I can see that the only other notes I wrote under "Blog Openers" this week, we're "Miley Cyrus", and "'Crossfire' returning, and since there's nothing good about "Crosswire", I'll just say that I saw her MTV VMA Performance, (Does MTV still have Music Videos btw?) and I liked it. I liked Gaga's better, but if it's between this Miley Cyrus who's fun and high and slutty, and "twerks" with dancing bears, or the Hannah Montana Miley, I'm taking this one. It's an improvement, we should have fun with it.
Anyway, not much else going on, so time to get this week's "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!"
TO THE WONDER (2013) Director: Terrence Malick
For a man who's gone literally decades between movies at times, for Terrence Malick to suddenly make a second feature film, in a short, very short three year span, which is normally how long some of his films are in the editing room, this sudden shift in his speed and demeanor is both encouraging and worrisome to fans of his work. His last film, "The Tree of Life", was a masterpiece about everything, but it's not quite as clear what "To the Wonder" is about. I can, very simply and elegantly describe the events of the film, in fact that seems at times all you'll get. The movie is quiet, except for it's soundtrack. There's dialogue occasionally, but it's sparse and quiet, mumbles under one's breath if it's said at all, especially by the four leads. The movie starts in Paris at the Mont St. Michel, and two people, an American traveling in Europe named Neil (Ben Affleck) and a Ukrainian single mother who's raising her daughter in Paris, Maria (Olga Kurylenko) Her ex-husband left shortly after their kid Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) was born. Maria's made a choice to go to America with her daughter and live with Neil, and soon, we're back in areas we're used to with Malick, in this case, a small town in Oklahoma. I think it's tempting to compare this film to "The Tree of Life" considering many of it's filmmaking tendencies and similarities, but I have a feeling that "To the Wonder", is actually the alternate story to Malick's "The New World", his historical epic about Pocahontas. Travelers traveling to a new land, and having to deal with these new conflicting and often terrifying emotions. Take the other character who's out of touch in Oklahoma, a Spanish priest, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem). His place in the literal story of the film is never really spelled out, except we suspect that he may have a crush on Maria, who comes to him for counsel occasionally, not because she's religious, probably more because he's the only other person around most of the time, that's from the same continent. His church is grand, but he spends his days among the downtrodden, talking with locals in the slums, even prisoners on death row, about to be executed. He treats his devotion to Jesus Christ, the same way one would treat a love affair or a marriage, and when he suspects that Jesus isn't there answering him, he doesn't just doubt his existence and life's plan, but he's lonely without a higher power. Both Neil and Maria go through numerous emotions. Loneliness, anger, playfulness, lust, etc. They're the struggles of a fragile marriage, one that could've possibly been wrong for both of them. Briefly before their marriage, he starts an affair with an old high school flame, Jane (Rachel McAdams). Is it that there's a familiarity? Is it geography? Is it that he's tired of his wife and stepdaughter speaking French all day, no matter how good a role model he is? Or why does the daughter go back to live with her father, and how could a mother allow for her to make such a decision, or herself make another one later, to leave? Is she a gypsy who just travels around free as one of her friends suggest? Is he truly in love with her, and her with him but they just aren't compatible. The movie's title seems like a journey, but it's actually literal. These are all wonders, about the film and what's happening, as it's shot in such slice-of-life, it's practically slivers, not slices. Even the voiceover, which are mostly random thoughts, are often one word emotion or thoughts of the characters. It feels like it's lacking, but maybe that's because everyone in the film is lacking something. We can theorize all day, what it is, plainly is a wonderful film, another damn near great one by the most mysterious of the great Hollywood directors, and apparently, he's working on more as we speak, as three more films of his, are in post-production and will all be released next year, according to the current plans. He used to only make a film when he really felt passionately about a project, now it seems like, the quietest of all the greats, has a lot to say, and must get it out now. Some like "The Tree of Life", will probably be more clear, and others will make us wonder, either way, so far, they've all been great and special.
