM (2012) Director: Markus A. Markevicius
In case anybody actually wonders about these sort of things, and if you do than you have less of a life than I do, but this is the first review I'm writing for this latest batch of reviews. Why, you may ask? Well, just like a couple weeks ago when I forgot to write my review of "Beyond the Mat", it took a day, but I soon realized that I hadn't written my review of "The Other Dream Team", the documentary about the famous '92 Lithuanian Men's Basketball team, that took home the Bronze Medal at the Barcelona Olympics. Honest to god, it was an error. I simply had it written in my head, and thought I had actually written it down, when instead, who knows, I was probably playing Candy Crush Saga or something. It's been a long busy week, and frankly I knew a lot about the team going in. Hell, I still remember the '92 Olympics, and the Lithuanian team. I was seven at the time, but you remember seeing Grateful Dead tye-dye on an Olympic medal podium. The Dead, after reading an article about the team's financial struggles, adopted the team and helped pay for their finances which the state wasn't able to provide them. They even sent them custom-made tye-dye, which the newly-free country wore proudly. Lithuania was the first country to break from the Soviet Union, and they had been itching to for years. Remember the Olympics occurred right in the middle of this, so there were new countries being made up, and not all of them had an Olympic committee. The USSR was the defending Gold Medalists at basketball, but four of their starters, were from the tiny Balkan country of Lithuania. Actually, the area has a very rich basketball tradition, dating back decades, predating the Soviet Union in fact, and outside of the Olympics, local team battle with Russia teams had been major nationalism battles, and symbols of Lithuania's struggle to succeed. The four players on the '88 team, would quickly help form a Lithuania team, just in time to qualify for the '92 Olympics, while most of the rest of the Soviet Union, would compete under the Unified Team banner, until they can for Olympic committees in the next coming years, but while the rest of the World was watching America's Dream Team, and there was no real chance of them losing, (Even Lithuanian players took pictures of the team, during their semi-final game against them.) but they would take Bronze by defeating the Russian Unified Team, a medal that the oppressed Lithuanian foursome of Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Rimas Kirtinaitias and Valdemaras Chromicius, would cherish way more than the Soviet Gold Medal that won four years earlier. "The Other Dream Team" is a nice look back for me, and well as an interesting look at the collapse of the Soviet Union through a different perspective. You could argue that if Marciulionis hadn't been allowed to play in the NBA in '89 for instance, and declare himself Lithuanian before the Sports press, the Baltic states might not have broke through. They were talented players this team, and surprisingly I do remember most of this, so it's more of a look back for me than a pure history lesson, but it's good to realize just how complicated it was living in a Soviet Union that they never to be apart of to begin with.
FLYPAPER (2011) Director: Rob Minkoff
Director Rob Minkoff has been working at Disney for most of his career, probably most notably, directing the "Stuart Little" films as well as a co-director credit on "The Lion King". "Flypaper", which premiered on Video On Demand, marks his first real feature film attempt to break out of that Disney mold, director a script from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writing team behind "The Hangover". This film, actually feels more in the classical screwball comedy mold, it even has a main character who talks and thinks very fast in a high-pressure situation, Tripp (Patrick Dempsey), although this unusually quick deductive reasoning skills are explained as him being off his meds of a condition that's never named or explained, I have a different theory that he probably is just slightly OCD, and is probably a former cop who got kicked off the force once his obsessive-compulsive disorder was too troublesome to handle. Wait, no that's "Monk" isn't it. Okay, I don't have a decent explanation then. Yes, you don't need a detective-type character to be a cop, but the way he solves and figures out what's going on, it's a little too logical for someone without law enforcement practice of some kind. Anyway, he's in a bank, changing his hundred-dollar bill, inexplicably into change, (and by change, I mean coins, lots of them.) while flirting with the cute, engaged bank teller Kaitlin (Ashley Judd, who really should be in more movies than she is) when the bank gets under attack by two groups of robbers. Yes, two, just like what happens in the "Take the Money and Run", that great scene, here there's a more professional gang, all of whom rank in the Top 20 on at least one of the FBI's Most Wanted lists, two of them in bank robbery, Darrien and Weinstein (Mekhi Phifer and John Ventimiglia) along with a Top 10 cyber thief, Gates (Matt Ryan) and top, not-so-well-respected villains, two close yokels who call themselves Peanut Butter and Jelly (Tim Blake Nelson and Pruitt Taylor Vince). PB&J want the ATMs, while the other three work on the vault, and meanwhile there's a collective group of hostages, including Tripp and Kaitlin, as well as one dead body, which is very suspicious, especially since, all the hostages are still alive. If you're gonna kill one guy, then why not kill everybody and not leave witnesses? Pretty soon, Tripp