Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #85: "IN A WORLD...", "SNITCH", "JUG FACE", "THE STORY OF LUKE", "HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI", "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER", "MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT", and MORE!

Well, it's been a dismal week for me. Exhausted, chaotic, broke. Especially broke, I couldn't afford my Netflix this week, so instead of the movies I planned on watching, I was scouring through my Roku for any and all titles, I could quickly kick off my queue this week. Considering that I have 500 movies in my queue, and there's about, 100+ channels on my roku, you'd be surprised how often I couldn't even find a movie available, and it was particular rare for me to find them for free, which I could barely afford. There's a few holes in the story that I won't reveal quite yet, but let's just say, it's been a frustrating week all-in-all. So, I wish I could pontificate a little bit on the death of Mickey Rooney and Letterman's retirement and stuff like that, I might do the latter later, but for now, let's keep it short and sweet, folks and...,

Get right to this week's edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


IN A WORLD... (2013) Director: Lake Bell

✰✰✰1/2



When you hear Stockard Channing of John Krasinski's voices on a commercial for sub-prime mortgage companies or something like that, something that you might not realize is how those actors had to really fight for those roles. I know a few people in the voiceover world, and it's very competitive; and in many ways, it's actually heavily closed off from the rest of Hollywood to some extent. A lot of actors actually have separate agents and managers, just for their voice over work in commercials and trailers, and the agents work in that field exclusively, and they can be just as ruthless as regular agents, and the world is just as insular. People who get jobs doing voiceovers, of some kind, tend to get a lot of work, doing the same kind of voiceovers. Some people get animated characters, others get commercials, and the really special rare ones, they get the movie trailers. The title, as most of you should know already, is the famed trailer opening lines used by the legendary voice artist, Don LaFontaine. The line, first becoming infamous for action film trailers, before his voice became so cliche for them, that eventually, he usually ended up doing mostly comedy trailers that parodied his old action trailers. He passed away a few years back, (And that was a sad day in the industry btw) and since then, "In a World..." hasn't been used. There's a very limited number of people who get the voiceover work, and they keep those jobs for years. Carol (Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed the film) is the daughter of the biggest name in the business, since LaFontaine left, Sam Sotts (Fred Melamed, himself a major voice over artist for work like "The NFL Today" on CBS). She's a bit of a mess, who mostly works as a voice coach for people, especially for actors/actresses who have to work on re-dubbing their lines when they don't hit them perfectly in on stage, like in the wrong accent or inflection, or sometimes they just mumble so much that their recorded sound is useless. (Marlon Brando used to do most of his work in a sound studio, not even bothering to remember lines on the day, and then, essentially did most of his later performances, in the sound booth). There aren't a lot of female voices used for film trailers. In fact, I could only think of one, for a film called "Mr. Stache", and that was just a short film that won an American Express contest, and the voiceover was an integral part of the film to begin with. So, when she sneaks in and takes a job from her father's protege Gustav (Ken Marino) for a film trailer, granted, it's just a bad children's rom-com, it's a big deal. and she begins to get more gigs. Now, Sam and Gustav don't realize that Carol's the one who took his job, when Gustav throws a party, and Carol sleeps with him. She's not really interested, in him, but it's a realization for everyone. There's also a subplot about her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) who's a hotel concierge who almost has an affair with a Irish visitor Terry Pounder (Jerry O'Mara) who Carol wants Dani to record his voice, because she's needs to get an Irish accent right, and the more kinds of voices you can do, the better. (One of my friends who does voice over work has dozens of voices and characters. She plays six or seven different traffic reporters in town, a different one for each station.) Her husband Moe (Rob Corddrey) himself, was worried about a neighbor girl using a shower, when Carol walked in, to sleep on their couch between work and homes. I'm recommending the movie, but there's issues with it. A lot of these subplots, sorta just flutter in, and really don't have great arcs of any kind, so they seem like filler. Even the potential romance between the two voice over actors, is quickly diminished by Carol's recordist, Louis's (Demetri Martin) crush, who finally gets the nerve and control over his vocal abilities to ask her out. It's a cute little movie, with some nice cameos from Geena Davis, Eva Longoria, and Cameron Diaz, and we get an inside look at the voice over world that we haven't really seen much of before. The ending comes at the Golden Trailer Awards, (Yes, they're a real thing btw, and their award for Best Voiceover is named after the late LaFontaine) where Sam is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award and a trailer for "The Amazon Games" is premiering and all three voices inevitably submit work for the trailer, competing for it. I think, this could've been explored a little better, and that the plotpoints, really needed to either be more crucial to the film, or be dismissed altogether. The pacing of the movie is off, and the dramatic tension is really lacking for much of the middle. I still enjoy it enough to recommend it, and it's always good to see a new writer/director with a distinct point of view, and giving us something to think about, as there really is no logical reason why there aren't more female voiceover artists working trailers, and elsewhere ever. I always liked Bell, I remember her from "Boston Legal" among other series and shows she's shown up on sporatically, this is her first feature film and a director, and she's occasionally done voiceover work as well, most notably as a witch in "Shrek Forever After". I liked the idea of "In a World..." than I did, the execution, but there is something here; I just wish there was a bit more. That's the kind of response I'd rather get out of a trailer, than a film.


