Friday, June 27, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #90: "THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG", "OMAR", "THE MISSING PICTURE", "OLDBOY (Lee)" "THE ARMSTRONG LIE", "FILL THE VOID", "INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR.", "PULLING STRINGS", "THE ROCKET", "HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION", "MR. NOBODY" and MORE!

Sorry for some of the delays we've been having here folks. It sucks, I know, it ain't that great for me either lately. Once again, my Netflix, and it might be for a little while, which sucks, although sucks ass, although I'm doing my absolute damnedest to keep up anyway. That said, with these batch of movies lately, when even the better films were underwhelming, frankly I'm mostly just happy that I'm allowed to use a friend's Hulu account, and they finally got "Top Chef" on right now, so that I can catch up, and that's what I've mostly been focusing on lately. I'm only up to the season 7 finale, so no revealing anything yet. I'm happy to have the internet frankly, 'cause I didn't have that for a brief period of time, and admittedly, even that's a little more touch-and-go than I'd prefer at the moment. I also very late, canceled a blog I was gonna post, there was a couple reasons for it, mainly it gonna be a discussion on the importance or lack there-of defining a genre, when discussing a film, and frankly, the more I was diving into it, the less it became actually worth of a blogpost, so I decided that it really wasn't up to any sort of standard I wanted this blog to be, so I simply dropped it. No bigger or better story there, just frustration mostly. Frustration with my work, frustration at my home situation, a lot of frustration with some of these films frankly, but there were some good one too.

So here's to no more delays and no more touch-and-go's and no more living hand-to-mouth and day-to-day, here's our latest edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013) Director: Peter Jackson



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Back again for another adventure of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) a humble, eh-, (Looks up notes) hobbit, and the band of dwarfs that have taken him along on this epic quest to- (Frustrated sigh) I don't know, do something.- This is something that really loses me with fantasy actually, especially these long epics, years apart with these films- I can't remember what the hell they’re doing most of the time. We keep getting lambasted with all this extra shit, and it’s like, “Oh, right, they’re doing this for a reason, what the fuck was it?” Trying to grasp the tangible out of the fantasy, is a much bigger part of a successful fantasy than people seem to think. Tell me they’re searching for a holy grail or something, at least that I understand, now we’re in flashbacks and other worlds and spun into giant spiderwebs and there a dragon hidden in a vault full of gold coins and trinkets about 15x the size of Scrooge McDuck’s, all this amazing crap but we have to remember the other thing? This is something Tolkien never understood, in traditional mythology it was simple, especially since it was a time when most of the known world wasn't particularly educated or evolved so they weren't that complicated, either that, or they got to the original point quickly, and then went on to something else that effected them, like in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” for instance. Now, I haven't read "The Hobbit", although I recall it from most accounts being simpler than "Lord of the Rings", and that means Jackson's really stretching this one out, making it even worst. Well, actually it wasn't worst overall I guess, but it is erratic. I guess it might've worked better in 3-D, but the effects, some were quite amazing, like the Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) dragon character, and the frightening and powerful presence that he is in certain, I don't think it was completely successful, but it was still effective for what needed to be done, but on the other hand, some of the sequences, like the sequence where everyone was going through the river, looked like bad unrealistic CGI. The rest of the time, sometimes it makes sense, and the journey's continuing, and other times, it barely makes sense. Characters go off on their own for awhile, characters go away for no reason for awhile, then come back. It's once again, constant manipulating for of the logic for the purposes of the plot to go exactly as the story needs it to. Not as much as the other films however, or at least it wasn't as noticeable to me. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", is probably gonna satisfy most Tolkien-ites, but it's basically just washed over me without much reaction or reason to care for me. A few special moments peckered in here and there, the backstory of the Smaug character and areas he reigns over where the dwarves are living/enslaved was actually fairly intriguing for a while, I still kinda came out of it thinking it didn't really lead to much. It's your typical second film, with a to be continued ending of a trilogy, and not much more. 


OMAR (2013) Director: Hany Abu-Assad


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Director Hany Abu-Assad directed the film "Paradise Now" a few years back which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, the first time that award was won by the nation of Palestine, previously the only time they've been nominated. Now, his latest film "Omar" also received a Foreign Language Oscar nomination, and "Omar" and while this is also, only the second film of Abu-Assad's I've seen, it's very clear to me that he directed both pictures. The noticeable lack of a score, a more New Wave realism approach to his subject, the undercurrent of the tensions over the Jews and Palestinians and the more de-glamorized look at what really conflates and continues this conflict, from a humanistic perspective. Omar (Adam Bakri) is what you'd consider a terrorist per se. He's a kid, early '20s, who's in love with Nadia (Leem Lubany) however, the only way to get to her is to climb over that newly-constructed wall that was supposedly built to separate the two cultures, although all it really did was separate people from each other. He is apart of a group that killed a Jewish guard however, and because he insists and climbing over and back that wall, he gets caught quickly and often, he gets arrested and interrogated regularly. Finally, he gets coerced into working with the police to turn in his friends, but not with a long fight. His friends aren't particular terrorist either, just fairly frustrated youths who are practically imitating others. When one prisoner tells Omar that he's apart of Hamas, and asks which group he's apart of it, it's more like a discussion about which gang they're affiliated with, for protection, as opposed to, a real declaration of beliefs. I actually admired "Paradise Now" more than I really liked it, so I actually find myself preferring "Omar", for being a more relatable and complex story, and being about a character as opposed to a more grandeur statement and comment. It's still a little slow-moving at times, but I didn't mind it too much now. The film is the slow decline of the optimistic and romantic "Omar" and how that eventually leads to a more radical character by the end, mischievous and misguided, frustrated with the perils of adulthood and civility. What would've happened to "Omar" if a wall hadn't been built? I think that's the question Abu-Assad asks. Perhaps some difference, perhaps not much, but it's clear that because Israel and Palestine are now separated by a wall, the wall itself becomes integrated into the conflict, and one more thing that helps turns a lover into a terrorist. Or a romantic into a radical?


THE MISSING PICTURE (2013) Director: Rithy Panh


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I remember seeing stills and reading the description of "The Missing Picture" when making my Oscar predictions and when it made the Oscar shortlist thinking, "This is so distinctly different that this might be one of those dark horse's everyone's missing." Sure enough, the documentary became the first film from Cambodia to receive a Foreign Language Film Oscar Nomination. When I think of Cambodia, I think of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot's genocide, and sure enough the film is a retelling of the atrocities we know better as The Killing Fields now, and the title itself refers to the visual images that do not exist of friends and families of the director Rithy Panh, as he tells his personal story of life before and during the Khmer Rouge regime. When there's something that isn't filmed, he creatively and painstakingly recreates the images by molding clay figurines, what must've been thousands, certainly at least hundreds of them as they to replicate the images. This is sorta like the same thing done in "The Act of Killing" but on a much smaller scale and budget, but it's just as detailed, if not moreso, as he struggles to replicate the images and memories he has of the re-educationg camps and death fields among numerous other places and people in Democratic Kampuchea as Pol Pot insanely attempted a restart of society and annihilated and massacred every dissenter and those educated from the outside world. He uses documentary and home footage when it's available to create this rare and unique image of this world and time using all these mixed media as Panh struggles to reconstruct his own life and memory of these moments. Sometimes it's amazing to see the moments that the Khmer Rouge did film, like child laborers digging in the fields, and of the executions. I prefer to see the surprisingly bright and more colorful images he creates and some of the old videos of before the Khmer Rouge and of a Cambodia that was strikingly vibrant and colorful. At one point, he shows images of the astronauts traveling to the moon, as a counterpoint of how the outside world was regarded as capitalist propaganda, and the disturbing ways in which Pol Pot was enslaving, torturing and closing in the country. Closing in the people. We've gotten a few images and perspectives on this era before, but nothing quite like this. Nothing so personal and poetic a depiction. How can or should we really show the true memories and images of such horrificness? This is as good a way to depict as any, and it's a powerful one. A pure one, a depiction of a world we don't want to see, and one that's even rarer for us to see. It's almost a cinematic akin to a one-man biographic show, a good one too. One of the most unique cinematic films of the year.


