Wednesday, May 14, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #87: "DALLAS BUYERS CLUB", "THE GREAT BEAUTY", "INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS", "LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER", "DON JON", "CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN", "WE'RE THE MILLERS", "THE OTHER SON", "MUSCLE SHOALS" and MORE!

I've never been as pissed off as Netflix as I was this weekend, and those who have read this blog long enough know, that I have had numerous rants and complaints about Netflix's business practices and decisions over the time, but I was exploding at them the other day. I've had to sacrifice some of my Netflix recently, in fact, after almost a month without it, and when I finally did get it back, I had to then take the two-DVD deal + streaming, instead of my usual three dvd deal, which to me is a drastic change, equal to that of try quit that breathing habit of mine, but slowly. So, everything's good though, and then suddenly, Saturday morning, my streaming is gone! For no reason, and I called them, and they claimed that I didn't have the streaming deal. I had been streaming stand-up specials all week, Saturday's the day I set aside for streaming movies, so I was pissed, and finally they got a supervisor on the phone, since they kept asking me to pay the streaming, which I already did! Well, they looked at the thing carefully, and they realized that, somehow, they never got the streaming payment, but it went through that it did, and turned the streaming back on, and then they must've done a reboot of their system, which then read that I hadn't payed. No, I've gotten the streaming back, (After paying for it) but at the time, I didn't have the money to get the streaming that day. I had it, when I payed for it originally (And if I didn't they should've informed me) but we're cutting it close as it is, and that was simply not there at the time and wasn't gonna be for a while. Seriously, have never been that pissed at Netflix before, but... what are you gonna do with that. At least it was just a bad minor error that only effected me, instead of some of their other more annoying practices.

Anyway, um, how about the sudden, three-in-a-row, weird Hollywood incidents, with Brittany Murphy and her husband's death, now being reexamined as possibly murders, both of them, an 36-year-old Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, dropped dead, finding out now that he committed suicide; he won the Oscar for Best Documentary for his film, "Searching for Sugar Man," just, a couple years ago, not even, that's now his only feature film btw, that's sad. And the worst of all those two, is what's going on with the missing Casey Kasem. The legendary radio DJ, known for counting down the Top 40 for decades until he retired and Ryan Seacrest took over that. He's lost his voice due to something called Lewy Body Disease I think- somebody correct me if I'm getting some of this stuff wrong, but it's so weird. His family's been fighting over him, like he's dead already, switching him randomly from nursing home to nursing home, almost out of spite, and now he's missing, people think one of the relative's is hiding him, or he may have left on his own, seriously nobody knows right now if he's alive or dead last I checked.  I don't know all the details, or why it's come down to behavior like that from the family, it's gone to the courts to determine who should have custody, but it's worst than Antigone in the Kasem clan right now, hopefully we'll find out he's alive and fine, and maybe eventually will be settled, but that's- all three of these things feel like their episodes of "The Twilight Zone" or something, but all this fighting and manuever over a dying 82-year-old man, who is shadow of his former self, just- whatever that situation, I hope it gets resolved; I don't speak out of turn on that one in particular, 'cause it's still ongoing, and who knows all the nuances of the situation, but that's a mess that I hope gets resolved soon.

Anyway, we're back to reviewing bigger and newer films this week, starting with two Oscar-winning features, so let's forget all that for now, and jump right into this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

