I was planning to-, well that's really a lie, I was meaning to get around to it for awhile but I still unsure for awhile because of numerous reasons, although for awhile I didn't think it was necessary, and I also worried that, now having to oversee two Facebook pages involved with my blog (While there is a lot of personal material on my regular Facebook page, that was actually created originally just to publish/advertise my blog, and that's still it's main objective.) and my twitter account is still associated with that page, and not this new site page. The way I still primarily post and advertise my blog is through FB movie groups, and that's becomes moderately successful, although it could be better, and some groups are better than others, although others are simple active, but I join as many as I can and try to active and instructional within them. One of the groups I was most active in, starting, for lack of a better word, went crazy one night. I don't know the details, and I don't want to go over them, 'cause it's not that important, but there infighting among the admins of the group, and people starting losing their minds, and I was one of many who was kicked out as collateral damage, and- it's good now, and the group's back up and running smoothly, but during the hysteria, I was getting frustrated with the group, and groups in general. I thought for a bit about starting my own group as well, associate with this blog of course, but then I though "Wait a minute, look what just happened, why would I want to go through that kind of melodrama bullshit!?" Besides, I'm not good as an admin, I have a very low bullshit tolerance, and I'd be kicking everybody out who like "Lord of the Rings" on general principle, or some other stupid dictatorial rules I make up as I go, just like that, and frankly, I'm a brand, I can't do things like that on the spur of the moment anyway. However, I was pissed at perceived behaviors at the time, and I wanted to do something, so that's when I realized it was time to begin to put into motion that long-delayed plan for a separate Facebook page. I'm hoping to make it as active as my personal page, each and every FB group of all kinds and (whatever other hyperbole you can think of just fill in there) combined. It'll take some doing, so everybody like it, and let me know what you'd all like to see from both the new Facebook page, as well as my blog in general, 'cause I'm always looking for new things and ideas; I rarely get any. Can't always guarantee I'll always listen and interact and exchange some thoughts, and if there's an idea you think would be appropriate for my blog, I definitely want to hear it.
Alright, now that that's announced, let's get right to this week's "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!
NEBRASKA (2013) Director: Alexander Payne
There's a lot of Kurosawa in Alexander Payne. It's rarely been as obvious until "Nebraska", but he's hinted at it before. The camera angles, the actor positioning, the swoosh transitions, there's more of them here than he's done before. . The swoosh cuts, the way he stages certain scenes, and with this film, the story and the gorgeous black and white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael . This film is almost of opposite of "Ikiru" in essence. Once again Payne's going back to the Midwest, the first time since "About Schmidt", although this time, he's chosen not to write a script, and in fact, the script by Bob Nelson is the first time he's worked on anything that was an original script. "Nebraska" actually begins in Montana, and with a long shot of Woody Grant (Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern) walking down the highway before finally getting pulled over. He's an old drunk, who's kinda got that movie Alzheimer's where he's it's hard to tell whether he's losing it completely and is in another world, or just isn't paying attention and doesn't really care what's happening around him. He's a Korean War vet, and not a particularly nice guy, even his family seems to have given up, not because they don't love him or that they don't want to connect, but they're just tired of struggling to get through to him. His son David (Will Forte) recognizes this more, especially since he's gotten this letter claiming that he's won a million dollars, which is obviously a scam to everyone but to Woody, and if no one will drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his million dollars, than he's determined to walk there. After a few failed attempts, David decides to drive him down, stopping along the way at Mt. Rushmore and a few other places. They then get lee-wayed in Woody's old home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. They meet up with relatives and old acquaintances and friends, and soon, Woody is a local celebrity for having won the money which he's all the ready to boast about the second he can. His wife Kate (Oscar nominee June Squibb) comes by bus, and soon, so does his other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk). Actually, this part of the movie seems more like the other legendary Japanese filmmaker, Yasujiro Ozu. The steady camera at low angle, like we're sitting down in a Buddhist state. The familial dilemmas like what to do with unwanted parents or coming back to your old hometowns, and opening up old wounds and rivalries. And memories. It's through that prism that David actually tries to learn about his old man, similar to how Matt King was learning about his wife in "The Descendants", after her coma. Yeah, that's sorta the issue that prevents "Nebraska" from living up to the impossible standard that Payne's work has been at over the years. (It might hurt a bit that it isn't his pen too.) There's still some clear greatness in "Nebraska" though. Especially the acting. I always love watching Bruce Dern, and it's good to see him finally get some of the recognition he should, although I thought Will Forte, who's basically a co-lead in this film, and June Squibb gave the film's best performance. Squibb in particular, she's creating a really good part that's not quite the simply, foulmouth old woman character that seems almost cliche nowadays. The way she plays this character, makes it seem like she's been this character, all her life, and it's just the smartass old woman, and that's really an accomplishment when you think about it, 'cause even it at this caricature's best, you never get that sense, and a lot of the acting seems like that too, and that's critical for a film and a story like this. From a technical standpoint, I can't argue with the film's execution, from a personal preference, I worry that it doesn't completely hold up compared to Payne's other films, and that's why I'm a little more standoffish on it than others, but this is also a film that show's Payne's great skills as a director. I mean, any other filmmaker, this is their career accomplishment, for Alexander Payne though, it's average, but don't let that sway you against watching it.
