Monday, June 9, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #89: "BIG BAD WOLVES", "RUSH", "THOR: THE DARK WORLD", "ENOUGH SAID", "THE PURGE", "AFTERNOON DELIGHT", "METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER", "GIRL MOST LIKELY", "THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL", "AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY", "LET THE FIRE BURN", "RED OBSESSION" and MORE!

I'm sure most of you are all on Tonys hangover like I am today, and as always the most fun and entertaining of award shows, showed why it was again this year. Hugh Jackman, awesome. Neil Patrick Harris, wow. I gotta "The Music Man" too sometime, that was amazing with L.L. Cool J and T.I. really cool. Other than, we're basically paying attention to a few celebs in critical condition right now, one Tracy Morgan, the great actor/comedian from "30 Rock", in a New Jersey hospital tonight with numerous broken bones after a really bad car accident, killed one of the passengers in his limo and injured others. Very dire situation there, and another strange one that I have to keep mentioning 'cause the soap opera is so sad and bizarre but Casey Kasem, found, in critical condition but aware, last checked in a hospital bed, I feel so sorry for him, 'cause his family,- I don't know every detail of the backstory, but the fighting and courtroom battles over him, the great legendary disc jockey, plus he was a voice on "Scooby-Doo" to most of you, just bizarre his current situation. Ugh. So ugly, I feel so sad for him, having all this bickering over his days, so sad.

Anyway, the Large Association of Movie Bloggers have just finally announced that the LAMMYs will be taking place in the Fall. I, of course, being the best film blogger on the internet, (Unexpected applause) thank you, thank you, expect to win, but recognizing that the LAMMY's have historical been purposefully ignoring us for the Award before, and since I got a lot of slack last year from many for that famous blog I wrote where I revealed my ballot and went off on the LAMMY's and many of my fellow nominees, I've decided that this year, particularly fascinated, one way or another, whether I win or not, as oppose to last year. Instead however, I will be accepted bribes. I want to make this, absolute clear so no one misunderstands, I will personally promote and vote for only those bloggers who have enticed and induced me so, through payments of some kind, preferably money or women, and we will accept Euros. Even if that means, me, not voting for myself, for the awards that I should clearly win, I will vote against myself, if I have not bribed myself as much as other bloggers have bribed me. That's not exactly a high bar to jump over bar, btw, I really don't have that much money or women to bribe myself with. I will try, but honestly this is very much not a situation where I would have any advantage, so please, don't forget that my votes will only come from bribing this year. Or if no one bribes me, if you're a relatively decent friend of mine, I may vote for you as well. A relatively decent friend of mine, who gives me money and women however, has a much stronger chance of getting my vote this year. So be prepared.

Okay, now that that's been announced, let's get to this week's edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


BIG BAD WOLVES (2014) Directors: Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado

✰✰1/2



One of two different films I'm discussing this week that center somewhat around the idea of torture, along with "The Purge", the more artistic and thoughtful, "Big Bad Wolves", became famous after Quentin Tarantino called it the best film of last year (It didn't get a U.S. theatrical release 'til 2014). I'm not surprise by Tarantino's choice, the movie is certainly influenced by his style, and finding that influence in an Israeli film is particularly noteworthy. The film begins with cops getting caught by a cell phone camera, torturing, and arguing about torturing a suspect in a slew of child rapes and murders that's going around. The suspect, a suspicious teacher, Dror (Rotem Keinan), is released after word gets out, and his lack of a confession and evidence. Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) is a bit of a rogue cop, although he's the one who was leaning against torturing Dror, he's still convinced of his guilt, and insists on staying on him, until he's suspended when the video his the web. Right as he's about to take matters into his own hands, someone beats him to it. Gidi (Tzahi Grad, who looks somewhat strikingly like Dror at one point) is the father of one of the victims, and has kidnapped both Dror and Micki, and taken them to a very out-of-the-way cabin, and begins inflicting a more maniacal and thought-out revenge form of torture onto Dror. The differences between the police abuse, is striking. One's more improvise, informal, out of frustration and anger, not the pre-planned thought-out and disgusting and vengeful uses of poison, blowtorches, power tools, among others in "Big Bad Wolves". The title coming from the fairy tale of course, as this journey into the woods, disturbs Micki, and certainly Dror, is frustrated by it. The last half of the movie is the long, prolonged torture sequence, and frankly, I just can't find the real entertainment value in these ruthless excessive pieces of violence. Once we get the idea, we get beaten down with it again and again and again. We got some of this better in last year's "Prisoners" a much better albeit overrated film, also about a parent who's lack of ability to wait for the police to act as his daughter's missing causes him to go overboard with his approach to his own brand of justice, and leads to one horrible mistake after another. I think what bothers me about these movies, is that they seem to think, the continuous repetition makes the point get across stronger, especially of the violence and the torture, but actually it usually just disturbs the audience, especially when in "Big Bad Wolves" it's essentially the plot, as oppose to "Prisoners" where it was only a part of a complex story. We'll watch people torturing other humans, especially if they may deserve it, but it's gotta lead to something more. That in of itself, is not entertaining. There's almost enough outside of the torture scenes, to transcend them but not enough for me to recommend. The film really just keeps devolving and devolving as it goes on, so as it goes on a downward trajectory, so do I. An interesting film from interesting filmmakers, but overall, not a good one.


