Saturday, May 31, 2014

GOOD ON TV? RERUNS! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, THEN YOU BETTER STREAM IT, 'CAUSE THEY DON'T SHOW RERUN IT ANYMORE! (And it's time to change that back!)



I haven't done a "Good on TV"? blogpost in a while, and there's a reason. Oh, part of it is that there's nothing good on TV. But actually that's not even true. It couldn't be, there's a 1000 channels and that's not even including the internet, just by the law of averages, while there's more crap than ever, there has to also be good shows on as well, and many more of them than ever before. And you know what, I barely get to see any of them.

It's not just a lack of decent cable either, making my List of TV shows I have to watch, getting surprising close to being as long as my list of films to watch. Somewhere along the line, reruns became extinct, and relegated to syndication on local independent stations, and classic television channels, and you know what? I don't know why! Seriously, Summer used to be the time, when reruns were king! Yeah, networks would throw in their dump-the-garbage shows sporadically throughout the lineup, but basically it was an opportunity to re-watch the good shows to begin with, or occasionally catch up on things we might've missed the first time around, instead of having to wait 'til the DVDs or to stream on the internet. And don't tell me, it's all DVR now, if it's all on your DVR now, than you ain't watching it. It's waiting to be watch, like everything else.

So why are they gone? Well, first of all, it makes no sense that they are. I get that reality's cheap, but so are reruns? Literally they're cheaper and you can probably make just as much money, if not more out of advertising, especially for the hit shows. And you know, why just the hit shows? Seriously, that was never the standard, in fact many times, it was the reruns of as a show that saved series! "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was canceled after it's first year, bad ratings, but then they replayed it in the summer reruns, 'cause they didn't have anything else, and it climbed to a Top Ten show, people hadn't seen it originally, they caught it the second time around, it got new life- I mean, how often is this happening now? "Family Guy" reruns on Cartoon Network, beat out all the late night hosts, combined, and it came back from a three-year cancellation; reruns are what save shows and networks, and actually give us a better view on how the audience sees a show, and now, there's nothing on, but a bunch of new reality shows mostly, and they're not even the good ones, they're the Summer ones, that aren't good enough to be apart of the Fall lineups. And btw, there's nothing wrong with rerunning them either, some cable channels seem to do nothing but that sometimes, and you know, they wouldn't do it if it didn't work, and it does! You think people wouldn't want to relive "American Idol", those who missed it before? So they don't get to vote, big deal, blur out the phone number, tell them not to call, it's a rerun, if they don't understand why, then they're idiots. Or rerunning all these serial story-arc shows, that supposedly we have to watch from the beginning- and you know what, I know that that's the majority of great television shows, dramas and comedies these days are like that, but, seriously why are we disregarding rerun-ability as a legitimate credit to a TV series? You know "Law & Order", was created specifically for reruns? Seriously, Dick Wolf, was tired of how TV dramas, this was in the eighties, and it's happening all over again now, btw, TV dramas would be popular but would have no rerun appeal, so they wouldn't earn any extra money in syndication from reruns. Now, he didn't conceive, that an hour-long rerun was a concept, he thought one of the problems, was the length of dramas, being an hour-long, so he imagined, in reruns, the show being broken into half-hour segments, so you'd turn in one day for the "Law" and then the day for the "Order", and that became the structure of a show, that's lasted, three, four incarnations, 25-years later, and is still airing in reruns and is still a hit. Still being copied. And it wasn't a hit originally either, in fact it was canceled from two networks, and struggled for a couple years, before they got the greatest note in TV history from Warren Littlefield to "Add females characters". That's happening now. People look at me weird when I say that nobody's gonna remember "Breaking Bad" ten years from now, but it won't be airing, so of course they will! Some might, hear about it, and a few of them might actually be bothered to seek out the DVDs and/or steam the show online somewhere, but is that what this is coming too, with all these options, all these TV channels, all this time and creativity and great series, one after another being made, that we still have to go out of our way to see them, because, instead of rerunning them, we get to watch mothers "Bet On Your Baby"? Yes that's an actual network show this summer, is new and fresh and if we're not new and fresh, then...- Then what? What's so damn good about this crap, that the networks have to put this on, instead of maybe, reviving that crappy show that ran for only six or seven episodes that no one watched; if they're both gonna be crappy, why create more crap? Maybe just one episode was crap so we didn't watch further but it got better, and how are we gonna know if we only get one chance to see it again? It's more likely we'd find that by accident through reruns than seek out something we thought was crap to begin with, but we can't do that if it's not on multiple times. I get that some people like how it's more free now and personal that we can watch what we want when we want to, but you know what, we're missing too many shows that way, and is that choice so damn good? That means, we're limiting ourselves to only the few shows we want to watch immediately, instead of possibly finding out something completely different and new that we might enjoy ourselves. Sometimes we never know what we're gonna like until we see it. In fact, most of the time, that's the case. You think we we're craving a TV show about a bunch of science nerds? Or a family that runs a funeral parlor? Or a mobsters family? Or the insides of the White House? A '60s era advertising executives? Or we we're all, begging for years, and hoping and praying that a decent show about a teacher-turned-meth dealer would be made, weren't we? Fuck no! We didn't know we wanted to watch 'til we saw the damn things! "A reality show about fashion, I don't want to watch that?" That's what I said once, and now I'm streaming "Project Runway" reruns on Roku when there's nothing on, and that's happening a lot more often lately.

It's a chore to look up other shows, and now that there's new shows every few weeks and new seasons of shows starting every few months that we're still three years behind on and haven't caught up yet- I'm sorry, if it's between more, worst crap during the summer, and being forced down our throats the crap that didn't work the first time, at least, we chewed the first crap once before and it's easier to swallow now.

It's too late for this summer, we're already three episodes into "Last Comic Standing" and that's as good as it's gonna get folks, and I sat through an hour of "Undateable" to get to it, 'cause apparently giving "The Michael J. Fox Show" one more last-ditch try was simply not possible. (Alright, supposed you hated it too, but which would you rather have, something that sucks with Michael J. Fox, or something that sucks more and doesn't have him? At this point why the hell now, what's the difference between old shit and new shit if they're both shit?) So, I'm calling for every network, to put a moratorium on new shows, next year, from June to the end of August! That's right, I want to bring back Summer reruns. Just next year, we're gonna go back to the old format. An experiment, and see if it still works. It'll save the networks extra money, they don't have to create any extra Primetime product, maybe come up with a new promo or two that they were gonna come up with anyway, but that's it. They can find and showcase the shows they actually care about, and force it down our throats and see if we'll eat it, or hold their noses and shove it down and hope for the best. Either way, what's the difference? All networks, and I'm including cable here, 'cause I want to bring back the rerun standard; let's see what they end up putting on the air, if they know they're gonna have to rerun it later. They get nine months of the year to figure it out, let's use the summer three months to show off the best of your best a second time. We shouldn't there be an encore?  Give us another chance to see that great show or shows that we've been hearing about but completely missed before, even if they're canceled, let's get one last shot at it. If it's still bad, no harm, no foul, if it's turns out it's halfway decent and more people are interested, plenty of time to reconsider, plus, more data to figure out your mid-season replacement options, just in case. You might need to take another chance on Whitney Cummings pilot after all. We'll be given the opportunity to see more things, a real second try, not have to be beholden to anything else. I bet you money, shows that everybody discarded will get rediscovered, and I bet shows that we miss the first time, become bigger hits this second time around and something will get renewed, and television is gonna get better across the board 'cause how it always happen. This myth that since reality became predominate television in Primetime and the serial dramas became the norm that now, we need to constantly put something new on all year long, is just crap, and I'm tired of actually having Summer time to watch TV, only to now have nothing on to watch anymore.

You know why this every-few-month a new set of shows has worked in England for years? 'Cause for years they only had three or four channels! That had to do it to fit everything good in. Now, we're doing it, with a thousand channels? I'm done with it, and I hope everyone else is too, 'cause it needs to go back, and it's time to force this on the networks. If your shows are really that damn good that they're worth airing, then why not leave them on the air and keep replaying them! Promote them like their new, let them be on 'cause they're still as good as they ever were to begin with.

