Saturday, December 28, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #77: "PACIFIC RIM", "STORIES WE TELL", "BLACKFISH", "42", "THIS IS THE END", "PRINCE AVALANCHE", "SIGHTSEERS", "POST TENEBRAS LUX", "IN THE HOUSE (aka DANS LA MAISON)", "RENOIR", "LUV", "HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA", "THE HOUSE I LIVE IN", "FROM UP ON POPPY HILL", "LAY THE FAVORITE", "NOT FADE AWAY", and MORE!

Hope Everyone had a happy holidays! Before I begin, I wanted to say that, if anybody has anything from my blog that they want to look up, or something, and aren't finding it using the google search bar above, let me know, and I'll find it for you. I myself have been disappointed by that thing over the years. I used to think, it'd just be easier than adding extra buttons and whatnot, but I'm finding my own search results using that untrustworthy at times. So, I'm on Facebook, I'm on twitter, or you can comment on the blog below, there's a bunch of ways to get ahold of me just let me know. In the meantime, I'm gonna try to work on ideas to make this blog somewhat easier to navigate. For instance, in the near future, I might reluctantly start putting tags on these blogposts. I wasn't really in favor of that, 'cause there'd be so frigging many, but, if it helps others, let me know, and let me know if there's something you want me to tage now or in the future, please. Thank you .

Now, onto one other thing I was hoping to avoid this week in entertainment, the thing about Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty", (Rolling eyes) was asked about his views on homosexuals, a journalistic decision I will never understand, but anyway, he went on a hate-filled rant, and apparently, everybody freaked out about it, as though that was shocking, and a lot of people were trying to defend what he said, as free speech, because A&E suspended him for two weeks from his show. How anybody can get suspended from a reality show, is something I'd like to have investigated frankly. First of all, A&E is a private company, they're allowed to suspend their employees for practically anything they want, including saying something stupid. And yes, what he said wasn't personal Christian beliefs it was ignorance. He's not the Rosa Parks for the far right or something like that, and by the way, a few politicians actually compared to Rosa Parks; I'm not making that up. Now, I've never watched "Duck Dynasty," and don't particularly plan to in the near future, although I thought part of the appeal of a show like that, was that we're fascinated with the fact that people like Phil Robertson still exist, and that documenting they're ass-backwards beliefs was apart of the entertainment? Maybe not, I don't know. Either way, this got way too much attention when it shouldn't have. The question shouldn't have been asked, we shouldn't have been surprised he answered the way he did, and we certainly shouldn't have been martyring the guy or idolizing him, for-whatever. I didn't care what he thought before, I don't care now, and the people who found something heroic or inspiring in what he says, you people are complete morons.

Anyway, now that I sorta got that outta my system, let's move on. It's the last edition this year of my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! So let's enjoy and move onto them!


PACIFIC RIM (2013) Director: Guillermo Del Toro

3 1/2 STARS



When Rita Rapunzel crash-landed on the moon after barreling through space and began restarting her quest to destroy Earth,...- Oh, seriously, like you weren't making "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" during "Pacific Rim"? Alright, it's a lot better than that, but you got admit, it's a little bit Godzilla vs. Megazord. (Was it zord or sword? Eh, I've thought too long on that.) Basically, in the near future, ancient seamonsters called kaiju, are somehow gonna rise from the Pacific Ocean and begin their assault on all the coastal metropolises. They start with San Francisco, but then they attack more often, and more violently, killing thousands each time. With the world, seemingly under attack, the countries came together and began developing weapons called jaegers, who are the waterwalking behemoth robots that are manned by a two-person team, in order to fight off upcoming kaiju attacks. It starts out well at first, but eventually, the kaiju begin outsmarting them, and lesser and lesser pilots begin getting hired, and soon, the once-prominent program becomes a renegade group of decommisioned robots, and pilots, that intend to prove that the new walls they're building aren't gonna help. During one mission with star jaeger pilots Raleigh and Yancy Beckett (Charlie Hunman and Diego Klattenhoff, and why they didn't just have Hunman play a dual-role here I don't know, but I would've sworn he did if I didn't read imdb.com.) Yancy gets killed while he was still in the drift. This is complicated to explain, but the machines are controlled through the mind and their memories and the reason you need two pilots is to help control the right and left hemisphere of the brain, and essentially, while you're tuned into the jaeger, you're essentially sharing each other memories at the same time. I think that's right, or something other kind of "Inception"-influenced nonsense. Anyway, the threat is that is to not get too caught up in your memories or your partners, and be able to control the jaeger, which hopefully has enough weapon power and skills to destroy the oncoming kaiju. This is something that Raleigh's new partner Mako (Rinko Kikuchi, you might remember her from "Babel") is still learning, which is part of the reason why General Pentecost (Idris Elba, I think he's a general? [shrugs]) doesn't want her controlling the kaiju. Meanwhile, there's conflicting theories about how to defeat the kaiju once and for all, both somewhat involve a nuclear weapon, but Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) represents the military, logistical view, while Dr. Geizler (Charlie Day) has a theory about the kaiju that treats them as though they're human almost, and hypothesizes about drifting into a kaiju brain as a way to figure out their weakness. For that, he needs a kaiju brain, which are sold on the black market by Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman, in a classic great Ron Perlman performance). I'm about 99% certain I'm missing something, having only seen the most on DVD, and not in the theater with the 3-D, which I did hear was better than average, and it should be with a director like Guillermo Del Toro at the helm, but, on the other hand, the movie and the visual effect seem so mechanical. Impressive, but there nothing like the Daliesque stylistic touches we got from Del Toro in "Pan's Labyrinth", or even from the "Hellboy" movies; I prefer those effects instead of these, slightly better than "Transformers" look. Actually, that's mean, it's a lot better than "Transformers", and "...Power Rangers" while we're at it, despite similarities, but overall, while I am recommending it, I was disappointed quite frankly with "Pacific Rim". He was always surreal before, and now he went, traditional.