SNITCH (2013) Director: Ric Roman Waugh

1/2


In the six or seven hours after I've seen "Snitch"; I've been, basically doing whatever I can to delay writing a review about it. Watched some old British episodes of "Whose Line Is It Anyway" on youtube, fell asleep watching old pro wrestling, played a few games on Facebook and Pogo. Re-watched that old BBC Top 100 Greatest Cartoons List, I'm in the middle of that now actually, I don't know what's weirder that "Looney Tunes" was only 20th, or that people voted for "Legends of the Overfiend". Anyway, I was trying to figure out what or why I should write about this movie. But I finally think I did stumble onto the film's problem. When you're doing this kind of action-hero led movie, you can only really go about this genre, in two different ways. There's one way where, plot is almost inconsequential, and has no real meaning other than, getting the action star in a position to, basically, kill or destroy everyone. I guess, almost like a video game essentially. Or, the other way is to make the movie, too far the other direction where you're striving for much more than an action movie, something transcending the genre and having a message or being overly important. "Snitch"'s problem, is that it tries to have it both ways, and kinda, be in the middle too much, and when that happens, it won't come out right, and the audience is sorta, either gonna like one aspect or the aspect, if they succeed at anything they'll like one or the other, and half the movie is already down the tube to begin with. John Matthews (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) owns a construction company, and his son, is incredibly talented, but ever-so-slightly hung out with the wrong people after his divorce, and now is in jail for accepting a package full of ecstasy that his roommate was gonna get, and now the roommate turned on him, in order to avoid the mandatory minimum jail sentence of 20-30 years. This is outrageous, and they make a point about it being outrageous that this kid, about to go off to college, is ruined by this. (And that's a real thing btw, mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes) It's the kind where Susan Sarandon, plays a prosecuting D.A., who outright says, tactlessly "I'm in favor of mandatory minimums," despite the evidence they just stated doesn't work. Hell, most of the police and the justice system don't like mandatory minimums anymore, and I'm not sure anybody's like them since the mid-90s. Anyway, Josh strikes a deal with Joane Keeghan (Sarandon) by promising to go undercover into a drug cartel and eventually turn on a kingpin, or some other higher-ups, in order to give a lighter sentence to his son Jason (Rafi Gavron). He manages to uses an ex-con employee, Daniel (Jon Bernthal) to set up a meeting and eventual, he's provided transportation for transferring drugs, and eventually money. There's a few explosion and car crashes and fight scenes, not as many as you'd think, that's a little different, but there was still very little surprise in "Snitch"; I could basically predict every plotpoint from a mile away, plus they laid it on so thick, and so badly-written dialogue, especially in the beginning, somebody has to study exposition for closely, 'cause this is simply a terrible example of it. It takes you out of the movie completely, you lose the subtlety of Benjamin Bratt's performance for instance, or Barry Pepper's under that makeup; it just turns into, every other drug dealing action film. There's no real surprise or compelling twist that makes "Snitch" into anything more than an action film, and even when it tries, like when Daniel's wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) is frustrated that her husband's back in the trade, even though it's against his will, that she gets upset, it more-or-less comes off as another convention of the tired old plot. "Snitch", is nice to put on, if you want something on that will help you in getting other things done like housework perhaps, or a high score at spider solitaire, 'cause you don't miss too much when you're distracted not watching it.


