Wednesday, February 26, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "AKIRA"

AKIRA (1988)

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Screenplay: Katsuhiro Otomo based on his graphic novel first published by “Young Magazine,” Kodansha, Ltd.



A seminal work in Japanese Anime, and an undeniable essential for fans and even novices of the genre, somewhere between David Lynch and “2001…” is “Akira,” arguably the best and certainly the most important of Anime films. Along with Miyazaki’s films, “My Neighbor Totoro,” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Akira,” is the movie that brought what was then known as Japanimation, later renamed Anime, to the American shores. Unlike Miyazaki and Takahata, “Akira,” is closer in tone to the typical images one thinks of when they think of Japanese animation. The first time I heard of the movie, it was in the mid-nineties on an informercial which was selling Akira, as the first in a monthly collection of Japanese animated films. They were advertised and criticized correctly for their excessive violence, striking sexual images, nudity, and just randomly disturbing imagery in general. It was also heavily suspected these were marketed towards children, which may or may not have been the case, but it found cult audiences of all ages, and “Akira,” more than many of the other films would have a reach beyond the typical Anime fans market. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, which he made from his own graphic novel, it was way over-budget and delayed. The movie used over 300 different colors, a record for an animated film; fifty of the colors were created specifically for the film. While he has directed since “Akira,” only a few times have been feature-length films like “Steamboy,” and he has become more prolific in Anime as a writer, including “Metropolis”. “Akira,” still remains a visual marvel; arguably the best film made using cell animation. The film itself is an intricate and complicated sci-fi tale involving members of a motorcycle gang, an Army Colonel, three sickly dwarf-like characters that drift in and out almost without explanation, and someone or something called Akira, that may or may not be at the center of all this. Taking place outside of Neo Tokyo, a city west of Tokyo that has been built in the years after the original was engulfed in some kind of WWIII bomb, Kaneda and Tetsuo are members of a motorcycle gang. Kaneda rides on a Japanese Kawasaki bike that’s excessively red, matching his jacket, and his gang symbol, which looks like a pill capsule. Tetsuo is strangely kidnapped after an unusual gangfight, and Kaneda tries to find and then rescue him, only to find Tetsuo suddenly blessed or cursed with telekinetic powers that makes Carrie look like an amateur. Three strange dwarf-like creatures seem to have an explanation, one even plays an oracle-like role, warning of danger. An oddly intelligent and thoughtful Army Colonel, feels this war and a battle coming on, tries to either kill or at least capture Tetsuo, but this task is particularly impossible considering how easily Tetsuo escapes. He can also apparently reshape entire structures to bend to his will if he wanted to, and his will is destruction. All these and other forces eventually collide into a confusing and elaborate ending that resembles the visually-enthralling ending of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in both visuals and scope. I’ll be damned if I can come up with an exact explanation of how a second rate gang member becomes a, -… well he becomes a lot of different things. This shapeshifting mythology that’s deeply imbedded in Japanese culture, and is particularly prevalent in Anime is used to full disturbing and grotesque effect here, as well as the most strikingly beautiful. The movie’s ending is as beautiful as it is confusing. That’s not a bad thing. I’m okay with not completely understanding every little detail of this film’s plot and story. Sometimes I can't even be sure if I’m looking at someone or something that’s real of a figment of a character’s imagination, or possibly even a humanoid stand-in for another character, and most of the time, the other characters aren’t going to know either. The way it plays in fact, it’s almost a complete coincidence when any of the characters are aware of any of the others and their intentions, and often they can do very little anyway. I have a feeling were not supposed to understand everything about “Akira,” anyway. It’s the kind of movie that’s going to be ever-evolving upon each viewing. How can often can you say that about an animated film?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

NBC'S (FINGER QUOTES) "OLYMPICS" or PRIMETIME HIGHLIGHTS OF BORING SPORTS! The (YAAAAAWWWNNN!) Ol-ym-pics Real- Ughck, tsk-tsk- Bwwwah. The Olympics really sucked this year.



Yeah, I couldn't take this subpar Olympic coverage from NBC anymore without ranting about it this year. Usually, I'm a little more lenient, but not this time, and frankly, NBC, they really should be ashamed of themselves for the piss-poor presentation this year. And it really was that bad. It's no secret, that NBC basically bet the house by attaining the rights to broadcast the Olympics from the IOC, back in the late nineties. They own the rights to broadcast the Olympics 'til 2020, and before then, they had the previous three Summer games beforehand. The Winter Olympics, had been on CBS previously, last time being the '98 games in Nagano, Japan. It's not new the way they've chosen to go about broadcasting the games, with what is essentially a nightly highlight reel package in Primetime and usually on tape delay and this was one of those years where you really felt the tape delay. We've had the internet long enough to know that we could've always looked up the results, even from NBC's earliest games, and while there have always been various complaints about their coverage since and before they made this 20-year deal, but to me, most of the time I didn't mind as much of some of the more vocal complainers. Olympics are traditionally taped delayed, and why not put the best moments and events of the games in the Primetime if you can, that's certainly the one idea that makes the most sense. Especially in 1992. And frankly, when hardly anybody knew the results.

But you know what else they showed in '92. The OLYMPICS! What is the Olympic coverage, on NBC this year? Barely anything during the day or afternoon most of the time, and even then, those events are tape delayed, but they're all shown live on NBCSN or one of the other ninety-nine networks NBC has. We used to get everything, not just some pre-determined specialized moments, at night, after everyone knows what's already happened. I remember watching Oscar De La Hoya, win the gold medal by knockout in '92, it was on in the afternoon when I got home from school; everyone knew then he was gonna be world champion then, he was so good. We saw weightlifting, we saw nearly every sport you can imagine, or it seemed that way, and we didn't have that stupid Triplecast thing they tried then to push all the events onto other cable channels. We also had basketball in primetime! And better yet, when CBS held the winter games in '94, we had hockey in the mornings, when we'd go to school. The Olympics were all day all night thing that consumed the network it was on for a couple weeks, and that's what it should be. I shouldn't have to wait until "Dr. Phil" is off to then see the Olympics, there's gotta be something they can air?! Maybe not live, but why have they just decided to push everything onto cable? 

I get it, I don't need to see every second of the women's biathlon, or every single luger, and yeah, primetime, can be a great spot to re-air all the highlights, but why do I have to order NBCSN, NBC Sports Network, just to get something more than a % of the Olympics? I mean, if you're gonna spend all that money to broadcast the games, money btw that they're surely gonna lose for these Sochi games by the way, I'll bet it now, well, at least broadcast them, on NBC! You're in for a dime, you might as well be in for a dollar, and just be "The Olympic Network" that they claim to be. 

I know some people like sports more than others, but I do believe in celebrating and being around for the most culturally significant of events if at all possible no matter the world with which we're in, and in regards to sports, I think for the big stuff like this, everybody should pay attention, and have the ability to do so. Something amazing is happening right now, something so rare it only happens once every four years, (or two years if you want to count that way.) and as much of it should be seen live, or more importantly, as much of it should be seen, or able to be seen by the most amount of people as possible, and not just those clips deemed memorable or important enough for the Universal Sports-light highlight show in Primetime, or those, willing and able to get the extra channels or who really wants to download online at the moment. Yes, overall this was an underwhelming Olympics, and not just from a U.S. standard, there's plenty of reasons for it, but there's plenty of reasons why it could've been better that was NBC either blew, of misfired on, or just got wrong completely.

Stop overthinking it in the future, NBC, it's the Olympics; just show the damn Olympics and people will watch. Make sure Bob Costas is healthy, try to show as much live if you can, and Rio is the next one, so it shouldn't be that hard next time, but other than that, it's an athletic competition, not another primetime reality show. Move away from the priority of structuring them into a palatable program, 'cause it just ruins it. I know figure skating is the ratings grabber, and I remember why it is, and I still remember how to pronounce Gillooly (Ga-i-lewl-ly), but you gotta get out the this mindset. It should be a bunch of stuff going on at once, and us, not knowing where to look, and bombarded with excitement and athleticism, like the way the Final Four used to be. (Oh, I'm preparing that post too, next month, don't worry.) There's nothing worse you can really say about any television program other than, "It was so much better back then...", well, NBC, that's what we're saying. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #81: "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS", "20 FEET FROM STARDOM", "CUTIE AND THE BOXER", "MAN OF STEEL", "AFTER EARTH", "THE CONJURING", "WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS", "CONCUSSION", "EVIL DEAD", "PASSION", "SIMON KILLER", "HERBLOCK: THE BLACK AND THE WHITE", "TOUCHY FEELY", "FAREWELL, MY QUEEN", "DARK TOUCH", "VAMPS" and MORE!