STORIES WE TELL (2013) Director: Sarah Polley

4 1/2 STARS



My mother's currently working on a side project to document as much of the family history as possible. I wish I could be/get more excited about it; I actually don't have the deepest of knowledge about where I came from, but I don't know about a few of the exciting, but honestly, it is a little tough for me to pay that much attention. I try, but staring up at my family tree, seemed at daunting as staring up at a redwood to me. Sarah Polley's new documentary "Stories We Tell", is sort of about looking up and investigating your past, but it's a little more about the way she goes about it, and storytelling. The verbal history and recollections that people have, and how each persons' versions and perspectives may differ from one another, but ultimately through these interviews, we can find,- well, not necessarily a truth, but we do find certain things out. I hope most of you are familiar with Sarah Polley's amazing work before this film. A great actress from films and TV shows like "Go", "The Sweet Hereafter", "Avonlea", "Splice" "Exotica," "John Adams", "The Secret Life of Words", etc.... but recently, she's been moving behind the camera, very impressively at that. She got an Oscar nomination for her screenplay of her directorial debut "Away From Her", and now, with "Stories We Tell", we get a really personal look at her family's past. Her family, is one Canada's great acting families. A family of Storytellers as she calls it. Her brother John is a producer, her brother Mark is an actor, her father Michael Polley, is a legendary stage actor and narrates the film, which is shown with footage of Sarah directing her Dad. (Some might remember him from the great Canadian sitcom "Slings & Arrows", which Sarah also acted in. He one of the two who sings the show's ending theme song "Call the Understudy". [If you're a Shakespeare buff, look up at that show, great series]) and her mother was stage actress and casting director Diane Polley, who passed away when Sarah was 12. The youngest in the family, born very late in life, she was almost aborted, by Diane. She was conceived when Diane was performing a show in Montreal, and there remained some occasional concerns that manifested later in life, about Sarah's parentage. It was often a joke in the family that she didn't look like the rest of the family, and much of what she remembers of her Mom's life, was her illness. Soon however, names and suspicions arose, as suddenly stories kept getting told. One from her brother about a mysterious phone call her mother made, to someone, concerned about the baby. Other speculations were abound as well, as one of Diane's co-stars in the play she was doing, at the time, has similar features to Sarah. She interviews as many people as she can, all about her mother, and each version of the stories seem to be different from person to person. What was important, what parts were hidden and not told, what was rumor and innuendo, etc. They also say to never trust an autobiography, because they're always lying, but sometimes, it just perspectives are completely different. People forget, then suddenly remember, or they recall things that others don't. Who started what joke, when and why. How do these family traditions start. That's the real crutch of "Stories We Tell", and it's quite absorbing. It even ends on a cliffhanger, that gives us more questions we want answers to. In terms of these personal documentaries, while Polley's work is certainly above, when I compare her to someone like Doug Block who did the wonderful "51 Birch Street", it isn't as entertaining, but there is other things going on here. This investigatory dive into remembering and storytelling itself is truly intriguing. Her first film was about a old woman, losing her memory, now here's a movie that analyzes how one remembers. She's got an interesting point of view, and an interesting family, thankfully.


BLACKFISH (2013) Director: Gabriela Cowperwaithe

4 1/2 STARS




Well, I wouldn't say it was celebrated, but just a couple months ago, here in Vegas, it was the tenth anniversary recently of Roy Horn's injury on stage, at the paws of Montecore, one of their famous white tigers which Siegfried & Roy performed with. I never saw them perform live, although I've videotapes of them, and they're quite amazing. I've seen the tigers in the Mirage those many times, and even more often than that, I've seen the dolphin exhibit there. Everybody who grew up in Vegas has, at some point or another, seen the dolphins, at least twice. Just on field trips alone, I know I've seen them at least three times, and we've shown the tour to visitors at least as much. Nobody's ever heard, from my knowledge, a bad thing said about the treatment of the animals at the dolphins exhibit, and especially not the tigers here. Believe me, Roy wouldn't allow it, even as he was bleeding to death in the ambulance, he was telling the paramedics to make sure nothing happened to the tiger. That said, it's no particular surprise that such mistreatment does happen elsewhere. We've seen it zoos and circuses, sea parks particularly SeaWorld were probably doomed to be the next target. I say doomed, and not predestined, because while clearly their treatment of the magnificent killer whales has some very questionable practices, and many of decisions that were made that were just plain irresponsible, I always wonder if it was ever actually possible to train or cage, or- those are terrible verbs for this sentence, but to someway keep normally wild animals in a equitable and hospitable environment that isn't necessarily free, but is enough of an equivalent-, basically, I think like most everybody, we'd like to be able to go see these whales without the awful things we end up having to do to them to see it. OSHA suing SeaWorld currently, insisting that there years of treatment are inhumane and that it's not safe, even for human to be in the water during shows, (or elsewise) with the whales. The whales are taken and kidnapped from the wild, often, many of there family are killed in the process. They shriek when a whale is separated from his family. We learn that they're incredible sentient, more capable of feeling and being effected by emotions than humans are. This is proven, when we study they're minds, they have an extra part of the brain that humans don't that gives them this overdeveloped emotional connection to treatment. They're incredibly friendly, but with recent deaths at SeaWorld, and hundreds of incidents at their parks and others, many of which used SeaWorld whales, the movie's case makes it very clear. It's a given that killer whales should certainly be in the wild, but that SeaWorld irresponsible practices have contributed to the deaths and the deranged mental psyche of the whales. Many former trainers speak out, a job that I was amazed required remarkably little marine biologist education and training. Almost anyone that can swim well, seems eligible for the job. The whale that killed Dawn Brancheau, which SeaWorld, ludicrously tried to blame on her ponytail of all things, had, unknown to all the employees had killed two other trainers before. He's still performing with the show, barely. He's been in captivity for over thirty years (Which is longer than SeaWorld claims they even live, which is a known lie) and is kept separated from other whales, and used for sperm. He's father practically half of the other whales in captivity at SeaWorld and other waterparks. Frankly, while some think he should be freed into the ocean, I think it's a little too late for poor Tillikum, his mind perverted from years of mistreatment, and seeing his family slaughtered and weighted to fall down into the ocean, an act that one of the capturers called the worse thing he ever did, and he's been apart of violent overthrows of governments. We see movies like this a lot, "Blackfish" is one of the better ones, perhaps because of the subject matter. Even under the best of circumstances, it's impossible for things like the incidents shown in the movie, to ever stop completely, but, under the worst of circumstances.... "Blackfish" is the evidence of a crime, literally and figurative, and in some ways, naturally. Like the courtcase, SeaWorld's desperately tried explaining and denying the claims in the movie. They lost the case with OSHA, but they're still appealing. I think they lost the case against "Blackfish" as well.