OLDBOY (2013) Director: Spike Lee


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It's been awhile, and I do admit to needing another viewing of "Oldboy", which, in my memory has become a far more powerful and visceral than I remember when I originally watched it, but I was a little surprised how much I recalled and noticed quite clearly many of the differences after watching Spike Lee's remake, who by the way, would probably have not have been the first name that would've come to mind when thinking about a director to remake, but it actually does make a little sense when you consider some of the themes. Although, I must say he's a different director when dealing with a more mainstream project than he is for his more interesting personal projects. (Come to think of it, did he even use a double-dolly shot in this film? I don't remember one? Huh?) I've seen some of his other work like that before, but I missed "Inside Man", so this-this would be one of the very first more Hollywood projects of his I've seen, and maybe it's because it's a remake but...- (Shrugs) Anyway, the film begins with a relative sleazebag Joe Douchet (Josh Brolin) being a relative sleazebag, pissing off most everyone around him, especially his ex-wife Donna (Hannah Ware). Suddenly, somebody kidnaps him, and he's placed in some sort of hi-tech private hotel room, with little more than a TV, a bed, Chinese food served him periodically through a cubby hole, and a picture of a Bellhop (Cinque Lee) that he occasionally imagines is alive with him. Who's doing this to him, and why? He doesn't know, but in the meantime, his ex-wife was raped and murder and he's been framed, so even if he somehow escaped this imprisonment, he'd be a fugitive from the law, and apparently the crime was so vicious that it's still notorious enough for occasional interview special on exploitation TV shows. This as he see twenty years of history pass on TV until he's finally released with little more than a cell phone that he's still struggling to understand how it works, and some great talents and abilities learned from numerous exercise and yoga shows on TV. On the outside world, he eventually gets help, first from a young recovering drug addict Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) and from an old friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) as he struggles to search through all whose lives he destroyed to find out who would trap him for decades like this. Who'd be capable, and frankly, and why. There's some good work also from Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley as well, in the film, and I'm gonna, reluctantly recommend this. I think Elizabeth Olsen's work is definitely the highlight of the film in, what, I'll admit isn't a tough role here, but a very different than we've seen from her, and from somebody who had very little acting work, until a couple years ago, she's becoming quite the presence on screen, and she's critically good when she needs to be and doesn't quite take her part, to the point of no return when sometimes the script was practically begging for it. The problem I found was that, unlike the original version, which had some of the same problems with the script as this version does, the approach to the material was so much more of a visceral experience. It wasn't just that it was this really graphic horror film, but it was in the way they used that horror to really, truly exemplify and visually the emotions of the film and the characters themselves; it was because the experience was so intense, that the film itself became really intense and Spike Lee's version just doesn't have that. It's a different version, I know, and he does some different things, but even though this is somewhat re-imagined version of "The Count of Monte Cristo", it depends on a lot things occurring and actions that are just too unbelievable, so you need that hyper-realism to really show how powerful the effect is, and just a few montage of going to Chinese food restaurant to Chinese food restaurant, it doesn't really do it. There's some undertones that Lee is playing with here as well, without getting to deep into the turns of the story, but there's enough interesting stuff to recommend a viewing, but this certainly is a relatively minor remake of a much more impressive film, and from Spike Lee, it's an interesting Hollywood turn for him, but I don't know, other than it shows that he can direct anything he wanted if he really felt like, but I think I'd rather watch one of his more interesting personal projects instead.


THE ARMSTRONG LIE (2013) Director: Alex Gibney


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Let's face it, no matter how skeptical some might claim they were, it was simply much easier to believe, the lie, about Lance Armstrong. I did, everybody did. I think, he probably did too. I don't think it was a lie to him. If anything, the thing I found most impressive about Alex Gibney's "The Armstrong Lie" is that, he's probably more than anything else, the best cheater. The best, out of- what I think, probably more than any other sport by a mile, is a sport of cheaters. Gibney started shooting this film in 2009, capturing his comeback running of the Tour de France. Most thought at the time that the Oscar-winning investigative documentarian was making a film intended to reiterate the mythology of Armstrong, some were even out on the Tour trying to expose Armstrong and make what they called the "Anti-Gibney" film. Instead, Gibney shelved the project after the allegations came out, and continued to re-check his footage and the numerous conflicted emotions that he had during the race, and those moments with Lance. The image he built up, the competitor and aggressor that he truly is. That's one of the things that people don't quite understand regarding athletes and why there's so many scandals regarding steroids over the years, they're competitive and doing everything possible to get a win, sometimes it's out of necessity, because frankly you have to in order to keep. Armstrong however, is one of the most aggressive fighters out there. He never hid when confronted with allegations of doping, and he destroyed the lives of many people who tried to fight him. The thing's that most startling is just how sophisticated the doping was, and it wasn't really doping the way we think about it either, the bulking of injections or something like that, it was highly scientific and developed, dealing with how and when to dope in order to manipulate the white blood cells in the blood in certain points and moments in order to boost the ability to take in oxygen, particularly during those giant mountains and hills, or something like that; it might have been red blood cells; I always get them confused, but basically it's a very sophistocatd system. They had a motorcycle guy supplying bags riding along the Tour de France with them, and yes it was them, the whole team. All the teams had something, but the whole Postal Service team at the time. That's something that I always understood about cycling but I never really understood some of the dynamics about how a team cycling competition works, and we saw a lot of that during the most exciting moments of the movie, the actual race footage of Lance's comeback, as he finished 3rd behind his own teammate that he didn't get along with, but he seemed to be racing clean, and made a huge comeback on a mountain that normally he wouldn't, but was he actually clean? Ultimately, I find myself, ambivalent towards the film "The Armstrong Lie", is a bit of a more convoluted mess than I normally expect from Alex Gibney, who has produced an incredible amount of work among any filmmaker out there much less documentary filmmakers over the last decades or so; (This is his second-best documentary this year after "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks", and he often produces more than one film per year) it's only a minor entry albeit an interesting one, that gave us more incite to a man who, frankly, I'm not sure we want to know more about anymore. 


FILL THE VOID (2013) Director: Rama Burshtstein


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Thinking back on the complexities of "Fill the Void", I find myself struggling with it, but in a good way. It took two viewings to watch it originally, and I still think I might need a third to really observe the subtleties of the film. It's the debut film from Director Rama Burshstein and it was the winner of seven Israeli Oscars, and was a big hit along the festival circuit in Europe. The film is based around Shira (Hadas Yaron) the eighteen-year-old youngest sister of the Hasedic Tel Aviv family. Her oldest sister Esther (Renana Rez) suddenly dies during childbirth, causing a huge potential problem in the family, and for her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) with a newborn, is considering moving elsewhere, but the mother Rivka (Irit Sheleg) tries to orchestrate Shira to marry Yochay. She's already engaged to a young man in New York, as most/all marriages are usually pre-planned and paired up, but now she's being pressured, and unsure of what to do next, as she's given a rare Jane Austen-esque choice to make. She's a smart girl, plays the accordion, although when pressure why, she just says "It's the only thing I know how to play." It's a tough position for her and Yochay to be in, but you also get the sense that possibly it might be for their best interests for them to be together. despite the 18-year age difference. "Fill the Void" is at both calm and meditative while also being intense and slice-of-life. Burshtein has a very static Ozu-like approach with much of his shots and the camera is often just on a tripod and intensely focusing, almost away from the scene, just observant and quiet, like the film is. It's quite an interesting film. It's not exactly beating you over the head with anything, but it's calmness demands that we consider and notice it. A strong film that harkens back to the old, that conflicts with the new ways, but a different and intricate approach to it in a world we don't see much of either. Very interesting and intriguing debut film.


INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. (2013) Directors: James Franco and Travis Matthews


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Well, this one was annoying to try to stream in a library. "Interior. Leather Bar.", which should probably have been titled "INT. LEATHER BAR" 'cause that's how you'd generally write that on a screenplay nowadays, (Although, I wouldn't be too surprised if that's how it might've been written on a script back then.) is a strange meta-meta-meta film where James Franco and Travis Matthews, attempt to recreate or re-imag- how did I write this in my notes? Let me, see it's a:

"A part making of/behind-the-scenes look at the re-imagining of the edited scenes of a 30+ year old movie, and then, a few scenes of those shot re-imagined sequences?"

Yeah, I even ended that with a question mark. It's a bit both, a very short, qualifying as a feature film that's a documentary about Franco and Matthews, wanting and trying to recreate the mythic 45 minutes or so of footage deleted from the William Friedkin film "Cruising" which is noted as a landmark in gay cinema, but included numerous stereotypical and somewhat offensive both graphically and probably to some, homoerotic sex and other scenes that the MPAA eventually made Friedkin cut from the film. Now, I've heard of "Cruising" although I haven't actually seen it, although I've seen clips here and there when looking up gay cinema, so I'm not gonna to be able to determine whether the footage shot was gonna be in the movie or should've been or not. The film itself, is a bit of a failed experiment. It seems behind the scenes, and it records some of the conversations with the actors, some talk about Pacino's performance and the film itself, and then the footage, which can be graphic, and the rather boring process of making sexually explicit footage, which it is by the way. I don't know, I didn't find much in the experiment nor in the behind-the-scenes of making the experiment. Eh- yeah, that's about it. Nothing else in here than hasn't been said or done before, even the material they're filming has been done before.