Whew! Sorry I'm late with my RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS this week, but as you can see, there were a lot of films this week, and frankly, there were a few more I tried to review, but for one reason or another, I wasn't able to. Anyway, the Oscar ballots have been sent out, and I'm gonna start working on predictions soon, but if you're anything like me, you've been watching the Olympics and complaining about NBC's shitty coverage of them. If it's any consolation Mr. Costas, if wasn't your fault, it's just not a good year to be doing the delayed results thing, and it's been costing them. (Plus this isn't a great Olympics overall, but, they're not making it more interesting.)

Also a couple big losses this week in the entertainment world. Danish Director Gabriel Axel, who directed one of my favorite movies "Babette's Feast" which the country first Foreign Language film Oscar, he was 95. You can search for my Canon of Film entry on that film below:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/09/canon-of-film-babettes-feast.html

Also, you're anything like me, part of your childhood was Shirley Temple films. I actually just saw, the original version of "The Little Princess" that she was in not too long ago, and that was a good movie. I mean, it's hard to remember this exactly, but she was the biggest movie star in Hollywood for a good 4 or 5 years there, and she was making about a 6 or 7 films a year at that point. She had a career's work before she was a teenager. The first great child star, my favorite was always "Heidi" of course, and she also acted as a bit as a teenager, and I suspect her role in "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" was probably an early example of the determined teenager that gets everybody around in compromising situations, kinda like Christina Ricci's role in "The Opposite of Sex", before doing a lot of charitable and ambassadorship stuff as an adult, so Shirley Temple-Black's passing, that really kinda signified the end of that era of film,- I mean there aren't many left and she might've been the last one, so that's a really sad loss this week.

Well, we lots of big movies to review this week, including three Oscar nominated features, "Captain Phillips" "20 Feet from Stardom" and Cutie and the Boxer", so let get on to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) Director: Paul Greengrass

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I think I know why "Captain Phillips" just doesn't seem to have the effect on me that it should. It's always a little tricky when you're making, what is essentially an action film based on well-documented real-life incidents, Greengrass has never shied away from such material, like his breakout movie "Bloody Sunday" about the '72 Derry Protests that ended in violence, or his best film, the harrowing "United 93", which is probably the film that "Captain Phillips" gets the unfortunate effect of being compared to. Part of the effect of that film is the event itself, as it has a deeper impact on its audience for us having, recalled and gone through 9/11 so much more viscerally than the Somali pirate incident in International waters. It was important, I certainly remembered it in many details ahead of time, but that probably worked to my detriment as well. Well, partial detriment, this is still an impressive film. I always thought that, given the scope of the incident that it was a naval ship that the pirates, led by Muse (Oscar-nominee Barkhad Abdi) boarded and eventually kidnapped the ship's captain, but actually, while it was an American ship, it actually a cargo ship, that was making a dangerous voyage around the East coast of Africa, starting from Oman, up to Djibouti along the edge of the Red Sea, and eventually down to Mombasa on the coast of Kenya. Basically, going around the Somali coast. The opening sequences of the film are quite startling the way both Capt. Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his crew go about the voyage in much the same banal way that the Somalis go about preparing their piracy. Getting the boats ready, steadying the crew, or finalizing the crew, preparation and drills. There's an eeriness to similar they are, both shot in that same great smooth handheld way that Greengrass is one of the few directors who's truly great at. The movie is essentially a long drawn out chess game between the two. The crew speed up, the boat heads out into International waters, blowing out their motors. They improve their motor, they head out with a shorter crew. The cargo ship's not armed, but they've rigorously practice their emergency protocol. Where to hide on the ship, how to contact without getting notice. Spraying hoses at full blast to impede the boat. It's fascinating how they each seem to know the other's moves, and that intricacy of the details, most of those which, we didn't know to well ahead of time, are intriguing, like how they avoided the ship the day before and warned the U.S. about it's impending boarding. Or how they kept most of the cargo and money, and Phillips let himself get kidnapped as they stole a lifeboat to head back to shore, and await the discussions on ransom. I think I preferred the first half chess game, the battle between the crews more than the later half on the lifeboat where the sense of dread and doom becomes more apparent, and the conflicts within the pirate crew is far more self-inflicting. The film just won a surprise Eddie Award for it's editing, and Chris Rouse is certainly one of the very best editors around, although considering the material, I was just as impressed with the lack of flashy editing in certain parts, the quiet nature of the attack; this isn't a typical explosive action movie. A lot of it, is just patience and waiting. Hanks is very effective here, particularly in the solemn captain who sees the problems ahead of time, but never completely hints at what he's thinking. "Captain Phillips" is effective and matter-of-fact, which is exactly what it's aiming for, making it successful if not special.


20 FEET FROM STARDOM (2013) Director: Morgan Neville

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The first time I came across the name Darlene Love was at one of the few places I ever expect to come across a name for the first time; it was back in early 2011, and it was announced that she was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Especially considering how few women are in that shrine, I was shocked to find someone whose name that not only I didn't know, but many of my musicians friends who I turn to on most questions I have regarding musicology, didn't know the name either. Little did we know, how much we know the voice, if not the name of Love and many of the other artists showcased in "20 Feet from Stardom", the great documentary about some of the great unknown rock superstars around, the back-up singers, who stand on the side of the stage as the superstars sing up on stage. Darlene Love, had a few albums under her own name, but mostly ghost-performed for Phil Spector most of her career before finally quitting to become a maid for awhile before returning to performing, but twenty feet off from where she was. Many of those girl groups that he recorded were probably her singing the songs that the groups would later learn after they became hits. Most of them are older singers, Love is 72, although doesn't look a day over 50. Morgan Neville sand the female lead on the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" and blew them out of their own recording. Claudia Lennar was an Ikette performing with Ike & Tina for years, which was hard work and disheartening as he was one of the artists who thought of background singers more as eye candy than performers. (She was also the inspiration for the Stones "Brown Sugar") Most of the greatest voices in rock'n'roll however, tend to think of these women as these women as the greatest voices in rock'n'roll. Lisa Fischer has a Grammy as a solo artist, but her second album got delayed too long, and now tours with the Stones permanently. Younger singers have it worse than any of them, as everything's synchronized and over-produced now. Someone talks about how they take time and money out of album productions to "correct" background singers who can't hit the notes, something most of the women, don't do. Most learned to sing in a church choir, so their predisposed to shaping their voices to a group. Most are African-America, other than a few footage shots of Luther Vandross backing up David Bowie during one of his early albums, their mainly women, and even when they're somewhat successful like Judith Hill, who gained a cult following for her own music after being Michael Jackson's backup singer, for what was supposed to be his "This Is It" concerts in London, but still occasionally takes backup gigs that she'd otherwise be ashamed of. (I remember thinking that that was her backing up Kylie Minogue on Jay Leno that time). They make points about background singers that I never really thought about before, especially in this modern time where they're used so unfairly infrequently; they really were the sound of rock'n'roll. Not just the melody, but the fierceness and the combativeness that they'd bring. Ray Charles could've mimicked their voices on his recording, but what would "Hit the Road Jack" be with the Rayettes answering back? A movie like this reminds us just what we really are missing from pop and rock music these days. It's entertaining, these wonder are incredible artists, and the music they create is legendary.  Yeah, in some ways it's just another 90-minute rockumentary about artists who's names only a few of us know, but few hit home like this one. If it's true that all art strives to be music, than generations of people who grew up on rock'n'roll, myself included, we're to be these artists, we just didn't know it.


CUTIE AND THE BOXER (2013) Director: Zachery Heinzerling

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The Oscar-nominated documentary "Cutie and the Boxer" occasionally breaks its cinema verite structure to give us some information on the couple we're focusing so intently on, which helps sometimes, as well as looking at the amazing artwork that both Ushio  and Noriko make. Ushio Shinohara is a renowned abstract artist; we see him display his most famous style of painting, the action paintings where the puts on boxing gloves, dips them in paint, and boxing with a large canvas creating "action paintings where the stroke and style of his work reflects mood, and he also seems to have a fascination with motorcycles in much of his more found scuptural art. Now 80-years old, the couple constantly fights and bickers, but there's an elegiac tone that there wasn't before. In flashback we see his fame and importance, as well as the artistic demon that took over his life. We also see, in her work, Noriko's drawings and flashbacks a more tempermental and abusive relationship than before. She was 21 years younger than Ushio when she started working and living with the artist. They had a child soon after, but she took the brunt of the poverty as he'd spend nights out drinking and partying with Andy Warhol, while she abandoned her artistic work to take care of him. Now, this new series of hers is getting attention, called "Cutie and Bullie", and yes, with her signature double-pigtails, she's nicknamed cutie, and the boxer is Bullie. There's a quaint quietness to the film as the couple struggles. They're two completely different personalities and artists, and it's somewhat amazing that they've basically survived enough to be together. The filmmaker, Zachary Heinzerling, his debut feature, is really absent from the movie. He must be a physical presence, and since the movie's only 90 minutes or so in length's it's helpful when his editing in of old footage and he simply let's us ponder on the art, or observed as they create it, 'cause most of the movie is very tunnel-visioned fly-on-the-wall look at the couple in this world. Some have been finding it fascinating, while myself, I've been drifting in and out. I think it's worth recommending for the intrigue value, but I have a feeling this movie would've probably been better as a short film than a feature. Also, I believe this was the wrong approach to see this couple so much as they are now; think of a film like "Crazy Love" which was about a much more, shocking couple that ended up together in the end, it focused on the story of their love, instead of the here and now, and it gave more context to those moments in the here and now because of it. "Cutie and the Boxer" seems to be the opposite, and while it's in some ways rewarding, it's not as powerful as the art that Cutie and Boxer make. I'd rather go see their work at a gallery actually than watch the film again, and as I wrote that; (Switches STAR RATING from 3 to 2 1/2) yeah; I don't do this too often, but I've seen it twice now, and I don't think I can really recommend it. I was trying to, I gave it a shot, but I'm switching from a positive to a negative review, 'cause it doesn't captivate me enough. Because I think this story could've been told better, I can't recommend it.