JUG FACE (2013) Director: Chad Crawford Kinkle

✰✰1/2




If you've never seen a face jug, they are usually creepy and googly-eyed, and otherwise disturbing. I've seen a few on "Antiques Roadshow" and "History Detectives" and other PBS programs over the years, they date back, probably to the slave culture in America, although it was probably somehow adapted from African tradition, and I believe the South Carolina-Georgia border, around there, is where most of the earliest examples can be traced back to, but other than those few facts or suspicions, they're a bit of a mystery in terms origins and use. Some suspects that the face jugs, or ugly jugs as they were also called, were intended to thwart off spirits, which is why they were purposefully designed to be so hideous-looking. The mystery about them does leave them open for interpretation and use in literature, although "Jug Face" is the first film I can think of where the mystical factors about them play a role. It's a southern gothic horror actually, although, it might as well have originated in a Shirley Jackson world. It's a secluded southern community that's aware of the outside world, but mostly lives in fear and trust of something called "The Pit", which is, a ghastly, pit, that seems to be both a life and destructive force of the world. Basically, it's that volcano on ancient tribal islands that virgins used to be sacrificed to in order to keep it from blowing it, although instead of a virgin, per se, it's an image created on a face jug that's also thrown into the pit. When Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) sees that the new face jug has a resemblance to her, she takes and hides it before it can get thrown into the pit, and soon, unusual deaths and disturbances begin to haunt the community. Ada herself, a teenager is in a bit of trouble, having been secretly having an affair with Dawai (Sean Bridges) which has led to her getting pregnant, this she finds out, after having been setup to marry Bodey (Mathieu Whitman) in an arrange marriage. This isn't something that's appealing to her mother Loriss (Sean Young, yes that Sean Young, and I can't remember the last time I saw her in anything other than in a catsuit on "The Joan Rivers Show" either.) but as deaths start occurring, and it becomes clearer and clearer that whatever's happening is because of her, she and the rest of the community.... Well, I think you can guess from there. Larry Fessenden plays Ada's friend who makes the local face jugs, and the film's from a first-time director named Chad Crawford Kinkle, who's from this obscure area of the country, so he gets a lot of the tones. The violence and gore, is minimal but effective, he's good at building some tension. The film, gets a little bit too convoluted and messy at the end, at it seems to screech towards an inevitable end, so the scares aren't there, granted he's going more for mood, so he's effective. I can't quite recommend it outright, there's enough flaws to worry concern me but it's a talented first-time filmmaker, who, maybe could be better in a different, more slice-of-life drama in this world instead. This idea of the closed off inbred-cult society in most of America, even parts of the Deep South, is a bit old, even for horror, but "Jug Face" is a promising debut for him, and there's some pretty good acting in this film, especially from Carter. A lot of promise all around, I hope soon we'll get the upside with Kinkle's next project.


THE STORY OF LUKE (2013) Director: Alonso Mayo

✰✰✰



A word of advice to writers, if the characters don't know why they're telling something to another character, so much so that they continually tell him such things as, "I don't know why I'm telling you this...", then, well, don't have them tell him. Not only was that such poor exposition in "The Story of Luke", a lot of it was, not just arbitrary, some of it was just; I mean it barely needed to be a plotpoint. Actually no it didn't, there's a side plot in the story involving the conflict between Paul and Cindy (Cary Elwes and Kristen Bauer van Straten) that basically, boils down to, they're a couple with two kids, and they're both frustrated because they're not having sex. I mean, they're frustrated with each other, and it's getting in the way of things, but that's basically it, they're two parents of teenagers, and they're in a dry spell sexually at the moment. That's weak enough, and now, both of them will talk to their nephew Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci) who's a high-functioning autistic, who's grandmother just passed and his grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) isn't able to take care of him, or their house, and now he's living temporarily with them, until they figure out what else to do with him. He's graduated from high school, although it was a home-schooling, and he's a very good cook; he knows 23 dinner recipes, and the way Rain Man used to watch "The People's Court" and "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" he does with cooking shows, although, he knows that, in order to live on his own, he needs a job, and that might just mean sacrificing the cooking shows in order to search. He also wants to get laid and do other things that normal people his age do. While he stumbles his way through a couple pseudo-sexual adventures, he gets a trainee job with the verbally-abusive Zach (Seth Green) who's also a little bit damaged mentally, but he is a computer genius, and Luke manages to keep up with him, and hold his own. The main climax of the story involves Luke's mother who abandoned him years earlier, another thing that gets brought up to him often through unnatural exposition to him. They almost treat him like a bartender at times, I swear. Despite some of those problems there's enough here to recommend actually. The film is the first theatrical film from Documentarian Alonso Mayo, he needs some work to do with dramatic films as a writer, but the directing isn't awful. The acting helps save this movie, and Pucci, he's okay at this kind of autistic character. It's a bit of an acty-showy performance, and with my personal biases, I'm always a little iffy in regards to autistic characters  and roles, but he's not too unbelievable here. It's an average indy film, so I can't recommend it too highly. It wasn't nearly as funny as it tried to be, but-eh, I guess I'm in a decent mood today, so I'm recommending it.


HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (2012) Director: Takeshi Miike

✰✰1/2



I know what he's trying to do, and I know that to some extent, Takeshi Miike's latest "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai', succeeds, but, I gave it two shots all the way, and I'm not completely sold there's as much here as it seems. Far wand away, his least violent effort year, Miike's attempting to channel the great Masaki Kobayashi, who directed numerous Samurai movies that were more about the emotional trevails of the characters than about the fighting and other more typical aspects of samurai films. Even the title, "Hara-Kiri..." is borrowed from one of Kobayashi's most beloved films. I've only seen one of Kobayashi's movies, "Samurai Rebellion", and that one, while also well-regarded, didn't have much effect on me either, so maybe it's a taste thing, but I think the issue with Miike's film is the structure. It begins with Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) arriving in town to request an audience so he can partake in the Ancient tradition of seppuko, the famed ritualistic Samurai suicide method, where a man slices up his stomach with his knife. His reasons, are solid; he's unable to care for his family after his tribe as his house was poverty-stricken and he can't take care of his family. The feudal house warriors, suspects a bluff, as many former samurais from other defeated tribes in the battles, have been arriving to threaten suicide, as an attempt to extort money. Then, there's two stories told, one by the warriors about a previous bluff attempt, where the man was forced to use a bamboo sword to kill himself, unsuccessfully. Then, Hanshiro tells a tale of his own, and somehow, these two stories are related to each other as we see that same man's family, teetering on survival and failing, after the man they sent, didn't arrive back from his desperation claim. I found it really tricky, trying to relate the two tales, I couldn't grasp how they viscerally came together, and when the movie, ended in a final battle, I more of less begrudgingly wondered why he went that direction, when he didn't need to. I think the film, was trying too much. It was doing these multiple stories, inside the main story, I guess a la "Rashomon", or maybe more recently, something like "Hero" I think, the Jet Li film, kinda did that, and they devolving as the story gets told, to the inevitable fight scene, but I think because it was done in this peculiar, that I couldn't really get into the film. I kept feeling like, I was being shifted through, flashbacks against my will, and it didn't really answer any greater truth or ask a new question. Because we got these, two perspective on the truthfulness of the Samurai requesting hara-kiri, that are both, relatively equal perspectives, at the end, I didn't have an opinion one way or another what happened to him, and that was ultimately depressing for me. There's a lot of skill and talent on screen; Miike is a great director; I've argued that his "Audition" is the best of the Asia Extreme films, even ahead of "Oldboy"; his "13 Assassins" was a great exercise in kinetic action, but I felt less for this film, the more I watched and considered it. I guess I'm going against the prevailing winds considering the standard we're at, but despite some good stuff here, it doesn't come together for me....- I'm definitely reluctant on this, 'cause I still feel a little like I'm missing something, but I just can't recommend it all the way, 'cause I don't think it really leads to much, when you try to construct the entire story back, and he's set such a high standard for himself here, maybe I'm being tougher but, it just doesn't really work the way this film was constructed.


ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012) Director: Timur Bekmambetov

