Friday, August 15, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #93: "ABOUT TIME", "THE BEST OFFER", "BLUE CAPRICE", "THANKS FOR SHARING", "YOU'RE NEXT", "AFTER TILLER", "THE PATIENCE STONE", and MORE!

Well, this has been a tough week for, pretty much everybody right now. I talked about Robin Williams's sudden death a little bit on my Canon of Film blog on "Good Morning, Vietnam", and you know, the more information that comes out about his suicide and the place he was in his life at the time, and we think how great a talent and just how marvelous it was to watch Robin Williams all the time- I mean, if you knew he was on a Late Night show that night, you were watching it, you know, and there's so much with him- strangely, I don't even think about him as one of the great actors of all-time, because it's really like, he was in a different category completely than everybody else, and that's exactly what the case with him, so that makes what's happened, just, put even mourning. We been in so much mourning over Williams's passing, that, we barely notice Lauren Bacall passing away. One of the last great legends of the golden era- She out-lived Humphrey Bogart by 57 years, can you imagine that; one of the screen couple of all-time, and she was still doing occasional acting gigs. "To Have and Have Not" has the "You know how to whistle..." scene, but I love "The Big Sleep" and I love something like "Written in the Wind".... (Mournful sigh)

Anyway, we're fighting through it, and we're slowly getting back into the thick of things; we're still looking up old Robin Williams clips on Youtube.com and places like that, but it's time to move on. The Emmys are coming up, very quickly, and I've already started writing my Predictions for that. I've got another TV Viewing 101 blog coming up, before then. Obviously, I didn't watch as many movies as I had wished I had normally, nor was I able to watch more of the movies I wanted to watch or wish I had up 'til this point, for these Random Weekly Movie Reviews, partly 'cause of everything, so, we're still grieving, but it's time to move on, and we're gonna do so the best we can at just doing what we love to do right now.

BTW, I've mentioned this on the blog's FB site, but I'm participating in a few Google Hangouts now, apparently this computer capable of letting me do that, and I'll be participating in more of those in the future, I have fun with those, so look out for those, I'll be publicizing them, and you'll get a rare look at me, and finally understand all the jokes I tell about my long hair.

So, let's get to it, this week's edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


ABOUT TIME (2014) Director: Richard Curtis

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Screenplay rule #387: If you can describe your screenplay or screenplay idea with the phrase, "It's kinda like "Groundhog Day" except...", then it's exactly like "Groundhog Day".

Okay, it's not "exactly" exactly, like "Groundhog Day", but essentially it is however. And that's the problem with "About Time", one of the problems anyway. The latest from Richard Curtis, the movie's focus is on Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) a typical Curtis befuddled and bemused protagonist, the part Hugh Grant's played most of his career. When he turns 21, he finds out from his Dad (Bill Nighy) that all Lake men can travel through time. Why exactly? Never answered, and luckily, there's never been any real problematic butterfly effect changes of history. Basically, you go into a quiet space like a closet or an attic and he's able to simply go back in time and essentially correct mistakes and cock-ups he makes until he gets them right. This is great for Curtis's character, 'cause they can bumble and make right fools of themselves, like confusing an ex-girlfriend for a lesbian, or have sex with their current girlfriend on their first date multiple times to make sure he gets it right. His main girlfriend and then wife is Mary (Rachel McAdams) which is also his mother's name (Lindsay Duncan) and he falls in love with her, and then makes sure, through the time travel she falls in love with him, even if that means, having met her, technically before he met her, and before she met a different sudden boyfriend, who kinda gets screwed over in this world actually. In fact, that was the disturbing part of this, "Only the Lake Men" thing, 'cause the women never know, except for a brief time his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) until that has to be reversed back and he finds out that a major flux in the space-time continuum involves people's births, but yeah, certain people in certain situations when you think back on it.... Well, I think the point of it was that you weren't supposed to think back upon it, and that Curtis has resulted to gimmicks essentially, which is unfortunate not only 'cause this is the guy who's written and directed some of the greatest romantic-comedies of the last 25 years, in an era when good romantic-comedies are impossible to come by, but strangely the best parts of the movie were in fact the parts that weren't about the time travel and when they dived into the relationships between the characters, and it really was a romantic-comedy, or at least a romance and an ethereal look in the role loves plays over our lifespan, and the decisions we make and how and why they effect us the way they do. I'm not necessarily sure, we needed the time traveling aspect for him to tell that though. I know Curtis isn't through, he won an Emmy for the TV movie "The Girl in the Cafe", which took his approach and made a more serious commentary, but still kept his classic charm and his more soft-handed and somewhat cliche and empathetic approach. Bottom line, I think he's too talented to resort to a bad gimmick like these, and the best moments were when he didn't. There's still a lot to like here in "About Time", and despite everything, I'm still actually tempted to recommend it anyway, but it's hard to when you can see a talented filmmaker at work, and yet you can still see how easily the film could've been so much better.