THE BRASS TEAPOT (2013) Director: Ramaa Mosley
Under my notes that I wrote after watching "The Brass Teapot", I wrote the word, "Cute plot, but forgettable, hardly any laughs or smiles." I'm not sure I really need to say much more about the film actually, that about describes it. The cute premise, involves the brass teapot that struggling young couple Alice and John (Juno Temple and Michael Angarano) get, after she steals it from an old Holocaust survivor, after a car accident. They're both broke and unemployed, and embarassments at their recent high school reunion. Soon, they discover that the teapot starts dispensing money after they start hurting themselves, and each other. First literally. Paper cuts, burns, cuts scratches. One almost funny scene involving a spanking. (Well, almost funny) Soon, obviously, people start looking for the teapot. Their old classmate-turned-landlord Arnie (Billy Magnussen) is the first to suspect something's up, although Amish relatives of the old woman are the first to try and get ahold of the teapot. An prophetically-stereotypical Asain guy, Dr. Ling (Stephen Park) tries to buy the teapot and warns them of the pots dangerous powers. They did look up the mysticism involved with the pot that appears to be from the time of Christ, and worth about $5,000 according to "Antiques Roadshow", but the couple are reluctant to give it up, at least until they have enough, but soon the teapot starts giving out less and less, and they have to become meaner to others and themselves in order to earn money. It's a cute parable about the struggles of love, marriage and truth; there's nothing particularly wrong with the movie, although actors in supporting roles like Lucy Walters and Jack McBrayer as a married couple who keep pressuring Alice and John to have kids and Bobby Moynihan and Alexis Bledel are severely underused, but I don't know if using them more would've really helped. (Oh, Alice, I thought was a cute metaphorical name for Temple's character) I am continuously impressed with just how talented young Juno Temple is, even in really bad movies, and she definitely outshines Angarano here, who is certainly more forgettable, but the whole movie's kinda forgettable. It's based on a comic co-written by screenwriter Tim Macy, and was adapted to a short film by Ramaa Moseley before this feature-length debut of hers, but despite all that, it's just not particularly memorable or special. I barely laughed at all, and I say that, because I'm pretty sure this film was at least intended as a dark comedy of some kind. It could've been funnier, but the cute premise, stretched out to a feature-length, doesn't really hold up as well. I'm not sure a young-20something couple might've been the casting, maybe this would've been better with a struggling 40-something couple who've been together for years, in bliss ignorance, but maybe it'd be more believable their downward spiral. Or maybe we'd just care more about them, I don't know. These aren't the most likeable characters in hindsight, maybe that would've helped. I don't know; it just doesn't work enough; it's a little too, I don't want to say depressing, but this film really lacked the joy of filmmaking that a plot like this could use, and it was noticeable. Even with a cute plot like this, as I said in my notes, I hardly ever smiled watching "The Brass Teapot", and you'd think a movie about a magical teapot, no matter how dark, would at least garner a smile out of its audience. Sadly, it didn't.
A PLACE AT THE TABLE (2013) Directors: Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush
In a conversation I was having with a friend of mine, about "The Dark Knight Rises" of all things, I brought up the Korean concept of Han to my friend. (The argument, not that it matters, was about who was more emotionally intuned with their feelings, Bain or Bruce Wayne, I was arguing for Bruce Wayne, and said that a possible reason for his holding back of deep emotions, might be that he was in the midst of Han) It's hard to describe, there's no direct English translation of the word but wikipedia describes it as "A collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face overwhelming odds."
"A feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one's guts and bowel, making the whole body writh and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and right the wrong, all these things combined...." "Han is a heavy sorrow caused by human suffering..., a dull, lingering ache in the soul...." "Han is imbued with resignation, bitter acceptance, and a grim determination to wait until vengeance can at last be achieved." "Han is passive. It yearns for vengeance, but does not seek it. Han is held close to the heart, hoping and patient but never aggressive. It becomes part of the blood and breath of a person. There is a sense of lamentation and even of reproach towards the destiny that led to such misery."
