Saturday, November 16, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #75: PART 3: "ONLY GOD FORGIVES", "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING", "FRANCES HA", "BLESS ME, ULTIMA", "TRANCE", "THE COMPANY YOU KEEP", "PIETA", "EUROPA REPORT", "ROBOT & FRANK", "CASA DE MI PADRE", "LIBERAL ARTS", "MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD", "BOY", "THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH", and MORE!

Ugh! Whew. Part three, and I'm still, catching up on all the films. :(  Well, I'm getting there, but, I have to continue to watch others, and let's face it, some movies, even trying to remember them, are only really half-worth the effort. I'm getting closer, I'm starting to begin reviewing the films that I saw during that unwanted hiatus, that came out before 2010, so, once I'm done with them, I'll move onto another number, besides 75.

I might also be pushing up "Top Ten List of 2012," soon too, because, well, let's face it, I'm 11 months late already, and I'm starting to collect a lot of film from 2013 now. Anyway, that's what's on the docket, for the future. In the meantime, (coughs, coughs), in the meantime, I'm still fighting a cold, and I can't find my damn cough drops, so I'm cutting this week's memo short as well.

So, Part 3, of what will, hopefully (fingers cross) be only 4 parts of this week's ("Month's") edition of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

2 1/2 STARS



"Only God Forgives" is about the dramatic tension that insinuates something is about to happen. I wish there was more to Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up to "Drive", and while both movies are similar, "Drive" always felt like it had a style and a new approach to a cliche-ridden old genre film. But, is there anything new in "Only God Forgives"? It's basically, a bunch of actors, occasionally looking at each other, and away from the camera, creating tension and mood, helped by a harrowing yet demanding score, with occasional scenes of sparse dialogue thrown in. There's scenes I've seen a million times before, but they're all style, and not much else. The movie takes place in an underworld of Bangkok, where an American, Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs an underground thai kickboxing joint that's a front for his drug trade operation. His brother Billy (Tom Burke) murders an underage prostitute he had raped. The girl's father and cops search out a mysterious Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who is a sort of hitman who sets it up so that the relatives of those who've been killed get to kill their murderers, which is what happens to Billy when the prostitute's father kills him. Chang then ceremonially slices off the father's hand with a samurai sword, as his thirst for revenge can't go unpunished either. Julian's mother Crysal (Kristin Scott Thomas, looking and acting like Ellen Barkin with her blonde hair) comes to identify the body and expects to see her son to have produced the murderer for her to salivate over, and is frustrated that he hasn't. He's dating a girl, Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) but the only reason he's really dating her is to have the scene where he invites her to meet the mother who makes Madea look like an angel, and get insulted by her. Crystal talks about how much she admired Billy, over Julian, in many ways, including penis size. The next scene, involves Julian and Mai getting into a fight, and he forces Mai to strip in the middle of the street. Refn's film usually have a driving story, shoving us headlong towards something, while here, there's a lot of posing as though he's doing that, but there's not much that he's really driving us towards. Kristin Scott Thomas is the only character given any interesting behavior quirk, and the rest of the acting, is treated more like moving scenery who's job is to occasionally walk into frame or stand stoic, or sit down stoic, and occasionally wield a prop. The movie is dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky, the great surrealist western director, and the movie's plot is basically set like a bad western, in Bangkok, and that's why this fails as a supposed homage to Jodorowsky, the king of the surrealist image. His movies were about the images, and the plot, was only a driving force to get from one image to the next. Refn's doing it the opposite way, taking the traditional plot of other genres, and then inserting images into them. Frankly, because the plot is the focus the symbolism loses all meaning as we just sit through the images waiting for something to happen next, and using words like "pretentious" to describe Refn's directing, which it is. All "Only God Forgives" really amounts to at the end, is a bunch of scenes of people sitting around in rooms at the end. I can see that nearly everywhere else.


MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013) Director: Joss Whedon

3 1/2 STARS



As of the moment I'm writing this, I haven't heard any reports of pigs flying, or seen or felt any monkeys crawling out of my butt, or other inexplicable events that many of my friends and readers are probably looking out for, after realizing that I'm about to give a positive review to a Joss Whedon film. That said, this isn't a typical Joss Whedon film. For one thing, he didn't have much of an impact on the source material. Yeah, he wrote the screenplay, but he basically stuck to the original source material by one, Bill Shakespeare; he's a highly-regarded playwright, of some note. (Pause for beat.) Yeah, I know that's an easy joke, but frankly most of the time, I'm basically sold on a movie when I start to hear the wonderful words of Shakespeare spoken by actors, and that to me was the selling point here. It's not hard to come up with a modern twist on "Much Ado About Nothing," actually every romantic-comedy ever made, is basically already a remake of it, so in that sense, if you're gonna do it, you might as well stay true to it. The movie's set in modern time, in some rich King's beachfront summer home, I'm guessing on the East Coast, and is shot in slick black-and-white, so everybody looks like they're in a Calvin Klein ad from the early nineties, and that's as good a place to set the story as any. It's not as outwardly comic as I would've hoped, but I think the appeal is the interpretation of Shakespeare, and while I don't think there's a definite filmed version of "Much Ado About Nothing" yet, this is a good version, and I loved seeing the actors, most of whom are lesser-known 20 and 30-somethings playing 20-something, with Whedon favorite Clark Gregg looking over everyone playing Leonato, the King who's hosting his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and other assorted acquaintances at the beachhouse, and lots of swapping of partners, bodily fluids, witticisms and schemes get exchanged, all of course, coming to head at a wedding scene. If you close your eyes, I'll be damned if you'd find anything new, but if you open them, you get some interesting acting choices on lines and soliloquies. I don't think it's anything more than a nice little Shakespeare adaptation, but it's done well, and with Shakespeare, that's really all you need. Whedon knows that; I bet he had fun with this little exercise, and I did too. I'm still worried about him coming up with his own ideas for films and TV shows in the future, but you can't be too mad, after watching good Shakespeare, so I'll worry about that tomorrow.

FRANCES HA (2013) Director: Noah Baumbach

3 STARS



I think Noah Baumbach is better at creating an entire world of interesting characters than he is at focusing on one. "The Squid and the Whale" for instance, had an entire family going through issues and problems, and while that film certainly has an added benefit of being more autobiographical than much of his other work, "Frances Ha", like his other recent film "Margot at the Wedding", is amusing, albeit, partially unfulfilled. It was co-written by it's star Greta Gerwig, who also co-starred in Baumbach's wonderful film "Greenberg", which also kept it's quirky characters inside a world, and allowed us to walk us in it a little bit more. With "Frances Ha", you really better like Frances Halliday (Gerwig), 'cause she can be a little annoying to hang around with sometimes. Her and her best friend/roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who- hold on a sec, (Mickey Sumner, is she related to-? Oh, she is. Huh.) who are quite inseparable, often describe by friends as being the same person. She's an apprentice dancer, at a company, although she's having a difficult time getting higher up. She breaks up with her current boyfriend, Dan, after he suggests they start living together, because she can't possibly see a life without being near her giddy best friend Sophie, but soonafter, Sophie announces that she's moving in with her boyfriend Patch (Patrick Heusinger) and worse yet, she can't afford the rent on the apartment. She moves in with a few friends, like hipster artists Benji and Lev (Michael Zegen and Adam Driver) but they're the kind of hipsters who are artists because they have rich parents, so while there's some small chemistry with her and Benji, they're all false starts, and the 27-year-old is forever labeled, "undateable." In the meantime, she keeps getting broker and broker, and lies keep building and building. She'll take two-day trips to Paris, just to find a friend who isn't there, after leaving the company when they don't promote her, she ends up at her college working at a position somewhere above student aide and below teacher, but still living in the dorms, sharing a dorm with younger dancers. She's still holding out hope on Sophie, but she gets engaged, and then quits her job at Random House when her husband gets transferred to Japan. Gerwig's played characters like this before, and recently even. I gave a poor review to "Lola Versus" recently, which was also basically about a messed-up 20something, trying to move on from childhood into adulthood and doing a fairly lousy job. She's more interesting in this film, and it's a little better, although since she's a co-writer of the film and seeks out characters like these, I get the sense that is a feeling that has emotional significance to her. She's only thirty herself, and has built up a nice career despite only acting in films for about eight years, and she would've been 27, when "Greenberg", her breakthrough role, came out. The film is shot in New York, and in black-and-white, that some seem to think evokes Woody Allen's "Manhattan", although I thought most of the film, quixotic was referencing a more '70s-'80s Blank City No Wave era of movies with it's b&w, movies like "Smithereens" for instance, almost as a counterpoint, despite the fact the movie is modern times. I'm not sure that was the right idea, scanning webpages don't look right in black & white, but I didn't mind it for this film. I don't think it ranks at one of Baumbach's strongest works, but eventually you start to care for this character, I just wish there was more dwelling on some of the others as well. Many of the times, when we really needed people to bounce things off of, Frances was alone. Maybe that is the point. Sometimes when we search and need our closest friends, especially when it just is to help us get through life and move forward in them, friends aren't really there to help us, a lot of the time.

