Thursday, November 28, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #75: PART 4: "THE BLING RING", "MAMA", "THE ICEMAN", "HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA", "BREAKING THE GIRLS", "BRIDEGROOM", "BURNING MAN", "BELOVED", "THE GIRL", "TANNER HALL" and MORE!

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody,

Well, Americans mostly, but still.... Whew! Well, I made sure to finally get it done, and yes, the "Movie Reviews #75" blogpost, is finally over! I've caught up, and reviewed every movie I've been behind on, right in time to enjoy the holiday, and think about all the important things in life that were thankful for, like art, music, painting, architecture, of course, most importantly good movies, good television, eh-hmm-um, libraries, the internet, um, eh-hmm...? Huh. Um-ah, eh, Obamacare, that's a good one. The new Pope definitely, he's cool. Cable television, or satellite, definitely. Uh-um, what the hell else is there? Umm...? Hmm. Well, I'm sure there's other stuff, but those are the important ones.

We're certainly not thankful for Blockbuster anymore, 'cause they're pretty much gone now. You didn't think I'd completely let that one go, did you. A lot of people recall how I was railing against Blockbuster, just a couple months ago, and sure enough, within the weeks prior to them closing all there stories, they were hiring debt collectors to get their customers to repay late fees and other charges. I know this, 'cause I was called a dozen times in a three week span over it, and I'm fairly certain I didn't owe what they said I did. I'll also tell another quick anecdote about a FB conversation I had where a friend of mine, made a similar complaint I made about Blockbuster not going out-of-their-way to keep entire TV series seasons/programs in stock; her complaint was the Blockbuster only having 2 discs of the 6 discs miniseries "Taken", the Spielberg-produced one for Sci-Fi Channel years ago. (So many years ago, it was actually called "Sci-Fi" at the time, not Syfy) Anyway, I mentioned to her that she could just get the discs on Netflix, and she surprised. She had streaming Netflix, but she didn't know that they did movies-by-mail. Soon as she did, she quickly became a converter. Yeah, I'm a little amazed someone didn't know that, but you know what, A. better late than never, especially now, but B. and others have been talking about this too, so I'm not go too deeply into this, but basically, Blockbuster's demise are their own fault. Not Netflix, not Redbox, not streaming, their own. They were not providing what their customer(s) wanted, so they went elsewhere, and they didn't correct. Whether it was Dish Network holding them back, or whomever owned them beforehand, they could've survived in today's marketplace and they should've been able to. On the plus side, there is the trend of local video stores with boutique collections and community outreach, popping up through many cities in the country, including my own. It's not conveniently located, mine, but neither is most of the country, many of whom are miles away from movie theaters and video stores, so, it'll never be what they used to be, but they're gonna be around, just in a different form, and considering how poorly-run and shitty Blockbuster has been, I'm glad. I'm glad they're gone, and I'm also glad that libraries are now acquiring amazing film collections that, outshined most of them anyway. Lots to be truly thankful for.

So, I leave you all with that thought, and the conclusion of my latest batch of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS, and truly, I hope this is a truly special Thanksgiving this year for all, and like all truly special Thanksgivings, the Dallas Cowboys will get their asses kick! (LAWYER'S EDIT) I give thanks to all, and, here's the conclusion of this edition of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

THE BLING RING (2013) Director: Sofia Coppola

★★★



Years ago, I remember Roger Ebert speaking about the Olsen Twins, as he was reviewing their film "New York Minute", and to paraphrase him, in regards to their popularity, he believed that little girls, probably watch the Olsen Twins thinking that they're capable of doing that; he then said the teenage girls were right. Some might think the same thing of Paris Hilton now or some of the other celebrities that "The Bling Ring", targeted in their infamous crime spree back in '08 and '09. Something the kids probably wouldn't know is secretly how smart Paris Hilton has to be and actually is, in order to be her, but what I really worry about is how the kids we're obsessed with fame and celebrity, that they'd be willing to break in and rob the houses of these celebrities, almost every time being videotaped, breaking into houses that were designed and located in places where they simply shouldn't be broken into, and then posting everything they stole on their Facebook pages, and that's only the beginning of their severe lack of...- not knowledge, but they're lack ability to conceptualize their actions. They're shallowness. There parents' shallowness who didn't heed George Carlin's advice to not teach people "What to think", but to teach them, "How to think". The ringleader of the bling ring, is Rebecca (Katie Chang, oh and, none of the actual blingringers' names are used in the film), who strikes up a friendship with new Indian Hills High School student Mark (Israel Broussard). Israel Hills is depicted as being the place in the Hollywood Hills where the more troubled students end up going. They're not exactly rich kids as the legend sometimes claims, but they're middle class, and often see Paris Hilton or Kirsten Dunst hanging out at some of the nearby hotspot nightclubs. Rebecca had been stealing for years by simply opening car doors as she walked by; she'd find money, keys, wallets, credit cards, ipods, etc. Nick quickly fell in love with Rebecca, who's confidence and suredness in breaking the law is disturbing yet fascinating, especially to a self-conscious outsider like Nick. Soon, they'd start bragging about their exploits at parties, and more would join in, the most notable one was Nicki (Emma Watson) who was homeschooled by her Mom, Laurie (Leslie Mann) as part of some new-age cult that seemed to almost value fame and appearance. She becomes the one, who doesn't realize the difference between fame and infamy, as she talks to the media as though she's some kind of teenage philosopher that young girls like herself look up to, as though this incident will catapult her to bigger and more important things. "I might want to run the country one day," she exclaims proudly, as though stealing celebrities clothes make her qualified to do that. I wasn't surprised that Sofia Coppola chose "The Bling Ring" for her latest project, fame has always been the undercurrent of all her films, and she's always struggling to understand all aspects of it; as she's been famous, literally her whole life. I have to say, this is her weakest film, and I don't think that's her fault; she did the best she could, but there's only so much you can really look at and analyze regarding these kids. We can place it in a few different contexts, the culture of fame, the stupidity of teenagers, or a reflection of the fame-obsessed media. For the celebrities involved, it made young Hollywood scared for awhile, probably had to suffer through Rebecca Schaeffer horror stories for a while from their older peers. (If you don't who Rebecca Schaeffer was, please look her up, nobody had a more tragic fan encounter than her, and I'm including John Lennon in that statement.) Overall, this is intriguing as a short subject more than a film, but it's filled with very strong acting, and Coppola's great directing does propel the story, so I'm recommending it, barely. I'm on a borderline on this one, 'cause I expect better from Sofia Coppola, but I don't think anybody else could've done any better with this subject matter, so overall, it's a recommendation.


MAMA (2013) Director: Andres Muschietti

★★



(Yawwwwwwwn, tsk, tsk. [Pause] Tsk.) Oh, what the hell am I doing, now? Oh, "Mama", sorry, right. Eh, yeah, "Mama" is the latest Guillermo Del Toro-produced project, where he backs an unknown-but-talented young horror filmmaker, in this case, Andres Muschietti, who's first feature is an adaptation of his original short. I can't really lie, while there's some skill in the movie, I had a hard time taking this one seriously. It felt most of the time like it another "creepy kid", movie, where there's a creepy kid, or in this case two, Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse), who've spent five years alone in the woods after their father Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) killed their mother and two work associates. He was going to kill the children to, but somehow, he ended up dead, and the two kids survived five years before being found. Their uncle Lucas (Coster-Waldau again, in a dual role) decides that he and his rock guitarist wife Annabelle (Jessica Chastain) should watch them while they're studied and investigated by a psychiatrist, Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) as both girls have an obvious immense strain on them, and one in particular, seems to be showing signs of dis-associative-personality disorder. There's also a past involving the house that's of course, going to be the source of the mysterious ghostly creature known as "Mama", (Javier Botet) that kept the girls alive in the cabin in the snowy wood for five years. There's some good effects, especially at the end of the movie when the ghostly Mama really does make her appearance, and we're no longer dealing with the typical shutting door and weird noises of the typical horror movies, but overall, I just didn't find enough suspension of disbelief for me to buy into this film. It's always a little hard for me with horror films to do that, but despite some intriguing ideas mixed with the more cliched and classic scares, and Jessica Chastain proves once again how great an actress she is; she might break all the Oscar records when it's over; she's good, and is better every film. Maybe even the right setting and circumstances, I could've appreciated this film more, but even still, it's a little too outlandish of a idea for me to buy into, and the technical skills in the movie, while impressive on many counts, eh, just weren't enough for me to think of the film as anything more than another creepy kid horror movie. It had a good ending though, I'll say that, but by that time, I couldn't feign interest. Not a bad movie, horror fans might appreciate it, it's a good kinda moody, but it just didn't fully work on me.


THE ICEMAN (2013) Director: Ariel Vromen

★★★★



I was one of the very first people at the debut screening of Ariel Vromen's previous feature film "Danika" with Marisa Tomei, at the now-defunct CineVegas Film Festival, which also makes me one of the few people who saw the movie in a movie theater, at all, 'cause it went straight-to-DVD, although that movie was relatively entertaining and well-made, until the multiple, false ending that continually negated and then re-negated everything that we'd seen before. So, maybe it was a good idea for him to switch from a psychological horror to a more structured drama and story, like a biography of a notorious mob hitman. "The Iceman" is Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon, perfectly-casted) a quiet but tall man of Polish decent, who killed in order to control his temper. He was a porn distributor for the mob, who talked his way into a hitman job after getting noticed by Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta), realizing how little he seemed to care about his own life. It's estimated that he killed at least 100 people, something his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) nor his kids found out until his public '84 arrest. (They thought, first that he dub films for Disney, and then, that he worked in currency exchange, with a focus on the booming Atlantic City condominium market. For the most part, he was considered the best in his profession, even among peers who heard of his legendary kills, like Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans) a hitman who works as an ice cream truck driver as a front, who met Richie after both were hired for the same kill, a kill where Richie left a 17-year-old girl, who was a witness. Even the Iceman refused to kill women, and especially children. His brother Joey, little know to either his family or the mob, was in prison for killing a child, and spent the rest of his life there. When Richie was caught, we learn that they were in the same cell block afterwards only one conversation in about 20+ plus years previously. There's also some good supporting work from James Franco, David Schwimmer and John Ventimiglia among others, but this is Michael Shannon's time to shine. He's been incredible in these oddball roles, and there's a little bit of a similar nuance to this performance as his one in "Take Shelter", but I bought him, from the beginning, to the end, at every age of the character, and while his looks changed occasionally, his lack of change in his persona is what's fascinating. When shit does start hitting the fan for him, and one mistake keeps leading to another, it doesn't take as much of an emotional shift in him, to be just as frightening, and when we explodes, we're taking a step back. He really hit that delicate balance well, and without this performance, probably wouldn't work. I'm not sure if "The Iceman" as a film is anything more than just solid, but I'll take this solid any day. A very well-made, well-acted film, kept me on the edge of my seat. Nothing particularly new in the story, it's a good telling of it, great performance at the center, definitely a recommendation.


HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA (2013) Directors: Dmitri Vasyukov and Werner Herzog

★★



Shot in 2010, "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga" didn't get a theatrical release in America 'til 2013, and barely got much of a release then. For a Werner Herzog film, of a documentary he only co-directs and does the voice over, that's a little unusual. He's made some great ones, but "Happy People" is just not one of them. The taiga is actually a biome, that covers a lot of the northern hemisphere, but in this case, the area is a very remote part of Siberia, a small village of about 300 people along the Yenisei River called Bahtiva, and boy, this btw, spelling and pronouncing those words are challenging my geographically-trained tongue, but basically it's an area of Siberia, west of Lake Baikal, so it's closest-bordering country is Mongolia, but it's incredibly remote, and the only way to get there is by helicopter, and for the absolute most part, the residents still live with the same tools and trades that they've been for a couple thousand of years. One of the only real modern piece of technology they've adapted is a chainsaw. They spent a year there collecting footage on all the activities of the town. Some were celebratory, but much of it was day-to-day stuff, and there's some great footage of the river breaking after the ice unfreezes it. It looked similar to some of the footage in "Chasing Ice". I liked the footage of the town's only remaining master canoe builder, taking a tree and chopping the wood to build a canoe the way it's been done for centuries. I never realized how exacting it is, or how they stretch them, and burned the canoe to help it take and remain it's shape. It's not surprising at all to find someone like Herzog attracted to a place like this, nothing fascinates him more than humans struggling against nature, and to survive in the frigid Taiga of snow on the ground nine months a year, and to do so, without modern conveniences,- well, this is right in Herzog's wheelbox. The title of "Happy People..." I guess is intended to be ironic, or just an observation that most of the people there seemed fairly happy. I'm always skeptical seeming happy no matter where they are naturally, but I just wasn't relatively entertained either by this film. At barely 90 minutes, it seems like they had to work a little bit to make the film as interesting as it was. They need about the modernities of life. One of the local villagers is actually a relative of Andrei Tarkovsky, the great Russian filmmaker, but I don't know. This just wasn't as entertaining or as interesting a subject as some of Herzog's best recent films have been. This guy's made some documentaries over the years, about people struggling to survive in the most unusual of climates and conditions,...- You can make it as entertaining as you can, and I do believe he's done that here, but this just wasn't as interesting as his others films. It's slow-moving, it's boring at times. Maybe I watched it on a bad day, but his best work is so visceral, and this one just flies over you. As a short subject maybe, as a feature-length film, it's stretching it too much.


BREAKING THE GIRLS (2013) Director: Jamie Babbit

★★1/2



Jamie Babbit made one of the best and most important satires back in '99 with "But, I'm a Cheerleader", so I'm always interested what she'll come up with next, although that said, her previous feature film was a complete piece of crap called "Itty Bitty Titty Committee", which might be one of the worst films in recent LGBT cinema, and that's saying something, 'cause there's been bad ones. This time around, she barely gets a theatrical release for "Breaking the Girls" which debut on the internet the same day as it's limited release, and it's definitely a genre switch for her, as she tempts an erotic thriller, using a very familiar template. Sara Ryan (Agnes Bruckner, you might remember her from "Blue Car") has a scholarship to the university, but still has to work multiple jobs to stay monetarily afloat. She's pretty but quiet and conservative socially. Working as a bartender, she meets Alex Layton (Madeline Zima, who I still mostly think of as Grace, the youngest child on "The Nanny", sorry Ms. Zima) a provocative young lesbian who Sara drives home after a long night of drinking, and then out to a few parties where she runs into Sara's nemesis Brooke Potter (Shanna Collins) who's boyfriend Eric Nolan (Shawn Ashmore), who Sara has a crush on, although that doesn't mean, she's more-than-susceptible to experimenting with Alex, during a drunken night in a hot tub, in front of poor Eric. Alex has a hot tub at her late Mom's mansion, but she currently lives on campus, because her father David (John Stockwell) currently lives there with his young sexually adventurous wife Nina (Kate Levering), who fell in love and married David, after she dated Alex, and Alex invited her to a party five years ago. Now, that alone is a very interesting screenwriting choice, and that lesbian lover-turned-stepmom, somebody should put in the back of their head for ideas in the future. Of course, it's from here where the characters start becoming more or less than what they seem, when Alex and Sara have a drunken midnight conversation, about each other killing the other's nemesis. If you don't know where this idea originated,- well, frankly you should've known before I bring up here in a second, but this is when "Breaking the Girls" becomes a re-imagining of Hitchcock's masterpiece, "Strangers on a Train", and actually, if you're gonna steal from a classic, this is an interesting one to use, because part of the subtext of that "Strangers..." was the homoerotism of the main characters, so actually it's more natural fit for this kind of film that one would think. Well, I can't quite recommend the movie, the twists are too predictable, and frankly it isn't a particularly erotic film, for an erotic thriller. Still, I kinda admire the attempt and the concept; I just wish it was done better, and I know Jamie Babbit's capable of a better film so I can't really give her a break here. Oh well, looking forward to next time though.


BRIDEGROOM (2013) Director: Linda Bloodworth-Thomason

★★1/2



Obviously, Tom Bridegroom must have been a very beloved and special friend to the stars and filmmakers of "Bridegroom", or else they wouldn't have made it, but that's about all I really got out of the film. That's not to say that his story shouldn't be told, or that it isn't tragic, it should and it is, but sadly, it isn't a unique story, even though it's one that's already has gained a major following. After a popular youtube video called "It Could Happen to You" earned millions of hits, the filmmakers got over 6,500 people to fund this feature-length documentary on Kickstarter. Tom and his partner Shane both grew up in small towns in America. Shane's family was more supportive, and Tom's continually tried to repress his homosexuality, after he came out. His father attacked him, and threatened violence. The mother seemed rather benign and okay with it, even coming out to visit the couple in California where both of them worked in the entertainment business. Shane was a production assistant on entertainment news shows and Tom worked occasionally as a commercial actor. Tom especially wanted to get married, and the couple was regarded by everyone it seems as the perfect most loving couple, the kind of couple where, and I'm just gonna steal from Aaron Sorkin here, where if one of them was sick and in the hospital, the other would be right by their side the entire time, and the staff would take one look and know that the words "Visiting hours are over" don't apply to them. If only everybody else could see it that way, especially the hospital after Tom's accident. Tom was goofing off and taking glamour photos of one of their friends on the roof of the apartment building, when he slipped and fell. After he died, the family took him back to Indiana, and refused to even acknowledge or invite Shane or any of his friends to the funeral, and a family member warned that if they did show up, they'd be killed. It's emotional, and clearly everyone involved in the film was effected greatly by Tom, and sincerely disgusted by the way his family disowned his true self in life and even moreso in death. That said, I hate to be mean, but we really can't get a good grasp of Tom just from other's interviews, and since the whole movie's relying on his life and death's being the emotional impact, I ended up thinking, "Well, that's nice, but I really don't care." The title of youtube.com clip is true, it could happen to anybody, and it's happened to many times before, so maybe they shouldn't have been so surprised. (Although they're anger is justified) It's only so compelling to those who really did know him. That's unfortunate, and if he was a famous actor or celebrity, I hate to admit this but, at least I would've felt more for me, because I would've had a certain grasp of who exactly Tom was, even if it was just the smallest of perception. It's a touching tribute to a fallen friend who'll clearly won't be forgotten by the people who know him, but it's a eulogy, not a movie.


BURNING MAN (2012) Director: Jonathan Teplitzsky

★★★★



I get why they did it, and I won't deny that at many points in the movie, it worked emotionally, more than enough for me to recommend "Burning Man" in fact, but that said, I'm still not completely sure that the film couldn't have worked better, if it wasn't edited with such fragmentation, and was told with a more straight-forward narrative. Note the wording, "with such fragmentation", my complaint is that it used it too much, not that they should've just edited the film to make it more cohesive, there's a slight difference, 'cause I know certain parts of the film, have to be cut this way to work effectively, or it would seem, cliche, or in other cases, it simply would be unaffective. That said, I wasn't a big fan of having to wait for the film to explain itself fully and catch up. To I'm sure, a few friend's of mine's disappointment, "Burning Man", has absolutely nothing to do with the famous Burning Man Festival they hold outside of Reno every year, where stoners, deadheads and other hippies go every Summer and burn a large wooden man statue followed by a celebratory party/orgy. (It's a major local thing I have to get that reference out of the way.) Instead the burning man is Tom (Matthew Goode) a high-strung seemingly erratic-behaved chef, who seems to have been in a car accident, but also spends much of his time screwing everything that moves. After the accident, he's bleeding to death and his car blew up with him inside, we catch him being rushed through the hospital. What we slowly learn about him, and his behavior, (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD) is that he's in deep grief over his wife Sarah's (Bojana Novakovic) death, after a long bout with multiple cancers. The movie, if it begins anywhere, seems to begin with Tom, unable to control his temper, at his son Oscar's (Jack Heanly) eighth birthday party, 'causing trouble and getting arrested. It seems the two were well on their way to divorce, when she suddenly gets sick. We also learn that after she dies, that she was an organ donor, and her eyes were given to a diabetes patient, who was going blind, and having a pancreatic surgery. Upon hearing the news, Tom talks about her great almond-shaped eyes, but wishes her great ass would've gone to better use as well. Tom's grieving escapades (and possibly some of his escapades when married) include a prostitute, Karen (Essie Davis) who's more than willing, a psychiatrist, Miriam (Rachel Griffiths) who knows that she can't help him as long as she's attracted to him. There's also Sarah's sister Sally (Kerry Fox) and a few other random women, usually showing up in the movie in some stage of undress, or about to be undressing with/for Tom. I have to think that, while I couldn't keep all the of them straight on one viewing, that there's probably some kind of purposefully symbolic purpose to each of the girls, all of whom seem unusually willing to do what they need to, to help Tom out. As the movie slows down it's schizophrenic editing, it's clear that Tom is also combing his mind together and finally beginning to accept his grief. It's foreseeable and not as innovative as the film probably believes, but it's effective and powerful. Matthew Goode is strong here as Tom as one of those chefs who's a tyrant in a kitchen and a mess everywhere else, now having to struggle to become a better person, for his wife and kid's sake. Novakovic is also quite good as his wife, and the good news I can tell you is that the movie isn't complete gloom-and-doom, and there's some funny moments of laughter, even if it's laughter that's holding back tears. "Burning Man" is surprisingly effective. It's from writer/director Jonathan Teplitzsky, who also wrote and directed the memorable romance "Better Than Sex", that was his debut almost 13 years ago, about a one-night-stand that turns into a weekend and than longer. That movie also, played a bit with editing and structure, but it was also more straightforward, and definitely a lighter film. "Burning Man"'s the only other film of his I've seen, and it's definitely a better film, and definitely a recommendation despite some flaws with overusing the back-and-forth quick-cutting editing style. I don't know for sure if it's the best possible film that could've been edited, but it certainly could've been a lot worst. There's some skill here, needs to be a little more refined, but a very good job overall.


