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



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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



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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



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"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



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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



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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



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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. 
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