PULLING STRINGS (2013) Director: Pedro Pablo Ibarra


1/2



This movie fucked up my sleeping pattern! I was supposed to go to sleep after watching "Pulling Strings," and instead, my body told me to go to sleep after the main plot inciting incident which involves Rachel (Laura Ramsay) an American diplomat working at the U.S. embassy is tasked by her boss (Tom Arnold) with holding his laptop for a few days while he's out-of-town. My body refused, to let me continue with this film for almost 12 hours after watching this scene, and my body was- well, right to do so, but I had to fight it. It was my professionalism as a film blogger and critic that insisted that I continue watching "Pulling Strings", eventually. Oh, my body fought me good, I was down for the count, and I should've stayed down, but eventually, I got back up and lasted the full 15 rounds. Worst fight of my life. Anyway, she loses the laptop and a mariachi, Alejandro (Jaime Camil) who she earlier rejected for a visa, goes around Mexico trying to find it for her, (A computer that there's no real sane reason she should've had responsibility over anyway.) and both Stockard Channing and Tom Arnold's talents are seriously under and mis-used in the film. (I know somebody just laughed at that, but yeah, they misused Tom Arnold's talents seriously, and badly at that.) There's nothing else you really need to know about "Pulling Strings" actually. It's contrived dribble, it goes back-and-forth between whether or not Laura is incredibly fluent in Spanish or completely an amateur at it, the songs aren't that impressive. It's a wannabe romantic-comedy, it's nice that it's trying something with an American and a Mexican and sort of a cross-border romance, and it's nice to see Mexico as a major character, but it's not really a character either, that's really a contrivance as well. I'm sure a good version of this story could be made with a better, smarter, less cliched script, perhaps one with better actors, perhaps Kriten Wiig and Gael Garcia Bernal in the leads maybe. Other than that, this feels like one of those movies where nobody else in the movie has ever seen a romantic-comedy and nobody is aware that they're in one, and yes, there's a scene at the airport near the end. When my body finally gave in and I managed to finish watching "Pulling Strings" at the moment when I hoped was the end, I check the time clock and repeatedly out loud said, "Please let there be seven minutes of credits? Please let their be seven minutes of credits? Please let there be..." multiple times over, like a mantra. One of the best things I can say about "Pulling Strings" is that it indeed, did have seven minutes of credits at the end. I was relieved.


THE ROCKET (2013) Director: Kim Mondaunt


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Technically listed as Australia's entry in the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year, a bit of an unusual entry for them, "The Rocket" takes place in Laos, which some of you geography buffs may know, is one of five countries left in the world that's still under Communist rule, along with China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea, and any film that's actually partially made there is a bit interesting in of itself that it got made at all, and this one seems to give us a look inside the everyday life of some of the people who live there. It's the latest from Kim Mordaunt, who is usually a documentarian, but this is a rare theatrical film for her. The movie begins with a birth in a village. Ahlo (Sittiphon Disamoe) is born with a twin who was born dead, and according to tradition should've been killed too, but his life was saved at the behest of his mother, Mali (Alice Keohavong). Years later, she's killed in a freak accident and the kid is deemed for bad luck. She was killed during a move that Ahlo's family is partaking after a force removal because the area where they previously lived in now gonna be flooded to make way for a damn. After this, he starts to befriend a precocious young orphan girl, Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) who's traveling, living with her uncle Purple (Thep Phongam) an eccentric but knowledgeable character who's so named because of his purple sport coat and pants which, along with his hair style, replicates the look of his idol, James Brown. There's a lot of talks about bombs in the country, most of them unexploded, both big ones and those that are like landmines, and inevitably, Ahlo thinks he can help out his family, and break the curse that they think he is on him, by winning a rocket-building competition, and this contrast is interesting in of itself, the rural lifestyle of thousands of years, colliding in numerous ways with the western influences of today that pepper, sneak and find their way into these most obscure parts of the world. It's also a really rare glimpse into an exotic land, and it's nice to see it from these smart but determined child's-eye views. I've sat through it twice new, and the small slice-of-life moments get more interesting to me on multiple viewings. "The Rocket" is a lovely little film.


HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION (2013) Director: Sophie Huber


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"Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Ficktion" is a peaceful, small, transcendent mosaic peek at Harry Dean Stanton, and that's all we will probably ever get. At barely 75 minutes, the documentary seems to barely scratch the surface of the 87-year-old acting legend, who's starred in movies and TV shows for decades. He's also a musician, a poet, and just one of those strange characters of Hollywood that's almost as fascinating in real life as he is for the roles he plays in his film. He's been in over 180 film and TV shows, yet "...Partly Fiction", which mostly follows and observes Stanton, smoking, playing guitar, occasionally hanging out and reminiscing with friends like David Lynch, only really talk about four or five, like "Cool Hand Luke" and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", and there's a few interesting stories there. They made damn sure to talk about his most famous work, "Paris, Texas" which was the first and one of the very rare times that he got cast as the leading role of a movie and that Wim Wenders film has to be listed on any legitimate of the best films of the eighties, and probably of all-time as well, but you do get a few glimpses of him as this great character actor, who wasn't trained in technique, but seems to be able to play and do almost any role/thing when needed for a film. He used to run around with Kris Kristofferson when he was still mostly a songwriter and he'd play guitar and sing and write occasionally. Debbie Harry wrote a song about him once, and he might've been a big rock or country star if he chose to pursue that route. They don't mention his most noteworthy latest role in "Big Love", and other recent performances where he's almost perfectly cast just from the image alone. He's a bit wirey, erratic and off-the-wall, even his quiet subdued homelife gives that impression. He is at both untrained, yet indescribably genius, and the film only briefly shows that. He explains at one point, "I've avoided success artfully," and a good way to describe Stanton's irreverent and most unusual entertainment career. The Village Voice critic Nick Schager describes it as "A film that's in perfect sync with it's subject," and it is. Does that make it a good film? I don't know, but I enjoyed the mood it set and I can enjoy hanging around Harry Dean Stanton for an hour or so, others...? Eh, who knows?


MR. NOBODY (2013) Director: Jaco Van Dormeal


✰✰1/2



Note to Science Geek Screenwriters: Quantum Mechanics theories are not an excuse to do whatever-the-hell you want! "Mr. Nobody" was actually made back in '09, before it finally stumbled it's way into American theaters after first debuting on the internet, and making it's way around-the-world it seems, before it finally reached us, and it's- it's just an overlong philosophical mess of a movie, where more than once, one of it's own characters correctly complains, "So what happened?" or "Which is it, which is true?" Or something like that to a the old man retelling his story. "Mr. Nobody" takes place in a world...- No, that's not right. (Frustrated scoff) It starts in a future where the last surviving mortal, a 118-year-old known as "Mr. Nobody" (Jared Leto) is the unwanted star of a reality TV show where the world waits for him to die, and he also predicts the future. A Young Journalist (Daniel Mays) tries to record an interview with him, and he begins telling what seems and sounds like a life story, beginning with his parents Mother and Father (Rhys Ifans and Natasha Little and Mother and Father, is in fact their given names in the film.) Soon, they get divorced, and what sense that the film made at that point, even on a- philosophical level, of some kind, and then the film diverges into two worlds, at least two worlds, one where he lives with his mother, and another where he lives with his father. These worlds collide in reality and in his mind. There's women in each of his lives. One named Elise (Sarah Polley as an adult, Clare Stone as a teenager) that he's in love with, another named Jean (Linh Dan Phan as an adult, Audrey Giacomino as a teenager) who he married, Anna (Diane Kruger as an adult, Juno Temple as a teenager) who becomes his stepsister at one point, but they end up in a disturbing relationship. There's a scene late in a movie involving helicopters dropping huge trays of ice cubes into the ocean that was taken directly from a cartoon in "An Inconvenient Truth", which was originally from "Futurama". Mr. Nobody, or Nemo as we learn his name is, in one life he ends up a multi-millionaire, in another a pool installer, in another an unemployed copy manufacturer, at one point, I'm basically wondering, if anything actually in this movie has any actual thing to do with anything else in this movie? The movie either doesn't know what it wants to be, or it wants to be too much, and be too cutesy about it. And does it matter? Which life is real, are any of them, is he experience infinite universes as he dies? This movie is a real mess. It's like "The Butterfly Effect" using the motifs style of  "Synecdoche, New York", with multiple lives. Also, "The Fountain" and "Vanilla Sky", "Cloud Atlas" and many other better movies I'm sure. When they mentioned an architect, like in "The Matrix Reloaded" I couldn't believe it. Nor the 9-year-old child who, I'm really glad wasn't written as autistic. (And how the fuck does he know it was a Bolivian that boiled an egg. Maybe it was the snowflake in China that fucked him up? [And while we're at it, the right hand on the keyboard is over jkl;, not hjkl, not even on an old typewriter, is it hjkl. I don't where they got that from. It's an ambitious film but there's no meaning behind the ambition, it's using these ideas in quantum mechanics and infinite and multiple universes, but it doesn't knew how or why to use them, or how to eh-, turn them into a compelling story. I would've rather re-watched those Brian Greene "The Fabric of the Cosmos" "Nova" specials, 'cause it's basically the same damn thing, only he does it in minutes, and Jaco Van Dormeal's film, the first one of his I've seen, he takes, almost three hours it feels like it. Despite all these failures, I'm actually close to recommending this anyway, 'cause it was such an abundance of ideas, that at least, there was something on the screen. Most of the time it ended up in me thinking, "What the fuck is this shit?" but, I think since, none of these ideas meant anything in the grand picture of what the film ended up, I kinda have to lean closer towards a negative review. What good is a hundred good ideas, if you don't know what to do with them?


THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2012) Director: Gareth Huw Evans


✰✰1/2



I've been hearing about "The Raid: Redemption" for awhile now. but the critical and fan acclaim, and now the sequel being regarded with even higher acclaim, I had put it on the back burner 'til now, but it more or less sounded more like a video game than a movie. Now that I've seen it, well, it's a video game. That's not to say it's a bad or unskilled one, but that's not really a movie, and as good as the action sequences can be, it's also about a simple as a film can be. It's relatively entertaining for what it is, a confusing mess of gunfire, hand-to-hand combat and numerous deaths. The movie begins with cops, who are raiding a 15-story building. On top of the building, a bunch of bad guys. Why on top, as oppose to somewhere closer to the bottom for easier passage to escape? Because it requires the cops to keep climbing floor by floor, having to kill/destroy numerous protectors and other bad guys who live in the building. Apparently all the villains in this universe, got together and bought an apartment complex. If this was say, the Batman universe, that might be a funny sitcom. The Joker on one floor, annoying the hell out of Poison Ivy on the floor below. The Penguin that nobody shuts up, the Scarecrow seeing patients in his home office on another..., I can see it now. Here, it's the same old, one floor equals one level, and the more you climb the badder the enemy gets that they have to beat, until the (finger quotes) "twist" that one of the bad guys is the brother of one of the cops. I want to know why the cops didn't get on this compound when, say they only had a few apartment rented and they were just moving in, or when they had finished off paying the mortgage, instead of waiting 'til now. There's a lot of inexplainable behavior if you try to take any of it as realistic. The movie doesn't try for that, although it would've been nice if it was a little less serious too, so it could be more enjoyable and light-hearted. This movie is very cold. The blue tint's and dark building indicate a level of poverty, but they also drain the movie of  any really kind of fun and joy this type of film could actually benefit from, and benefit greatly from. It's a movie about a lot of dreary violence, good violence, but who cares? The film was shot in Indonesia, although it could've been any Asian countries, and that's only because the actors are Asian. The director is Gareth Huw Evans, an interesting horror and martial arts director, I believe originally from Europe, but he's basically transplanted to the Far East at this point, and he's making a third film in the series currently. I guess because of it's popularity I won't put it as far back on the back-burner as I did this one, but honestly, I won't be putting it on the front one either. Action and violence, is technically, okay, but still, it's not a movie makes necessarily, even when it's done well.


PRICE CHECK (2012) Director: Michael Walker


✰✰



Ugh. Nothing takes me out of a movie more than bad exposition dialogue. At the beginning of "Price Check", we see Pete (Eric Mabius) first at work, shortly after his boss has been fired. Then he comes home to his wife, Sara (Annie Parisse) and young kid. He picks up his kid, kisses his wife, then there's a dinner, and fun, and then at night, they're talking about work while lying in bed and he says, "I don't want to be Vice-President.... I want to be able to come home and be with my family...", after we just saw, exactly everything he just said, visually. UGH! That was mistake number number one. Mistake number two, is also a note to all independent filmmakers, when you write an almost impossible, unrealistic character, just casting Parker Posey in the role isn't gonna make is any more probably or believable. All it does, is what we see here, it takes one of the most underrated actresses alive and make her stretch herself and her acting ability out like Gumby just to somehow take this role and find a way to make her broad and contextually believable. And it's insulting and ridiculous to use an actress that great in a role that couldn't possibly work to begin with, and now you're making her look worst than she actually is. She's doing everything possible that she can do to save this role, and I admire her for doing it, but I have having to see her go through that. She plays Susan Felders who comes in like a bat out of hell riding a bull and takes charge of this trying to get this outdated store that her corporate office works for, sorta like a Wal-Mart but older, like a K-Mart and outdated as well. The details of the workplace environment are actually relatively interesting, as she's battling out with her company to move quicker into a complete re-branding and re-organizing structure of each store at the same time, while corporate, represented by Jack (Edward Hermann) wants instead to roll out the changes a store at a time, but with Pete by her side, who for seemingly no real reason, she's made him her right-hand guy on the project, pushes everyone to get the company and the store, and they even travel to L.A. together, and befriends Pete's wife, even showing up at their kid's pre-school Halloween party, in costume, before making making every at work have their own Halloween party. Eventually, this leads down a predictable path, one that, frankly the movie didn't and probably have gone down, and then it didn't do anything once it went there anyway, and soon enough, it skips right to the epilogue at the end instead of diving anywhere near real conflict. This is your basic, boring, idea-lacking Indy film; the kind where you just sit there, wondering why they don't do anything better or smarter or different even. Couldn't they have switched roles, Parker Posey be the frustrated corporate office worker family girl, who wishes to go home to her stay-at-home husband, maybe played by Patrick Dempsey or someone like that, or better yet keep Annie Parisse and make it a lesbian relationship, (and that conflict between them over more kids because even more complex) who used to work in the music industry, and have Eric Mabius be the Picaro-like crazed new boss who bulrushes his way into their lives to seduce and destroy? I don't know, but something to add a dimension to this. This is Director Michael Walker's first film in 12 years, a very long hiatus, and it feels like an average first-time filmmaker's debut Indy. When you're doing an independent film, there's two things you absolutely cannot be, either boring, or cliche. Cliche is probably worst too, and this movie, when they had nowhere else to go and backed itself into a corner, fell into cliche. You gotta do better than that, and not just rely on Parker Posey to come in and save the day, and instead, that's all that was done here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

TV CRITICS and A FEW REASONS WHY I HAVE NO RESPECT FOR THEM.



Somebody posted in a FB group about the TV Critic Choice Awards, which admittedly, I hadn't really been paying attention to, (Did they air, btw? Eh, probably.) but someone singled me out because he thought Louis C.K. for his show "Louie" should've won Best Actor in a comedy as opposed to Jim Parsons, who I've praised more than once for just how skilled and difficult his role on "The Big Bang Theory" is. Frankly, while I admire both shows, I would've normally debated this with se person, but the more I thought about it-, here's the thing, I know there's a reason for the existence of TV critics, and many of them, may be good at it, but there's so many inherent, and some not-so-inherent problems with being a television critic, that, frankly, I have a hard time, even having any sort of respect for the profession.

That sort of declaration may seem shocking to some of you. I'm a film critic, so you'd probably think television criticism isn't that far off of film criticism, right? No, actually. Most of the time, it's those many little differences that really changes somethings that seem very similar but actually make them impossibly different to even compare. And that's a concept I don't think a lot of television critics get. I wrote a whole blog once, making a similar declaration about how "The Voice" is vastly superior to "American Idol" and "The X-Factor" in that matter, that link is below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/01/good-on-tv-american-idol-vs-x-factor-vs.html

But not understanding the minor differences in TV shows is really, one chip off an iceberg, the real problem with television critics, is that, no matter how knowledgeable they are about television (And frankly most of them are severely lacking that) but the difference between television and movies is that, TV critics, have a choice, what to watch. More now than ever actually with the continuous growth in internet television. You see, with movie critics, ideally, you want as little choice as possible regarding what you watch. You watch, whatever's available and in town that day, and you attend any/all screenings available/you're invited to. Now, for critics like me, who aren't paid and do this for free, we have a little more choice, and while I exercise that, I actually strive to eliminate it as much as possible, but with television, it's inescapable. Now, granted, the Emmys have issues, especially in the voting processes and boards and whatnot, and I know critics, to some extent watch more television, and get some advantages like screeners of episodes that arrive earlier than most but it's still mostly choice. There's no possible way, anybody can watch all of television at one time, so it's almost impossible for them to really know what's the best of something or anything. Now, you can say the same thing about other awards, but you can kinda take in, enough of cinema and theater, but Tv critics they don't necessarily have the capabilities to take in the whole of television.