BELOVED (2012) Director: Christopher Honore

★★1/2



I've noticed recently that French musicals, rarely begin with a musical number. That is odd actually, almost every American musical I can think of, starts with one, to set the tone of the movie. You know, "I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere...", or "Belle" from "Beauty and the Beast" even, it's frankly just common. Not in French musicals, (except for "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", which is an opera so it's entirely sung, so that doesn't really count here.) in French musicals, they start off with what seems like a good story or movie, sometimes for quite a while into a film, before suddenly, the characters start randomly singing. It's not exactly a criticism, just an observation I noticed as I watched "Beloved". I think choosing musical was indeed a good choice for director Christopher Honore's but that said, I wish he'd gone all the way with it, instead of switching back-and-forth out of musical and into melodrama. "Beloved" begins in the '60s with Young Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) steals a pairs of shoes, that help her get confused for a prostitute; she decides to go with it. The movie goes from different cities and different time periods as Madeleine (Catherine Deneuve) soon watches her daughter Vera (Chiara Mastroianni, Deneuve's daughter [Hopefully, you're knowledgeable enough to figure out who her father is btw]) makes all the same mistakes and more that her mother made. Vera also becomes a prostitute, and starts falling in love with all the wrong men. First with an untrusty philanderer in Clement (Louis Garrel) than with a gay American, Henderson (Paul Schneider). Milos Forman of all people, also plays a vital role as Madeleine's friend Jaromil, a doctor who once saved her life, during a session (Actually, before the session). I will say that the songs and the music are good in "Beloved," so good that I wish there was more of it; it would've made the more darker passages near the end of the film, more bearable. The movie was directed by Christopher Honore; it's the second film I've seen from him, although the first one, "Ma Mere" couldn't possibly be more different. That was a dreadful movie where Isabelle Huppert, after her son turned 18, introduced him to the extreme sexual adventures that, previously the son, had no knowledge of before. So by that standard, this film is an improvement, but still, I tried to really defend it, but "Beloved" is just too inconsistent and too long to really sit through and enjoy. It's got a lot of good actors and film legends and relations of film legends, and at times some good music and songs, but "Beloved"'s all flashy on the surface, but the more you look into it, the less and less there is.


THE GIRL (2012) Director: David Riker

★★1/2



I'm not 100% sure where exactly "The Girl" went wrong, but I'm fairly certain that the movie needed, one more decent draft, before it was shot. An extra draft to improve the dialogue, and make sure the movie flows a little nicer than it does. "The Girl" is a title that actually references two characters, the first being Ashley (Abbie Cornish), a trouble young  Texas mother who's had her kid Georgie, (Austin Wayne West) taken away from her, and struggles with alcoholism as she slumps through a deadend CSM job, where she keeps losing hours and work to her Latina co-workers. After finding out her deadbeat father, Tommy (Will Patton) is making extra money smuggling illegals in the back of his semi, she decides, to take do it once, so that she can gain enough money to get herself back on track, before a looming courtdate about her kid. Things go very wrong, very quickly, and she's soon stuck with Rosa (Maritza Santiage Hernandez), the other girl in the title, after her mother left her in Ashley's car. Now she's stuck with a little kid she can't get rid of, and has to be sober enough to watch over as they try to find Rosa's mother across two different countries, and of course, not get caught by any authorities. I guess there's a few obvious comparison films to this one, the first one to come to my head was "Frozen River" also about a parent who gets in the smuggling people business, that's a much better film however. There's a long period of the film where "The Girl" seems to wander aimlessly, not sure which direction the film should go. It's also overwrought and overwritten at times, especially in a beginning scene where Ashley makes an unscheduled visit to her son's foster parent, and she gives a speech that's simply exposition disguised as a big emotional speech. Exposition that wasn't anywhere close to beind needed, and you can tell Abbie Cornish, as great an actress as she is, she was struggling to come up with a believable execution of the line reading. I think the movie, must've started with the idea, and then they might've went into production not sure how about the 2nd act. They created more-than-enough setup, but that left so many directions the movie could've gone for it's 2nd act, that they didn't know where to go. The film is only the second feature from writer-director David Riker, his first one was fourteen years ago, "The Cuidad (The City"), which is a film unseen by me, but also dealt with Hispanic immigrants. There's hopefully always gonna be rich stories to films to be made about the immigrant experience, and "The Girl" had moments where it truly could've been one, but in the end, when you compare it to many similar movies, it's not in their league, and not really worth the time to seek out.


TANNER HALL (2011) Directors: Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg

1/2★



"Tanner Hall" is one of those movies that should've forever remained on the festival circuit to be seen by few and forgotten by more, but one of its stars became famous and they rushed it to a release, to piggyback on the newfound fame of it's star. This happens occasionally, Ellen Page had a bunch of her earlier films get released after "Juno", same with Adrien Brody after "The Pianist", in this case it's Rooney Mara's as the movie came out to theaters shortly after she got the part of Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" American remake. She plays Fernanda, the soon-to-be rival of the new rebel addition to a New England boarding house school for girls, Victoria. (Georgia King) She and the rest of the cast and the rest of the movie are half-ass attempts at typical girls boarding school cliches. The lesbian is suicidal, the horny one goes after the only boy at the school, when she isn't going after the teacher, there's, I guess some kind of attempt at the...- well, no there really isn't a "Dead Poets Society"-type instinctual character who comes in and influences the other characters into how the school is whatever, and how to see the world differently, and all that. There's a funny scene,- well, that's pushing it actually; there's a scene, involving Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan and Viagra and an inability for them to have sex at the same time that's probably the closest to a funny thing in the movie. I think "Tanner Hall" is intended to be satirical and to parody these kinds of films and female archetypes, but this film doesn't even rank towards the level of a bad satirical high school film; I was wishing for a film like "Heathers" by the end of it. (That's not true, it was before the end.) The film was co-written and directed by Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg, two women, who have been working separately since this film; it's both their first feature-length projects. I'm sure most of you recognize the name, von Furstenberg, and yes, her mother is Diane, the great fashion icon. Gregorini's the daughter of Barbara Bach and the stepdaughter of Ringo Starr, and was engaged once to Portia di Rossi. Maybe these are the kind of upper-class world travelers who should know about life in a boarding school, but this film is just too much of a mess. I think I'd probably enjoy interviewing the directors more than I'd want to see a film from them again. They're too interesting in of themselves to have so little to say, at least I hope I'm right about that.


ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) Director: Douglas Sirk

★★★★★



I've been trying to get around to Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" for awhile now. The film has proven to be one of the most influential of movies in recent years. Most famously, as being inspiration for Todd Haynes's wonderful "Far From Heaven", but it was the inspiration behind what's arguable R.W. Fassbinder's greatest film, "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul". I'm becoming more and more impressed with Sirk's films each time I see one; the quintessential kind of '50s melodrama, and now his films which can seem rather trivial and over-the-top in the wrong eyes, are symbolic masterpieces. "All That Heaven Allows", begins with Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) a widow who's kids are now old enough for college and only come down on the weekends. Her husband's passed, and the neighborhood gossip, well one of them, Sara (Agnes Moorehead) keeps trying to set her up with the neighborhood bachelor, the aging Harvey (Conrad Nagel), who is also in love with Cary and unusually aggressive about it in private, while a little more light on his feet in public. (Light on his feet in both, the Paul Lynde and the non-Paul Lynde sense.) Lonely and bored, she begins befriending the young gardener who prunes her trees, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). He's actually the son of the previous gardener, who her husband hired; he's taken over the business. Their attraction is palpable, and he takes her to see people in his world, who've given up on keeping up with the Jones's. After deciding to get married, both their kids, the emotional Ned (William Reynolds) and the Freudian Kay (Gloria Talbott) are freaked out about their mother wanting to marry Ron. It's never completely explained why, the obvious reasons are he's too young, and the more undercurrent reason is that he's of a different class and outside of this HOA community. (One of the great things about "Far From Heaven" was how Haynes eliminated all the symbolism, and confronted it directly.) "All That Heaven Allows" grows on you, and becomes more powerful after each viewing, and Cary's struggles to choose love over the world she's known, and disrupting the status quo. It seems like an easier decision now, but if it's all you've known, it can be quite difficult. When her daughter comes home crying, after rumors that the affair started before her father died, got to her college dorm, it's the last straw for her, but that leering loneliness.... I can see why "All That Heaven Allows", while only a minor hit in its time, has become so influential and powerful to other filmmakers, and why Sirk's movies still live on, while the copycats and the imitators don't.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (2010) Director: Mike Newell

1/2



I think, I'm not 100% positive, and don't really feel like looking it up, but I'm pretty sure that "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" jumped a little bit on my DVD viewing list because I read that they were either in production or soon to be in production on a sequel. I wasn't completely sure why such a film was getting a sequel, and now after having seen it, I'm more confused as to why it'd be getting a potential sequel. I'm also somewhat confused by the recent trend of time travel being used in seemingly every movie to some extent nowadays. They used to tell us in Screenwriting 101 to not even bother with any time-travel movie specs. Of course, accomplished writers like Boaz Yakim (one of the film's three writers) and directors like Mike Newell aren't exactly writing specs anymore. Anyway, the movie takes place, in a movie world known as Persia, that's not that different from the Bagdad in both version of "The Thief of Bagdad", where a young orphan can be taken in by a royal family, and possibly marry a Princess, and fight his brothers and other devious relatives over the kingdom.   The time-traveling aspect of the film involves a magic dagger which releases a magic sand that can reverse time. Apparently it's based on a video game. Gemma Arteron plays a princess, Ben Kingsley plays the devious King's brother, and Jake Gyllenhaal, is actually surprisingly believable as the Douglas Fairbanks-esque Dastan, which sounds a little like D'Artagnan, which, I don't know what that means actually, but whatever. This is a loud, special effects extravaganza, that's sound and fury mostly. A movie from the '30s or '20s even, just with big time special effects. It was boring, I can see the story a mile away, most of the acting was hammy at best, the special effects were average at best, and the animated snake was really bad, especially when a normal snake could've worked better; there's not much to say about this film really. Not looking forward to any sequels; I don't even want to play the video game.

RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN (1980) Director: John Sayles

★★★★



Often noted as a predecessor of Lawrence Kasdan's masterpiece, "The Big Chill", John Sayles's debut feature "Return of the Secaucus Seven," also revolves around a group of old college friends from the flower child era of the protesting '60s, coming together for an extended weekend at a New Hampshirt summer resort home. Them, as well as some other acquaintances that are hanging around now. It was shot on an incredibly small budget, even for the time, about $60,000, and almost all the actors were relatively unknown or little-known at the time. It's at times, clunky but it's well-written, but not as memorable as "The Big Chill", which it's doomed to be compared to forever. I think one of the reasons this isn't as predominantly regarded is that, the get-together seems almost random. It starts out like ritual, everybody having some trouble on the journey up, or not as Ron (David Straitharn), a mechanic, never left the town, but then there's a scene at the end, where everyone's waiting at a police station, at they reflect on how most of the Secaucus 7 are here. The title refers to the name they jokingly gave themselves after they were arrested on their way to a protest in Secaucus, New Jersey. Nothing really happened, but the often titled major arrests and incidents with a city and a number at the time. Chicago 10, the Hollywood 10, the Kent State 4, etc. (I might've made the last one up, I just couldn't think of another one off-hand where there wasn't 10. Ah, dammit, the Camden 28! Just thought of it.) You would've almost presumed that they were aware of the gathering almost as though it was part of the celebratory reason for getting together, but it was more random than that. I think that's why "The Big Chill" was better, because they were all there originally for a death of one of their friends, so the get-together not only had a purpose, but a starting off point to go into other areas, also we were able to learn more about the characters through their grief, and seeing characters react to an unusual circumstance is always better than starting them off in their own environment. Even Steinbeck figured that one out. It's good when you're watching "Return..." but it's not memorable afterwards. Maybe if more the actors became household names, it be regarded more highly, but I doubt it. Sayles can make some special films, he has since; I'm still going through a lot of his filmography although my favorite of his would be "Sunshine State", which also deals with an Altmanesque narrative and a world of characters, but it's more sharper, and he's more assure with his pacing, which is certainly, a pace, his films do tend to dwell and take their time. We see a good movie in "Return..." but I think we see more, the early tendencies of a director who'd make better movies later.

