Friday, August 1, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #92: "THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE", "THE SPECTACULAR NOW", "OUT OF THE FURNACE", "BLACK ROCK", "OUR CHILDREN", "I USED TO BE DARKER", "BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL", "KOCH", and MORE!

Well, I'm not gonna lie folks, we're struggling a bit here, just to even attempt to keep up with the Jones's or anybody frankly, especially film wise. We're cutting every corner we can think of just to do so, and that's the one big positive. We're gonna be pushing and pushing hard further along down the road, and while, I hate to say it, but we're gonna be/remain considerably behind on movie reviews, we're gonna be pushing forward on other stuff on this blog hard, including what will hopefully be a continuing series on proper television viewing. Some of you are probably familiar with how that's been a stick-point for me for awhile, and you know, while the Emmys are coming up (Oh, we haven't forgotten about them, don't you worry) are our focus has bent sharply towards TV recently, we're gonna try and, I know, I hate this word too, but, educate, the public on the proper ways of analyzing and watching all sorts of television in the near future. It's been building for awhile, and frankly, too many people, don't know how to read television correctly, and it's not just a lack of knowledge and history, but we'll discuss how that plays into too. Anyway, I'm exciting about it, I hope some of you guys are too, so look out for that in the future as well as some other things.

Well, it's time for this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! If you have a question or comment about my review of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire", or any of my reviews btw- (Well, mainly "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" this week; you'll see.) you can comment either on the bottom of this blogpost, or on our Twitter and/or Facebook pages, links of which are on the Top right side of the webpage. Try to post on the Blog's Facebook page more than my personal webpage if you can. Thank you. And, onto the Reviews!


THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE  (2013) Director: Francis Lawrence

✰✰✰



JIM ROSS
Over 75,000 on hand here in the Capital and millions watching worldwide on pay-per-view, as we await, the notorious electrified, triple steel cage, wrapped in razor-wire, to descend onto the ring, know simply as "The Hunger Games". And folks, while we await for the massive structure to descend we're gonna take a look back at exactly how we got to this point, starting with the unbelievable, unprecedented double-win conclusion to last year's "The Hunger Games".

(Foreboding ominous music plays, as haunting flashbacks and continues to build as images and sounds, often faded and muted, images flash on screen, along with video, and words)

LAST YEAR

ANNOUNCER #1
And we're down to two. It's "Girl on Fire" Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her District-mate Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Face-to-face. "What's going on?" They're refusing to fight. There has to be a winner. The Referees and officials and trying to make sure they get this on their way, but they're simply refusing to continue. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has finally come out! He is ordering them to fight, personally. There has to be a winner.

ANNOUNCER #2
Wait a minute what are they doing, they're walking out of the ring!

ANNOUNCER #1
If both their feet go out at the same, then there's no winner! The President if furious, but they're not backing down!

PRESIDENT SNOW
(Heard but not seen, yelling)
"RING THE BELL!" "RING THE BELL!"

(Bell rings three times)

RING ANNOUNCER
"By Order of President Snow "The Hunger Games" has been stopped, and there are two winners!"

CROWD ERUPTS IN GIGANTIC CHEERS
KATNISS and PEETA embrace and celebrate.

ANNOUNCER
"This is the first time, anybody has successfully defied the Capital. And President Snow is not happy."

(Shots of random and aggressive violence 'cause by a raging President Snow and his Capital Cronies)

ANNOUNCER #1
"President Snow"'s reign of terror has just gotten more and more violent, with each passing day.

PRESIDENT SNOW
The new head Peacekeeper of District 12, Commander Romulus Thread! (Patrick St. Esbrit)

(Shots of Commander Thread brutalizing people)

ANNOUNCER #1
Commander Thread's idea of "Peacekeeping" is just profane.

ANNOUNCER #2
"Wait a minute, Katniss is coming out!

ANNOUNCER #1
What the hell is she doing; her wedding's tomorrow!?"

THREAD HITS KATNISS
(Audience gasps!)

ANNOUNCER #1
(Fatalistic)
"Thread has just struck The Girl on Fire."