But let's talk about the whole of television they don't consider, 'cause they really don't take that into account (Or they don't try to anyway). Now, I consider myself, incredibly knowledgeable about television, and I'm still constantly struggling to learn about it, and I strive to learn about it, always have. I, from a very young age made it a point to study the history of television as well as modern television as much as possible. If you were gonna enjoy it, you better learn about it. Nick at Nite was television class to me, and I watched all of it, and I'll be blunt, I know more about television than most TV critics, and I know more about television than I would say I know about film. Not just any one genre either, I study everything. Sitcoms, variety, dramas, soap operas, talk shows, reality shows, instructional shows, miniseries, TV movies, news magazines,- I've probably forgotten more about game shows than most people my age have ever thought there was to learn about. I study children shows-even today, I study travel shows, infomercials, the news, sports broadcasting,- I used to write a monthly article on another website on professional wrestling, 'cause somebody thought I was knowledgeable enough on the subject to do that. As far as I'm concerned, the minute I decided to study television, it is all parts of a giant whole, and they all should be treated equally as such. Cause they're all television to me. You know what I've been watching lately? "Frank's Place". Yeah, exactly, most of you haven't heard of it, and probably many of you don't remember it; it was the last time a TV show that only lasted one season got a Best Series Emmy nomination, among many others. Now, you may asking yourselves, "Well, that's great, you've watched a lot of television, and studied it, fine, but what does that have to do with television today?" Everything! What, like reruns, aren't on television! This is something critics miss, they talk about TV shows today, as though, A, they only have the knowledge of the last ten or 15 years of television at the most, but B despite what the networks may think, they're not just competing with the other networks new programming. All this TV knowledge, if I have it, other people do to (Older people have probably lived through more of it than me, especially since television was little more than five or six channels back then), but more than that, it's still on television. They're competing still, against these shows, and most of them are good shows, many of them greater and better than the best shows on TV now, and many will stay on in reruns for years, decades, and they should. So, when a new TV show comes on, and you have to make a choice, let's simplify this for a minute and say it's only two. An average episode of "Good Times", not a special one, just an average one, maybe one of the later ones after John Amos left and a 12-year-old Janet Jackson's on there for some reason, or this new show, that, may or may not be any good, but it will take up a minimum of half-an-hour of your time to find out, and again, let me remind you, there's about 200, at least, 200, 2,000 maybe, other channels to watch as well. A show has to sell me on that level to even get me to watch. Hell, if there's nothing good on, I can pop in a "The West Wing" DVD; that's a huge aspect of television criticism, that nobody gets, if you're gonna do it, you gotta understand that the key part of television that so distinctly separates it from others and immediately too. "Is this show, good enough to make that choice, to watch it over everything else?" I know there's DVDs now and streaming and whatnot, but you know what, when your new favorite shows get cancelled after half a season all the time, that choice aspect, it becomes more important. Even without the time thing, with the internet now, you still have to make that choice, in fact you really better want to make that choice to find something on the internet. But, if you miss a movie, you can probably watch it another time; in many ways, if you miss a TV show, there's a decent chance, you'll never see it again.

That "choice" is the core of television and how often do you see that brought up in a review? Hardly ever. Cause they don't think about "the best choice", they focus only on the choices they make; the choices they "like" In almost no other field of criticism are the critics so singularly obsessed with particular programs or genres. In fact, because nobody can fill up a whole lifetime of television in their entirety (And no one even bothers trying), so instead of real critics who look at everything, we get specialist critics now. That's exactly how many places break them up. They find people who like reality to criticize reality, and people who like cable dramas to do cable, and sitcom people to do sitcoms and so-on and so-forth. Now, I was a little about specialists recently on my Stuckmann blog, because of the indication that they promoted only watching movies that you think they like and you're comfortable, but that said, it's actually good to be a specialist because, you become a go-to expert, and frankly there's a very good thing to be actually. Now, as a critic, I'm more iffy on it, because you are narrowing down your field to stuff you like the best, and when you give up a critical eye as the number one influence, and instead, makes it something you like, you become a bias opinion. A fan, really; that's what's really peppered the TV critic field, fans, and most of them simply support and promote their favorite shows nowadays. Basically, because the audience of television, watches what they like, that the critics should then be that too. So, now we got a bunch of fans as critics.

And what do these fans talk about, and how do they judge and analyze a TV show? Well, they obsess over it usually. Usually that's over-the-top for a show you like, but especially if a show you think doesn't deserve that kind of praise or attention. And how do obsessed fans analyze the TV shows they most enjoy? Episode by episode, the most frustrating and useless way possible! Now again, like specialist in a genre, there's a place for everything, and in many situations, it's good to discuss TV shows in terms of analyzing the parts, the way television series are separated and the format they tell their stories. I've done it occasionally too once in a while, I've written entire blogposts based or influenced around certain episodes of a series. But, usually it's in the terms of a larger context of either the series itself or television as a whole. Even, critics I admire, are doing these episode by episode criticisms and analyses of series nowadays. Now first of all, this is becoming horribly influential because it's really exemplifying this trend of these long-form serial shows, which, while many of those shows are good and entertaining, it doesn't make singularly for the best episodes and it's gonna lead to a lot of very good series, not surviving years from now 'cause of their lack of rerun capability, but also, you really- TV series, especially serial ones like the critics are so fond of analyzing this way-, it's not fair to judge episode by episode, 'cause you don't always know how or what they're setting things up for. Things that might not work well at the moment, might be laying the groundwork for things up ahead, and frankly, most of the time, if it's really done well, you won't even notice when it's happening until you check the reruns 3 or 4 times later. You'd be amazed how well they can do that with reality shows, much less scripted television. Now, that makes the critics try and guess what's gonna happen next, and that's annoying as fuck, but even worst than that, especially since we're really talking not about true critics but of fans of a very limiting genre, or a limited series sometimes, you're gonna move into this, unnecessary hypercritical area where you're looking at a series and wondering, "Should they have done this?" "Wouldn't it be better if they did it this way?" or "Wouldn't it be cool if these character got together?" or "If this thing happened?" or "I didn't like how my characters change?"! That last one, that when the criticism gets really bad when the fan starts trying to take possession of a series they watch, as though them as the fans and the audience, have some say in how something should go. Which is really fucked up and obnoxious. Even if they're right, and have a point when they say these things, it's the perspective they're coming from. It's a fan perspective; it's a limited perspective, and it's not really a good analysis or reflection of what really goes into producing and writing and creating a television show.

This is another thing that's sorta weird, but I know people, who've been showrunners, producers and writers of television shows, sometimes you really don't see the numerous aspects that go into constructing even one episode. It's a little different now with this cable element as well as with networks being more willing to accept these deals where they'll just creative people like a Tina Fey, Louis C.K., Aaron Sorkin, etc., they'll simply give them control in exchange for less money and let them have free reign, but there's still so much more going on. Why a character gets set up to die, why one gets set-up to leave, why certain things happen the way they do. The big bitchy thing they do is find little kitschy terms of supposed reference from the past, strangely enough, considering otherwise they don't even bother with it, to try and backhandedly insult things they don't particularly about a show. Some of these are becoming the most famous ones, "Jump the Shark" for instance, of course infamous from "Happy Days", but some of the other ones I find are built out of a weird and often unknowing and lack of knowledge about what's going on. Somebody pointed me towards one I hadn't heard before, "Creator's Pet", which, frankly, somebody showed me the list of these supposedly unlikable characters that apparently fans didn't like and were didn't die soon enough or something else that seem to frustrate them that clearly showed they never worked in television, that somehow they stuck around and were integral to the plots and stories of a TV show, because the creator liked them and did this, almost antagonistically against the fans. I've heard some bad writers (Joss Whedon, who usually gets way more critical acclaim especially from TV critics than he should) actually listened to some of this shit and purposefully tried to tweak his shows towards that audience by getting their hopes up and then squelched by a character's impending doom being unclaimed and almost taunting them. Now, frankly one of the reasons I can't stand Whedon is that he acknowledges people like this to begin with much less, even have that kind of influence in your shows, but besides that he's actually right in this instance. These are the talks and ideas of people who should have absolutely no knowledge of television, but act like they show is there's to mold and manipulate. No, it's the other way around. What your experiencing when you're watching a show, is how the show is taking them on a long journey and story and it's supposed to play the audience like a fiddle, and what we're really supposed to be looking that, is how well they do that, not only for the short term but for the long.