WELCOME TO SARAJEVO (1997) Director: Michael Winterbottom

★★★1/2



Michael Winterbottom's "Welcome to Sarajevo" made a few ten best lists back in '97, as the cover of the DVD box explains. I can certainly understand that at the time. Sarajevo was a far more common word in the English language back then. I'd probably have to explain it's importance and relevance to many nowadays. Anyway, back in '92, Yugoslavia split into a few different countries, and we were stationed there with troops and journalists for the better parts of Clinton's first term and basically the Serbs and Croats were killing each other because one was Serbian and the other Croatian. Not much different than it always is in the Balkans really, the same thing with Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Albania, Middle East too, but the center of it was Sarajevo, a place formerly known for holding the '84 Winter Olympics mostly, was quickly turned into rubble on the nightly news. At a certain point, the newsman started fighting back. A point's made that at the time, it was only considered the 14th worst place on Earth, and a wildcat rebel American journalist Flynn (Woody harrelson) wondered about whether they go up or down based on that days body counts. The movie is based around Michael (Stephen Dillane) a British journalist who eventually start to get caught up in the devastation. He befriends Nina (Marisa Tomei) an aide worker who runs an orphanage, which is heavily overcrowded, and then later adopts a little girl, Emira (Emira Nusevic), and manages to sneak her out of the country and off to his home in London. Everything seems okay, until a couple years go by, and apparently, the girl's mother has been found. "Welcome to Sarajevo", is a good film by the versatile director. I think it wants to be a little too many things at once, but I admire the ambition, and it's probably the necessary 'cause the whole situation in Bosnia was complicated, much less the problems of three little people, and a few others too. There's some good performances by Goran Visnjic, Kerry Fox and James Nesbitt also give strong supporting performances here, it's a little hard to see the forest through the tress here. It's definitely a recommendation, although I wonder if a truly great film can be made about Bosnia from outsider filmmakers, and from an outsider perspective. (While I admired Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Honey", I don't even think I recommended that one either.) In the meantime, this is a good film, to give you a decent analysis of the whole mess that was Bosnia, especially for the younger viewers. For us who recall living through it, hmm, I don't know.

EVEN THE RAIN (2010) Director: Iciar Bollain

★★1/2



"Even the Rain" seems to be trying to do too much, and while there's noble intentions, I wonder if there was a way to tell the more interesting story of the fight for the water rights in Bolivia, without the foreign film crew. It's distracting frankly. The film crew, led by Costa (Luis Tosar) the film's executive producer and by Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) the film's director, are shooting a story about Christopher Columbus's exports in the Americas. Now, for some of you geography buffs, if you're wondering why Bolivia, well, it's cheaper to shoot there apparently, and the Bolivian native can be paid just $2 for extra work as Indians. The first scene of them hoisting a cross, is clearly symbolic, as they've gone from being exploited by Columbus, under the guise of religion to now being exploited by the film crew, specifically to be against the exploitation of religion. I'm sure there probably was a film crew on hand in the middle of Cochabamba, Bolivia, where the film's actually made, and where Daniel (Juan Carlos Audiviri) would lead the revolt against the privatization of the water sources. Companies have been going into South America, and other depressed parts of the world, and trying to negotiate water rights for awhile, and for those who don't know, the country is mountainous, very high above sea level, and landlocked, so water is very crucial for the country's survival. Eventually, the film crew gets caught up in the revolution, something that's not uncommon when filming in South America, as Werner Herzog will tell you. Still, I came out the movie, thinking we only got two half of two separate stories. The film crew's journey, and the Bolivians fight, and they never seem to coalesce into one for me. The film was directed by Spanish actress Iciar Bollain, she a powerful film awhile back called "Take My Eyes," about a woman who struggles with leaving abusive husband, and even when she leaves him, still remains in love with him, as he goes through therapy and treatment that she knows probably won't work. That was a smaller tale, which helped make a bigger point. "Even the Rain" does the opposite and that's why it doesn't fully work. It makes everything big and symbolic, when frankly the small and the personal, would've worked a lot better.

ME, TOO (2010) Directors: Antonio Naharro & Alvaro Pastor

★★★1/2



"Me, Too," or "Yo, Tambien", is a lot better movie than I'm about to describe. Well, better's not the right word actually, but you'll think and hear one thing, when I give the synopsis, but it's a lot smarter and more observant than that. It's a romance about a relationship between a girl, Laura (Lola Duenas) and a man who suffers from Down's Syndrome, Daniel (Pablo Pineda). Yeah, you get one idea when you hear a plot like that. You get one idea when you hear about Down's Syndrome too. I had flashbacks to a movie I would much rather forget called "Girlfriend" wasn't just bad, but played up the emotional angle so much that you could stomach to sit through the film. This is not that movie, "Me Too," is about an intelligent young man, who's attracted to an older co-worker. He's come in a computer expert, and Laura immediately confuses him for an overgrown child and asks if he's walked into the wrong room. It's an embarrassing first meeting, and not exactly a meet cute. Daniel's highly intelligent for anybody, much less someone with Down's Syndrome. He's a college graduate (As is Pineda, who's the first person with Down's Syndrome to get a degree from a major European University) He occasionally goes out with some friends to party, although his brother means well Santi (Antonio Naharro, also one of the co-directors.) tries to weed him off courting Laura, he's determined. Laura on the other hand practically lives at singles clubs when she's not at work, going home with more men than she can count. (Not at once, that sounded bad, but she does have a past.) Obviously a film like this, can't make the woman a saint, for it wouldn't be great drama, but Laura fairly damaged as well, and when she gets burned too often, and as aged begets wisdom, she starts trying to make it work with Daniel, first as a friend, later as lovers. I can't pretend "Me, Too" is a perfect film, it's not close, considering the ways this premise has been screwed up so badly, it's nice to see it done really well. It's a film about two people who fall in love, not a film about two people and one of them has Down's Syndrome, or any other syndrome for that matter; it's smarter, more observant, more realistic. More enjoyable. I think a lot of it is the casting of Daniel Pineda, who's the kind of guy who naturally gonna refuse to participate in any stereotypical Down's Syndrome cliches. Whatever is was, I was impressed with "Me, Too"; it's far from perfect, and there's a lot of things that it's "not", that could've ruined, and I don't particularly like to recommended a movie for being not contrived, not sentimental, etc...., but considering the other ones, it feels like that breath of fresh air, so recommendation.

THE SENSATION OF SIGHT (2007) Director: Aaron J. Weiderspahn

★1/2



Some movies succeed at creating the intellectual stimulation of...- Of, fuck it! Alright, it's late, I saw "The Sensation of Sight" weeks ago, it sucked ass!

There, that should be the entire movie review. I'm trying to get through all these movies and finally complete this, but, when you're trying desperately to remember such a laborious and existentialist piece of crap, that you couldn't describe or barely remember ten minutes after you watch it, much less weeks later, and it's right before Thanksgiving, frankly you stop caring. Well, that's not completely true; ten minutes after watching the movie, I still recall vaguely how rejoiced I was that the movie had ended. I'd probably moved on to something more stimulating like practicing by tiddly-winks, but I was happy about it. Finn (David Straitharn) the movie's protagonist, is a modern-day door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. Yeah, you read that right. He's down on his luck, and took the job after leaving his English professorship. He often runs into former students who remember him fondly, but he usually struggles to even recall them, or at least acts like he does, and for a little we, we get a glimpse of the students currents lives, occasionally over some transcendental meandering voice over of the Straitharn character. He's often sleeping on a park bench, living a poor-man's Howard Hughes syndrome of some kind, as it's clear has disenfranchised him about teaching, but he remains calm and stoic, even he recognizes the absurdity of his current profession. I don't know what universe this exists in, everything is clearly symbolic and overwrought, and overthought, and trying to be too cute. The encyclopedia salesman gimmick, works for about half a second, and everything else is half-thoughts and meanderings that leave us nowhere. This is almost like a Richard Linklater movie like "Slacker" or "Waking Life" where we go from one character to another, and see a little bit of that character, except it's not in those leagues by a longshot. "The Sensation of Sight", is like one of those novels or stories where there's like thirty pages describing a leaf falling or something stupid like that, and you screaming at it to "Get to the point already!" or "Somebody do something!" and it never really does. I wouldn't even particular mind that, if it was at least entertaining, but this movie is just a bore.

Monday, November 25, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "AIRPLANE!"

AIRPLANE! (1980)

Directors/Screenplay: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker




Ted Stryker:  Surely, you can’t be serious!
Dr. Rumack: I am serious,… and don’t call me Shirley

That’s the most famous line amongst dozens of famous lines and jokes and gags that pepper every scene of this “Airplane!”, arguably the most influential comedy of the last forty years. The directing team of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker did the films ‘The Kentucky Fried Movie,” “Top Secret,” and the failed-TV show “Police Squad,” which in turn led to their most famous movie franchise, the “Naked Gun,” movies, but unquestionably their best film is “Airplane!,” a spoof on the airplane disaster films like “Airport”, “Airport 1975,” “The High and the Mighty,” and in fact, the movie is a direct remake of the 1957 film “Zero Hour.” The ZAZ team had seen the original film which was such a bad drama, that it was funny, which is the inspiration for “Airplane!,” a purposefully bad movie about bad movies, or in Hollywood terms, a spoof, which in 1980, was not exactly done too often. Now, it’s done so often and by the biggest hacks among hacks in Hollywood, we probably should be blaming “Airplane!” more, but the movie’s so laugh-out-loud funny, we just can’t admonish too much. The movie is not only filled with references to those old movies, (It almost destroy the disaster for awhile actually) it also spoofs other films, (most notably, “Saturday Night Fever”) as well as old commercials, and then adds comedy involving sex, race, drugs, nudity, religion, the elderly, gays… their pretty much isn’t a topic it doesn’t at least skim through. The jokes in the movie, as well as most all of ZAZ films are dumb. They’re not even smart dumb, they’re just dumb. Classically dumb, old-fashioned and quick-witted like vaudeville, but they’re dumb. The genius aspect of the film is not the depth of the humor but the volume of it. There’s so many jokes in the movie, in almost every scene, that the movie forces us to pay particular attention between laughs, just to make sure we catch everything. The basically wrote down all those little insignificant thoughts we have that most of the time we get a small quick chuckle at, and then move on. The ZAZ troupe are basically like Beavis and Butt-Head, only smarter. This layering of humor is very influential; Will Ferrell always talks about how his films get funnier on second and their viewings because of he and Adam McKay like to lay-in and add extra jokes at the peripheries, that only become apparent, once you’ve already watched the movie. The first time you watch it, you’re watching the film, and trying to get wrapped up in a story, and then laugh along the way, but it’s the later viewings where you get the jokes. There’s so many jokes in “Airplane!” though, that’s barely a level of an actual story. I’ve seen the movie about eight times, on my most recent viewing, I noticed at least ten more jokes than I didn’t catch before, or simply didn’t remember, like a scene involving a little boy asking a little girl to share coffee with him. She accepts, and the boy asks how she likes her coffee, and she goes, “Tall and black, just like my men.” And that scene is just a filler joke that added nothing to the story or plot, not that the story is that particularly important; it wasn’t even a new joke then, but the fact that it came from a nine-year-old makes it funnier. The story involves a one-time war pilot Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) having to try and land a plane after the pilots and the crew and most of the passengers got sick after eating the fish for dinner. “We had the option of steak or fish.” “That’s right, I remember, I had the lasagna.” There’s a backstory with his ex-girlfriend/stewardess (Julie Hagerty) that’s so boring that every time he divulges into a flashback, the passengers next to kills themselves. Leslie Nielsen as a doctor on the plane had the biggest success from the film. He was an accomplished dramatic actor before the film, who had feared he’d be stuck playing old dying grandpas, when this film gave him a more successful second career. Eventually the dumb jokes, by virtue of being done so well, and with so many of them, all intellectual armor is lifted, and you just start laughing, and you don’t stop, until the end. Even when jokes fail, which isn’t often in “Airplane!”, the attempts are funny, a true sign of a great comedy. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

THE TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2012!!! (Sorry for the,- [frustrated sigh, muttered under breath] sonab***h. (Really frustrated scoff)] Sorry about the, dammit, 11-month delay. (Man, I need to start getting paid for this.) OH, AND THE TEN WORST FILMS TOO.