ANNOUNCER #2
"And now' Peeta's out here!" "And that's- that's Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) they're trainer, and he's getting involved now.

ANNOUNCER #1
(Excited)
Katniss is back up! And now they're all getting involved! It's pandemonium!"

ANNOUNCER #2
If President Snow's plan was to stop some kind of revolution from happening, this is not going as planned!

Images of cheers and applause for Katniss, including her mockingjay costume, as she becomes more idolized.

PRESIDENT SNOW
Now, they're calling her the "Mockingjay"!

PLUTARCH HEAVENSBEE (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
Don't worry Mr. President, I have an idea.

THE NEXT WEEK

PRESIDENT SNOW
For the 75th Annual Hunger Games, I'm enacting the Quarter Quell and announcing that the pool of participants, will come from all the former champions from each district!

ANNOUCER #2
"Oh my God!"

ANNOUNCER #1
No President, has ever enacted a Quarter Quell before, and now he's making the former winners compete!"

CASHMERE (Stephanie Leigh Schlund)
"I was told, we we're never gonna compete again! This is (BLEEP)ing bull(BLEEP)!"

CEASER FLICKERMAN (Stanley Tucci)
"Okay, hold on, hold on!"

PEETA
"We did get married in private, it's just ashame about the baby!"

CEASER FLICKERMAN
(Audience in shock)
"What!"

AUDIENCE
"Stop the games!" "Stop the games!"...

ANNOUNCER #1
"Alliances are being formed, but make no mistake, there can only be one winner!"

ANNOUNCER #2
"There wasn't last year, though!"

ANNOUNCER #1
"And the President's not gonna let that happen again."

ANNOUNCER #2
"They might not give him a choice."

(Foreboding music climaxes and the chaotic collision of images stops.)

Audience cheers as the cage has finally been lowered.

RING ANNOUNCER
Ladies and gentleman, it's time for the 75th Annual Hunger Games!

(Audience cheers)
(Bret Hart WWE theme music plays, Audience cheers even louder)

JIM ROSS
And here we go, what you've all been waiting for, the start of the most controversial "Hunger Games" to date, and here comes the Girl on Fire, the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen!

Katniss Everdeen, reluctantly comes through the curtain and heads toward the caged ring as fireworks go off in unison....


THE SPECTACULAR NOW  (2013) Director: James Ponsoldt

✰✰1/2



I have found myself struggling over "The Spectacular Now" more than most highly-acclaimed films. It's getting listed among the great teenage romances and stories of all-time, like a "Say Anything", and there's good qualities to it, but I found myself very detached from this material. In fact, I'm kinda reluctant to even recommend it, frankly, and I find myself going back over the film, thinking, "Does this movie work as well, if the characters were say, five years older? Ten years older? Fifteen; twenty?" Why, the story wouldn't change? Think about it, depressed guy, this one's called Sutter (Miles Teller) is a bit of a bullheaded cocky asshole, who gets drunk after breaking up with his beautiful girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson) who simply outgrew him and his antics. He gets drunk, and wakes up the next morning in someone else's yard, where he meet cute's Aimee (Shailene Woodley) a smart girl his own age, and it's when he starts dating her does he begin to be transformed, and a more caring and observant person. Even the ending, which I won't reveal, but let's it involves Sutter, finally confronting his past and in a sense, going through a downward spiral that makes him learn more about himself. Seriously, does that story change if they're 40-year-olds? I don't think it does. Yeah, I guess, technically it makes more sense at this age- No, let me take back, 'cause I think a coming-of-age story can happen at any age, and frankly, the more I thought about Sutter, the less I gave a shit. Teller is a very good actor and it's a well-played character, but I didn't find him particularly likable and even after that's somewhat explained at the end when the Kyle Chandler character enters the movie- And btw, that ending, path, comes out of nowhere, and not in a good way. There is no foreshadowing that, and everything up until, suddenly he has to find this out, is about the romance, and I think it undercuts the romance actually, and the Shailene Woodley character, who I thought was a more interesting character, basically goes from being a real character, to essentially, becoming nothing more than an angel. Her job is to fall out of the sky, and be the person that makes Sutter get to this point, that again, we don't even know, or hint that there's a point worth getting to until it's brought up. The device of the college application paper btw, has been done to death; that should just, not even be in a writer's repertoire, unless he's satirizing it. Yeah, the more I dwell on this story, the more confused I get by it. And when I think of even recent films like "Adventureland' or "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", or a film that this movie could've really benefited from taking some notes David Gordon Green's "All the Real Girls", that really do dive into the mindsets and dreams of character at around this age and mental capacity, and get the perspectives and the world correct, I just find "The Spectacular Now" kinda flailing in comparison. I guess there's enough to recommend "The Spectacular Now" for what it is and how well it was done, but I still think this was ultimately a missed opportunity, and a fairly shallow and somewhat egotistical perspective, and worst yet, the ego wasn't somebody I really related to. I guess I like him better at the end of the movie than at the beginning, but just because Brie Larson and Shailene Woodley find him nice around to be around, that doesn't mean there's actually something deep inside of him that's worth caring about. Actually all it really means is that you're wondering what makes these two seemingly smart pretty girls so damaged that they would be intrigue with Sutter enough to date him at all.