I mentioned this concept in passing, and then watch the solemn yet powerful documentary, "A Place at the Table" about hunger, in America, and couldn't help noticing how many of the people in the film profiled, were- well look at the terminology. "Oppression," "Isolation", "Acute pain in one's guts and bowel..." "suffering", "dull, lingering ache in the soul". "Yearns".... Frankly, I'm not sure, now that I truly think about it, that "Han" in just an emotional state, 'caused by hunger. Maybe not always literal hunger, but especially in North Korea, hunger has a lot to do with it. Well, forget North Korea, in America, hunger has a lot to do with it. No civilized country has a greater % of it's population go hungry than America, and I couldn't help but notice, how the number jumped from 30-40 to now 50 million, how the little odometer would turn a lot quicker when showing Republican President State of the Union's compared to Democrats. Don't get me wrong, it always went up under both, but to Obama's credit, it only went up from 49 million to 50 million in America so far, and when that's a credit to a sitting President/government, that's pitiful. Yes, I know about hunger. I've felt it, I starve from it myself. I'm not thin like one of those Africans Sally Struthers was always helping, and neither are all the people in the film, but I suffer from being broke and poor, and letting my brother eat more than me, so he'll be satisfied, and I've sat in those long lines waiting for a Salvation Army to open to get whatever they had available some days and counted pennies to try and the supermarket,- Hell, I was doing that last one just a couple hours ago. I can tell you it's real, it sucks, and you overcompensate at times, and God help you if you try going on a diet, because you can't always afford to buy more new clothes that fit after losing a few pounds. (I'm trying to do that too.)
Hunger was a priority, now it is mostly a service of churches and charities, and even local Sheriffs go to food banks, not to help out, but to eat. (There's over 40,000 food banks in America today; there was only 200 in 1980) School lunches are the worse, as we see in segments from a "Top Chef" challenge, where they had to make school food on $0.68/meal, which is what the government use to afford to school lunch programs. (The contestants failed the challenge, one of them kept putting more sugar in her dish) Now it's up six cents, and worst yet, the extra six cents a meal came from cutting food stamps. The bill was supposed to cut from agricultural subsidies, but the companies who bought most of the Congressment on the committees, wouldn't let that out of committee. Worse yet, those agricultural subsidies, have been making more and more processed food and getting tax breaks from them, making the prices of potato chips and other items cheaper and over the years, while vegetable prices go up and up, as those farmer's aren't getting the lions share of those cut. There's a lot of documentaries lately about out food, "Food Inc." is probably the best in terms of the most informative, but we're a country that's both overweight and starving to deat, and "A Place at the Table", quiet, full of sorrow, is a more emotional plea about the deal with hunger in America. There is no suffering worse than hunger. You become passive and bitter, and that suffering leaves that dull, lingering ache in your stomach, that you try to fill with anything you can, if you can, if you're lucky, and worst part of the suffering, is that it's completely fixable, and doesn't at all have to exist, if we absolutely really wanted to do something about it, and did it. Plain and simple, cancer you can't cure, hunger you can, but we don't, and if it doesn't give you cancer, the food we're eating probably is, and that's the ultimate message of "A Place at the Table", which should be a call-to-action, but will probably act only as a powerful reminder to most that, "Oh yeah, people do go to bed hungry in this country." Or something like that, that people will say after watching the film before they finish eating their dinners.