The more you really study this too, it shouldn't be as hard them to catch certain things, and certain things quickly that sometimes they don't do. They catch these catchphrase-y cliq-y moments, like when a show jumps a shark or something, and then jump all over that, but they miss, like how three or four episodes the most into "Homeland" that it should've been obvious that, it had a very short lifespan in terms of it, being one of the very top dramas (Unless they knew when and how to do a big 180 and re-imagine the show practically), and now they're surprised, two-three seasons later, we're debating whether it's even an Emmy contender. The whole structure of the show was limiting and short term, I mean- these critics really seem to be, of the moment, and most of the time, they seem to never look deeper. The second they think a show, even remotely goes down in quality to them, even if it's a temporary sludge, "Oh, it's jumped the shark!" or "It's not the show, not as good, blah, blah, blah!" Most of the time, they're wrong about that, 'cause the writers/creators are trying to play the audience like a piano that goes up and down and sideways through different movements and usually, soon after they're back onto it, but also it's not like the show goes really bad that quickly! Usually, when a really good or great show goes like that, it's still usually the best show on television, 'cause usually it's still that damn good. At worst, falls a little bit, and in some ways it won't ever be as great again, but they end up treating that little natural, yes natural dip, 'cause long-running shows have to have a natural ebb and flow them of their tone and flow, and have a dip after a huge moment, or else everything's a huge moment, and then you go way over-the-top and then really jump the shark the ocean, the pool and everything else, they then completely dismiss and disregard the show as though it's suddenly completely shit. It's usually not.

They're busy looking for, the next big thing, to either claim as great or trash as shit, that sometimes, they miss the real subtleties in the shows that really do distinguish these things most of the time, and they don't promote them. Or they're late promoting them like "Breaking Bad", suddenly three or four they realize "Breaking Bad" is really good! I'm people like who were on it, pretty much right away, went like, "Eh, Bryan Cranston's won the damn Emmy every year, why are you on it now?" You can't do it. You can't have a good enough, wide-ranging enough view of all of television, of all the knowledge and history of television to really encompass and grasp the best and worst of television. There's too much of it. Even when people try to narrow it down more and more they still miss it completely sometimes, and they either blindly like or blindly hate something. As I knowledgeable in television I consider myself, I do it too, that's why I don't talk review television too often, and when I do, whether it be an episode or usually I try to look at a whole series, in it's entirety or one that's been around long enough that it's basically as apart of the sociocultural landscape as most series, and even then, and frankly, the lack of conception of this, from a TV critic or a TV critic's perspective is completely bizarre. I don't know if they  even realize just how bizarre it is. It's been that way since the beginning; it's amazing what they could on three or four channels even back then. This incredible kaleidoscopic zeitgeist or art and reality clashing and colliding with each other. I watched an old "The Dick Cavett Show" the other day, it had a roundtable of Janis Joplin, like two months before she died, Gloria Swanson, who dates to the beginning of silent cinema, Margot Kidder, right at the beginning of her career, and it even had a controversial football player talking about a book he wrote about the nature of the sport and- basically something that led into the eventual discussions on safety and concussions that the sport's dealing with now, and that was 40+ years ago, and all of them, together on the same panel. Somebody had this episode on a posted collection, and posted it on Youtube. Television isn't the same as film or theater or books where you can look at each thing separately and in their own sphere, uh-huh. A TV show has to be good enough to compete with that. Not even within a genre really, dramas and sitcom reruns are against each other all the time, and against a SportsCenter and against a "Real Housewives of..." wherever the fuck, and all the other shit that's on. If you're not considering it, within entire sphere (Especially since, TV networks have to) then they're not considering it at all really. They're just talking about what they like and what they hate. They gotta really know enough how to look closer, and then really actually look closer at it. They gotta care about television, plain and simple, and frankly, every time I read a TV review of some kind, it always feels like, they look at the television as the box with tubes and lights in it that Edward R. Murrow talks about, and they don't really embrace it and it's power and the history it creates and represents. It's still the center of the room, it's still the thing you watch everyday, it's where you go for everything, it's the dominant form of media in the world, it's our greatest influence in pop culture, and the magic window to the rest of the world, right in our living room. Now, it's on our phones I guess, but still, they never seem to equate or treat it like that, and usually it's just a set-up to a punchline for most of them it seems like. Maybe I don't get it, and I'm imagining shit, but whatever this disconnect it is, between the ways that typical TV critics, approach television, it's irrevocably subpar to how, frankly I think it should be approached. Cheers and Jeers is not good enough, that's the audience, we're supposed to simply like or dislike what's on TV, not the critics. They should be critical, like everything in television beforehand is apart of the current show you're watching, which it is, and then, treat it like the power button on the remote's broken. Yeah, the audience can always turn it off, the critic shouldn't first of all, and they secondly, they oughta really embrace and study it, but they rarely do.

Friday, June 20, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "SUNSET BLVD"

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman Jr. 



“Sunset Blvd” is many things. Some call it a very dark comedy and yes, it is a satirical parody although I think the film is one of the creepiest thrillers ever made. It’s also one of the best examples of a Hollywood-In movie. These are films that make direct references to Hollywood and specific people, stars, films… These films often include cameos by many Hollywood personalities, including some you wouldn’t normally see on film. (There’s many in this film, Cecil B. DeMille most notably, but Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson, are other great silent stars, and what Hollywood smorgasbord of celebrities is there without Hedda Hopper. [Unless Louella Parsons happened to be around of course])  These are rare films, but they’re unmistakable and memorable. Recent examples would include Robert Altman’s “The Player,” (Which I just saw again a couple weeks ago, and if it were eligible yet, would definitely be in this cannon) and Kevin Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” (Which although is memorable, I probably won’t include in this cannon). As you can see, Hollywood-In films can range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and we see both in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece, “Sunset Blvd.”

From the first moments in the film, Joe Gillis (William Holden) tells us that he’s been shot three times, twice in the back and once in the stomach. The story is being told by a corpse. Then we see him as a failing screenwriter trying to get enough money so he could pay money to two guys who are after him. The scenes where he’s trying to pitch a movie script to an executive are good enough that a good movie, even a great movie can be made from scenes like these, but there’s something else in store for Mr. Gillis. He makes a wrong turn onto Sunset Blvd, and into the mansion of Norma Desmond (Oscar-nominee Glorian Swanson), an old silent film star, who has mostly fallen out of the public’s and Hollywood’s memory. She lives with her butler Max (Oscar-nominee Erich von Stroheim) and a recently deceased primate. (Very recently deceased) This place is as creepy, if not creepier than most haunted houses and castles in horror movies. Especially with the inclusion of a monkey, I can’t help but to think of Neverland Ranch, but excesses of fame and the eccentricities of artists.  Once introductions have been announced,  Norma tells Joe of a story she’s been writing, but needs a screenwriter, and after some convincing, although less than we’d think, Gillis is now going to write a movie for her comeback. (If you’re wondering where Stephen King got the idea for “Misery,” this would’ve probably have been a source material.) That’s the real subtlety to “Sunset Boulevard” the way Joe Gillis is also tempted by fame, his willingness to bend to Norma’s will, just to possibly get a script made. Some may wonder why he doesn’t just go back to Dayton and to his old newspaper job, but as Blake Edwards once recollected, about the circus guy who’s job was to walk behind the elephants and sweep up their shit, he would sing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” when he’d do it, and for many that’s not that far off, although Gillis may be somewhat conflicted when it comes to Norma.

What makes the film so fascinating from a Hollywood historian standpoint is that all the parts were basically played by people who’s lives were similar to there own. Gloria Swanson was a former silent film star, and she was in fact one of Cecil B. Demille’s favorite actresses. (It’s a minor miracle he showed up in the film because he and Billy Wilder were major rivals at the time.) When Max, Norma’s faithful butler  talks about the Hollywood past, and describes the three directors of silent films, this is a good description of his career. He was resumed to parts like this after the silent era.  Is there something great to be said about Hollywood in this film, some incredible metaphorical significance about the society of Hollywood and the delusions of fame? I don’t know, but I’m reminded of recent Dave Chappelle comments when he said Tom Cruise doesn’t just jump on a couch, and Mariah Carey doesn’t just strip on TRL, and Dave Chappelle doesn’t just go to Africa. With shows like “Access Hollywood” everywhere now, it’s no wonder that when Mrs. Desmond is ready for her close-up, she mistakes news cameras for video cameras, because in Hollywood, if you’re not on camera, you’re nowhere, even if you're house is in the 10,000 block of Sunset Blvd. (Or up on Mulholland Dr.) 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL"

ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (1973)