BLESS ME, ULTIMA (2013) Director: Carl Franklin

4 STARS



Carl Franklin is one of those directors who I unfortunately haven't gotten around to studying much up on, but his resume is impressive. Films like "One False Move," "Devil in a Blue Dress", "One True Thing", he's unusually versatile. In this, his first feature-length theatrical release in a decade, "Bless Me, Ultima," based on the famed Rudolfo Anaya novel takes us into a world I don't think I've ever quite seen before, yet the film is occasionally plagued by the patterns of earlier similar works. The film takes place in a Mexican-American community in New Mexico, post WWII, the kind of world where some are too stuck in the old ways of the world, while others are trying to change and point their ways towards the future. The film is told through the eyes of Antonio (Luke Ganalon) who's family takes in an elderly relative named Ultima (Miriam Colon) who's got some kind of magical powers. There's lot of discussion of what kind, and what she may be, most of the town thinks she's some kind of witch, or brujo. She is seen in the beginning curing one person of a deathly illness that drives the evil potion out of another man's son. When that man's family starts dying out later on, he starts drunkingly organizing the town to get her, and kill her for witchcraft. In the meantime, young Antonio begins school, where he's good and as he advances grades two at a time, he starts asking lots of questions about god and religion, as he sees these two teachings and forces going against each other. Antonio's father always talked of moving to California, but as his sons come back from WWII, and start drinking away their pensions, they're the ones who start out trying to move out, disturbing the father and the famly. Antonio isn't always aware of the events happening, and oftentimes, things seem to be going parallel to Antonio's


TRANCE (2013) Director: Danny Boyle

2 1/2 STARS



One of my all-time favorite "Saturday Night Live" sketches, really old "Saturday Night Live" sketches, involves Steve Martin and eventually Garrett Morris as tourists, looking at an unseen object going "What the hell is that?!" Over and over again, each time briefly thinking they eventually know what it is, before resorting aimlessly back to the refrain "What the hell is that?" That's basically how I felt watching "Trance", Danny Boyle's latest film. Now, I could say that I was relatively entertained by "Trance", which would be true, but I was still mostly entertained more by the absurdity of the film than anything else, kinda the same way I'm impressed with "Dogs Playing Poker". The movie begins with a art robbery, a priceless Goya painting is about to be stolen, and it's Simon's (James McAvoy) job to, once a robbery is in progress, to take and hide the most valuable piece of art. Of course, he's in on the crime, and it's that valuable piece of art that he has to hide and get to Franck (Vincent Cassel), however, before during the robbery, Simon gets hit on the head, and suddenly, he's forgotten where he hid the painting. He's not lying, he's actually got amnesia, and in order to find the painting, the crooks have to resort to a hypnotist they find in the yellow pages, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). This gets a little silly from here. It's actually a bit of a low-rent "Inception" when you think about it, and it's Danny Boyle's kinetic jumbling of the images and editing that keeps the movie watchable, if not enjoyable. As you can guess, Dawson's role is much more than it seems, although explaining that in it's entirety would not only be pointless, but impossible, probably. I have to believe the actors had to be somewhat confused as to their own roles and what they were doing at certain points in the film. "Trance" is good eye candy, but that's about it. It's a disposable, unbelievable tale based around certain well-known filmmaking plots, but the movie is fairly pointless overall, unless you just want something nice to look at on the screen for an hour and a half, and you don't want to think about it too deeply. Just be aware, that afterwards, you'll be staring at the credits going "What the hell was that?" for an hour or so afterwards.


THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (2013) Director: Robert Redford

4 STARS



I'm not gonna say that Richard Roeper's wrong about Redford casting himself in a part that he's way too old for in "The Company You Keep," but it didn't distract me enough for recommending the film. I know a guy who was an old professor of mine, used to teach the 1960s among other sociology courses, and he admitted to us that he was very close to joining the Weatherman himself, before joining the police force instead. To those who don't know about The Weather Underground, they were a radical terrorist organization who spurned themselves out of the frustration of the failed hippie peace movements, and believed that killing and bombing in the name of peace was justifiable. The movie begins with a sudden arrest of Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) who was about to turn herself in for a forty-year old bank robbery the Underground perpetrated, until the FBI caught her instead, as the person she told about turning herself in, was under their surveillance, and on the wiretaps, they got lucky. An Albany newspaper reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia Labeouf, playing one of many symbollically-named characters.) where Solarz was arrested starts investigating the reports that she was trying to turn herself in, and comes across a lawyer named Jim Grant (Redford) who refused her case for reasons that seem strange, and sure enough, after enough digging, he breakst the story that Grant himself, was once a Weatherman named Nick Sloan, and now, he's on the run. Dropping off his eleven-year-old with his brother, Daniel (Chris Cooper) and criss-crossing the country through old radicals compatriots. His behavior seems odd, and somewhat strange to the FBI, represented here by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) and Ben's ex-girlfriend Diana (Anna Kendrick). From here on, the movie turns into a classier old-veteran actor marathon verion of "The Fugitive," as Sloan goes on some strange detours to other old Weatherman and Weatherman acquaintances, searching for the person, Mimi (Julie Christie, always great to see her in a movie) who can clear his name. It's an old-fashioned, traditional-style film, and yes, Redford, is a little too old, both to have an eleven-year-old daughter, and be a member of the Weatherman, when he was around 35 or whatever, but the film worked on me anyway. Well, up until the very end, when a few characters do things that don't seem believable to what they would've done, but besides that, "The Company You Keep", Redford's direction is craftmans-like and the movie is intense and runs easily, and let's face it, it's Redford, Sarandon, Cooper, LaBeouf, Christie, as well as other appearances by the likes of Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Sam Elliott, it's a parade of great actors and they're great actors for a reason. "The Company you Keep", could've been a lot stronger, but that would've also been a different film. It's a good, strong thriller that shows off great actors giving great performances, and that's all you really need sometimes.