THE BEST OFFER  (2014) Director: Guiseppe Tornatore

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Once in a while I use a hyperbolic phrase like "The last person I ever would've thought do this...", and I hate using that, but I cannot imagine the scenario where I would've even come close to guessing the director of "The Best Offer" if I went into it blind. That director is Guiseppe Tornatore, the great Italian director most famous for his Oscar-winning debut masterpiece "Cinema Paradiso" and most of his films, have a romantic and nostalgic touch, taking place in flashback and in the past, often from a youth's perspective and his films, even at their darkest, there's a lightness and jovial quality to them, even in something like "Malena", but "The Best Offer" a very rare English language film of his, I was almost stunned at how I so rarely recognized any of signature touches, and it was incredibly refreshing. Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush, and boy is that a great symbolic name) is an auctioneer and appraiser of high-end pieces, for like a Sotheby's-type auction house, one of the best. He's beloved by his patrons, and part of that is that he dabbles occasionally in manipulating the prices for some of his closest confidants like Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland). On his birthday, which he spends alone, he takes a phone call from a mysterious potential client who seems to keep managing to avoid meetings with Virgil. However, there's a mansion with workers that she lives in, that's filled with decaying furniture, trinkets and paintings, all of which need appraisals and inevitably auction value, and one particularly rare item, that's in pieces, a turn-of-the-century automaton, is of particular interest to him, and he begins secretly hiring Robert (Jim Sturgess) to try and slowly reconstruct and rebuild it.  Meanwhile, the girl on the phone, Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hooks) is an extreme agoraphobic, who hides in her mansion, and even when there's rare moments when people are actually in the building, she hides in a secret hidden room behind the walls. This, along with the automaton, makes Virgil curious, and he begins to befriend her, first with conversations through the walls, and then, finding ways to sneak into the house to see her eventually. I won't reveal anything else, other than to say, I did figure it out, and I figured it out quickly, but that might just be familiarity. And frankly I didn't care that I could see where it was going, it was a really intriguing journey. Rush in particular, you know, you don't always think about him, for a lead role sometimes, despite his Oscar for "Shine" years ago, but we really should and he's really one of our most underrated actors, and this is a movie, where he's in every scene, and he has be interesting enough to follow him along on this unusual journey of his, and it's a really strong performance, and you know, it isn't a great film, but it's a really good erotic mystery, essentially. Appraisal is often about, the history of an item and getting to the bottom of what exactly it's worth anything or not, and this is him, getting to the bottom of an item, a patron, a house, a potential relationship, etc. It's a really a very pleasant surprise, especially from Tornatore; I never would've imagined he had this in him, and it's quite- some directors can do anything, others can but only like to do their own thing, and others can only do their own thing, and I thought Tornatore, really wasn't capable of something like this; he wrote and directed it, and there's a few things that you can sorta piece together how they fit on a second or third thought in his milieu, but this feels and looks, nothing like anything he's done before, and in this case, that's a very good and exciting thing from Tornatore.


BLUE CAPRICE (2013) Director: Alexander Moors

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The debut feature from Alexander Moors, "Blue Caprice" takes it's title from the name of the car that inevitably the Beltway Snipers were found in, after terrorizing and murdering people in the greater D.C. area for weeks on end in the Fall of 2002. While, a lot of names got made from that case, it's become somewhat forgotten in recent history. It took a while to find them partly because the two African-American men didn't fit the profile of the traditional snipers killers in the past. They killed ten victims in the D.C. area, injured 3 more, and previously to that, traveled across the country from the other Washington and killed and murdered people sporadically. "Blue Caprice" is more of a fictional account of the John Allen Mohammad (Isaiah Washingtion) and Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond). Lee is a Jamaican-American who's mother was with John, and he's essentially adopted Lee, who as his own. John, was being kept away from his wife through a court order, and his obsession with her went overboard and begins his almost philosophical, strategic planning to- I don't know, some reasoning he convinces himself and his pseudo-adopted son that the country was problematic and going after them. They get some help from their gun-nut friend Ray (Tim Blake-Nelson) and his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams, boy it's great to see her in a movie again), who teach Lee how to shoot. They're unknowing participants in their rage disguised as a revolution or whatever was going through their mind. That's part of the frustration I have with "Blue Caprice" is tries to dive in, but it only gets so far, and the rest of it feels like an observer's perspective. We see, but we don't really feel and that's troubling. I think that's the point, but it only underlines how little we really know and how we can only get so deep really into the story, if you can call it that. It's still interesting enough to recommend, especially for the performances, but their often undermined by the director's technique. "Blue Caprice" is an interesting and ambitious first feature, maybe too ambitious but still worth recommending, although I doubt it's gonna become the official document on the Beltway Snipers.