Now, I don't know how to go about this, whether this is something we take to each network, or to the FCC, or how to get this reversed, this trend, and return to the rerun schedule of old, but we gotta work at it. We need a "Network"-level Paddy Chayefsky moment, and let the networks know that, enough is enough, and mad as Hell, and, maybe I'm the only one who sees things clearly, but there's no water cooler shows anymore. There isn't. There's no shows that we're discussing the next morning, there's shows that have been on the air for five years that your friend's gonna walk up to you one day and go "Hey, have you ever heard of this show, I streamed it last night, it's good," as though they're shocked and I haven't been telling that person how good it's been the whole fucking time. I'm done with that. We're gonna make the public know and care more about good television, by pushing it down our throats as often as possible until we get it, and if they don't, it's there lost, and if that means a few extra reruns of shows that suck, to make sure everybody gets the reruns of the good shows, (scoffs) it's the same trade-off we've been making for years, and it's worked out fine. It's time to make it work again. Networks, don't just give us, the option of seeing it. Nobody's more powerful and influential in the cultural sphere of America than the guys that own the airwaves, not the other way around, so act like it, and "make" us watch it!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #88: "MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM", "BEYOND OUTRAGE", "ENDER'S GAME", "THE SELFISH GIANT", "IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?", "PARKLAND", "LAURENCE ANYWAYS", "BASTARDS", "A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III", "THE HUNTER (Pitts)" and MORE!

I forgot to mention this last week, I'm sure some of you have notice a slight design change in the blog, as I've put up a "Past Reviews" tab, up above where I used to just have the search bar. I know, a big request of mine, is always, "What did I think of a film?" more-or-less, and some times a lot of people just missed it when I originally reviewed. Well, I'm not technology savvy enough yet to easily go through over a 1,000 film reviews and order them somehow on a page, or create a decent search database to easily get to them, but instead, some know I am a contributing reviewer to Half Popped Movies, run by Rob Belote; he runs a couple websites, I used to write a Ring of Honor wrestling post for him on SportsNation.com once upon a time, well, he's got a database that I enter my reviews and rankings for movies I've reviewed, and many I haven't also, that I update regularly that he posts on his site, and so the link above is a direct link to my page on that website. It's in ranking order, and he uses a 1-100 score, and I don't, but he has a 5 STARS options, so the closer to 100, the rating is, the more I liked it. 97=5 STARS and 88 is 4 1/2 or whatever. Just search the page, like click on search on your browser, and search for the main words in the title of the movie, and if it's on there, and there's a review link, that's a link directly to the blogpost where I wrote the review. Now, I still have a lot of old reviews to put in there, actually. A lot, and it's updated regularly, so it doesn't have everything I've ever seen or reviewed yet unfortunately, but it has a lot of it, and I'm still putting stuff in, and it also has my rankings on a lot of other films as well. If you have questions or want to see/discuss what I thought on a movie, check that site, and it should help, if it still not there, let me know, comment on the blog, or my twitter, or on Facebook, either my page or the blog's page, either one. I hope you like that new addition, and I think it's a good new look for the blog, a little cleaner; I might add more tabs later, but for now, I hope that tab helps, and it will be updated regularly, usually after ever review post like this one.

Well, not too much else going on right now. Hope you all had a good three-day weekend, for whatever holiday that was. Let's get right to this week's edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013) Director: Justin Chadwick



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I don't remember who it was that first pointed out, that "Schindler's List" wasn't about the Holocaust, 'cause the Holocaust was about the killing of 6,000,000 Jews, and the movie was about a guy who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews, but I think some of the backlash for "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" might have come out of that same flawed reasoning. To understand Nelson Mandela, you have to spend 27 years in prison, exactly how would you depict that on film? That's what I thought, and the scary part is that only a very small part of Nelson Mandela's (Idris Elba) Long Walk to Freedom, titled and based on his autobiography. The film covers from his early years as a young lawyer, trying to use the law for the greater good all the way to his struggles to keep a dissenting nation together as President. Strangely it's not a heroic biopic. It shows the struggles with his marriages and kids, and his reluctance towards joining the ANC originally. Also, it's interesting how he wasn't portrayed completely saint-like. He isn't a natural representative of peace, who didn't believe in eliminating violence as an option. I think it was because Apartheid was indeed a time of war, and when it had ended, was when he denounced violence, because the Blacks had to be better than the way the Whites were. One man, one vote, he said, and he stuck to his guns. In some ways, it's not-so-much the things Mandela did as it is the things that he had to go through to do them. And it interestingly, just as much his stubbornness that helped saved thousands of lives, rejecting other offers to handle a more peaceful end to apartheid with a two-governing system, by forcing them to go to give in to his demands. While admitting that "Mandela..." doesn't compare to other depictions of Nelson Mandela, like "Invictus" even, it's a good by-the-book biopic, and I appreciate it as such. A man who lived as long and accomplished so much as Nelson Mandela, it's gonna need numerous movies for us to fully understand the greatness of his actions and what he sacrificed to achieve them, and this was, another one of them. Not the greatest, probably not the best way to go about telling the story of Nelson Mandela, but I didn't mind that so much, and while the movie's a little long, I was entertained, and Elba's performance is more-than-worth a viewing. Naomie Harris's performance was also quite good here as Mandela's wife Winnie, a film was made about her recently too, haven't gotten around to that one yet. (One more perspective on Mandela) This is Justin Chadwick's third feature, and he came out of BBC television, and he's been dubious as a director so far with "The First Grader" and "The Other Boleyn Girl", both films I didn't care much for, but this is a drastic improvement. He's seems to have finally found his balance between being too historical and being too inspirational, and he's made a good balance with this film. 


BEYOND OUTRAGE (2014) Director: Takeshi Kitano



✰✰1/2



I looked up my review of Takeshi Kitano's "Outrage" before watching this film; I was one of the few who really despised the original film, saying among other things, that is was just a Japanese Yakuza film where a lot of gangsters get killed. The review of that film is below: 

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/04/movie-reviews-30-rio-take-shelter.html 

My thoughts haven't changed on "Outrage", I think it was a mess of a killing spree interrupted occasionally by Yakuza. I still don't particularly think much of "Beyond Outrage", which almost seems to be an intentionally absurd title, but it wasn't nearly as lacklusterly thought-out as "Outrage", which was literally designed by coming up with the gruesome kills first, and then a story was wrapped around them. This time, the story takes a little higher profile, and seems to actually make an observation about the Yakuza. It's five years after, what will kindly be referred to as the "bloodshed" of the first film, and the Yakuza's influence has climbed up higher in both the police and the business world, but so has the violence and retribution, and it's spilled out into the outside world, causing both the Sanno Crime family, led by Kato (Tomokazo Miura) to be more observant and careful with their actions, as they raise their influence of the chain of government. This is bad timing, as Otomo (Kitano) is being released from prison, the man who survived and slaughtered most of the Yakuza (or what seemed like it, on both sides) from the first movie, and no one's sure what if any retribution he's planning. He's sorta like the movie's Yojimbo, playing multiple sides, in a long game of elaborate chess, while secretly, he's taking care of all family business. Matt Zoller Seitz's review notes many of the similarities to "The Godfather Part II" in "Beyond Outrage" and the tone is correct, and in this case, the violence does seem to be built up to with more nuance and plot developments behind it, than "Outrage", and I liked that actually. It's still not enough for me to recommend this series, as the film mostly seems like a strained attempt to get more out of a story than there really is there, but I think Takeshi Kitano tried a bit more here. It still devolved into a violent coalition of crosses and double-crosses and triple-crosses that seem completely at the whim of the characters acting in a specific way at a specific time, but it still had the feel of an actual planned collection of gang hits than a random assortment of kills, and I appreciated that actually. It made the film seem more like a Yakuza gangster film. I can't quite recommend "Beyond Outrage", but Kitano is a talented director, and I appreciate the attempt and challenge that he given himself, and to some extent, I find myself at least admiring "Beyond Outrage".