RUSH (2013) Director: Ron Howard

✰✰✰✰✰




Something that Ron Howard never gets credit for as a director is how he is an expert when it comes to telling a story through the details and minutia of the world, especially when it involves either cars or mechanics. I touched on this a bit in my review of "The Dilemma", how cars is actually a motif of Howard's, in that film, the characters were designers/mechanics who were building a car who's engine sounded more like a classic car's engine, but in a more modern and green-conscious car, and how this refers back to his very first feature, "Grand Theft Auto" about demolition derby, but it even goes beyond cars. The wonderful technical work when showing Russell Crowe's thought processes in "A Beautiful Mind", or the paced way we get to enjoy ever little detail of those moments of going to the moon, like the ice cracking off as the rocket goes up, or even the less glamorous moments, of showing how the helmets and gloves of the astronaut suits get put on. He's fascinated by the mechanics, and in turn, he uses them to tell a story, and this attention to the minor details makes "Rush" arguably his greatest achievement, if not that, I bet it's one he considers his favorite. For those fans of Formula-1 racing, the story might be familiar to you, it focuses on the rivalry being British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austria Nikka Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), complete opposites who happened to be the best at their very dangerous sport at the same time, as they battle for the '76 Formula-1 Cup. Both come from rich families who didn't particularly agree with their mutual career choices, but that's where the similarities seem to end. Hunt's the arrogant risktaker, who loves the spotlight and who's marriage to Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) goes south as neither's demons are good for each other and she leaves him for Richard Burton. Lauda's a technical master, who works at eliminating risk as much as possible and wins races through skill over speed, and impresses his wife Marlena (Alexandra Maria Lara) with his practical and intellectual approach to life, racing and love. The story itself, strangely is probably the weakest part of the film and the script from the great Peter Morgan, but what really separates the film is the details. There's a subtle story at the edges of the frame, about just how reckless and deadly the sport is, and even worst, the way the sport was run, almost intentionally to promote it's death-defying nature, often allowing for races to be run in horribly unsafe conditions, and on unsafe tracks, in order to see them cheat death (or not) as much as they are to race. I had a friend who attended the IZOD IndyCar World Championship, which was supposed to be the first IRL race at the Last Vegas Motor Speedway, but was cancelled after a 15-car crash less than a dozen laps into the race killed former IRL and multiple-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. It was determined after that the track, known for it's annual NASCAR races shouldn't have been clear for IndyCars to race, and they've since cancelled all future planned races they had for the track, and have no plans to return. Howard's goal is to show the kind of sport Formula-1 was at the time, and how to was run then (And to some extent  how it's still run now out of the remnants of that era.) the league and the races, and this is what really separates the film. Not only is this some of greatest car racing scenes in cinema history, but the editing, the production design, getting and recreating the cars and the tracks, and getting the era right, the amazing cinematography by Anthony Dodd Mantle, these technical arts that recreated the era, and the way he shot this film, are spectacular, first class filmmaking. It's truly amazing that they actually went to such lengths to recreate this world, and still manage to do it in a way that still makes it feel like it's accompanying, and is apart of telling the story, and not just showing off the incredible work. This is the kind of film that shows just how talented Ron Howard actually is as a director revealing all of his abilities without simply showing them off. It really might be his best directing achievement so far, incredibly impressive filmmaking on every level here. Really special film. A great story that's nothing particularly new on the surface, but still feels fresh, and it's told amazingly well.


THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013) Director: Alan Taylor

✰✰



The first "Thor" was a visually thrill that created a new world where mythology came alive. Now "Thor: The Dark World", seems simply reliant on the on the CGI to force a story through. No longer is the bright visual spectacular, just a lot of dark, dreary effects nowadays. You'd think with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned after trying to destroy New York, and Earth, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Asgard a couple times, you'd think Asgard would be back to it's bright luxuriousness of before, but Asgard's now a Dark World, after Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) returns after years earlier being captured by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after trying to reverse matter and anti-matter, which is used through some kind of weapon which creates, essentially a black hole that sucks his enemy in a transport them, somewhere. Sometimes to another location simply, others, who knows. These incidents and disturbances have been noticed on Earth as Prof. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) has recognized them, and has caused him to run naked around Stonehenge searching for something. While he's in prison, and check out my a team of psychoanalysts, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has capture the thing that causes Malakith to started escaping and attacking, searching for the power and in the malay kills Loki and Thor's mother Frigga (Rene Russo- Wait, that was Rene Russo! Holy fuck! I didn't even recognize her. Was she in the first one too?) in the melee. With the first film, the appeal was with how the majesty of Asgard, was a culture clash for Thor as he arrived on an advanced but utterly unappealing Earth. The magic vs. Science, brightness vs. cold, love and mortality vs. kingdom and immortality. But none of these conflicts seem really present or important now. Instead, we get a rather expected and cliched story of Loki and Thor reluctantly teaming up to try and destroy this greater threat, and in fact, the Earth segments if you think about, how necessary were they even? I think this whole film could've practically taken place in Asgard, with just Thor, lonely, checking in on Jane Foster and the others. Almost arbitrarily does she get brought up to Asgard, and Thor gets brought down to Earth this time. No S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, no majesty, hardly any fun really. Different director this time, as Alan Taylor takes the place of the great Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh, who made the first "Thor" larger than life, as a story about Gods and siblings fighting should be, while instead, of her, Taylor, who's best work over the years has come from directing television, has made this film, seem small and overwraught, like it wasn't sure how to handle the two-sided nature of "Thor". We seemed to go from Shakespeare, to- well, just another bland superhero film.


ENOUGH SAID (2013) Director: Nicole Holofcener

✰✰✰✰1/2



Fated to be remembered as much for it being James Gandolfini's last (and rare) starring role in a feature film, Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said", curiously feels almost like, her first straight-ahead romantic comedy. She's always had characters struggling with love and relationship, but she was usually more focused on the world around them and how that effects the relations or attemtped relations of her characters. That's still here, but strangely it's not as predominate, perhaps because of the subtle theme of loneliness and in particular, empty nest syndrome that's all the characters share. Well, technically are about to. All the adult characters in the film are divorced, single parents with daughters about to leave for college in the fall. If that doesn't sound believable to you, than you probably weren't that involved in the PTA or other school activities over the years. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in a rare lead film role for her too curiously enough) is a masseuse who drags her massage table from place-to-place, listening to the problems of the privileged, rich and shallow all day looking down at them and messaging those auras and whatnot. Her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) is heading off to Sarah Lawrence in the fall, and she's often the third wheel to her friends Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone) and a substitute aunt to Ellen's friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson) who occasionally would rather come to Eva for the more practical advice her mother. At one of those dreadful parties she's dragged along to, she finds nobody attractive, but does meet-and-greet to promote her business
and she finds one client in a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener), and she also meets a fellow single parent, Albert (James Gandolfini), who a mature mother who's seen it all, knows that despite being overweight and not particularly attractive, he's a good catch because they click personality-wise and he's struggling with a belligerent ex-wife, and a somewhat snobby daughter Tess (Eve Hewson) who's heading to Parsons in New York in the fall. He's a curator of a TV preservation library, and Gandolfini brings a surprise complex romanticism to the role. Ironically, the movie's most contrived part, the romantic-comedy aspect of how it turns out, Marianne and Albert are each other's ex, is done well but frankly I preferred the ups and downs of Eva and Albert's relationship seemingly without the extra little detail, but, ultimately it's a smart and observant, adult romantic-comedy, made by somebody who we expect nothing else, although ironically, this straight rom-com from her is quite unique and impressive from her, and the details are much more complex, and inevitable reveal, and contrivance are actually believe. A very smart film from a very smart filmmaker, one of her best in a while actually; a good story about smart adults struggling to get their lives together.