MAN OF STEEL (2013) Director: Zach Snyder

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The origin of the term "Superman" is from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and ironically, philosophy is something that's been erratic at best in terms of most Superman adaptations into film or television over the years, but there's plenty of it in "Man of Steel", and frankly, that's a good thing. Another good thing, is the way they deal with the most uninteresting part of the comic book Superman story, his origins. I'm one of the few that's vocal about my hatred for the original Richard Donner "Superman" film, with Christopher Reeve because of how it focuses too much on his childhood and youth on Earth, which is exactly the part that should get brushed aside in telling the story. (Yeah, that goes for "Smallville" fans too, take the most boring part of him, and stretch it about a decade on TV? How was that even remotely watchable.) Here, though, they make those humble beginnings a more solitary and troubling past. We all know Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sent young Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman (Henry Cavill) to Earth to escape the decaying Krypton in order to preserve the species, but we never saw exactly what that was about, and who exactly was Jor-El. We get those answers, as well as a suitable villain for Superman (Another complaint that I've always had about Lex Luthor) in General Zod (Michael Shannon) a general who tried a failed coupe to take over the planet shortly before it's destruction, and Kal-El is possibly the only other survivor from the planet and possibly took with him a way of preserving and allowing for Krypton's ultimate survival. Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) keep Clark hidden for much of his youth, and his strengths, but more interestingly, his troubling ability to observe the entirety of the world he's on; and all the scenes from his youth are all filled with struggle and despair, although when the truth is finally revealed, on top of spending his twenties, in a mysterious ice cave that the U.S. military, is trying to investigate, as well as a smart, Pulitzer Prize winning Daily Planet reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams, and really who else would you want playing her), he takes odd jobs under pseudonyms until something happens that makes him leave and soon, Lane's on the path of an urban legend of a man with inordinate superhuman strengths and abilities, one that's immediately rejected by her editor Perry (Laurence Fishburne) although she passes it onto a renegade website group anyway. She gets into her typical troubles, but she's not the foolhardy helpless reporter that she is sometimes in say the famous Fleischer shorts. "Man of Steel" is very much a much-needed rewrite, a darker more terrifying Superman film, that may be overwrought, and filled with lots of even battles as Zod and his crew retain the skills of Krypton so they're as powerful as Superman, and much more destructive towards Earth. It's a little like Zach Snyder's great "Watchmen" from a couple years ago, and Christopher Nolan was an adviser on this film, so some who may not have like his realistic dark take on Batman in his "The Dark Knight" films, are probably not the audience for "Man of Steel". It's a little long; like I needed breaks to keep up and to also absorb everything that's in the movie; it does seem to try to do and put too much into it, but overall, "Man of Steel" is the first intriguing and good fresh take on Superman in a long time, so it's a recommendation. I'd give it more than 3 STARS technically, but it is something that challenges you to sit through it at times, so that's a minor problem, but still.....



AFTER EARTH (2013) Director: M. Night Shyamalan




Let's see, which "After Earth" joke do I start out on? I wrote down a few; I like the one about how I'm 50% sure this seemed like it was based on one of those "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes that had Alexander in them, but that might be too esoteric. I'll say this, somewhere, somehow, I do believe that M. Night Shyamalan, will one day return to his form and make a good film again; he's too talented not to, but "After Earth", just seems doomed on so many levels. It's got one of those plots that makes you wonder whether the film needed to take place in a future at all. Why, this film could've and has taken place, practically anywhere. Overbearing pressurizing father, young son having disappointed him, and now he must go above and beyond, and yada, yada, yada; we've seen these all before. It's a future where is now uninhabitable after we destroyed it, and we've since moved to a planet called Nova Prime. Kitai (Jaden Smith) is a teenager who recently faultered at a ranger academy, which disappoints his stern father, the legendary fearless Cypher (Will Smith) who's mastered a power called "Ghosting" which allows him to travel on the ravenous jungle that Earth currenly remains, filled with numerous CGI animals that didn't get pass the audition stage for "Life of Pi". Cypher and Kitai then crash-land there own personal mission on Earth, and now, Cypher has two broken legs and has to talk Kitai into how to cross the continent and signal for help, on only a few inhalers that help him breathe the now-toxic air. Will Smith spends most of the movie, sitting alone in the crashed spaceship, occasionally giving an order or two, and on very, very rare occasions, showing emotion. It's not just a performance, it's bad casting as well. Smith is so much better when he's got action and is moving around, and here he literally has nothing to do, while his son is out impersonating his "I Am Legend" performance in front of a green screen. And Jaden's doing his best, but he's not exactly a young an elite young actor right now, not that any of the Fanning or Moretz's could've made this movie better. (Although they might have made it more interesting than it was.) The story of this film, originated from Will Smith, before passing the screenwriting tasks to Shyamalan and Gary Whitta, and him and Jada Pinkett were producers on the film, so I don't know exactly how much blame to put on Shyamalan's directing, this film seemed to fail from conception to me. Just saying, "Let's do a sci-fi film about a father and son," is not really a movie; you kinda have to be a little more thorough than that, 'cause otherwise it's just a bunch of special random special effects and scenes put together, which is really all that "After Earth" is.


THE CONJURING (2013) Director: James Wan

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In some ways "The Conjuring" did everything right, and that's part of the problem. I haven't finished any of James Wan's "Saw" movies yet, although I got about halfway through his first one, which certainly had some ideas that practically invented the American Torture Porn subgenre of horror films that's a sub-sect of the Asia Extreme movement, but the Malaysian-born director here decided to go with a more traditional horror feature this time around. Not completely sure why exactly, but it seems that he was fascinated with the work and experiences of famed ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). They're basically the experts in paranormal phenomenon, the kind that are always brought in to save the day in horror movies. They make their living going from town-to-town on speaking and instructional tours, and occasionally going to homes to investigate supposed hauntings that usually end up being leaky waterlines or messed up foundations or stuff like that. For some reason, the realism in these scenes seem to do the unthinkable, give credibility to that most tired and untrue opening of all over-the-top horror films, "Based on a true story." I liked that part of the film, the day-to-day lives of the two world-renowned ghost hunters and the strange matter-of-factness and mundanity to their job, then I did, the more typical horror stuff that happens when a family is in a house that's haunted and it's a movie. It's supposedly the worse haunting the couple ever saw, and if it is, fine, it looked and felt like every other horror movie by that standard to me, but Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston are believable as smart parents in a situation they can't explain, and have to go to the Warren's for help, at that moment of desperation when nothing else they can think of can work. Personally I wasn't that scared and the movie felt like just another horror film when it came to the scares and frights and effects, maybe that's on purpose though. But it took half of an interesting and well-done twist to the horror genre, so it's worth me, putting my rating on it, right on the 50-yard line as well, so minor recommendation. I can't imagine that "The Conjuring" is the new breath of fresh air into the horror genre that others have claimed, but horror fans will be entertained enough.


WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS (2013) Director: Alex Gibney

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A quick check of wikileaks.com seems to indicate that there hasn't been any activity on the site in about a month. I don't know how often it's still visited or whether or not it's still particularly relevant anymore. For me, it was never a particular problem with the message as it was the messenger, a hacker who purportedly once released a vicious virus on NASA Space Control back in '89, protesting their use of uranium in space, which some feared could spill all over Florida if a Challenger-like accident happened again. "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks", one of the latest documentaries from the great Alex Gibney, who seems to put out quality and quantities like nobody else working today, gives us an in depth analysis of the beginnings of WikiLeaks, it's influence, the history of it's company, the rise and fall of it's creator, Julian Assange, and of course, an overview of Bradley Manning's releasing of hundreds of thousands of Top Secret classified documents onto WikiLeaks, and reposted in collusion with the New York Times and The Guardian. Assange is by far the most interesting person in this drama. Incredibly complex, he's started off, with a seemingly tunnel-visioned focus on unprecedented transparency and eliminating corruption. He helped bring down the banks in Iceland, which lead to a new Constitution and the arrests of the bankers and public officials. (A story that's been highly under-reported in America) That was the highest-profile success of WikiLeaks at the time, but then the famous video from the American Apache helicopter killing Afghani civilians and two Reuters reporters went public, and the military and U.S. Government started becoming perplexed by the correct reactions. When he published the Bradley Manning documents, he admitted to not caring whether any of the information he published would could put lives in danger, and possibly get others killed, yet, he even asked the Defense Department to help tag out some materials. Yet, when they refused, he published anyway. Then, the face of transparency would become a crazed paranoid, first after two sexual assault and rape charges in Sweden, which he and other supporters of him, blamed on any number of conspiracies, yet he refused to answer to the charges, or even the questions, and eventually left the country hiding out under House Arrest in England, with an Interpol warrant out for him, he got political asylum from Ecuador of all places, and resides in the country's UK Embassy. Meanwhile, a trouble soldier named Bradley Manning, remains under arrest and threat of court marshall, and a sufferer of much torture at Quantico for leaking all the documents, and for some reason, seeking out Adrian Lamo, to help post the leaks, who yet ended up turning him in, making him the only known source in the history of WikiLeaks who's name is public knowledge. Ironically, the title "We Steal Secrets" refers to the other countries and their espionage efforts to attain knowledge from other countries, while WikiLeaks, wants there to be no secrets, or at least that's what Assange used to want. Now, he insists of employee sign non-disclosure agreements with an insurance pay on nineteen million dollars if it's broken. From the ultimate crusader of free speech, to the unwanted reluctant paranoid, now quiet and revealing less than ever. Gibney's investigatory techniques on WikiLeaks provides us with a critical, yet surprisingly importance document of modern history, where the freedom and inter-connectivity of the internet collided head-on, with the inherent old world style of government top secrets, the ultimate test of morality and free will. One of the best and most fascinating documentaries of the year.


CONCUSSION (2013) Director: Stacie Passon

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As one might expect with a movie titled "Concussion" it begins with a character getting hit in the head. The character is Abby (Robin Weigert) and one of her kids accidentally hit her in the face while a ball hard enough to certainly give her a huge scar and there's bleeding as she and her wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) rush to the hospital. Abby is 42, and frustrated with her life. She flips apartments in Manhattan, and attends a bunch of PTA meetings and soccer games while taking care of the kids. Her wife is an overly-busy divorce lawyer, and has gotten to the point in the marriage where she's lost all sexual desire, and is comfortable with that. I'm giving very matter-of-fact descriptions here, 'cause a simple way to describe the opening stasis, but the characters are a little more deeper and observant than that, and the world created in Stacie Passon's debut feature is much more realistic than that. There's one character who from a distance observes the relationship, named Pru (Janel Moloney) who isn't in the movie much, but while asking Abby to discuss something about her marriage for a magazine, she flipped out and wrote something a little too realistic and not-so-fluffy, although in hindsight, the way Weigert acts in that scene, makes it still feel like she thought she was holding back. One day, she goes to a prostitute. She doesn't like the experience, but her co-worker, Justin (Jonathan Tchaikovksy) is dating an Ivy League law student known only as "The Girl" (Emily Kinney) who runs her own escort service to earn extra money, and she has a much better experience. So much so, that the prostitute recommends to The Girl that she should consider taking clients. If this story seems a little familiar to you, it's not the newest tale itself, but the characters at play, and the way they behave and act in the situations are a little more nuanced, realistic and unusual than others. Abby's 42, but still sensual, and sometimes, inexperienced clients like the idea of an older more experienced pro to help them out on their sexual journey, and she starts gettting rave reviews. Pretty soon, by night, she's desperate soccer mom, and by day, in some unused apartment she's been flipping forever, she's a belle de jour, going by the name Eleanor. I'm reluctant to go into more details of the story, some will seem obvious, like when Sam (Maggie Siff) one of the more stuck-up fellow parents who doesn't attend as much of the spin classes and hot yoga classes shows up for a session, despite s rich and handsome husband who bores her to death. It's not so much that the character changes so drastically, but in the nuances of how, and the way and the whys of how her mind seems to struggle between these two extreme double-lives she's living. Weigert gives a very strong performance here, and it keeps this film more complex than intriguing than it would look on paper necessarily, and it's a strong debut feature for Stacie Passon, who got a Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay for the film. I'm interested in seeing whatever observations on the quiet desperations of our life that we may have.


EVIL DEAD (2013) Director: Fede Alvarez

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I swore that I had written a review of "The Evil Dead" the original Sam Raimi horror cult classic, but I can't seem to find it. Maybe I didn't, or did and forgot to post it, or something like that. I know I watched it, I swore I wrote on it- Ugh! Well, that sucks. Well, somewhere I lost a review, that's bound to happen once in a while when you watch movies at the rate I do. I didn't find too much different between that original and this new remake. I haven't seen the new musical version that seems to have played forever at the Onyx Theater here; and strangely, I can actually kinda see how a musical version of the material might work better than it does on screen. Both movies seem to work the same way, a bunch of kids head off to a cabin in the woods, for some reason, and like the first movie, the film decides to avoid all those crazy things like a set-up and a 2nd Act, and skips right to an hour or so of demonic, ghostly and haunted activities invade their weekend, or specifically, Mia (Jane Levy) who's the younger sister of Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) who's partially going on this retreat of David's (Shiloh Fernandez) friends to help get over her drug addiction. Then, she finds herself a secret door under the cabin, with a book and pretty soon she possessed by some demon, and causes death and harm and chaos to everyone else over the period of the rest of the movie. Basically not that different from the first film, and like the first movie, you really can't even care but you barely know the characters to begin with. "Evil Dead" could easily be transferred into a musical, because between those spouts of bloody deaths, Mia can be freaking out, spazzing and going all Linda Blair onstage while all the other kids can sing about what they're going do, and what stupidity actions they think about doing next, and that would indeed be entertaining, almost in a Eugene Lonescu's "Rhinoceros" way, only with music, and people dying instead of turning into rhinoceros, although if a bunch of stupid teenagers went off to a haunted cabin in the woods and started one-by-one turning into rhinoceroses, that would've been a more interesting movie. (Idea PATENT PENDING) If all you want is blood and guts and gore, then fine, but for the rest of us, "Evil Dead" is just a major bore. It could use the song and dances to keep us entertained.


PASSION
 (2013) Director: Brian De Palma

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I remember the Alain Corneau film "Love Crime" quite well to begin with, so I was particularly surprised to find out that Brian De Palma, who thrives at erotic thrillers with elements of film noir implausibility was directing a remake. Given the right material, which he hasn't had lately, he can usually take advantage of what works best with his style, which dances on that Hitchcockian tightrope between comedy and thrilled to the point where we're simply enjoying the filmmaking, almost as an exercise instead of dwelling on the ridiculousness of some of his plots. (I also happen to be reviewing one of his very best films, "Body Double" also on this blogpost if you scroll down afterwards.) This movie begins lies in the cutthroat world of advertising. Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) works for Christine (Rachel McAdams) who's steely and cold manipulator. In business, she blatantly steals Isabelle's latest ad campaign for jeans saying that she'd expect her to do the same in her shoes. Personally, she'll destroy you publicly or privately, whether through humiliation, blackmail, or both, and sexually, she's attractive, and can read everyone else like a book, and is not afraid to play any card if, and when it's needed. Isabelle is attracted to her, and they're both involved in some ways with Dirk (Paul Anderson) another employee who's been stealing funds. Isabelle tries to play Christine's game, playing both sides, looking for angles and ways to make herself get ahead, but Christine, holds way too many cards, and you never which one she'll play at any moment, or with anybody. About half-way through the film, Christine is killed, and all evidence indicates Isabelle, not to mention she confessed after be woken up with the news, still feeling the effects of sleeping pills, mixed with eerily similar nightmares to the incident that killed her. I made a choice not to give away that part of the story in my "Love Crime" review, and I'm not gonna give out other information either. It's a movie filled with the pop of great erotic pulp, including some lipstick lesbianism, the kind that seems to make the red on the girls lips stand out even more, and everybody beautiful and oozing desires, sexual and otherwise, it's actually a fairly low-key film. I think I like the original better, but this remake, "Passion" has it's own rewards, but like the first one, it's just mostly fun over depth, and it's more like a filmmaking exercise than an actual film, and that's when De Palma's at his best, so for making his best film in a while, I'm recommending it, on top of some good performances by Rapace and McAdams.