42 (2013) Director: Brian Helgeland

3 STARS



Years ago, I saw the original "The Jackie Robinson Story" with Robinson playing himself, which he was too old to play, especially in those scenes with him and Branch Rickey. He wasn't a natural actor, he was a high-strung proud man, who was a great and aggressive ballplayer, especially on the basepaths where nobody could touch him. College-educated, a former soldier in the Army, and from an athletic family. (Many people don't know, his older brother was faster than him, an Olympic Silver medalist in the 200m in fact.) It's a new generation, and I guess they can benefit from a new telling of his story. To most sports fans, and frankly most history buffs, they've probably long ago looked up and heard some most of the details that are gone over in "42". Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was the star shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) was looking to not only to win, but also to break the longstanding gentlemen's agreement that kept African-Americans, officially out of baseball previously. (Although at the turn of the century there were some African-American players, many of them hid their ethnicity claiming to be Caribbean or something like that.) Rickey handpicked Robinson, and sent him to Montreal for a year with the Triple A team, to get used to the torture and abuse he would get across the country, and from other players and teams. They tried to arrest the team in the south, got thrown at enough to lead the leagues in HBPs,.... I mean, he was getting it, directly or indirectly, more than most of us, who didn't live through the Civil Rights era can truly imagine. The big turning point in the movie is when Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) walks out onto the field during Jackie's at-bats and begins spewing a racist diatribe, partially to keep him off-balance at the bat, mostly for the sadistic pleasure. Occasionally, there's a good exchange or two Jackie has with Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) the Pittsburgh reporter who became his biographer as he followed him year round in '67. There's a good performance by Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher, who was suspended for the year for having an affair with a married actress, so Burt Shotten (Max Gail) had to be convinced out of retirement by Branch to manager the Dodgers for the year. The script by writer/director Brian Helgeland, usually a better writer, but it's weak here. Lots of prophecy-fulfilling lines, meant for us to say "And that did happen". Harrison Ford's been getting a publicity push to try to get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work, most of which has probably properly been ignored, although he is good here, and has been criminal overlooked by the Academy, throughout his career. (His only nomination was for "Witness" back in '87) It's a good performance, not a special one, and this isn't really a special movie in general. It's a very by-the-book biopic, of a story that can be told much better, probably through sports documentaries than it was here. It's a recommendation, it's not bad, it's a story that needs to be told more often, but truth-to-be-told, it's a toss-up but I think I preferred the original version.


THIS IS THE END (2013) Director: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

3 STARS



The Hollywood Hills are on fire, a sinkhole is engulfing the entire town of Hollywood, and the demonic mangoat that is Satan has arrived as the Apocalypse takes out Los Angeles, as the dreams of a thankful nation have finally been answered! (Had to throw that Aaron Sorkin joke in there) Based on their short film "Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse", "This is the End" starts out at as Seth Rogen's (Seth Rogen) friend writer/actor Jay Baruchel (Jay Baruchel, you know, I'll just make this easy here, everyone's basically playing exaggerated versions of themselves) is back in town from New York. They were friends up in Canada, but Rogen's become, Seth Rogen and he struggles to get the neurotic hipster Jay fully accepting of his new friends and pals. Anyway, after a day or two of getting high and other shit, they head out to James Franco's house where he's throwing a huge party. It's pretty cool party. Jonah Hill's really nice but Jay can't stand him. Franco's a regular old crazy nut that's somewhere between his "Pineapple Express" character mixed with, whatever he was on when he co-hosted the Oscars that time. Mindy Kaling trying to fuck a coked up Michael Cera, who's getting blowjobs from a couple random girls, and being an all-around douchebag in general. Suddenly, beams of blue light start taking people away, and demons start killing everyone who doesn't fall into the giant hole in Franco's front lawn. (And Cera gets impaled) Eventually, it's just Franco, Jonah, Seth, Jay, and Craig Robinson, locked up in Franco's house, with a little house, little water, and a shitload of drugs. And eventually Danny McBride, who wasn't invited to the party but passed out in the bathroom anyway, wakes up, unaware of the Apocalypse. Needless to say, most of what happens is fairly funny, I particularly enjoyed the cameo from a pissed off Emma Watson, who finds her way to the house after surviving in a sewer drain. I don't know though, the movie started waning on me after awhile; it's way too long, and eventually, the joke about them, playing themselves, getting high, and trying to think of things to do, it got tiresome. It was funny, but there was a lot of waiting around for something to happen. You know, Gene Siskel used to judge a movie based on whether or not it was as hearing the actors talk over the lunch table, or having dinner. I think I'd like to have dinner with all of these cast members, but I don't know if I'd want to spend the end of the world with them. Well, not for too long anyway. I'm recommending it, I laughed, I like a lot of the in-jokes, it was fun seeing them spoof themselves, but I found it a little too hollow, and ran a little too long; I got tired, I would've left the party early if I could.


PRINCE AVALANCHE (2013) Director: David Gordon Green

3 1/2 STARS



Alright, before I say anything else, um, just a word of advice in the future for David Gordon Green and all other writers out there. If a major character is gonna often have his named yelled or screamed out during the movie, um, try to avoid using Alvin, for the name, unless you're purposefully making an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" joke. Just-just a heads up, try to avoid that, anyway, moving on...-