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I'm- (Sigh) I don't remember who it was exactly, but a couple weeks ago, I was watching "...Bill Maher", and maybe it was Dan Savage, or Andrew Sullivan or somebody like that- I don't even remember who now, but he, flippantly-mentioned that the real Ron Woodruff (Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey) was gay and that Hollywood decided to cover that up that hidden life of how he supposedly, actually contracted AIDS, to make the film more...- I don't know, you can fill in that blank yourselves, but I must concede that, I was thinking about that a bit when I was watching "Dallas Buyers Club". I spent a little time trying to look into it, but Woodruff even now, doesn't even have a wikipedia page, and frankly, he's long-dead twenty years, and there aren't too many people around who would know. Curious, I searched for all I could find on that, and came to my own conclusions, 'cause a change like that, does say certain things about us, Hollywood, society, etc., but soon, I was able to avoid those lingering thoughts 'cause I got into the movie, and the movie is pretty good.  He was a hustler who loved drugs and alcohol and rodeo, and women. Lots of women, and that's bad enough in the '80s, and after an accident at work, in the hospital, he finds out from a Dr. Sevard (Denis O'Hare) that he has AIDS, literally single digits of white blood cells left, and that he has about 30 days to live. There's AZT drug trials around, but even if he survived in time to participate, there'd only be a 50/50 shot at getting the medicine, so he begins searching the black market, and finds an unlicensed doctor in Mexico who prescribed him non-toxic medicines, even vitamins, which are unapproved in America. Soon, he begins sneaking across the border the assorted cocktail of drugs, and begins trying to sell them at support groups and outside gay bars. (Never inside) With little success, he finds an unlikely partner in Rayon (Oscar-winner Jared Leto)  a cocaine-addicted transvestite who's also dying from AIDS, but she knows the community that Ron doesn't and is smart about both trying to survive and making money off it. He already was splitting his AZT meds with his friend, to help him survive, but knows an opportunity when he sees it. That's really one of the keys to the film is the selfishness of their main characters, and they, for the most part, stay that way. They end up battling the FDA, who was (and still is) bought and sold by the pharmaceutical companies that made them push AZT and started one of the first Buyers Club, which, instead of selling the drugs directly, had HIV and AIDS patients buy memberships, (Expensive ones) per months and get their necessary supply. This requires inventive ways to even get the supplies, including world travel, and new ways to circumnavigate new FDA regulations. Ron's doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner) eventually gets begins seeing it Ron's way, and there's a spark between them, even as they both lean on  trying to take out the other. In the end, I liked, but I didn't really love "Dallas Buyers Club". It's a bit episodic and not in a natural way, it seems to jump a bit at times, only showing us, the big emotional part of a scene, and then skipping to the next quickly, sometimes too soon. This movie did get a surprise Oscar nomination for editing, and I have a feeling that, either a lot was cut, or they had to do a lot more with a little. It doesn't really dive into anything new, except for the Buyers Club itself, but it touches on the edges on other things. Don't look for a "How to Survive a Plague"-like history lesson on the AIDS epidemic, it's only scratches the surface. The things we get that I haven't seen before, were the inside looks at the working of this underground drug trade that populated the major cities as they found more and more ways to circumvent the FDA and get a hold of drugs. It's an interesting story, but as a film, I think it reluctantly strayed a bit too much into the trapping of the genre, and really when you go back and break it down, it seems to have trouble, determining whether to stick to the genre or to really break and transform from. It is one of those movies where, thank God the performances were great, 'cause they wouldn't have worked as well without them and both Leto and especially McConaughey transcended the material. Garner is really good too, not given a lot to do; she's one of many composite characters here (In fact the real doctor she's playing was a guy, so there's a lot of liberties taken here from the original story) but she hits a lot of notes better than she needs to. It's great acting in a good film. It's only the second film I've seen from director Jean-Marc Vallee, and curiously, the other one was "The Young Victoria", which I admired a lot actually, so he clearly likes interesting real-life stories, that you might not normally see a biopic on, and both these films are definitely that. With "Dallas Buyers Club" we get some great performances, in a good film. Not a great film, but definitely stories worth telling, could've been told better.


THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013) Director: Paolo Sorrentino

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First off, "The Great Beauty" is just that, a lush and spectacularly photographed film that makes Rome look better than maybe it ever has. The film from Director Paolo Sorrentino won the Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film, and could probably fit in Fellini's Canon somewhere between "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2". Sorrentino has always been Fellini inspired, not as interested in a linear and straight away plot as he is traversing, and meandering through little quirks and incidents and people, almost like a road trip threw our memories clashing with reality. I've seen three of his films now, the biopic "Il Divo" where his meandering storytelling didn't really benefit the story as it seemed to observe and consider the thoughts and life of a lifelong mafia boss, and his American film debut "This Must Be the Place" one of the strangest and most fascinating of films in recent years, centered around a great performance from Sean Penn as an aging rock star searching for a former Nazi who tortured his father during WWII. "The Great Beauty" show us the sweet life of Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) and it's his 65th Birthday Party and it's the biggest event around. Everybody's there. The elite, the locals, the strippers, the celebrities, the politicians, everyone coming to the event of the year, at least for today. The town of Rome is strikingly beautiful, and Jeb's apartment overlooks it, and can see the Japanese tourist literally drop dead at it's beauty. Jeb's a journalist who mostly interviews the newest performance artist for the periodical he works for, run by his editor Dadina (Giovanni Vignola) a dwarf who's often the most pragmatic and powerful person in the room. They share drinks often after work sometimes. Other times, he's taken in and both amazed at his life and apart of the artistic elite, often spending his nights drinking and insulting his contemporaries at those kind of parties that usually end with a beach whale. The only real change in Jeb, if there is one, is that the love of his life has died. His old life, and clearly a symbol of his youth, possibly his last meaningful one. Sorrentino seems to love to overuse his favorite shot, a dolly shot that's moving forward, often across a room or a house, into a doorway, like we're heading deep into the recesses of a mind, often while other characters are around, the gorgeous production design and lighting allow him to find numerous moments to use these shots, and there's a lot of them. In some ways "The Great Beauty" is really about excess, both literally and filmmaking, as he's got the world on a plate here, and Sorrentino shoots the best and grandest things he can, to populate this film. Iconic locations, buildings, beautiful people, art and artistic statements both gorgeous and absurd. "The Great Beauty" is problematic in that it's a little long, at 2 1/2 hours almost, and that it's more of an experience than a film, and while the Felliniesque nature of the movie is vital and key and part of why we love it, it's also reminding us of Fellini and some of his best movies on the same subject. The good thing is that this is a different take, from a filmmaker who's inspired by the past, but is clearly pushing past all of it, into a look and persona all his own. And he's pushing past it all, while going forward on a dolly shot.


INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

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To a certain extent, the Coen Brothers love to be complete sadists to there characters, and in turn, to it's audience, and that's a good thing, because they look at a scene or a movie and wonder sometimes, "What would the audience expect to happen here?" and then, immediately give us the opposite. There was at no point a moment where I thought "Inside Llewyn Davis" gave me the satisfaction of what I expected or wanted to see happen, and that is such a relief. No, it's not always satisfying, but that's life. Well, it's certainly life in a Coen Brothers film if nothing else. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a New York folk singer in '61, right before the big folk revival movement was about to hit. He used to be apart of a folk-singer duo, but his partner committed suicide, and since then, he's got a crusty old-time manager Mel (Jerry Grayson) who seems nice and friendly like Broadway Danny Rose, but still basically is a crook who promises more than he's capable of providing. Llewyn is not like by many, and most of them shouldn't. He housesits for the Goldsteins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) but is constantly losing their cat. He doesn't stay in one place very long, and his current back-up residence, with a folk duo called Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) but they have someone else on that couch, and it wouldn't matter 'cause Jean hates Llewyn most of all, not the least of which is because she's pregnant, and now must get an abortion because she doesn't know if it's Jim or Llewyn's kid. Llewyn can barely get a playing gig on good days, as he's antagonized most of the local folk places in town, but he's able to get a couple hundred working on a recording with Jim, and hopefully a place to stay for a day or two with another local musician/session player Al Cody (Adam Driver, who should definitely be the star of the next Coen Brothers film). As Llewyn stumbles through this parade of characters and places, literally on the road, sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes sleeping on the side of it, he finds out that a former girlfriend who's abortion he paid for two years earlier, actually had the kid instead, and he decides to make an impromptu road trip to Chicago, hitching a few rides, including a memorable one with Roland Turner and Johnny Five (John Goodman and Garrett Hedland) in order to take his one shot with a big-time producer Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham). Grossman is one of a few characters here, I suspect is somewhat influenced by real people in the folk and music scene in the early '60s, somehow they seem to show up the way they sometimes do in Coen Brothers films, like Mad Dog Sullivan in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou". All Coen Brothers films are strange combinations of a few different genres, depending on what genres they feel like doing from film-to-film, but one thing that's rarely so clear in "Inside Llewyn Davis" is the constant conflict between the pure randomness of events, and the destiny of free will of choice. Things seem to come up and happen, almost at random, for Llewyn, even he seems capable of acting randomly like when he impulsively decides to go back on a marine liner and give up the folk singing life (Which in typical Coens fashion, he can't even get that done properly) but then he's confronted with numerous personal and moral choices, and he never makes the ones that we instinctively think he'd make based on our familiarity with movie plotpoints and patterns, but the fact that they give Llewyn the choice is bizarre. The movie's gotten compared to their "A Serious Man" in which a character is also forced to take a lot of crap from the world and even God, despite his good nature. That's a strange comparison I think; first off, Llewyn isn't good-natured, but secondly, how rarely do the Coen Brothers give their characters a real choice? I can't think of too many other times they've done that, everything their characters do is usually completely logical in their minds and ways of thinking and/or absolutely out of their control and at the will of destiny. Not only get choices, we never know what he's gonna do in those moments. This is a strange clue to the movie, that they actually like and care about Llewyn Davis, and even at his most hateful, there's a humanity in him. There's a scene where they tenderly show him in a diner, after he was walking and having one of his feet fall through the snow, and he takes his foot out of his wet shoe to try and warm it up. There's no callback or emotional connection to the shoe or the foot to be made, or even a reason for the incident or the shot, other than to show him caring tenderly for his foot. Why do they do it? I think it's because of something we've always known about the characters in the Coens best films, that no matter how sadistic they are to their protagonists, secretly they care about them and have a deep emotional connection to them. And I suspect that they care about Llewyn Davis, probably more than most, if not all of their other characters.


LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (2013) Director: Lee Daniels

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Well, this film should've been titled "The Butler" and Lee Daniels wanted it to be titled that, but after a lawsuit over a film with the same title from the '20s he reluctantly added his name to the title, correctly so, since the film really couldn't have another decent title. (Although it should've been "Lee Daniels's The Butler", it's a person, not a group. I don't care if it's acceptable now, or it looks weird, just because there's an S at the end, doesn't mean you get to just use the apostrophe. That was the never the rule!) Anyway, "...The Butler" is a very erratic film that I'm recommending because of Forest Whitaker's amazing performance, but other than that, the movie seemed to basically be an excuse for Daniels to shoot a bunch selective moments through history through the prism of Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) who's based on real-life butler Eugene Allen who staffed the White House for 30+ years and became the first African-American Head Butler in the White House. His life begins in the cotton fields, where he sees his father Earl (David Banner) getting killed by his boss, right in front of him, after he had raped his mother Hattie (Mariah Carey). He gets out of there, by being taught to be a- these used a different phrase, but a butler or a servant, in the house instead of the cotton fields by Maynard (Clarence Williams III) and by an old woman who was more sympathetic than her family to the plight, Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) and as a teenager, he eventually started butting from hotel to hotel, and eventually to the White House, where he witnesses, although rarely reacts to the slowly growing Civil Rights movement. I understand why he does this, but it's a little disturbing nonetheless, 'cause after the beginning, the movie sorta becomes a little "Forrest Gump" as he just sorta floats through the world, occasionally walking in on a potentially important conversation in the Oval Office and then watching the afterwards on TV later. He even does it during his marriage a bit, as his wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) has an affair with the neighbor Howard (Terrence Howard) and his kid Louis (David Oyelowo) becomes a freedom rider and his life becomes more and more dangerous fighting for Civil Rights, which is in direct conflict to Cecil, taught to mostly keep his head down and serve, even when, occasionally, something mentioned about the subversive nature and traditional of the African-American servant. But while that stuff, would've been more interesting to get into, the majority of the time, we're dealing with, essentially, one of those movies where we're constantly going, "Oh, look who that is", when a new character comes in and a creative choice portrays a character, particular a famous one. I think my favorites of these were Robin Williams, quite a good Eisenhower, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, just- well, just because they dared make that choice, hopefully to piss off a few people who still don't realize she was right in the '60s, and John Cusack as Nixon, could've been an entire movie itself. They're basically cameos, and there's some good performances elsewhere, like Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a good role here as another servant at the White House. A lot of people were surprised when Oprah Winfrey didn't get an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress; I actually didn't love her performance here; she was good in certain parts, but it was pretty uneven for a good portion of the first half of the film, and next to Forrest Whitaker who really is giving a great performance, it doesn't quite hold up, 'cause there's not as much depth to her character either comparatively either. It's not entirely her fault, and Daniels, if he really has a strength as a director, he is really good at getting unusual and complicated performances out of actors that we don't really expect from them, but she's pretty much a cliched character, and even the real flaw of the affair, there's no real conflict to bounce off of. There's a quick voiceover of how Cecil handles this by staying home a little more often than working at the White House, it was glossed over strangely. A lot of this is glossed over really. Part of it, wants to be the biography of this guy, part of the film wants to be a history lesson, sometimes too much so (I know some people don't have a grasp of history, even modern history, but I felt like a child being told with every new year, what Presidential administration we were in, like we couldn't figure it out any other way that LBJ's (Liev Schreiber) in office, with him barking orders and using the word "nigger" a dozen times a day, shortly after Kennedy (James Marsden) gets killed, and then another part, is that detachment the character has to everything, and inactiveness. I don't know, I was conflicted on the movie; maybe this would've been a more interesting miniseries; it did kinda remind me of "The '60s" at times, one of the last good intentional network miniseries, but as a film it's scattered all over the place. I'm recommending it for Whitaker's performance, but honestly that's about it. I mean, even in Daniels' "The Paperboy" which was a complete mess, but the mess was at least filled with interesting things all around, this one's just filled, mostly with my history book at the edges, hiding by cameos.