ALL IS LOST (2013) Director: J.C. Chandor
I might be ashamed to say this, but for a lot of "All is Lost", I was often thinking "That's Redford; that's a stunt double; that's Redford, stunt double, stunt double, Redford....", but after an hour I forgot all about that, and then the movie became the most frustrating film to watch in ages, and I mean that in the best way possible. The kind of frustration where you find yourself talking to the screen because the character is too slow or not doing the right thing yet, and you just want to crawl through the screen, holding in a scream by biting your teeth, and shaking him, "Come on! Come on! Do it! Get thing thing! Do the- Fuck! Come on!" That kind of frustration, that way of getting so into the movie and under the skin of the audience. The perfect timing and directing and editing to get that kind of reaction out of the audience.... So hard to come by, and amazing considering J.C. Chandor's last film was the exact opposite of "All is Lost".... His debut feature, "Margin Call", which earned Chandor a screenplay Oscar nomination, was an insular, dialogue-heavy film taking place primarily inside the walls and on the upper floors of a major Wall Street bank who's realizing way too late that they're about to go bankrupt and dump all of their stocks to save the bank and in essence the country the next day. It was an intense thriller that made my Ten Best List a couple years ago. The intense aspect is about the only thing similar with this film. Not counting the opening voiceover, if there's more than fifty spoken words of dialogue I'd be shocked, and literal number of words, less than half that. (The entire script of "All is Lost" is only thirty-two pages!) The story is simple, Redford is "Our Man". He's in the middle of the Indian Ocean, alone on a boat that's got a huge hole in it after accidentally crashing into a floating shipping container that apparently fell off a ship. We have no idea who this guy is, or why he's chosen to sail alone in the middle of an ocean at his age, but he seems knowledgeable about what to do, both in the ocean, and what to do about it. He doesn't talk to himself or seem as frightened or terrified as us. He has enough tools and how to use them to succeed, although sometimes he has to swim to get them as his boat continues to fall underwater. There's a striking score from Alex Ebert that underlines the movie, and some amazing shots and moments, especially as that boat gets abandoned for a small, dingy little raft in order to survive. In some ways, this is something I like to do in my writing sometimes, to come up with the barest example you can of a story, but it's more than that. Actually, that's what Chandor is proving that he's best at, finding the real thrilling excitement, out of things that, might technically be out of our reach. "Margin Call" had a lot of technobabble, and here, well, I couldn't tell you the name of any part of a boat, or the instruments that he was using to figure out where he was, but we understood the simplest tale of an ordinary man, in an extraordinary situation. It's a mini-marvel, "All is Lost", and one of the most exciting films of the year.
FRUITVALE STATION (2013) Director: Ryan Coogler
You can plug in the phrase "cops required to wear cameras" into Google, and you'll find numerous stories in California about how police brutality reports have gone down significantly since such a requirement was enacted. Most of those requirements came shortly after the infamous killing of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) which occurred early morning New Years Day in Oakland's "Fruitvale Station" subway platform. He was handcuffed and held down by police on the platform, after they were called upon after a minor altercation occurred. One of the cops, pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest, collapsing his lung; he died in the hospital hours later; the incident can be found online, it was recorded by multiple passengers on their cell phones. The cops involved were all fired, and the one who shot him, was found guilty, of involuntary manslaughter and served less than a year in prison. He claimed that he mistook his gun for his taser.
I had a Sociology professor once- sorry to go off-topic here for a second, but he had numerous life experiences, from at one point being so deep into the hippie movement that he almost joined the Weatherman to being a weapons specialist who trained and advised a major city police force, and he hated tasers. He hated police having any weapon except for a gun, and it wasn't for the reasons you'd think. He always claimed that, police would become more violent with supposedly less-than-deadly force, because they'd be more willing to use them unnecessarily and more often and more violently, while a gun, which at times, has been used over-excessively by police at times like the infamous 41 Shots incident in New York, usually would A. be the quickest thing to stop an actual criminal who may be attacking the officer, or someone else at that moment, while others weapons might not, but also because if that was the only weapon at their disposal, a weapon of last resort, they's be less likely to use it inappropriately. That's something I think about a lot, especially when I think about police having tasers, especially ones that look, and feels and are in holsters just like their guns.