Based on the Icelandic film "Either Way", Green's latest film "Prince Avalanche", is an introspective piece set around the Bastrop, Texas area, where two brothers-in-law, Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch, playing younger than I think he is.) are working at a solitairy Summer job of painting/repainting yellow lines in the middle of the highways all through Summer. Alvin's a hard worker, and is doing the job despite having a long-suffering girlfriend at home. His girlfriend brother Lance, is one of those kids who has a bad habit of talking before he thinks sometimes. He's somewhat lazy and more cerebral; brags about his ability to pick up chicks, stuff like that. There isn't too much that unpredictable here. We get some of the old DGG back, with the ethereal landscape and human nature, the Malickesque southern gothic style that he so long ago mastered, he seemed to be bored and shifted his focus, in nearly the complete opposite direction with stoner comedies like "Pineapple Express" and "Your Highness", with heavily mixed results. They occasionally run into a friendly trucker (Lance LeGault) who they have a converation with and occasionally share a beer. In the meantime, much of the film is the relationship between Alvin and Lance, and the way both characters eventually grow with each other, going from boss-employee to mentor-mentee, and eventually to being two good friends, both of whom have struggles and troubles with the women in their lives, who they're both miles away from as they camp out in the middle of nowhere. Normally I have an affection for films like these, but I gotta be honest here for a second. After I watched this movie, returned it to the library, where I usually watch two or three other movies at any given time, and usually I take copious notes on which films I've seen that particular week, so I can make sure I review them, and after couple days and after watching about three or four others movies, none of which I'd consider standing out one way or another, I finally realized that I had forgotten to write down that I had seen "Prince Avalanche," and had already long-starting writing these reviews on other films by the time I remembered. It's a very weird thing for that to happen to me, with a movie and a filmmaker that I normally go out of my way to see and enjoy. I don't know why that happened, but after I did finally recall and reflect on the film, I realized that this is a simpler and smaller movie than most of the more interesting films of this nature and that the friendship itself, and the characters, are, kinda weakly drawn. I wonder if someone like the Dardenne Brothers perhaps, would made this film somewhat more interestingly. It has the look of Green's earlier work, but his earlier films were richer and more detailed, and not just about the landscape, but about the people and the lives his characters led, even when they revolved around more traditional stories like, the fact that the Patricia Clarkson character in "All the Real Girls" worked as a clown at kids parties for instance, details like that, that helped his films stick out more than most. It's not really one of his old visions, maybe he isn't interested or capable of making a film like that anymore? That'd be sad. I'm still recommending "Prince Avalanche", but it is just a few grains of sound from a mountain.


SIGHTSEERS (2013) Director: Ben Wheatley

2 1/2 STARS



Before deciding to do research on the movie before writing my review, this was about the tone that I was gonna start my reviews of "Sightseers":

"Was this intended as a comedy?! I hope it was, 'cause it either was that, or these are either the angels of merchants of death, and I obviously missed a lot of symbolism, (I must presume at least that I missed some symbolism, 'cause if there wasn't...-) "Sightseers" is one of the most disturbing films I've seen in a while, and stars two of the most unlikeable characters in film history! And I don't just mean, there acts; movies are filled with cold-blooded killers we'd love to have a beer or fall in love with, or both, no, these are two people who, if I wasn't sure they were just gonna kill me anyway, I would've taken my own life for having to be near them for anything longer than a busride through England's countryside!"

A lot of that, is still true. I looked it up afterwards, and sure enough, it was supposed to be a comedy. The characters, of Tina and Chris were started by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram through improv sessions, and sketches, eventually evolving into this film. We meet them as Tina is trying to show off Chris, a seemingly nice young man to her sickly mother Carol (Eileen Davies), who doesn't like Chris. As they head off on a road trip, the mother mentions something about a murder that Tina committed, which she claims was an accident. Soon, there's more gruesome deaths, starting with Chris backing up over a guy who refused to pick up a wrapper he dropped on the bus, with his camper, attacked to the back of his truck. This one, at least seems like an accident at first. Soon, there's more deaths and almost deaths, most of which, seem like clear accidents at first. Tina accidentally impales a dog, which is either names Poppy or Banjo depending on who you ask, by having him go fetch. It seems like a run of bad luck, but the deaths happen more frequently. Meanwhile, the young couple are in love, at least Tina seems to think she is. They're both relatively short-tempered and dumb as a box of bricks. They have rough sex, often, which Chris often takes pictures of in their camper. He also is a sexual predator, and he often is onto another girl, the second Tina's back is turned, and then later killing that girl's husband. Repeat a few times. Occasionally a person's run over for being a pain in the ass, or stuck up or,- anyway, they run into someone, and soon, somebody gets killed by them, whetther it's intentional on their part or not, they do it anyway. They're two despicable people, who, maybe in a sketch situation, not shot with this much sardonic and dark realism, might be funny. He's a serial killer, she bends over every which way for him. She's a flouncy like girl, he's abusive creep, neither one of them has any real sympathy towards any of there actions, nor any real control it seems. The ending, feels tacked on, as there long vacation through England comes to a close, and as does the relationship. I understand why people are recommending this film, so heavily. The film won the BiFa Award for Best Screenplay, they're the British equivalent of the Spirit Awards for independent film, and the movie was a hit here. In the filmmaker's defense, after careful thought, except for the very end,  I don't think they could've made a better movie with these characters and this material. That said, I also don't think I would like these characters anymore with repeated viewings, nor laugh at the dark humor. I like the attempt at turning gruesome self-centered murderers and turning that into a morbid comedy, but if these two people we're running a McDonald's they'd probably be just as disturbing and vile to hang around. I'll admit there's some talent at work here, but I can't recommend the movie.