You know what, I'm changing my review. I had 4 STARS written, and as I was writing I had changed it to 3, but now, I'm dropping it to 2 1/2 STARS, and I'm not gonna recommend it at all, and you know why, 'cause it's half a movie. It's a movie about a romance, and yet, we only really get to know about one of the people in the romance, and there's two characters we're interested in; it's a missed opportunity and frankly, it's shallow in that it really doesn't know how to give us a real glimpse into both characters and see them as anything other plot devices, and you know the more I think about it, the more I hate it. This is gonna be controversial to some, but this could've been the richer, deeper film that those other great teenage/early 20's romances and rom-coms are, but if you really look at the film, it's half of those movies, 'cause it only tells us half the story, instead of the full one, so it's getting half the credit and acclaim.


OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013) Director: Scott Cooper

✰✰✰



You know, I-am, starting to get tired of these revenge films, where everything so overly-emotional and people are constantly telling the main character not to go after the bad guy who, did something unforgivable, let me guess, a relative? And it's always, just let's kill the asshole. Eye for an eye, there's no subtlety, there's no other way possible to get back at him, to really get at him in a way that he or the audience can't see coming. You know just because the characters came out of the same Pennsylvania part of the Appalachians, it doesn't mean the film couldn't have been a little more interesting and nuanced.  That's the first impression I really got out of "Out of the Furnace", and while Scott Cooper's second feature after "Crazy Heart", although the other recent overrated film it reminds me of is "Prisoners" which was also betting characters wanting to do anything at any cost for their own sense of justice or vengeance, to the point where it confused the two. Russell Raze (Christian Bale) is a former ex-convict who's seemingly started to reform his life, working at the local Mill that, like the Harlan County coal mines, is the only industry in the county, and he's taking care of his sick father (Bingo O'Malley). Just as Russell's gotten out of the penitentiary, his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) has come back from the military and has just gone down a darker and darker hole. Gambling himself into debt, when he's not fighting in underground boxing matches in between, he's insistent on his promoter John Petty (Willem Dafoe) to send him up to an erratic and ruthless drug-addict bad guy of bad guys, Harlan DeGoat (Woody Harrelson) to fight for him. The movie actually begins with Harlan interesting enough, borrowing slightly from the most famous scene from "Killer Joe", he violently beats up a guy and a girl and seems particularly, uncontrollable and rabid. The reason the scene is first, (Or the reason the scene exists at all) is to give us a sense of just how terrorizing a figure he is. Without it, the movie would still technically work, but it gives us a greater sense of, blah, blah, blah. It's one of those things where the structure is obvious on the screen, and the reason you feel that is because there isn't any other layer there, and that's what's troubling about "Out of the Furnace", it striving to be more than it actually is, and because of that, it trips itself up. There's literally 4, maybe 5 scenes in a row, where somebody comes and tells Russel not to go do, what, we all know, he's about to go do. This isn't "High Noon" where's there another subtext to it, it's literally just,you need the cop (Forest Whitaker) and the other cop, and the Zoe Saldana character who I could almost swear did nothing else but show up for that scene, and there's the typical Tom Bower character and Sam Shepherd showed up at some point. "Out of the Furnace," and I am recommending it, but it's frustrating because this is a film that could've been better, if there's was any kind of depth or, even just imagination, and really reintegrate more layers and levels to the film, and there's room, but essentially this is, an old-time western set somewhere and if the bad guy isn't bad enough, this movie falls flat completely. Thank god, this is movie is so well-cast. Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson, especially at the top of their game here. A frustrating but marginal recommendation here.