Review of "Love Crime" link:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/04/movie-reviews-30-rio-take-shelter.html


SIMON KILLER (2013) Director: Antonio Campos

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"Simon Killer" is quickly becoming one of those damnedest of films. As I was watching it, I was fascinated and compelled, and yet, now that I'm looking back on it, it becomes less and less captivating as it goes on. I'm watching it again now, and clearly Antonio Campos's second feature after "Afterschool" (Which I haven't seen yet, although it garnered a certain cult appreciation) is quite a well-made feature, clearly from a talented artist, but in hindsight, it's a surprisingly shallow vision. The film, is basically an erotic journey into the mind of a psychotic killer, although the killer himself, isn't so much psychotic as he is socially inept and sex-obsessed. A low-rent version Michael Fassbender's character in "Shame", only the film thinks it's doing "Last Tang in Paris". Simon (Brady Corbet) is housesitting for a friend in Paris, after a breakup in New York City. We occasionally hear what seem like letter-written voiceovers to his ex,  or his friend or his Mom, which seems to be between watching porn and webcams on his laptop, and occasionally going out to Paris and finding live action entertainment. Soon, he and a hooker named Marianne (Constance Rousseau) start having a strange relationship, his femme fatale with a heart of gold. Eventually, this leads to them working on a blackmailing scheme where they'd tape her with some of her richest clients, and then try to get money from them. The movie makes this story seem more emotional than it really is, and that's a tribute to Campos's directing, but the movie overall seems to remind me of a lava lamp. In the right mood, it's entertaining and it'll keep you occupied for hours, but there really any substance to it. Still, because it's so well-made, I have to recommend it, but be prepared to be disappointed afterwards. It should be watched for the skill and the talent, and the point of view of it's filmmaker and protagonists, just be wary that you might not want to be inside that point of view, for very long. Even lava lamps get boring eventually, and pretty soon, you realize you're in an empty room, maybe with a couple people talking and hanging out, but really, nothing much else is going on.


HERBLOCK: THE BLACK AND THE WHITE 
(2013) Director: Michael Stevens

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I have a confession to make; I never intended to write a review on "Herblock: The Black and the White". In fact, I'm still not sure if I should. I watched the documentary on HBO one day, thinking that it was an HBO TV documentary, and as some may have realized, I usually try to stay away from reviewing television shows, episodes, movies, seasons, miniseries, etc. I easily could, but frankly it's a lot of extra work for me if I did, go and praise "Game Change" or whatever. I usually end up watching them, at some point eventually, and I usually look forward to it, knowing that I can watch something and not have to analyze and write about it. However, after I looked it up, to my surprise, it is a theatrical film, briefly released in theaters back in '13, and it was also nominated for a WGA Award. So, I've reviewing it here, although personally I'd still rather think of it as a TV program instead, but, oh well. Ruins my day, but it's quite a good documentary on the life of Herb Block, the legendary Washington Post Cartoonist, who was the premiere Washington satirist, decades before Stewart & Colbert transformed the art form. It's nothing new the political cartoonists, but his are some of the greatest, and his cartoons scared the shit out of everyone in politics. The movie is full of them, and their sharp, witty, funny, and reveal great devastating truth. In the '20s, just barely out of being a teenager himself, he was already taking on Hitler, and he was ahead of the game on McCarthy (He invented the word "McCarthyism"), Nixon, Reagan, nearly everyone in the hypocrisy. Among the celebrity talking heads, Brit Hume is the one who's naturally upset at his left-leaning. Although Lewis Black, staring at one of his Anti-Clinton cartoons, notes how vicious it is, and speaks at how one of those is worth ten of others, including his jokes. Woodward & Bernstein note how he was two years ahead of them on Nixon's involvement in Watergate, and insisted them to keep investigating. He was against hypocrisy more than anything, and he attacked it everywhere. One of the more intriguing touches is to have Alan Mandell, an aging Bill Curtis-voiced figure, speaking as Herb Block, supposedly at his drawing table and occasionally commenting and making his points in the movie. Block of course died in '01, Anyway, the movie's fun and entertaining and a great look at a great artist, and a small but great look at his great collection of single-panel political cartoons that literally could and did bring down governments. Although I just watched it to look and admire his great work.


TOUCHY FEELY (2013) Director: Lynn Shelton

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"Touchy Feely" starts out with a promising premise, interesting characters struggling with deep inner conflicts, that great independent mumblecore look and feel and with great actors at the center, but then the movie completely disintegrates, and basically relies literally, on two ecstasy trips. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a masseuse who goes to a Reiki therapist, Brownyn (Allison Janney), and I'm looking up what the hell reiki is as I'm writing this... Ah, okay, Japanese, palm, thingy, okay, but she's still reluctant to pack up and move in with her boyfriend Jesse (Scott McNairy) and delays and delays it. Meanwhile, her brother Paul (Josh Pais) is a dentist with an aging clientele that's dying off. His daughter Jenny (Ellen Page) works as his hygienist, and is also delaying her life, as she's not sending out college applications, something which she hasn't even brought up to her father yet. Then suddenly, both of their professions start switching, as for some reason, Abby's suddenly incapable of touching people, a bad thing for a masseuse. Then, Jenny's musician friend Henry (Tomo Nakayama) gets a rinsing from Paul and then miraculously his TMJ is cured, and soon, his word-of-mouth starts bringing in customers, who hope he can cure their TMJ, which is when the disc in the joint in the mandible gets dis-associated from where it should be 'cause of overextending it usually, something singers can often get. (Not as often as porn stars I've heard but...- nevermind) This is around the time that Paul also start reiki practicing with Brownyn himself. Brownyn had perscribed ecstasy to Abby for relationship advancement, but that idea was nixed by Jesse, who later left, and leaving two pills for two of the characters to take, which two of them do, and then, essentially, I guess, the new condition arises at the end, although really explaining how that happened, I have no idea. Although Ron Livingston kinda shows up to sorta help out, although what purpose he had exactly, I have no idea. He might've just been a hallucination come to think about. I think Lynn Shelton's work seems to be going more and more downhill lately; "Humpday" and "Your Sister's Sister" were okay, although they both did only feel like half stories, and this one seems to be a  like a quarter of one. "Touchy Feely" seems to go nowhere, and then needs magic pills to get them out of trouble. The ecstasy is really more of a deus ex machima than anything else, and that's not insulting, it's really bad writing. It's a shame 'cause there's some good acting and actor wasted here, Pais and Page's work, but all their acting really did was save me from realizing how bad the film actually is, until much later than I would've preferred.


FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (2013) Director: Benoit Jacquot

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Until now, the only previous Benoit Jacquot film I had seen was "The School of Flesh," which I've spent a good deal of time trying to forget. "Farewell, My Queen" is much better than that one. The Queen in this case is Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) who's always a tricky subject to approach in cinema, although Sofia Coppola found a surprisingly great approach, this film focuses on the Queen's official reader. What's a reader? It's what it sounds like, she reads to the queen. I'm pretty certain that Marie Antoinette was able to read things herself if she wanted, but seems to rather enjoy to hear things, and there's an intriguing respectful yet formal relationship between the two. This movie takes place, shortly before the taking of the Bastille, and the French Revolution, when Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) is trying to figure out what's happening from some of the other servants, as they're separated from the outside world, and gossip is the big activity for the servants in the quietest of times, and now, as the French Revolution quickly approaches, it's not just the Queen's life on the chopping block, as Sidonie's life, despite being an educated woman in the 18th Century, is at risk too. Since she is the smartest and most observant of the servants, and probably the most trusted from the Queen, and this engages her eventually into a dangerous mission involving her, playing the Queen in disguise, as they attempt to leave the castle. "Farewell, My Queen" is a rather engaging tale, much of it was actually shot at the Palace of Versailles, although even at its most glamorous, much of the place seems decrepit and even and aged, like a museum. The servants area are particularly bland and morose. "Farewell, My Queen" is an intriguing new look at a fairly well-worn and well-told part of history, and a compelling one at night. Not a great addition to it, but still a very good one.


DARK TOUCH  (2013) Director: Marina de Van

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The erratic work of French director Marina de Van, continues. She seemingly works in any genre, but that doesn't necessarily mean she knows what she's doing. She wrote the script for "8 Women" which was a parlor piece, should stayed in the parlor, and here's a directorial effort. "Dark Touch", is one of those horror movies, where everybody is an idiot for not believing the obvious, that the fucking house is haunted, and so is the creepy little girl. The creepy little girl is Niamh (Missy Keating), who's the sole survivor of her family getting slaughtered. Soon, the concerned neighbors decide to begin taking her in, and strange shit starts happening to them and Niamh. Stop me if you've heard this one before, she claims that the house is what killed her parents, but everybody instead, thinks she's in some kind of shock or something, so they don't do anything about, except possibly the police who aimlessly look for killers offscreen, although they waste a lot of time with a therapist named Tanya (Charlotte Flyvholm), trying to help out poor Niamh. You know, this is the third horror film I'm reviewing this week, and it's easily the worst of the bunch as it just runs head-long into all these tired old cliches. They don't even do the cliches well. You know, I didn't either the original or this remake of "The Evil Dead", but at least those films, tried something different with the genre, even if it wasn't entirely successful, I can admire what they're trying to do. "Dark Touch", has nothing to admire or recommend. No reason for existing, no entertainment value, nothing we haven't seen before and done better.... (Frustrated sigh!) Ugh! I'm tired of talking about this film, time to move on.