Director/Screenplay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder




The leader of the New German Cinema Movement,  R.W. Fassbinder, in his short life, made dozens of feature-length films, often using few locations, and techniques similar to the Neorealists or the French New Wavers. The films were increasingly bare, using only a few actors even in scenes where clearly, there probably should've been about twenty extras or so around, often using amateurs he may have been dating at the time, and would often challenge conventional norms in feature films, like he did with “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” probably considered his best, even though it only took 15 days to shoot, and according to most accounts, he only made the movie to kill time between two major projects he was between shooting. Fassbinder directed many 90-minute features that he shot quickly, but he also made the longest-feature length film in history with “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” which clocks in at over 900 minutes. During the later parts of his careers, particularly with this film, he was heavily influenced by Douglas Sirk, a fellow German filmmaker who went to America to avoid exile during WWII, and would make his reputation during the 1950s, practically inventing the suburban melodrama. I’ve written on one of his films “Written on the Wind,” the link to that Canon of Film blog is below: 



and his film “All That Heaven Allows,” was nearly directly remade into “Ali…”, and was also recently remade, even more directly and obviously by Todd Haynes with “Far From Heaven.” The story of “Fear Eats the Soul,” (which is the correctly translated title, the “Ali” part was added for foreign releases) involves an older woman, a widow in her 60's, Emmi (Brigitte Mira) who walks into a bar one night to get out of the rain. Ali (El Hedi Ben Salem), muscular, handsome Moroccan mechanic, about late 30's-early 40's. asks her to dance. (“Ali,” isn’t even his real name, it’s just a shorthand name he’s called) They fall in love, and eventually get married, despite clear and obvious objection from both sides, with her family and friends turning on her, and his Arab friends feeling disappointed he didn’t decide to be with one of them. More complications arise after the majority of their acquaintances begin gradually accepting them as a couple, and Ali begins hanging around the bar at nights. His affair, is more of a reflection of missing his homeland, than it is out of not being in love anymore. Emmi's family and co-workers eventually begin to grow to accept Ali, but their complicated feelings towards foreigners in Germany continue to arise. Emmi even participate in trying to get a Yugoslavian fellow cleaning lady fired, fearing her job could go. (You can see a new generation of the immigration perspective on Germany nowadays in the works of directors like Fatih Akim nowadays)  “Fear Eats the Soul,” was re-imagined in a short film made years later called “Fear Eat Soul,” about an actor getting beat up before going to do a stage version of the film. Today, “Fear…” remains one of Fassbinder best love stories, one about the struggle to remain in love, and the difficulty in others acceptance of that love. While Fassbinder did like nudity and kitsch eroticism, and from his early political films to his later works, Fassbinder used realistic characters to tell stories that cross lines of culture, race, age, and sex.  That’s one thing that’s good about the New German Filmmakers, they were all distinctive filmmakers, you never confused Fassbinder with Herzog, or Wenders or any of the others; they’re simply just great filmmakers who made great movies because they loved making movies.  Or maybe with Fassbinder's case, seemed possessed to make them, probably 'cause he knew he didn't have much time. You can look up Fassbinder's life yourself; his death or a drug overdose shortly after his last film "Querelle", was the culmination of a lifelong amount of stress, sadness and sorrow, and each film is a reflection of a part of him. (You can look up Roger Ebert's Great Movie Review for more on Fassbinder's life, especially the tragic story of El Hedi Ben Salem, who was his lover during and after "Fear Eats the Soul")  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

FILM CRITISM: THOUGHTS ON THE ART AND CRAFT ITSELF, AND SELF-DEFINITION IN LIGHT OF CHRIS STUCKMANN'S VIDEO!

(NOTE: Much of this blogpost was first published/written previously in the Facebook group, "Cinema Discussions".)

Chris Stuckmann's name has popped up surprisingly often lately in a few of the Facebook film groups I'm apart of and promote my blog in. I've known about him and numerous other video film critics for awhile, as well as numerous other critics through this little segment of the blogosphere we populate, the film buffs I mean. I usually don't mention them, for mostly selfish reasons as I'd rather you all be under the impression that nobody else other than my voice and opinion is remotely valid, good, more correct or comparable compared to my own superior one, but for the purposes of this article, we're gonna fanciful presume that that's not necessarily the case, and discuss film criticism itself, in light of one of Stuckmann's latest video about, film criticism actually. And come to think of it, we never really discussed film criticism in general on this blog either, and this is actually a decent way to get into that, and I've noticed with me, there's certainly-, I do think there is a gap with some of you, between my perspective on film and film criticism, and my intended audience, some of you, but also with other similar critics in my similar position, or better even. And I never really discuss this much here, what is my perspective and my point of view. If somebody asks, I'll mention why I do things a certain way or think a certain way, but mostly I just throw myself on here, whatever myself is that day, and longtime readers will know it varies wildly, and just, let it exist for your consumption, and I expect you all to consume it, without really explaining or putting into context sometimes, in terms of myself, and how and why I look at things the way I do, and possibly because-, in fact in certain cases, I know, this has gotten lost in translation with certain people, and this might be a good time and place to really go into that a little bit more thoroughly than perhaps I should at times. So, this is gonna be, one of those times essentially, and we're gonna do that a bit, in light of Stuckmann's piece, which other critics also contributed too btw.

The only other thing I'll mention is that I do subscribe to Stuckmann, as well as numerous other reviewers, I don't usually watch or read them though, I usually subscribe to others, mostly 'cause they're competition and I want to see what they're doing and keep up, or doing something completely, etc. etc.; I have seen a few of Chris Stuckmann's pieces; I liked his reactions to the Oscar nomination videos in the past; I had the exact same reaction he did when "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" got nominated for instance, which was funny as hell, and I like his look at action movies, that said, generally I don't watch his videos often, and while I don't dislike him and I admit he's certainly a critic who's opinion I at least, find curious to hear about and is fairly knowledgeable about film, and certain films and genres more than others, he's not a critic that I particularly follow or look up regularly, while a lot of what I have seen of his, I think is good, including this video especially, he not somebody who I would say is a favorite critic or anything of that nature. If somebody mentions him in passing, I might look him up that week, but other than that, he's not a name, that would jump into my head, if I recommending a critic to somebody. Certainly nothing against him by any means, but he's not somebody I consider special either; so that's my view on him. Alright, let's take a look at his Youtube video that we'll discuss. Some of you may have already seen it.



Okay, well first of all, I pretty much agree with most everything Mr. Stuckmann he most says about criticism. Most of it in fact, is pretty much the same way I look at film, and how I approach criticism, the only point I would make is that for every rule that he mentioned, there are exceptions. Everyone has exceptions, not all reviews are gonna be the same, and something I don't think he connected a bit was that, a lot of that has to do with your voice. He makes good points about the voice of a critic, but a lot of times when I break with those, or go about them is a more unusual, a lot of the reason is because I'm using a different voice to filter my thoughts on a movie through. People think a bit about actors who do this like pull out a character or a voice for a blind audition, but writers have to do it, especially a screenwriter like me, too, you have to constantly be thinking, "How this character thinks and does things differently than this character", so as writers, you create those characters, and take a grab from influences to do so, and you keep a few of those characters in your back pocket in your back pocket. For instance, when I want to be, the moody, float above the crowd aloof film critic in my review, and often I am, it's because the movie made me. (I also sorta disagree with Stuckmann that that perception is necessarily a bad thing.) Like my review of "Upstream Color" where I trashed the film and then mentioned that I was looking at the computer screen next to me, 'cause the movie made me do that. That's showing you my reaction to the film, by what it made me do, 'cause a truly great film, I don't care how high your critic blinders are, it will penetrate them. That doesn't mean you come in with them, sometimes you do though, and you should be honest about that too. That goes back to his point about Siskel saying, "I felt," and stuff like that. If I'm angry enough to pull out my ranting, raving character at a movie, and that's the best way I feel literally and emotionally my reaction to a film, to make my point across, than I will. Now again, I repeat these are the exceptions, these are the 1 out of 100s or whatever exceptions to that, but it's all about trying best to write and express your opinions, and that is the ultimate struggle of a critic. This is how I like to compartmentalize it and that works for me; it doesn't work for everybody. Most of the time, he's right, synopsis, opinions, positive, negatives, if a film has them, a little bit film theory and analysis if you think it's worth your time, and again, you start with those basics and then expand from there to include most everything you want to say or write about a film.

The positives and negatives for instance, I don't completely agree with. That's good in certain cases, that also could be dissecting a film too much and sometimes the overall impact is more important than the sum of its parts, and I think it's more relevant too. A lot of movies can have lots of things good or bad with them, and still, overall be the opposite of that, and I think if we're giving a movie it's day in court, the first thing we should consider is the whole movie, then perhaps look at the parts.

Now other than that, it's obvious that Mr. Stuckmann did this video, in a large part because of his frustration with written critics who write their reviews and video critics who post their reviews. Well, first I will say that Stuckmann and some of his guests are definitely, some of the better video reviewers out there, for many of the reasons discussed. He's right, for me, it's not that I look down on video critics, but they are two different things. Roger Ebert's written reviews were very different than how he and Siskel/Roeper discussed on camera. For one thing there's a back-and-forth (Which I personally decided I'm not even gonna try video unless there's two people and someone with me, 'cause I think these solo ones, even at their best, don't play well to me. You need a tennis match, not the announce calling 15/Love, and the rest of the scores, to me anyway) but there's also a shorthand. They're discussing, arguing about the film, not so much getting into the analytical. Video should be where the 500 words of passion it takes me to write down should be expressed in a few facial expressions and 2 or 3 intelligent quips and blurbs, and frankly they're so different in my view that I wouldn't even compare them actually.