ENDER'S GAME (2013) Director: Gavin Hood



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I've been informed that "Ender's Game" is based on a popular children's lit novel from Orson Scott Card and that there's many notable difference between the book and the movie, annoying a few fans of the novel. I had not read the book, although as far as I can tell, it seems to be a little bit like "A Separate Peace" meets "Space Cases". (Really, no one remember "Space Cases"? Nickelodeon show, mid-'90s? There were kids from different planets, in the future, lost in space, and the ship thought they were the crew? Kind of a kid's version of "Star Trek" and "Lost in Space", hell, Bill Mumy co-created it! Had a great theme song? Oh, just look it up.) It must be a modern children's lit story 'cause I've never heard of it, although I'm fairly certain that whoever came up with it grew up on video games. How else can you explain a future world where the skills at board and video games are the desired skills for admittance into a space academy/army where. (And of course, since expert motor skills are a young person's game, literally and figuratively, this future where the morality of privacy for adults and kids are compromised to find out the best ones for an Earth-saving military mission after a disastrous attack from another planet nearly destroyed Earth once before. Ender (Asa Butterfield) is the latest recruit to become one of these teenage killing machines. He's not very personable and is somewhat diminutive sizewise, but is both intellectual and psychologically superior, which makes him a master at game theory, perfect for this battle of war he's training for, constantly moving higher and higher up the ranks and forming more friends and enemies, as, while all the kids are supposedly the best and brightest, Ender continually manages to outdo them. At home, he has an older brother Peter (Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchak) who been beating him up most of his life, and an older sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin) who basically has been saving and nurturing him from Peter, and the two sides of his siblings, the vicious killer and the emotional heart have formed in Ender. The more you can dig into the film, I'm guessing the more you can dig into the metaphors and symbolism of the novel. Character names themselves are probably the biggest clue. (Who names a character Ender unless he's gonna end something?) And you're pretty sure that once Bonzo (Moises Arias) makes his entrance, that he's gonna eventually be the character that's either gonna die, or nearly so, because of his determination and arrogance. Ender's recruits Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) and Maj. Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), and then eventually Ben Kingsley character comes in, reuniting with his "Hugo" co-star, seem to always be arguing about something vague regarding whether or not Ender either is ready or his crew which he gained his respect is ready or something, doesn't get revealed until way later. By the way, most of the training seems to be boiled down to something called a "Battle Room", which is the Quibbige of this film (I doubt I'm spelling that right, but oh well.) and then there's one scene, which was basically Ender in Capt. Picard's role on the Enterprise during a glorified Kobayshi Maru scenario. (Alright it know it was Kirk in that chair, but Ender reminded me more of Picard.) "Ender's Game" was essentially intense and yet ultimately underwhelming, and I think that's because of the original conceit that Ender is so much better than the field that, for what would actually be a challenge for others, like defeating the ant-like aliens, it ends up being remarkably easy for him. Maybe it's more of a detailed struggle in the novel, but as a film, despite some good performances by an all-star list of kid actors, I especially enjoyed seeing Hailee Steinfeld in her first major role since "True Grit", it entertained me enough to recommend, but I wouldn't necessarily think of it as a particularly good or memorable sci-fi film. It entertained me while I was watching it, but that was about it.


THE SELFISH GIANT (2013) Director: Clio Barnard



✰✰✰1/2



I was not familiar with the Oscar Wilde fable "The Selfish Giant" going into the film, the film narrative feature from Clio Barnard; I have since read it, and somehow, while there's some horrific imagery in the parable, I'm not exactly sure it would've been what I would've thought was the inspiration for this film. This dreary slice-of-life depicting the severe poverty of West Yorkshire, England, a film so authentic to the area that the film has subtitles, despite the fact that the characters are speaking English. The film was nominated for seven BiFa Awards, which is the British version of the Independent Spirit awards, and won for Technical Achievement for its casting, particularly the stars, two young non-actors, in the leads. Arbor (Conner Chapman) is young, volatile, hostile, angry,... I knew a few kids were like him in elementary and middle school, capable of two moods, rebellious anger, which was the better of the two, the other being tantrum-like destruction. We see these two sides of him, one at the home, where he's fighting and breaking everything just to go to school, the other is the way he acts when he gets there. Two small to be taken seriously, but not able to control his emotions enough to explain his anger. His only friend, a portly and calmer young man, ironically named Swifty (Shaun Thomas) is with him. He knows Arbor is headstrong and bound for trouble, but he listens to him. When they both get kicked out of school for bullying, they soon begin earning money by stealing scrap metal which they sell to the junker. They get this idea from a giant man named Kitten (Sean Gilder) who eventually takes them under his wing, but he's not a nice giant of a man. Not a good man either, and there's little honor among thieves as he takes Arbor and threaten to chop off his hand, if he doesn't pay back what he's stolen. "The Selfish Giant" is sorta like a cold and harsher version of Ramin Bahrani's great film, "Chop Shop", which also included non-actor kids in the lead, and was about the illegal running and attaining of parts for cheap fare, in a business that's known for questions morality in their practices. Both are also of the neorealist tradition, but somehow "The Selfish Giant" seems hopeless and bleak, maybe too much so. There was such a camaraderie in "Chop Shop", and this parable is pure capitalistic id and ego crushing what little left to save about these two troubled little boys from troubled homes. What are they working for? Conner might be compassionate enough to understand working so his family can earn money, but Arbor seems like he's a fresh high school grad, who can't wait to jump into work. Except they're both 13. It's depressing, sure, but it's good at being depressing and showing us this desolate, abandoned Northern England, where the industry towns of old, will simply trap you in for life.


IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? (2013) Director: Michel Gondry






Before anybody starts bitching at me,  I like Noam Chomsky fine. In fact, I'm a huge advocate for his beliefs and thoughts, I've often just sat back and listened to his lectures or a book on tape of his and found myself engrossed in the philosophy and world views that is Chomsky; he's one of the great minds, if not, the greatest mind of our generation. I understand completely why Michel Gondry would want to make a documentary about a conversation he had with him. All it really did though, was show that Chomsky is a far more interesting person when he's the only one talking, especially when a Gondry, who, I like but is clearly not in the intellectual echelon of Chomsky, can't really keep up with him, and frankly, I don't want to hear him talk about his unpreparedness or his struggles he has to explain and gargle out the right question phrasing or make his own points and perceptions; you've got an interesting subject, who loves to talk, say as little as possible and let him pontificate. This should've been "My Dinner with Chomsky", (or "My Interview..." I guess, but dinner sounds better.) not my boring conversation I tried to have with him, and put over animation. Oh, the animation. The whole thing is this hand-drawn animation style, where the interview is done, and then the concepts and words of their interview are then animated by Gondry, and two others, and it's not bad animation. It's not as interesting if he had done the Richard Linklater motion-capture technique he revolutionized with "Waking Life", but it's not bad for about five or six minutes, but it's an eighty-minute movie, and if you take it away, it's just a bad interview with Noam Chomsky. Chomsky's already been the subject of many documentaries, and I can still think of plenty filmmakers like Linklater, or Errol Morris perhaps, who I'd love to see make a bio-documentary about him, but not this. It would've been an interesting, hmm, maybe ten minute short, the way Gondry's doing it, and but not as a full movie. Both Gondry and the animation just become distractions eventually, and quicker than Gondry thinks. There's many other ways and films to find out about Noam Chomsky, "Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?" is one that can easily and should be skipped. The interview was pointless, the way it was done was wrong, the animation wasn't compelling enough,- there's nothing here, and that's the last statement I would ever think I'd say about Chomsky.


PARKLAND (2013) Director: Peter Landesman



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Titled after the Dallas hospital where John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald were taken and pronounced dead, "Parkland", attempts something a little bit tricky, by narrowing in solely on the activities of some of the individuals directly involved and showing their activities right after the President's assassination and the few days after, until shortly after Oswald's murder. It doesn't particularly take a side, or extemporize on any conspiracy theory, or show the events through any one particular perspective. Most JFK buffs already know a few of the famous incidents and details, the way the hospitals coroner (Gary Cochrane) was denied to do an autopsy from the FBI (Although he was allowed rather easily to do one on Oswald) or that Jackie (Kat Steffans) how she leaned over onto Kennedy's corpse after the surgeons had given up. Some of the threads are more interesting that others, like Bob Oswald (James Badge Dale) who wasn't particularly surprised that his brother (Jeremy Strong) was the killer, although his mother (Jacki Weaver), the one character who's behavior seems particularly insane, is convinced that Oswald was an FBI agent and committing a great act for America, caught up in a delusion that even Oswald himself doesn't seem pliable. It strips down the many different aspects of the situation, like the FBI Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) tries to track down a lab that'll be able to play Abraham Zapruder's (Paul Giamatti) home footage, of the murder. A lot of the film is almost documentary style, shot with only the details of what happens and only at the edges moments of the greater ratifications of what it meant for the country. Some think that this is a fault of "Parkland" and they aren't completely wrong, but I also don't think that was the intent either to dive so deeply. This is the directorial debut for Peter Landesman, a former journalist whose article was the inspiration for "Trade" a fairly similar look at the sex trade industry, more about the technical than the emotional. Naturally, this effect is flawed as certain parts and characters become more interesting than others and that's especially disorienting in this film, where even small roles have named actors in them, sometimes for just a line or two dialogue. That's a little frustrating, to see Marcia Gay Harden, Zac Efron, Jackie Earle Haley and others only show up for a little bit and then not go anywhere, but neither did the assassination lead to much more either. No matter what they happened to be doing at the time, or how they were connected, a President and his accused assassin were killed over a few days in Dallas, TX, and Parkland just happened to be the hospital in Dallas where they went to.


