Saturday, December 14, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #76: "GRAVITY", "OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL", "WARM BODIES", "COMPUTER CHESS", "CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS AND 2012", "LOVELACE", "THIS IS MARTIN BONNER", "IDENTITY THIEF", "THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST", "PREMIUM RUSH", "THE BOURNE LEGACY", "THINK LIKE A MAN", "WEST OF MEMPHIS", "PROJECT X", "FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL...", "THE WAITING ROOM", "YOUR HIGHNESS", "A MONSTER IN PARIS" and MORE! (Whew.)

Whew! Well, this set of movie reviews took longer for me to get through than normal, 'cause apparently, I was watching more than normal. With Award season fast-approaching, I'm busier than ever, and trying to get through as much as I can. Especially since I'm still way behind on my Netflix, and just trying to catch up, is quite an undertaking, but I keep on, keeping on.

Well, some sad news to begin with, of course, Paul Walker, tragically was killed in a car accident recently. I can't particularly claim to be a big fan of him, but that said, he never really had much of a chance to show off all his acting abilities in high-profile. (At least I hope he hadn't) I know some like the "Fast and Furious" films, I was bored by them generally, but a sad time in Hollywood community for now.

Meanwhile, we're giving out all our year-end Awards and nominations, and it's already putting me in Award overdrive. Partly because of how friggin' early in the morning they announce these damn nominations, (Seriously, can't we wait 'til noon? Or evening, but don't do a concert like the stupid Grammys) and partly because I now have to rush and get through everything, hence, the inordinate amount of movies I watched this week.

So, let's get through all this now, starting with a SPECIAL REVIEW of "Gravity", here's, lucky number 76 (Yes, that's actually my favorite number. Little known fact, 76, shouldn't be too hard for some people to guess why.) the 76TH EDITION of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


GRAVITY (2013) Director: Alfonso Cuaron

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I seemed to, for some reason, mostly monetary, partly laziness and exhaustion, to only be willing to go see films in a theater, when I'm told by people who particularly despise 3-D to go see a film, in 3-D. So, for the purposes of that discussion, gun to my head, if I had to compare, I'd say I preferred the 3-D in "Life of Pi", more than I did, "Gravity". That kind of declaration however, is as much personal preference as it is, missing the point. First of all, the 3-D, is much more important and prevalent in "Gravity", and it's spectacular. Now, to the movie itself, which is what really makes "Gravity" a must-see masterpiece. The story is simple as all hell, two people are stuck in a situation they can't get out of, and now they have to get out of it. The situation, two astronauts drifting alone, in outer space. One of them is an expert astronaut on his last space mission, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who's got a ton of stories he tells Mission Control (Voiced by Ed Harris, who else could it be) to pass the time that all begin with "I have a bad feeling about this mission", and all of them, Mission Control has heard before, as he's disappointed that he won't break the spacewalk record, despite it being his last visit. The other astronaut is Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, in the best performance of her career), a first-time astronaut who's designed the new system they're installing, when disaster strikes. They were all outside when the Russians sent a missile destroying one of their own rockets, caused a case of runaway debris and shrapnel, sprinting through space, and right to their mission. The rest of the crew is dead, and from here on in, the film is a survivor's story, as they have only a jetpack running out of jet, and astronaut suits, running out of oxygen. What happens next is the movie, and I will not describe, other than to say, that for much of the film, we look at the movie, with amazement. We get a truly horrifying feeling of space, and the dangers of bodies, being flung and bounced around abandoned space station and exit pods. We never think about it from watching things like "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", but space travel is exhausting work, and with all hope being lost.... There are incredible visuals, and the 3-D is used to great effectiveness, even if at some times, maybe it's overused, the effect is jaw-dropping. A sequence of Bullock, coming out of her spacesuit and floating in a fetal position, as she gets in one abandoned rocket, recalls both "2001...", and "Alien" in our mind. Bullock is perfectly cast here, so is Clooney for that matter. This is the kind of movie where it's critical that we know these actors immediately. Clooney is playing a Clooney role, and Bullock, always so likeable in even the worst of rom-coms, helps us care about her character, when she literally has no one else to care about her. It's easy to forget how good an actress she can be, especially in intense thrillers, remember "Speed"? It's like casting Cary Grant in "North by Northwest", we just see it's Cary Grant, and then the movie starts, and that's all we need, and now, we get to see them, take those expectations, and transform them, and she does all that and more, here. "Gravity" was directed by the great Alfonso Cuaron, and was co-written by his son Jonas, his directing is really key. Where he positions, moved, and changes perspectives in the camera, is even more critical than one would think, even in this kind of film. Hard enough, shooting this kind of movie, but the directing is incredibly smart, and creative. There isn't a single wrong angle here, and there wasn't a lot of noticeable editing in this film, 'cause of the way he floats the camera, like the astronauts are floating through space,- you know, it was so seemless, I don't think I even noticed the cuts, until, after he did them. He's always loved long takes anyway, remember that incredible sequence in "Children of Men" that starts inside a car, where Julianne Moore and Clive Owen are passing an egg, and then there a car crash and shootout, I think, but it's all ten minutes without a cut! What he's doing here, seems like that shot, over and over again, which is just so hard to do. This is really a special film; the more you think about it afterwards, the more special gets, on all aspects.


OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Director: Sam Raimi

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In many ways, Oz is fair game for writers now. Unlike other fantasies, we don't need to go over the rules of the universe or explain it's existence in great detail, everyone knows "The Wizard of Oz," a few are even familiar with the L. Frank Baum novel, which was actually intended a political metaphor for the populist movement in the late 1800s, for you U.S. history trivia buffs, (It's also one of the convoluted books I've ever read. Seriously, have you ever tried reading it; it almost makes Faulkner bearable)  so it's a good place to start off, to tell a story. There's been a lot of going back to the Oz well lately; this is Disney's second time doing it, after the dreadful "Return to Oz", made in the '80s, and they don't even own the rights to the original film. (Actually, little known fact, that isn't the original film version of "The Wizard of Oz", an earlier silent film serial, dates back to the 1910s, and a feature-length silent film was made in 1925.) Of course, the most famous new tale of Oz is the Tony-winning musical "Wicked", which also deals with the three sisters witches, before young Ms. Gale made her famous visit. My personal favorite recent adaptation would have to be the wonderful TV miniseries "Tin Man", with Zooey Deschanel in the D.G. role, that was a really inventive take on "Oz". Now, here's the origin story of the Wizard himself, in "Oz the Great and Powerful", a prequel of sorts, to the movie. The wizard, who we learn is actually named Oz (James Franco), a small-time magician who tours the barren midwest along with his stagehand Frank (Zach Braff) to little-to-no fanfare. His ex-girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams) is moving on to get married, and just as he's about to be tossed out of town as a fraud, a tornado comes, and whisks his hot air balloon away to the land of Oz, where he's told by Theodora (Mila Kunis) that a prophecy declared that a wizard named Oz, would come from the sky and save the land from the tyrant rule of the evil witch. Theodora, herself is a witch, and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) has been ruling over Oz, and banished her other sister Glinda (Williams, again) to the lands of the North. (Theodora, thinks that Evanora is the Good Witch, as she's confused her fragile little sister beyond reason) When Oz, sets off with his new monkey friend Finlay (Braff, again) and finds a wartorn desolate land, where Glinda, has been trying to build a militia against Evanora, and although, the politician in her knows, it's important that Oz be indeed, the wizard, she knows that he's a fraud, but they still concoct a few plans of attack along with the dwarfs and tinkers, which is the closest they can come to an army. (There's no murdering allowed, despite the sisters' father being killed, so there's no army) And a few magic tricks as well. I like Williams portrayal of Glinda here, she's quirky and part witch, and part C.J. Cregg. I'm not sure about the romance aspect of it with her and Oz works, and while I think Mila Kunis is having some fun with playing the Margaret Rutherford part, but I think it kinda felt like, pent-up Meg Griffin finally going all Freddy Kreuger on everybody. I know, that's a weird thought, maybe I have been watching too much "Family Guy", but you know, overall, I had fun. I wasn't planning on it; I'm generally not that big a Sam Raimi fan 'cause too often, he wants it both ways, to be serious and camp at the same time, and half the time, at least one of them doesn't work. (Sometimes neither works like "Drag Me to Hell", and sometimes he picks the wrong one completely like "For Love of the Game", ugh.) But this is the kind of world where he can get away with it. I found it enjoyable, despite some flaws. It's not "Wicked" or even "Tin Man", but let's face it, the wizard is not the most interesting character backstory in the land of Oz, so even with Franco doing all he can, the movie can only be so good, but for a fun little aberration apart from the main Oz stories we're more familiar with, I had more fun with it than I thought, so I'm recommending it. It's entertaining, and it's got enough interesting callbacks for the Oz know-it-alls and in jokes, I think it's about as well as it could've been done.


WARM BODIES (2013) Director: Jonathan Levine

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I don't know about you, but "Zombie teen romance" was not a genre I was particularly looking forward to being created. I wrote my riot act on zombie movies awhile ago, so most everybody is aware of my skepticism towards the genre, so at least "Warm Bodies" was trying something different, and it kinda worked enough for me, but I don't know, I'm always gonna be somewhat reluctant to embrace zombie movies of any stride. This one is narrated by R, (Nicholas Hoult) who's a zombie, yet is conscious enough of his existence to narrative for us. He's not much of a talker, and crazes human flesh, but mostly he slogs around the airport, hoping to fight off the inevitable for zombies. Not death per se, but becoming so distraught and desperate that they start peeling and eating at their own flesh, like the bonies, a separate group of really hardcore zombies. There's also humans who are struggling for their own survival, and will typically shoot zombies in the head if they're approached or chased by them, (so not everything's changed.) however, during one of these shootouts/braineating interactions, R sees Julie (Theresa Palmer) and falls something akin to in love with her. He's just eaten her boyfriend, and she's got a madman father survivalist, Grigio (John Malkovich) plus, she's not to keen to dating a mostly mute undead, but they start to hit it off. He's somehow collected a vintage collection of vinyl, which I guess explains the movie's strange soundtrack that seems to have been from 1987, that she admires. Soon, he starts recalling some of her ex-boyfriends memories, and even begins having some feelings of his own, and soon, strangely, he starts to dezombify, and possibly, find a cure may exist, and soon, other zombies, begin, attempting to attain more human traits. "Warm Bodies" was written and directed by Jonathan Levine, who also wrote and directed a clever cult indy, "The Wackness", as well as direct "50/50", here, his writing could probably use a little less, driving the point home, 'cause there's a little too much of that, and a lot of the movie just drags. It's still interesting and different enough, and some of the more Shakespearean references are surprisingly touching. It's a surprisingly touching film in general actually. I'm sure somebody's gonna make a comment about how the zombies turning back into human, is a metaphor for the recent account of people getting cured from AIDS by having a healthy lifestyle that begins to naturally rebuild a body's immune system, but- I think that's overthinking "Warm Bodies". It is what it is, a teen romance with zombies, and while there isn't too much to compare it to adequately, it's good for that, so it's a recommendation.


COMPUTER CHESS (2013) Director: Andrew Bujalski

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I must admit that I haven't really thought too highly of Andrew Bujalski's work in the past; I typically preferred thinking about the Duplass Brothers as the real kings of mumblecore, and Bujalski I always thought was just a little to self-aware for his own good, making low-key movies on low-key people, and thinking he's being hip, when he was typically being dull. However, after seeing "Computer Chess", I can finally now see his particular point of view used in a more interesting way, than as some kind of droll Godard wannabe. "Computer Chess" is meant to look like a behind-the-scenes documentary back in the early '80s of a computer chess tournament, where different groups of computer programmers compete against each other, as they struggle to come up with a computer program capable of beating a Grandmaster chess player. I chuckle slightly, assuring myself that tournaments like this must have existed at one point. I actually know a little bit about this, and once upon a time, before Big Blue, it was thought that chess was the ultimate skill as a measure of human intelligence. Of course, nowadays, it's clear that chess is a mathematical game fairly simple for a computer to master using full aggression, to capture the king, and not the elliptical game of misdirection and psychology that, say a game like poker is probably a better example for now. Damn computers have ruined chess for generations now. Anyway, like all of Bujalski's films, the comedy is more low-key, like a constant amazement that one of the teams actually has a lady as a member, Shelley (Robin Schwartz), and people struggling to find hotel rooms, and the gathering sharing conference space and time with one of those pop psychologists couples retreats that's basically an excuse for swingers to, well swing. Two swingers, Dave and Pauline, (Chris Doubek and Cyndi Williams, no, not that one.) get the closest thing we have to a hero in the film, Bishton (Patrick Reister) in probably the film's most uncomfortable position, of course, he's uncomfortable doing anything, especially after his team's computer continually makes disturbingly bad and questionable moves, costing numerous games, which he team member keeps insisting is good, because he'll be taking all the information in, and next year, he'll be better, a concept that's completely nonsensical to the coder. What he's actually talking about would later become "machine learning," and it's what helped WATSON defeat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter at "Jeopardy!" in the most famous recent example of man vs. computer competitions, but it's still a ways off from this point in time, and besides, the tournament is now, and there's almost dozens of teams competing now. There's skill in the film, although I didn't think the ending helped much. Yeah, I got what he's saying and pointing out, but that still doubles back on my fears that Bujalski spends too much time making fun of his characters instead of treating them like humans, but even with that, "Computer Chess" is by far his most interesting film and has finally found a place for his wry sense of humor, to actually seem somewhat believable. I think if he thought of them more as humans instead of machines, it might have been better, but still, very satisfied with "Computer Chess."


CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS AND 2012 (2013) Director: Sebastian Silva

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In Chilean director Sebastien Silva's film, which we're gonna just call "Crystal Fairy..." for the sake of brevity, Gaby Hoffman gives one of the bravest and most unforgettable performances of the year. It's one of the strangest places for such a memorable performance. The film is basically one of those comedies, where the characters are going out of their way to search for an elusive high. At least that's what it seems to be, until it's real story begins to sneak up on you. First, we begin with Jamie (Michael Cera) an American who is taking a tour through Chile, to party and criticize, and be two-face and conceited with everyone he meets, a true self-important yuppie-type. If there is a purpose for him to take this journey, it's to find a particular kind of cactus on a beach, which brews a drink from it, that apparently, is an incredible hallucinogen, a mythic high, practically. Although, while the high is good, he really just wants to say he had the experience. He's traveling down there with locals, all of whom are played by relatives of the film's director, and soon, another guest, Crystal Fairy. (Hoffman) An eccentric hippie-waif character, who Jamie invited on the trip at a party, not thinking she would say yes, but soon, they're picking her up, and she's as free as a free-spirit can get, even to the point, where her nickname becomes "Crystal Hairy", which she fully embraces. (Think innuendo) At first, Jamie tries to dump her off somewhere, and he almost succeeds at that, but soon, the other guy's start realizing the inherit niceness in her, and Jamie's controlling behavior, soon confuses and annoys them. Jamie and Crystal, have, an extreme version of what I'm gonna describe as the Leo-Aquarius relationship. I know about them, 'cause I'm an Aquarius, and we're direct opposites of Leos, controlling, thinking the world revolves around them, making sure things are a certain way, while Aquarius are free-spirits, and creatives, more willing to embrace the twists and turns of life. These polar opposites are probably not the kind of people, who should be taking road trips to get high together, and it is annoying at times. Both characters at certain points, and the movie is paceful, almost sluggish, but by the time, we arrive at the beach, and gotten to know them, especially Crystal, and especially as Jamie, starts to try to edge into his mind that Crystal's not just a simple wanderer that's floating around, (And we get more revealed about her) we start to care about her. The film's dialogue was mostly improvised by the actors, and shot in sequence, with only small notes given to them, and that's mostly successful. Cera's good here as a truly unlikable character, but Hoffman's performance, is absolutely the reason to see this film. Hoffman was a child actress, most famously as the kid in "Field of Dreams", and she been acting ever since, but hasn't really had a big role or break before. She's not glamorous at all. She's got no makeup, messed up hair, all over her body, and has to do a lot of things, that most actresses, would be daunted by, and yet, she creates one of the most memorable characters I've seen this year, despite many of the film flaws, including an ending monologue she has, that I don't think was necessary or even helped the film in any way, but the level of good she had to be is remarkable. There isn't much else to the movie, but imagine it, without her in it, and think of how bad this could've been.


LOVELACE (2013) Directors: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

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I, like many people have been hearing about the Linda Lovelace films practically since her tragic death in '02 (Yes, "films"; there's a different one still in development.), but I always found it a curious choice for such a sad life to be brought onscreen. I also find it odd that this film was directed by documentarians Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, because of some of the obvious ways the movie seems to differ from the real events, are a little odd to me, but perhaps because I've seen "Inside Deep Throat", the famed documentary on the film that made Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) a household name. Her life wasn't exactly glamorous. She was young when she got pregnant and gave a child up for adoption. She met and married Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsaard) who was a bartender that also worked in other fringe businesses like selling cocaine, and occasionally prostitution, even making Linda hook occasionally, before and even after her fame. Her sad life is one of being used and manipulated, first by Traynor, than by the porn industry, and finally, by the Women's Rights movement.  The latter part, isn't shown, just a brief first half of the movie, where we see a more positive look at her work on before, on set and after the shoot, which she only made $1,250 for, and never received a dime from the movie's unprecedented grosses, estimated by some counts in the $600 million range, and an intense second half, where we get the alternate perspective of her life with Traynor, which is in hindsight from her writing her autobiography (Which the second Lovelace film will be on, not this one) and is bookended in part by a polygraph test her publishers asked for, in order to have her work published, and frankly, the movie became-, it was already gonna be infamous no matter what, but this was the film Demi Moore was working on when she had her episode; she supposed to play Gloria Steinam, in a cameo about that other period in Lovelace's life, where again, she was used, as a pawn, in the women's rights movement, and had to be replaced by Sarah Jessica Parker, famously, and that whole story, is basically cut from the film, including Parker's role, entirely. This movie's it's a bit of a mess, it isn't as accurate, even among details, that are heavily-confirmed elsewhere, which makes me, unsure of why in particular, they chose to ignore them. Like Harry Reems's for instance, played by Adam Brody here, who really had the shit hit the fan after the movie came out; he almost went to jail for the film, which he wasn't even supposed to be in; he was just a production assistant, and they needed a guy at the last second, and we know most of the rest of the story. Another reason I'm surprised by Epstein & Friedman's work here is because, they were meticulous in getting the details correct with their film "Howl" about the obscenity trial over Allen Ginsberg's poems; it was just odd. You know, the more I talk about this movie, the less I like it, and it's not just the accuracy, but also how thin the film actually is, and basically I'm still sorta recomending it, 'cause Amanda Seyfried gives maybe her best performance yet. I think she knows more about the character than the film actually, and the rest of the film, is sorta trying to keep up with her. She such a tragic figure, because she is caught up, in these scenarios, not completely against her will, but she isn't truly strong enough to get out of them on her own, and did end up used by a lot of people, ironically I think the porn industry did it unintentionally, compared to her husband or the women's movement, and she conveyed that, incredibly well. She is Linda Lovelace, I bought little else but her, and she's becoming one of our best actresses around, and a daring actress at that. Boy, with her, Hoffman and Bullock's performance this week, if all three got Oscar nominations, I'd say kudos to the kudos to the Oscars, and it's gonna a very competitive Best Actress race this year. So, very good performance,- (pause) I'm on the cusp here, it's a great performance, in a bad film unfortunately, but it should be seen. This is a weird review, but I'm recommending it, for her performance, but not much else.


THIS IS MARTIN BONNER (2013) Director: Chad Hartigan

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Admittedly, in other circumstances, I might've slightly recommended "This is Martin Bonner", but this movie is frankly, just not enough. The movie earned a Spirit Award nomination recently for a John Cassavettes Award, certainly an honorable and respectable award but, sometimes you have a film with good intentions and your realize that there just isn't enough there. Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhoon) used to work at a church on the East Coast, but since his divorce, the Australian-born Martin took a job in Reno, working for a group that helps prisoners coming back into society. So far, the job's been fairly unfulfilling, but he soon starts befriending Travis (Richmond Arquette) one of the prisoners, who's cautiously making his way into society after spending 12 years in jail after killing a guy in a drunk driving accident. Both men struggle as they try to get more acquainted with their grownup kids, and start trying to help each other out with their own difficulties. The movie culminates with a scene at the end where Travis has a meeting with his daughter for the first time in 12 years. They weren't on the best of terms, as she had never visited him in prison, and insists on Martin to come along to make sure, the two of them aren't just uncomfortable around each other. I found myself observing the film, and think about Martin's one-sided phone calls with his kids, and some of the other banalities that fill up the body of the movie, and I mostly found them fairly empty. The movie is only 83 minutes long, and while the friendship is believable, it's not enough or strong enough for me to care completely. The whole movie essentially relies on that final conversation, which is part of why I don't think it works. Up until that time, we're unsure of whether we care about these characters and their friendship enough, so we're not sure whether the story is about Travis reconnecting with his daughter, or whether it's about the friendship they form. The friendship's not strong enough, despite good performances all around, and the story's just a little too flimsy. Hypothetically, I could find reasons to recommend it, but when you compare it to other similar movies, this one just seems to lack for me.