VAMPS (2012) Director: Amy Heckerling

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I fell asleep in the middle of watching "Vamps", and when I awoke, I was disappointed because I left the movie on pause. Look, I wish that was just a mean one-line; I'm one of the biggest Amy Heckerling apologists out there, because I have such admiration for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", and frankly, it wasn't just that she got lucky with a Cameron Crowe script. "Look Who's Talking" still holds up relatively well, and while I don't like "Clueless", it was huge and popular at the time. I never saw "Loser" but I didn't absolutely hate her straight-to-DVD "I Could Never Be Your Woman", but it's-, it's time to throw in the towel on this one. She's made some bad films like "National Lampoon's European Vacation" for instance, but that was for other people and other's ideas. This, is all on her, and even when it was somewhat cute, it just wasn't funny. I don't think I laughed once. The basic premise was relatively okay, Goody (Alicia Silverstone) is a vampire, and she's been that way since 1841. She was young at the time, 20s, '30s, or so, and she's been living through all the nightlife eras since "Things got good in the '80s, the 1880s when they invented electricity." She also likes movies 'cause people remain young in them, and also like the Brad Pitt character in "Interview with the Vampire", feeds on the blood of mice. One day, she convinced her creator Cisserus (Sigourney Weaver) to give her another stem, Stacy (Krysten Ritter) who was about her age when Goody got turned, but this was back in the '80s, and now the two keep track of all the new clubs and kitsch youth, emoticons and internet acronyms abound, although Stacy still prefers to use an almanac to check when the sun rises that morning, despite having an app that does that. Now the story also, similar to "Interview with the Vampire" is a parent-child type relationship involving vampires, except Stacy doesn't know just how old Goody actually is, and when she remembers something from the past, Goody says she saw it on the History Channel. Then, Stacy begins to fall in love with a human, Joey (Dan Stevens) who happens to be the son of a homeland security agent, Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn) who suspects vampires existence and remains an expert on the subject. Meanwhile, Goody has also begun falling for an older human Danny (Richard Lewis) but he's also preoccupied with his sick and dying wife Angela (Marilu Henner, although I would've rather left that cameo anonymous, they reveal it [Besides, how many of the younger "Hey, Arnold" crowd are gonna know who she is anyway?) There's some other interesting performances Malcolm McDowell, Kristen Johnson and Justin Kirk, but, (reluctant sigh) this film, basically is FOA, flat on arrival. The firendship and the themes were interesting, the typical Heckerling tone was there, but I mean, even the bullets were hitting the wall and falling onto the floor, without a dent, much less anything else she was throwing up there. This film was as dead as a vampire's heartbeat. I knowthere was a way this could've been fun and interesting, but it just didn't make it there. I feel sorry for it, but.... There were some bad scratches on the disk; I informed Netflix and they asked whether I wanted a new disc. I thought for a bit, as I did struggle for a good chuck of the movie, but for the first time in a year, I declined.


SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) Director: Edgar Wright

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I've had opportunities to get around to "Shaun of the Dead" in the past, but I usually started in the middle too late, or missed or whatever. Frankly, even after I had seen Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's great second collaboration, "Hot Fuzz", which parodied cop movies and is one of the funniest movies I've seen in the last few years, I didn't have much interest in "Shaun..." personally. I never did care much for zombies or zombie movies, and after Wright godawful third film "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", I really had no interest in doubling back for it, but it eventually climbed it's way up my Netflix. I'm certainly glad I saw it now, although I don't think it's nearly as funny as "Hot Fuzz" (and in terms of zombie comedies, it's certainly not in the league as "Zombieland" which made my Top Ten list when it came out, but it's got it's moments. Pegg is the title Shaun, who works at an appliance stores and spends the rest of his days drinking at his favorite pub, or at home, playing video games and sleeping off a hangover with his loser friend Ed (Nick Frost), who's the kind of loser friend other losers have around them in order to feel somewhat superior to someone. His lack of interest and effort in anything has already led to him losing one girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashcroft), who lives with an even more judgmental couple, David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis). There's a lot of in-jokes involved with casting and other quirks as the movie goes on, the strange behavior of both of Shaun's parents, Philip and Barbara (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) especially as the zombie attack takes over them, and it helps to see some of the jokes that were recalled in later films, making it a little funnier in hindsight. The movie works more when it's a character piece, focusing on Shaun's ineptitude in the face of zombies and love, as he struggles mightily to save his now-ex-girlfriend and her friends, and his parents, in some deluded plan to go to, his favorite pub, to wait out the apocalypse. It's an idea, that's kinda equivalent to saving up on light bulbs in case the electricity runs out, but he's trying and he's determined, and as all hell breaks out, like in chess, a bad plan is better than no plan at all, when it comes to zombies. However, the in-jokes on other zombie movies, don't work as well as they do in "Hot Fuzz", partly because zombie movies aren't particularly interesting to begin with, but also because they're so tired and old that they're not really worthy of the comedic material. Zombies act like zombies, are easily killed, until there's hundreds of them, and eventually, like most zombie films, end up being metaphorical commentary at the really bad ending of the movie, which I didn't think held up and was rather unnecessary, as to the fate of both the zombies and the humans. Sometimes bloodthirsty zombies should just be bloodthirsty zombies, and not much more. "Shaun..." is funny at times, but inconsistent, but overall worth a viewing, especially for the breakthrough team behind "Spaced", even though they're still focusing in their material.


BODY DOUBLE (1984) Director: Brian De Palma

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Brian De Palma's "Body Double" is one of the truly strangest movies I've ever seen, and that's a good thing. De Palma can be so erratic when he's not given the right material to be free with that it's almost striking to realize how great a director he can be. Cinematic grandness with Hitchcockian sly humor, he can make the most absurd and ridiculous of films and premises immensely watchable, like "Blow Out" of "Femme Fatale", where it's not about the logic of the movie, but about the way the movie is made. "Body Double" has to be about how it's made, or else, nobody believe it. I think most people nowadays know the term, body double, although they might be surprised at just how often they're used in Hollywood. They're not necessarily always for nudity either, but they came into play. Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is an actor who's causing some unexpected issues on his latest set, where he plans a vampire, cause of his claustrophobia. Not something that's particularly helpful when you have to be in a coffin. He tries to get other work, like some Shakespeare in the park, and heads out to acting classes whenever he can. Bad enough, he came home from work one day, to find his buxom wife, fucking another man, and apparently, not stopping when he walks in, so he's looking for another place. This is when he lucks out and a fellow actor Sam Bouchard has one of those extravagant houses that needs some subletting while he's out of town on a job, and among the numerous perks the place has, including revolving beds is a telescope and a direct view of a mysterious beautiful neighbor across the way who every night, dances naked in front of the open window. Soon, our hapless hero is basically spending his free time as a peeping tom, and it leads to some big problems as it becomes clear that somebody is treating the neighbor, named Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) pretty lousily, and when he follows her to the mall one day, he has a tricky job of trying to protect her from a giant Native American guy who seems to be trying to kill her, while also not revealing to Gloria that he's been spying on her from across the way for the last few days. He manages to save most of her purse, and makes out with her. This of course before the Native American comes back, and he's unable to rush across L.A. to save her from a very violent and gruesome death, and the police are annoyed that what would normally seem like a typical murdered wife case seems ever more complicated by the believable story of the peeping tom. Now, to give any more secrets of the film away would just be a shame, but somehow, Jake figures out that a famous porn star named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) might just be the key to figuring out this mystery and begins seeking out her help, which leads to, even more stranger situations than we've seen already. "Body Double" is just a joy to sit through. It constantly surprises us, the way a great thriller always has something new hidden around the corner. It plays and toys with us, through numerous sensations from fear to comic to eroticism, to all three of those and more at the same. To explain and describe the movie doesn't give the film justice. It works on multiple levels, while it shouldn't work on any. It's also a good film about filmmaking, of all kinds. A film that shows of the best of De Palma, and a very overlooked gem.