FILLY BROWN (2013) Directors: Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos
"Filly Brown" is one of those films that tries to do so much, that it loses all believability. It's got so many extra little things happening, that it actually loses focus too often, and takes some simplistic writing shortcuts to find it's way out of certain dilemmas and conflicts that we had long stopped caring about. The title character, is the rap name of Majo (Gina Rodriguez) a gifted young L.A. rapper who begins working on a scheme to get famous quick, to earn enough quick bucks, to get her mother Maria (Late Mexican-American singer Jenny Rivera) out from prison. The lone witness for her trial some time ago, was a cop who's since been indicted as corrupt, and a lawyer friend, Leandro (Edward James Olmos, father of co-director Michael D. Olmos) is willing to try and get her out, but needs money first. Her father Jose (Lou Diamond Phillips, picking the best project out of what I hope were worse options for him.) works as a contractor for a real estate agent, Linda (Resmine Atis) who constantly berates him and pushes off projects because of "his appearance". (aka because he's a Mexican, and looks like a stereotypical illegal to the people who can afford to buy houses.) He puts up with it, because he's taking care of Majo and her younger sister Lupe (Chrissie Fit) who's naturally going with the wrong crowd, hanging out with her drug-addict gang member boyfriend. Meanwhile, her mother gives her a rap that she starts singing, and begins making end roads into a recording contract, meanwhile her mother's working on trying to score more drugs and is making other deals with other gang members. Also, Filly's DJ, DJ Santa (Braxton Mills) believes that she's compromising on her vision too much, going from socially conscious lyrics to more party anthem music about sex, which she used to lambast earlier. This movie got complicated really melodramatic and overloaded with conflicts, and multiple things happening underneath that frankly, any kind of narrative thread seemed to go out the window. For instance, just how famous does Filly get, before she gets accused of stealing copyrighted material? Seems to me that her family would've been a little better off then they were at the time, based on how quickly and majorly the news spread, but maybe she's only big in that small L.A. market? Or just among these group of people in the movie? That's never quite believable either. Gina Rodriguez is a talented young actress and believable as a rapper, but the movie didn't know what it wanted to be. A cautionary tale about young artists in the music industry? A story of a struggling Mexican-American family? A kid trying to get her Mom out of prison? Rival gangs? Rival Music Producers who seem like gangs, or the hip hop industry back in '95? Despite some good and honest performances by Rodriguez and Phillips, they're just sorta wasted here. This is the third feature film made by Delara, the third by Olmos, and the second time they've paired up for a film, frankly the film, just started going downhill for me, too quickly. After the first 20-30 minute, this movie was dead, and it was never get back up. The movie had a very strong set-up in the beginning, establishing characters and conflicting character emotion and all that, I was hoping it would go somewhere, and things happened, but somehow, it never really did go anywhere. It just sort stopped after the first act, and decided to go do a hundred other things, half of which barely related to the story, some of them should cut completely. The whole Linda character, and that arc with Lou Diamond Phillips's character, it must've stayed in, 'cause it's a big star, a great actor doing better than the cliched speech-y dialogue should ever be said, but arc and his boss's couldn't been edited out of the movie, and nobody would've noticed. Puzzlingly too much movie. Not a good film.
QUARTET (2012) Director: Dustin Hoffman
Casa Verdi, constructed by Guiseppe Verdi himself, is in fact a sort of retirement home for the old-time opera performers and other musicians, and it's open to this day actually. Why exactly did this film about it, "Quartet", finally inspired Dustin Hoffman, who has long-flirted with the idea of directing a film, at age 75, finally go through with it, that I can only speculate, but it's a nice film. Some thought it was a little more special than it really was, but it was nice. This fictional version of the Verdi House, called the Beecham House here, is based on a Ronald Harwood play, and it probably plays better on the stage as it's basically your average group of loveable old eccentrics trying to save their home-type film, except all the eccentrics are opera stars. Many of them still work and teach and are far from retired, others are slowly dying however, some quicker than others. They're trying to put on an annual show to raise money to keep the place open, although something tells me that a place as treasure and filled with cultural history as this, is probably already saved somewhere. This is around when a new resident arrives, a big star named Jean Horton (Maggie Smith, as wonderous as ever) who's the ex-wife of Reggie Piaget (Tom Courtenay), who also lives at the mansion, as is still in love with her, but- Oh you know, what, I think we all know what's going to happen in the film. Long lost lovers, and Jean has refused to perform for years, but they desperately need her to be the fourth int their quartet, where they'll perform Act III from Verdi's "Rigoletto" along with Wilf Bond (Billy Connelly) the old playboy kook, who still flirts with everything in a skirt, and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins) who's either frantically putting her foot in her mouth, or is forgetting what she was supposed to say as she heads slowly deeper towards Alzheimer's. It's cute, it's funny at times, there's a nice young nurse, Angelique (Eline Powell), but basically it's "The Best Exotic Opera Retirement Home", but "Quartet"'s a better title. It's harmless, so I'll recommend it. It's clear that Hoffman has a love and appreciation of these characters, but there's nothing really special here, except for Maggie Smith and let's face, everytime Maggie Smith is in a movie or TV show, it's always special, so that doesn't really count to me, but still....