I don't know exactly how accurate the movie is to Oscar Grant's life, or especially, what happened to him on that fateful last day, and I don't think the movie knows either, or is intending to do show us that. The movie's getting comparisons to films like John Singleton's debut "Boyz N the Hood", which is partly because both Singleton and Director Ryan Coogler are USC grads and some of their similarities and the similarities to the films, although I thought of a different movie altogether watching "Fruitvale Station", a film I didn't like much at all actually called "Manito", which was about a Washington Heights teenager who was the first of his family to graduate high school, but the next day was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison after he got caught up in his older brother's world of cocaine dealing. I didn't like that movie because it was so one-sided and heavy-handed, Manito was such a good guy that we were given no choice but forced to feel sorry for him being in this sudden situation. "Fruitvale Station" doesn't make Oscar a saint, nor a sinner. He's cheated on his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), and they have a kid. He's been lying for weeks about having lost his job working at a supermarket, and he has arrests for selling pot and with California's three strikes law, he can't be caught doing that, or commit any felony again, yet he's still flirting with the idea as the times and situation become more desperate. It's New Year's Eve, which is also his Mom's (Octavia Spencer) birthday, and the plan is to have a nice crab dinner with her mom and the family, and then Oscar and Sophina will head out to Frisco to party for New Year's and watch the fireworks. In the meantime, he picks up his kid, Tatiana (Ariana Neal) from preschool, and have other encounters throughout the day. Tries to get his job back, connect with a young girl, Katie (Ahna O'Neal) who's trying to make a southern fish fry dinner for her boyfriend and is clueless at the fish counter. There's another scene where a stray dog is run over and the driver speeds away and Oscar tries to help him, but he dies in his arms. It's scenes like that that make me reluctant to fully embrace the film, not that they were bad or inappropriate, but it shows the film's weakness in taking a real-life incident, and going for fable. This is one of the reasons why "Boyz N the Hood" or Spike Lee's breakthrough film "Do the Right Thing" among other similar films are so much better, because instead of making us aware and forcing us to recall a real incident, and then adding fiction around it, they used real experiences or incidents as inspiration only to create a fictional world where we can care about the characters more, especially when violence impacts their lives. "Fruitvale..." does the correct thing by starting with cell phone footage of Oscar's death, but, now all the movie is or can be, is a tale of "What might've been?", so all sense of suspense, is-, well, suspended. I still think it's an important and well-made movie, and I chalk up it's flaws mostly for Coogler, being a young filmmaker more than anything else. There's some great performances all around by Jordan and Spencer, the latter was thought by some to have an outside shot at an Oscar nomination, although I think Melonie Diaz actually gives, possibly performance; she's an underrated actress in general and in some ways, I wish her role had been written and developed even more than it was, 'cause what she did with what was there was really impressive. I'm not sure "Fruitvale Station" is a great film, it is certainly good, it's definitely important that it exist, and it's certainly worth watching. It's one of the biggest debut films of the year, and Coogler, along with everyone else, has a very bright future ahead of him, but I hope his next movie is more of a personal film that one that was just ripped from the headlines. This kid needs to make his "Mean Streets" soon.
WORLD WAR Z (2013) Director: Marc Forster
"World War Z" is one of the damnedest zombie movies I've ever seen. I can't quite say it's a bad movie, but it's a bit like "Contagion" meets a zombie movie, but I'm not exactly sure that treating a zombie film with this much deadly seriousness was the right approach to zombies. It's sorta like, trying to treat a sudden viral zombie attack as realistic as it possibly can, and yet, I can't help but think, that, when after the attack has persisted over most of the world's largest cities, and the UN and other militaries have started forming and protecting those most essential of personnel and they finally realize that an the first report of the word zombies were in India, why didn't they write the report in English and have people recognize it earlier? Or maybe it was Korea who mentioned zombies first, and I'm getting that wrong, but still, you'd think after a few weeks of rabid, bloodythirsty deranged former humans biting and attacking people who suddenly turn into rabid, bloodthirsty deranged former humans, somebody would've screamed "Zombies!" a long time ago. Anyway, there always seemed to be a weird flub like that made it hard for me to fully embrace "World War Z". Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a househusband who is apparently the Jack Bauer of the UN who they call upon even after he's retired, for the ultimate emergencies. First however, he has to get him and his family out of New York without being eaten by zombies. He somehow knows that it takes about ten seconds from contact 'til possible full blown infection, if there is one, even though supposedly, all he really knows about are the news reports coming in. As he manages to get his family onto a military ship with virologists and most of the important surviving representative of the world's military, governmental, and organizational superpowers, and in exchange for protecting Gerry's family, he's sent out to find patient zero, or a way to cure or kill the zombies, or all of the above. This takes him first to South Korea, where zombies attack them. Then to Jerusalem, where apparently they built a giant protective enclosing to protect themselves from the zombies, which ultimately doesn't work, but they figured this was gonna happen in advance, so they had a fighting chance. He escapes onto a plane heading to Cardiff, which crashes after zombies attack, and eventually he and a soldier named Segan (Daniella Kertesz) who might as well have been called One-Arm Soldier since that's basically how important her part is in the film. The ending is then, curiously anti-climatic and overwhelming. There's also, some really blatant uses of product placement here, especially a scene involving a Pepsi machine, and a weird placement for beef jerky that just hit the wrong notes at the wrong times. I'm not against product placement, but there's a way and a time and a place, and they missed the marked completely. Still, this was such a strange approach to the material, I'm almost tempted to recommend it just so it can be talked about. The production was notorious for being overbudget and the release date was overly delayed multiple times. Strange considering it's director Marc Forster, normally a very good director or at least he was; this is his third questionable film in a row after "Quantum of Solace" and "Machine Gun Preacher", he also did the moody but ultimately unsuccessful "Stay", his entry into the horror/thriller genre. The film was also based on a famous novel, and there's discussion abound about it's success as an adaptation, that's something I won't be able to discuss, but as a film, it hits enough notes to be entertaining most of the time, but it doesn't hit enough to make the movie ultimately make any sense. This is a conflicting review, but I'm also a conflicting. I think it's an attempt to take the zombie, and move into a more respectable or a higher-end level of drama than it has in the past, and there's definitely a trend towards, but there's a reason it's only a trend and why it hasn't naturally taken place a long time ago. Ultimately, "World War Z", doesn't really work.