suspects that something's going on, that's strange even for a bank robbery, and as both attempted robberies run into some unexpected pitfalls and more dead bodies start piling up. Jeffrey Tambor and Octavia Spencer are some of the more well-known names playing hostages, in this strange little twist on a Ten Little Indians type comedy. Frankly it's very old fashioned, it almost could be a play actually, sped up a bit like "Arsenic and Old Lace" for instance. Most everything takes place in the same location, there's surprises, and characters that seem so varied and quirky they could've come out of any random decent farce. It's a funny and good attempt by the filmmakers at a solid little classically-structure comedy, and I think overall it worked. Could've possibly been done, a little sharper but all-in-all, the movie breezes by fairly quickly, so you're not looking for it to make, too much sense, especially considered the absurd premise, so I'm recommending it; I thought it was fun. I'm not sure Patrick Dempsey is ever my first choice for a role, but he had an underwritten character and he did the best with it. Nothing extraordinary, but considering the laziness of other recent comedies, this one had a good new premise, and while it's not a laugh-out-loud farce, it's as good an effort at farce I've seen in a while, and considering that's the toughest of genres, they did a very good job at pulling this one off.
KABOOM (2011) Director: Gregg Araki
"Kaboom" is one strange film. I was trying to think of a poetic opener for this but there's no real poetic way to go about discussing the aptly, "Kaboom". It's just an explosion of weird stuff that Gregg Araki is known for. I met Araki once at a film festival, and his masterpiece "Mysterious Skin", will prompt me to check out his other work, no matter how good or bad they may be. (His "The Doom Generation" would've gotten a ZERO STARS rating from me.) He's lately switched into more off-the-wall comedies starting with his stoner comedy "Smiley Face" with Anna Faris, which was cute. Nice to see a female stoner as a lead going through typical stoner movie stupidity, but it wasn't great. "Kaboom" though, is so off-the-wall. It's part college sex comedy, part supernatural thriller, part murder-mystery, and part about three other things too. This is the kind of movie, where one character's bad acting is almost a charm of the movie. I'll get to that later, most of the acting is good though. The film follows 18-year-old college freshman Smith (Thomas Dekker), who's been having strange dreams involving women he's never seen before, and a dumpster. Smith is gay-ish. He's definitely meandering on the Kinsey scale, but he's desperately attracted to his roommate Thor (Chris Zelka) a dumb surfer-type who's always got women over, when he's not doing things that make Smith suggest/hope that he is secretly gay. His best friend Stella (Hayley Bennett) is one of those great sarcastic girl best friends to trade spars with over lunch and studying and ditching for when a cute little nymphomaniac witch shows some interest, like Lorelai (Roxane Mesquida). She's gay-ish as well. He likes to say that he doesn't particularly like to identify with such labels as gay, or straight or bi, which is code for being gay, but being 18 and in college, and large amounts of alcohol present, when a frizzy little thing asks to have sex with her at a party, like London (Juno Temple, who I must admit, I'm liking more and more with each performance) he'll say yes, and eventually just become her fuck buddy/booty call whenever needed. Also at this party, a redhead (Nicole LaLibete) vomited on his shoe, and later, she's missing and he was hallucinated about her being kidnapped by mysterious guys in animal masks. Meanwhile, Smith's mother (Kelly Lynch, not good here btw, and Gregg Araki needs to come up with a better way to shoot people talking on the phone) is happy to be screwing her physical therapist between traveling the world for her job, but she's rather mysterious about Smith's late father. After this, weird things start happening, lots of weird things. Some of them rather typical like Smith having a one-night- or I should say one-day-stand on a nude beach with, what turns out to be a married guy, to Lorelai having a fatal attraction like obsession with Stella, which is especially troublesome considering her bewitching powers with voodoo dolls and other supernatural skills, plus her strange Wizard of Oz like, reaction to water. Plus, these dreams of Smith keep expanding, and apparently the local pothead, the Messiah (James Duval) might know more than he lets on. This movie makes little sense, it's schizophrenic, it's anachronistic, it double-backs and reverses on itself multiple times, and the ending explanations for all of the happening are a little too big and overwhelming for this insular little comedy, and there's a lot of unnecessary sex and nudity, and I rather enjoyed it. I've had fun with this movie. It's so over-the-top, ridiculous and breezy and R-rated, it just worked on me. There are easy ways to bash this, there are definitely certain acting issues and whatnot, and some of the directing and dialogue is a little on-the-nose, but mostly I was entertained, it was funny, and it took chances with sex that I haven't seen from a lot of comedies lately. It's a hodgepodge of a lot of different things, it feels a little like every idea Gregg Araki has ever had got thrown into the script, but enough of it work on me, and even when it failed, it's missteps were interesting. I'm recommending it, and "Kaboom" could be a fun midnight movie cult-experience somewhere down the line, this was fun.
THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994) Director: John Dahl
I guess if I learned anything from watching "The Last Seduction", I learned never trust woman that balance herself forwards, climbing on a chain link fence, while wearing high heels. Yes, that scene of Linda Fiorentio, forcing herself onto a guy (which I can't believe I couldn't find a single decent image of on google images!), has become apart of feminist folklore in certain circles, as it probably should be. "The Last Seduction" had a similar fate to that of director John Dahl's first film, another noirish black comedy "Red Rock West", which played with the genre and included characters so over-the-top that they were fun. That movie was not shown in theaters originally, instead first airing on cable, until a theater starting airing it to sellout audiences once word of mouth spread. Same here with "The Last Seduction", probably 'cause of the way it portrays a strong female adult character who's in complete control of her sexuality. Oh, this film, has a femme fatale unlike any other in Bridget Gregory (Fiorentio) although she often uses an alias or two. She has a strange skill where she can write backwards so that when she leaves a note, usually after stealing something or just screwing a guy, you need a few extra seconds to read it, while she's running off. The movie begins with her getting smacked by her husband, Clay (Bill Pullman) after he returns from a drug deal. She then takes the money, and runs off, takes the identity Wendy Kroy, and heads to a small town in the middle of nowhere. She's decided,- well, the word "decided" indicates a change in her behavior from beforehand, and frankly, I don't think that happened here, but she's now trolling a local bar, searching for an occasional guy to fuck and leave, or leave him hanging. She treats men like sex objects, or like women treat men. Frankly, I'm amazed there was never a poster of her shown in any of Samantha Jones's houses/offices in "Sex and the City", although that scene of the chain link fence, is mentioned in the pilot of that show. She does find a sucker eventually, Mike Swale (Peter Berg) who coming off a bad quick marriage, and falls desperately in love with her, despite her evil, manipulative ways, and every possible warning sign imaginable, that this is one girl you shouldn't be falling in love with. But, he's from a small town, doesn't know any better, and is taken with her, while she's really only taken with him, in the sense that she can use him, to perhaps set up murder plots. Not just against her husband, but against some of the men who's life insurance he sells. Men who have, multiple apartments under their name perhaps, and other suspicious monies that their spouses can't get to. When she's in trouble, like when the mob or her husband's private eye, finds her, she's able to manipulate the situation to her advantage, and even when she doesn't need to seduce the guy to get out of a situation, she does it. (It's interesting that she studies pop psychology, too, in the weird ways that comes up.) "The Last Seduction" is a fun and funny erotic thriller. I think it really is a dark comedy at heart, and yet. It plays with the genre that films like "Double Indemnity" and "Body Heat" touched, but there's an ironic twist to every little detail of it, most of which involve the complete switching o gender roles. I like "The Last Seduction" the more I think about it, not the least of which because of the great and deliciously evil Bridget Gregory, you don't get female characters like this anymore.
SING A SONG OF SEX (1967) Director: Nagisa Oshima
The only other film I had seen previously to "Sing a Song of Sex" was the erotic and explicitly sexual "In the Realm of the Senses", which was based on a true story about a couple who was literally so sexually in love with her husband, to the point of extreme nymphomania that he cut off his penis, and led him bleed to death, just so it can always be with her, and he, in the thrills of passion, let her do it. That probably should've been some kind of warning in regards to the dreadful "Sing a Song of Sex", but I actually like the previous film, so I continue onto this one. On some level Oshima must've found this to be some kind of perverted dark comedy, I hope he did anyway. The film starts with, what a believe is a college, although college in Japan, might be high school age in some instances, and the students are mostly going about their days, stressing over some test that's coming up. Nakumara and Udeu (Ichiro Araki and Koji Iwabuchi) occasionally leer at pretty co-eds as well, one in particular, who sits in class seat #469 catches Nakumara's eye and follow her signing an anti-Vietnam petition. Then there's a party with a good portion of students, and a professor, Mr. Otake (Juzo Itama), which is where the discussion of sex gets brought up more explicitly. Then the professor suddenly dies at the party. The rest of the movie, the boys, now joined by their friends Hiroi and Maruyama (Hiroshi Sato) spend the rest of the movie, singing lewd songs about sex, usually parodies of other songs, often American folk, and going from girl to girl, insult, fantasizes, possibly even raping. It's hard to tell as it becomes more Kafkaesque and nightmarish. I think the main point of the movie, is how teenagers minds can go from the intellectual pursuits to the more carnal ones so suddenly and how they seem to be able to abandon everything else for, well, pussy, I guess. I don't think this is a particularly deep thought or revelation into the mind of teenage boys for that matter, and frankly, the movie was slow and drool, and filled with main characters who we just the epitome of shallow. I don't really want to know about the thoughts of people so simpleminded, even dumb teenagers are usually more interesting these. "Sing a Song of Sex", aka "A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs" (A direct Japanese Translation) is surprisingly uninteresting and dull, and that's about the one thing movies about sex, or at least have sex in the title, shouldn't be.