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (2012) Director: Whit Stillman
I must admit going into "Damsels in Distress" that I'm not particularly familiar with the work of Whit Stillman. He earned an Oscar nomination for his feature-length debut, "Metropolitan," and he also wrote and directed "Barcelona," and "The Last Days of Disco", which was his last credit fourteen years ago, and I haven't seen any of those films, until this latest one of his. I was tempted to think of it as some sort of female protagonist sly variation on "Rushmore" or something like that, but I'm not going to, 'cause if anything that I'm read about him since watching the film, it seems possible that filmmakers like Wes Anderson, might have been inspired by Stillman. "Damsels..." is clearly a comedy of some kind. It takes place at Seven Oaks College, the kind of place that...- that... well, I'm not quite sure how to finish that sentence actually, except to say that this is one of those movies that clearly only exists within it's own world. It's supposedly the last of the Seven Sisters College to go coed, and while it's protagonist Violet (Greta Gerwig) claims that it's her belief that women should date men who are inferior, as well as dozens of other things that might give a double look from dead Jane Austen heroines. I'm gonna quote Roger Ebert's description of Violet here, because, if anybody wants to look up his review, he clearly had a far better grasp of this film than I did, and he describes her as "one of the daffiest characters in recent movies." I would've struggled to come up with that adjective, but that's a good simple description of her. We meet her, after she approaches a new transfer student, Lily (Analeigh Tipton) and invites her to join her little group of, what Lily would at first consider, "cool kids", although by the end, who knows what she considers them. Violet's goal is to help out the less fortunate as much as possible. She runs the school's suicide prevention center, which is surprisingly active. She offers suicidal students donuts and tap danicing lessons. One of her goals is to start a new worldwide dance craze like the Charleston or the Twist. (BTW, I know this completely off-topic, if anybody knows where-the-hell the words "twerk" came from, you mind letting me know, and why it's called that?) Anyway,- I'm trying to even begin describing this film, and I'm just perplexed. It's episodic in nature, but basically, the first half-hour you think this girl Violet is a strange character in a normal world, but after her then-boyfriend, the doofus Frank (Ryan Metcalf, and also "doofuses" and "doofi" are both acceptable plurals of the word "doofus", another thing I learned from Violet [Well, "learned" is a strong work]) has an affair with Lily, we get a glimpse of how truly crazy and suicidal Violet is, (and we learn Violet isn't even her real name) and then she seems somewhat normal, or normaler I should say, but then the world starts to seem crazy. Her British friend Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who's known her since grade school, who thinks every guy is some kind of player or operator, who herself, isn't really British. The boys at the Roman Fraternities, (Yes, Roman Fraternities, they're not Greek here for some reason) who are rich and have had their education payed for even though some don't even know what colors, colors are. Or what's a chair. And apparently, none of them use deodorant, according to Violet, who at one point, realizes that soap is a way to help cure depression. The women are all unrealistic snoody character who speak with P.G. Woodhouse-type diatribes, except possibly for the Aubrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat cameo characters, who are basically playing versions of their own personas, and the guys are almost all good-hearted but unfortunate morons who don't know better, or are just liars. And just when you thought you we're getting a grip on this universe, there's a musical number. Part of me just doesn't know quite what to make of this film. I'm half-tempted to put the DVD back in, and see if I like it better a second time, maybe I will, but if you were ask me what the point of the film was, or what it was trying to say about anything, I'd be lost. This world is so insular, I don't think I have the keys to get in yet. I'm thinking of withholding a full judgement on the film, until I learn more about Stillman's previous work as well, maybe if I am more familiar with his earlier films, some of which are on my Netflix somewhere, the others I'm sure I'll add the next time I run into them, then maybe I'll revisit "Damsels in Distress". Despite a lot to like, especially Greta Gerwig who gives, one of those performances you almost have to see to believe, (I mean, there's something Nic Cage or Johnny Depp-like about this performance of hers. I mean, if you took this role she played and placed it in a normal movie, we're either gonna think she's lost her mind and has no idea how to act, or it's an Oscar-worthy performance, it's that kind of performance, although here, it's almost unnoticed, since nearly everybody's doing some variation on deadpan sardonicism.) I will certainly remember this movie, but I'm not sure I'm onboard enough to recommend it to people. Without knowing a context, which I am lacking, this film feels like, somebody's doing their version of, like a Wes Anderson, or a Diablo Cody-type thing, or some other mixture of quirky Indy-filmmaking giants, and it did feel a lot like that to me, yet that doesn't seem to be the case here. So, I'm not gonna recommend now, but I'm going to reserve the right to re-review and possibly even change m rating in the future on this film. I guess saying that, I could easily forego the rating, but the reason I won't entirely is that, however I consider the film in the future I have a sneaky suspicion that "Damsels..." should probably not be someone's introduction to Whit Stillman's work. So for that reason, well, I won't say stay away or anything, but I'm gonna be the one going, "Eh, you might wanna wait a bit", 'til you get to this one.