PIETA (2013) Director: Kim Ki-Duk

3 1/2 STARS



With the exception of a three-year break from '08-'11, you could that the great South Korean director, Kim Ki-Duk has been one of the most active of all filmmakers worldwide, average at least a film a year, for the last 15 years. He works quickly, and has been coming up with a high quantity and quality of films, including great ones like "3-Iron," and "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring". He works in different genres too, but some of his best films involve a common theme of two characters struggling to understand or even talk to each other, and make the connection that both characters, so desperately need to, whether they're aware of it or not. The two characters in "Pieta," as most of you have probably guessed from the title, (At least I hope you can all make an educated guess from the title) is between a mother and her son. The son is Gang-Do (Jung-Jin Lee) a vicious lone shark who crushes his debtors bones with a workmanlike intensity that makes him feared. He beats, whips, and then goes to perverse lengths to cripple his clients in order to double-back and collect on their insurance claims. One day, and old woman, Mi-Son (Min-soo Jo) follows him, and claims that she's the mother who abandoned him. He rapes her, partly 'cause of what she's claiming, mostly because that's his natural reaction to women who get in his way. She's relentless however, and as he slowly begins to lose the stomach for his work, she begins finding equally sadistic and perverse ways to regain his love and attention, like phone calls which indicate that she's being attacked. They both have a habit of open-hand slapping people violently to 'cause a reaction, or as a threatening gesture to make sure they keep out of their way. There's definitely other people at the periphery of the film, 'causing the world of these to characters to close-in, but the natural intriguing dynamic between the characters themselves is really the core of the film. The film won the Golden Lion Award at last year's Venice Film Festival, but despite great moments, "Pieta" is not one of Kim's stronger films. His best works are just as transcendent as they are anything else, and this movie feels like it could've been made by almost any of the Asia Extreme directors. The handheld digital camera, the shocking displays of sadistic sex and violence; I expect a little more from Kim. It's a certainly a powerful and skillful introduction to his work for people who might not be familiar, since I know he can do better and not resort to some of the tactics other filmmakers of his country use; it's a little odd in this case to see him resorting to these. I prefer the more pristine Kim Ki-Duk, and also, this film, while has some intriguing symbolic premises as the center of the film, seems less purposeful than some of his others. It's more bare and direct, and doesn't feels like it has a greater sense of meaning to it. I mean, he's such a good filmmaker that these are high-level criticisms I'm going over here, so I don't wanna push anybody from this film, it's still quite and impressive and skillful work, and a definite recommendation, but I do think it lacked his usual ambition, and that troubles me a bit.


EUROPA REPORT (2013) Director: Sebastien Corder

1 STAR



(Frustrated sigh) Okay, it's the damn found footage movie in outer space we've all been-, well, nobody's been waiting for it, but it was inevitable. Somebody said, "Hey, let's make something that kinda looks like '2001...' or but everyone keeps dying, like 'Alien', and, but with the-eh, "Blair Witch" thing, somehow. Somebody was eventually gonna make a movie like "Europa Report", and forget that we're pretty numb to the formula at this point, but the worst sin of all, is that "Europa Report" is really, really boring. The movie jumps constantly between the Jupiter mission, which we learn that nobody came back from and that this is the found footage that is the last remaining documentation of the mission, (Why can't any of these movies ever be, "just random events from a person's life, why is it always some fucking last days of someone's/some peoples' existence, like those are the only one's of any interest?) and Embeth Davidtz, talking about the importance and accomplishments of the mission, which is paradoxically different in tone. It's like someone said, "We need something "Apollo 13"-feeling-like in the film, and they added this extra footage of her and stuff on Earth for exposition. Actually, come to think of it, none of that footage is even necessary to the film. It is all filler! That's what happened, this movie wasn't long enough, or interesting enough, or good enough, or all three, and they decided to add the rest of it. That's the only logical conclusion I can come up with. Well, now on top of everything else, now I'm frustrated for being jerked around with this film. You know what, I wrote down 2 STARS, for what was good about it, the special effects, the set, the believability of the astronauts in space, but you know what, I'm mad; I'm docking this film a star. This movie is a mirage; it's a bunch of shiny lights that lead to a pile of ashes. There is nothing in this movie, a composite of other people's better original ideas from X amount of years ago, pushed together, without anybody going back to ask whether they should've been. I hate "Europa Report" the more I think about it.