IDENTITY THIEF (2013) Director: Seth Gordon

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"Identity Thief" is probably most famous now for being the movie which Rex Reed slammed Melissa McCarthy in his review, for being fat, which caused a lot of backlash to him, including from me who wrote a scathing piece slamming Rex Reed in general, for being a lousy critic, and I was honest then so I'll be honest now, I was waiting for an excuse to write that piece. You can read that below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/02/rex-reed-is-untalented-ahole-who-knows_21.html

That said however, there isn't much to recommend about "Identity Thief", so if I wish it a better movie so I can really go after him even more, but he was right, that the movie itself pretty much sucked. McCarthy plays an identity thief, Diana who steals the identity of Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), and Bateman needs to find her, because she's been arrested and has tarnished his record and possibly ruined his chances at getting a major job at a new company. So, he spends his last money and leaves his wife, Trish (Amanda Peet, in a thankless role that she is way too talented for) at home with the kids, and heads off to Florida to catch Diana and bring her to jail in Denver, but first, get her to confess and allow for his job and credit to be restored. This is naturally a tougher challenge than he'd prefer, at it would've been without multiple druglords and bounty hunters trying to kill her, as well as lousy asides in hotel rooms with Eric Stonestreet, that just wasn't funny. For the first half-hour, I think the movie has promise, but that's the big problem, it just wasn't funny. McCarthy does her best with a fairly think character, and, I don't know, I like Jason Bateman, but he really isn't suitable for some of these lead comedic roles he takes; I always find him much more interesting in supporting work playing more morally questionable characters, like "Juno" for instance, even when he's in a good comedy as a lead like "Horrible Bosses", which was also directed by Seth Gordon, most famous for the great documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" before being erratic with high-profile Apatow-era comedies. After that though, laughs are just too few and far between, and this could've been an opportunity, to really have a good two-person story between strangers, that was actually smart, comic and emotional, unfortunately. Instead, there's tired old plot devices, that aren't funny, or that interesting,- it's a pretty forgettable movie, if it wasn't for the infamous review.


THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST (2013) Director: Mira Nair

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Thinking back on Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", I think that for all that's good about the film, the movie tried to be a little too cute with itself. It starts with, what seems like an interview at a cafe between an American reporter, Bobby (Liev Schreiber) and Changez (Riz Ahmed) the Pakistani teacher. Al Qaeda's just kidnapped an American, and it's suspected that Changez, might be somehow, on the periphery involved. He begins to tell his story of how he went from a pro-American capitalist, who got out of Lahore to climb the ladders of Wall Street, only to come back and become a radicalized college professor. That is an interesting story, but then, it turns out the reporter is working undercover for the CIA, and his job is to try and get information out of Changez, if he has any. Still, with snipers ready-to-fire all around them, the reporter-subject relationship still seems a little like Capt. Renault and Victor Lazlow. Logically, was Renault walked over to Lazlo's table, he should've probably arrested Lazlo, but then there wouldn't be much of a movie, and certainly no biting exchanges expressing both sides of a war. (Technically, since he's only suspected of being involved in only the abstract sense, the exchanging make more sense here) Still though, was there an actual reason for the story to be told using this device, and then, if you're gonna use the interview device, why does it need to be upended by the reporter having an ulterior motive, and then upended a for more times, with other ulterior motives, and so on. Changez is quite a brilliant young man. He sweeps his way through college, and excels at being the top analyzer among his peers at the firm run by Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) who takes him under his wing, and begins to be groomed for success. He even starts dating the boss's daughter Erica (Kate Hudson) a groovy photographer and artist, finds herself almost bemused that she's in love with a Pakistani, especially after 9/11 hits, and all things start crashing down for Changez. He's discriminated against, and often arrested and searched at the airport. He's criticized by many when he starts growing a beard, even as he becomes the youngest in his firm to be a vice president. The best sequence in the film, comes when he makes the parallels of how the Wall Street firms and the terrorist leaders were using the same inspiration tactics to brainwash their employees/suicide bombers and he concludes that both sides just use the people as pawns for their own gain. Not the most unique realization, but it's an effective sequence. The film was directed by Mira Nair, that great Indian-American filmmaker who's best work is always about the struggle between cultures, so it's no surprise that she's be intrigued by this material. This isn't one of her best, like "Monsoon Wedding" or "The Namesake", but there's enough here to recommend, barely. I'm back-and-forth on this one frankly, 'cause it does make some unnecessary choices as a story; it's based on a novel, went through more-than-a-few different writers, credited and uncredited; I have a lot of their ideas kinda got smashed together in the film a little too much, and it weighted it down a bit. So, granting it's a bit of a mess, it's still worth a viewing, if you run into it though.


PREMIUM RUSH (2012) Director: David Koepp

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"Premium Rush" could've been something a little more special, but it falls into some of the tired old cliches of the action genre plot. That's not to say it isn't any good, it is; and it's actually quite a cool little twist in the action movie genre, but still, you'd think they'd be able to come up with a little bit more creative story, or at least one that isn't treated as sincere as it is. "Premium Rush" deals with the world of New York City bike messengers, the maniacs of Manhattan, who speed through ongoing and upcoming traffic and the rest of the buroughs just to deliver packages. It seems strange, but considering the bumper-to-bumper world of the cars and cabs that own the streets, sometimes, in fact quite often, it's easier and faster to not only travel by bike, but to get things delivered. The best of these messengers, and also the most crazed is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former law student who's seemingly abandoned that trajectory, because he wants to go really fast. He's often criticized by the other bikers at the service, because he only uses a regular one-speed bike, and doesn't have a bike, which Wilee believes are more dangerous than not having one. (Actually, some statistics say that he's right about that, in that bike breaks stop so sudden and violently that you're more likely to get injured because of the sudden shift in momentum, than you'd be if sped through.) There's quite a lot of bikers at his service, but the two main ones, are Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) his ex-girlfriend, and Manny (Wole Parks) another more daredevilish biker, who's always pumping up to go faster, and trying to challenge Wilee to a race, and two get his girlfriend. As that love triangle bubbles over, a premium rush package is requested for Wilee from Nima (Jamie Chung), Vanessa's future former roommate, (She kicked Vanessa out, that day) to be delivered before 7:00pm. The ticking clock is in effect, and that's when a police officer, Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon) begins trying to get the package from Wilee, first by chasing him through the city, then by redirectioning the package, and then, by whatever means necessary. We get some Rashomon-style flashbacks, about how the package is a marker that represent a lot of money to certain people, and how both Monday and Mina are in desperate need to get it delivered to certain people, at a precise time. I'm not gonna spoil their reasons, but if you haven't seen or heard either of their stories in other movies before, then you really need to watch more movies. I think writer/director David Koepp was more-or-less, hoping that the visuals of the world itself would in turn, make up for the lack of originality, and I guess, technically he was right about that, but the film itself, was so interesting, especially with some of the really strong editing and angles they get of these bike messengers in progress, as well as some of the inserts used to show the passage of time, I think he could've easily done more. Koepp's more of a screenwriter than a director, but he usually makes a good movie when he does direct, like his last two films, "Secret Window" and "Ghost Town", both of which are very underrated, and very different films. He likes to switch and toy with genres; I wish he tinkered a bit more than toyed here, there's certainly a lot of quality action work here. A shot during the credits shows an outtake of JGL, after smashing his arm through a glass window on one of the takes, so the actors were more-than-willing to give it there all for the film. Overall, could've been better, but I'm taking it. "Premium Rush" is a good, solid action film, with action that we haven't seen as much of before and that is refreshing.


THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) Director: Tony Gilroy

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I was certainly skeptical going into "The Bourne Legacy"; I wasn't exactly sure why I should even bother with a Bourne movie, in which there is no Jason Bourne. The first three Bourne movies are special, and are about a secret CIA operative, who suffers from amnesia, but recovers enough to eventually overtake the CIA who trained him, and expose the programs that created him. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is himself, not a Bourne level treadstone operative, but just a CIA-trained hired hitman, who increased his skills in part from taking experimental drugs by Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who soon becomes one of many people the CIA is suddenly trying to get rid of until Cross, who's looking for more of his pills, which help him become smarter (He wasn't technically smart enough to join originally, and the pills make his and his skills artificially enhanced) when, he begins to uncover a similar program to Treadstone that's now being systematically gotten rid of, in a case of CIA overthinking and eradication of history. They're being screwed for one failed program, they don't want to be screwed for two, and some journalists, who they've also begun targeting, are starting to find bits and pieces of the information, just as Marta and Aaron start to get to know each other. Up until now, Aaron was just a number in the survey trials they thought they were doing. There's a lot of scenes and stuff that, just doesn't make much sense, and are kinda outlandish. Without the added benefit of a Bourne characters, discovering and rediscovering his secret abilities and him fighting his own mystery in his head while he battles the other mystery of "The Bourne Legacy" seems to only come off as a rather benign action movie, but there's enough there surprisingly, and I'm recommending it. It was somewhat smart the way they used Bourne as a springboard into this other story, and as ridiculous as some of it is, it pretty much works, and there's some really good intense sequences, like a very convoluted game of chess and chicken, involving Marta and Aaron in disguises, manipulating their way through the airport in order to escape the U.S. and work on some stored vials of a syndrome that's being fought, but everyone's watching at every corner, and they have to be very secretive and cunning to pull it off. That stuff did really work, and Renner and Weisz had a very good chemistry between them. The film was directed by Tony Gilroy, the great screenwriter director behind such films as "Michael Clayton" and "Duplicity"; he got hired to write here, and he knows his action, and considering how bad a normal project such as this would take and fail, "The Bourne Legacy" actually holds up pretty well, maybe not as a sequel to the Bourne Trilogy, but as an interesting aside character, that's interrupting the main plot.


THINK LIKE A MAN (2012) Director: Tim Story

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Well, I had heard about Steve Harvey's relationship book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationship, Intimacy and Committment- (Actually, before I begin on this one, anybody else think we should that we should start putting quotes around titles of books, instead of italicizing them, or underlining them. I know that's the standard, but both of them always looked stupid to me, and we quote damn near everything else that's a title, why are books different? Anyway, this was an earlier discussion,...-) although, it wasn't exactly on my reading list, for numerous reasons; they're mostly the same reasons why a movie based on the self-help relationship book, wasn't exactly high on my to-watch list either. I like Steve Harvey fine, mostly as a comedian; and I'm not 100% sure of how he raised to the level of game show and talk show host, since, I mostly remember him, from his sitcom, "Me and the Boys". Yeah, that obscure one, not "The Steve Harvey Show", although that was okay, he had a sitcom where he was raising his sons after their mother passed away, and still living with his mother-in-law; it lasted one year, in '94, it was a much better show than that, and had a Christmas episode that was sad and touching that I still remember quite fondly, and I just thought I should mention that show, 'cause it was good, and it's become forgotten among Harvey's success elsewhere. Anyway, the movie involves women, who after struggling with finding men, getting and using advice from Harvey's book, to manipulate the men they're dating, figuring now, that they have the playbook into the mind of the man. Ever since "Love, Actually", there's been numerous attempts to find excuses for these multi-narrative romantic-comedies, and this isn't even the first one based on a self-help dating book. Greg Behrendt's book "He's Just Not That Into You", was the inspiration for that mediocre film. (And the self-help book originally was inspired from an episode of "Sex and the City" that Behrendt co-wrote.) "Think Like a Man", and I'm surprised myself, I enjoyed it, and I'm recommending it, despite the contrived and ridiculous premise. Frankly, I got into it, because even though the characters are literally characterized into types, the performances were so good, that frankly, for the most of the movie, I was interested in seeing what was gonna happen to them. Well, that and I think, while it's erratic, they did a good job of showing two points of views within the characters. Look at the couple, Jeremy and Kristen (Jerry Ferrara and Gabrielle Union), they've been together for nine years, and yet he hasn't popped the question, not because he isn't in love with her, but because it hasn't occurred to him. In the movie, it's she hasn't demanded it, or anything else from him until now, like a more adult apartment, or going for a better job than the one he's had. (This is called in the big, not requiring him to propose) So she starts redecorating without telling him. This is contrived, but exactly how often has this happened, where instead of the girl, just asking if you're ever gonna propose, does she suddenly start taking over the house? There's a reason it's done in every damn sitcom. I also liked the pairing of the Mama's Boy and the Single Mom,  as they're referred to in the dating stratosphere, 'cause you'd think those two would make the natural pairing, one who's a single mom, Michael and Loretta (Terrence J and Regina Hall), you'd think this would be a natural pairing. The best performance in the film is by Kevin Hart, who plays believable, the Happier Divorced Guy, Cedric, as oppose to the happily married member of this group of friends, Bennett (Gary Owen). He's going through his divorced, and hides his pain with the excitement of his new single life, which seems to keep getting in the way of his friends sudden relationship troubles. I guess, I don't have the greatest technical excuse for liking the movie, but considering how bad it could've been, I was impressed with how good it actually was. It takes the time to let us learn about every character and help us dive into every relationship, and the performance are all surprisingly strong. It doesn't feel like every other by-the-book romantic-comedy, this is a movie that actually cared first, about being romantic first, and then throw in the comedy. I worry that so many go the other way around, that it's refreshing to see it done the other way, and done with care. I guess I shouldn't be surprised with Tim Story, the man who took great pains into making us care about the fate of the characters in "Barbershop", despite the unnecessary and somewhat ridiculous sideplots about selling the shop to the local kingpin, and the two morons who steal an empty ATM machine, it makes sense that he'd have us care about a dreamer who switches life goals every year or so, and a CEO who's standards are too high, and whether they can fall in love.