LAURENCE ANYWAYS (2013) Director: Xavier Dolan



✰✰1/2



"Laurence Anyways" is basically a transgendered "Blue is the Warmest Color", but while that, and the movie are interesting, it's just way too long.  It's the latest from the French-Canadian wunderkind director, Xavier Dolan, who's four years younger than me, and has already directed five feature-length films and I'm not at all jealous of the prick sonabitch he often chooses to focus in on characters who are dealing with realizing their complicated sexual identities. His autobiographical debut film, "I Killed My Mother" was about as good as any 20-year-old's autobiography could be, although that's still not much of a life, to really look back on. Now, he's doing something almost strangely the opposite problem where he's working with characters who are older and more mature, and also dealing with a complicated relationship. Laurence (Melvin Poupaud) is an author about to turn 35, in 1990, and then reveals to his fiance Frederique (Suzanne Clement) that he's a woman trapped in a man's body, and it gonna go through the long arduous process of a sex change operation. People don't think about it, but it requires numerous shots of estrogen to change your chemical imbalance, on top of dressing and living as a member of the opposite sex for a couple years before even being allowed to go to have surgery. Fred doesn't quite know what to do. She's not attracted to women, but he's in love with Laurence. The movie follows their relationship for about ten years, the ups and downs, the highs, the lows, the making up and the breaking up and the ever-evolving changes, emotional and physical in the characters. Laurence's first day going to teach a class, dressed as a woman is a highlight for instance, and there's a few other good scenes, like an explosion from Fred at a restaurant. There's a lot of work here, and a lot interesting points of view, but this film, at almost three hours, was an hour too long, at least, and a lot of it, was really nothing going on. Those highlight scenes, that come up, those scenes of conflict are quite great and special, but there's a lot of this film, and I get the idea why it's so, unmemorable and banal, but there's a lot of it. It really feels long compared to "Blue is the Warmest Color" which just came out, and they made, the rather mundane seem beautiful, and it's a different film too, 'cause it's not about, that bliss of love, it's about the uncertainty of what one thought was love, but boy, that doesn't make it much better. I think Dolan might have more filmmaking potential than anybody else today, and that's a true compliment even though, I've given negative reviews to the now, two films I've seen from him, and I really do think it's just youth. These are two characters, 10-20 years older than he is, and the movie takes place in the '90s, a decade he barely remembers. I'm barely old enough to remember. It's not only trying to hard, it's trying too hard to do more than he actually needs to do, and that's a shame. This guy, right about, to make a bunch of masterpieces in a row, but he's not quite there yet, but he's maturing rapidly and I can't wait 'til he gets there. In the meantime, I've have him take a couple extra cuts in the editing room for "Laurence Anyways", 'cause there's a good film here somewhere, but it's too ungainly right now.  


BASTARDS (2013) Director: Claire Denis



✰✰1/2



To some extent, I'm still trying to get a firmer grasp on the work of Claire Denis. I've seen her films "35 Shots of Rum", which I wasn't particularly as taken with as other, and "White Material", which I admired more than I liked, and I can hardly tell that those two films were from the same director. Now comes a meandering erotic film noir, "Bastards". Well, it seems like an erotic film noir mystery, although it plays like a personal journey, deeper and deeper into the valley of the shadow of death. Either that, or a colassal collective of images, mish-mashed together that seem to indicate more than explain. Denis had never particularly used dialogue or exposition much in her films to begin with, and while "Bastards" is always somewhat interesting, it's also a mess. Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) is a tanker captain who returns home to find his brother-in-law killed, a niece, Justine (Lola Creton) who was found walking the street of Paris at night, naked, with her vagina all mangled up and bloody that it needs major reparation surgery, a sister, Sandra (Julie Bataille) who's out looking for revenge while mourning her husband, and the family's shoe factory is on the inevitable path to bankruptcy. That's only a few of the developments Marco and us, discover is going on. We're constantly diving in, and finding out new puzzle pieces, like Marco's neighbor Raphaelle (Chiarra Mastroianni) who has other connections to another part of this underworld. Eventually, the film seems like, too many random pieces however for us to care about. I think that was partially the point of the film, and it's more about the mood and tension created that whether any of these things actually make sense, or we find out how they could've gone unnoticed for so long. Denis herself describes the movie as taking place in a tomb, where nobody realizes until it's too late that everything's already dead or about to die. It feels a bit like the scattered thought of someone who may be trying to calculate his last moments on Earth. Some images keep getting repeated throughout and it's tricky to realize whether there's any actualy timeline at play, or if it matters. Ultimately, I think I'm just being pushed around too much. I can see the inspiration, but two times the film, not only am I just as confused, but even worst, I seem to care less and less about what's happening anyway. I know Denis can do better, so I'll wait for a better film from her. 


A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III (2012) Director: Roman Coppola






Well, the first note I have written down on "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III", is to bring up Netflix, and the trouble I had, with 2 different blu-ray discs, both of which seemed to stop on the title menu but wouldn't allow me to pick an option. So, after I was unable to find a copy of "...Charles Swan III", elsewhere, I chose to get a regular DVD of the film on Netflix (Which meant it had to waste a slot as I put it back into my queue, a practice I absolutely hate, particularly when it turns out that it was for a film as bad as this one.) So, to me either they sent me the same bad DVD copy twice, even after I complained, or the Blu-Ray edition of the film just sucks in general. Anyway, it doesn't really matter 'cause Roman Coppola's debut is a dreadfully bad experiment. The Felliniesque journey through the past and present women in the life of Charles Swann III (Charlie Sheen) is part reality, part exaggeration, part character's imagination and mindset, and part Wes Anderson quirkiness. The last part's not surprising considering Coppola got an Oscar nomination for co-writing Anderson's masterful "Moonrise Kingdom". The movie begins with Charles's funeral, although it's a fake funeral done for him to rise up and do a little dance as the women around him mourn. The film was a bit like Fellini's "8 1/2" meets the BBC miniseries "The Singing Detective" which I just happen to be going through at the time I was watching this. After his wife Ivana (Kathryn Winnick) leaves him and he drives a cadillac into a lake, the movie seems to combine his real life and his fantasies, and his fantasies, and tries to challenge the lines between film and filmmaker, real and imagined, and matriculating through numerous other women and guest actors throughout the film. Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette shows up. The production design is interesting, but that's about. Frankly, there's no reason to even bother looking through what's a facade and what's the film and the character, and whatnot, 'cause the movie is boring as all hell, as he no real point or reason for existing. There are many film character who I'd like to get a glimpse inside their minds, but Charles Swan III, is not one of them. If I was Freud and he was my patient, I'd probably just fall asleep, or sneak out while he was pontficating and get some ice tea or something. Either way I won't miss anything substantial.


THE HUNTER (2012) Director: Rafi Pitts



✰✰1/2



Rafi Pitts's "The Hunter", is separated into two parts, before and after two cops are killed. The cops themselves, are of no particular importance, they are collateral damage, figureheads to kill in order to express a more harrowed deep-rooted pain, and an even worst distraught anger over how the killer, Ali Avari (Pitts himself) was regarded by the authorities. He's a parolee who struggles to get time off work to see his wife Sara (Mitra Hajjar) and daughter (Saba Yaghoobi). Often being forced into undesirable shifts from his boss. When he isn't doing either, his only apparent refuge is hunting in the woods. Then, he finds out that his wife and kid are dead. He's unemotional is seems. They were caught in a crossfire between cops and insurgents, shot by the police, but no action's taken, so he calmly decides to take some on himself. The murder scene is one of the most memorable sniper kills I've eseen in a movie recently. The rest of the film, we start to lose Ali and follow the two cops, who search him out in the woods, doomed to capture him as their fate. Pitts isn't an actor typically, this is only his third acting credit, but he took the role after an original actor was fired. He's a solid, quiet presence who speaks very little, and reacts calmly most of the time, holding in, repressing his rage and outrage and other emotions. To keep his job, to stay out of jail, other reasons as well. The rest of the movie is the search, and that's all I'll go into. This is the first film I've seen from the Iranian director, although he's been making films for two decades now. I'm sure I'm missing some symbolism based around the status of Iran, the movie's too bare for it to not be symbolic of something, but even without that "The Hunter" was a fascinating character to be compelled by, and I kinda lost a little of that in the second half when the focus shifted, but still, more-than-good enough to recommend. 


THIRTY TWO SHORTS FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD (1993) Director: Francois Girard



✰✰✰1/2



It took awhile for me to get ahold of a copy of "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould". I had of course heard about it for years, and I had absolutely loved Francois Girard's biggest film "The Red Violin", a movie that followed a violin for centuries across the world as it switched hands and destinies to all those it touched until it's sale as the prize possession at auction. It's a unique film, and so is "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould", a movie that's really only a biopic in technicality, not really so much in technique. Glenn Gould (Colm Feore) is of course, one of the best and most famous concert pianists of the twentieth century. His Bach's Goldberg Variations were sent to space upon Voyager One. He's also one of the most enigmatic characters of music or any art form ever. He read music before he could read words, and was already learning the piano from in the wound with his mother playing as a kid. He was a virtuoso who abruptly quit performing at age 32, with varying answers as to why. He didn't stop his art though, as he worked relentlessly in the studio, spending hours recording and listening to his recordings, composing, making sure every spot in right. The film doesn't bother to examine his whole life, or explain his actions, or dive more into his artistic genius, or give us any further examination of the enigma that is Glenn Gould. It's impossible to do that, with most people's lives, and Girard realizes this, and he separates these seemingly random pieces of documentary interviews, autobiographical story, interviews, and random sequences, using everything from animation to surrealist imagery with title cards, to give us, not a complete picture, but a glimpse into the life of a man who's too enigmatic to be explained in one feature. The acclaimed documentary "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould" is the latest to one to be made. Maybe the secret to him is in his music, or maybe there's no secret to a life at all. No "rosebud" to find in a storage room somewhere. The great Canadian director Girard is just as mysterious a figure to film too though. After "The Red Violin", he's only made one other film in the 15 years since, '07's "Silk". His love of classical music and it's transcendent value is abundant in his work. I'm not sure the technique completely works as entertaining here, I think I preferred, something like Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" which took Bob Dylan's life and used multiple actors, cinematic styles and looks to reflect his complex life and persona, but maybe it's because I'm more familiar with Dylan than Gould that I preferred that one.


