Friday, July 18, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #91: "FROZEN", "AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY", "THE BOOK THIEF", "JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS", "THE COUNSELOR", "DISCONNECT", "CARRIE (Peirce)", "DEVIL'S KNOT" "THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE", and MORE!

I deeply apologize for the lateness of this latest blog, and hopefully in the future I won’t be so overdue. This was unexpected and due to reasons beyond my control and couldn't be helped. I understand that, this has been happening at more regular intervals than I would prefer, and I hope you all understand that I do not wish this to happen, but unfortunately, it has been,- rough, and I can’t promise that blogs won’t be delayed in the future, but every effort will attempt to be in order to prevent that from happening again.

Well, frustration aside, we have realized that despite some of our erratic and inconsistent postings, that it hasn’t kept you, the readers from seeking out and finding us, and if you’ve followed our FB or Twitter accounts, (And if you aren’t shame on you!) some of you will know that last week, just two days before our fourth anniversary, we hit a major milestone. We got our 100,000th HIT! Yes, officially you readers, have come to our page, 100,000 times! We’re deeply honored and grateful. This has been an amazing journey and we’re just excited more than anything by this development. It is not easy to get this many hits, in the old days, we were amazed when it took us six months to get to 1,000, and now we’re getting that a week. A slow week in fact. That’s both inspiring and humbling to know, that this simple blog has garnered so much support and readership. We’re a long way from stopping at this moment, and we will continue to provide intellectual, thoughtful and observant analysis and criticisms of the film, television and the entertainment world.

And that continues, right now. Here’s the latest edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! 


FROZEN (2013) Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee


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Not thinking or paying too much attention to the critical acclaim, reviews and awards beforehand, I didn't expect much going into "Frozen," but then it started with one of the strangest openings of a Disney movie I can remember. A montage of workers, singing a downtrodden working song, even downtrodden for the same company the once did "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, We're Off to Work We Go", and it certainly doesn't feel like a start for their film, but it did feel familiar. All the songs had this air of familiarity, and not because a few of them were on the radio. To give a film like "Frozen" 5 STARS, and then to do what I'm about to do and say that the film isn't perfect, is to fully understand the difficulty in what their trying to do with this film. Most of the musicals that Disney has made, were influenced from classic movie musicals. From Busby Berkeley to Gene Kelly, that was always the core, but lately, first with "Beauty and the Beast" and most famously "The Lion King", they were adapting those movies to Broadway, for theatrical productions, and they must've learned the story structure and conventions of the Broadway musical by now, but more importantly, instead of taking the films and transferring them to the stage, they've taken the stage and transferred it to the film. That's why the beginning and many of the numbers look and feel like "Les Miserables". Suddenly, I wasn't keeping an animated film on in the corner of my eye, I was fascinated by this new piece of inspiration, one of many new sources of inspiration in Disney's "Frozen". The story too, is  a bit of a departure from Disney, as it's about two sisters, Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) an older sister who's curse with some kind of magical power that overtakes her and causes everyone and everything around her to freeze up, and her younger, non-magic sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who looks up to her sister, but suddenly her sister shuns herself from the world, and her sister for years. Neither of them come out to the outside world until Elsa's coronation, and Anna meets Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) who's the first person she's really been around much at all in years, and when she decides to marry him, Elsa forbids it, and the squabble leads to an eternal winter in the land of Ardenelle, and Elsa to self-exile herself in an mountain ice palace, where Anna, and eventually, and iceman, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and a snowman, Olaf (Josh Gad) must head out to find her. The musical numbers, have never been used this way before, like stage numbers, almost a combination of Broadway, opera and there's even some ballet in the story elements. Sometimes, it's weaker, and they draw back on the old fairy tale influences and constructs we're used to from Disney Princess films, (And sometimes, they take the darker approach to fairy tales, not completely, like the kind that, perhaps they didn't put in their last Hans Christian Anderson adaptation, "The Little Mermaid", but closer to the dark than before) and even then, there's theatrical influences. Having seen their "Shrek" musical on DVD recently, I couldn't help but notice similarities between how Donkey and Olaf's role in the story are strikingly similar, and how Olaf's song is more of an aberration that would normally be cut from a filmed version of a musical, but left in for the stage. None of this works without the right music btw, and the husband Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, (the former, became the youngest EGOT winner of all-time with the Best Song Oscar they won for "Let It Go") outdo themselves here. This soundtrack of "Frozen" ranks among the greatest Disney's produced. There's places to nitpick, obviously, but you gotta understand that Disney never tried this before, and the level of difficult was sky high for them. And that's probably what really impressed me about "Frozen", is that, if they're gonna start being inspired from theater for their musicals from now on, then that means, they're only gonna get better from here on out. That's makes how good this first effort is, even more impressive. (Note: Some will notice that I didn't post the trailer, but the scene of Menzel's Princess Elsa, singing the Oscar-winning "Let It Go"; I'm sure some of you are sick of it, but frankly, I looked at the trailer and frankly, this sequence is a better representation of the film.) 




AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013) Director: John Wells


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I think, there's still, a way to adapt Tracy Letts's Pulitizer Prize winning play to the screen, better than this version from John Wells, his second feature film, but that said, I'm also fairly convinced that the best place for Letts's work is on the stage. That's a little strange, 'cause I thought the opening up of his play "Killer Joe" benefited from opening up a bit on film, the best moments in "August..." take place when the movie is at it's most intimate. Usually, that's the dining room table, and it's also when most of the fireworks and plates and food start flying. Taking place in the titled northern Oklahoma county, it's 108 degrees as the Weston family begins gathering from their scattered areas across the country, after their father Beverly (Sam Shepherd) is suddenly missing, and later found dead, having killed himself. Like an actress, Violet (Oscar-nominee Meryl Streep) wears her big brown wig at the table, and is in full overbearing truth mode at that point. When she doesn't wear that wig, she suddenly easier to handle, more sober, (She's a relapsed drug addict with dozens of pill bottles, hidden around the house) but also more also reflective and ill, literally. The acid-tongued beast has mouth cancer, which caused her addiction to start up again. Her daughter Barbara (Oscar-nominee Julia Roberts) is in the middle of a divorce from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), and their fourteen-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) is caught in a frustrated middle and out on her own maybe more than she should be. Her sister Karen (Juliette Lewis) is back from, god-knows-where with another wrong man, Steve (Durmot Mulroney) this time, engaged to him, and still talking herself into and out of numerous bad decisions. Ivy, (Julianne Nicholson, and boy am I glad to see her in a good role for once) stayed at home, is the most homely of the sisters, and is constantly berated by both her mother and her aunt Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) for her lack of attention to her appearance, and her inability to leave the house, or find a man. Mattie Fae's often berates his son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) often to the point of frustrating her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) although he doesn't mind making fun of his grand niece for being a vegetarian. Also, before he died, Beverly hired Johnna (Misty Upham), to cook and clean the house, which Violet was annoyed at for being for being an Indian (Osage County was once given to the Cherokee Nation years earlier, shortly after they were transported there following the Trail of Tears). Overall, there's some really strong acting in the film. Roberts and Streep got Oscar nominations for their roles, although curiously, from the Tonys, the Lead and Supporting Roles were switched a bit, Roberts got nominated for Supporting for her role, but it was a lead on Broadway and Streep role was a feature role on stage, became the lead here, and it really, sorta struggle a bit, 'cause the discombobulation was there actually. Roberts, really was strong, a lot of the acting was really great, actually all around, but it did kinda feel like they didn't really have enough to sort switch the perspective on the roles, completely. That said, I think a lot of that, was the original script itself, 'cause at a certain point, the film kinda became a screenplay by numbers, and you know, this character's gonna do this, and this blowup's gonna happen here, for this reason, and especially what happens between Breslin and Mulroney's characters, almost felt tacked on from other similar films and plays. This troubled family getting together formula, it's sometimes a little too common in stage plays, and it often works there better than it does here, and it is a good point of view on it, but yeah, the pacing could've been stronger so that we wouldn't completely notice the formula. Still though, Wells, not the most innovative director but he's trying and I think the nitpicking is that, the material is so rich that you want the film to be a little bit better than it actually was, but that said, there's more than enough good to recommend the film, and in some cases there's great.