ROBOT & FRANK (2012) Director: Jake Schreier

2 1/2 STARS



I came into "Robot & Frank" with a few expectations after a couple people I know highly recommended it, especially for Frank Langella's performance. Frankly, I was disappointed, and while the film itself, is rather light and innocuous, the more I watched the film, the less I liked it. The movie takes place in the near future, and it's a future where apparently everybody has a robot to help with their day-to-day activities, particularly older people like Frank, who is either a retired jewel thief who's more than capable of still committing the occasional acts of larceny, or is suffering from movie Alzheimer's and can't remember that his son Hunter (James Marsden) is fifteen years past studying at Princeton. His son, who visits once a week or so to make sure he's okay, gives him a robot (Voice by Peter Sarsgaard) to help out Frank. Frank isn't interested, he's more interested in the local library, where he's read all the books, which are treated, even by the librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) as though they're an old fad that was once highly-regarded and collectible but are now just discarded, kinda like she's looking over an old collection of beanie babies maybe, except for the valuable rare books that are kept away in safe. Anyway, Frank likes Jennifer, when he can remember her. He is able, once he begins accepting the demanding Robot, who's programmed to be a health care helper, a popular kind of robot that's around. Some reject the commonality of robots, like Frank's daughter Madison (Liv Tyler, and boy, haven't seen her in a film since, I don't know when, "Jersey Girl" maybe? Oh, "The Hobbit..." forgot about that. Wait, was she in that? [Thinking] Ah, it's not worth looking up), who calls on a phone that a big TV screen basically. After using the Robot, who he can teach to open safes and locks, and he can do it quicker than almost anybody, to steal an old copy of Don Quixote, he sets his sights on stealing jewelry from Jake (Jeremy Strong) a yuppie who's redoing the library and talks to Frank and nearly everybody else as though he's looking right past you. The yuppie, based on the jewelry his wife wears like cubic zirconium, also seems to have at some point possibly been a thief, and quickly sees Frank as a threat. I don't know, the movie is a little more sure-handed than it needs to be. I'll say the robots are slightly more advanced than the one Paulie got in the opening of "Rocky IV", as a birthday present, and definitely an improvement over "Short Circuit" and the little girl robot in "Small Wonder", (what the hell was with the '80s and robots?) but I found the movie too cool for school, as though it expected us to simply accept this robot, and accept Frank for that matter without really giving a second thought to whether the two characters really are fully-developed. In the meantime, it just looks like Frank Langella's walking around with an Alpha 5 knockout for most of the movie. (Oh yes, I know some people who are gonna be ecstatic beyond reason that I just made a "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" reference) Anyway, I think the script needed a good once-over before it got made; it just didn't have enough for me to care, and I think the filmmaker Jake Schreier was more-or-less hoping that a great performance by Langella was gonna save the film. It's not the worst thought to have, granted, and it's a good performance, not a special one from Langella, but this wanted me to like too much, without giving me enough of a reason to.



CASA DE MI PADRE (2012) Director: Matt Piedmont

1/2 STAR



A guy walks into a talent agent's office, and says, "Boy do I have an act for you." The talent agent goes, "Hold on, I'm on the phone." So the talent agent picks up the phone, and calls his client. After about an hour and a half, he turns his attention back to the guy, and says, "So, you say you have an act for me." If you're wondering why I started this review by writing a long version of The Aristocrats joke, well, frankly it has nothing to do with the movie, I just wanted to not write about "Casa De Mi Padre" for a little while, and sometimes when I want to avoid a subject, I just start telling jokes. "Casa De Mi Padre", my Spanish isn't that good for someone who failed French four times, but-eh, I'm pretty sure that just means, "House of My Father". Normally, I'd go on google translator or something, but I'm not gonna bother with this film. It's an American comedy, but it's spoken almost entirely in Spanish because,- No, I don't know why. It doesn't make anythng funnier. Story's not particularly new either, basically, the youngest and most dim-witted of the brothers, Armando (Will Ferrell) tries to help his father keep his ranch, which is being threatened by a drug kingpin, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) after his brother Armando's brother Raul (Diego Luna) recently returned, flashier than ever, and with his new bride Sonya (Genesis Rodriguez), who Armando soon falls in love with. I guess it's supposed to be a parody of telenovellas, which I guess is a subject matter that hasn't been made fun of enough, and Ferrell needed another genre to spoof. The main problem I have with the film, more than anything else, is that I didn't laugh. Nothing was particularly funny to me; I don't remember a particularly funny joke; I sat in front of the screen, bored out of my mind. That's really the gist of my opinion on it, bored to death, cut, mad and lonely. That's how I felt watching this tired, cliched, boring film. Anyway, the talent agent goes, "You're not bringing me The Aristocrats are you?" and the Guy goes, "Oh, so I've pitched them to you already?" So the talent agent goes, "Well, do you have anybody else", and the Guy says, "I have the guys who made 'Casa De Mi Padre'." After a few minutes of deep thought, the Talent Agent finally goes, "Alright, let me see The Aristocrats again."