POST TENEBRAS LUX (2013) Director: Carlos Reygadas

3 STARS



The only Carlos Reygadas film I had seen previously was a film I absolutely despised called "Battle in Heaven", which, if I read the film correctly, (And I'm pretty sure I did) it insinuated that no matter what one did in life, once we go to heaven, men will spend eternity getting a blowjob, and women will in turn spend their afterlife giving that blowjob. (If you think I'm kidding or exaggerating, go find and watch that movie, that's literally the opening and closing image of the film.) He's had other more successful and well-regarded films like "Japon" and "Silent Night", some consider him the Terrence Malick of the New Mexican Cinema movement from the nineties that includes Cuaron, Inarritu and Del Toro among others. It's not particularly surprising for to me than that "Post Tenebras Lux", which is Latin for "After Dark, Light", (or "Light After Darkness", an old chant from the Calvinist movement) is almost completely indecipherable. The movie begins with a child running through fields, and then, the devil shows up at night. I guess he's the devil, some animated creature that seems to wander around at night. The main couple, appears to be Juan and Natalia (Adolfo Jimenez Castro and Nathalia Acevedo). At one point, Juan gets so pissed off at one point, he beats his dog to death. There's also preparations for what seems like a rugby game on the other side of the world, or maybe right next door. Juan and Nathalia seem normal enough, with two kids, Rut and Eleazar (Rut Reygadas and Eleazar Reygadas, the director's own kids.) In what is no doubt the movie's most infamous sequence, involves the couple going to a spa where everyone, including themselves is naked. The image I recall most is Nathalia, with her head in the lap, of another woman while getting fucked. I interpreted this to be a combination of an attempt to fulfill both sexual desires and the desire to still be a child and taken care of in the arms of a mother figure. In some ways, the subtext of the movie is the struggle of fulfilling those deep desires, of adults, while also dealing with the relative freedom and hopefulness of childhood. (Hmm, maybe the devil is adulthood?) I'm beginning to formulate my own theory on Reygadas's film. It took me a couple viewings, although I'm not sure I'd care for much more. There's an autobiographical aspect to the movie, and I think, while Malick is the obvious comparison, the randomness of images from different countries and autobiographical undertones, I think the proper comparison is Tarkovsky's film "The Mirror". (Another film, that I ironically didn't care much for.) Overall, the movie is a quixotic mess, that isn't the transcendent experience I'd prefer movies of this sort be, but it kept me fascinated enough, and it's interesting enough to want to interpret, even if it isn't completely possible. It's a recommendation, despite the movie being way too insular, it's interesting enough.


IN THE HOUSE (aka DANS LA MAISON)  (2013) Director: Francois Ozon

3 STARS



A writer writes a story about a writer, who trying to write about a guy who who take another's life. The problem is that he hasn't taken a life before, so he can't write about the experience, so he goes out and kills a man, and then writes about it in the book, which becomes a massive success. Which writer was I talking about, the one in the novel of the one writing the novel? Or both? Or neither?

While you work out that classic conundrum/puzzle, here's a movie that essentially deals with the same sort of problem/conflict between art and truth and where that line might be, or if a line exists. "In the House" or "Dans la Maison", the latest from Francois Ozon, ("Under the Sand", "Swimming Pool", "Ricky", etc.) and based on a play by Juan Mayorga, "In the House" gives us this scenario, once again, and it's a nice little twist on it for awhile. When essentially know the only real ways that the story can go, so it start to splurt a bit after awhile, but it's still a good recommendation. A French high school teacher Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is frustrated at the numerous lackluster papers he reads, as I'm sure most failed novelist/high school writing professors are. He finally finds one coherent paper from Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer) who wrote about trying to get into a classmate's house. The classmate, Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto) who seems to be a kid who has what Claude wants. An upper class home, two good cultured parents (Denis Menochet and Emmanuelle Seigner) and soon, he manages to earn the family's trust as Rapha's math tutor. Soon, Germain starts tutoring Claude on his writing. He's a natural, and he continues to write about his experiences in Rapha's home. Fantasizing about his mother having a bath, watching his parents have sex, rewriting Rapha's papers and articles if needed, etc. While he becomes comfortable on the couch, Germain becomes increasingly concern about the more sociopathic tendencies in Claude's writing, especially as events from his writings seems to be occurring with continued frequency and disturbance. His wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, who seems to be working in French as much as English nowadays, if not moreso) looks on as Germain becomes obsessed with Claude's work, and concerned over the well-being of Rapha and his family, as Claude becomes more ingrained into the ecosystem of that house. In some way, I imagine Claude as a young Tom Ripley, fascinated with human behavior and emotion, but unable to comprehend any of it. Ozon's a bit of an erratic director, when he's on his game, he can be the best out there, when he's not, it be drastically bad, like "8 Women" for instance, "In the House", is in-between. It goes a little overboard near the end, and like I said, there's only so many scenarios, so while we aren't sure which will happen, we've already thought of most of them, and their variables. Entertaining enough for the first hour though.


RENOIR (2013) Director: Gilles Bourdos

3 STARS



Last week, I mentioned the record number of movie reviews I had for my last Movie Review post, and it was a lot, but believe it or not, it was also a rare occasion where I didn't get to review every film I had seen. So, apologies ahead of time, if I seem a little blank on this review of "Renoir", it was supposed to be in last week's post, and unfortunately, I just couldn't get to it in time. Anyway, it is a beautiful and interesting film, based on the true story of Catherine Hessling, who was an artistic muse for both of the most famous members of the Renoir family. Known as Dede (Christa Theret, Hessling was eventually her stage name), she originally started working and eventually living in the luschious wooded home of Pierre-Augustus (Michel Bouquet) she would become one of his last muses, and modeled for the great painter, currently in his seventies and wheelchair-bound, but still full of life and energy, certainly enough to take in the pleasures and perks of being a well-known artist that works with nude women all day. She's already confronted by some of his other kids about the inevitable-ness of her eventually having an affair with Augustus, which in there world is normal. Soon however, Renoir's son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) comes home from fighting in the war. His leg's injured, leaving him with a minor limp, and he's still unsure of what to make of his artistic life. It's well-known that Andree was Jean's first wife, and starred in his first feature, "Backbiters", when she decided to become an actress, so it's not surprising that they start a relationship here. The movie does a decent job at being about this complex love triangle-muse relationship, where Andree is a both lover and muse to two men, who happen to be father and son, and the movie, like Renoir's paintings is often stunning. The photography by Ping Bin Lee is quite good here, but I just struggling a bit to fully recommend this. It's a good concept, but it also feels a little bit of a contrived by-the-book bio-story, and it doesn't really reflect well in hindsight . It's also a little too slow and drags at the end a bit. I'm going back-and-forth but I am recommending it, for Bouquet's performance, which I think is the best in the film, and some of the other reasons I mentioned. I think there's a good story here, but I'm not sure it's a full film. It captures a very brief period in time for these characters, and I actually think it might have only been a part one of a good story. I think a more interesting film, would've been to start here, and then dive into the marriage and life of Jean and Andree as he begins his film career after coming back from the re-enlisting in the war, for a nice contrast perhaps. There's enough here, but there could've been more.