A SIMPLE LIFE (2012) Director: Ann Hui
Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) was orphaned after the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong, and began working as a maid for a Chinese family. She's been working with them now, for four generations, working now for Roger (Andy Lau) the last remaining family member still in Hong Kong. The beginning scenes of "A Simple Life" are quiet and without much meaning. Roger comes home to his tiny apartment after work as a movie producer, and she has a bowl of rice ready. They barely talk at all, and the relationship plays as boss and employee. Then he comes home one day, and she's had a stroke. She then decides to quit being a servant and start living in a retirement home, even after she recovers. She knows that one stroke will almost always lead to two and so on until she dies. That's not acceptable for Roger, who starts to take care of her, and make some of her beloved food. He's the only person she has in the world, but she still wishes he wouldn't give her so much. She resists money and food and help. The retirement home seems like a purgatory at first, but she becomes beloved there too, fixing buttons and loaning out money to some of the others. She's spent her life caring for this family, and somehow Roger is the last one around, and begins to take care of her when he isn't working, and soon that opening scene seems like a whole other movie, and now we have two people who are just now rediscovering how much they care about each other and how important they've been in each other's lives. It reminded me slightly of "The Intouchables" the recent French hit film, also about a younger man who takes care of an old ill person, but that one felt forced and contrived. This one feels natural. It's not glamourous or even really monumental, and that's why it works so well. It's simply a tale of "A Simple Life", and nothing more. There always seems to be one older Asian actress who gives an amazing performance every year, at least one that typically makes it's way to American soil, and Deannie Ip is the best one for this year at least, and she's won numerous Best Actress Awards across Asia for this performance. Although I think Andy Lau's performance is also quite special. He's a reknowned Hong Kong actor, known for playing in gangster and kung fun action movies, but his range has always been special, and here, I barely recognize him. It's not a makeup trick, he's just so average and normal of a person. He looks like the world's on his shoulder, which considering his whole family has left the country, must be a relatively lonely one. There's one scene I particularly love when he has some old schoolage friends at his place, and they make a phone call to Ah Tao, and sing a dirty song from their youth, hoping she remembers them. She does, and they do. There's no drama or real plot, it's just two people dealing with one of them being near the end of her life, and how they cope with it, alone, together and apart. How they want to cope and how they wish they could. These are two amazing performances in a beautiful and tranquil film. It's sad, yet life-affirming, knowing that even if it's just one person that cares when someone dies, that's more than enough. One person, who's willing to make sure the other's socks are on all the way and comfy underneath their blanket as they sleep. It's just as important a moment together as it is when she's healthy enough to come to the home and pack her stuff up to move out, looking more active and youthful than ever, after the first stroke. It's the first film I've seen from Director Ann Hui, I hope it's not the last and that her others are just as elegic and beautiful, and that she cares a great deal about her characters. I know by the end of "A Simple Life", I certainly did.
