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.

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