THE BOOK THIEF (2013) Director: Brian Percival


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A rare theatrical film from the director of some of the best in British television over the last decade or so, Brian Percival’s “The Book Thief”, -… Yeah, that’s pretty much it. It’s one of those annoying films that, while there’s nothing wrong with it, it just sorta begs you to like it too much. No, it’s not even that, it’s just so formulaic, for a WWII film,- well, except for the fact that Death is the narrator. Yes, Death, (Roger Allam) is an all-knowing, haunting the film and inserting his own perspective on the events, because-, I don’t know, the Holocaust wasn't depressing enough I guess. Well, I know why, they did it, ‘cause structurally within “The Book Thief”, and I don’t want to give anything away but, structurally, the film ends with a dues ex machima; it’s germane to the story, but it’s impossible for the audience to accept it, without some form of a foreboding warning, so I do understand it, but still…. The story follows Leisel (Sophie Nelisse) a young girl whose parents are supposedly taken away for being Communists, and she gets sent to live Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson); it was supposed to be her and her brother, but he died on the voyage to get there. She also has two friends, one, Rudy (Nico Liersh) who she somewhat reluctantly befriends as kids that age who are attracted to each other but aren’t sure where to go from there do, (And the age, is a bit questionable, the young actors never seem to get older despite going starting at a prepubescent 12 or 13 and the movie follows them for five years, as Godfrey Cheshire’s review on Rogerebert.com points out; [Honestly, the movie so dragged and bored me along, and seem so uninterested in tackling the realities of coming-of-age in a war zone, that I didn’t even notice or care.) and Max (Ben Schnetzer) a Jew who the family, despite pretty a little too poor to really take care of their adopted daughter, begins hiding. Hans was invited numerous times to join the party, not for political reasons oddly enough, but for their well-being. (A lot of people did join the Nazis because they provided work, as I remember Michael Moriarty’s character in the great miniseries, “Holocaust” did.) That’s one piece of film that’s a better and more interesting depiction of the time, the other is “Lore”, the recent Cate Shortland film, which actually was about German teenagers struggling to survive in World War II Germany, and that included the pains of going through puberty at the time. The title, comes as Leisel, who is illiterate in the beginning, becomes fascinated with learning to read, and begins “stealing” books from a few helpful souls interested in helping her out on Heaven Street. Yes, they live on Heaven Street. I wasn’t too surprised to learn that this is considered a young adult novel, and that’s fine, even to do one about Holocaust I can think of a few good ones, but this one was screenplay by the numbers. If you guess write now, what profession Liesel will have when she grows up, not having seen the movie, but just based on what I’ve told you, I’ll bet 90% of you will get it right. And that would’ve been fine, if there was a bigger purpose to this film. It’s not a true story; it’s not a new story, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge of things we’re already familiar with shoved together. And you know, why the hell is Death, so fascinated with this one girl, and why is she so interesting to him? Out of all the souls he seems to love describing how he inevitably takes, this girl? Somebody shoulda watch “Wings of Desire” before writing this book or making this film. It might entertain at the moment, and it might compelling, John Williams got an Oscar nomination for the score, presumably ‘cause he’s John Williams, understandable, but I have a hard time believing anybody’s gonna come out of this film and remember it so viscerally. It’s tasteless and boring, like unsalted mash potatoes, it’s just boring and bland, the two things that a Holocaust movie of any kind, good or bad, shouldn’t be.  


JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS (2014) Directors: Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok



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With eight writers, two directors, some bizarre and over-the-top set pieces that almost seem like elaborate Rube Goldberg contraptions in terms of how they're built and used, I guess at some level, I could've found a way to appreciate "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" apparently based on the Wu Cheng-En novel that's considered one of the four best in Chinese literature, but honestly, it was a kaleidoscopic mess to me. The opening sequence, which is about where the movie first started to lose me, takes place on, some kind elaborate riverside boardwalk that looks like an abandoned set from a Peter Pan movie that Chinese people moved into and called home, and then, a giant man-eating squid-like tiger fish, I guess, and it's up to Xuan Zang (Zhang Wen) a demon hunter to ultimately to rid the demon out of the giant fish, which involves breaking into song and consulting his "300 Nursery Rhymes" handbook, which, I guess is kinda like Hong Kong Phooey's "Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu", in this movie. (And, wow did I never think I've have to dig out that reference from my mind, but there it is.) Soon after, a rival demon hunter Miss Duan (Qi Shu) see through his rival's more questionable and liberal-hippy-like skills, and manages to capture demons with her Catwoman-like movement as well as her infinite flying ring. She's more naturally flamboyant but still is only a demon hunter for the bounty. But there's a quirky chemistry between them as both of them continue to run into each other on their quests.The movie seems to mostly get stranger and stranger from there as it toys with all the conventions of cinema, satirizing foley, sound, special effects, while simultaneously incorporating them. It's part video game, part "Three Stooges", through the same prism as "Tai Chi Zero", and- I don't know what. Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes"-style re-inventiveness as well I guess. I haven't even begun to fully explain or even try to the rest of the movie. Maybe if I had read the original novel I'd have had some help, but honestly, I'll bet that even that's a bit of stretch. Part of what I enjoy about the film, is that it's essentially a smorgasbord of storytelling styles, an it's unpredictability is a strength, but ultimately the film just continually remains non-stop strange, and frankly, it becomes disturbing and disorienting after a while. There's never a break, there's never an explanation, the movie just feels like one long giant martial arts cartoon, and there's nothing wrong with that, but perhaps only 30 or 60 minutes of that would've been enough. That said, I guess I kinda have to sorta recommend it, 'cause there isn't too much that's quite like it, nowadays. It's nice to see an unabashed determination to go headstrong towards zaniness.



THE COUNSELOR (2013) Director: Ridley Scott



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At some point during "The Counselor," Cameron Diaz takes off her panties and then jumps on top of a Ferrari, spreads her legs Moceanu-wide on the windshield, in full view of Javier Bardem, and begins grinding and fucking the car. At this point, you can insert your own Tawny Kitaen joke here or admit that that was probably the best idea the movie had. (Although I would've preferred "bent over" and "ping-pong table", but-. Uh, did I type that out loud?) That's actually quite unfortunate though, considering another idea the movie had was going down on Penelope Cruz, so they obviously could've been more creative. (Ping-pong table) But- that's- well, you tell me? What else was there to "The Counselor"? It's Cormac McCarthy version of a Bret Easton Ellis story. Instead of the excesses of the rich alone, we're dealing with the excesses of the people who the rich people pay for their drugs and women, and don't just live in excess, they ooze in it, like people who've been in a bathtub full of champagne a little too long. I've sat through it two or three times now, trying to really get a grasp of it, but as I strongly suspected the first time through, despite some good intense scenes that are filled with potential "The Counselor" really doesn't have much to grasp onto. The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is a, well counselor, and apparently a successful one. He has an extravagant house and his best friend is a well-known international drug dealer Renier (Javier Bardem), who dresses a bit like Hunter Thompson's lawyer friend, and has motorcycles in the house and pet cheetahs- I don't know where he keeps the pet cheetahs but he has them, as well as a crazed girlfriend Malkina (Diaz) who can manipulate anybody including and especially herself to do, seemingly whatever she wills. Counselor's fiance, Laura (Penelope Cruz) I guess, by comparison is relatively reserved, by she is still devoted to Counselor, who's suddenly decided, for whatever reason to go into the drug trade himself. A go-between for the big druglords (Who are they, where do they live and what are their lives like?) Westray (Brad Pitt) seems to act almost like a private investigator than a drug dealer for much of the film, and that's a bit of an interesting twist, but otherwise the film is slow-moving, too complicated, and worst for a movie like this, it's generally boring. Richard Roeper's right, there's a lot of movie in this movie, but it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. The excess and exuberance is up, but the film is all style, no substance, and frankly the style- Ridley Scott may have been the worst possible director for this material. I know it's Cormac McCarthy, and once upon a time, he was supposed to direct "Blood Meridian", but he cannot help to slow a movie down, and simply delay the story and plot, and focus in on a aberration or a sequence for metaphoric value, or simply to stare at it, for way too long. Could you imagine if Oliver Stone directed this, just how much sharper it would be? It looks like he should be directing it anyway, the cinematography is actually quite remarkable and special. This is McCarthy's pretending to be somebody else; this is Ridley Scott, trying to be somebody else, and all you really have after is an incredibly good-looking mess of a movie. At least Cameron Diaz knew that with scenery this crazy that the right thing to do was to chew it. Chew, lick, bite, probably a few things illegal in Mississippi, to it.... That's what the movie gives me to talk about folks, so that's what I'm gonna focus on. If there was really much else I'd talk about it.