LUV (2012) Director: Sheldon Candis

3 STARS



In some ways, I imagine a film like "LUV" will have some familiarity to certain people. However, that said, I question the direction the film chose to take. I think it took the easy way out, and yet, there's something powerful about the film. Young Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) reminds me a bit of Caine from "Menace II Society", a smart kid cursed by environment and drew the unlucky card when it came to his parents. His mother, a strung-out junkie living in another state, and his father Vincent (Common) just out of jail after a decade. He thankfully seems like he's determinate to fully integrate himself into Woody's life, and become a suitable member of society. He's got a plan to open a crabshack along the bay, something that the banker wonders if they really need another of in Baltimore, but it's symbolic enough that when Woody breaks open his first crab by himself, we feel that this is a life-changing moment in his life. The movie takes place over a single day, as a drive to school, then suddenly, Woody's spending the whole day with his father. He's going to some of his old friends, hangouts, fellow drugdealers and other such underworld figures, formerly and possibly still ongoing. He also buys Woody a suit, since he's going to the bank to try to get a loan for his crab shack. They're interested, but after eight years in prison, there's mortgage on the property, and he has until Monday to pay back the mortgage, about $22,000, so he's now got to circumnavigate a mindfield of the past, all with Woody by his side. Why exactly? Probably because it's all he knows. It's his past, and he feels that his past should be passed onto his son, so that he has some memory of him? He could've taken him back home dozens of times over throughout the day. This is a tough film to review. In a way it's powerful, but it's also inevitable. What it does, and why it does it, it does it well, but that said, couldn't this film have been better served if, say a father who's been released from jail after years, spends a day with the son he never knew, and, nothing happened other than that? Really, just, two people getting to know each other, trying to break down the wall between them. Maybe succeeding, maybe failing, but why does there have to be all this old shit getting in the way? I guess that's another movie, and maybe I'd prefer that one. I've seen films with Common where he's such a likeable good guy, particularly in romantic leads, I think I naturally want to see him in the role. It's also good to see great actors like Charles S. Dutton, Danny Glover, and especially the criminally underused Dennis Haysbert, in good supporting parts. I'm on the fence on this one, but I'm gonna recommend it, with strong reservations that this film, has issues, and I think it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. This isn't a film that gonna make you feel good afterwards, and the irony of the title, is frankly, a little lost on me.


HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012) Director: Genndy Tartakovsky

1 STAR



(Blows raspberries) Bland, generic, boring, dull, and other adjectives as well. That's about all I can really muster out of myself in regards to "Hotel Transylvania". And you, know, I know there's some appeal to these bringing together of classic movie villains in this case, or heroes in others; it's not a new idea, Abbott & Costello did it like, 70 years ago, but honestly, unless it's a "Celebrity Deathmatch" (and even then, really), I'm not sure it completely works. Not that that's the real problem with "Hotel Transylvania", which has a Dracula (Adam Sandler) who reminds me more of Count Chocola than Dracula, and is just as terrifying and better with milk as he is, owns the biggest monster resort hotel in Transylvania, a place where Frankenstein (Kevin James), The Invisible Man, Quasimodo, and all the other terrifying villains can spend a few weeks relaxing each year, instead of having to be hiding from the dangerous humans that once went after them with pitchforks and torches. Also, the dates coincide with Dracula's daughter Mavis's (Selena Gomez) birthday every year. Today, she turns 118, and like all frustrated centen-nar-i-an-teen-agers? That can't be right; hold on-! (Musak of Heart's "Magic Man" plays. "C'mon wikipedia." Huh, okay, cool. Musak turns off) ... like all frustrated supercentenarians, (Yeah, look it up.) she wants to finally get out of the house and explore the world, despite her, being a vampire who's can only see the world half the time, and also the dangerous humans that Dracula's brainwashed her with over the years. The gates are heavily guarded, and the hotel is well-hidden, but sure enough, on her eighteen birthday, somehow Jonathan (Andy Samberg) finds the hotel, a human hippie/yuppie hi-bred, you know, the kind that "Really loves nature" and goes hiking and things like that? Anyway, if you can't reasonably guess what's gonna happen in "Hotel Transylvania" after the first ten minutes of the movie, well, to say it nicely, in the poker table of life, you're the sucker. This could've been really inventive, but it's just doesn't hit on any note that you wouldn't fully expect it to. It's a tiresome cliche, even for animated movies. There's been a lot of parent-child relationship in American animated films recently, this is one of the worst. I mean, think about something like "Brave" and then watch "Hotel Transylvania", and it's so clear which of those films has actual meaning and something to say about teenagers and parents and expectations, and love even, and this-, I mean this could've been a ten-minute cartoon on the Disney Channel- in fact, it probably would've been better if it was. This is the ultimate, for-profit, for-marketing, animation film. Let's get all the monsters together in a hotel, and after a week of thinking about that, someone finally says, "Hey, we should have a story, too, maybe."


THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (2012) Director: Eugene Jarecki

4 STARS



Most of what's detailed in "The House I Live In" I frankly presumed to be public knowledge. Maybe some don't see it that way, as those interviewed who thought the term "War on Drugs" stopped being fought after Nancy Reagan stopped saying "Just Say No." I hope that's the minority of people who think that, but most of the educated know that the system is long-broken, and that the "War on Drugs" is really a "War on the Poor". Well, the poor, the Blacks, in the seventies and especially the eighties, actually earlier than that, or the Mexicans in the '50s or on Chinese in the '20s, or on the powhitetrash now with crystal meth, today. The answer is clearly obvious, spend the money we put towards the war on drugs onto treatment, which even President Nixon, yes Nixon, knew was the better approach. When he railed against drugs in his campaigns, and coined the term "War on Drugs", and started the war, he spent 2/3s of the money on treatment, it was when the African-Americans were vilified in the '80s and the rise of crack cocaine where that tough on crime crap, led to an overpopulation of non-violent drug offenders in jail from time periods that would normally only be reserved for murder beforehand. I really hope none of this is news to all of you readers, 'cause I've had the time to go over and analyze this stuff for years before, and I'm tired of going over and discussing it or explaining it to the less-informed. To them, I'd simply say to watch this movie, or one of numerous other films out there. There's two things in the movie that really did surprise me. One, was that police officer are often bankrolled by the money they find when they take the cars and persons of people they arrest, and that's perfectly legal, and that most of what police, officers and stations make comes from overtime, and that, one arrest on the street leads to getting paid to take the perpetrator into holding, and then getting him ID and fingerprinted, and then filling out the paperwork on the case for a couple hours at the desk, and each hour is another hour in pay, so there's just one of many people who have an incentive to keep arresting, although the majority of them are tired and dismayed that they keep fighting this war on drugs. They know it's not worth fighting anymore and they do more harm than good. The other is director Eugene Jarecki's family housekeeper Nannie Jeter, who's own life was shattered by drug abuse when her son was arrested, and is still in jail for marijuana possession. "The House I Live In" takes a comprehensive investigatory look at how we got here. Similar to what Jarecki did with the military industrial complex with his previous film "Why We Fight". It gives us all angles and perspectives, and the real story. So for that reason alone it's worth watching, the fact that it does it well helps. The only thing I really regret is that movies like this have to be made, because too many people out there don't know all this before the movie. Well, if it takes movies like this to inform them, then I guess I'm glad they're made.