SAMI SWOI (1967) Director: Sylwester Checinski

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I was pretty sure I was missing a lot of the jokes in "Sami Swoi", so after about an hour, I started from the beginning. I got more of the jokes, although I still think I missed a lot. Sorry, but I'm somewhat lacking in Eastern European Soviet era dark comedies, up until now, the only one I saw was Milos Forman's  "The Fireman's Ball". "Sami Swoi" which is Polish for "Our Folks" or "All Friends Here" depending on the translation, is about two families who have been quarreling for years, and the two families, most of whom couldn't really care less. The war started between the Pawlaks and the Karguls began shortly after WWII, in Kresy, which is the Eastern part of modern-day Poland, and like most quarrels, started with, of all things, a land dispute. Things got heated, and it's not been twenty years later that, he's returned only to find that, the family have basically been getting along for decades now, and through sheer unfortunate of geography, they now are neighbors, with neighboring competing farms. Two of the families' members, Witia Pawlak (Jerzy Janeczek) and Jadzka (Ilona Kusmierska) have been keeping a secret relationship from everyone else for awhile now. The movie is subtle as the war escalates, and grenades gets passed around, just in case, as it starts escalating, frustrating both families, and the Soviets who are dumbfounded as to what to do about the families. "Sami Swoi" is actually the beginning of a comedic trilogy from Director Sylwester Checinski, along with "Nie Ma Mocnych" which is a Polish idiom that's an equivalent to "No Can Do" and "Kochaj Albo Rzuc" which means "Love It or Leave It", but neither of those films are readily available in America quite yet. Like I said, I liked it better the second time through, but I think a lot does get lost in translation, but I will recommend it as a curiosity, moreso than an a film.


SILENCED (2011) Director: Dong-Hyuk Hwang

✰✰✰1/2



One of last years best films, the Alex Gibney documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" detailed the first public case of serial pedophilia by a priest, and the cover-up of the Vatican Church about it. It took place at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin in the '50s, which was the perfect breeding ground for Father Lawrence Murphy picking on students for whom communication was already difficult, at a time when few were willing to listen, to begin with. As devastating as hearing their stories was, a little sidenote in that movie was that, when the first account of serial pedophilia was heard about in Italy, around 2 or 3 decades later, it also happened, at a school for the deaf. I thought about that a lot when watching "Silenced", not a film based around the Roman Catholic Church, but was still based on a true incident and involved men in power at a school for deaf students, and the, truly despicable acts that they, yes they, committed to the students, all of which, they thought they could easily get away with because of their community standings, and because the students were deaf, and we're unlikely to talk. This one took place in a small town in South Korea where Kang In-ho (Yoo Gong) is transferred to the school in Mujin, where he's going to be an art teacher while his daughter Seo (Yu-mi Jeong) takes cares of his ailing mother. Things seem off to begin with, when he meets the two twins, Lee Kang-bok , the headmaster and Kang-suk, the administrative chief, as coerce a "school investment fund" as a prerequisite for employment. From there, he hears constant screaming and yelling and begins witnesses violent acts against the kids. One teacher puts another students head in a washing machine. Others are just beating the hell out them, torturing, raping, gang raping, the more despicable, the more they seem to act like fat cats, celebrating their behavior and acts like triumphs, making all the acts even more nauseating. "Silenced" is the first feature I've seen from Director Dong-Hyuk Hwang, and the movie was based on an online novel that obviously 'caused quite a stir in South Korea, and the controversy encouraged tickets to the movie, which broke records in Korea. It didn't get a theatrical American release, but definitely a good, harrowing, and necessary film, to expose these acts, and the perpetrators for the despicable thugs they are.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "THE APARTMENT"

THE APARTMENT (1960)

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond



“The Apartment,” earned Billy Wilder three Oscars, for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, making him the first person to win those three Oscars for one film. (The only three others are Peter Jackson for “The Lords of the Rings: The Return of the King,” and the Coen Brothers for “No Country for Old Men”) Yet, somehow, “The Apartment,” hardly gets mentioned anymore as an essential in the Wilder canon, even by myself; but that’s partly because Wilder has so many great films that sometimes this one gets lost in the shuffle. (While I might not have posted them yet, this was probably only the fourth or fifth Wilder Canon of Film entry that I wrote) It doesn’t even get mentioned in its genre anymore, not among the best comedies, or romantic-comedies anymore. Its famous final line, is forgotten compared to the final lines of “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Some Like It Hot.” So, taking some time to watch it again, I reminded myself of just what makes this film as great as it is. I recalled it as a comedy, with the famous image of Jack Lemmon straining spaghetti with a tennis racquet. I recalled Fred MacMurray’s great supporting performance as a philandering husband whose Lemmon’s boss, I’d argue his best performance or his career. I remembered the images of the filled workroom full of desks, all looking the same. What I forgot was how the extraordinariness of those early scenes of a large company was slowly and surely whittled away with each member of se company’s workforce that we get introduced to. It’s a film with flawed characters, dealing with problems they know better than to be getting involved with. We get introduced first to C.C. “Buddy Boy,” Baxter (Jack Lemmon), who works as an efficiency expert on the 19th floor of an insurance company, and works overtime because he’s begun loaning out his apartment to fellow married co-workers to bring their mistresses, leaving the neighbors thinking he’s a sexpot playboy, while he catches a cold on a park bench and pines over the elevator girl, Fran Kubilek (Shirley MacLaine). Fran’s hit on by most of the building, even with the short hair she recently cut because her married ex, J.D. Sheldrake (MacMurray), the company’s boss liked it better long. Sheldrake drags his feet on his supposed divorce, and once he finds out about Buddy Boy and his apartment, C.C. quickly gets promoted. There’s a certain thoughtlessness in MacMurray’s character, that’s both cavalier and conniving that becomes an oddly fascinating performance; he’s obviously a true villain, but one who can surprise us. He, unlike the other characters, makes decisions without seeing the possible backlash. All the other character are all-too aware of their own actions. Fran’s been with Sheldrake before, but she falls for him again and again, not out of love but out of self-disrespect. C.C. knows he wouldn’t have gotten promoted if he hadn’t given out his apartment, but gives in to temptation more than once. The film is a comedy, especially in the beginning of the film, with strange site gags, and the satire on office life. Yet, I keep coming back to the love story of C.C. and Fran. Lemmon and MacLaine are perfect in their roles, but as characters in a movie, they don’t oblige to the typical romantic-comedy get-togethers. These characters are lonely characters. Sad, depressing characters in a world where cheer is surrounding them. It’s not ironic the majority of the film takes place at the end of December. They come together as much out of desperation as out of love, and someone to share their pains with. Both characters try, and fail at killing themselves, tired of being stuck with their positions in life. In hindsight, we forget the characters don’t even kiss, or even have a scene insinuating sex, just a little spaghetti, some coffee, and a deck of cards between them seems to be enough, for now. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"BREAKING BAD": THE FELINA WORD or "WAIT 'TIL IT STARTS GETTING GOOD".



When I concluded my poll recently of the "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!" you, my readers named "Breaking Bad" third all-time, behind "M*A*S*H" and "Seinfeld". It would've been the highest-ranked current series on the list, had I not finished conducting the poll, literally, the day after the finale had aired. (Link to Poll Results is below)

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/09/poll-results-ten-greatest-tv-shows-of.html

We're the votes skewed? Yeah, they were; more votes came in for "Breaking Bad" that week than ever before, and it was the talk of every corner of the internet, and it was for months. (It also happened to have finally won the Emmy for Best Drama Series that same day.) I however, without cable and ever continuously behind on my viewings, as I struggled and struggled and struggled to find room on my Netflix for the latest seasons of series that I'm missing. I made sure to push "Breaking Bad" up the second it was available, and tried desperately to avoid all the constant episode-by-episode superfan analyses that were all over the internet; I wasn't successful entirely, but I was successful enough to keep myself surprised when the last DVDs finally came, and even then, while others had turned binge-watching the series into a habit as unhealthy and uncontrollable as meth itself, I took my time, busy with other objectives, and watched it when I had time; time not only to watch, but also to contemplate.

Well, I finished it, finally last week, later than probably anybody else in the world, so on top of me having the ultimate say on the series, (which is naturally delegated to me because I am the all-powerful all-knowing cinematic judge and jury on all things film and television who has never been wrong on anything, ergo making all those who disagree with me forever flailing in the darkness of my superiority [and apparently the shadow of my own ego]), but it is also the final word, literally; I am probably going to be the last person of any credentials to say my thoughts on the series. And I'm sure, all the fans, skeptics and other pundits have been eagerly awaiting my thoughts.

Well, this is gonna be an unusually short analysis folks, 'cause there isn't anything left to say. It's all been said by now, and they're all correct. "Breaking Bad" is one of the greatest shows of all-time. It's a masterpiece of storytelling and the serialized form of dramatic television, it's a seminal work of character development, the pristine and forethought of the writing, the incredible filmmaking details and callbacks and- and- what else is there? Everything. Suffocated the heavens with any and many praises as you want, and it will indeed be completely legitimate in regards to "Breaking Bad". Believe me I like the idea of talking critically, and I firmly do believe that, in order to fully recognize a TV show's greatness, a show should end before even discussing it. (I'm sorry for some of you who love analyzing every episode of every show to death as though each of them are indeed separate short or theatrical films themselves, and in many ways a show like "Breaking Bad", probably more than most deserves such consideration and analysis; but I wish there was something else left to discuss or analyze, and there just isn't.