Well, again sorry for the lateness of this. I was hoping it'd relatively on time, even for me, but I seem to never get around to watching every major or important film anymore until deep into the year and the leaves start turning colors. As of today, I've seen 215 films from 2012, and the first thing I have to open with is that, this was NOT a good year for films. Now, of course, this is a ridiculous and completely subjective thing to say. That's like saying a particular year was a bad year for painting or books or something, we're not even going to be able to fully analyze this for years to come, and when people say things like this, they're not talking about every film of that year. They're narrowing this down to the very top of the year, and you know... if you base 1976 on a film like "Gus", then it was a really shitty year, and you forget about "Rocky," and "Network" and "All the President's Men" and etc. etc. But, Harvey Weinstein came out during the Oscar season and said that 2012, was the best year for films since 1939, a very bold statement considering highly-regarded in this bizarre conversation that year is. And a lot of others people have been agreeing and making this claim too, I see it all over the FB chat rooms, and they're all wrong! I know how subjective this, but by absolutely no standard do I consider this a good year for films. It's not that there were a lot of bad movies, there weren't, in fact, I gave a positive review to every single Best Picture nominee this year, that's only second time in the last five years I've done that, so there were a lot of good films, but there weren't a lot of great ones or even special ones. The past two years I've been doing this blog, and creating my annual Top Ten list, I seriously considered about 30 or 40 films each year, on whether they could or should make my Top Ten List. This year, it wasn't 20 seriously, probably more like 15, and I was struggling to fill this list. Other years there were some really good movies out, where even the second tier and third tier and fourth tier films, were not only memorable, they were very good, and easily could, in others years, like this one, made my Top Ten list. I think that's why the Oscars were so goofy this year, and I don't think they made any really awful choices either, I think they were just struggling with a bad year to figure out what to honor, and they did the best they could, and they made some reasonable choices, but this was a year of good, and not a year of great.

EXCEPT, for DOCUMENTARIES! Something that was completely overlooked in 2012, in the midst of Affleck not getting nominated, and all the great film hyperbole was that this was an incredible year for documentaries. Last year, when I gave out my OYL Awards, for 2011, I had ten documentary nominees, which was the limit, and I hadn't seen "Pina" yet, at the time, and it would've been nominated. This year, 3 documentaries made my Top Ten, I've never had that many before, and honest-to-God, I could've had about 5 or 6, there's about a dozen docs in my Top 50 from this year, I will have ten Best Documentary nominees at my awards this year, I easily could've had 15 or 20. And they were all kinds too; this is one of the very best years for documentaries I've ever seen.

Alright, well, we're counting down from TEN to ONE, at long last and wait, and while, yes, there's a few movies I have to get to, so this subject to change, but with a very high amount of confidence, here's my list of the Top Ten of 2012!

THE TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2012!

#10. Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph Movie 1920x1080 pixel Hd Wallpaper

As I mentioned before, I struggled more than ever to come up with ten films for this list, and as I thought and rethought carefully about my list, and tried a few different films in a few different places, for different reasons, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I can't leave off "Wreck-It Ralph". Not only was it the best animated film of the year, this was truly a film that not only showed me things I never saw before, but a lot of things I never thought I'd see, and you don't need to be a big fan of video games to truly appreciate that the film was made by people who were, and truly cared about getting it right.

From my original review:
When you realize just what they've done, it becomes clear that "Wreck-It Ralph" is some kind of mini-miracle. I never was what some would consider a video game junkie as a kid, or even now....  That said though, I couldn't believe it when King Koopa, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and QBert, were all in the same movie.... From the moment the characters made their appearance, in their retro video game animation styles, I was sold, and knew I was in for something quite unique. Apparently, just like our toys in "Toy Story," when an arcade, if you can ever find one anymore (I do miss cool arcades, wish Scandia was still open, I think I held the record on "Clutch Hitter" on that.) , is closed for the night, the characters from all those beloved games come to life, and have lives of their own. They have fun, they go get drunk at Tapper, but for the bad guys, it's a little depressing. There's a Bad Anonymous group held by one of the "Pac-Man" villains every night. (I want to say Blinky, but I get confused on the "Pac-Man" character names.) Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a classic video game bad guy. Very classic, his game, "Fix-It Felix Jr", where he smashes and wrecks a high-rise condominium while, Felix, (Jack McBrayer) fixes it with his father's magic hammer. Ralph is tired of being the bad guy who gets thrown off the roof and living in the dump while Felix keeps medals. Desperate after wrecking a party he wasn't invited too, he leaves his game and goes through the Game Station Central, and decides to jump games, in order to play a good guy and win a medal. A very risky move considering that, people have noted that, if you did in another game, you die forever, and potentially lead to the death of both games... He  then finds himself in a candy-influenced go-kart game called "Sugar Rush", where he meets a glitch named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) A glitch in video game lingo, and btw I didn't know this either, is when a character is programmed into a game at one point, but isn't used in the final product, instead of going back into the program and digging the character out, it much easier for a programming to just leave the character in, but not use them, or have them unconnected to the actual gameplay. This is even done, when whole levels or sections or minigames for instance, are left unfinished or abandoned, they just leave them on the program. Vanellope wants to be a racer however, and with Ralph, she gets a shot, but having a glitch become apart of the game, can be devastating to the game,....  I love the care and imagination put into "Wreck-It Ralph". This is a film made by people who absolutely love video games, and not just playing them, every aspect of them. The design, the creativity, the history of them, how they, like animation, has evolved over-the-years, and how they have become more complicated. There's many kind of animation used in "Wreck-It Ralph", all of them done amazingly well, especially the inventive design of the candy-inspired Sugar Rush world, it's really inspiring. There's a lot of in jokes, some I caught others I didn't, but they weren't as pressing or obvious as they've been in recent animated films. Strangely, I think the key to the film was good characters, which can be rare enough in an animated film sometimes, but in the world of video games, they can really be rare, but here they really thought them through well. I don't quite know how high I'd rank "Wreck-It Ralph" in the recent animation canon, but I can't stress enough, just how much fun, it is....

I really can't stress the fun part enough regarding "Wreck-It Ralph," this is the most enjoyable and purely entertaining film on my list, and I mean that in the most insouciant and carefree, childlike form of fun. The bright color, the multiple worlds they created, it's so bright and so bright, you can't help but like it. And you know, for a video game culture that we're in, we've been trying to adapt video games to film for years, or even using video game structure, for other art forms even, like the recent "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", was the big experiment with film doing that, a big failed experiment I think, and it was after this movie that I realized, they've been doing all wrong, you don't take a video game and adapt it to a film, you start with film structure, and then place it, in a video game world. Also, I think we are coming to the end of the golden age of animation, but this wasn't a bad year for animation, I gave 5 STARS to multiple animated films, a lot of people I know, don't think "Brave" deserved the Oscar, I obviously don't either, but that was a good film too, but this one, not only was the fun, the most inventive, this was the one, where I thought, "I can't believe they pulled this off and got it made!"; I think it was in development, since the '80s, this film took like 25 years to finally get made from the original concept, and it feels like they were working at it everyday of those until they made sure they'd gotten it right, and that they weren't just waiting for the technology to catch up. This was worked on, on the script level, on the production design level, on everything. Really a special film.


#9. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God



Documentarian Alex Gibney, is one of the absolute best in his field, making quality, investigatory and informative documentaries for years. His prominence began in '05 with the great documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room", and he won an Oscar for his film "Taxi to the Dark Side", but I think an argument can be made that "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God", could be his best, as the documentary details the first time when a pedophile priest in America was openly accused of pedophilia and it proceeds to investigating the history and procedure of Vatican inaction, and oftentimes, Vatican acceptance of pedophilia from the priests, that led to this worldwide epidemic.

From my original review:
There's a lot that can be taken out of "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God", but the main thing I must say that I got out of it is that no religion should have any reason whatsoever to hide what they're doing. I learned some startling things about the Vatican in this film. Like the first noted case in the Vatican archives of sexual abuse from a priest to a minor dates back to the 4th Century....

...I'm gonna pause, and just say that the movie's particularly powerful, and frankly, it's hard for me to even write this review, because it's so disturbing. Murphy's actions were brought to the attention of Archbishop Cousins of Milwaukee, as well as two other Milwaukee archbishops. Nothing happened. The adult minors started going to the police, but they couldn't do anything, for lack of evidence and a statute of limitations had run out. They took the matter into their own hands, and started passing out flyers, proclaiming Rev. Murphy a pedophile, and passing them out at churches and posting them around town. This started getting attention, but still, when Murphy finally left the St. John's school, it was because of failing health, and the accusations of abuse, were edited out of the Milwaukee newspaper's report of the story. He would continue to molest and assault for years afterwards. This is part one of the story, the second involves the process through which these claims and cases make their way up through the Vatican, and the actions they themselves take, or didn't in most cases....The clear issue is that the system of the Catholic Church and the Vatican is that it's first goal is to protect the invisibility of the church, and of the order of priests, and not the victims of their crimes. It's an outdated and unrealistic system, and as it's become clear that this abuse wasn't relegated to America, somebody has to explain to the Church that their shield of invincibility is no longer acknowledged.... "Mea Maxima Culpa..." will frighten and make you mad, and frankly you'll be discouraged and some might be disenfranchised. Why? The movie is mostly, a detailing of facts, mixed with interviews, and some guest voiceovers for the mute deaf victims of Rev. Murphy, who are currently working on suing the Vatican.... 

...And I stand by that opening, no church should have any reason not to have complete transparency. To see "Mea Maxima Culpa..." is to understand why this message and demand needs to be repeated.

You know, there've been other documentaries and investigatory news stories about the Catholic Church in recent years, but the way Alex Gibney, puts this together, it's startling. The interviews with the now-grown up victims of Rev. Murphy, who were the first people to start naming and passing out flyers, at anybody who was a pedophile, they basically inspired Megan's Law, and the fact that they were deaf, makes these speeches more powerful. When I think back on it, and I saw it recently, it's still fresh in my mind, but the movie this film actually remind me of is the "Red Riding Trilogy" about the corruption in Yorkshire that led to the Yorkshire Ripper's reign of terror lasting over a decade, and how the real sadness about corruption in power is that, is people not doing there jobs, and creating a system they're simply incapable of doing them, even if they wanted to, they were stopped at every corner, and the disturbing thing is that's very much constructed in this manner. This film, was originally on the Oscar shortlist for the Documentary Oscar, it wasn't nominated, but then it found it's way onto TV, on HBO I believe and it won three Emmys, and Alex Gibney, his worst documentaries are more interesting than most good documentaries, and he directs so many of them like three or four a year sometimes, it's hard to keep with him sometimes, this is a great documentary from him. More people should see it, more Catholics should see it too. 