LIFE AS A HOUSE (2001) Director: Irwin Winkler



✰✰



I had a few friends of mine recommend "Life as a House" a few times to me; I seemed to have skipped over it originally when it was originally released, some of the acting getting some minor Award nominations, especially Hayden Christensen's work, but frankly I can see why he, and the movie was shut-out of Oscars. It's not that good. It's not a horrible movie; it's a better acted film that most TV movies with similar plots, but it's not particularly shot any better, and certainly not written much better. George (Kevin Kline) builds models for an architect (Which I really didn't know was a job completely separate from being architect btw, not that I thought it was architecture, but I just presumed a trained architect would simply be able to do that on his own, and if a successful one needed someone to do it for him, he'd just hire another architect.) until he's fired shortly after he finds out he's dying of cancer. He currently lives in a- (Shrugs) I don't know, um, shack? Let's go with shack, where he dogs pisses on the neighbor and all of his things when he's not inside, which is being generous, the "inside" part. His ex-wife Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas) is frustrated with her drug-addict son Sam (Christensen) and insists he take him for the Summer, which he surprisingly does take with, and he also decides to finally build that dreamhouse that he's been saying he'd do for the last twenty years. The son, is naturally reluctant. He's not only using, but dealing, and had plans already made to head off to Reno for the Summer with a friend, but his father forces him, and his neighbor Alyssa (Jena Malone) entices him a bit. She's one of those wonderful neighbor teenagers who allows her neighbors to use their shower when he's house is being built by their father, and occasionally steps into the shower with the neighbor kid to wash her hair too. Wait- where the hell are these teenage girls!? Cause I can't think of one that I've ever met like that! Well, I can actually, but not one that wasn't also looking for (INSERT JOKE HERE, PUN INTENDED) and certainly not one, who had a delightful mother, Colleen (Mary Steenburgen) who was interested in having sex with that young teenage boy while the daughter goes to make out with the father. All this, while the rather duldrum movie-like marriage between Robin and her new husband Peter (Jamey Sheridan) is so boring and uninteresting we wonder why she would've ever married and had two kids with him to begin with, and she has begun spending more time with her ex. I talked a bit about those faith-based and Christian films a few blogposts ago, and while this doesn't qualify as one of those, it does have one or two earmarks of it, the overcoming personal demons through something, in this case, a house being a metaphor for life, but it's a little better and slightly more nuanced than that. Not much, and it certainly doesn't rely on faith as a storytelling device. It's one of the few films directed by Irwin Winkler, who's really more well-known as a producer with over 50 producing credits ranging from "Rocky" to "The Wolf of Wall Street" and he's still producing regularly, with four films in production currently. His best film as a director is probably "De-Lovely" the biopic on Cole Porter also starring Kevin Kline. "Life as a House" is a reminder of why he shouldn't be in the director's chair that much, despite the great acting, especially from Kevin Kline, doing their damnedest to save this film, it doesn't quite work.


HOW I WON THE WAR (1967) Director: Richard Lester



1/2



Richard Lester's "How I Won the War", was more renowned for having John Lennon as one of the stars, during the middle of Beatlemania, but that's really about it in terms of noteworthiness. And really, since Lester had directed Lennon in both "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" previously, it really shouldn't have been that particularly strange, and at this point, but they promoted the hell out of Lennon's involvement despite him only being a relatively minor character. Although the whole film seems to be a random displacement of minor characters coming in and out. Yeah, I guess you could construe that as being a symbol of the chaos of war, but since they're all doing just secondhand Monty Python sketches the whole time, it doesn't really matter. The movie begins with Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford) telling us the story of how he won the war. He didn't particularly do that, and there's occasional funny motifs with the soldiers, like how one guy plays the role of dying in North Africa, and how the tinted colors of the newsreel footage fade to soldiers painted those tinted colors for the battle scenes. There's also a lot of British humor, especially some details about how soldiers and officers were often based on the caste system, and how they officers were relatively despondent to the soldiers they treated. That's actually true, there were lot of incidents of UK soldiers shooting their officers in the back 'cause of their actions. Other than that, there's a few laughs, but not much else. The movie seems to be directionless, and even when it says a few things about the war, it doesn't really dive into anything deep, or have anything to say about war, WWII, war in general,- this was made at the height of Vietnam, but it didn't really dive into that either. A disappointing film from a talented filmmaker, that had the same zeal and kinetic energy as his other nonsensical comedic films, but- this one seems like maybe he should've thought more about what to say before he said it. 


BEAUTIFUL CREATURES  (2001) Director: Bill Eagles






You may be curious as to the quirk in my viewing patterns and habits that led to "Beautiful Creatures" jumping up on my queue. Well, I make it a rule that every time there's a film on my Netflix queue, that I have the opportunity to watch on my television, but miss, I decided that since I'm not able to go out of my way for every viewing, that for every viewing I miss, I jump it up ten slots on my queue. (Unless it's within the Top 25, in which case, it's only 5 slots.) Seems simple enough you say. Well, occasionally I bend the rule slightly, for films with the same title as a movie that's being repeated on my TV, and since I have HBO now, that "Beautiful Creatures" film from Richard LaGravenesse has been playing about twice a day for awhile now, so I decided, instead of remembering which "Beautiful Creatures" it is, that, it didn't really matter, and besides, I'd be pushing a film off my Netflix one way or another, that I'd jump the higher ranked film with the same title anyway, and soon enough, this "Beautiful Creatures" showed up at my door. (I didn't put the other title on my queue yet, because of it's mostly negative reviews, but I will try to.) Now this version, the only feature directed by TV director Bill Eagles wasn't exactly that well-reviewed either, but it was on the shelf for years at the Blockbuster and Hollywood Video's and whatnot that I would always frequent, and I always passed it, and it was something with Rachel Weisz in it that kinda looked interesting. Well, I finally got around to it, and maybe I'll watch the other "Beautiful Creatures" soon, and hopefully it'll be better than this film. Dorothy (Susan Lynch) and Petula (Weisz) are two girls caught with bad guys. They're both on the run when they help each other out, and Dorothy kills Petula's boyfriend, who was in the process of killing Petula. However they're not sure what to do with the body. He's from a powerful family and Petula works for his father Brian McKinn (Tom Mannion), so they haphazardly conceive of a plan to get ransom money for the dead boyfriend, after Dorothy's dog Pluto bit off the dead guy's finger. The dog is a big character as well, and I'd like to know how he felt about the ugly and petulantly-disturbed male character, and the ditzy and waify two girls as they matriculate their way through this bizarre comedy. Let's this be a lesson, never get with a wifebeater. Or a junkie, or worst than that, a golfer. It's mindless, and mildly amusing, but yeah, some videos on the shelf, deserve to not be checked out. Lesson learned. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "ARSENIC AND OLD LACE"

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)

Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstien based on the play by Joseph Kesselring



Strangely, perhaps perversely, my favorite Frank Capra film has always been the most un-Capraesque film he ever made. It was one that he made for money and that he didn’t particularly like. One that Cary Grant didn’t particularly like either. (And they didn’t care much for each other either; this is their only film collaboration) “Arsenic and Old Lace”, was filmed in ’41, shortly after the Broadway play debuted and became a hit, thinking it would run for only eight months or so (a typical Broadway run at that time) and then release the film afterwards, which was the typical deal made with Broadway plays and Hollywood, but instead they had to hold off for three years, as it became one of the biggest theatrical hits of the time, and still remains one of the funniest and greatest farces to ever breach the stage or the screen.

From Joseph Kesserling's play and adapted by the Epstein twins, who would later do “Casablanca”, to say this film starts off normal and then becomes strange would be like saying I started the race and the starting gate but somehow I ended up on Neptune. Cary Grant, plays theater critic and notorious bachelor Mortimer Brewster, who has just gotten married and has returned home to show his new bride Eliane (Priscilla Lane) off to his two aunts who raised him, Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair), and his uncle Teddy (John Alexander). He’s not really named “Teddy,” he just thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt. By the end of the movie, he’s going to seem like the sanest person in the family. (Not counting Elaine, who’s too new to the family to be insane yet.)