BLACK ROCK (2013) Director: Katie Aselton

✰✰✰



Sometimes I struggle telling the difference with horror movies whether they're just being cliche or aiming for parody with some of their stories and set-ups. I still wonder that a bit, with "Black Rock", but with the great Mumblecore filmmaker Katie Aselton, I mostly felt like I was in good hands, thankfully. "Black Rock" is the name of a deserted island off the Maine coast where as kids, the three main girls Abby (Aselton), Lou (Lake Bell) and Sarah (Kate Bosworth) used to go and camp, and now they're reluctantly going back in order to reconnect with their childhood roots and their strained friendship. Does any movie that starts out with a bunch of girls going into a cabin or the wilderness ever end up blissful for them? Eh, probably not, but they so rarely feel like real smart girls that frankly, I didn't mind it entirely, even when three hunters, not named Larry, Darryl and Darryl, (Although they should've been) happen to run into them. Henry (Will Bouvier), Alex (Anslem Richardson) and Derek (Jay Paulson) are just recently returned from the military, and they speak highly of it, including Henry saving the other two's lives, however they were all dishonorably discharged. Throw in Spaghettio's, an open fire, and liquor, and fairly predictably, one of the girls ends up killing Henry after he attacks her, and soon, the night searching for their missing time capsule, instead turns into a night of being hunted from deranged homicidal killers. Don't you just hate when that happens? I'm sure there's numerous things we can interpret from the film. The fear and fragility of women all alone, the after-effects of the war, how we immediately return to our more tribal behaviors and tendencies when out in the wilderness, or when we're getting shot at and there's nowhere to go, and you're running around naked, hiding in the dark woods. Whatever the reasoning is for making the film, "Black Rock" is a nice, little, better-than-it-need-to-be horror film. and that's mostly what you're looking for in these kinds of films, and it doesn't hurt that it's well-done. There's good actors, good dialogue, especially in the beginning; these kind of films, if don't have a good setup nothing else matters, and they set it up well, and that's the talent Aselton's husband, Mark Duplass, who wrote the script. Good writing, good directing, solid little indy horror film.