DON JON (2013) Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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The controversial directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Don Jon" famously had to be have footage cut in order to achieve an R rating, although most of the footage cut was basically, the more graphic parts of the porn that it's title character is obsessed with. Jon (Gordon-Levitt) goes through a fairly repetitive routine for his life. He's young, attractive, and in-shape. He goes to the gym regularly. He goes through the hallway to get to the weight room. He drives to church on Sunday to go with his family,  where he confesses and receives absolution for his sins, and then, later home for family dinner where his father (Tony Danza) berates him a bit about not growing up, and his mother (Glenne Headly) wishes he'd settle down with a nice girl. He also goes out on the town most nights with his buddies, who talk in very traditional ways of observing women in the bar, and what they're ranking on a ten-pt. scale is and whether they can get them based on their ranking. These scenes I mention because they constantly occur as benchmarkers throughout the film, hypnotically as well, they reminded me of Aronofsky's continued motifs in "Requiem for a Dream", and the way these sequences are a little different each time, that's quite well done, and very professional for a first-time filmmaker. The other pattern that's apart of Jon's daily life is his porn addiction. He gets laid quite often, but curiously, even with the live, real girl right there, he's more fascinated by the immediacy of porn. It's not an addiction that I don't understand; it's a shallow and lonely addiction, and one that's ultimately unsatisfying, when it's temporarily fulfilled. He eventually finds a beautiful girl in a club, who turns him down at first. The girl, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) knows how good looking she is, and is a bit high-maintenance, and insists that they date a bit and get to know each other, and their friends and family before getting to the bedroom. After he manages that finally, she catches him using porn, and is appalled. This is where I'll stop, because, this is when some of the story gets a little cliche, and we have those same discussions about porn and man's needs to view it, even when they have a woman (Women, that's true by the way, and you're never gonna win that one entirely, unless you're above and beyond GGG, and even then.) and some traditional stuff about relationships, like a woman trying to improve the man she's with. Jon starts taking a class where he meets, Esther (Julianne Moore) an older woman, who spots his porn addiction (He was watching it on his phone before class) and seems uniquely open and frank about discussing his habit in between sharing notes from the class, even giving her a tape at one point. The casting of Moore, especially since this is a great subliminal callback to her Oscar-nominated role in "Boogie Nights", where she also played a paternal character, one who was in the porn industry and able to treat and focus in on the younger stars personal sexual problems and worries; while unable to fully deal with her own personal life's problems and she's basically playing a similar role here, but in an alternate universe, and she's the best part of the film, 'cause she manages to save a part of the film that could've easily flown way more off the cliff than it did. There's a lot of good here, most of the performances, despite some really annoying Jersey accents that were so bad they sounded Boston to me, and my family's from Jersey. (South Jersey granted, and this is North Jersey but still...) Also, it had a strange ending, one that, didn't quite work. It's open-ended in a weird way, and the open-ended part is okay, but still, and when you think back on the movie, if you took the porn addiction aspect out of it, it's basically a story about a failed romance, because she was too demanding of him, and he got tired of changing or altering his life for her. It does some good stuff about the addiction, and it's very assured and well-made, so I guess I'm recommending it. I guess I'm disappointed considering that it's Gordon-Levitt and I typically expect more from him. The technique is there, but the theme is there, the story is weaker than it should be, and just falls into too many cliches in the end, like the character, this one played by Brie Larson, you barely remember she's even there, and says one line in the film, easiest paycheck she's probably ever had, and it's a very profound- well, no it isn't really, but she has one line of dialogue, literally. This film was a rewrite or two away, and I'm sure for his next film, he'll be aware of that and it'll be better. "Don Jon" is a typical solid first film effort from a good filmmaker.


CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (2013) Director: Fredik Bond