Where to begin? For starters, Jonathan, Mortimer’s long-lost brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey), has come home, only he now looks like Boris Karloff. (Karloff couldn’t be in the film ‘cause he was too busy starring in the Broadway version at the time, the one sole minor issue with an otherwise perfect comedy is that joke about him looking like Karloff not having the same imput as it would’ve had if Karloff really was playing the character.) Upon finding this out, he calls upon his plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, in one of my favorite Peter Lorre roles to change his face that night so that he becomes unrecognizable again. (He brings his surgeon along with him because… well that gets logically explained in the film.) Also, the two aunts of Mortimer’s have a habit of finding very old men who have no kids or any family to speak of and are all alone. They find these men to be sad, and after a while they decide to kill them by having them drink some arsenic and old lace. It must be lonely to have no one else in the world, but there are many more people in the cellar, but they all have yellow fever. (That sentence will make sense when you watch the movie)

To say the least, Mortimer is taking all this pretty hard. He is correct when he notes, “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.” There’s one scene I’ve always liked that involves a play that he saw and he discusses it with Dr. Einstein about how stupid a character is. All he has to do is look over his shoulder to see what’s happening behind him, but he doesn’t look, and what happens to him. Well, you’ll have to watch to find out, but it involves a curtain rod. I proclaim if this film we’re released today it would still be a hit, but I kind of hope somebody would put this back on stage. Mainly because I want to see how all these people can possibly run around on the same stage at the same time, it must have been like watching a movie in fast-forward even then. The kinetic energy of this comedy, mostly taking place on a stage, uses only a three-wall format to make it feel like a play, narrows the space allowed for the film, instead of opening it up. Most filmmakers think that’s a bad choice to not open up a play whenever possible, it’s not only the correct choice here, not only because for those outside of Broadway to be able to see something equitable to seeing a play, but because the enclosed space makes the film that much funnier. This is one play that doesn't need to be opened up for film; it’s already bursting out of the screen as it is. It’s a marvel this can be done on the stage at all. A great classic screwball comedy, done the way that it would never be done nowadays. Charge!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A COMEDIC POST ON A SUBJECT OF VERY LITTLE IMPORTANCE or THAT TIME I ALMOST BECAME A PORN CRITIC.

(LAWYER'S NOTE: While the subjects and discussion points discussed in this post are based on actual people, groups, films and facts, this post is meant as an absurd aberration from the norms of this blog, and this post is not to be taken with any of the normal amount of considered thought and literalness that readers and the writer of the blog often expect and produce.)

Well, folks, um, as you all know, while, we do write and discuss entertainment here , we often are discussing it seriously. We do tend to have an occasional, more free spirited and free-wheeling side. We do musical numbers to celebrate Premiere Week for instance, remember that? Yeah, we often take shots at people and places like that. We have the One-Year-Later Awards, and we go over-the-top with them. The have fun here, and a lot of times, I mean it is just entertainment, film, television, we like to discuss, but we don't discuss these subject willy-nilly, we take them seriously. We have a critical eye, we think of the art side, the business side, things like that. We talk about a not-so-serious topic, but we talk about it, with respectful and seriousness it deserves. Sometimes we stray from that a bit though.

Well, with that in mind, I wanted to point out that while most everything, generally in the entertainment, is sorta laid back and relaxed, and nothing is too out-of-whack, that despite this,  one of the most premiere and most-respected of all organizations in all of the entertainment world has made terribly and gross, let's not say it's a mistake, 'cause it's very correctable,  misjudgment on the part of one of the most admired and honorable of all the organizations in all of the entertainment world, has continuously been making a terrible and gross error, and of course, I'm talking about, the X-Rated Critics Organization, also known as the XRCO.

(Pause for laughter) 

I know what you're all thinking, and I know how this all sounds. It sounds a bit like I've officially run out of things to talk about. Especially with the last post being of Christian films, and now here I'm discussing porn, but, no-no-no, it isn't that. Solely, it isn't that anyway. Now, just so you know, that I have carefully thought this through, let me tell you a little backstory, 'cause this is all sounding a bit strange but hear out. Um, unlike most of you, I had never heard of XRCO until very recently. I know shocking; it must've been a block for me all these years. But, I was searching on youtube one day recently, I don't even remember what I was looking up, probably searching for a decent video to post on my Christian Films blog, but I got distracted by a few things, and eventually I found a clip that was marked, something like "Porn star angrily walks off of talk show". I think I was looking up, strange moments in live TV or something like that, and that came up, and I didn't even watch the whole thing, btw. I didn't even get to the part- I clicked on it, but it was old episode "The Morton Downey Jr. Show", and if anybody doesn't know what that was, it was sorta like if Glenn Beck meets Jerry Springer but back in the '80s, and it really sucked and I can't really stand much of it, for too long, but I read the description below, and it described the porn star's credentials, the one in the clip, and it mentioned among them that she was in both the AVN Hall of Fame and the XRCO Hall of Fame. Now, I know about the AVN, the Adult Video and News Awards, especially since, I'm in Las Vegas and we host those awards every year, and their convention the AVN Convention is the biggest convention that we do in this town, and we do a lot of conventions. Only COMDEX I suspect is bigger actually, but basically there's a deep-rooted intimate relationship between Vegas and the porn industry, they're very interconnected. Eh, for years, our biggest homegrown celebrity was Jenna Jameson. True, she went to Bonanza High School, and-eh, right now, it's neck and neck between her and Jimmy Kimmel for the most-successful celebrity from Vegas. Anyway, the AVN's, they're the more well-known, fan driven awards, based in Vegas, but the XRCO Awards, are based in Los Angeles, and they're quite prestigious; they've been around for thirty years now. Membership is not easy to get into this group, you have to be working regularly as a print or internet critic for a while, and it's renewed yearly, and there goal is to honor the best in pornographic film. And I mentioned before, they have a Hall of Fame as well as yearly honors, and I like that it's not a recent fame Hall of Fame per se. They have recent names too, but they're pretty honorable, some of the names are newer one, but they have people John Holmes, in the Hall of Fame, of course legendary porn actor. Marylin Chambers, who was very big in her day, she crossed over to pop culture big time, Ron Jeremy of course. Most of the biggest names are in the thing. (BTW I have intended to put picture up of all of these people, however I've been informed by my attorney, not to do that. They had a problem with the pictures I picked for some reason.) Anyway, they also inducted films into the Hall of Fame, and this is what I like, because many of these titles, are the classic films from the '70s. "Deep Throat" was the first inductee. Yeah, the famous porno film, about how a girl with an unusual orgasm deficiency managed to take down the presidency. Also, "Behind the Green Door", eh, "The Devil in Miss Jones", other titles. This was back when, remember there was still this possibility that the pornographic film, could be a legitimate art form, and before videotape was prominent and there was an artistry to porn films, and the X rating, which is now defunct and turned into the dreaded NC-17, but was actually a badge of honor for a lot of these films. So I have a bit of an admiration for these films, sorta the last time, eh, porn really was apart of the pop culture, in a substantial and legitimate way. 

That said, as I looked through the Hall of Fame, that, I couldn't help but notice that, while there's a lot of important and transformative films and names listed, I was stunned, stunned, to notice that a name that, for such an elite group, that they had yet to induct "Emmanuelle" into the XRCO Hall of Fame. "Emmannuelle", is the 1974 French soft-core porn film, that not only spawned one of the longest continuously-running franchises in the adult film industry; the series still continues by the way, and the original film, and it's star Sylvie Kristol (Who also, is not in the XRCO Hall of Fame) was one of the biggest X-rated hits of all-time. In fact, it ranks as one of the all-time highest grossing French movies of all-time! Not French porno, not French soft-core porn, French films, of all-time. In fact, it was so huge, even in France, the Arc de Triomphe Theatre, for eleven straight years! Eleven years, was one the longest continuously played theatrical film releases, ever. And it was a critical success. Roger Ebert of all people, even gave it a three-star review, you can see that link below: 

As you can see, how legitimate these films were regarded, legitimate film critics actually reviewed them as films. And Sylvia Kristol, she actually got semi-regular work as a legitimate actress, and even more impressive the Emmanuelle franchise, was actually able to attract legitimate Hollywood film stars to appear in non-sexual roles. Really, Alian Curry was in the original "Emmanuelle," he was also in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita", and George Lazenby, yes James Bond himself, alright not the greatest James Bond, but still, James Bond, played a part in a couple of the other films in the series at one point, and the British Comedian Kenneth Williams, didn't star in an "Emmanuelle", but he starred in a Carry On parody of "Emmanuelle"; you see, this film was so well-known and popular that legitimate entertainment, actually made a parody of it. This is a worthy representation of the most iconic films every in erotic porn, and porn in general, and if I do so myself, it is one of the most egregious crimes in Hollywood right now, that "Emmanuelle" is not in the XRCO Hall of Fame. Maybe one of the biggest and most shameful oversights in the history of time! 