FROM UP ON POPPY HILL (2012) Director: Goro Miyazaki

3 1/2 STARS



The second feature film from Goro Miyazaki, after "Tales from Earthsea," but the first time he's collaborating with his famous father Hayao Miyazaki, one of the latest Studio Ghible efforts, "From Up on Poppy Hill", was the highest-grossing movie in Japan in 2011, and just like his father's work, the film is amazing to look at, and that mostly makes up for some of the weaknesses in the film's story. The film takes place in '63, and Poppy Hill is the area of Yokahama where Uni lives with her grandmother and three sisters as well as an eclectic mix of tenants. She has a tradition of raising naval flags facing the local harbor, which she's been practicing since before her father died in the Korea War. Her mother, is currently in America studying. She goes to a high school, where in the local paper, the Latin Quarter Weekly, named after the eccentric boys-only clubhouse/building where the male side of the class often hangs out and creates clubs, mostly for sciences and some of the more educational and liberal arts, asks about her practice, anonymously. She investigates the decrepit building, where she finds Shun, one of the more headstrong members of the Latin Quarter, who are fighting to protect it from it's demolition. Tokyo's hosting the Olympics in 1964, and across the country, there's plans to tear down many old buildings, including the Latin Quarter and replace it with new more modern buildings, like many of the ones that currently overpopulated Tokyo now. Shun and Uni clearly have a chemistry connection, one that I'm troubled to reveal describing in too much detail, but let's just say that it's a platonic relationship and involves both of them, having to investigate long-held secrets in both of their pasts. This, while they struggle to save the Latin Quarter, mostly by cleaning it up and giving the building a new look and dimension than one that seems to have not had an interior designer who previously only worked tree houses. I saw "From Up on Poppy Hill" shortly after I made out my nominations for the OYL Awards, and had it replace "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" as a nominee in the Best Animated Feature category. In other years, it might not have gotten into that category; while it's a good film, it's a movie that probably wouldn't get a three-star rating if it wasn't animated. The characters are fairly thin, and the way they handle the revelations about themselves, I didn't buy completely. Also, the story and plot, are a little too simple for me; we've seen this story before, and like many other versions, it just doesn't quite have the majestic power that it needs. "From Up on Poppy Hill" is a minor entry in the Ghibli canon, but that's like saying something a minor Shakespeare, so it's a recommendation, but they can do better.


LAY THE FAVORITE (2012) Director: Stephen Frears

3 STARS




(CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARNING! I do casually know a few people who worked on this movie.)

LOL, anybody who tells you they're a professional sports bettor, or are able to predict games with 70-80% accuracy, they're full of shit. I don't care if there's a paid program where they make their picks and advertise their 800 number, or if those programs still exist. When Dink (Bruce Willis) says that he only needs to right 55%, of the time,  he ain't bragging about it, that's a professional bettor. I would've said 53% in fact, which is the number I always heard, and in case you're wondering, an average bettor who knows the sportsworld and thinks they can beat the odds, maybe they 30% if they get lucky. I've tried it, I know. I was about 23% picking the NFL one year, against the spread. One great year, I almost went .500 at the NCAA playoffs, and considered that a great accomplishment. Based on the true story/novel by Beth Raymer, "Lay the Favorite" is one of those, "Only in Vegas" stories. Beth (Rebecca Hall) is a private dancer in Florida, the kind of strippers who are hired out for places, which is a fine profession in Vegas usually, given the tourist industry, but outside of that, it's a bit riskier, and she decides the best thing for her to do is quit her job, move to Vegas and become a cocktail waitress. Her father Jerry (Corbin Bernsen) also thinks that's a good idea, and encourages her. When she comes to town, she's spotted as a newcomer quickly, after she begins her gambling enterprise by playing Flip-It. (Ah, Flip-It, one of the great casino cons of yore; I don't think I've seen a flip-it machine in ten years at least.) She asks about the cocktail job, only to find out that she has to wait until an older broad dies so she can join the Union. (This movie knows Vegas; don't fuck with the Culinary Union.) Instead, her newly-made stripper friend Holly (Laura Prepon) suggests working with Dink as a bet-placer, and because she knows numbers strangely enough. She can also take any word and rearrange the letters so that they're alphabetical in record speed in her mind. Other than that, she's a bit of a flimsy but lovable airhead, kinda like this movie, flimsy but lovable. What Dink does is watch the lines on games and make bets accordingly. I'm gonna dive into some inside knowledge here so, basically if somebody we're to suddenly bet $10,000 dollars on a game, that's say, -3 one way, the line will then move the opposite way, say to -2 1/2 because he took the favorite, (Which is close to true btw for most of these games) so what Dink does is watch the odds move, and how quickly they move, and find the place where the odds didn't move and make the bets there, before they move the line too far, 'cause betting lines aren't predictions, they're created with the intent of getting enough action both side so that the casinos break even at least. Anyway, enough of high school statistics class. There's a red herring subplot about Dink's wife Tulip's (Catherine Zeta-Jones) jealousy as Dink and Beth do become a little too close, which she mistake for a relationship, when it's really closer to the same father-daughter relationship she has with her dad. Eventually, she ends up working for one of Dink's rivals, Rosie (Vince Vaughn) who runs an illegal bookmaking operation in New York, although has plans to move to the Cayman Islands, but is way too reckless. "Lay the Favorite" is a minor entry for the great Stephen Frears, who can make any kind of movie it seems like. I've never seen a bad film from him, but finding a through-line of his work is almost impossible with great films like "The Queen", "Dirty Pretty Things", "High Fidelity", "The Grifters", "Dangerous Liaisons" "My Beautiful Laudrette" in his filmography, but even his minor entries like "Cheri", "Mrs. Henderson Presents", "Tamara Drewe" and this film, all have good reasons to take a look at them. "Lay the Favorite" is a light-hearted movie but that doesn't make it inaccurate. It knows the world it's talking about, and it's just fun, so I'm recommending it.