WEST OF MEMPHIS (2012) Director: Amy Berg

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I still have to catch up on 2 of the original 3 "Paradise Lost" films about the Robin Hood Hills murders, and the infamous West Memphis 3, and now, we have a fourth documentary that, in some ways makes that the film expedition, somewhat obsolete. In some ways, maybe that's a good thing, but who are we kidding here, there's very few good things about this infamous case, this case that simply never seems to get the resolution it so deserves. In Amy Berg's documentary, "West of Memphis" most of the particulars are interviewed and we go through the entire case from the three deaths of missing eight-year-old found hogtied in the river in West Memphis, Arkansas. A huge mistrial of justice led to three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Misskelley, and James Baldwin, three friends accused of committing the crimes as apart of a Satanic ritual, were imprisoned, Echols, the supposed ringleader, sentenced to death, despite numerous evidence that he wasn't even in town at the time of the murder, because they listened to dark heavy metal music and wore in goth black clothing. It was clear that Jason Misskelley's confession was coerced by police, and that the coroner's report, who wasn't licensed despite being hired by the prosecution (Something unusual for Arkansas, expert witness work for the local prosecutors offices) clearly misinterpreted the findings. Every time a retrial attempt has cultivated, or an appeal of some kind, the same judge would deny the defense's claim, even when DNA evidence, as well as much circumstantial evidence, points to one of the victim's stepfathers as the killer. John Mark Byers, was never fully investigated for the crime, and when he was supposedly searching for his kid, he was playing guitar at another neighbor's house. It wasn't until he sued Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks of all people, for slander, a case that he lost, did a recording and proper interrogation and cross-examination of him took place. Despite a tip that his family is aware of his crimes, he can't be prosecuted. As we know from the last movie, and recent events, they West Memphis 3 were finally released from prison, after taking an Alford plea, in order to save some face for the state. They're guilty according to the law, but can still claim their innocence of the crimes. Echols is finally able to live with his wife, who he met after she sent him mail from the first movie, and now, the community, once so entrenched in a Geraldo-era world that sensationalized things that, for all intensive purposes, were mostly just myths, now remains enlightened, and there's strong beliefs all around that Byers was the killer, even by the victim's families. If there's a point in this long case, it might simply be that, three innocent men went to jail, and one guilty man remains free, and despite all the twists and turns, it remains that simple. Yet, we need the whole story to be told, and yeah, it does take four films, and revelations continue to pile up. It many ways, "West of Memphis", might be repetitive, and too long, but it's not like you can really blame them. I don't know how to recommend this movie completely. I might have to wait until I go through the first two "Paradise Lost" films myself, and still get, and even greater grasp, but either way, "West of Memphis", like the rest of these movies, is a story that has to continue to get told. And hopefully, this isn't the end of the story.


PROJECT X (2012) Director: Nima Nourizadeh

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You know, I never really went to any parties in high school, or college, and for the most part, I never really regretted it. Frankly, I'll just be honest here, I to some extent, just look at people partying, and I just don't understand. You know, every so often I watch CFMN porn of like bachelorette parties gone out of control or crazy shit like that, and while, yeah, lets just say I'm not watching them as a research project, but despite that, and I know they're performing and acting, but that euphoric complete loss of-, I don't know, your senses, your inhibition,- I don't know what the word is, this need for consumption of chemicals and complete excess. Frankly I look at that, and I'm both perplexed, confused by it, and a little jealous admittedly, 'cause I am genuinely just too aware and self-conscious at times like that to fully reach that emotional appeal. (I'm sure the drugs and alcohol help, but-eh, I've never done drugs, and rarely drink, and even when I do...- You can ask the people at my high school reunion recently, them trying to get me to drink was practically a challenge. I'm half-convinced some of them must've had money riding on who get me to drink, come to think of it. [Just kidding about the money guys]) Anyway, I don't understand partying in general, and I certainly don't understand it as a goal. So, to some extent, they already kinda lost me on "Project X", a film that's about throwing the most wild, out-of-control, ridiculous party any high schooler could throw. And it's really wild. It's shot mostly in this first person camera format, by a mysterious student named Dax (Dax Flame) and the party's being organized and thrown by Costa and JB (Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown) for their good friend Thomas's (Thomas Mann) birthday, and it's being thrown naturally at his strict parents' house,and naturally, they're not supposed to be partying too much, and in classic Ferris Bueller fashion, the father (Peter MacKenzie) has a prize car that he specifically mentions not to touch or drive and certainly whatever we know is surely gonna happen to the damn thing. (Which btw, I will say that I did not predict the exact fate of the car, and that it was funny.) JB and Costa especially are looking to pimp out and get laid, while Thomas just wants the party to be big enough to be cool, but not much more than that. Of course, as there's numerous beautiful women begin arriving at the party, in various stages of undress, Thomas, still mostly pines over the female friend in their social group, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), more than anyone else, which, c'mon, even I didn't buy. Especially at the end, when he manages to win her back,- I mean, it was so fucking flimsy. I mean, this girl is barely a character, she's not pretty or special enough in the context of the movie to be that interesting to one young teenage boy that he'd ignore all the other slutty and naked women gyrating around,- he had a better more willing selection of women than Hugh Hefner at that moment, even I'm thinking he's pussying out. I don't even think they should've bothered, unless maybe they did a twist, and that she was the one throwing the party for him and she was the character wanting to be all cool and get fucked up and laid, and not the fat teenage Jewish-acting-gangster stereotype his friend is; that would've been a good use of her and far more interesting. (And more realistic, 'cause that describes a lot of my female friends who've tried that shit with me.) I guess, the basic point of the movie, is to try to and emulate the feeling of going to a party such as this and the experience of getting out-of-control, and I won't give away every little thing, but you know, I live in Vegas, if I really wanted to go to a party like this, I could've gone to this party any day of the week. Maybe it wouldn't  have had a pissed-off drugged up ecstasy smuggler with a flame thrower but, that's not necessarily a deal-breaker for me. (And not an unlikely as it sounds in Vegas either) Maybe it's stupid or I don't get it, but either way, just going overboard with a party does not a movie make.


FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL... (2012) Director: Jamie Travis

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"They still have phone sex lines?" I pondered before watching "For a Good Time, Call...", mostly because it's the easy joke in the days of the internet. I know phone sex lines still exist, for those unfortunate few, although I am surprised that anybody would use them nowadays. The real appeal of them isn't the sex, obviously, it's the talking. Only the shyest and loneliest would resort to such a tactic to get their unfulfilled desires to be fulfilled. (And no, I've not- I've never used one, stop looking at me like that; I'm on a computer for Christ's sakes, hello!) (Frustrated scoff) It's true though, that oftentimes people can be most expressive about themselves through a barrier than they ever would be otherwise, we only need to look at Facebook for that, so it's not completely improbable that some poor suckers might still use such lines in order to satisfy their need for human connections. (I do actually know people who've worked for phone sex lines, they assure me that there's still a market for them) Anyway, I just gave more insight into the lines than the movie has. Yeah, they know how to set up a PayPal account, and create their own line, but- Anyway, the film involves two women, Lauren and Katie (Lauren Anne Miller, who co-wrote the script, and Ari Graynor), both of whom can't stand each other after an incident in college involving the dangers of peeing in a cup while driving. However, they're both best friends to Jesse (Justin Long) who concocts their reunion after they're both in need of an apartment that's rent-controlled, huge by comparison to Monica and Rachel's apartment on "Friends" and overlooking Gramercy Park in New York. Lauren soon loses her job at a major publisher, and is soon struggling to get anywhere while her seemingly oversexed roommate fights her way through three or four jobs, one of them, being a phone sex operator, a business which Lauren decides to make as a startup. Soon, prissy Lauren herself begins taking calls and loosening up a bit, meanwhile Katie begins having more personal conversations with one of her clients, Sean (Mark Webber) and that's when the movie begins to get a little interesting, when after they have a one-on-one date, we learn something about Katie, that could've been interesting if it was done well. There's also a few good cameos in the movie, the funniest of which involves Kevin Smith as one of the phone sex customers. Other than that, the movie is erratic and while there's some humor in seeing good actresses and pretty girls saying very sexual dialogue, there's not enough to carry the whole film. There's been some good movies about the phone sex industry like Spike Lee's "Girl 6" for instance, and I always think of Jennifer Jason Leigh's great work in "Short Cuts", where her husband Chris Penn, gets jealous that she doesn't talk to him, the way she talks to her clients, which she usually does while changing diapers and doing other tired mom activities. So, with those as expectations, "For a Good Time, Call..." is a flimsy, underwritten disappointment. Oh, and there's a subplot involving them trying to hire a second caller at one point, and a character played by Sugar Lyn Beard, and frankly after I thought about it, I don't know why that was in the movie.


THE WAITING ROOM (2012) Director: Peter Nicks

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"The Waiting Room" won last year's Truer than Fiction Award at the Spirit Awards last year, and that's an honorable and respectable accomplishment, and "The Waiting Room" is an honorable and respectable film, but not much else. It's a throwback to an old style cinema verite films of just shooting and shooting, and see what you record. This one takes place in Oakland's Highland Hospital, and chronicles the goings on of a typical busy working day at a public hospital. We meet a few people, a lot of patients, a couple nurses, many of whom are struggling to get simple basic procedures, some of them life-saving and necessary. Some are just looking to get some insulin and other prescriptions. Reminded me of an old Kieslowski short film called "Hospital" which also took place over a day at a hospital. There isn't much else to talk about however. I'm a little surprised actually that this film has a 100 rating on rottentomatoes.com, I'm actually tempted to give it a negative review. It's not that it's bad, but it's another movie that shows the travails and desperately inadequate conditions of our health care system overall. As much as I'm a huge proponent of Obamacare, not all of this is gonna change tomorrow. It's possible that I've seen a little too much of this also. My grandmother and my aunt used to be nurses, and I've seen people going into emergency rooms with there arms covered in towels with knife and gunshots wounds and then force to wait until the doctors finish with the more serious patients. It's certainly material worthy of a film, and the documenting of patients, worried about the money their care costs,- well, that just shouldn't happen. In hardly any other country it even does. These aren't new revelations however, and I guess I'm somewhat lukewarm to it. It's a well-made film, that at 80 minutes, seemed stretched to me. We see reality shows now all the time that take place in hospital rooms, they're probably just as interesting. They may tend towards the more dramatic and dire moments, but hopefully not always. "The Waiting Room", is technically well-done, but not much more, unfortunately. I think feature-length film, might've been the wrong format for the material, and either a short film, or a complete anthology piece, would've been more effective.


YOUR HIGHNESS (2011) Director: David Gordon Green

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I think I know what went wrong with "Your Highness", a very-weekly punned stoner fantasy comedy. Well, I guess it's a stoner movie; certainly feels like it was probably made by them, but the real problem with the film is that it wants to have it both ways, working as a pseudo time-period fantasy, but with the witticisms and lingo or a more sarcastic and modern-times feeling character in the lead. A bizarre cutting back and forth between mock actual King Arthur-type material, and then to, quick one-liners that are usually best said in an action movie after the hero just blew something up real good. Take the line from this movie, "Adios, motherfuckers". Do they have "Adios" in the universe, or do they even have Spanish or even Spain? And more importantly, how do you say that line? Danny McBride chose to give it, with a formal accent, that indicates that he's part-British or wherever this film takes place, that King Arthurian accent. Wouldn't it be funnier, if it was said with an American accent, to counter the rest of the universe, the anachronism would've been much funnier. Cause that's essentially the joke of "Your Highness" that it's a story where clearly the main character doesn't belong in the time. Unfortunately the movie tries to have it that way, but also make it believable that this universe could exist, and when it does that, it takes away the humor. Prince Thadeus (McBride) is the lazy excessive son youngest son of the King Tallious (Charles Dance) who's often looked down upon as his more honorable and successful brother Fabious (James Franco) comes back to parades and celebrations every time he completes his dangerous and noble quest. This time however, his wife-to-be Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) has been kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux) and now he must attain an magic sword of some kind, that will inevitably be the sword that can kill Leezar. Thadeus comes along with Fabious, 'cause he's threatened by the King to do so or be kicked out of the house, and on the way, they run into Isabel (Natalie Portman) who's on a bloodfued to avenge her parents death. She's feisty, kind like Fiona in "Shrek" when we realize she's a Kung Fu expert. I usually admire the work of David Gordon Green, he's fallen into the Judd Apatow troupe of directors in recent year, although I gave "Pineapple Express" 5 STARS, he really needs to start getting back to the indy films. "The Sitter" his follow-up to "Your Highness", made loads of worst films lists when it came out, and I didn't even bother watching it. (I have a copy of his latest "Prince Avalanche" around here somewhere, I'll be reviewing that at a later date) "Your Highness" deservedly so, also had similar disdain from critics, and I have to agree with him. There's potential here, but frankly the movie just didn't know where to stay consistent and get the best out of the humor. Huge disappointment, this could've been something wittier like "History of the World Part I" perhaps, but it just ended up being too much of a mess, even with the occasional laugh.