OUR CHILDREN (2013) Director: Joachim Lafosse

✰✰✰✰1/2



The more I watch "Our Children", and yes, I am continuing to watch it more and more, and I know how that sounds, but the deeper and deeper we get into the mind of Murielle (Emilie Dequenne) and the way her mindset slowly but surely turns over a number of years. "Our Children" is not an easy film to watch, The film was Belgium's submission for last year Foreign Language film Oscar, and it's director, Joachim Lafosse, is fascinated with examining the claustrophobic and uneasy perils of family ties when they get too close. Based loosely on a specific event (Although I can think of five or six other times) the movie gives us the benefit, if you can call it that, of at least hinting at the outcome in the beginning. The movie follows young Murielle as she's fallen for Mounir (Tahir Rahim). They're still young enough to fumble around the car about a makeout session, but they're mature enough to know they're in love. He's of Moroccan descent, but grew up living with an adoptive parent Dr. Andre Pignet (Niels Arestrup). His presence is somewhat strange to explain, but it's a domineering one, sometimes paternal, sometimes condescending, other times, just flat-out controlling. Her husband adores him, and they continue to live with him,  even after they're married, and even after they start having kids. He doesn't particularly care much for Murielle, until after she has a kid, but with her husband constantly out and working, and not paying attention to the kids the way she does, Murielle soon goes from working mom, a teacher no less, to a stay-at-home mother, shuffling through a Wal-Mart in what could easily be confused for pajamas. The way she's crying and blaming herself because one of her kids fell down the stairs after she forgot to put the gate up before heading off to work, but she told her husband to watch over her, and he didn't move up from his coffee and paper and didn't notice until the gate crashed. At least Dr. Andre actually talks and plays with the kids. His influence spreads outside the home too, able to help with passports for Mounir's relatives, and seems genuinely altruistic, which makes his passive-aggressive critiques to Murielle that much more critical, even under the best of intentions. "Our Children" is terrifying to watch, as we see just how easy it is for people's lives to devolve when they're suddenly taken over by forces beyond their control, or forces they're unaware of or couldn't prepare for emotionally. That's a nice way of saying, things happen when you get married, and things happen when you have children, and as much as one can plan or prepare or not, you don't know what those are or how you'll respond in those situations until you do, or your partner. Or their family. This is the second film I've seen from Joachim Lafosse, after "Private Property", also a film about a family that's not necessarily close in the traditional, but they become too insular to their own world that it can only end in some form of catastrophe. That was a good film, "Our Children", is better, but it's also a bigger catastrophe, and I can't stress that enough, btw, this is for the most emotionally open-minded film viewers, and I'll be frank here, it struck me at moments, both because of the events and on a personal level, so I'm stressing that, but, again, I'm still watching it even with it being that hard to watch; this is a very strong film.


I USED TO BE DARKER (2013) Director: Matthew Porterfield

✰✰✰



I'm looking back over my review of Matthew Porterfield's last film, the great "Putty Hill", which really was a unique film viewing experience. That was, mostly improvised but it's amateur actors and created a mosaic of a downtrodden Baltimore neighborhood in light of a death of a junkie that people were grieving over, and the way he is able to dive into a world, that essentially is empty is really quite impressive. It's definitely not for everybody, but I think there's also a time and a place for this somewhat detached and cynical approached to slice of life filmmaking, um, I don't quite think it worked entirely here in "I Used to Be Darker". Well- Alright, I'm gonna pull the curtain a bit here, on of my notes immediately after watching this film, I wrote, "Movie could use rape scene." I have never written that note before, and it's not meant in any derogatory or sexual manner, is it just that, there was so little, really happening in the film, the main plot, if we can call it that, is about an Irish runaway, Taryn (Deragh Campbell) has left the French Riviera, shortly after finding out that she's pregnant and shown up at the doorstop of her American friend, Abby (Hannah Gross). She moves in, at a very bad timing, right as Abby's parents, Bill & Kim (Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor) are about to go through a separation, which in essence, is already somewhat delayed with Taryn's presence, but then gets complicated as Taryn seems to be inserting herself more and more into the fabric of the household ecosystem, and this makes her sudden presence all the more confusing to everyone. The movie is essentially a Picaroesque structure and the film is about the reactions or lack thereof of everybody to the situations at hand, and weren't not waiting for those boiled-up frustrations to inevitably come to the surface, in fact, if anything, "I Used to Be Darker" is about how the characters keep those frustrations bottled up. It should be more uninteresting than it actually is. That said, this isn't a mosaic of a neighborhood, and there's only, so much you can really do with these limiting amount of characters before you really needs to start moving something along. With a mosaic like "Putty Hill", there's always a new interesting character to move towards, and here, you move from character to character, but then, back to the same character, and it's gets a little frustration after awhile. It's around here that I thought, a rape scene would've been helpful, and I don't mean that literally, but something compelling to really drive the characters forward and towards something, something between these groups of characters that would give them something, anything to force them to play off of. That's not Porterfield's style necessarily, and I respect that. "I Used to Be Darker" is definitely not the best use of his technique, but it's still interesting and compelling enough to keep to intrigued to see what happens. Just enough, not much more.


BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (2013) Director: Mark Mori

✰✰✰1/2



It is strange to think about how Bettie Page has become, really almost an accidental pop culture icon. There's been lots of fascination with her over time, much of it based on the fact that she suddenly went from being the biggest pinup of the time, to, literally falling off the face of the Earth for decades, only coming back into the public eye, reluctantly after being found by a reporter. In that time, the images of her, taken by Irving and Paula Klaw, most of which was illegally saved from government destruction when pornography, in particular, the fetish underworld market was attacked by the government. The Bunny Yeager photos led to her Playboy cover, but then, she quit the modeling in '57, and her whereabouts became a mystery. "Bettie Page Reveals All" doesn't go over too much particularly new information, in terms of her timeline and fame, but it does tell it to us from her point of view. Shortly before she passed away, she recorded her last interview for the film. She's never shown onscreen, as late in life she preferred to not be photographed, and in her old age, she comes off as funny, vibrant, witty about her life, which was definitely a lot of travails. Multiple bad husbands and quick marriages, a sexually abusive father, not to mention ten years is a psychiatric facility for schizophrenia. She also became very religious, handing out bibles for Billy Graham, was the only rumor of her whereabouts that was actually she notes. It's hard to really elevate Bettie Page's person story to the status of our cultural icon status, even in the best of circumstances, but "Bettie Page Reveals All" probably does it the best and the most thoroughly. The last really memorable one from a few years back was biopic "The Notorious Bettie Page", which Bettie was not involved in making, and while I personally enjoyed that film quite a bit, apparently Bettie purportedly screamed "Lies! All Lies!" at a screening before walking out. "Bettie Page Reveals All" is probably more important for the documentation of Page than much else, but it's definitely entertaining and worth watching. Is it much more than that, no, but neither is Bettie Page more than really nude and fetish model, and frankly that was more than enough, and so is this film.


KOCH (2013) Director: Neil Barsky

✰✰✰



The first time I ever heard the name Ed Koch, was in '97, when they brought back "The People's Court" and, he was the man they picked to be the successor to Judge Wapner, and did that job for three years, before being replace by Jerry Sheinlin (Judge Judy's husband) and inevitably now, Marilyn Milian, but I learned later that he was a former New York City mayor. And he certainly is, quite an unlikely and interesting one. (Although, with Koch, Dinkins, Guiliani and Bloomberg, it's a little hard for me to imagine a "likely" New York mayor now that I think about it.) He was beloved enough for parody and reviled enough to be despised, and egotistical enough to have the Queensborough Bridge renamed after him, years after he was mayor. The documentary "Koch", I think is probably more of a puff piece about them than a really in-depth look, but then again, Koch did a lot of good for New York. The houses he built for the homeless, brought down crime, his promoting and building of Times Square has turned it into the tourist mecca of today. He also promised to keep open a hospital that he closed in a predominantly African-American neighborhood to get their votes, but then he closed it anyway. He would antagonize the African-Americans, the Jews and probably most famously, the homosexual community during the beginning of the AIDS crises. It's been long-rumored long-known that Koch is gay, although he refuses to discuss or explain his sexuality, and like all his positions, he defends that choice well. He's always been articulate and sharp about all issues, and he still is here. It's definitely clear that Ed Koch's importance to modern-day New York City is hard to quantify entirely, particularly since he did so much and so much happened during his reign, but "Koch" gives us a decent, overall attempt to do it. I think it was a little too one-sided and it only kinda, brushes aside some of the more critical aspects of Koch's political and personal life. Still, it's more of a personality piece than anything, which is really I think what most of us look for in a mayor anyway. (My hometown took the eccentric mob-lawyer with his own brand of gin for 12 years, then took his wife to replace him, and we were fine with that.) So, I guess I'm recommending "Koch"; it's not much of a recommendation but for the bio-documentary it tries to be, it succeeds.