1/2


Well...,  if Solomon can be a master of demons, then I guess, Abraham Lincoln could've been a vampire hunter in his spare time. ("Testament of Solomon," it's in the Apocrypha; one of the gospels that didn't get canonized in the Bible, he was a mystic who fought off demons, when he wasn't threatening to slice disputed babies in half. Oh nevermind, it's not relevant.) Anyway, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", um, yeah. That's basically it. I don't know what to say about this film. Is it good, no. Is it supposed to be, probably not in the traditional sense. The movie begins with a young Lincoln, (Benjamin Walker) witnessing the murder of his mother at the hands of a vampire, as well as saving a young slave, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) from the vampire as well. Apparently, the whole Civil War was basically inevitable because of this moment, and Lincoln's determination to win it came from here too. While, he's not railsplitting, or taking his 3rd grade education to become the most successful lawyer in Illinois, he spends his nights killing vampires under the tutelage of Henry Burgess (Dominic Cooper), himself a vampire, but one of the few on the side of the North-, I mean, on the side of Good. He trains him, and eventually, with the law and politics and a guise, Lincoln kills over 60 vampires, but has yet to kill the one he really wants Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), the one that killed his mother. I don't know, there's a half-decent idea of inserting the supernatural into history, but that rarely works under the best of circumstances. Here, the movie, is too ridiculous to be truly taken seriously, and it takes itself too seriously and for it to be appreciated as absurdist camp. It's kinda like, a bunch of dead air on the screen really. That's the real problem with the movie, it doesn't go far enough in any direction; it feels like, despite all the logical reasons not to, the film tries to treat the scenario as possible, and then, try to dive into Lincoln's life too much. Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) starting to lose it after vampires took their young son, and then, add the politics events that correspond and how his frustration with vampires led him to double down on Gettysburg, and- I don't know. I don't know; I don't know; I don't know! I've said that about a dozen or so times during this review, and really that's basically what they give us to make of the film. From conception to execution, the movie plays it right down the middle so much, that amazingly, the movie not only turns boring, but safe and indecisive too. The movie was based on the novel from Seth-Grahame Smith, who also wrote the hit novel, "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies", which is also being adapted into a feature film. He likes this idea of inserting the supernatural in familiar stories. The key word there is stories, 'cause here, he's messing with history, and there's only so much you can interpret and re-imagine, without being tired of going, "Oh, that's from that. That's about that. That's cute how they tied that in, sorta....." Still, the movie, it's so ugly and dark; there's nothing really fun about it. It was boring!; I mean, how can this movie be boring? It's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", and the worst sin of all, is that they made it, as boring as they could've made it. It could've been anything with an idea, this fucking ridiculous, but not boring, and somehow they pulled off. I guess it's sorta an achievement, but I wouldn't want to brag about it.


MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (2012) Director: Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre

✰✰✰✰



Marina Abramovic's work-, no, that's not the right way to describe it. I don't know what is either. Yes, art will do, but,- to the far extent that all art, is essentially performance art, and to the barest extent, there's performance art, and then there's, performance art. And Abramovic, might've been the inventor of the latter to some extent. Just reading about her work and those who witnessed it is disturbing, much less seeing much of it here, in old footage, and new in "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present". The film chronicles her for almost a year as she prepares a display of her most famous work at the Museum of Modern Art, the MoMA in New York City, which is considered a career achievement for her, and a sign of the general acceptance of her work. She's doing one part of the performance herself, a piece where she sits still in silence, at a table, across from her audience, during the entire exhibition, which was running for a couple months, only taking occasional breaks at closing. Other artists were brought in, and trained to recreate her most famous works, like of the two naked people standing in the doorway entrance, which visitors must be walk between to enter; the symbolism of life and birth is powerful, and one of my favorites. Other times, she's beating, whipping herself, cutting herself on stage, or letting the audience do things to her. One infamous performance, involved her standing still, with a table full of objects that the audience was allowed to use against her, for the six hours she stood passively. Objects included everything from items of pleasure and nourishment to weapons, including a loaded gun. Her body is her canvas, and whether alone, or working together for a time with her lover Ulay, another performance artist, she is unusually strong-willed and determined a person, able to force much torture and self-mutilation and other punishments against herself for long period of time. Ulay and Marina's final performance "The Lovers", involved them walking along the Great Wall of China for three months, from one to the other, until they met in the middle, ironically, to say goodbye to their relationship. As people as famous as Lady Gaga and James Franco would view her exhibit, and sit with her, the more the performance gained public notoriety. She had a tough live, born out of a violent and broken home from Yugoslavia, it's clear that she's capable of numerous kinds of art, (I actually viewed a short film she directed for a controversial conceptual collection of films called "Destricted" called "Balkan Erotic Epic". She even discusses a possible collaboration with David Blaine for awhile, before it became clear that, the world of illusion is the exact opposite of her art. She wants us to witness her bare her soul, body, and everything else on display, and we see that in the performance, and in the film. She let's us in, seemingly forgetting we're here when not being interviewed, but an artist like her, is always on display, so it's difficult to tell where Marina the artist begins and Marina the person ends, which is the point of her work. When Ulay sits across from her, after having not seen each other in over a decade before, she ever-so-slightly reaches for him, the only time she remotely breaks from the part. Even she can be effected when her, as the audience, is challenged. This is a very good documentary on a very important artist of our times, and seeing her process and work behind the scenes is quite stirring. It's nice to see her, just cutting vegetables for guests and cooking, and laughing as she plans out the exhibit. The documentary was in theaters for a couple weeks in New York, before it debuted on HBO; it's one of the better documents of artist in recent years, and having watched it a couple times, the power of the film, and of her art, is something, you kinda just have to experience, 'cause analyzing it is okay, but, that's the thing with performance art, you kinda have to witness it somehow. Probably participate too in Marina's world.