AMERICAN GUN (2002) Director: Alan Jacobs
"American Gun" caught my eye years ago, but I never got around to it until now. It ended up becoming James Coburn's final film before his passing, and the idea intrigued me from the trailers. Shortly before Christmas, Martin's (Coburn) daughter Penny (Virginia Madsen) is a victim of robbery and is murdered. His wife Anne (Barbara Bain) is trying to get over the loss by finding projects, but Martin's determined to find the killer. The case was left unsolved, and he gets a request to have the gun used at the crime released to him, and he decides to track the history of the gun, starting from where it was made, to the shops that carried it, to other owners and the harrowing experiences they had. The movie kinda reminded me of the great Anthony Mann western "Winchester '73", which is does the opposite as it follows a gun from person-to-person and place-to-place, trying to track down his killer. Also, he's working on finding his granddaughter Mia (Alexandra Holden) who ran away years ago, and has only sporadically had contact with him, behind his wife and daughter's back, now he has to tell her the sad news. It's a good premise and an interesting film, despite what some might consider a cheat ending, it isn't but, I wondered at first if there was a need for the twist ending, but as I thought back, that probably was actually the only possible way to end the film. James Coburn was always one of the great presences of cinema. Big and bold, great at playing over-the-top villains, with his brooding quiet calm grin and demeanor. Here, a more subtle and quiet role. A show of unusual range for him. I recommend "American Gun", despite some of it's flaws, as a good haunting last word from a memorably great actor, and the creative plot device, even if it's a little unrealistic in the long run, it works just enough for a good little film like this one.
GOODNIGHT, WE LOVE YOU: THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF PHYLLIS DILLER (2004) Director: Gregg Barson
While I do study stand-up comedy as much as possible, I was actually always a little weak regarding Phyllis Diller. I knew of her importance, a groundbreaking female comedienne. I knew her distinctive laugh, and some of her material, which is a little bit traditional. Stupid husband, which she called "Fang" in her routine, mother-in-law jokes, jokes about her appearance, the big wigs and all that, but I really hadn't seen too much of her. She passed away last year, "Goodnight, We Love You", which was sadly never released theatrically, was made to celebrate her work, as well as feature her farewell concert in Vegas. She meant it to, while she'd make an occasional appearance once in a while, she never performed stand-up again. Her talents were wide-ranging actually. She was a classically-trained pianist, even played with a couple orchestras who were shocked to learn that she wanted to play piano at first, and is a highly-regarded painter. She's had more personal assistants than Murphy Brown's had secretaries, and they all seem to have form their own support group as well. She holds the Guiness record for telling the most jokes in a minute. The film's is a fairly traditional biopic, and there really wasn't too many hardships with Diller's life unless you count be friends with Don Rickles a hardship. Him and numerous others discuss her work and influence over the course of the film. Actually, the movie is quite a banal biopic. The most interesting stuff is seeing Diller's closet of outfit, wigs and gloves, her home, and watching her on the road touring, even at her age, at the time 87 when the film was made. Frankly, I preferred the special feature where we get the entirety of her final concert, which she performed just for the movie, as oppose to cutting in and out between the concert and the biopic in the film. Like I said, I wasn't as familiar with her material as I wished I was before the film, and it was good to see a major documentation of it. She's certainly a pioneer, the movie is a nice gentle puff, worth a recommendation if you ever happen to come across it, but it's probably more interesting to most just to find some old stand-up performances of hers; I know it would be for me, but it's still a nice little film.