SHORT TERM 12 (2013) Director: Dustin Daniel Cretton
I'm trying to think about how to go about reviewing "Short Term 12", 'cause there's a clever and subtle way in which the story goes from a piece about the title place, too the way it turns into a character study. The title place, "Short Term 12" is a foster-care resource center for at-risk kids; this is the spot for trouble teens to go before/if they can find someplace decent to stay or until they turn 18. Greatly improved from Director Dustin Cretton's original short film, is based on his own experiences working in such a place. I actually know a little bit about working in a similar place, in fact, I've been trained to bring down and put someone in a raging episode into prone-like positions, very similar to the ones they use in the film. We focus on Grace (Brie Larson), one of the floor supervisors. She's been seeing on of her co-workers, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) The movie begins seemingly as a look at the kids there and the ways about and struggles with which these supervisors work with them and a look at the system itself. But like Grace, and like many of the students their, that's a cover to shield their own selves and experiences. Some kids are focused on certainly. Marcus ("LaKeith" Keith Stanfield) is about to turn 18 and leave, and is already quiet and full of rage, and is more fearful of the outside world, so he's waiting for someone to push a button so he can pounce. If you can get below that level, he pours his pain into rap lyrics, and Mason plays bongos to form a beat for him, once he's calmed down. Grace starts connecting with a new member of the care, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) a troubled 15-year-old who's been bounced around the system multiple times over, although her father is supposed to pick her up soon. There's two things that start off Grace on her path to confronting her troubled teenage past, one of them is the similarities between her past and Jayden's, the other and what I would argue is the more important aspect I'm not gonna reveal here, and I'm gonna leave out a lot of other plotpoints, 'cause this is a character that needs to be revealed for us, the same way that she eventually reveals it to others. (And herself). On a second look, there's a few things keeping me from completely embracing the movie, like that old, in this case, unnecessary fallback that a parent who's potentially abusive and dangerous to the kid, is allowed to take the kid home for the weekend because he's a "friend" of the boss, Jack (Franz Turner), which, when you look back on the movie is completely unnecessary as a plotpoint. One or two other touches like that too that seem to make the film, ironically too neat of a movie when it really should be more of a slice of true life. That's a minor complaint though, "Short Term 12" remains one of the more engaging pieces of realism I've seen in a while. Brie Larson got a lot of praise and she deserves it for her lead performance here. I always knew her mostly from "United States of Tara", and this is actually a rare adult role she has here, she's had some difficult parts beforehand of course, but this really shows how good she is at creating a character here.
PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER (2013) Directors: Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin
MUSEUM HOURS (2013) Director: Jem Cohen
Curiously spending too long in a museum in a film seems the same as watching someone else play a video game. One of the goals of "Museum Hours" is to showcase Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum as much as possible, and it makes me want to go see it for myself, but I don't seem to enjoy it much as a movie. The movie features the museum, and much more of Vienna and involves, two characters who strike up a friendship. Johann (Bobby Sommer) works as a security guard at the museum. He's worked there for years, although in a former life he managed a rock'n'roll band among other strange jobs that one may have over the years. He's found peace and a quiet quaintness at the museum, who's main feature is the work of Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel, the Elder. He listens to the tour guides and others who appreciate the theories and analysis of the paintings, and then one day, a Canadian tourist, Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara) who asks for directions one day, and their friendships slowly develops from there, as Johann spends occasional lunches and afternoons talking, exchanges their life stories, and thoughts as they take, a somewhat touristy/somewhat localish tour of Vienna, not just seeing the typical sights, or streaming around for an evening randomly a la the movie that the film is naturally gonna get compared to "Before Sunrise", it's a more, uneventful, adult friendship between two interesting people, who are interested in exploring Vienna as much as they are each other, almost like an interview of thoughts. Frankly, I'm having a hard time grasping at the story. There's something here, but is there really actually? This is the kind of movie where we're supposed to feel like there is, but I found the two parts, the museum aspect, and the friendship, really discordant to another, and felt like they were really from two different films that really didn't go together well. I liked going to the museum strangely enough much more than the two people overall. They were both non-actors, and there is this sense of realism, but in the other hand, it was placed, in the most unreal of worlds, the world of art. That's art, is taking things that aren't real and making them seem, even more real than the real world, and this seemed to be the exact opposite. I tried to get to the roots of the characters and the film, but honestly, the more I thought about the film, the less there really is there. I'll admit to debating whether or not to recommend this anyway, almost out of critical obligation; it's one of the more well-regarded indy films from this past year, it got a couple Spirit Award nominations as well, but what would I be arguing for? A movie where even our protagonist is more interested in playing online poker than anything else in it, including the girl, and the art? I don't know, the concept is interesting, but it's been interesting since "Brief Encounter", and there's just too many better similar movies. I'd rather just have a documentary of two interesting people talking in a museum than what this ended up being.