DISCONNECT (2013) Director: Henry-Alex Rubin


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The first time I watched Krzyzstof Kieslowski’s “Red”, it was in a class in film school, and I had found myself marveled and transfixed at the big screen, I looked around and everybody was texting or searching the internet on their phones. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand the irony anymore, but that scene, of watching everybody stare at their phones was the metaphor for “Disconnect” the first feature from Henry Alex Rubin, who’s last feature was the acclaimed documentary “Murderball”. “Disconnect” has multiple narratives each about the ways/perils of technology, and trying to connect with others in the modern world, although it takes about as bleak a view as it possibly could. One story involves the Boyd family, where Rich and Lydia’s (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) son Ben, (Jonah Bobo) who’s a shy outcast that’s unaware that the girl who friended him on FB, is actually a cruel joke played on him by Jason and Frye (Colin Ford and Aviad Bernstein). This inevitably leads to the humiliated Ben, hanging himself, and in a coma in a hospital. Another thread involves Kyle (Max Theriot) a webcam model, who poses as an 18-year-old (Although it’s insinuated that he’s older) and Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough) a reporter who’s trying to convince him to go public about the ways he’s exploited. The place he works it, is practically a factory which attracts runaways to work as webcam models, complete with a building where they all seem to, at least work, if not live. Another thread involves a couple Derek and Cindy (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) who wake up to find that someone’s hacked into their account, and stolen all their money. The main suspect they eventually find through a private eye, Mike (Frank Grillo) is Stephen Schumacher (Mychael Nyqvist) someone who Cindy had been talking to on a lonely hearts website, but an investigation into getting their money back, takes way too long, and is too slow for Mike. It goes without saying that these stories connect with each other, and they don’t connect, as with the title. If I were to name a comparable film, perhaps “Babel”, is the most appropriate but frankly that’s the major I’m having with “Disconnect”, not only does it not really give us anything new, but the three stories, seems a little too randomly put together. There’s decent movies that can be made into good films here, and in some cases like David Schwimmer’s “Trust” they already have, to some extent. I’m not sure that the disconnections between the stories, and the clever use of the title make up for the facts that they’re not complete stories, they’re more like intriguing anecdotes that haven’t fully been developed yet. Since they’re not particularly new anecdotes, everything’s pretty much predictable, and reminiscent of things we’ve seen in better films already. I’ve seen a lot of people praising “Disconnect” lately, since it made its way to DVD, and it’s interestingly made, although I think the naturalist look and lighting get in the way of telling the story a bit as everything looks so muted and dreary, but I have a people recommending it so highly might have just been occasionally looking up from their phones and seeing something interesting onscreen when they were watching it. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie by any means, but it doesn’t feel whole, and as I watched it from the corner of my eye while working on my latest script on my computer, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe one of these stories, told really well for ninety-minutes would’ve made for a better and more interesting movie.