#8. Django Unchained



Quentin Tarantino's latest, "Django Uncahined" is #8, and I don't think anyone's surprised to find the film on my list, but Some might be a little surprised that I'm ranking "Django Unchained" so low on my Top Ten list, and while I certainly rank it as one of the best films of the year, I'll admit, this wasn't what I consider Tarantino's best or most inspiring work, but what it is, is a great film by a great filmmaker.

From my original review:
For the first half of "Django Unchained", Tarantino proved he could make a Western. In the second half of the film, he proves that he can make a Tarantino film. I'm personally apprehensive towards "Django..." on one hand, it's clearly a masterful film, by a master filmmaker, but on the other hand, it doesn't have quite the insouciant feel of Tarantino's best work. With "... Basterds" for instance, his first foray into Tarantino-izing history, there was a gleefulness in which he was rewriting the history books, a joy, if you will, not just in watching the movie, but in making the movie. This movie, doesn't have some of those trademarks. No movie theatre, no importance on shoes, it's almost like Tarantino has grown up and decided to just make that spaghetti western, or in this case, a spaghetti, southern, I guess.... What the film has that I love, is wonderful acting and writing, a great creative tale, some daringness in its setting, and despite the fact, the movie's a little early in terms of, when exactly dynamite was invented, it has some cool things, being blown up! It's 1858, in the South, and Django, (Jamie Foxx) is a former runaway slave, who suddenly finds his freedom at the hands of a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He needs him to identify the Brittle Boys, Big John, Little Raj, andd Ellis, (M.C. Gainey, Cooper Huckabee, and Doc Duhame, respectively) who had tortured him long ago, after he and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was raised in Germany believe it or not, and speaks fluent German, tried to escape.... After Django and Schultz, take them out, they strike up a deal to teach Django to be a bounty hunter, and after the snowfall, they'll go find Broomhilda, who they find out, was sold to Candieland, the harshest plantation in all the South, run by the eccentric and cruel Calvin Candie. (Leonardo DiCaprio, one of his best roles) Their objective, to buy Broomhilda, and grant her her freedom, so that Django and Hildy can go off up north together, and to do this, they come up with a scheme involving buying one of Candie's Mandingo fighters as a misdirection. What ends up happening, is a bloodbath; I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that, it's practically an inevitability, and, it should be. The ending is gratifying, but the performances are what's out-of-this-world. Jamie Foxx's role is in a deceptively difficult, and I already wrote his name in my Annual A.M.P.A.S. memo, but, and I don't want to hint at anything here, but there's an amazing performance, by Samuel L. Jackson; I'm not gonna give away his part, but it's a great comic performance,.... It's over-the-top, but it's perfectly over-the-top, and Jackson-, I swear, Jackson, Dicaprio and Waltz, if all three of those names got Supporting Actor Oscar nominations, I wouldn't be shocked; this may be, the best overall acting, ensemble, of all Tarantino's films, and that's saying something, and I know you can say that about any of his films, but these are some really good memorable characters, and some great performances here. The skill, and the talent levels are off the charts, even the songs are great, and Tarantino, uses original songs for the first time ever to tell this story, a good choice. I appreciate that Tarantino is trying to expand his horizons and challenge himself as a director, but this time, I think it took something away from my personal enjoyment of his work....

My review as I look back on it, and it was a five-star review, and I stand by everything I wrote, is really of a lot of high-level criticism. For anybody else, "Django Unchained," would be there greatest accomplish, the film their known by. I think you can argue that this might be Tarantino's 5th or 6th best film. That said, boy is it a great film. It's entertaining, it's stylized, it's a lot of fun, and it's filled with exceptional performances. Waltz deserved and won his Oscar, but even more than having great performances, Tarantino has a way of creating great characters that we want to see onscreen, and actors want to play. You can tell, these actors are having fun in these roles, and that's not an insult. It so hard to create characters and parts that actors and audiences can truly have fun with, and still create a world, where not only do these characters make sense and are believable, and also work well on screen. He is one of our greatest screenwriters, one of our greatest filmmakers, and he's making some of the best and most imaginative films right now.


#7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower



The film that effected me the most personally and emotionally from 2012 was "The Perks of Being a Wallflower". It's rare enough to see and find a good movie about high school, but this one wasn't just good; it got it absolutely right. This is the probably the high school movie I would point to and say that, "this" is what high school is like. Even some of the best John Hughes film, I have a hard time saying that with. Certain episodes of "My So-Called Life" came somewhat close, but as I've been going through some of the emotions of a (Yikes!) ten-year reunion and reconnecting with many from my high school class in recent months, the more I realize who special a film like this can be, as a time capsule, as well as guide for future generations. (God, that sounded corny, ugh!)

From my original review:
I think the difference between a wallflower, and whatever-the-hell-I-was in high school is that, a wallflower goes to parties and things, when invited (or not) whereas I refused to go. I never read Stephen Chbowsky's book, but I had long heard of it. It's been placed in the modern canon, on the same shelf as J.D. Sallinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar", and now I'm thinking that I missed something having skipped over "The Perks of Being a Wallflower". It's one of those films where you're either gonna have an emotional connection to it, or you're not gonna have any real connection to it. You probably were one of the jocks in high school, who beat up kids like Charlie (Lucas Lerman), or possibly the girl in Advanced English who sat next to him, and called him a faggot everyday. Charlie's had some troubles. He takes medication for it, and writes to a mysterious "Friend" once in a while to discuss his situation, as he counts down, literally all the days left in high school, starting with day one. He's not popular, and when he's not sitting alone at a lunchtable, he lies up against the wall at whatever dance it is. That is, until he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), the only Senior in his shop class, He's quirky and eccentric, and gets in trouble for making fun of the teacher, but he isn't mean, and Charlie spots that, correctly. At a football game, he goes to talk to him, and gets introduced to Sam (Emma Watson). At first, they're so nice and close, Charlie confuses them for a couple, but they're actually half-siblings, and they take a liking to Charlie. They go out to eat, and they take him to parties, where there's Buddhist goths and a rich jean thief, and brownies, and occasionally other drugs. Patrick we learn is gay, and is having a secret affair with Brad (Johnny Simmons) the school's star football player. Sam, is dating a kid in college named Craig (Reece Thompson) who's an obnoxious photographer, but Charlie has a crush on her, and she knows he does too, although so does, the bossy Buddhist Goth, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). All these elements would make good or even, interesting high school stories in of themselves, actually, the film doesn't focus on the soap opera and the triviality of hormones and emotions, it deals with the inner pains and struggles, those that aren't obvious, but are carried around them, like heavy shoulders. Charlie started seeing images and had to go to the hospital after his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) died on his birthday, which happens to be Christmas Eve. His older sister Candace's (Nina Dobrev) relationship with Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun) is abusive, and she's hiding it from everybody, but Charlie knows, and he remember the abusive relationships Aunt Helen was in all her life. Sam had a very rough freshman year, on top of a father who allowed her to be sexual abused. Still, there's dances, and parties, and drugs, and impromptu performance at "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and relationships starting and ending, and crushes and a surprisingly aware and generous English teacher (Paul Rudd) who always has a new book for Charlie to read....  There are some greats shots here, especially through the Fort Pitt tunnel in Pittsburgh, where the film was shot, and took place. It's unusually well-acted. Ezra Miller, in particular is becoming one of my favorites actors with this part,.... All three major roles actually, very complicated teenager roles, especially strong. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is strikingly believable as a high school film, as a coming-of-age film, and even the parts that didn't seem as realistic to me about high school, I didn't mind so much. They might not have struck a cord with me, but they feel like they'd strike a cord with friends I knew....There were a lot of things that sucked about high school, and this film gets them right, but more importantly, they get the things that didn't suck right. The parts that were fun and transcendent and life-affirming, as kids have untold stress and pressures that they refuse to talk to their parents about. Well, if you want my recommendation, here it is, this is a movie that makes me want to read the book, and I haven't said that since the original "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", and now I'm looking the book up at my library. Maybe I should've read this one in high school. 

To those of wondering, I haven't actually read the book yet. People should note that me wanting to read something, can be a very big step sometimes. (Also, there was like a 50-person waitlist for it too. [Shrugs]) I still do wanna read the book, but the film's director, Stephen Chbowsky, was the one who wrote the novel. That's normally not a good idea to have the novelist be the director, but it works here, and you know, this is probably about the tone and the mood, and capturing a moment, more than a particular plot, but that said, there's a lot of good stories and characters, kinda at the periphery of the film, with every character. It is very clear, that everybody in the film, is going through some shit. Some of it's in the past, some of it's still going on, some of it, you can see coming a mile away, and that's the real secret to why this is such a good film. If this is just, a bunch of teenagers going through normal teenager shit, this wouldn't be a good movie; this is about really well-written characters, who happen to be teenagers. Smart teenagers at that, too, another thing that's refreshing and you don't see enough of in film.


#6. Rust and Bone



My number 6 choice is the highest-ranked foreign-language film on my list and it's "Rust and Bone", from French director Jacques Audiard, he made "A Prophet" a couple years ago that also made a lot of Ten Best lists; this is his best film so far. It tells a very complex story of two unlikable people who situations lead them to be with each other. There's ways to describe the details of the movie, in a way to make this film seem like an inspiring tale of people overcoming odds, and in some ways it can, but you haven't seen this film with these characters before, and the real key is that they're two characters overcoming there own faults.

From my original review:
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....  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.

When I say, this film isn't enjoyable, don't let that stop you. This is a tough film to watch, but it is realistic, unpredictable and messy, just like real life. And you know, these two people get together in the movie, they don't get together necessarily because they're in love, or they're looking for love; they essentially, because both of them are in need of somebody being there, so that they don't completely fuck up, there already fucked-up lives. And I'm still, not saying that, in this overcoming of obstacles, and "Chariots of Fire" music in the background, these are two people, who are not only capable of screwing up there lives and others, they're capable of really, fucking their own lives, in ways that, only the most damaged of people would self-inflict on themselves, consciously. Cotillard and Schoenhaerts, really do give, the most underrated performances of year, in hindsight, I'm a little befuddled that, especially that Cotillard didn't get an Oscar nomination, it's her best performance so far, unbelievable. I said I watched it twice, and I did, and I'd watch it again right now, and the more you watch it, the better the film gets; the movie is very quiet and very subtle in just how well-written it is, and the more times you see the movie, the clearer it becomes. This is an expert-class script worth analyzing, and the more you peel away from it, the more there is to the film.  


#5. Cloud Atlas


Probably the most controversial choice on my list, and I can already hear a few people writing down their rebuttals for when this get posted on FB groups. I'll admit myself, that "Cloud Atlas" was probably the film I had the hardest time ranking. In many ways it has to be on here, it's too ambitious and spectacular a film to ignore. It's polarizing, it's enigmatic, in some ways it's completely indescribable and indecipherable, but it's not a puzzle that's meant to be solve, it's a completely unique filmgoing experience, in the year, where the best filmgoing experiences, often made for the best films. 