HOW I LIVE NOW (2013) Director: Kevin MacDonald
One of the first scripts I ever wrote was a sci-fi short film called "1000 Years of Peace", and it was a military piece that took place at a time in the future where there hadn't been any human conflict or wars in years. Not to give anything away, but by the end of the story, it was hundreds of years later, and still, there hadn't been any human conflicts in history for years. I know what you all were thinking, that that was gonna be some kind of prelude to a dystopian future ending, but no, that seemed like the stupid, obvious and easy way out. It is with that in mind that I consider "How I Live Now", a movie seemed to have no idea other than to suddenly set it's film in a dystopian future, but first, a shy teenage romance that could've taken place anywhere previously, and was completely unnecessary. Come to think about it, I'm not sure there was any point to the dystopian parts either. The film begins with a chaotic arrival in England, of Daisy (Saorise Ronan), who's real name is Elizabeth but wants to go by Daisy, is a visiting American relative who's a bit of rebellious troubled child, and up until this point, we could be watching anything from Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty" to a modern day Robert Mulligan's "The Man in the Moon", 'cause it seems like a fairly typical and modern style summer kid coming of age, time of her life, yada, yada, yada story, complete with punk rock girl soundtrack. Then, the world of army tanks at every corner of Britain takes as she's driven to the countryside where her distant relatives, for the short period. Oh, and we constantly hear some erratic and unexplained voiceover randomness from Daisy, which ironically is the second film in a row where Ronan seems to be battling her inner voiceover after the also-dreadful "The Host". At first, arriving in typical teen punk/goth garb she falls briefly for Eddie (George Mackay), when nuclear bombs soon implode outside of London, and then spread to the countryside as WWIII seems to begin. She's given a chance to get out of the country from the U.S. Embassy, being that she's a foreigner, but when it wouldn't save anyone else, she suddenly grows up and with her littlest cousin Piper (Harley Bird) because the knowledgeable adult as the two head into "Grave of the Fireflies" territory. Or "Lore", or whatever story of kids on their own in the middle of a war you want to go with. The inner thoughts of Daisy have no explanation nor reason or necessity to tell the story; I have a feeling they're a remnant of the original Meg Rosoff novel the movie's based on, but they just make us think there's something more wrong with her than being a moody teenage girl, which really is all she is. Yeah, the story is partially about her adjusting to the situation, but why did it have to be this situation? Seriously, with this and "After Earth" as well, there's this trend of setting cliched and typical stories in a sci-fi world, for no other reason other than to be different. And this one seems so close to modern times, you almost wondered why they bothered. Couldn't a typical story have been told with these same characters? The two parts of the movie seem counter to each other, and neither one should exist in the same world. Just because one doesn't know where to go with something doesn't mean that the natural answer is to blow everything up. This is especially weird coming from a very good filmmaker like Kevin MacDonald, usually a documentary filmmaker known for having a masterful eye in the editing room, like the experimental "Touching the Void" and "Life in a Day", or the more traditional bio-documentary "Marley", although he's dabbled with regular features like "The Last King of Scotland" and "State of Play" in the past, this movie however, "How I Live Now", is just dreadful, and worse the more I think about it. It's one thing to play and mix with genres, but to do with absolutely no point to it, that's the real literary sin.