THE GENERAL (1926) Directors: Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman

✰✰✰✰



While I'm glad to finally get it off my shame list, Buster Keaton's "The General" is usually listed as his best and most important work. I'm not so sure I share that opinion actually. Oh, it's an amazing film, and the feat of athleticism and comedy he manages to pull off are quite special, but ironically, something I notice with this film is how simple it actually is. Some of his other works, like "Our Hospitality," seem to be more elaborate, and filled with taking pieces of humor to some absolute zeniths. The worlds were more imaginative too, where he would be reacting to the strange things going on as much as anything else. "The General" on the other hand, is really, Buster Keaton, minimalism oddly enough. It's him, and a train basically. Yeah, the Civil War comes into play, and Keaton, always the buff, always loved his Civil War pieces to be in Kentucky, which is the area of the country most divided by the War, and by divided, I mean, brother against brother, literally. When the war breaks out, he gets rejected, Johnnie Gray (Keaton) and this disappoint Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), who mis-believes that he didn't enlist, when in fact, he did everything to enlist, but being a train engineer, it was determined that he was more important here. Then, his train, "The General" gets stolen by the north, who this begins a second act, that seems to be just one long elaborate train chase. Multiple chases act, and they are elaborate. The movie was actually based on an actual incident in the Civil War, and there advisers on set, who were actually involved in the incident. Maybe that's why it doesn't rank as one of his more laugh-out-loud films. Maybe that's it's secret. It was one of the most elaborate and expensive films of its time. The train, that Keaton is nearly run over by multiple times, is a real train that nearly ran him over. So it the car that's set on fire and abandoned in a tunnel that Johnnie Grey heads straight towards. And the other, on the bridge that eventually collapses, actual train, long before David Lean did it. He manages, some of his other favorite conceit, like switching uniforms to sneak back into Kentucky and help foil the Northern advance, and a few different gags with canons, one on a train, another during battle. Keaton's best work here, isn't so much, the comedy, it's his acting strangely enough. He always played his roles seriously, to make the comedy even more hilarious, when they occurred, as he often stood as counter to it. Roger Ebert's Great Movie review notes that "We don't laugh at Keaton, we identify with him." It's true actually, we don't laugh as much at "The General" as we do, his other works. Perhaps, if we did, we wouldn't get so caught up in it. It wouldn't be the epic war story that it really is. The music is driving and pushing battle music; it almost reminds me of the score for "Stripes" of all thing, which is probably the kind of music that film was parodying. The film isn't parody or satire, it's actually based out of the smarts and know-how of the engineer, who may or may not be army material, but he knows trains, and how they can be manipulated and how he can use that knowledge to outsmart the Northern Army. The lowly workingman, who manages to be craftier and more determined that most of the rest of the military. "The General" is certainly essential viewing, although I don't know if, that film alone, is a good piece to get the entirety of Buster Keaton; I'm not sure it's the synecdoche for Keaton's career that other might claim. Of course, that's a good thing, since that means, we have to go through the rest of his work, which is almost always great. It also reveals just how talented Keaton actually was.