CARRIE (2013) Director: Kimberly Peirce


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Something I hadn’t really noticed or thought much about in terms of the first “Carrie”, which unfortunately for the Kimberly Peirce remake is one of my all-time personal favorites, is that one of the reasons it was really effective was that it really one of the first we really saw “Mean Girls”. I don’t mean a female villain, I mean like the Lindsay Lohan movie, ‘cause those original shots of the girls in the ladies locker room, just making fun of and absolutely humiliating a confused, bloody and naked Sissy Spacek, in a group mob mentality, that frankly, now that I think about, I don’t remember seeing that in another film before. The viciousness of high school girls; we’d seen, occasionally a bad girl once or twice around, but not a group, not a pack; that was exclusively, at best, a mixed gender thing in films, and usually it was male-dominated. That was one of the things that really was startling about the original “Carrie”, that it was these teenage girls that were more evil, selfish and despicable than even the rather lughead guys were.  Now, it’s not surprising at all that that scene, not only lacks the believable nudity of the original (Had to, Sissy Spacek was freakishly able to play a teenager believably well into her twenties and Moretz was only 15 for the role), but that, one girl takes a cellphone video of the incident and posts it on a fake Facebook page. It was so strange and rare, the behavior of the women in that film at the time, most of the cast, including Piper Laurie thought they were making a comedy and now with this remake, strangely since we’re now so familiar with the original, it almost feels like they took it so serious that it almost turned into a comedy. The casting of Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore, about as good a casting as I would've come up with, even Judy Greer as the gym teacher Miss Desjardins is perfect (Although they should’ve kept the original line from the movie where she admitted if she was a student, she would've acted the same way as the girls), however, while I do think they did some interesting things with the update, they stuck so close to the original in terms of the story, and even much of the dialogue, I had a very hard time, even watching this film, and this could be just be me, but I was barely able to even look unless they did something distinctly different from the original. I mean, this is the film I watched at my anti-prom party. (Yes, welcome to my high school folks, I held an anti-prom party. Me and a couple friends watching “Carrie” on prom night, and it was a class of about 200, and the prom maybe had double-digit attendance, our anti-prom did almost as good. [Hell, we recently had an anti-reunion, on the night of our High School Reunion, to protest against that one, but that one wasn’t my idea, but I did participate. {I was responsible for inventing the “Protest Yearbook” however, but that’s a different story}]) I’m a little surprised ‘cause I expect much more from Peirce, who directed the amazing “Boys Don’t Cry”, and she so rarely makes a movie, this is only her second since then after “Stop-Loss”, but that said, the movie’s most famous sequences are where we get most of those stylistic touches and changes from the original, and I think that might be, what was most expected from the audience, but a more interesting approach would’ve been more deviation from in the buildup, and more differing and interesting approaches there would’ve better served the film. Deconstructive storytelling lesson number 1, it’s not the end of the journey, it’s the twists and turns along the way that make a story compelling, and that’s really, what it’s coming down to for me. I like this versions, and many aspects of it, Portia Doubleday and Gabriella Wilde are quite good in their iconic roles, and there’s a few interesting plotpoints involving their characters that were well-thought out, but this was a missed opportunity overall. Part of me’s on the fence, it might be interesting in an auteur theory setting, to compare it to the first one, but even still, I can’t quite recommend it, despite some of its strengths; did it improve upon the original in any noticeable way, did this version change from the story enough, did it do it interesting enough, did this version add enough of a new perspective to the original…. Too many of those questions, I have to answer “no,” to.  