Instead of reviewing Charley Countryman outright, I decided something more useful and better would be to describe my thought process as I watched this film. Basically it was like Steve Martin's famous "Tourist Sketch" on "Saturday Night Live". Let me see if I can remember it, yes, Martin enters dressed as a tourist, center stage, and looks at something offscreen arms at side, looks confused, and says out loud, "What da hell is that?! What the hell is that?! What's that dang thing doing there? How did that get here?! What the hell is that?" and then he thinks for a second, and then angrily goes, "What the Hell is that!?" and then he asks Bill Murray to come in, and he sees the object and goes "What the hell is that? What the hell is that thing?" and they take a photo with it, and then Murray goes, "Oh, I know what it is. What the hell is that?" and they finally figure out what it is, and leave, and then shortly after, I'm paraphrasing here a bit, Martin comes back into frame and says "What the hell was that?!", and it's very smart and a lot of other things that "Charley Countryman" wasn't. Actually, that's not the full technical title, it's actually "The Necessary Death of Charley Countryman" which I guess they shortened for length and because it seems to give away the ending, although they didn't give it away soon enough for me. I'm told that Shia Labeouf dropped acid as preparation for the film; he was lucky, I didn't. He plays the title role, and after his mother's (Melissa Leo) taken off life support, she tells him to go to Bucharest, Romania for some fucking reason. It's not the worst place in the world actually, there's a really good booming film industry in Romania right now with wonderful recent films like "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and "12:08: East of Bucharest" and "Police, Adjective" being made there now, but it's still a strange request out of nowhere. One running joke is that she meant Budapest, and not Bucharest; I don't think it matters 'cause that would still be just as strange. He says goodbye to his girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza, one of the many cameos role by actors in the film) Anyway, he falls in love with a Cellist, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) that he meets after the Cubs fan friend he meets on the ride over drops dead during the flight and he falls in love with the daughter, and lives on in the Bucharest La Boheme area with other artists and such, while trying to find her, to return a cello, and then court her. Naturally, there's another guy, in this case, a criminal ex-husband who beats her, Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen) and beats up Charley at one point too, I think. For all I know, this whole film might've been a dream; it was certainly meandering pointless crap if nothing else. Like "Don Jon" there was some controversy with the film involving an Evan Rachel Wood nude scene, that takes place during an orgy I think, that Karl (Rupert Grint) is trying to film at Bucharest's version of the Chelsea where Charlie and a bunch of other artist, lost souls, lost artists, missing souls and people who are just plain lost seem to live cheaply. At the end, they kinda try to put all this together in some kind of "The Third Man" homage where the girl goes back to the bad guy, and Labeouf's character makes one last ditch effort to win her over or die trying. There's decent acting in the film, although I thought half the time that the actors themselves, couldn't even tell you the scene they were shooting or what they had to do in the scene. Wood particularly, has nothing to do but be a walking angel with an accent, often she seems to really be an angel with her arms wide and almost floating around Bucharest. That might have been my imagination actually now that I think about it. I don't know what the hell was "Charley Countryman" but the biggest sin of all with the film, is that I just didn't care. Even most car wrecks make you want to look for a second, this one made me regret that I did. Keep on driving pass this tourist trap.


WE'RE THE MILLERS (2013) Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

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I've been thinking way too long about how write a review for "We're the Millers". Way too long, frankly. I took two notes when I was watching the film, one read "Oh, for fuck's sake, can't anything be funny without being nauseating or predictable anymore" and the other said, "The timing of the movie with the CBS show 'The Millers' is unfortunate." After that, it was too emotionally hard to gather any real thoughts about the film, Good, bad, OR indifferent. It's one of the worst things a film can be. Average. "We're the Millers" is an average comedy, and that's disappointing considering how it could've been a special film. David (Jason Sudeikis) is a middle-aged pot dealer working for Brad (Ed Helms) who asks him to do a dangerous pot transfer by sneaking the pot in, back and forth from Mexico. David needs to do this after Kenny (Will Pouter) helped get his latest batch stolen, and concocts a plan to get together a few other over-the-top characters to join him in an RV, and pretend their on a family vacation in order to sneak across the border without being noticed. His neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston) is a down-on-her-luck aging stripper, and Casey (Emma Roberts) is a runaway teenager who hangs around the apartment building and Kenny's mom went on a date a few days ago and hasn't come back yet. The comedy is- well, non-existent more or less. I mean, occasionally there's something sorta funny, but nothing unexpected, nothing that could've gone far and actually did, (and even the one scene that did that, was just predictable to anybody who's ever seen an episode of "Three's Company".) there's nothing really memorable, except for the creative way the film introduces a skylight, and then the callback to it. That was a creative in-joke. I mean, other than that though, this is a movie, with thousands pounds of marijuana, and no one gets stoned, a stripper who's never naked (And Jennifer Aniston, if you're gonna take parts that might require nudity, either be naked or get a body double, 'cause this and "Wonderlust" it would've been better if you were naked. In that film, it would've been funny, in this film, it would've been realistic) the tamest and most average living-on-the-street teenage runaway imaginable, I mean, where's Joe Eszterhas's knife-wielding bitch when you need her, and the teenage boy is a virgin, and he's the one with the greatest growth arc? Get the feeling that a guy wrote this from the used comedy screenplay factory? Oh, I'm sorry, 4 guys who wrote this, and I can write a better joke with all these characters than they did a whole movie. A drug dealer, a stripper, a teenage runaway and a virgin walk into a room and sit down. The stripper turns to the virgin and goes, "Hey, is this Psych 101"? See, sharp satire in that joke, there's nothing sharp in this film at all. Blandness, boring, average. The most memorable part of the movie is the stunning and shocking revelation that Jennifer Aniston, dancing about seductively and undressing until she's in her underwear, might be distracting for some people. Well, I'm glad to find my hypothesis on that issue was finally tested and proven correct, but it's not enough to turn a bad movie into a good one.