It didn't make my Top Ten list in that poll; I didn't consider it or most other modern and/or current series for my own list however, and I can't look into the future and guarantee it would make mine then, or even now if I were to make such a list again, but I would certainly consider it highly. I can't argue against it without sounding like an idiot, and I wouldn't want to anyway.  I guess I mention all these things, because on some selfish level, I would've loved to have found something legitimately bad or wrong with the series in some way. It's not my all-time favorite show and frankly I wanted to line up those people who obsessed uncontrollably about the show just right, and like that one roll in every game or two I bowl, nail that perfect strike to them. Yet, the show's so good, I couldn't even pick up a decent spare. And, you know, I'm glad I didn't. Frankly, as much as I admired the show professionally and tried to keep up facade, personal I was a superfan myself. I didn't brag about it or post about it, or told everybody to stop they're doing and go watch "Breaking Bad" all over Facebook and Twitter, but from the first season I watched on DVD,  I knew I was watching something special. It was only a seven-episode first season if I remember correctly, and I was trying desperately to get my mother to watch it, and for a while she wasn't too interested in series. It seemed boring and the main character was dying right from the start. But I had already,- (scoffs) if I must say it yes, I had binged through that first season (or the equivalent of binge-viewing to me) and knew what was coming, so I said simply, "Wait 'til it gets good." It didn't take too long and soon enough she, like everybody else who eventually plunges into it, gets hooked. (I wonder why nobody watched it originally and people had to start watching it in thrusts like this, and while I don't really recommend that, I'm glad most of you eventually found it.) Eventually, we would find others to introduce it to, much much later, and I took joy in seeing them get three seasons in and I'm still telling them, "Wait 'til it starts getting good," and them looking at me like "What do you mean, it's already good?" but I'm still like smirking slyly and just saying plainly, "Just wait, 'til it starts to get good," like I knew something they didn't, which of course, I did,and sure enough, they'd find out that yes indeed, it hadn't gotten as good as it can be, quite yet.

That's probably a big part of the legacy of "Breaking Bad" the fans themselves, all excited and in something so much that even the most headstrong reluctant would eventually weave themselves into the story. Wanting desperately to know what happens next, and how Mr. White/Walt/Heisenberg is gonna get out of this one. It made people really notice Bryan Cranston,  which they really didn't do enough of before despite his great work on "Malcolm in the Middle" previously. Insiders knew about how great he actually was; even before "Breaking Bad" I had heard stories about how the "MITM" writers would come up with half of their material for the show just based on the outlandish stuff that he'd say he was willing to do on camera. Hence, why he was always in his underwear, but now, we've seen him, do one of the greatest transformations in television history, from Mr. Chips to Scarface as Vince Gilligan once pitched the series as. It made a lot of people stars, and made some already famous people even more well-known, and it also showed just how great and special television can be to a lot of people. Made television more cinematic than even "The Sopranos" had done, that's definitely part of it's legacy. It broke out in the golden age of drama from the little show that no one had heard of, and every time Bryan Cranston won an Emmy people went "Who, for what?" to the biggest show of the era, and led to disgruntled pissed off Emmy viewers when somebody other than Bryan Cranston's named got called on Emmy night. "How could they not....?!" It's probably the biggest success story from the streaming and DVD age actually and will probably lead to more serialized shows, which will be a detriment in the long run, 'cause how many are gonna be as great as this one? Probably not too many. Some joked about how with Obamacare now, that if the film took place a few years later, he wouldn't have needed to start cooking meth, his cancer would be paid for. (Or the Canadian "Breaking Bad" version I've seen around) So, it's definitely making a point that's distinctive to it's time and place, like most great shows are. Time, place, distinctive memorable characters that continually changed and evolved and that we'd learn more and more about as we went on. Vince Gilligan really did create something special.

It's over now, and I can go over dozens and dozens of those already-mentioned blogs and discussions and episode analysts, yada, yada yada, but you can all do that yourselves if you want. I hope that ends someday, this over-detailing and analyzing of television, not because the quality isn't there to go over, but because I think it ultimately takes away from the enjoyment of being so critical, besides that's why have reruns to catch these things later. Or at least we used to, maybe we don't now, but I have a funny feeling that "Breaking Bad" won't be forgotten anytime soon.

It's a great show, one of the best, and that's really the final and only words I can really say on it, and to those few who still haven't seen it, that's all you really need to know. If you for some reason still need more, just trust me and start watching it, and wait 'til it starts getting good.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

GOODBYE JAY LENO, AGAIN! SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE END OF A LATE-NIGHT ERA: (PART 2)



I've been trying to garner up the emotional impact of Jay Leno's final episode of "The Tonight Show" and to reflect on the landmark nature of the event, but, honestly, I'm just not sure I have it in me anymore. Admittedly, I might've had it the first time around, and in some ways, it's hard to even watch Jay after thinking about the incidents that, have become such inevitable public knowledge. Not necessarily because of his actions, but, I think it's because they're such public knowledge-, I mean, as much as we may be fascinated by the behind-the-scenes of the entertainment industry, at some point, you don't really want to see how the sausage was made and unfortunately that's about as big a part of his legacy as anything else.

When he came in, he had fought his way into and kept the most prolific and high-profile job, in TV history, and now that he's seemingly officially done, we think at least, in terms of "The Tonight Show"; I don't know if "The Tonight Show" is even that relevant anymore. It's not necessarily his fault. It's not like he did the show an injustice, but there was more competition and creativity out there, and while he was almost always number one in the ratings, at least, talk show wise, he never dominated his competition, and frankly, there's a lot of general disdain for him in the industry.

Still, It was sad, watching this last week, and him tear up Thursday Night, on just how much and important it was for him to be doing "The Tonight Show". I think that's the inner objective of him that really must annoy people, and why there's such a groundswell of disrespect for him by certain peoples. You see, you gotta realize this, at the time especially, when you were a stand-up comic in the days before cable and Comedy Central and even before there was this phenomenon of the stand-up documentary and recording of performances, the objective was to go from club-to-club working every day and night and eventually, the objective was to one day, be a guest on Johnny Carson. You see, this is something that always fascinated me and most certainly it did during the more infamous "The Late Shift" incidents, is that, it takes a certain mind to instead, have the goal of trying to take Johnny's spot. That's not disrespectful or anything, many people probably did have that as a dream, but to really, truly, go for that spot, especially at that time, when it really was just Johnny doing that job, the ego and the drive. I mean, look at the shortlist of people who have even come close, Joan Rivers, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, now Jimmy Fallon, strong personalities all of them. Strong work ethics, all of them.

Leno worked harder than anybody it seems, something that's the focus of an intriguing analysis/criticism of him in Matt Wild's AV Club article on why he survived so long. The link to that article is below:

http://www.avclub.com/article/jay-leno-was-good-at-being-bad-201043?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=LinkPreview%3A1%3ADefault

I know the criticisms and the stories, the supposed lack of material or stealing of material, and some of it might be legit, I think a lot of it is parallel thinking, and maybe partially the increase pressure of having to write so many jokes in such a short week. (I mean honestly, it's not like other comics don't talk politics and pop culture, what exactly are you looking for?) I also think he was probably inspired as much if not more inspired by Steve Allen as a Tonight Show host than Carson, which a lot of younger and even a lot of older viewers wouldn't necessarily catch, and I think that is a part of how he was a student of comedy. He does still do a lot of stand-up. I know, he's a regular here in Vegas, performing, I don't know, once every 3 or 4 months somewhere, and his material on stage here is different than the material he does on "Tonight". Most people know that curiously, he's never spent a dime of the money he's earned for doing "The Tonight Show", and actually lives off of his stand-up gigs money; which is really impressive when you consider just how many classic cars he owns.

He's done a lot, I probably watched more of Leno than any of the other talk show hosts since he started hosting regularly, and onstage, doing a monologue, yes, even if they are hackneyed joke, they were usually good hackneyed jokes, and he usually made me laugh, and in fact he almost always did, and I believe above most of all, he truly does love performing stand-up. I don't think he ever forgot that, but he probably just wanted to host more, and I think he certainly hates some of the ways in which this occurred. (Let's not forget his agent at the time orchestrated a lot of things that he wasn't even aware of during the whole kerfuffle that annoyed him; and NBC's multiple strains of incompetence over the decades probably has more to do with everything than Leno's personal actions.) The strange thing though, is that, when we think back on his legacy, there doesn't seem to be much of one. He's not ranked among the best talk show hosts, or even among the best comedians anymore. He was good, solid, talent-wise, you really can't say that his job wasn't earned, nor that he wasn't capable, nor that he wasn't quality every night. He was all those things and more and he kept the fires burning on "The Tonight Show", , but he wasn't special. Carson was special. Jack Paar was special. Letterman is special, Conan, Stewart, Colbert, special. They're in higher regard in the pantheon. Nobody's topping Carson anytime soon, nobody's trying, but there's people on that Dick Cavett, Arsenio, line going on today, some are making their own lines now. At one point, I think Leno could've been special, but I don't know; as funny as he was, it feels strikingly hollow in hindsight, or maybe he just outlasted his welcome.