THE PURGE (2013) Director: James DeMonaco




I don't know exactly how the guy who originally wrote "Jack", would eventually end up creating this ugly and nausea-inducing and cringe-creating film, but whatever it was, it led to "The Purge". "The Purge" is a bit like Mardi Gras if it was conceived by Tyler Durden. A sick love-child of Shirley Jackson and "Battle Royale", in a diluted cult-like 21st Century America. The movie is obviously a metaphor for the ways in which trickle-down economics has lead to the genocide of the America poor and middle class, or whatever the hell you want it to be about, it's some form of how the elite can get away with murder or anything else because they're rich and how everyone else is fucked, just taken to an extreme celebratory level. In the future, in order to curb violence, or whatever f---ed up reason is given, basically a night called "The Purge" is allowed where all crime is legal for that one night, in order to calm all violent urges, almost like a religious cleanse, the kind that might involve masks and dark robes, but strangely no sex. (Ugh, I don't normally dislike genres but these violence replacing porn type films, ugh.) Naturally, the rich are the most terrified of the purge of the people, and they stack up on the great and most up-to-date security measures. James (Ethan Hawke) has become one of the haves, and upper class by selling those most elaborate systems to the richest of the rich. There's much debate, but obviously, James believes, almost religiously in "The Purge", because of whatever ugliness the world before "The Purge" was imposed. His family, is more divided on it. His wife Mary (Lena Headey) is mostly protective, as most mothers are. His daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is a typical unresponsive angry teenage daughter, nothing surprising there, including the moron older boyfriend, Henry (Tony Oiler) who chose the night of the purge to sneak into the house and confront James about dating his daughter. The young son, Charlie (Max Burkholder) is the one with the most sensitivity, and allows a bleeding and dying man, (Edwin Hodge) to find sanctuary in the house, despite objections in the house, and from the rich Alex De Large wannabes who were chasing him, trying to murder him because he's a homeless poor black man, and because it's for fun, I guess. "The Purge" is short, but that's about the best I can say about it. After a while, with nowhere else to go, it basically goes into "Straw Dogs" territory, where they must protect the house and themselves from the outside world. I don't know, I just found the whole thing to be a metaphoric and pointlessly unnecessary allegory. It's an extreme concept for the sake of being an extreme concept, and that's all it's there for, and there's nothing else to the movie really. Other than, maybe the supposed shock that, "Oh my, the rich upper class nice people are in fact just as perverse and murderous as the young rich upper class nice people, and want to destroy the poor and unprivileged, and- I mean, c'mon. We get it. We know this, we've thought about this, or at least I have. If this is a new ideological thought to the viewer than you're a very simple-minded viewer who hasn't been exposed to, basic economic theory I guess, or anything really. This was an idea that's been explored with more thought and nuance, forever. "Pleasantville" did an interesting take on this idea, why do I need, a bare and simplistic look at this through the prism, of, barbaric violence? Sometimes when I see a movie like this, I wonder, "Who is this movie for? Who is the audience, and who really wants to see this?" I don't know the answer, and I don't really think I want to know the people who are gonna be fascinated and intrigued by "The Purge". They're either too dumb or too bloodthirsty, if they enjoy this dreck.


AFTERNOON DELIGHT (2013) Director: Jill Soloway

✰✰1/2



I've been reluctant to review "Afternoon Delight" since I saw it, and it seems to feel more and more lacking the longer I consider and think about it. It's a strange reluctance 'cause I've been such a fan of Jill Soloway's TV work on shows like "Six Feet Under" and "United States of Tara" over the years as a writer/producer, but "Afternoon Delight" seemed a little too Nicole Holofcener but without the observant wit and thoughtfulness put into her characters. I also mentioned that a casual drunken mention by one female character saying that she masturbated to the rape scene in "The Accused" seemed a little too unbelievable to me. That revelation was from Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) a stay-at-home, late-in-life mom, who's struggling both at home with her husband, Jeff (Josh Radner) as well as her own self. Her therapist (Jane Lynch, who seems to be a go-to therapist in everything nowadays) complains as much about herself as she does listen to Rachel. Then, on a recommendation from a friend, to help their struggling sex life, Rachel and Jeff go to a strip club, where she gets a lap dance from McKenna (Juno Temple). She then begins seeking her out, and begin an unusual friendship? Acquaintanceship? I'm not sure what fascinates Rachel about McKenna so much, but she's fascinated. And she even, (Sigh) yes, tries to save her, (eye roll) by having her move into a side room under the guise of being a nanny to her kid. Oh, I should mention that she's also a prostitute on top of being a hooker. This is confusing, very confusing her fascination. Either way, through McKenna, there's changes in Rachel. More outlandish, extrovert, brash at times, yet these behavioral changes are just as mysterious to us, as they may be to her. After a disastrous evening where she, for no reason, leaves McKenna at home instead of watching some of the other parents kid, she gets asked by her husband, "What do you want?" and she can barely form an answer. It took me awhile to figure it out, but I think I know what movie this film was trying to go be a twist on. The French film "Nathalie..." from director Anne Fontaine, as well as the Atom Egoyan remake, "Chloe" both better films than this one and both of which dealt with an unhappy married woman, hiring a prostitute, in those films, she was hired to have an affair with her husband and reveal the details to her. In both those films, the wife character dearly misjudges the prostitute, and overestimates her own capabilities and ability to control her emotions. (Or understand them) "Afternoon Delight" touches on a few interesting subjects and themes, but it never dives into them believably. If the cast wasn't this good, the movie really could've been troublingly bad. It's good to see Hahn in a lead performance for once, and Juno Temple in particular is always good. Still, "Afternoon Delight" feels like a script that needed a few extra draft and maybe one layer of thought placed over it. It's got a few moments, but it's pretty hollow when you look back on it, so I can't quite recommend it.


METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER (2013) Director: Nimrod Antal

✰✰✰1/2



I'll concede to being a fan of Metallica, the legendary Hall of Fame metal band, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm a superfan of any kind. I grew up right when they transitioned from the relatively underground and cult-like kings and innovators of thrash metal or speed metal to when they strangely broke the mainstream with the self-titled Black Album that actually had multiple hits break the top 100. (I think you could argue "Enter Sandman" is practically a pop song) That said, while I'm recommending "Metallica Through the Never" as a concert film where we get a really intricate look at a live stadium performance of there's centered around Lars Ulrich's drumkit and an amazingly elaborate display of pyrotechnics and choreography where James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo move all around a basketball court-sized cross-designed stage. (And it is choreographed, there's too many pyrotechnics for them not to be somewhat preplanned where the go and end-up. [That doesn't mean it's less impressive, if anything it makes it moreso]) The music is great and the performance seems epic, despite the ridiculously unnecessary, planned Spinal Tap-like accident, 'cause the movie, between the performances, has a strange hallucinogenic plot involving a P.A./roadie type (Dane DeHaan), who's a huge Metallica fan in awe of them. He gets told that there's a truck that has stuff they need and to go get it. He goes to his van, takes a pill and then heads off to the truck, which he never gets to, as he gets in a car accident and a lot of other crazy whacked up shit, that frankly, I didn't understand and didn't care about. I know there isn't too many new or innovative ways to do a concert film, and I'm sure I probably missed a lot that Metallica superfans might understand more than I did, but frankly I just want to go back to the concert and hear them play "Fuel". So, maybe I was missing something, but that stuff was uninteresting pointless, whatever that was, but as a document on Metallica, the great musicians, band and the amazing live act they are, this is as good as anything, and it was awesome. I wasn't crazy about the planned stunt going wrong in the show, and then them continuing to play despite injuries, supposedly, either way that didn't make them look good, and the whole idea was fucked up, nor did I like how the crowd seemed cult-like, especially one planned air cam shot where all the crowd was pumping their fist in unisom, that wasn't great. Other than that though, I think if you like Metallica at all, you'll like this "Metallica Through the Never".


GIRL MOST LIKELY (2013) Directors: Shari Springer-Berman & Robert Pulcini

✰✰



Few talented directors have been floundering for years more than the team of Shari Springer-Berman & Robert Pulcini. I happened to have rewatch their "American Splendor" not too long ago, and it's still one of the most unique, inspired and innovative biopics ever made, one of the more creative and memorable films of the last decade, and now, I'm almost starting to think it was a complete fluke. I skipped "The Nanny Diaries," although I didn't hear much good about that one; "The Extra Man" was one of the most forgettable and unfunny comedies I've seen. Take out the HBO movie "Cinema Verite", they've done almost nothing of value; "Girl Most Likely" is arguably the best thing they've done in a while, and that's very disappointing. It starts out inspiring. Imogene (Kristen Wiig) is a talented playwright, who's since moved up from her Ocean City, NJ home to the upper crust of Manhattan, or so she thinks. She helped write one friend's book, Georgina (Michelle Morgan, who wrote the film's screenplay), and after one of those New York parties where she's clearly the only one who's aware of how badly she doesn't fit in. Her boyfriend breaks up with her, and in desperation, she fakes a suicide attempt in order to get him to come back. It doesn't work, but the doctors seem to really believe her suicide note, which got great reviews. Her mother, Zelda (Annette Bening) picks her up and takes her to her home, where her Mom's new boyfriend, George Bousche (Matt Dillon) is a CIA agent, and her brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald) is a houserat loner who's an inventor of things that protect him from reacting with the outside world, when not holding a crust with the glitter painter at the Boardwalk, Allyson (Natasha Lyonne) where he sells crabs. Also, her bedroom has been rented out to Lee (Darren Criss) who has some decent chemistry with Wiig. He's a singer who works as a Backstreet Boys impersonator at the Boardwalk in what has to be the single-worst Boardwalk show I've ever seen on the Ocean City Boardwalk (And I've seen quite, that's where I get my sea foam fudge and salt water taffy btw.) While she's trying to save face and regain her inspiration for playwrighting, (And btw, a lot of this material actually could've been a good play, maybe a better play than a movie perhaps) she finds out that her father, Maxwell (Bob Balaban, always great to see him) who she thought had died when she was nine, turned out to be alive, and a successful author and historian on Colonial America, writing about "The Myth of Thanksgiving" among other things, and now, she's determined to find him, as he's now among the New York Manhattan elite that she so desperately wants to be apart of, and now that she's been rejected by everyone there, it's her one real chance to get to know the father she barely knew. Then, that plays rather badly too. Or weakly is really is really the case. Wiig is doing all she can to bring depth to the character, and I actually think she did an amazing job, as did most of the cast actually. Bening and Dillon are quite good in their caricature roles, (And I foresaw the secret with Dillon's character the whole way) although I did like how Ralph's invention was used at the end, very old school slapstick callback, would've been worthy of a good play actually. It's just done rarely blah-ly here. Wiig seems smart as certain times, and unaware others. The script could've been a little sharper than it is as a whole, and seems to think it's sophisticated enough, when it really just seems to float by, without diving more into the film. Why would her mother lie about his father's death for years, or why was she so accepted than rejected, almost callously? Too many loose ends accepted as givens. Another forgettable dull effort from Springer-Berman & Pulcini, what happened to these two?


THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL (2013) Director: Fernando Trueba

✰✰✰



Spanish director Fernando Trueba's "The Artist and the Model", could be the title of, basically any film or piece of art really. One really doesn't happen without the other, perspiration doesn't happen without inspiration. This is most true here with Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort) a legendary sculptor, 80-years-old who hasn't made anything in years. His wife Lea (Claudia Cardinale) happens to spot Merce (Aida Folch) a Spanish girl bathing in a fountain one day, a refugee, escaped from a nearby camp. It's '43 and World War II, and they strike a deal for Merce to live with them and work as a model. Sure enough, this begins a strange and intimate relationship between artist and muse. She spends her day posing naked for him as he molds numerous pieces from her image. The model sparks interest in the community, some surprised and shock at the event, others intrigued, but mostly the film is about observing the relationship between artist and model, mostly through the eyes of the model who in the dastardly time of war, is fascinated by Cros, who seems to live in this other, separate world of art.One scene I liked involved Cros explaining a small Rembrandt drawing he had, and how intricate and amazing it was to her. The technique, the idea, the images, all done, in a few minutes. Just something in his mind. At a certain point, the worlds collide. Merce saves a young refugee she happens on along the road, burying a fellow one, and while a former German art friend of Cros is visiting, before fighting on the Russian front, where he'll be reassigned, he hides the refugee she brings in. "The Artist and the Model" is interesting enough to recommend. Shot in black and white, and Trueba's a good filmmaker, but it's not particularly special to me. It's almost too bare in fact, for no real reason to be. I guess that was part of the point, but it was a little frustrating. A little bit different for Trueba actually who's films usually seem more alive like "Belle Epoque" or his Oscar-nominated, "Chico & Rita", here it's very stagnant, like the statues Caro creates. From Merce's standpoint, it's a look inside the mind of an artist, but from our, it's a little bit more, observing the artist at work instead, and that is rarely if ever as entertaining.


AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF HER BEAUTY (2013) Director: Terence Nance

✰✰✰✰1/2



"An Oversimplification of Her Beauty", is anything but. It's a kaleidoscopic analytic hypothetical, philosophical examination of human emotions through numerous filmmaking techniques and styles. It's a mixture of Godardian brashness for refusing to play by the rules of conventional narrative, while simultaneously breaking down the boundaries of unrequited love, filmmaking, storytelling, as well as the relationship between subject and muse, and artist and inspiration and that blurred line between fascination and love. Simply put, it's one of the most unique films I've ever seen. It's actually two films, starting with Director Terence Nance's short film "How Would You Feel" a short which is often goes back and forth from about his secret love for a friend of his. Namik (Namik Minter, and Terence Nance plays himself in the "An Oversimplification...." part of the film.) The movie starts with that film, then physically pauses and removes the tape, and switches back, gives us explanations and analysis, and hypotheticals. Eventually this supposedly educational film turns into amazing animated sequences examining the tricky thoughts and desires of whether or trying to figure whether that friend wants to be, more than friends, and the death-defying risks involved in trying to figure that out. At one point, after the short is released, and the love is revealed, we get to see her point of view as well; we even get a trailer for Namik's film "Subtext", which was in essence, a response to "How Would You Feel". "An Oversimplification..." combines live-action, animation, narration, lots of narration, so many strange ideas in this film, all of which succeed at connection and love, and all the emotions and thoughts involved in it. It's truly a unique film. One of the most unique film experiences I've seen this year. It's really hard to fully describe, it actually plays more like an experience, in the Malick or later Godard sense of a film that just continually challenges our perceptions of cinema. It's breaking all the rule, but it's doing it in the most intriguing of ways; this is one of those rare times where the film is really doing nothing else, but trying to express an emotional cord, as oppose to tell a story or go through a plot, but strangely, it doesn't feel like a narcissistic binge of a whiny film school student, this feels like a great painting, where you can feel the emotions the filmmaker expresses in the brushstrokes as he goes, and how they range in emotions somewhat violently, from these numerous conflicted feeling he feels throughout the friendship, and the filmmaking process. A truly daring and inventively adventurous film that defies genre; this is real avant-garde cinema. Is this a documentary, is it animated, is it a love story; it's a personal expression through film, an amazing conflict of emotions and desires, a sense of what Terrence is feeling. It should be the most personal of films, and yet, like all personal, it's completely relatable.