LIBERAL ARTS (2012) Director: Josh Radnor

3 STARS



"Liberal Arts" is as a category that I'd like to think that I'd do well on if it came up on "Jeopardy!", especially since I majored in one of them. Actor Josh Radnor's second directorial effort, after his debut "Happythankyoumoreplease", which is still somewhere on my Netflix list, is basically a film about an older man, falling for a younger woman, and the relationship which labors in that uncomfortable gray area between platonic and sexual, helps both of them become better more mature human beings. It's actually fairly cliche to, but at the end of the movie, I was won over. Jesse (Radnor) is a admissions officer in New York City, even though his passion is literature, particularly the romantics. Down on his life and career, he accepts an invitation from his 2nd favorite college professor, Peter Hobarg (Richard Jenkins) to go and talk about him at his retirement party. So, he goes back to his old stopping grounds in Kenyon College in Ohio, shortly after he's just broken up with his latest girlfriend. Returning to college, he finds himself wishing he was there. He meets a couple other people like Dean (John Magaro) a stoner student, who spends all of his time reading and obsessing over the classics, especially David Foster Wallace. He even occasionally sees his favorite professor, Judith (Allison Janney) who taught romantic poetry. She doesn't remember Jesse, and has become increasingly jaded. In a way, Janney is probably the only person alive who could've played this part. However, the true connection he makes is with Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a liberal arts major, who's a member of the college's improv troupe. Zibby is still in that stage of college where everybody talks like they're in a Richard Linklater movie, full of philosophical and intellectual wit about life, the kind of conversation you don't get as working in admissions at a city college. There's a connection, and they have long talks and discussions into the night, and when he goes back to New York, they begin writing letters to each other. not e-mails, hand-written letters. For the most personal of things to say, and also to probably feel like the kind of connection people only make in Jane Austen novels is still possible. They don't have a sexual relationship, but not because both aren't interested. He's 35, she's 19, and a daughter of one of his old professor's friends. He knows it's wrong, but he also knows not pursuing an obsession can be worst. She starts to slowly fall for him too, as she's reluctant to spend those college years having sex with all the wrong people and other such experiences she knows she should be having. I haven't quite seen the May-December romance that these two have, and the way each situation and development between them is done rather nicely. Maybe not structurally, but the dialogue and the acting makes up for any of the weaknesses of the screenplay. Of course, the depth of the relationship is weak in of itself. They both know it, and they both down, they can't move forward. "Liberal Arts" is one of those movies that doesn't really get good until about the last half-hour, which is a little disappointing, but overall, I found myself appreciating the film as I went along. I think there's plenty of better movies about trying to recapture our youth and idealism, but-eh, "Liberal Arts" worked enough for me, between some of the movies quirks and loose ends. Elizabeth Olsen's proved she's not a one-film wonder, and the acting is really was saved this movie, and as any director knows, casting the best actors makes everyone's job much easier. Nice, surprisingly enjoyable little indy.


MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD (2012) Director: Alex Gibney

5 STARS




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. They were probably covering it up even then. The film begins with the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin, where Rev. Lawrence Murphy diabolically and periodically abused, what's believed to be 200 kids over a 20-year-span. He went after weak kids, and kids whose parents didn't know ASL, so they were unable to communicate this to them. He even manipulated favorite kids of his to eventually, begin abusing younger kids themselves, as a test run to him sexually abusing them later.

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. By one account, a study showed that only 50% of priests are actually celibate, a number that, even in my religiously skeptical mind wouldn't have imagined it approached. How much they knew, and how often they would let priests remain in positions of power. Some incidents are infamous such as Cardinal Bernard Law constantly relocating pedophile priests. I wasn't aware of the Service of the Paracletes, which has locations all throughout the world, and has for decades, before any such claims were public knowledge. It's a resort for wayward priests to supposedly rehabilitate. That was started by a Cardinal Fitzgerald for drunks and pedophiles, but even his spiritual guidance was tested, and he concluded that pedophilia wasn't curable. He recommended secluding them on an island. The church made a down-payment on one in the Caribbean at one point, but then they backed out of it. Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, and under his watch, every single claim of sexual pederasty came across his desk. When I heard this, I thought this was going to get even more reason to consider him a humiliation to the Catholic Church, and yes, he did move and relocate priests, but in reality, his hands might have been tied by Canon Law, and the doctrine of silence. He tried hard to get a close confidant of John Paul II, excommunicated, but he wasn't allowed to by the Pope, and his Secretary of State, who was even closer to him. Interestingly, the second John Paul passed, he called for all the information on the guy, which was sent to him from all over America. 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.

You know, my family's Catholic, I'm not. I had my Holy Communion at one point, and then reached the age of reason shortly after. That said, I've been following Pope Francis's work since he was ordained, and frankly he's quickly becoming one of the religious admires I most admire for his actions. Some of the recent changes he's instituted makes me hopeful that soon, he'll make more that will make the Vatican more transparent as well as put in a new system for catching and excommunicating pedophiles, as well as one that insists that police be involved as well. I don't envy his job, it won't be easy, and he has centuries of religious doctrine and tradition to reverse and battle, as well as a culture that's built to protect their own. "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. The film, by master documentarian Alex Gibney, was eligible for the Academy Awards last year, but wasn't nominated, but that helped it slip into a television release date early, and it won three Primetime Emmys. I think it could be Gibney's best work to date.