DEVIL'S KNOT (2013) Director: Atom Egoyan



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This is the fifth film that I know of based around the infamous West Memphis Three murders, and going in, I wondered if we needed another one, and now I'm convinced that we can use three or four more. I'm not surprised the first filmmaker to tackle it, not in a documentary is Atom Egoyan, the great Canadian director who's films are often about communities and their communal struggles through tragedy. For those who don't know, in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993, three eight-year-old boys were killed, stripped naked and hogtied with their shoelaces, which is how they were found underwater in a ditch in Robin Hood Hills, where the kids were supposedly last seen. To those who know all three "Paradise Lost" films, or "West of Memphis" know that this is just the beginning of the story, and that the details of the cases against the three defendants, Damien Echols (James Hamrick), Jessie Misskelley, Jr., (Kristopher Higgins) and Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) three teenage boys accused of the crimes because of their supposed fascination with the heavy metal music and satanism. There's so many details of the crime, case and trial, the charlatan expert testimony, the public obsessions with the case, including the original documentaries of the case, a coerced confession that had numerous inaccuracies, a railroading power-hungry judge, later on DNA evidence that was ignored, numerous other suspects who weren't investigated as well as witness testimonies that-, seriously, there's a reason why this has spread across multiple movies. At one point the Dixie Chicks of all people became an important part of the story, but that's the technical stuff that Egoyan's never really been interested in. His best films like "Exotica", and "The Sweet Hereafter", aren't just about the incident that connects the characters and neighborhood to his films, but about the ways they react to it and to each other. His films are structured emotionally and not linearly most of the of time, often through flashbacks, although some times he'll bounce around without them. He focuses mostly on two characters, one is Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon) who's son was one of the victims, and her husband Terry (Alessandro Nivolo) has started acting somewhat strangely since the deaths, and Ron Lax (Colin Firth) a pro-bono investigator who working for the boys' defense, and also, the more he dives into the investigation and the anomalies of the trial, the more the case becomes a case he took because he doesn't like the death penalty, to the realization that a disturbingly crime was going to be overshadowed by an even more disturbing and tragic injustice.



THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (2012) Directors: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns & David McMahon



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Looking over Roger Ebert's review of "The Central Park Five", he seems to have had a very vivid recall of the case where five young teenage black men supposedly confesses and were inevitably convicted of attacking and raping a central park jogger, who survived the attack, but couldn't remember what had happened to her, and spent years recovering from her injuries. The word, "Wilding" I never heard about until this movie; it was the term used to supposedly explain random destructive behavior from teens, as they were out,- well, I don't know what the word is now, but I would call it cruisin' during the nights, and mostly just looking around for something to do without getting into too much trouble, well, for most people anyway, but during the beginnings of the racial tensions occurring both in New York, and all throughout the country back in the late eighties and early nineties, the event was front page news and the case divided the races. Problem was, similar to the West Memphis 3, the police had railroaded and coerced the youths into confessions, all on camera, guiding them to their guilty verdicts, and a ruthless D.A. pushed their cases through the news and media. Problem was, they weren't even there when the girl was attacked. It turned out, the East Side Rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed, while in prison for another crime, to the assault, and sure enough, DNA evidence proved his confession valid. Many of the kids were as young as 15, and most of them had spent as many as ten years behind bars. Taking a look at the case, through file footage, interviews with people all through the chain from Mayor Koch, to most of the victims themselves, "The Central Park Five" details this great atrocity of the American justice system. Director Ken Burns, of course, more well-known nowadays for his great PBS multi-part documentaries, but he brings his talents to this film, but it seems that his daughter Sarah and her husband David McMahon seem like the prominent hand behind this powerful and informative documentary, one that, frankly, feels like such a strange timepiece, into an era that, I'm almost amazed that I actually lived through 'cause of how foreign it seems now. Back in this Al Sharpton on Morton Downey time period, and just how tense and how manipulative the public and the press seemed to be, and how they we're (and in many ways) still are, so forcefully looking for a narrative to publicize.