From my original review: 
Well, I can throw out the film criticism textbooks and structure guides for this one. Forget describing "Cloud Atlas", or even criticizing it. Hell, I'm pretty damn familiar with most of the stars of this film, but, hell, half the time I couldn't even identify the actors in the scene, as many are hiding behind some controversial, but outstanding makeup that the Academy should be ashamed for ignoring, and frankly, even looking on imdb.com is of little help since Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving Doone Bae, Jim Strugess, Jim Broadbent, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whitshaw, Keith David, David Gyasi, and what seems like damn near everybody else, play multiple characters, over multiple time periods and locations, in multiple races, genders, ages, species...- It was fun for about, a little under thirty minutes trying spot who's playing who, but with all six stories being told simultaneously, all of which are a different genre by the way, that frankly, as I start watching this film a second time, now two days late to return to the Redbox across the street, I'm convinced that the only way to watch the movie, is to simply stop trying to consider, analyze, theorize, and all other -izes, and just sit back, and let yourself become engrossed with the film, and after that... still don't bother doing any of that. Some enigmas are meant to stay that way, and that's why enigmas are so intriguing. Oh I'm sure that there's some kind of answer to a the puzzle that is "Cloud Atlas", and they sure leave us plenty of clues along the way, but it is incorrect to try and search for a solution to "Cloud Atlas". However, without any really good  clear-cut explanations of it's existence, and no truly adequate way of describing the plots or the players, and clear cut explanation with any absolute sense of certainty, of what "Cloud Atlas" is, I guess the best thing to do would be to actually, do what I just said not to, and pontificate on what it all means. Or, at least hypothesize about some of the clues they give us and some of the common themes and at least attempt give you, the reader, some sense of...- something. For instance, there's clearly, I guess the word would be, reincarnation, but it's more like, multiple lives and how we are connected, in some manor to all the former lives we've lived. Many characters share birthmarks for instance, and when two characters played by two people, meet at a different time period, there's a sense of familiarity between them, as though once upon a time, they had a connection, and that deep inner connection is an intricate sign of trust, but with no explanation of how or why they feel this way. At times they even see images of their past lives, and feel as though they're living them all over again, or at that very moment. I'll leave the quantum physics theories on "Cloud Atlas" to the theoretical physicists, and I probably should find some experts on the Tibetan Book of the Dead on their thoughts on the multiple lives aspects of the film. That said, the movie is much more than that. In that sense, possibly the most intriguing part of "Cloud Atlas," is not just the stories themselves, but the choices the characters choose, and the differences between them, or the similarities. And a curious thing about the stories, in that none of them actually feel naturalistic; they're all heightened like movies in fact. In fact, consider the tales themselves, a sci-fi story of replicant-like creatures rising up against society, a comedic farce about an old publisher who tries to escape the nursing home his brother conned him into turning signing up for, a '70s era investigate journalist having her life threatened as she uncovers a major oil industry scam, the ambitious classical musician who earns his way into his mentor's home, with an attempt of adapting his own talents and stealing the aging idol's works, a friendship formed between a Southern lawyer and a stowaway former slave, on a ship in the South Pacific, and a tribal tale of mystical visitors with secrets, who help save a dying civilization, as rival, cannibalistic rival tribes are bearing down for battle. They aren't just stories with connection threads, they're also classic film and literature archetypes. The stories themselves aren't that new, if that's probably the point, and the fact that despite the differing genres, that they're structured quite similarly, it's easy to presume, that they're either parodying or paying homage to the art of cinema's and literature's past. Not an unusual theme for the Wachowski's who love exploring many of these themes in their best films.... I could discuss "Cloud Atlas" all day, to incredible detail, as you can plainly see, there's no shortage of things to discuss, yet, this seems like a shallow and forced exercise to do so. The secret to "Cloud Atlas" maybe that it's a movie disguised as a literary analysis that we all feel the need to make while watching it, and afterwards, but simply put, no matter how we may feel or interpret, "Cloud Atlas" might just simply exist, and because it exists, we should just be happy it does, because with it's existence, that means that we can enjoy it.

I recently just got, a very shitty version of cable TV, it only has, like up to 18 channels, it doesn't even have TNT, but it has HBO, and they play "Cloud Atlas", seemingly all the time, and something I've noticed is that, it's a movie, put on at any time, put on for a little bit, go do something else or watch something else for a bit, come back to later, and still manage to simply enjoy the experience of watching it, at any random point and time, and there's only a few films that can really truly do that, and few films are ambitious enough and have the funding to get his done. It was written and directed by Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tyker, they each adapted and directed three of the segments separately, and they told the actors to not worry about where you are in the story, but worry about where you are emotionally in the film, because that's gonna be the constant throughout the film, the emotional journey you're on. I think is a good prototype for what we really all look for in great movies. We look to see things we hadn't seen before, done in ways we hadn't seen, that are entertaining and intellectual stimulating, but they're also great film-viewing experiences. You don't sit down and watch "Cloud Atlas", you sit and lit "Cloud Atlas" envelope you, take you on a ride and a journey, and anytime you want, like a roller coaster through time, you can go on the ride again. You can do that through multiple lives too, maybe that's what the movie's about? (Shrugs) Maybe? That's what enjoyable about it; there's nothing set in stone, you can think it's about one thing one day, and then think it means something else, entirely the next-, some things can't be explained, they're just enigmas, and that's why we like them, and "Cloud Atlas" is a wonderful enigma. 


#4. How to Survive a Plague 


There's no easy transition here, from "Cloud Atlas" to my number 4 film, "How to Survive a Plague", the outstanding documentary made mostly out of old footage documenting the beginning and rise of the AIDS academic, and the fight and struggles of the gay community, and groups like ActUp and eventually TAG, and the tactics they used to get noticed, and eventually get AIDS medicine and medications out on the marketplace. In this era, it's easy to simply dismiss AIDS and HIV, as diseases that aren't the death sentences they once were, and in fact science seems to be closer to a cure than ever, but this is movie that shows us the very beginnings of the fight for survival. 

My original review: 
26 different names appear under the "In Memoriam" credits for "How to Survive a Plague", and those are just the names of the ones that were known. No telling how many people in the movie are now dead, but it's safe to just presume most of them are. One of the most important and best films of the year is "How to Survive a Plague", the Oscar-nominated documentary which still has a 100% on the rottentomatoes.com meter, is a piece of history, that needs to be known. I hate calling things that happened during a good portion of my lifetime history, but even I had forgotten names like Bob Rafksy, who singlehandedly made AIDS a national debate subject during the '92 elections, ironically, by being shot down by Bill Clinton, who was just a little bit smarter and more knowing about what was happening than he thought. Sprung together from loads of documentary footage, taken at the time by the protesters and activists, the film chronicles, the fight of organizations like ActUp, and other groups that fought, literally and figuratively to get AIDS medicines out on the market, as the body counts in the eighties and nineties, continued to rise. It seems so simple to say it now, "They're living a lot longer with HIV these days," or "Look at Magic Johnson," he's still alive," but it's just not that simple. Hundreds of medications were considered, the U.S. government was dragging it's feet, and to my surprise, there was far more anger directed at Bush for continually cutting funding on AIDS research, and the FDA for taking their time, decisions the community fought against that turned out to be mistakes that they made sure not to make again, when in the mid-nineties drugs that actually worked unlike AZT or DDI, which they managed to get on the market, became widely available. Inside ActUp, dissention was as common as death, and they eventually split into a splinter group, TAG, which used different tactics than placing giant condoms around Jesse Helms's house. It details news reports, rare footage of meetings to gives us a definitive history of the battle for AIDS treatments. Would it have been found earlier? It might have been, but there's an uneasiness among the survivors. "I still can't get my head around planning for the future," one of them says. I wish I wrote more names down like Larry Kramer who are as responsible for the way the world is today as Patient Zero is for making the world what it was then. "How to Survive a Plague" is one of the best films of the year. Not just documentaries, films. I still remember those old videos in health classes they showed us on AIDS, when we still had to be convinced that AIDS wasn't just a disease for homosexuals. Thankfully, I can now say that, "How to Survive a Plague" shouldn't be shown in health classes, it should be shown in history classes. (Note: As of the date of publishing, HBO has begun the process of turning the film into a miniseries. Good, the more we know, the better!)

After going over my review, obviously I decided to just re-post my entire review here for "How to Survive a Plague", 'cause I think I described the film about as well as I could before. I mean, if documenting is the recording of events, this film is essentially the history of the AIDS epidemic. If there were video cameras around in the Revolutionary War times, "How to Survive a Plague" would be equivalent to getting actual footage from inside the Second Continental Congress. We learn about it, we kinda know about, there's a few survivors out there who can still talk about it a bit, but we know the arc of the history, we don't get these incredible details, the inside footage of how the plague of our time, took over the country, and how the people who suffered, organized and fought, for their lives, literally. It's true sometimes, the shit we put up with, and how little we protest the wrongs in this country, myself included, and even when we protest- There's a difference between showing up and holding a sign and protesting, and the true desperation of people who need help and need change now! It's overwhelming, but there might not be a more "everybody-must-watch" film from this year. 


#3. Moonrise Kingdom


My number three choice is Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom", his charmingly quirky tale of two pre-teen runaways as they try make a life together, and escape the pressures of childhood to fall in love. This is one of his very best films, but the real reason I'm ranking this film so high, on top of it being the funniest film of the year, and a great use of Anderson's absurdist approach to filmmaking, but he manages to get correct the tone and joy of really good classic children's literature, the kinda kid stories that kids who read a lot are constantly reading, which are very much apart of the aesthetic of the film, he even creates a bunch of different beloved books one of the characters carries around with her, as they go on this journey. 

From my original review: 
Describing what happens in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," will take some time. It'll sound like a seemingly random series of characters and quirks that don't have much relation to each other, but as you're watching the film, every single one of them not only seems natural, but completely necessary. This film takes place off the coast of New England, in the mid-'60s, only because I think it's an appropriate time for Anderson to use some of the pop music he likes. The time period doesn't matter, though, not in a Wes Anderson film. They take place, anywhere, and wherever he wants them too, and rewrites the rules as he sees fit. There's a few things that he always has: funny insert shots, often with words elaborating on something, that play similar to title cards in silent films, he has wide-angle dolly shots, that seems to move horizontally and vertically through the movie, showcasing the lays of the land, usually the indoor layouts, and he has numerous exacting details in all facets of art and set design.... I've seen some of his scripts, much of the set, costumes and art design is meticulously written out. That's the other thing that will always make his movies watchable, even his bad films, he puts so much detail into every scene of his movies, sometimes, every shot, that there's always something new to look at.... We're told in three days, a storm is coming. At the Khaki Scouts camp, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), awakes to find one of his scouts, missing. The scout, a 12-year-old orphan, Sam (Jared Gilman) left a note announcing his resignation and cut a hole in his tent, which he hid behind a poster and escaped into the night. (The "Shawshank Redemption" reference, has to be intentional) Ward notifies the Island Police, which consists only of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who hires the scouts and rounds up the others on the island, to begin searching. He has been having an affair with Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), who, like her husband Walt (Bill Murray) is a highly-successful lawyer. So succesful, that their house is so big, she carries around a megaphone to call up to her kids. Her oldest kid, Suzy (Kara Heywood) who, like Sam, has a history of being difficult and troublesome, runs away, and meets Sam, who's been her penpal for a year. They're off to run away through the woods, and live together I guess. With his excellant scout skills, and her juvenile novels and her brother's record player, and her tendency to get violent with left-handed scissors, for awhile, they're pretty good at outrunning the adults, and the former scouts who never liked Sam to begin with. The other scouts talk like they're in a foxhole, or in "The Dirty Dozen," most of the time. The adults, talk like a Wes Anderson film, I guess, as do Sam and Suzy, who come about as close to remaking "The Blue Lagoon," as I think it's possible to get to in Wes Anderson world. "Moonrise Kingdom," is a strange mix. It's story feels like a children's lit book, complete with kids going on an amazing adventure and clueless adults who try to act reasonably, similar to the ones that Suzy reads, which goes naturally with Anderson's sensabilities, which always seemed both surreal and big, similar to how a child sees the world....