I mentioned that he's right about style and he's especially right about grades. The only reasons I use 5 STARS is because, it's simple, and most people understand it and I don't have to think too deeply about it. Frankly, if I can afford to use the thumbs, I'd use that, 'cause that's better. It's the most eloquent way of saying yes or no, ever invented and it sucks that we can't use them. I hate it when they're too complicated like even "What the Flick", using a 0-10 scale, with decimal points, so 110, different scores they can give a movies, or the overly complex systems some bloggers and critics have; that's way too extensive and dumb. I would add, keep it as simple as possible, especially since they really can be a pain in the ass sometimes.

I disagree with him about critics feeling above everyone. Frankly, I wouldn't write if I didn't believe at some level that I had a certain point of view and a certain amount of knowledge that put my perspectives above most peoples. That doesn't mean we're not having fun or aren't fans, quite the contrary, to me, that perspective is perfectly fine and in fact better than most, "WHEN YOU CAN BACK IT UP," with actual knowledge and intelligent analysis. It's when people act like that, without the passion or even and understanding or knowledge of what they're talking about (Rex Reed) is when I get upset. I also think the extreme opposite is just as bad, if not worst the "fan" or "fanboy" perspective that I can't stand most of the time, 'cause it's a completely bias opinion; you're already confessing fandom, and you're basically gonna like or go see certain things more than others. I don't get that opinion what-so-ever in fact. Even when there are good critics who come from that perspective and concede that perspective, to me, that means you're giving preference as your top analytical tool as oppose to critical analysis, and if you're not gonna look at film critically, then why are you a critic? You're just a guy talking about the films you love/hate at that point. Also, the fact that somebody would go out of their way, especially when they aren't getting paid to write or do a video review, should already tell you they're fans and it shouldn't be something that's reiterated as the perspective. How you view a movie has to be more than that.

That's the other thing that frustrates me, this "everyman" perspective that most of the critics here seem to take, "Talking with friends about film", and this might annoy and piss some people off about me, but I'm not that everyman. I was the smartest kid in the class, whether I actually was or not, and most of my life when people asked me what I thought, it was because I was the one that saw it a different way than everybody else, and looked at it differently. I didn't talk about films with anybody, they talked by themselves about films (or anything really)  and then they turned to me and said, "Settle this for us?" or "What do you mean that didn't work or we're wrong about this?" and I'd be the one correcting, and pointing things out and most of the time by the end they'd realize, "Oh, so that's how to do it, or that's what that was and that why...-" That was me! The guy who suddenly spoke up and everyone rethought everything they thought they knew. So this more, relaxed friendly, average man perspective, I don't get that at all. If I didn't know, then in all likelyhood nobody knew. (That wasn't true most of the time, there was often somebody I knew was smart that me, who would know, but I was always asked about it first, and that was the perception.) That said, Stuckmann's right about being influenced by other reviewers, and I can do that too at time, but- there's a difference between evolving as a film viewer and appreciating something you might not have understood at first, but to completely change opinion based on a critic's though, that's- yeah, I hate that. I hated playing that role, and when I come out with a thought-provoking passionate view on a film, I want people to bounce back at me when they disagree. You have no idea how pissy it is for me, being able to sway many people that greatly, 'cause it means, I was thinking, and hardly anyone else thought at all; that's frustrating! That's the "everyman" to me, the people who come up occasionally to me, and wonder what I think, but then either disregard when I actually show I can think, or because fascinated with how I actually can think and suddenly they're looking at me like I'm some sort- I don't know what, but I'm trying to get others to keep up and challenge me, make me think, make me feel something I haven't already felt or thought!- I get more of that from the films than everybody else most of the time. If I can be this intellectual and this passionate about a film to get these thoughts and opinions across and bash a movie someone might love or whatever, convince me with the same passion and thoughts that I put into it, only do it better, challenge me! The smarter we are, the more we want to be challenge 'cause most of the time, we aren't, and that sucks, and it makes us feel that we are more correct about the films, and about everyone else and the "everyman", the "fan", whatever you want to call it. That's what that perspective is to me, this really undesirable anti-intellectual perspective, that doesn't appreciate when people who strive to be better than others and themselves and actually tries to help them out, and instead, ironically I'm often the one called "pretentious" for this, and I think that's insane, they're the pretentious ones? Aren't they, I pour my heart and guts into everything, and they disregard, make fun of it, says something like "Well, that's your opinion?" I come in with full guns blazing, and then I get treated like my water pistol's empty? That's my experience, with the "everyman", and I'm like, "Dude I just shot you!" You gonna act like it didn't do anything? At least shoot me in the head and prove that I missed you completely like in "Pulp Fiction", instead of just going about like I don't understand, when I do everything I can to understand more than anybody. That's pretentious, to be so gleefully disregarding of a view like that.

Scott Mantz is right about the "checking the reviews after we watch movies" more, that's actually a very good description of what film criticism has become; I think even moreso for critics strangely as well as the public. I don't know if that's a good thing, I love reading the newspaper and the local alternative rags for the critic reviews, (That's part of why I post them all at once, to emulate a Friday paper with a bunch of reviews in fact) so I think that's a little tricky because I think critics should be the first way we hear about a movie, because we're the ones who, take the bullet. We spend our lives informing everybody, this is good, this is bad, etc., so you guys don't have to waste your money on films you might not even like. That's my goal, if I can make one person, watch something they wouldn't or keep as many people away from something they would've dived into blindly, save them from ruining two precious hours of their life, that's part of it. Why we do this, so that should be more prominent, and I wish it were.

I don't agree about Alicia Malone' point about not seeing movie you don't think you'll like it, especially as a critic, and on the same token, the reviewer vs. critic debate, they are two different things but again, reviewers I file into the same boat and fanboy critic and everyman critic. You should try to watch everything. Admit your biases when you have to of course, but don't let that be a factor in regards to what you view and review 'cause then you're just a fan who watches what he/she likes. I don't want to write about films that suck either (Or films that are average and boring which is worse than the ones that simply suck, 'cause at least that kind of hatred is emotional) but I think you need to continually expand yourself and advocate that, if you can. Being a specialist is one thing, I actually admire a lot of classic film blogs and critics myself, and even you've determine be limiting that's one thing, but you should still promote watching as much as you can, 'cause you can miss so much by doing that, you have no idea, literally, if you don't see it, you'll never know if you would've liked it or not. So you gotta try to watch everything, what you want and what you don't. To me, that's a critical difference, a reviewer will watch what he/she wants/likes and a critic will watch what he doesn't want to or doesn't like. Not because he wants to bash something either; he does it mostly 'cause he hopes he's wrong if anything.

So, those were some of my thoughts after Stuckmann's video, and as you can see, there's-eh.- there's a lot I had to say 'cause I think I needed to elaborate my position and clear up a few things, for you, my audience, as well as my own sense of self, really, 'cause obviously, I wouldn't even mention this, if I didn't think it was worth mentioning and exploring and I certainly believe it is, not just because, it is a good guide on film criticism how one and others should go about it, (And btw, people should look up that "Siskel & Ebert on Film Criticism" video he mentions a few times, I've seen it multiple times as well, that's a great guide as well) , it's also a very good video, but I do have, very distinct differences of viewpoint as most these other fellow critics of mine, and I always did, and I want to promote that actually, 'cause that's what I am. I'm not a fanboys, I'm not an everyman, I don't want to simply talk about film with you guys like I'm your friends, or whatever that means. This is how I am, and it's not gonna be the preferred perspective of going about film criticism for everybody, which is a shame 'cause I want everyone to read and be influenced and interested by what I write, but I can't make everyone read it yet. (I'm certainly working on it, as well as other plans for world domination, but obviously it's not there yet) And also because I don't think my view is as prominent right now as Stuckmann or Schmoes, and I want it to be, and I want to express why my perspective and others like mine is also valid, if not moreso than others. This very analytical and intellectual perspective that I have, that has a lot of sides to it as well, and isn't the cliche aloof, film-hating critic that some people perceive us to be, and really explain this point of view, in a way that other can understand and appreciate if not necessary agree with this perspective, and why people like me and others actually prefer it to other kinds, and I'll be blunt, I think it's better than most of the other perspectives I see out there.

So maybe that's what I have to give, and I've given it; maybe my viewpoint will change later, but I don't think it will for awhile.