GOOD DICK (2008) Director: Marianna Palka




I know, that I have written this into a script before, on multiple occasions even, so it's a bit ironic coming from me, but exactly how often and how much do women watch porn? And even if they do, how often do they masturbate from it? I think a decent portion watch it, almost ironically, the way Janeane Garofalo's discussed it in her stand-up a few times, how she hates sex, but enjoys porn, "Hey, I watch the food network a lot too, that doesn't mean I'm gonna bake a cake!" And, in this day and age, how many still, go to a video store for their porn? Personally, I wish that they did, since, I miss video stores, and since our family's old video store chain, might've been the last one that kept a regular porn collection, I certainly have fond memories of them, but this is more a conceit from a bad writer than based in any form of reality. Somebody has screwed up mentally as "The Woman" (Marianna Palka, the film's writer/director) would most likely be so insular and hermit-ish to spends all her days masturbating to porn and rejecting the outside world, and apparently have enough money to not have a job and live in an apartment her father paid for, and have a trust fund, would probably not go to a store; she's probably just a buy a computer so she can watch her porn more that way. Maybe she prefers the to watch porn the old-style way, as a film, with a bit of a plot like an old Emmanuelle movie or something, but still, there's ways of getting that without leaving the house. I know, I almost took a job once writing reviews of porn on a website, they send you the latest porn titles to review in little envelopes, and there's plenty of company's....- Maybe I'm being snippet about "Good Dick", but it really did frustrate me too much. "The Man" (Jason Ritter) who insists on trying to know her, manages to con his way into her apartment, and together, not much, he just watches a lot of porn with her. Occasionally there's a funny exchange of repartee, and one scene involving Ritter, bent over the dining room table and Woman makes Man experience metaphorically what sex is like from a woman's point of view. He's fallen for her as the clerk at the video store, which is apparently one of the only places she visits, that and the mailbox. Something's screwed up with her, and it involves some psycho-sexual abuse from her father (Tom Arnold, who's cameo is probably the best thing in the film until the scene starts). who she confronts at the end and everything is still vague. Man never gets to the bottom of the problem, and she never reveals it either. Occasionally, we learn one or two unimportant things about the characters, like Man's homeless and sleeps in his car, and apparently an addict of some kind; I guess that the excuse for why he sees a need in her that he's willing to force his way into her life against her will, but he doesn't do much about it either, except try to get in her pants. (And I don't know why his name at least, isn't Dick, if for nothing else to match the title?) Marianna Palka, probably has some talents at acting, and she's got a new directorial effort coming out later this year. Apparently, she's a pupil of David Mamet and Bill Macy, so I suspect that she can do better than this, and maybe a variation on this story might've worked on the stage. Perhaps a two-person show, involving the masturbating woman and the clerk, forcing his way in and the whole thing taking place in that apartment; that might've been interesting, but "Good Dick", just fails at, seemingly everything from the concept to the execution. Todd McCarthy might've put his finger on it, calling it a "Therapy script" that shouldn't have been made. I hope that's the case, and I hope Palka can do better next time in that case. Or at least, give us more of a reason to care about these "characters."


THE LADY (2011) Director: Luc Besson

✰✰✰




Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) is one of my personal heroes, and she should be to everybody else for her accomplishment. She won the Nobel Peace Prize, but wasn't able to accept it 'til fifteen years later, as she was in her native Myanmar under house arrest. Her father Aung San, (Phoe Zaw) was the right ruler of Burma, but was assassinated through a military coupe. Suu Kyi would spends much of her life outside the country, even marrying and having kids with a British writer/professor, Michael Arias (David Thewlis), and she wasn't even allowed to visit him, as he died of cancer while she was imprisoned. I've known about her life for awhile, as I'm sure most everybody has. She's only recently had her house arrest expunged and while Myanmar's fragile state inches ever-more-slowly towards, not only diplomacy, but a place in the world scene, she now a member of it's newly-formed Congress. She once won an election for President, but another coupe led to her arrest. She's realizes and loves politics, realizing how it really is the things the government does that effects what happens to the people of her very poor country. Before watching "The Lady", I, had seen a few things on Burma, including some really good, and risky documentaries about the country that's the 2nd most shutout from the outside world, next to North Korea of anywhere. "The Lady" is a decent biopic on Aung San Suu Kyi, although it's a fairly traditional tale about an otherwise revolutionary person. I certainly wish it was more than that though. Luc Besson, interestingly enough chose to direct "The Lady", that's not a typical choice from the director of "La Femme Nikita" and "The Professional", but he's certainly competent enough, and we certainly get a good, theatrical overview of Aung San Suu Kyi, we also get a lot of her long-suffering husband, a bit more than we probably should've as I think, her alone or her actions were far more interesting. I think there's better films about Myanmar and Suu Kyi, but most of them are documentaries. I think this could've been better, and won't call it the definitive statement on her, but it'll be a decent introduction for those unfamiliar, not much more than that though.