THEY CALL IT MYANMAR: LIFTING THE CURTAIN (2012) Director: Robert H. Lieberman
There is something about Southeast Asia, that sliver of the continent east of India and south of China, that's utterly fascinating to us, and each little country, is so layered with ancient history filled with horror and beauty that still shines through today, that we are inevitably enchanted by it. Fascinated by them. Yet, strangely, each country fascinates us for different reasons, even though much of their histories aren't too dissimilar, they couldn't be farther apart from each other today. "They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain", is a very rare glimpse, and the country we know the least about today, the one we used to call Burma. They're particular segregated from the rest of the world, ranking only behind North Korea as the second most isolated country on Earth. There's been an embargo ban on the country from the U.S. for years that's still active, and the country was literally closed off since 1962 when a military coupe, had them gain control of the country, and the numerous leaders since, particularly one maniacal one who did things like change the capital on the advice of a psychic and forced the changing names of cities, and even the entire country, has made the continuous Civil War, more violent and genocidal. However, recenly, the military began relinquishing some control, which allowed for Dr. Robert Lieberman to make several trips over a two year span, and while much of filming in the country is illegal, he made this rare documentary into life in Myanmar. The country is certainly beautiful, but it's poverty is more striking. Cities in shambles, electric wires that are mangled and people in large cities only having electicity part of the day. Pawn shops, basically double as banks for many, and there's no real separation between the rich and the poor, as we see, as one described earlier, someone take a bath outside, across the street from a mansion. There are many interviewed and portrayed, but few people are named, many peoples' faces are blurred out to hide some of their identities. Many of them are kids, who at the youngest of ages, have been forced to drop out of school and find work, often as a waiter. Most hospitals, if they exist are understaffed, as similar to the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in Cambodia, part of the isolation, was the concept of rejecting intelligence, and starting a country from scratch, only without a plan per se. The only person who agreed to be recognized and interviewed for the film, is the one person you would guess, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize Winner, who was in house arrest for two decades (She finally was released, it seems permanently in 2011, finally able to accept her prize in person) after winning a national election to rid the country of the military regime, which was later, nullified by the military. She's the daughter of Aung Suu, who helped Burma gain independence from Britain, and the head of the NLD, the National League of Democracy, and has been a spokesperson for democratic governments worldwide. Her words, especially when talking about the necessity about being a politician were vital. As to the movie itself, it's surprisingly elegic and transcendent. This country where the majority of its many tribes and peoples are Buddhist, have been unusually passive towards the military regime considering the heartbreak and extreme poverty, possibly because they feel their karma will eventually get to the regime. They practically refused international aide, after a devasting typhoon a couple years ago flooded much of the country, although it might have been the wake up moment that they have to start slowly but surely opening themselves up to the world. The youth are starting to find links and influence, and it looks like a country making its first painful steps towards being reincorporated with the rest of the world.
THE FULL MONTY (1997) Director: Peter Cattaneo
Well, needless to say that, for some obvious reasons, most of which are stupid and immature reasons and mostly have to do with me being a 12-year-old when the movie came out, I had avoided watching "The Full Monty" up until now. Frankly, part of me wasn't mature enough to actually enjoy it, and now that I am, I feel somewhat ashamed of my old self quite frankly. "The Full Monty" takes place in Sheffield, England, once the steel capital of England, now a town of abandoned plants and factories. Gaz (Robert Carlyle) a former steel-worker who's been in and out of jail for thievery over the years, gets an idea after seeing all the town's wives, girlfriends, sisters, and daughters check out a touring chippendale show that maybe, we can make some money by doing something similar. He's down on his luck. He can't even steal steel beams to sell for scrap metal. He owes child support, but he decides to start putting on the show. His old foreman, Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) is unemployed, but goes around looking for work, hiding his unemployment from his wife, is soon hired to be their dance instructor, teaching from a stolen copy of "Flashdance", and adapting his ballroom dancing expertise for the production. The movie's key to success is the contrast of the workers who are desperate for work, mixed with the combination of the comedic farce of a situation, that's frankly not as unusual or as shocking as some may think. The movie is certainly funny. One guy who keeps trying to do a Donald O'Connor wall flip, but never making it for instance, and the crew that they get is hardly what one would call regular chippendale material. (Anybody else just think back on that SNL sketch with Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley just now?) The movie earned four Oscar nomination in '97, including a Best Picture nomination, and I'd say it was a deserving one for a comedy. A lot of the humor also comes from the women who've made the unemployed men feel emasculated over the years. Ironic considering the line of work they've now chosen to be involved in. It's actually a simple tale, told well, and told with a lot of depth and humor and cares more about the desperation of the characters than the cheekiness of the plot, and that's a refreshing thing in a comedy. It's the second film I've seen from director Peter Cattaneo, the first being the recent comedy "The Rocker" which was also about a man who was desperate to get out financial and personal straits, by joining a rock band with a bunch of teenagers, decades after he rejected being apart of a major band that was joining the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. I think he has great affection for these characters, and that's what makes his films so relateable and good. "The Full Monty", is a strong first effort for a feature-film, and it holds up pretty well now even.
ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (2000) Director: Billy Bob Thornton
For what it is, I'm recommending "All the Pretty Horses", but I can't really claim it's that great or memorable a film. It was Billy Bob Thornton's first time directing since "Sling Blade", and he's certainly a good director, but this film is the kind of sweeping elegic western, that's fairly old-fashioned and tiresome, even though the movie actually takes place in the 1940's and '50s, it's characters wise the wild west was still around. John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) and Lacey Rawlings (Henry Black) head out for Mexico, where some of that life still exists. They're followed by a supposed horse thief, Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black) who tries to join them. They arrive, and find work They end up working for Don Hector de la Rocha's (Ruben Blades) ranch breeding horses. John falls in love with Don Hector's daughter Alejandra (Penelope Cruz). There isn't a whole lotta else really, although it seems like a lot of action and it does, but the only thing really separating it from all the other films that've come before it, is the time period, and that's just not really enough. Actually you know what, I change my mind, I'm not gonna recommend it. I had 3 STARS written, but I'm changing it. There's just nothing really worth watching this sprawling epic over. It's got trademarks, it's even got some of the heart, and some great scenes, and not just ones with magnificient vistas. Everything's actually pretty good. The romance is believable, the trouble they get into seems plausible, even a fight scene in the jail is interesting in how it was shot. But if you take away the last scene, of Damon, coming back to America on the horse he rode in on, and coming across a sheriff working on fixing his t-bird and telling that final story of what happened to the judge, I don't know if this is any more special or different enough from just another average western. That's my real trouble with it. I've had a hard time grasping a lot of the films I've watched this week, some of you have probably noticed, and I apologize for that, I'm been distracted, but I really do believe that really good movies, can push through any firewall we put up, going into a film and really inspire us. Even really bad movies can also do that, at times, but these other movies, these in-between average films, that aren't bad, but aren't good, like an "All the Pretty Horses", well, they just don't seem to break through, and frankly that's more of a shame in many ways. Even if it's sound or technically good, if it's barely leaves an impression, well, then, that's almost like a waste of time as well. It's a shame. It's based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, usually his works adapt well to the big screen, this one...?
YOUTH OF THE BEAST (1963) Director: Seijin Suzuki
I'm not sure a Raymond Chandler expert can figure out what the hell happens in "Youth of the Beast", but it sure was fun trying to watch and find out anyway. "Youth of the Beast" might be the first film I've seen that makes me understand Woody Allen's "What's New, Tiger Lily?", and why he chose to redub a Japanese film, probably to parody a film like this, although in many ways it's its own parody. It was directed by Seijin Suzuki, who would go on to make "Tokyo Drifter", another movie that's more about the pop iconographic style than plot. The movie begins with a murder-suicide, a cop and his wife. Then, Jo Mizuno (Jo Shishido) a former cop himself, begins infiltrating two rival yakuza gangs, but of whom are so wildly over-the-top and outrageous that you just know that this plot must've been a response for Kurosawa's "Yojimbo", in how Jo keeps switching and playing both sides as he goes. Only this involves modern-day pulp Tokyo, filled with casinoes and homosexual gangsters and the Takeshita School of Knitting. I don't remember what happened in "Youth of the Beast", but I remember the look, the moving of the camera, the numerous windows where more violence was taking place, the caricaturish nature of its characters, and the showgirl dancers dancing in front of two-way mirrors. This was the breakthrough film for Seijin. He was a contracted director previously, but this was the first film that revealed this more rebellious style that would be perfect for the Warhol '60s later in the decades. It's not as good as say "Tokyo Drifter", actually it's a bit of a mess, but at least it's an interesting mess, and a good introduction to Seijin, to help prepare us for his more ambitious work later on.