THE OTHER SON (2013) Director: Lorraine Levy

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I didn't think about it at the time, but going over Wesley Morris's review of "The Other Son", he mentions that the idea of making a switched-at-birth drama about an Israeli and Palestinian must've been like discovering a website URL that you figured must've been taken by now, was actually available and free, and he's got a point actually, how did this film not get told until now? But then I thought about it a bit. The switched-at-birth story is a much more Western story motif than Middle Eastern, and frankly I'm not sure this story could've been told before. Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk) and Yacine Al Bezaaz (Mehdi Dehbi) were babies in the hospital when, in the confusion after a bombing, they were indeed, switched. They're parents found this out years later, and after the initial shock, the kids, now in their late teens, are told. It explains some things, the slight skin tone differences for instance, but the movie is more about these two families, and these two people in particular, dealing with the identity shock. Eventually, they become friendly with each other, although separate from their parents, hidden in fact, they begin to sympathize both with each other and their situation. None of this, is unexpected, so the film relies mostly on the execution and it's quiet, patient storytelling from writer/director Lorraine Levy is spot on. She's mostly a French TV director but she's made a couple feature films, and this is her most noteworthy film so far. She tells the story patiently, and let's the tensions build up, and allows for the natural background of the Middle East and the tensions of the situations, keep the film going forward. It's a good film, not a particularly great one, the best scene, are to some extent in the beginning of the movie, moreso than the end, but on the other hand, that's probably a good decision to make this film so anti-climatic.



MUSCLE SHOALS (2013) Director: Greg "Freddy" Camalier

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Years ago, I took a Rock'n'Roll history class in college; (God Bless America) and- yeah that sounds cool, but, even though it's only, eh, we can argue on the actual date a bit, but let's say that rock'n'roll is about 60 years old, not counting Robert Johnson and other early pioneers that eventually influenced rock'n'roll, that's really a lot of history to go through, and the teacher had mentioned previously that he had only gotten as far as punk rock while, in the mid-late '70s previously during other semesters, and frankly, he was skimming quickly, and quickly as he could. (There's also at UNLV, at least there used to be, a whole class on just the History of The Beatles, btw. Yeah, consider the extensiveness of rock'n'roll and realize, they have their own class [Granted, if you want to take that class for cheap, get a copy of "The Beatles Anthology," but don't tell anybody I said that]) and realize that, there's plenty of others artists/bands/movements/eras or rock'n'roll that can easily have their own classes, if somebody were to really want to be a Musicology Major. (Which I'm not sure isn't an actual study; in fact I'm not sure "Musicology" is even an word, I'm pretty sure Prince just made that up one day.) That's part of the reason why there's so many rockumentaries out there. Look at "20 Feet from Stardom" for instance, which won the Best Documentary Oscar last year, and one of the year's best films in general last year, shining a light on the legendary background singers of rock'n'roll, and just how critical people like a Darlene Love are in the history of Rock'n'Roll. It's a short history, but we're still learning a lot of it. In that sense, I didn't know too much about "Muscle Shoals", Alabama, before getting into this film which documents the legendary town, a term I use loosely, 'cause it look likes it's a road a view of Tennessee and a cotton plantation, which through the 50's and 60's and beyond has become a crossroads spot for rock'n'roll legends and icons. The legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, started by Rich Hall and showcasing a houseband of rather un-rock'n'roll-like white guys, lovingly called the Swampers, the little studio started to bring with producing huge hits from Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Cliff and Percy Sledge, and soon other musicians started coming to the small bordertown to record. Aretha Franklin recorded "Respect" there among many other hits. Wilson Pickett recorded "Night of a 1,000 Dances". The Rolling Stones insisted on coming to record quite often, recording many tracks on their "Sticky Fingers" album among others. It seemed to be the best-kept secret realm of great music in the industry, as other places like Detroit with Motown and Philadelphia would be recording and inventing their own sounds, so was Muscle Shoals. The film documents a good part of this history of the town, and of Fame Studios who brought the rock'n'roll world to Muscle Shoals. It's a nice, decent documentary, a bit too long perhaps, but it's filled with great music, perhaps not the best of interviews with familiar names like Mick Jagger and Bono among numerous others. It's not particularly special as a rockumentary, but it is what it is, a document of a small albeit unlikely chapter in the history of rock'n'roll. One small chapter in an ever-growing book of many small chapters.


STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) Director: Chas F. Reisner

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I'm looking through Roger Ebert's Great Movie entry on "Films of Buster Keaton", as he describes being engulfed in Keaton's films for a class, and having trouble discerning which film to add to the Great Movies collection next. (Having already added his greatest achievement "The General" previously.) I myself seem to be going through Keaton's work on my own as I had previously only seen a collection of his later sound short films beforehand and in recent months finally got around to both "The General" and now to "Steamboat Bill, Jr.", and I can kinda see why it would be tricky to distinguish between his other films enough to narrow it down to one. With Chaplin, for instance, every film is a work of art for itself, a message a point of view that he's giving us, and making us care about. The Pathos of Chaplin at times is almost non-existant in Keaton's best films, but they also weren't about convincing us with emotions or making us care; they were Buster Keaton vehicles, showing us the comedic and athletic skills of Keaton. He was apart of the most violent vaudeville comedy act ever, The Three Keatons along with his parents, and was thrown around the stage and the audience and orchestra pits from the age of three, and was given his nickname Buster, from Harry Houdini, remarking on how he can get right back up from a big tumble. The most iconic and dangerous of stunts Keaton pulled occur in Steamboat Bill, Jr., when an entire house falls on him, and he has to stand in one exact place where an open window is supposed to fall, and naturally, the house falls around Buster. It was done in one take, and without practice, figuring there's no point in losing a house over a rehearsal shot. He could've been killed during that, or any number of his death-defying stunts over his films, particularly his silents. And the amazing part is that that stunt, is one of dozens of falling debris and runaway props that is basically the climax of the film, William Jr. (Keaton) the long-gone son of Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrance) has come home from being away at schooling for years, failing to try and find work on his father's boat, the Stonewall Jackson, he has to save the town and survive a giant storm. The story in "Steamboat Bill, Jr." isn't the most complicated, but it's effective enough, but the real appeal is to see him go through, what are really these one-man shows of amazing comedic stuntwork that no one can then or now replicate.


MOUCHETTE (1967) Director: Robert Bresson

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It's impossible to discuss a Robert Bresson film without discussing the way he makes them, and a little about who he is. Calling himself a Christian atheist, his films are both spiritual yet cold looks at life, often through the tools and themes of christianity like poverty, salvation and redemption, but there's rarely ever any hope; it's mostly just life. He shoots in a particularly bizarre way, where he not only uses untrained and amateur actors, but then he puts his actors, or as he calls them, models, through an ungainly process of having to go ever and repeat each line and scene, dozens if not hundreds of times over, until finally, as to drain all performance out of the director, leaving just the truest of real life, and then, he narrowed the editing down to only the barest of essentials needed in the film. Just enough to tell the story, and little more. He's often regarded among the best directors in French cinema, and while not typically considered apart of the New Wave Movement, he certainly inspired much of the it. His films are not the easiest to watch, especially on a first viewing and for the untrained eye. I saw "Pickpocket" years ago, and can really use a rewatch of it as I came into that one, not fully understanding the essence of what Bresson was trying to do. I then saw "Au Hasard Bathazar" which followed the life of a donkey from his birth 'til his death, constantly working and going about while life went on around him, being mistreated and overworked 'til he simply couldn't anymore. "Mouchette" (Nadine Nortier) is a bit like the donkey. She's a young girl in her teens. She travels to school, where she pushed and disregarded and degraded daily by the other students. At home, her father (Paul Hebert) is an abusive drunk, and her mother (Marie Cardinal) is sick and dying, leaving her to take care of her baby brother. There isn't much for her to be excited about. She throws dirt at the other students when she heads home and escapes through the woods to head home, probably her only revenge for the way she's treated by them. Bresson allows her one moment, not in the original Georges Bernanos novel the film's adapted from, where she escapes her troubles as has fun, riding bumper cars in a carnival, and sorta flirting with a cute guy by the two of them exchanging bumps, but even that ends in a slap to the face. One day, she gets lost in the woods and helps out the wrong guy, Arsene (Jean-Claude Guilbert). He ends up conniving her to his cabin, where she's held captive and raped. Eventually, she finds her way back home, and back to the hallows of home life, crying as she feeds her brother with cold milk she warmed with her body. Nothing that really happens for Mouchette is good, it just happens. Bresson doesn't ask us for empathy. He started life as a painter, and like the realists painters, simply show us their life. It's hard to really give a review of a Bresson film. They really stand above criticism, and instead, inhabit a different place in the cinema world. "Mouchette"'s world sucks, and she's resigned to accept that it does because there's no better option. Every shot is critical, every motion and line of dialogue. Everyone's carrying the world on their shoulder. Bresson films aren't so much movies as they are the way he see the world, and his films, and the lengths he went through to make them are him, trying to make people see what he sees. They aren't the easiest things to watch, but they're essential for every film buff to watch and experience. 

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