LET THE FIRE BURN (2013) Director: Jason Osdor

✰✰✰✰1/2



Sociologists understand that, nothing happens in a vacuum. Things don't just suddenly occur, things are built up, and it's the events preceding the event, often an unintended consequence, (though sometimes it's intentional) that really is the cause or causes of those big events. "Let the Fire Burn" is about one of those events, and the numerous incidents that inevitably led to it. If you've never heard of MOVE, I hadn't either until this movie either. It was originally one of many Black Liberation groups, originally called the Christian Movement for Life and was started by a functional illiterate originally named Vincent Leapheart who renamed himself John Africa shortly after the Korean War. Twice in high school, his I.Q. tested in the mentally retarded range before dropping out at age 17. His cult-like movement, started in Philadelphia in the early seventies, and all their members took the last name of Africa, where John believed life was created. He dictated once his philosophy which became The Guidebook, and the group shunned most technology, making the kids eat raw foods only (Despite adults eating cooked food because they're used to it.) and stressed the old ways of life, and moving to a more hunter-gatherer society model, stressing how certain things are "life" like food and everything else, like the video camera wasn't. The radical group periodically had weapons but depending on perspective, they either worked or didn't, often as a symbol to protect themselves. Then, numerous incident with the police started, including one cop getting killed in a shootout, leading to numerous members convicted for murder (Members were often arrested) while another incident where officers beat up a member led to them getting acquitted, despite the incident caught on tape. Neighbors, first at their old address, which led to a year-long blockade, before they moved to Osage Street, constantly complained about them, black and white, despite the group being primarily African-American. Finally, Mayor Wilson Goode had to make a call as to whether to evict them because of their actions, which include everything from disturbing the peace through child neglect and endangerment, and when they resisted, a multi-day shootout, ended disasterous as the entire city block/complex of houses burned to the ground after police dropped a bomb from a helicopter, in an attempt to take out the bunker they had constructed on top of their house, leading to the deaths of most of the members in the house, including John Africa. One child survived, Michael Moses Ward, aka Birdie Africa, and his testimony is given on videotape in a room. The movie is nothing but old footage of the public hearings and testimonies that it dissects through, as well as old footage from the news stations, and other films of the MOVE cult, including a short film from Temple University. A few names may seem familiar. Ed Rendell, now a former Governor of the state, was the D.A. prosecuting MOVE and the police that went at them, and shows one-by-one how the teachings of MOVE and their continuous disregard for the law and neighbors and the overly-aggressive behaviors of the police, would continue to escalate, that luckily cause surprisingly limiting collateral damage considering everything. MOVE still is a group btw, and has been suspected of killing several members and former members now fight against them. "Let the Fire Burn" shows us, how the destruction of a neighborhood, didn't come in a vacuum, and details every little step, misstep, real and accidental that occurred between the establishment and the group that might've prevented this tragedy. It's close to being as evenhanded as a documentary can get, credit for first-time director Jason Osder who focused in, and took a critical eye to a piece of forgotten recent local history, that might've been as much forgotten as it is, possible foreshadowing the more devastating Waco takeover from the Federal government years later (And what might end up of the Cliven Bundy situation eventually now.)