Now, I know what you're all thinking, clearly this is an important issue that the rest of the world can really get behind, but why do I, David Baruffi, the most supremely knowledgeable, handsome and most intellectually stimulating of internet film critic/bloggers, care so much about "Emmanuelle" and whether or not it's in the XRCO Hall of Fame? Well, I don't have that great a reason personally, in fact I've never actually seen the movie, "Emmanuelle". Seriously, I haven't; I have seen the first sequel to "Emmanuelle", "Emmanuelle 2: The Joys of a Woman", (A film which also go reviewed by Roger Ebert btw:

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/emmanuelle-the-joys-of-a-woman-1976

and wasn't as bad as he claimed, but it wasn't particularly special either.) I've also seen a few of the later "Emmanuelle" projects, so even I, who haven't seen the movie, has immediately connected the name "Emmanuelle" with a particular inspiration of porn. (Which is another reason it should be in the XRCO Hall of Fame) Also, with my family owning a chain of video stores back in the eighties, for years, I always found it sad that we were probably one of the last chains around that had a porno section in the back. (I knew people who were amazed about this.) I get nostalgic,- well, I just get nostalgic for video stores in general, but that was something, that even as a kid I missed, running around the store while my mom was working the register, so it's a memory to me of an earlier time. I would show a photo, which I do have of the porn section, but due to the date it was taken, I'd rather not in case some of the Traci Lords tapes are on the shelves. I never looked closely enough myself, but just to be safe. 

Now, that's the story I like to tell. Now however, here's the story that I don't think I've told anybody before, 'cause long before I started this blog, while I was still in film school, I was offered a job as a porn critic. Seriously, I don't think a lot of close friends of mine know about this, but I was looking for any ways to earn money as a writer once upon a time, and I answered a Craigslist ad for a porno film critic. I sent in a resume, they were interested, and I went through the procedure. I even had a synonym picked out, VegasVirgin. I know, but TorontoVirgin and SanLuisObisoVirgin was taken. Nah- I'm kidding about that, but I even had to find a porno DVD, which I had to buy at a local convenient store, which was annoying 'cause I wanted them to pick the film for me, and they wouldn't, the reason being was that I didn't want to have any personal bias with the review I had to write, so I wanted it to be something I could come into without a predetermined preference, like I try to as a real film critic actually. This was all for a sample piece btw; they just wanted to see that I could write, and they liked what I wrote, and the way it would've worked was sorta like, Netflix, but with brown, unmarked envelopes, where I'd watch the film, then review it, and then I had to get hits and people reading me, and the more people read, the more money I'd get paid, and frankly it would've have been worth the time for the money, and frankly I would've been bored out of my mind doing that forever, but some people do that, some are successful at it, too. So, I have some first-hand work with this, one review that never got printed, I'm no way an expert, but that's my little tale about that.

Now, back to the amazing XRCO oversight, I think that, no matter what our difference of opinions, this is an issue important enough for all of us to really get behind. Okay, not really, but let's try anyway for the hell of it. So, I'm gonna e-mail the XRCO, not making this up btw, I'm really doing this, e-mail the XRCO and petition them about inducted "Emmanuelle". This is actually what I'm doing; here's what I've written:


Dear Co-Chairmans "Dirty" Bob Krotts and Dick Freeman and/or to Whomever It May Concern at the XRCO:

My name's David Baruffi, an entertainment blogger for "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews". I usually write on film and television primarily, but I deal with all aspects of the entertainment, and I'm currently writing a blogpost that's critical of the XRCO for not having inducted "Emmanuelle", the 1974 French soft-core porn classic into the XRCO Hall of Fame. I would like to know any thoughts or reasons you or any interested persons may have on the omission, although more importantly, I'd like for you to consider this e-mail as a petition to you all to induct "Emmanuelle" at your next ceremony.  I believe if you look up the credentials of the film, you will all come to a similar conclusion that the XRCO Hall of Fame would be incomplete if it were to continue to remain uninducted. Thank you.

Sincerely,

David Baruffi


Okay, and (wait five seconds), I've clicked send, and it's sent. So, let's hope this is the beginning of an epic groundroots effort to create monumental and measurable change in this world, and get the XRCO to induct "Emmanuel" into their Hall of Fame. I seriously don't know what would be weirder, if they took this seriously or if they didn't, but for the hell of it, we're gonna see what happens.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

CHRISTIAN/FAITH-BASED FILMS, AND WHY I DON'T WATCH THEM AND HOW THEY COULD ACTUALLY BE GOOD, IF PEOPLE WANTED THEM TO BE.



As a filmmaker, blogger, cinephile, reviewer, etc. I'm constantly searching for, literally every movie I can find, good or bad. If it was released theatrically, and/or important to watch in any way, (Not counting television, which I'm also interested in watching) there's usually an interest in me seeing it, if for no other reason but to say that I did and have an opinion on it, although my main goal even before that, is to search for good films and good movies to watch and experience, and share with you all. So, I go through, updating my Netflix once a week at their New Release page, and checking videoeta.com every week, and everyday or so, I check my local library's website, to see if they got any new releases in, and I add those films to one of my John Nashian-ever-growing lists of films to watch. Now, I have to admit however, that I don't put every single DVD on my "To Watch"-lists, for instance, instructional videos, I skim over without thinking about it much, and things of that nature, but there's one genre of film that I almost always skip over, don't even bother putting on a list of any kind, and feel absolutely no remorse that I haven't watch more of it, and am 99.9% sure that I'm not missing out on anything, by skipping over and completely ignoring this genre. That genre, is the faith-based/Christian film genre.

And just so we don't get confused here, I'm not talking about "Ben-Hur" or "The Ten Commandments" or even "The Passion of the Christ", these Hollywood epic, artistic films, I'm talking those ones that say things like "Starring Kirk Cameron" on the DVD box, and are made by studios with names you don't recognize but if you investigated them, they end up being a secondary business associated with a church of some kind, usually an evangelical church at that, they're usually the only ones who can afford such endeavors as a film industry, and they almost always have a message, or are intended to preach some kind of values. (Either that or Mormons usually, they have a pretty active film industry too.) If you think I'm being too drastic in how many of these films there actually are, and how prevalent a genre they actually are, let me give you some stats. All the major Hollywood studios, have a department specifically designed for promoting films to the Christian market, which a conservative valuation can be place at it being a $40,000,000/year industry give or take. So that's a big market, and it's infiltrated Hollywood. 2008's highest-grossing Independent film, in theaters, was called "Fireproof". I've never heard of it either 'til I looked it up, but many Christians flocked to it, and it opened #4 on the box office charts the week it opened. And in case you're wondering how Christians heard about this movie, that others didn't?

Well, a majority of this market, are people who specifically go out-of-their-way to only watch Christian films,  (And, actually before I go any further, for much of this article, I may use the term "Christians" to describe the most prevalent audiences for these films, this isn't encompassing the entire religion or it's members as a group, in fact, this is a minority of the religion I'm discussing, who are devout enough to continuous watch, seek out and collect christian films. So, before any waves that flag, I'm discussing the Christian movie audience, and not everyone in and/or associated with the religions.) and there's this whole little subset of the world, where some of the most avid believers and churchgoers for some of the films, depending on the church and the pastor for instance and their father and devotion, only subscribe and seek these kinds of films. It's almost counter-productive to think about it, but it really is an audience, that's almost completely separate from the major film industry. So separate, btw, they have their own version of imdb. Seriously, I'm not kidding, the "Christian Film Database", it's a real thing, here's the link to it:

http://www.christianfilmdatabase.com/

It's imdb.com for Christian films. The people who primarily buy and watch these films, have a cult-like devotion to them. For instance, and this is apart of a future review/blog I might be preparing but, after "Alone Yet Not Alone", the Christian film famous for getting it's Oscar nomination for Best Song disqualified after some blatant rule violations from the film's composer (And btw, x amount of months later, the film is opening nationwide in theaters soon; I know that, 'cause when I've watched "Project Runway" on Roku on Lifetime lately, I keep seeing the ad for it.), I looked into the movie, and some of the controversy within the church that produced the film involving the pastor and his scandals, and read some blogs on it from insiders of the church, who mentioned that "Alone Yet Not Alone" was in many cases, the only film they had seen that year! You read that right, "Only film",  they had seen that year. There's an insular quality to these films and the people who watch them, in how they're made and often distributed, which is probably the most ironic part about these films, most of them have a subliminal intention or message (Often that's not that subliminal) to preach or convert, and inspire it's audience with a religious-based message or credo, yet they really don't spread them out into the mainstream that often, or even really attempt to.