THE WOMAN (2011) Director: Lucky McKee

✰✰1/2


Ugh. I'm still a bit nauseous after watching "The Woman", the latest from director Lucky McKee. It's his fourth feature film, but the first one I've seen since his debut feature "May", which was one of the most interesting and charming slasher horror films I've seen in a while. There isn't much charming or enjoyable in this film, although, that might be part of the plan, but still, this one's just disturbing. The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) is some kind of disturbing uncivilized, supposedly tribe of cannibalistic creatures, but it seems more like she was raised by wolves and the Linda Harrison character from "Planet of the Apes", only more primitive and violent. She's spotted by a country lawyer Chris Creek (Sean Bridges) and is soon captured. What a normal script would happen next, would be that, while they may go to a few drastic lengths to keep her temporarily immobile, they'd call the police, scientists, maybe the National Enquirer, perhaps but plenty of applied psychoanalysts and other professors of the humanities at the major universities, and begin trying to turn Frankenstein into Eliza Dolittle, possibly with some gruesome results. That's not what happens however, as she was kidnapped and taken by the wrong country lawyer. Without revealing too much else of the actions, let me say that, Chris, is a family man, with a wife and three kids. The eldest girl, Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter, in the second horror I'm reviewing her in this week) is suddenly and unusually quiet and sick. She was dating a boyfriend recently, but now, her teacher Genevieve (Carlee Baker) suspects that her bouts of illness and distract classroom behavior, are symptoms of a pregnancy. Her younger brother Brian (Zach Rand) is curious by the woman his father's brought home, as he's beginning to have some of the same violent psycho-sexual neuroses that his father has, which have all very suddenly it seems been ignited, or maybe they've been there all along. This is one of those, almost classically is disturbing, a la, "I Spit On Your Grave", or these old early eighties, disgusting anti-women horror films, and there is an effectiveness to it, that's hard to dismiss. This is a skilled filmmaker at work here, and McKee is wise enough, to not spend too much time through the perspective of the villain, so it is a detached film, as opposed to one that praises the material, but it's still, not very pleasurable. Apparently, according to some critics, when they sent out screeners of the film, they sent barf bags with them. You know, part of being a critic is in recognizing the skill involved in work that, otherwise, I don't like. That said, there's a think line between enjoying and appreciation; "The Woman" is really hard to enjoy. I could make just a technical argument, not to recommend it, 'cause those certain problems with the story and the filmmaking even; there's an early error involving the way the desks are set up in a classroom that clearly was illogical, and they basically had to reset the desks a certain way in order to get the shot they wanted, but it means that the room would never be set up that way, but that's minor; the implications of the story and the characters, as well as their actions, that much more traumatic and gruesome, and in many ways, just disgusting. I'm conflicted here, but I can't imagine, recommending this movie for anybody, there isn't really an enjoyment factor in the film, something that you're gonna come out of it with any positive experience. It's a work of art for sure, it's based on a Jack Ketchum novel, and he co-wrote the film's script, but I can't really recommend it.


KANDAHAR (2001) Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

✰✰✰



When "Kandahar" got a surprise American theatrical release back in late '01, the film's timing was not coincidental as it had been rushed into limited release theaters after 9/11 and despite acclaim from numerous film festivals. More of us know now, where Kandahar is, and at least for now, it's not incontrol of the Taliban, unlike the way it was when the film was made. For the geo-politically lacking, "Kandahar" is a disputed territory, generally considered a part of Afghanistan, although Afghanistan and Pakistan have fought over the territory for centuries, and much of the time, it's been a rogue nation-state, that isn't considered a part of either, and until the war, was run by the Taliban. "Kandahar" is about Nafas (Nelofar Pazira) was born in Afghanistan, but hasn't been there since she was young. Her family, went off to live in Canada, but her sister stayed behind. Now, she's returned to the Taliban-controlled region, alone, and has to find her sister and get her out, after she wrote a letter saying she stepped on a landmines and lost both of her legs. The real story, is Nafas's journey behind the cloak and into the world. It takes a lot just to get into Afghanistan. She needs a male to go with her to Kandahar, and eventually finds a young ten-year-old named Khak (Sadou Teymouri), who was thrown out of school for the day, a school where the Qu'ran, is repeated, literally repeated by the students to memory, and they bob up and down, repeating it like a mantra, before getting tested on the basics of modern machine guns and other weapons. The kid, is a hustler, constantly trying to get more and more money out of the girl as they head out across the desert, hopefully to Kandahar. She soon gets sick, and goes to see a doctor, Tabib (Hassan Tantai) who can only treat her by looking through a sheet with an eye hole. He turns out to be an American, keeping a fake beard so as to treat the locals, and Nafas's is the only English-speaking person around. The trip is slowed down at one point, after a skeleton is found. Nafas is flipped out, Khak tries to sell her the ring that was on it. The kid is used to skeletons, I guess. These are the events of the movie, and are essentially  the main point, to show the life of people under the Taliban rule. The film was directed by Iranian Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who switches back and forth from dramatic films and documentaries; it's the first film of his I've seen. I think it's more of a curiosity than a truly effective feature; it gives us a small glimpse inside a world thank, hopefully won't exist anymore, anywhere, although in the thirteen years since "Kandahar" came out, I would've liked to have been able to be able to have been a little more confident about the Taliban's end than that.

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