NOT FADE AWAY (2012) Director: David Chase

2 1/2 STARS



Before I went into screenwriter, I like every teenager boy thought that maybe I could be musician and play the coffeeshops on an acoustic guitar or piano, like my musical icons, Jewel, Melissa Etheridge, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, etc. (I grew up in the Lilith Fair era, and tuned out to music, basically since Britney and the boy bands came. Sorry, every year of this century's music, but it was better then.) Well,  I never even started to learn to play, nor could I read music, but I did write lyrics for awhile, I wanna say about 200 songs in total, back then. I still occasionally write them, even consult on lyrics with musicians friends of mine, but one day, I was reading the lyrics to Bob Dylan's song "Hurricane", and knew I was never gonna top that. I didn't literally quit that day, or even that year, but I knew my writing became mental masturbation at that point, and most of it, wasn't even good masturbation. I wasn't serious at it. The New Jersey teenagers in "Not Fade Away", titled after the Rolling Stones first hit song, which was Buddy Holly cover, aren't going to be the next Mick and Keith. We're told that from the beginning by the film's narrator Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu) the younger sister of Douglas (John Magaro) who begins trying to start a band, shortly after the Beatles hit and The Rolling Stones are on "The Dean Martin Show." He starts a band in high school, and they start to get gigs, and are relatively successful locally. Then, like all stories of the sixties, politics  and art seem to submerge, and soon, Douglas is quitting school and doing his best "Don't Look Back"-era Dylan impersonation around the dinner table, much to the chagrin of his simple hard-working father, Pat. (James Gandolfini, in one of his last roles.) There's numerous setbacks. Lead vocalist changes, breaks between gigs, disconnections between the band members. At one point, they get a gig in a couple months in front of a major music executive, and they're barely played at all in a year. It's the final straw for Douglas, who's ready to quit and reconsider his other artistic love, television. (He also seems to watch,  on top of rock'n'roll performers is "The Twilight Zone".) The movie is the first feature film attempt from legendary TV producer/writer David Chase, most famous for creating "The Sopranos", but you can take that out of his resume and still get one of the highly-respected TV writers around. The film is clearly autobiographical for him, and the movie ends, in a strange sequence that probably would've fit in more clearly in one of the surreal Sopranos episodes, or "Twin Peaks" maybe. It's an interesting journey through the '60s, but we've seen so many of them, it's hard to treat this one with the same respect. It's basically a good flashback to a time and place that we've seen plenty of in movies before. I always think of the miniseries "The '60s" as a good, pseudo-definitive version of an overview of the decade. I don't know, "Not Fade Away" didn't quite work on me. It strained after a while, and while occasionally there were interesting developments, a lot of it just felt like waiting for the movie to finish, or John's life to start, or both. I think it's a nice little personal memoir for Chase, who was in a band before switching over to television, but, I might've guessed this as his background already from his previous work; I'm not sure I needed it documented.


BEFORE NIGHT FALLS (2000) Director: Julian Schnabel

4 STARS



I'm still backtracking through Julian Schnabel's filmography, and it's becoming clear what inspires the painter to jump to the genre of film most; he's fascinated by those who strive and manage to create art, despite their dire circumstances. Well, not always art like in "Miral" but certainly the strive for overcoming, and the desperation involved in a man who would do anything just for get his beliefs out there, even and especially when it would so clearly be easier for him, to simply not. His first film was about the doomed painter "Basquiat", who spiraled out from drugs into madness, after already going from poverty to the heights of the art world. His best film is "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", about a man, who wrote an autobiography using only his left eye to communicate after a debilitating stroke made him paralyzed on most of the rest of his body. His second feature film, "Before Night Falls" is about Reinaldo Arenas (Oscar-nominee Javier Bardem) who managed to write eight or nine novels, most of which weren't released in his native Cuba, but were smuggled out, oftentimes while he was in prison for being a counter-revolutionary. Strangely ironic, for the man who once fought alongside Castro and the rebels. They took him in after leaving home, where he beaten by his father when his teacher said that he had a gift for poetry. After the revolution however, he was dismayed by Castro's treatment towards artists and towards homosexuals. Arenas was gay, but he also excessively so. He claimed to have slept with approximately 5,000 people. It could be construed that he was a sex addict. He wasn't alone in Castro's Cuba who was gay, but others hid it, like a military officer named Lt. Victor (Johnny Depp). A lot of this, was him, simply refusing to hide of be sneaky and clever. He'd attend numerous outdoor parties and gatherings, that were illegal, and trials of his would be on national television. In many ways, he simply spent his adult life, revolting against Castro in his actions, before he finally got sent to America as a troublemaker among other hardcore criminals and deviants that left for the U.S. in '79. He would live in New York, where he'd commit suicide in '90, after struggling with AIDS. "Before Night Falls" was his memoir, which he started writing in prison, and was published shortly after his death, and while it's a good movie, I don't know if it's a great one, and I would've preferred to have just read his novels instead of his story. Schnabel's clearly a great artist though, and he might be the best director I've ever seen with POV shots. There's quite a few special ones in "Before Night Falls", but my favorite is from the point of view of an ax as it's chopping a tree. There's always something inventive and amazing on the screen. I would've liked that the movie have been made in Cuba, instead of Veracruz doubling for it, but this was probably the best film that could've been made from the material. It also helped introduce Javier Bardem to an American audience.

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