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.


BOY (2012) Director: Taika Waititi

3 STARS



The latest from Independent New Zealand director, Taika Waititi is "Boy", the generically-titled from about a young Boy (James Rolleston) who's about to find out about his father. Waititi wrote and directed the cult indy hit "Eagle vs. Shark" a few years, a film I thought was pretty lousy actually, and with his latest here, he's getting better, but it's still a fairly unremarkable and forgettable film, despite it's quirks. It's 1984, and Boy, is an eleven-year-old, who's mother died giving birth to his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu), and they currently live with their grandmother. Boy idealizes his father, Alamein (Waititi), and Michael Jackson. (It is '84 after all) The grangmother's away for a funeral, and that's suddenly when Alamein shows up. He's finally been released from jail, and is looking for a place to hideout, as well as a pile of money he longago-buried there. Boy's madeup numerous tales about his father, and while his father, isn't a good man, he's not completely evil either. He's just a criminal, who has criminal friends, and is nothing like Boy imagined. The movie takes place in a Maori tribe, some may remember other famous New Zealand films that dealt with the Maori's like "Whale Rider", or my favorite, "Once Were Warriors". This film's probably the funniest. Waititi is a stand-up comic in New Zealand, and his quirky sensability in alive with the style of his films. Giving character names like Dallas and Dynasty, as a way to show both the simplicity of the people as well as the era. The film is a rather ordinary tale in truth, but it's well-acted and well-made by a growing filmmaker who's clearly learning his craft, even if he experiments with things like editing and animation a little too much. "Boy"'s a refreshing, rather ordinary film, but a good one.


THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH (2012) Director: Chad Freidrichs

3 1/2 STARS



No movie that I've watched over this period where I've been unable to blog regularly, has more frustrated me than "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth". Not frustrated, in terms of how bad the film is, frustrated as in angry, and annoyed, the kind where you know your political system has once again, disappointed you. For those who don't know, and I'm not gonna lie, I didn't know either going into the film, the Pruitt-Igoe complex, was a famous architectural marvel that was constructed as quality public housing for St. Louis's most dire residents. Erected in the fifties when St. Louis was apart of the post-war sprawling boom, the building was eventually imploded in a high-profile nationally-television event, that represented a symbolic failure of government-funded public housing. Of course, the notion that Pruitt-Igoe's failure is a representative of government's failure across the board in regards of public welfare policies across the board, is the common narrative, which couldn't be farther from the truth. The simple fact is that, the government failed Pruitt-Igoe, as the place became symbolic segregated towards the African-American community, and Police stayed away leading to more crime, and the government refused to fund it for simple repairs like elevators and broken windows. Of course, it was also defunded heavily by a conservative-led city government, who didn't want it or other such projects to succeed in the first place. I am so sick of this notion that government fails at everything, when the simple fact is that, government programs success rate is astronomically good; but the funding is so poor, and constantly stripped that such programs are handcuffed into failing. It's something we've seen a million times before, the GOP's trying to do it with Obamacare now, as their plans of abolishing it altogether failed miserably, now they want to defund it into not working, and they're getting their wish. (Hey, with enough money, a computer system doesn't crash.) In the late '60s and '70s, the community tried to force the government's hand, but even with limited success, unexpected disasters, including disastrous storms made Pruitt-Igoe's demies inevitable. It was the lavish of luxury when it first opened, but you had to be a single parent to get in; causing some families to decide to break up just to get in, and soon, renters strikes couldn't get enough done to salvage the property. Other things happened too. St. Louis, was supposed to continue to grow as a city, instead it's population shrunk, and other townships and cities like Blackjack, Missouri started forming in protest of the more liberal and ever-growing African-American influence in the town. (That's something that's started happening here in Vegas lately, as "Census-recognized areas" seem to keep popping up; now the Las Vegas Strip is technically in some place called Paradise, Nevada for some reason, for instance.) The documentary is more informative than special, including talking heads first-hand accounts by residents of Pruitt-Igoe, and lots of archived footage of the building and it's residents from the beginning to its end. All I've ever been convinced by from the film is that, despite some logistical problems, like all government programs, if they were actually funded, there's no reason why Pruitt-Igoe shouldn't still be standing strong, and other projects should be up-and-running around the country. A few years ago, during the Great Recession, a high-income of town that seemed to be built-up overnight here known as Lake Las Vegas, where people like Celine Dion lived, by Lake Mead, started going bankrupt. The Four Seasons hotel there has been abandoned for a few years now, and I always wondered why we didn't buy the building, and starts shipping and busing our ever-growing homeless population, which lives under the streets of Vegas btw (Seriously, look it up. Thanks for that, Oscar Goodman.) to live there and begin putting them on a path towards finding a job and eventually being able to afford regular housing. It's a friggin' Four Seasons, there's enough room and amenities to put people up temporarily. We never did that, and the building's still abandoned as is much of Lake Las Vegas, but enough tax dollars and we could've at least tried, and I bet it would've worked, and it would've created jobs in the process while we're at it. People should definitely know about Pruitt-Igoe, and more importantly, they should know how and why, the building was blown up; the real story and not the simple myth claiming it a public housing failure.


JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) Director: Nicholas Ray

5 STARS



Nicholas Ray's films looked like they fit in, but there was always something else going on in them; it wasn't always below the surface, sometimes it was fairly blatant if you had the right kind of mind, but I don't think too many people had that kind of mind back in the '50s. The two common themes in his movies are alienation and sex. Alienation from the outside world, either self-imposed, or outside-imposed, and sex, well, he was always challenging the roles of sex. "Johnny Guitar" for instance, is a western where the two dominant characters are fmales, and most of the men in the town, all the men actually seem to act at either the will of Vienna (Joan Crawford) or Emma (Mercedes McCambridge). Vienna is a cattle baron who owns the saloon just outside of town, and Emma is constantly trying to kick her out, or worse, constantly accusing her being associated with the local gang of bank robbers who come in from town. Also because Emma is in love with The Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) while he's really in love with Vienna, although she doesn't show much interest in him. Then, a stranger comes into the saloon, named Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), who is actually a guitarist, and doesn't arrive to town with a gun. If you can name another Western hero without one, well, you'd probably be naming Maverick, but other than that.... Except Johnny Guitar used to be Johnny Logan, a famous gunfighter she's the best and quickest shot anywhere, and he and Vienna know each other from their past. There's a lot of action going on, but none of it seems to matter other than the fact that all the townsfolk are easily manipulated by these women. In fact, everything seems to play now, like one of those old softcore porn movies you'd see on Cinemax, where there'd be a pretty girl who's practical and trying to advance her career and life, and whatever, and another buxom beauty who's mean and vicious and spends all her time manipulating everybody to be against the other woman, taking out the sex scenes of course. (I don't know what it means when I bring up a comparison to this kind of movie, and can actually discuss with intelligence, the plot of that kind of movie in a comparable and positive way, but I guess it was finally good for something, or Nicholas Ray was just expressing the same features of those kind of films in his movies decades earlier.) I think I'm let other minds smarter and more cinematic knowledgeable than even me, to go into all the details of the movie, and discuss with better eloquence it's greatness, except to say that it's a great film, it should be watch and studied, definitely a movie that gets more and more surreal as more time passes, and even after you watch it, you think about it for a weeks afterwards, and you're still thinking about it, and it still feels surreal. I've written on Nicholas Ray a couple times for Canon of Film entries, the last time recently for his masterpiece "In a Lonely Place"; he's one of the most talented of all filmmakers, but lived in the wrong era; twenty years later, him pulling this stuff, he would've really been huge. The way he tells visual stories, using subversiveness..., it's-it gets more impressive every time you see it, and with every film, and "Johnny Guitar", one of the truly unique films, of any genre, most less, a western of that time.


WALKING AND TALKING (1996) Director: Nicole Holofcener

4 STARS



"No big events take place in 'Walking and Talking' quotes Roger Ebert's review of Nicole Holofcener's debut feature, and he's right about that. In an effort to review and recall more of the movies I've been watching over the chaotic last month I had, I recalled enjoying "Walking and Talking" immensely, but had trouble reconnecting exactly why. Or even what happened in the film. It's not unusual for Holofcener's films to occasionally be a little too cerebral, but usually I can reconstruct them from memory. Of course, the movie is called "Walking and Talking" and that's really all that the movie consists of. A fast-speed life where characters are constantly talking about their problems, and their problems occur at the corners and edges of the screen. I'll try reconstruct it, there's two best friends, Amelia and Laura (Catherine Keener and Anne Heche). Laura's a therapist who's patients are unimpressed with her generally. Amelie's seeing a psychiatrist herself, as she's unlucky in love, and can't figure out what the problem is. The most memorable parts of the movie involve her going on a date with a video store clerk, who she knows has been attracted to, but she's been avoiding. The clerk, Bill (Kevin Corrigan) is a monster movie aficionado, and despite Amelia's reservations, she actually has a good time on the date, and begins to get terrified when he doesn't call her afterwards. Laura's fiance Frank (Todd Field) makes costume jewelry, but is not really passionate about it, and now she's worried about her upcoming marriage. Amelia's ex-husband Andrew (Liev Schreiber) often comes around asking to borrow money. Amelia gets upset at one point, when she finds out that he calls phone sex lines often with the money she gives him. Really that's about it that happens. Everything else is just good acting and dialogue about people New Yorkers who thinks was more than they should about life and their problems. Typical Nicole Holofcener when you think about it. "Walking and Talking" is just that, and it's also well-made, well-acted, and I had a lot of fun with it. You might not recall every detail aftewards, but it's a more than fulfilling experiences while you're there.



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