A MONSTER IN PARIS (2011) Director: Bibo Bergeron

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Despite the name recognition, "A Monster in Paris" didn't get a theatrical release in America, something of a rarity nowadays for a major animated film. It's the third animated feature from Eric "Bibo" Bergeron," who previously did "Shark Tank" and "The Road to El Dorado", and like those films, "A Monster in Paris", is simply okay. It's not awful by any standard, but-. Actually, you know, after I had watch the movie, somebody in one of those FB film groups, posted a question about "Describe the last movie you saw in three words or less," or something like that. Now, obviously I'm not the most succinct film critic in terms of brevity, but the words that came to mind, were "Average animated film", and that's about how I'd describe it. It's got some good parts, like the music which I enjoyed, and played a key role in the film as Lucille (Vanessa Paradis) befriends a huge flea, who's the accidental result of a biologist that's conveniently out-of-town to check on his experiment. She's a singer popular with the town's mayor, and two forgettable antagonists, one of whom's been fighting and in love with Lucille since grade school, help to get the flea away from the murderous mayor, by hiding him as an eccentric guitar player. Somehow, despite by a ginormous flea for little more than a day or two, the Frankenstein experiment is Django Reinhardt on the guitar, and becomes apart of Lucille's cabaret act, which she's supposed to perform for the Mayor shortly. The movie, unfortunately focuses on the other characters too much, who really are forgettable by the way, I can't even remember their names while staring at them on the film's imdb.com page. One of them, the shyer of the two, is a film projectionist, the other, a schemer in a suit made of straw. In another movie, maybe they'd be Laurel & Hardy, but thank goodness, for shifting the action to Lucille about halfway through, or "A Monster in Paris", really would've just been a dull dud. It was shot in 3-D, I saw the 2-D,- it's got it's quiet moment. It might've been more interesting an animated feature, say fifteen years ago or so, but now, it just feels tired like a long short stretched to 80 minutes, instead of a complete story. Maybe okay for little kids; that's about it though, and even then, I'd only rent it. In a world where there is so much great animation, "A Monster in Paris" needs to be a lot better storywise to even breakthrough into the conversations.


SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961) Director: Elia Kazan

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"At my feet, slave. Now tell me you love me. Tell me you can't live without me. Say it."
"I do."
"You do what?"
"I do love you."
"And you can't live without me. You'd be everything I ever ask you to be. Anything."
"I'd do anything for you."

Well, now I know what movie quote I'm using for my next game of "Guess the movie line?" And after Natalie Wood goes from her knees to the floor in sorrow, and Warren Beatty goes down to her  and pleads that he's kidding and that he should be going on his knees- she cuts him off, turns to him and says, "I can't kid about these things. Because I am nuts about you. And I would go down on my knees to worship you if you really wanted me to.... And I would do anything you'd ask me to. I would. I would. Anything." Well, my conscious meter went from paying close attention to "Holy fucking shit!" at this point in "Splendor in the Grass", which, to put it as simply and directly as possible, is roughly about what would hypothetically happen if Christian Grey and Ana Steele were for some reason, not allowed to touch each other, much less- well, go read "Fifty Shades of Grey" and you'll see. Teenagers who have pent-up frustration met with raging hormones, mixed with actual true love, yet, live in a pre-birth control era that's full of warning signs and flat-out threats not to engage in any indecent euphemisms. The film was won a screenwriting Oscar for the great playwright William Inge, and this is certainly a film that, in some ways you're amazed got passed the Hayes code, while in others, you can't possibly imagine this movie being made today. "Splendor in the Grass", titled after a line in a Wordsworth poem, is about two high school sweethearts, Wilma Dean "Deenie" Loomis (Oscar-nominee Wood) and Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty), and in the age where cars are have reached the masses and the '20s stock market boom making everybody rich, teenagers have started finding cars, and having their adventures and misadventures with them. Bud's father Ace (Pat Hingle) is the richest man in town, and has already swore that his son will attend Yale, and be on his board, as long as he doesn't screw it up. Nevermind that he doesn't get good grades, and doesn't enjoy being on the town's football team, Bud doesn't even want to go to college, but he demonstrative father won't have any of it, especially regarding him falling in love with Deenie. His daughter Ginny (Barbara Loden) is already the town slut, so Bud's his only hope. Deenie's mother (Audrey Christie) is equally as strict and protective of her, and often reminding her about the dangers of not ending up in the family way. Yet, it's a struggle for the two to keep their hands off each other, yet they must, partly 'cause they're scared into it, partly out of the fact that, it was true at the time just how dangerous the activity was. Slowly but surely though, these unresolved urges collide. Bud's temper starts getting erratic, and he becomes sickly, even collapsing during a basketball game. Deenie gets concerned over some Juanita (Jan Norris) a girl in school who's been with the class, but Bud has rejected. Despite this, she starts to lose it, and rebels and pretty soon, and her and Bud's inevitable breakup, she's sent away to get psychiatric care, in one of those places that "Girl, Interrupted" took place in. Meanwhile, Bud starts flunking out of Harvard, and both of them soon meet others, while still obsessing to the point of hysteria over each other. "Splendor in the Grass", has some unbelievable acting in it, all around. The film fast-and-loose with the Hayes code, but just barely got it in. A remake of this film today, would have the couple having sex, once, and then break up, and then Deenie would go all Ms. Haversham, as they'd be broken up, but they'd still want to be together. That would've been wrong; 'cause the whole point of the movie is repression. Repressing your fears, your dreams, your lusts, all for the sake of some kind of proper expectations. Not just them, the parents too. Everybody practically, except for the two people who seem to be the only ones enjoying themselves, despite their demons occasionally taking over. One of them becomes a cigarette girl at a nightclub, the other dies in a car accident. Car accidents death were too common back then to make anything out of them, and cigarette girl was the glamour job of the era, until hat-check girls came to prominence. Does this movie actually suggest that these two would've been happier if they just eloped or got knocked up, or both? The last meeting between Bud and Wilma is a happy one, where both have moved on from their idealistic youth, and seem to have become happier or at least, contempt with their current lives now. The film was directed by the great Elia Kazan, and frankly I'm still going through a lot of his lesser filmography. Of course "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" are his most memorable film, but other films of his like "Baby Doll" and "A Face in the Crowd" reveal his range. He often did Broadway adaptations that could almost be filmed plays, "Splendor..." has some aspects of that like much of William Inge's work. I've seen film adaptations of his works "Come Back, Little Sheba" and "Picnic", but this is the best of his works so far. This is a very overlooked classic; that remains controversial today. A nude scene of Natalie Wood where she runs naked down the hallway was edited out after complaints by the censor board and Catholic League of Decency, and recently, at a showing of the film in Iowa, an ad reported that no one under 16 was allowed into the theater. Somehow, the film has become more of a trivia question for being Warren Beatty's first part, as well as the first film for other known actors like Sandy Dennis and Phyllis Diller among other. This is truly a classic that should be studied more. Way ahead of its time, and one of the best films in a great director's canon, that frankly, isn't mentioned enough anymore.





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