TURBO (2013) Director: David Soren
"Turbo" is a little bit of "Cars" and "Planes", a little "Ratatouille", and snails that looked more delicious to me than anything else. Once again, it's another animated feature based around vehicle racing, this is after both "Cars" movies, "Wreck-It Ralph", and "Planes" recently, and while it's getting a little repetitive, at least that makes some sense considering that it's much easier to really show speed in animation than in live-action generally. A camera just records, and it doesn't really do something like the Indianapolis 500 justice because live, you can really see just how fast and how grueling and athletic something like auto racing is. Now, why an animated snail named Theo (Ryan Reynolds) who's dream is to compete in the Indy 500? Well, this is clearly the result of taking too many aspects of the Robert McKee screenwriting methods to heart, as well as some lack of ingenuity. I can see the thought process now, somebody saw "Ratatouille" and thought, "We need something like that, a creature who strives to do something that it's kind is not known or built to do?" Actually, whoever was thinking about this idea wouldn't have used such elegant language to describe their desired wish, but anyway, someone said, racing, and someone else said, "So, what would be the last creature on earth who'd want to race at high speeds", someone said "Snails!" and then someone else said, "Perfect, write that down"! They're a little creative with the snail world. Everyday looking out on the tomatoes in the garden, or going to work at "The Plant" as they call, if a bird doesn't take an employee away suddenly, which begets a sad groan afterwards by the snails before going back to work. Theo is a daydreamer at work and his buddy Chet (Paul Giamatti) keeps sticking up for him as he screws up there before heading home to watch racing VHS tapes, especially of his favorite and the best Formula-1 racer out there, Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). The way Theo as a snail seems to be able to balance himself on the VHS tapes and program a VCR is fascinating to me. I wonder where gets the tapes in this day and age; I though I was the only one with a collection of VHS around still? Anyway, Theo magically becomes electrocuted by a car, and soon begins taking on the aspects of a car, like his eyes for headlights, a car alarm, and most importantly, his incredibly fast speed, which gets noticed by a food truck operator, Tito (Michael Pena) who hopes that putting the little snail into the Indy 500 can help him and his brother Angelo's (Luis Guzman)'s taco stand. (Shouldn't the Pena character have been named Angelo?) Along with some help of some other tought drag racing snails voiced by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph and others. Mario Andretti has a cameo voiceover among others. The movie spun off into an animated series, like many animated films inevitably do, although this one was unusually fast to do so, and also notably, it streaming on Netflix as opposed to network or basic television. Actually, it's probably a better concept for a children's animated show than a movie, although I'm not gonna watch the series anytime soon to confirm that suspicion. This movie feels like, again, every one of those really bad things that bring down animation. Not inventive enough, seems made with the intent to sell tickets as opposed to a good story or characters or concept, a film made to keep little kids looking at a screen for an hour and a half as opposed to engaging them and their parents into the story. This just feels like a checklist of the most cynical kinds of filmmaking that goes into any kind of filmmaking, but particularly with animation. Rap music for no reason other than to say we're cool, modern-day technology with the exception of the VCR and old TV...- The Paul Giamatti character for instance, who I think is a brother or a friend of Theo, who renames himself Turbo after he becomes the fast snail achieving his dream-, I mean, I get why worried about his safety but this is an amazing fucking thing that just happened! His friend, a snail no less, suddenly is a car and is fast enough to genuinely compete in the Indy 500, but no, he's not even, like phased by what's happened to Theo, he's only concerned that everything is wrong, that things will go bad, that he's ruining his life with all these racing ideas,.... how many bad screenplays have we seen this one character, who has no other job, than to say to the protagonist, "Give up, you can't do it," and for the seemingly only reason he says it is to be proven wrong. Okay, this one's a snail, but that's basically the only real difference between this and every other film, is that there are snails, and I can't remember too many animated or not important snail characters, and frankly, this movie proves what I suspected, that snails aren't that interesting of characters to begin with.
THE FUTURE (aka IL FUTURO) (2013) Director: Alicia Scherson
"Il Future" is the kind of movie that Claude Chabrol might've made. Chabrol used to use genre as a tease, and his movies would often start like one genre and then suddenly switch to something else entirely and then switch again. He entices us with something only to lead us elsewhere, which is one of the reasons I generally respect and admire him more than I actually like his work. I can say something similar about "Il Futuro". The film's Italian, although it's director is the Chilean Alicia Scherson, and it shifts so much, it even shifts languages from Italian to English halfway through, although that might've been for Rutger Hauer who I don't think speaks Italian, or it might just have been a choice. It starts out originally like an erotic Hitchcockian noir. Tomas and Bianca (Luigi Ciardo and Manuela Martelli) are brother and sister who still live together after their parents' death. She's a shampooer at a hair salon, and he works out at a gym a lot. Their apartment looks like a couple teenagers have taken over the house, kinda like the brother and sister's house in "The Dreamers" actually. (Another movie that I didn't warm up to the way others did.) Bianca narrates occasionally and the title comes from her personal struggles and obsessions over the future. Then she gets weave into a scheme by her brother to go to the house of an old blind former movie star/Mr. Universe, Maciste (Hauer), seduce him, and then find out where if any money/safe he has hidden. The erotic part does come to fruition sorta. Even though he's blind, Bianca's often around the house naked, and not just during intercourse. What happens is that she starts to change and becomes intrigued by the old man, and learn about him, and the daily discussions fascinate her more than the money, and the movie becomes this character piece between these two souls. The movie's certainly always intriguing int that you don't know what's gonna happen next, but it does feel a bit more of a letdown considering it's opening. I guess with me, I don't have much patient with being fooled, and not being sent somewhere more interesting, and while I think this was an interesting place to go, it still feels like a bit like a fast train to nowhere. It's moody, sexy and erotic, and it achieved exactly what it was going for every step of the way, so for that, I'm recommending it. It is done well enough.
JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR (2013) Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton returns to the writer/director chair, pairing with his "A Family Thing" co-writer Tom Epperson for "Jayne Mansfield's Car", his new sweeping southern family epic that begins with an interesting premise, but frankly just drags on too long, and goes nowhere slowly. The movie revolved around a family led by old curmudgeon Jim Caldwell (Robert Duvall) who's struggling with his three grown sons, Skip (Thornton) who was injured during WWII and now has become somewhere between a collector and a loner, Carroll (Kevin Bacon) who also was in the war, and has now become a Vietnam protester (The movie takes place in the late '60s.) and a stoner despite his own kid who's about to become draft/college age, and Jimbo (Robert Patrick) who's married and is a successful car salesman, who's pissed that he never got the chance to fight in a war. Jim fought in WWI too, and the conflict on Vietnam, and war in general is already peppering the dinner table, when Jim gets a phone call from England announcing that his ex-wife and the kids' mother has died. Years earlier, she had left to travel to Europe and never came back, but now, her family is coming to Alabama to bury their mother, led by their patriarch and her new husband Kingsley Bedford (John Hurt) and his frustrated kids Philip (Ray Stevenson) and Camilla (Frances O'Connor). Also is her family as well, the Barons, the most noteworthy of which is Neal a talkative former football player who annoys most everybody he talks with, surprisingly played well by comedian Ron White of all people. There's a few storylines that go on, and they touch on and pass by them, and eventually by the end, these seem to try their best to cover all of them with one of those "Return of the King" multiple coda endings; the screen even fades to black and fades back multiple times. This is a bit of pet peeve of mine, although that can be used effectively, especially in older movies, or to separate act breaks like in a play, but generally you don't want to fade to black or fade out of black too much, because it takes the audience out of the movie, 'cause subconsciously they already think it's over emotionally from doing that already, and in this case, it was like, three or four times in the last twenty minutes and the movie was already playing long. I mean, Thornton knows this southern goth world of course, take his masterpiece "Sling Blade" which he won the screenwriting Oscar for, but that was a single-character study. There's a few different movies going on here, and while that can work at times, there's no direction here. There's some scenes of actual power, some of laughter, but then there's completely metaphorical scenes, that probably could've been done another way, or were done another way in the film, but was just layering a point down. A lot of them involving, talk of the war, some involving middle-of-the-night conversations about the aftereffects of war and the goals and wishes of the parents. My favorite sequences involve the relationship between Skip and Camilla who have a tender although frank and strange fling during this weekend. The title by the way, and it has practically nothing to do with the rest of the movie, is a reference to the car that Mansfield famously died in, that suddenly in the middle of the movie, we find out is being toured and showcased as a piece of morbid Americana I guess, and they go through the facts, legends and myths about the crash, the most famous one being that she was decapitated (Not true, but the top of her head was did scalp off much of her hair/wig) and frankly, I'm not sure why that was needed in the story at all, or in fact what it has to do with the rest of the movie, or what metaphorical or mythical emotion it's intended to evoke here. The movie seems desperate to try and have it both ways, and that's really the inherent failure of the movie; trying to do way too much everywhere. It's novel, in more ways that one, but it's way too much and uneven, and an overwrought bore. I mean, I clearly wanted to like this film, but the whole thing became too much that even the really great scenes and acting, just got pushed aside completely by the movie's own ambitions. It feels like an abandoned miniseries that got cut to shreds.
PRIVATE ROMEO (2012) Director: Alan Brown
"Private Romeo" is hardly the first all-male cast version of "Romeo & Juliet", hell, it's not even the first all-male cast version that was intentionally portrayed as a homosexual relationship. The stage play "R&J" is probably the most famous gay version of the story. I haven't seen it, but I'm presuming it's more entertaining than that version, 'cause it- well, it pretty much has to be. I'm more lenient towards adaptations of the Bard's best works than most, and I even enjoy new modern touches, like this one taking place at an all-male military academy. There aren't too many places that can't somehow become appropriate or at least plausible and believable setting for Shakespeare to take place in, so in that sense, while I probably would've set the film in someplace like "The Citadel" or the Virginia Military Institution, which are infamous for only having recently started allowing women to enroll, this place could've probably worked. I'm not sure Tybalt and Mercutio fighting it out on the academy's basketball court makes too much sense; you'd think at a military academy the students might have swords or guns to work with but maybe not. The movie tries to have it both ways too, the beginning of the film shows regular academy kids learning Shakespeare in class, reciting it from the book and playing characters, a few being uncomfortable in the women roles. It's kinda like "Renaissance Man" if anybody remembers that Penny Marshall-directed guilty pleasure, but then they start playing the roles for real. There's only eight actors in the movie, and all play multiple roles; Sam Singleton and Matt Doyle play Romeo and Juliet respectively. In between diaglogue from the play, there's a few incomprehensible modern touches like the use of a youtube clip in one of the scenes where they bounce back to reality. I don't know I'm being nice to nice movie and giving it 1 1/2 STARS, I guess it's because they used Shakespeare's words a lot, and I'm a sucker for that, but there's very little good about this experiment. It's one of those movies that's trying too hard to be cute and important and say something about-, I don't know what actually it's trying to say. Something about the military I think. It just fails on too many/every level, it's boring it's only mildly intriguing as a look at what they're doing and how they change and interpret the story, but even at that level, there's just nothing here, there's better ways and versions of this, there's better gay versions of "Romeo and Juliet", uh, yeah. Yeah, it's boring.