STRAIGHT TIME (1978) Director: Ulu Grosbard

✰✰✰✰1/2


A pet project of Dustin Hoffman's at the time, "Straight Time" was more of a critical hit than it was at the box office, but it's become a modern-day classic since. Based on the autobiographical Edward Bunker novel, Hoffman plays Max Dembo, a career convict, who's released from prison after six years. He's got a little money, and decides to check into a motel instead of checking into his halfway house, upsetting, before he's even met him, his new parole officer, Earl (M. Emmett Walsh) is possessive and obnoxious towards him, but he strikes a deal to not go to the halfway house for a week, if he can get a job and find housing. He finds a cheap weekly apartment, and then finds work and a date with his employment officer, Jenny (Theresa Russell) but then, he's sent back to jail, after Earl finds burnt matches. They were his friend Willy's (Gary Busey) who's married with a kid, and is the reason Max was imprisoned, this time. His wife, Selma (Kathy Bates) thinks he's clean and worries about Max's influence on Willy. At that time, it's hard to tell if he intends to go straight or not, but once he makes his choice, he makes it big, and soon, he's back scheming with his long-time friend Jerry (Harry Dean Stanton) for the next big busts, and eventually, he's basically a fugitive, on the run, partially wanting to be a criminal, partially wanting to inevitably get caught, to go back to the prison world that he's used to and is now, much more adept at surviving in that the regular world. Max is a criminal, a professional one, and that's the only job he's good at and society has deemed for him, whether that's in prison or not. I think if there's a flaw in the film, is that it stays a little too closely to plot, as oppose to diving into the thinking patterns and mindset of Max; especially after the 40, 45 minute mark, the movie almost turns cliche, but that's minor. "Straight Time" is a powerful film, that really shines a light on a not-so-new unfortunately phenomenon of how convicts struggle and are often unable to adapt to the outside world after prison. It shows us just how, difficult and claustrophobic it is for them to try and survive, and how simple it is for them to fall back into a way of life. How natural it really is, to lie, to scheme, to con. The title comes from the time convicts spend on the outside, being legitimate member of society, or trying to. It isn't much is Max's case. 


ALEXANDER (2004) Director: Oliver Stone

ZERO STARS


(Note: I only viewed the Director's Cut of the film) 

(Breathy sigh-ish yawn, flubs lips) Um, yeah. "Alexander". I really can't re-view this the way I review other films. Not through simple words, this should be done more through facial and body expressions I think. Yawns, eye rolls, look-aways, look arounds, stretches, odd contortion, stuff like that is a more appropriate response to the film than anything written. There isn't really anything to say about "Alexander", it is what it is. It's a great director being over-ambitious with a project that's out of his depth and realm and he made nearly every possible bad decision a director can make. Only a great director can make a movie this remarkably bad, so bad it's almost admirable. Well, that's a strong word, almost. It jumps in time too much, it covers and over-arcs his entire life, (Oh, Alexander's played by Colin Farrell, but that barely matters; it's such a mess of great actors in ridiculous parts and line readings that you really just, give everybody a free pass at this point.) as he conquers over people or-eh, whatever. It's such a mess that even if you know the history.... It's overblown, exaggerated and only watchable to watch and see how truly bad it is. There's a moment where you can clearly see, Angelina Jolie's speaking, and instead, they use a shot where her lips aren't moving, so it goes from conversation to- just-, bad editing frankly. (Her character here oddly, seems very similar to the one she played in "Beowulf" btw.) What Oliver Stone, should've done-, well, first of all he shouldn't have done a period piece; that's not in his milieu per se, and it's clearly not a strong suit, but if he was really interested and determined beyond doubt to do "Alexander", then, he probably should've focused on, maybe one story about him, or one battle, or his quest for one achievement, like Spielberg did with "Lincoln" for instance, the synecdoche of a part representing the whole usually works a lot better on film anyway. But, you know, everything's better in hindsight and 20/20. There's not much else to say about, other than to put it on, and then, shake your head and roll your eyes in numerous variations of those contortions. That's basically what it's like to watch "Alexander". 


DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) Director: Tony Scott

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(Sigh) For a while in "Days of Thunder" I thought my notorious Tony Scott streak might end and i'd actually like one of his films, but alas... he could not stop himself. I seem to be talking a lot about structure and formula in this blogpost, but Tony Scott, one of his biggest problems is that he's simply incapable not following the structure, to the letter. He has to not only follow every single cliched plotpoint imaginable, but then, he has to browbeat them into us. Like an announcer mentioning, "This guy's number one," "He the perennial contender", so-and-so is so-and-so...- there's better ways to tell the story, not that the story is that original to tell. It's fair to say that NASCAR has become more popular since the movie, but that's probably a coincidence, although for awhile the movie seems like an in-depth look at the behind-the-scenes of NASCAR, at that point in time than others, but then it goes right into cliche. First the Tom Cruise character, this one called Cole Trickle, is a cocky and arrogant California driver who lost his Formula-1 ride and now needs a car and a sponsor. He's got the sponsor, Tim Deland (Randy Quaid) and now he needs to convince an old croggity retired stock car builder, Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to build one more car for this speedy new driver, and then heading his pit crew to teach him how to drive in NASCAR. Problem is, he's a flake who doesn't even know the simplest facts about cars other than to step on the gas and explode. Plus, he's already got a rival in Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker). Eventually Cole embraces the methods and trainings of Harry, and they start winning, but then there's an accident. This brings in Claire (Nicole Kidman) his doctor, who helps rehabilitate him and Rowdy, who's head injuries are particularly bad and while he wants nothing more than to drive, he's clearly not in the right mind, and has probably lost most of the capabilities he used to have. (To watch a great movie about an athlete going through a traumatic brain injury, watch the documentary "The Crash Reel") Meanwhile, a new young driver, Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes) has taken Tom's Cole's spot and has begun to win a ridiculous amount of these races, and Cole needs a ride after fighting and getting frustrated after one of his return races with his new "teammate". "Days of Thunder" knows, very little about NASCAR. It actually has more in common with "42nd Street" actually than NASCAR. The old dog, letting the new kid come in, etc. etc. After the 40 minutes or so mark, there's not a single new plot idea or an unpredictable outcome or scenario, device-, just cliche after cliche, and worst than that, it's all done with that godawful '80s soundtrack, ugh.


KITCHEN STORIES (2004) Director: Bent Hamer

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I've appreciated Norwegian Director's Bent Hamer's films so far. He's got a distinctively wry sense of humor and approach to his films. He's got a wry and sardonic humor that gives off this impression that's very distinctive, but here with "Kitchen Stories", he seems to be trying too hard to force it. Like with "Factotum", and his very best film, "O'Horten", we got slice-of-life glimpses into his characters and the sardonic tendencies of the world around them was the great appeal and made the comedy both equally tragic and funny. With "Kitchen Stories", we get that, but we also, essentially get, a more author-like character, who's overseeing the world, and when those two things collide, they don't really seem to match, and I guess that was supposed to be funny, but it isn't as funny as it could've or should've been. The overseer, literally overseer character is Folke (Tomas Norstrom), who works for Norway's Home Research Institute and basically what they do, is try to find way to make cooking and cleaning in the kitchen easier, usually for the housewives, but in this case he's studying the rural bachelors kitchen practices of bachelors. By doing this, he's sitting in the corner of the kitchen, on a high-chair in the corner of the kitchen refused to speak to his subject (Joachim Calmeyer) who is more ambivalent about his participation in the project especially as Folke's presence becomes more abundant. It's interesting for awhile, the dynamic, but again, even as the two strange eccentric recluse characters become friends, it almost seem to counteract, the direction with Hamer's work. He may care for the characters he creates and that's why we're fascinated by them, but seeing another character also grow to love and care for them, almost seems completely counter-productive, and, similar to my review of "The Spectacular Now", if you need a character, basically to be there to show that another character is worth caring about, then maybe the other character isn't worth caring about, and maybe the film isn't worth caring about? That was my general impression. Not a bad movie, but I know he can do better, and since "Kitchen Stories," Hamer has thankfully.

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