I mention the classic children's literature stuff, because that is just really difficult to replicate on film, and get the mood and feeling that you imagine the film is, when you're reading it. You can go down the list, especially with live actions, they all seem to be a little disappointing, if they're able to be made at all. Now, he doesn't adapt that film from one of those stories but him and co-writer Roman Coppola, (Yes, of those Coppolas, he's Sofia's brother) they instead, seemed to create a movie that just threw in, everything that is enjoyable and fun about some of the best of those books, and I guess Anderson's sensibilities as a director and storyteller, just really match well with this kind of storytelling, and getting the sensibilities of the two kids in the movie, who, are that rare age, where they're right on the cusp of puberty, but are still wide-eyed about the world and think that anything can still happen. It's a completely unpredictable film from one scene to the next, it's also just bizarre and funnier the more you watch it. I've seen this film about three or four times now, and I like showing it to people, who haven't seen it, or aren't used to Wes Anderson's work, they all seem to like it, they all laugh get a kick out of it. Even with all the Wes Andersonisms that populate the film, this works as really good film without it, in a genre motif that's really hard to replicate on film, and it's done about as well as I've seen here. 


#2. Samsara


Number two on my list, probably has been seen the least of any of my choices, it's "Samsara", the sprawling meditative, beautiful documentary by Ron Fricke, that's an epic mosaic of,- well, damn near everything. Earth, people, nature, civilization, etc.

From my original review: 
"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 combining 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 a 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 paintings, 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" has a few different meanings 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 is 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....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.... This is his way of documenting the world, this fiercely rich, vibrant, beautiful world, that we are all mere grains of sand upon.

You know, I have a confession to make regarding my review, I said would seek out "Baraka", his previous film, the fact is, I had already seen "Baraka" years earlier, and put it out of my mind. Don't get me wrong, it's a good film as well, but that film was-eh, very tunnel-visioned in how it mainly focused on religious ceremonies around the world, and while much of it was intriguing, I didn't find it, nearly as good or as interesting as "Samsara", mainly because it so focused, while "Samsara", seems to evoke so much more. "Samsara," belongs in the same category as something like "The Tree of Life" or "Life in a Day" the great documentary that made my Ten Best List last year which, just showed things happening all over the world on a particular day. This movie was shot, over five years, in over 25 countries, five continents, the statistics get more mind-boggling, and there's no narrow focus, it's just shooting things that are memorable and amazing to see about all over the planet, and btw, the photography is stunning, every image is spectacular, this film had the under-appreciated cinematography, especially for a documentary, and placing them together, in way that mesmerizes us, and keeps us pinned to the images, one after another, after another.... It isn't randomly placing images either. Each images follows the next for a specific reason, and continues us on this trance-like meditation. There's no other film that's quite like it, very unique movie.

and now, my choice, for the BEST FILM of 2011!


#1 Life of Pi



There'd been years where I've thought for awhile about my number one choice, for this year, I thought for about, 1/2 a millisecond. There really is no other choice here for number one, the best film of 2012 is Ang Lee's "Life of Pi". It was the biggest cinematic achievement of the year; it broke the most new ground of the year in visual effects, the use of 3-D, incredible cinematography, and was easily the toughest to make, so tough, the novel was for decades deemed unfilmable, and even Ang Lee backed out of the project a couple times in it's long development, but this is the most awe-inspiring cinematic experience of the year.

From my original review:
A writer who is never named (Rafe Spall), is interviewing a man in his living room in his Canada home. He's written one novel, but his second failed to get published, but he's been told that the man he is interviewing, a man named Pi, (Irrfan Khan), he has a story that claims "Will make you believe in God." You couldn't come up with a more loftier expectation, in a movie, maybe ever. Now, I have not read the famous Yann Martel novel...  which was until considered by most, and rightly so unfilmable, but I had only heard the broad outline in the story, and heard from many people who hate 3-D, telling me to go see this movie in the theaters  and in 3-D. When somebody who doesn't like 3-D, is telling you to go see it in 3-D, you should go see it. I'm one of those people who hates it, and I'm telling everybody now, go see "Life of Pi," in 3-D! Pi, who's actual name is Piscine, the French word for swimming pool, but eventually got shortened to Pi in middle school (1st-timer Suraj Sharma), grew up in his father's Santosh's (Adil Hussain) zoo. He spent most of his childhood looking over the animals. It's then that the ship sinks, during an amazing thunderstorm, that eventually ends up with Pi, living on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker, and how he survived for hundreds of days on this amazing adventure. The animals in this movie, look real, and sometimes they are, other times they're CGI, and I'll be damned if I could tell the difference. There's a crucial opening scene that showed just how vicious that tiger is, when a young Pi (Gautum Belur) gets caught trying to feed Richard Parker, and his father makes him watch Richard Parker devour a live goat. The journey they go on, I don't want to reveal all the details, you gotta experience it, and you got see it, and I can't see the 3-D. Ang Lee, has shown once again, he is the ultimate chameleon, you never know what film he's gonna do next, but here, he tells an unbelievable story, and uses every trick in the book to do so. After that amazing shipwreck sequence, with the 3-D, my mouth did not close for ten minutes after that scene. That is one of the most amazing sequences I've ever in cinema, and I'm not being facetious. It's truly one of those rare moments, in film, where I'm not judging, I'm not analyzing, I'm not comparing it to other films, I'm just thinking "How the hell did they do that?!"...  it's a special story, that you're gonna love. It's the kind of fable, that you're not gonna be able to put on film, unless it's spectacular. The tale of a teenager and a Bengal Tiger, stuck in the middle of the Ocean, it'll only work on film, a medium that presents the truth, if it was this spectacular. The more Ang Lee films I see, the more I realize, I should never, ever doubt any of his ideas, and also, young Suraj Sharma, this is gonna be an acting performance that people, are gonna forget a bit, but realize, that he is basically acting by himself, for most of this movie, it is an impressive job of keeping us interested in this film. I don't know if "Life of Pi," made me believe in God, but boy, Ang Lee sure can tell an amazing story.

There's a reason that Ang Lee won the Oscar this year, over Spielberg, and over Ben Affleck, who wasn't nominated, this was really the cinematic achievement of the year, and if you knew enough to see it in 3-D,- you know, even when I've liked 3-D, I'm never blown away by it; this was the movie that blew me away. This is a truly amazing piece of film, that really took and needed every filmmaking tool in our arsenal to pull off. From the script on up, you get something wrong with this movie, the whole thing will go to pot. That's why this film has to be number one. And clearly number one, this the great film of 2012! You could argue a few others might be great, but still, there's "great" and there's and "great, special", this one blows the rest of the great ones out of the water, no pun intended.

Well, that's the list for this year, and I suggest you all agree with me, 'cause it'll mean you're wrong if you don't. But seriously folks, while I do think, this year, has been seriously overrated, as a whole, in terms of it's greatness, there was a lot of good movies, certainly more-than-enough good and very good movies that are more-than-worth your time, so here's a alphabetical list of those movies and their directors, that are also worth watching:

LIVE-ACTION AND ANIMATED FEATURES
2 Days in New York-Julie Delpy
21 Jump Street-Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Amour-Michael Haneke
Argo-Ben Affleck
Barrymore-Erik Canuel
Beasts of the Southern Wild-Benh Zeitlin
Being Flynn-Paul Weitz
Compliance-Craig Zobel
The Dark Knight Rises-Christopher Nolan
Detachment-Tony Kaye
End of Watch-David Ayer
Fat Kid Rules the World-Matthew Lillard
Holy Motors-Leos Carax
The Impossible-J.A. Bayona
The Kid with a Bike-Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Killer Joe-William Friedkin
Kon-Tiki-Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
Les Miserables-Tom Hooper
Lincoln-Steven Spielberg
The Master-Paul Thomas Anderson
Neighboring Sounds-Kleber Mendonca Filho
No-Pablo Larrain
Oslo, August 31-Joachim Trier
ParaNorman-Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Safety Not Guaranteed-Colin Trevorrow
The Secret World of Arrietty-Hiromasa Yonebayashi
The Sessions-Ben Lewin
Silver Linings Playbook-David O. Russell
A Simple Life-Ann Hui
Skyfall-Sam Mendes
Sound of Noise-Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
Stand Up Guys-Fisher Stevens
Take This Waltz-Sarah Polley
Ted-Seth MacFarland
This Must Be the Place-Paolo Sorrentino
The Trouble with the Truth-Jim Hemphill
Zero Dark Thirty-Kathryn Bigelow

DOCUMENTARIES
5 Broken Cameras-Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry-Alison Klaymon
Ballplayer: Pelotero-Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley
Bully-Lee Hirsch
The Eyes of Thailand-Windy Borman
Hitler's Children-Chanoch Zeevi
The Imposter-Bart Layton
The Invisible War-Kirby Dick
Marley-Kevin MacDonald
Paul Williams: Still Alive-Stephen Kessler
The Queen of Versailles-Lauren Greenfield
Searching for Sugar Man-Malik Bendjelloul
They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain-Robert H. Lieberman
This is Not a Film-Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi
Wish Me Away-Bobbi Berleffi and Beverly Kopf

Well, it can't all be good however, and there were definitely some movies that, we frankly shouldn't remember in a good year, or in any year, but they wasted precious valuable time in our life, or at least mine, which is far more important. Since we're talking about the good, we're also gonna quickly talk about the bad, real quick. The TOP TEN WORST MOVIES of 2012! Let's kick it off, and through the end zone, I don't want to give these films any more time than I need to:

#10. Cosmopolis

Maybe David Cronenberg's worst film, takes place almost entirely in a taxicab in a future where Robert Pattinson's bad acting fills the entire screen. I'm amazed it's only tenth on my list.

#9. Little White Lies

"What? Our closest and dearest friend was in a life-threatening motorcycle accidents!" "Let's go to the beach for a 2 weeks vacation, Everyone!" What-the-fuck were they thinking with this one?

#8. John Carter

This might've been the best sci-fi film of 1953, but now, it was overblown, overbudget, unwatchable mess, and the special effects sucked!

#7. Twixt

Well, Francis Ford Coppola also made "Jack" once upon a time, so maybe this isn't his worst film, but here's the guy who made "The Godfather" making a movie that a first-year film student might've done.

#6. Roadie

Michael Cuesta's story of an Blue Oyster Cult roadie, returning to his hometown, and the movie is not nearly as good or interesting as I just made it sound.

#5. Rock of Ages

I gave this film, ZERO STARS, but that said, the reason it's not lower on this list, is that, at least it's so bad, that's it's worth sitting through it again, to show others, just how bad it is and watch their reactions when they realize you weren't kidding.

#4. Casa de Mi Padre

Will Ferrell's Spanish soap opera parody or homage, or whatever- all I know I didn't laugh once, maybe Will Ferrell's worst comedy yet.

#3. The Magic of Belle Isle

There's been some good directors who made bad movies this year, but hardly anybody mentioned this piece of crap by Rob Reiner, and they should've. I know he already made "North", but this was really bad too.

#2. Bel Ami

Robert Pattinson's second entry on this list, he's nowhere believable as a guy who can bed, Uma Thurman, Kristing Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci, at any time period, not that a better actor would've made it a good movie, but still, this one was bad and boring.

#1. Satellite of Love

You've probably never heard of this one; it didn't get a theatrical release except on the internet, consider yourselves blessed, 'cause I had to watch it at a film festival. I know the tickets were free because I judge for them occasionally, but they didn't ask me ahead of time to judge this one, and I still wanted my money back afterwards.