RED OBSESSION (2013) Directors: David Roach & Warwick Ross

✰✰✰✰



You know, every once in a while, even as open-minded as I get, and how little I try to be biased at a film going in, once in a blue moon, I look at a movie on my Netflix streaming queue or something obscure from my library going "Oh, what the hell is this crap that I have to watch, now?" A documentary about how the Chinese have suddenly discovered how goof French wine is, oh this I gotta fucking watch now? (Eye rolls) I wasn't exactly looking forward to "Red Obsession" or placing it particularly high on my queue, despite the great Rottentomatoes.com score, despite not having a listed U.S. theatrical release on IMDB.com, or whatever it was that convinced me to add it in the first place, but you what, this is actually quite an interesting documentary. I'm not exactly a wine person either, but I'm certainly familiar with Bordeaux wine. French wine, of course considered the most exquisite throughout history, even today the prestige and aura of the place is amazing to look at. We see the vineyards and the luxurious locations of  Bordeaux and how their '09 and '10 harvest were both ranked as one of the all-time greatest of all-time, one year of harvest this good in a decade is exceptional, two in a year is unprecedented, but the prices in the market, just continued to get up, despite critics warning them not to, and with America in the depression, it's largest buyer was suddenly bowing out of Bordeaux wine. Now however, the new capitalistic upper class in China is fascinated with wine and has quickly become it's biggest customers. Many traveling to Bordeaux, for the wine, some starting their own award-winning winery and vineyards as well. Hong Kong auctions for rare wines often go well over a million dollars American. Even an underground imposter wine market has started building up. "There more fake '82's in China than there was the vintage," one expert says. One multi-billionaire who made his money in the sex toy industry, has a $60 million U.S. personal wine collection. It's a marvel looking at this side of China, and how they so quickly manage to embrace and engulf themselves in Western culture, and how quickly they manage to adapt to the western ways after years of living through the Cultural Revolution. I saw something amazing in this film, a time-lapsed video of a 30-story building modern building in China, being built, in 15 days! If only, we could built hotel-casinos that quick here in America. (Sure, maybe it wasn't built perfectly, as some rumors of the constructions and some recent earthquakes seem to indicate, but still cities skylines can be created in a matter of years at that rate!) The wine bubble burst naturally after more damaging weather in '11 and Bordeaux having to drop it's prices severely, but the ways in which China's seems to embrace and engulf themselves in western culture and so quickly is just amazing. It reminded me of a documentary I watched a few years ago while judging a film festival called "Follow Your Heart: China's New Youth Movement", about the rise in hip-hop music, culture and art in China among Chinese youths, and these two films, are like the two opposites of the same coin, showing just how vast and great the new opening of China in the last 40 years or so have so greatly influenced China. It's weird, they see us with the same kind of exotic feel as we often think about with the Far East like China, and their fascination with us and our culture, is probably one of the most under-reported developments in the modern world. Back in '92, much was made of how Bill Clinton was the first American president raised on rock'n'roll, and we really should be looking at modern Chinese culture the same way, and think about how 30-40 years from now, just what China's leaders will be in the future, and how we are shaping them. A surprising fascinating documentary, "Red Obsession", they've got our wine now, what else will they embrace?


THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS (1973) Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

✰✰✰✰1/2



Originally intended as a TV movie for West German television, "The Merchant of Four Seasons" is often noted as R.W. Fassbinder's breakout film internationally. It does seem to correspond to when the New German film movement of the '70s seemed to start. It's amazing how many films Fassbinder managed to make in his short career, one after another after another. This one, is simple enough on the surface, and then with a final aberration sequence makes involving the main character tied to a tree, naked and whipped over his back, do we then more elaborately think over the not-so-subtle subtext of the film. The merchant is Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller). He isn't much at first glance. He sells pears from a food truck, not particularly successfully. His wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann) doesn't think much of him, and believes he may be cheating. He did have an interest in one of his customers, but it didn't even amount to anything more than a few glances in a doorway. Then, in a drunken rage, in front of his daughter Renate (Andrea Schober) he starts beating on his wife, and she doesn't take it and asks for a divorce. You see, the Epps, most notably represented by Anna, Han's sister (Hanna Schygulla) are actually a bit of a well-to-do family, but Hans isn't interested in the family business, and would rather strike out on his own, earning disdain from them. Then, he has a major heart concern. His drinking and aggression after loses his wife have taken over, and now, he's stuck in a hospital. His wife tries to move on with her life, but she quickly realizes that her going out and dating might be doing more harm than good for Renate, especially with Hans still hospitalize. He's told he'll recover but will never be able to take another drink, and suddenly, Irm and his family, is more willing to help him out. They buy him a better food cart, and he starts selling more, and becoming a more respectable member of the family. This all culminates with a dinner scene late in a movie, when Hans, very quietly, yet forcefully acts out, taking drink after drink for each of his family, who's made him more depressed than ever. The clear symbolism is the necessary conforming to the needs of society, however small that is, like a family's expectations, of having a good job, rising up in the ranks and providing and being a good husband for your family.Some are more able to do it than others. When Renate catching Irm having sex with a married man, for instance, she herself realizes that her better desires have gotten the best of her, and that she needs to suppress them and go back to Hans for the good of the family, a price she's willing to pay. Hans of course, didn't have, even that option, hence his actions are even more out of despise with them and self-hatred. It's a good early film from Fassbinder, although I normally prefer the more emotional and caring films, where he seems to like and admire his characters, especially female one, like in "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" or "The Marriage of Maria Braun" or "Veronica Voss". All his films deal with troubled characters fighting through their emotional desires for happiness versus success at the outside world. "The Merchant of Four Seasons" is about one who lost that battle. They're very good if not enjoyable, but of course, we realize now that Fassbinder is probably one that lost that battle too.


Post a Comment