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1980) Director: Bob Rafelson
Never has the second hour of a movie, seem so much like an afterward as oppose to actually being apart of the story. That was my initial thoughts after watching "The Postman Always Rings Twice". Bob Rafelson's adaptation of the James M. Cain's erotic noir is actually the third filmed version; the original one in America starred John Garfield and Lana Turner, and was directed by Tay Garnett, although the more highly-regarded one was the Italian pre-neorealism film from Luchiano Visconti entitled "Ossessione". I actually have the beginning of that version three or four times, but somehow I never get around to finishing it; I actually keep falling asleep during it, and I haven't seen the original, but I'm starting to think that after this version that maybe this isn't as good as some of Cain's better works. I know Rafelson's a competent director and him and Nicholson have made some incredible work before and after this film, but somehow this movie starts to falter, and I think it's the story itself. Nicholson plays Frank Chambers, a n'er-do-well who gets robbed while stopping at a diner/gas station that's owned by Nick (John Colicos) a rotund Greek man who hires Frank to work at the restaurant. It doesn't take too long before he's having an affair with Nick's wife Cora (Jessica Lange). This version of the film is easily the most erotic of the three versions, and possibly ranks as one of the most erotic ever made. Their sex is animalistic and lustful, even after the initial forbidden factor wears off, and they scheme to murder Nick, and collect the insurance money. A few weird things happen that leads to them pulling this off, first with the crime itself, then with the trial. Michael Lerner plays a key role as a fast-talking lawyer who through manipulation of the law, manages to get both of them off. That's the first hour of the movie, the second part is them eventually trying to live off into the success of their scheme and into the banality of actual life, which other than the sex, has very little in common with what they had previously. I have a feeling it was intended for dark satire in the novel, but it doesn't come off that way here, it seems discombobulated here. The story should be the trial and the affair and the what-happens-afterward should just sorta be a tag on, and instead it's the second hour of the film, and Angelica Huston shows up as a lion tamer for some reason at one point. Yeah, the only reason to really check this one out is the eroticism after the story falls apart, but that's it.
FOOLISH WIVES (1922) Director: Erich von Stroheim
It's always a little tricky to go back to Erich von Stroheim's films, the ones he directed anyway. I've seen his true masterpiece "Greed", which in it's current form at 4 1/2 hours long is still only about half of it's original 9+hour length. He clearly was talented and ahead of his time, although he was also a pain in the neck on set and for the studios. "Foolish Wives" was the first movie to cost a million dollars to make, and that was not the original intended budget. It also got chopped to hell, and it feels that way. Stroheim himself plays Count Karazim, a Count in Monte Carlo, and just like Edmund Dantes, he's not really a count either. In fact, he's a complete fake who infiltrates the worlds of the super elites, particularly the wives of the superwealthy by being charming and seeming to be the aristocrat that even the other aristocrats would be jealous of. In fact, there's quite an elaborate scheme going and his long con usually works, and this time he tries it on the wife of a U.S. Ambassador, Helen (Miss Dupont). Rudolph Christians who plays the ambassador actually died during filming, and, in a move Ed Wood would've been proud of, von Stroheim, found a double (One who had lighter hair that Christians) and shot him from the back for the rest of his scenes. I didn't notice myself the inconsistencies, but frankly the film is only a decent curiosity and even if it was in the best of condition, while it might've been ahead of it's time then, it's probably a bit behind it's time now.
THE MAN YOU LOVED TO HATE (1980) Director: Patrick Montgomery
Stroheim made a lot of movies about the European aristocracy, something he was familiar with growing up in Austria. We learn that in the documentary "The Man You Loved to Hate", from Patrick Montgomery, a very good bio-documentarian who would go on to be a producer of "Biography" before retiring in '95; this was his second feature after another on Georges Melies, and chronicles Stroheim's life from the beginning. The title comes from his nickname, as he tended to play numerous villains all through his career as an actor, and in the beginning he particularly did so, and he parlayed that into his directing career, although few of his films remain intact. Some through time, most of them, including his masterpiece "Greed" through numerous and in some cases extreme editing. Often he was taken off and put back on his films, and had little to no regard for the heads of the studios wishes. After working his way out of Hollywood, he'd find success overseas in France starring in Renoir's "Grand Illusion" and until his most famous role in "Sunset Blvd." which earned him an Oscar nomination, he mostly worked in B-movies and in many hokey bad guy roles. "The Man You Love to Hate" is a good history lesson about him, equivalent to a good PBS biography or something like that, but not much more, but that's all it's going for really. I learned as much from it as I have on Stroheim anywhere else, and it was better than "Foolish Wives" the movie that the film was a DVD special on, so for those reasons, I'm recommending it.