FELICIA'S JOURNEY (1999) Director: Atom Egoyen



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The second Atom Egoyen film I've reviewing this week, I'm not sure how that coincidence happened exactly, but I ain't complaining, "Felicia's Journey", on one level, seems to be about, or seems to start as one anyway, a serial killer, Joe Hilditch (Bob Hoskins) and his unsuspecting next victim, Felicia (Elaine Cassidy). It then, evolves, slowly, into a story about the way the two characters empathize with each other, and from there, it inevitably because a tale how that empathy for and with each other, conflicts with their inner nature, and how each of these sudden awareness of themselves and each other injects into their life and becomes apart of their life and their actions and behaviors. Joe's am executive chef at some sort of cafeteria, and while the kitchen and the worker seem unimpressive, he's quite a powerful presence there. At home, he watches obsessively tapes episodes of a cooking show that he seems capable of replicating, literally everything that's being cooked, including with a stockpile of kitchen equipment, still in package. He cooks and serves these meals, for himself, and apparently the woman on the television, Gala (Arsinee Khanjian), who has an eerie presence Joe. Felicia is a young naive Irish girl, who's come on her own to this English town, to find Johnny (Peter MacDonald) who she was seeing and got pregnant by him as he left to go work at a lawnmower factory that she can't find. Joe sees her on the side of the road and offers a friendly hand, but we see through the videos he filmed of the other women, how he gained their trust and ultimately he takes their lives after they bare their soul to him. This time however, when Joe learns of Felicia's pregnancy, something comes over him, and instead of murder, he legitimately tries to help her. First to find Johnny, then, to try and convince her into an abortion. He seems conflicted in both ways, one because he can't kill her because she's pregnant, but he's has to convince himself and her that an abortion is the right thing. As always with Egoyen, his films are never told completely chronologically and much of this film is flashbacks and we see how Felicia was sworn off from both her family and Johnny's but for very different reasons involving her pregnancy, and then, we glimpse at how Joe turned into a rather conflicted monster through his mother's overbearing, smothering love that might not have exactly been honest, but it didn't seem to matter since the artificiality is just as prevalent an influence to Joe. Like almost all of Egoyen's best films, the more you dive into them, there's more and more layers to each of them. I think it struggles a bit near the end, but also in terms of a more overriding connection between the characters; unlike his very best films however, the connections between the characters, aren't completely there and they don't have that, feeling of a more overall sense where, everyone and everything is effected in the ways that his other films of this nature, tend to do. That said, there's more character development than in some of his previous films, and that's something new and he does that very well here. It was based on a William Trevor novel, and it feels like, it's unusually more rich and textured than most movie characters like these. In the wrong hands, this would played, cliche and trivial, and instead it's haunting and beautiful. The serial killer and the adolescent teen, just never told this way.




BLACKMAIL (1929) Director: Alfred Hitchcock


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While they’re usually good films, there aren’t too many reasons outside of intellectual curiosity and study to dive into Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest films. This one, “Blackmail”, one of his very first sound features, keeps it very simple, and that’s its biggest strength. Alice White (Anny Ondra) is approach by a couple different people, including a police detective, Frank (John Longden) but before she agrees to his advances, show goes on a date with The Artist (Cyril Ritchard). He tries to rape her, but she manages to kill him instead. (The scene is surprisingly graphic for the time, until you realize when it was made, pre-Hays Code) From there on, the Detective is on the case, and he quickly figures her for the killer, but isn’t sure where to go, but just then, somebody else, Tracy (Donald Calthrop) had caught on to her plans and his cover-up, and insists on blackmail to stay quiet. Yeah, folks, it’s that simple. It had to be at that time, the technology wasn’t even around for more complex stories, especially with sound. For the first ten minutes or so, it’s actually a silent movie, even with word titles when someone speaks, but the intimacy of the necessarily close microphone, adds to the intensity of the situation, and it gives us a very real feeling of characters being in over their head in a dangerous situation. It’s still a good film on it’s own, it’s more enjoyable when you spot some ideas and concepts that he used to greater effect in his better later films, but as I always say, a lesser Hitchcock, is still a Hitchcock, and “Blackmaill” is a very good, lesser Hitchcock.

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