Now saying all that, I'm not even particularly against the idea of these films; I even think it's possible to make a good movie or two, within the realm of "faith-based" or Christian cinema, but not the way they go about making them. They're trying to create but they're not really making art, the way an artist would. You see,- well, there's not just trying to preach the bible in these films, most of them (Which is a bad idea, 'cause any character in a film who literally does that will most likely look like a caricature even in the best of circumstances) but when you're an artist, you take the thoughts and ideas from things, and they, the artists get inspired by them and they use that inspiration to create their own artistic expression. We can go through movies, but think, the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo. He wasn't naturally religious. He was gay, he fought with the Pope the whole time, he was hanging on his back, inches from death for years, but he had a job to do, so he took the themes and imagery and painted that marvelous ceiling, his own ideas and perceptions. It's still, the artist at work, using what inspires him; that's what great art, and great films are about. Faith-based films, and Christian films, do it the opposite way. They take the themes and messages, from their holy doctrines, and then find, what can loosely be called "stories" sometimes, that are there solely to push their religious beliefs and ideology. That's pretty much, the opposite of art, the bastardization of it to some extent. It also creates terrible work. What few faith-based films I've seen, they've been contenders among the worst movies I've ever seen. And what's strange is that, there's got to be talented people who can make real artistic expressions in these communities. For instance, I hated "Napoleon Dynamite" which, I know it's debatable but for these purposes we're gonna call it a Mormon film, but it was an artistic piece of personal expression, and it's become a cult favorite over time, outside of the church, because of that, and that's why it found mainstream success. It was from an LDS perspective, but it wasn't a preachy message-ladened tale about how faith in God, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon or whatever else you want to fill in the blank there. It was a piece of art, not a piece of propaganda.

That's the other big problem with faith-based films. Faith, is the single worst, storytelling device, ever invented! I mean, I get that, faith is the main selling point of religion, actually faith is religion, essentially. But that doesn't make it compelling storytelling. On it's face, it's completely nonsense. I mean, basically what that amounts to is, if a character believes hard enough, or just believes at all, than good things will happen. That's faith. It's fairly boring, and makes a character sound like a complete imbecile, so when up against insurmountable odds and often cold-hard facts, when they actually do manage to beat the odds, it comes off as entirely disingenuous.When you create a protagonist they need a hero's journey, something to do, a goal to achieve, and they have to be constantly struggling in their attempts at reaching their overall goals. Faith, is almost the opposite of that. It's the guy stuck on a boat waiting for God to save him if you know that old joke. If you're gonna base a movie around faith, the best ways to do it, is to show the tough inner journeys involved with faith, and the struggles about it.  Hollywood's done that well, movies like "Signs" or "Higher Ground" are some of my favorite films about testing the limits of faith and the ways they can be crushed or resurrected. Christian films aren't actually interested in faith as an actuality or the realities of it, they're looking to promote faith, as the object they're selling, so faith has to be the answer to all the problems and ills of the world and its characters, and because they're unable or unwilling to really take a much more nuanced and through-provoking look at the concept, what they do instead is use it as the deus ex machima that supposedly is the object that fixes everything, magically. Or they show how, people without faith are constantly worse off than people with it. It's demeaning, unrealistic, simple-minded, and worst than all that, it's bad storytelling. Faith can only play such a limited part before it just becomes preachy and ridiculous, at a certain point, a character climbed the mountain on his own, because he had the tools, planning, physical ability and determination to do so, and not because he prayed he could do it. It's not a natural real message, and because of that, these films which are intended to preach to people the good word of the Lord, actually ostracize themselves from the wider audience they're hoping to spread their message films to. (Or the wider audience they should be trying to get) So, these movies basically are just preaching to the choir, and will almost unanimously only be enjoyed by people who are already completely devoutly bought into the religion. Even among followers that's often a minority, and many religious people also don't buy into the religion films, 'cause they're not that crazed either, and they know that, for all of the crap that people like to claim the immoralities of Hollywood bringing down the country, they know secretly that they do make better movies, because they're artists and they make work to show their artistic expression and they know the best way to tell a compelling narrative, and the tools to go about it.

I've occasionally tried to watch a Christian or faith-based film here or there, the last one I watched "October Baby" got one of my most angry negative reviews of all-time, and many others films weren't much better (and some like "Joshua" for instance, were even worse.) Some might be amazed at the people who make these films sometimes, because believe it or not, they can actually get decent and well-known names to be involved in these projects, in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Certainly not the biggest and most famous names, but definitely some proven talented people. For some, they are interested in promoting the messages in these films, and chose to parlay their successes in more mainstream work to these other projects, but most of the time, it's really just work for them. Actors have to act. More than that actually, actors have to eat. Even Oscar winners if there names aren't in demand will take roles in films like these, if they're the only ones being offered. Sometimes there are good reasons why they aren't getting work in Hollywood. (I notice a few names that I know are practically blackballed in Hollywood who seem to find their way into faith-based films, undoubtedly because they've ostracized so many in Hollywood that these are often the only parts they'll get offered now.)  Let's face it, even if you're a firm believer, but also a big star, you're not gonna take a role in these movies, you just aren't, unless there's nothing else on the table. That's the other thing, art is a progressive movement, and you're constantly trying to find the next position to go, the next project, the next way of testing your limits and talents of your craft, and if anything, faith-based projects do as little of that as possible. It's forcing it's stars into the cliché and the mundane, and basically, it's going backwards towards these old and often ancient ideas, that came out from a more underdeveloped and unknowledgeable world. They're often simple roles and simple characters to go with them. Actors in particular look for things that can really be complex and deep and have to make them go through their full range. Now, occasionally this is why Christian films can be interesting in that they can come up with adventurous and interesting parts that can get an actor to sink their teeth into them, like a biblical character perhaps, but not always, and most of the time, their trying to make modern-day parables, but it's hard to create a believable balance between the teachings of the lord being viable with a contrasting modern society. Or even modern characters. Or modern behaviors.

Look, I'm not writing this piece simply to slam the Christian Film Community or it's audience, I want this to be a call to action to them, and make better movies. It's not that strange that when Hollywood makes movies like "Noah" or "The Passion of the Christ" or even movies like "The Blind Side" or "Secretariat" that get promoted to a faith-based audience, they're not only well-received critically, they're usually better films that outdo box office expectations and don't simply attract this narrow audience. Religion has been a template for many great films and filmmakers critical and devout, but Christian films, made by and for the preaching of the message, frankly just suck, and the real sad part is, that they don't have to. Now, I'm not religious, I'm not gonna be convinced to convert based on one or two movies, but there's no reason why they can't actually be good despite that; it's gotta work better than the film's you're all making now.

You,-, the Christian filmmakers, you have an audience you need to "please", and you've got limitations because of your mission statement, well so does Disney, so that's bullshit. And you know what, not that you have to, but why can't a Christian film be rated R? I read that somewhere too, I mean if faith is something that can help us overcome our darkest demons, than maybe the demons being realistic and darker would make that statement a lot stronger?! Why the limitation, most religious texts are filled with some of the most graphic, violent, sexual imagery even, ever created? So kids can't see it? First of all, in this modern age, kids can see everything on the internet, and nearly every study imaginable indicated that sheltering them just leads to risky and rebellious behavior in the future, second of all, the MPAA is not a religious authority over anything real, and third, if that's your core audience, kids who are sheltered, and adults who are already followers,- I mean, what good is that? I mean, even if these churches are only in the movie making business in order to sell the products to there congregations, (Which btw, it's that kind of cynicism that makes us less likely to listen to what you have to say to begin with, and more likely to do this [holds up middle finger] to religion instead.) why wouldn't you make films that would be more interesting to a wider audience instead? You'd probably make more money?  Faith-based is a big market, but it's still smaller than the budget of half a Transformers film, and you should be trying to expanding your congregation anyway. Worst case scenario, you may anger one or two people, enough to leave your church for making a more adventurous and thoughtful film, and if that's the case, then exactly how strong was their allegiance to the church if they can be persuaded to leave because of one film? There's gotta be a way to be able to discuss such things as religion and faith, seriously without it being a punchline, construct those thoughts into well-made, believable and compelling films about the church and faith. Well, I at least hope there is anyway. I hope, but I don't have much faith in it.

Yeah, I haven't seen a lot of these movies, maybe I'm off a bit on some of these claims, but the genre and the filmmakers haven't given me any reason to seek them out either. And it's not surprising that more often than you'd probably think, my local library suddenly gets a collection of random-yeared faith-based Christian films by the half-dozen at a time, all of which I've never heard of, all at once, added to their DVD collections. Somebody gave them away, and there's good reason for them to have done so.