THANKS FOR SHARING (2013) Director: Stuart Blumberg

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The struggle for overcoming, or living with addiction, seems to have mostly taken on the same properties over the years, even those stigmatized, supposedly new-fangled ones like sex addiction. There's meetings, very much like AA, and there's chips and token for days, months, years, there's people who are mentoring others, there's people who go to the meeting but are blatantly lying about it. There's been a few films about sex addiction recently, the best of which was Steve McQueen's "Shame", but "Thanks for Sharing", definitely not as graphic, although there's a few sex scenes, is about the people who struggle with their addictions and the slow daily grind involved in their recovery process. Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been sober for five years, which means, he hasn't had sex, outside of a relationship (or within a relationship much since he's mostly kept out of those) for five years. He's mentoring a doctor, Neil (Josh Gad) who isn't really as interested at first in getting better, until his sex addiction finally costs him his job. He befriends Dede (Alecia "Pink" Moore) another fellow addict, who's newly attending meetings and still struggles to not go see an abusive ex-boyfriend when he calls. Meanwhile, Adam starts a relationship with an athletic cancer survivor, Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) and he's reluctant to both start a sexual relationship with her, and despite his better inclinations, he doesn't tell her immediately about his addiction. Adam's sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins), has many addictions, sex just being one of them, and he's closer to Adam than his own son Danny (Patrick Fugit) who's also a struggling addict, and is such a mess that nobody believes him when he says he's been clean for six months. Joely Richardson plays Mike's wife and while he's good to his mentees, he's still struggling on the homefront dealing with the effects of his addictions. First things first, the acting in this movies is incredibly strong, all the way around, and actually Pink, I thought was really impressive in, what's essentially her first really meaty character as an actress; I wasn't expecting a lot from her offhand, and her and Josh Gad I found, had the interesting dynamic and plotline in the film, and it was really smart in the ways it strayed from being predictable and I was very impressed with those two. The other stories are a little more conventional in terms of the narrative, but I didn't particularly mind that so much. It's the first feature film from writer/director Stuart Blumberg who had written on other's projects up until now, although he got an Oscar nomination for Lisa Cholodenko's latest film "The Kids Are All Right", and here, while his script runs into a few areas of predictability, but it was also realistic. Very realistic actually, people might be surprised by that, because of the more light-hearted touch he put on the material, but actually, I was okay with it. Sometimes life is a farce and it isn't a dark recess of addiction, it's the afterwards that's more interesting, and I thought it through and it felt like real people struggling with real addictions and when it got dark it went dark, and when it was cheery, it was still off-kilter and it was a light that shaded the dark underneath. I was surprised and very much impressed with "Thanks for Sharing"; it's a film that's a lot deeper and thoughtful about it's characters and addiction than it probably needed to be, and it was very nice to see a film go above and beyond like that.


YOU'RE NEXT (2013) Director: Adam Wingard

ZERO STARS



What's wrong with this movie?! No, not like, the begin of a thesis argument of as a question that I'm supposed to answer like a stubborn pretentious film professor, I mean, "What's wrong, with this movie?!", like when somebody is unusually rude and off-kilter, weird, or otherwise unable to read social contexts and clues as to how to behave, and they leave, and you turn to your best gal pal, and go "What's wrong, with that guy?!" That's what I felt like yelling at the screen when watching "You're Next", one of the stupidest titled horror movies I've ever heard of, and it's one of the worst I've ever seen as well. The movie begins with a couple having sex, and then they end up getting killed. What that had to do with the rest of the movie, I couldn't begin to tell, although granted the DVD copy I had would scratch and skip occasionally so maybe I missed that point. (Normally I would try to fix the DVD, but that the skipping, jumping and stopping of the film was the best part of the experience.) Then, a bunch of siblings and their significant others head over to their parents house. The nearest I could tell is that Drake (Joe Swanberg) is introducing his new Australian girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson) to them for the first time. Soon, a fight breaks out at the table, and then the house starts getting bombarded with perfectly aimed arrows, killing one person after another, before finally the perpetrators, some of whom wear giant rabbits masks, for, some reason, make their way in. It's a bloody feast for everybody, and enough stupid to go around, until around the 40-45 minute mark when Erin suddenly turns into Jack Bauer and begins killing off the rabbits one by one as corpses pile up and one girl, Zee (Wendy Glenn) complains to her boyfriend Felix (Nicholas Tucci) that he's no fun, because she won't have sex with him, in a house under attack, filled with bodies, and on a bed, with a corpse on it. Now, I know some women who are into some freaky shit, but they usually aren't that stupid. (Seriously, they usually go straight from our local MENSA meeting and then right to getting tied up for their gang-bang. [Okay, maybe not, but that's way more believable than anything in this movie]) "You're Next" is really utter garbage. There's barely any characters, explanation, tension, the tone doesn't know what it wants to be, none of the characters are worth caring about, huge parts of what I will laughably call a "story" seem to be barely told, and the few things that are told are practically red herrings. Or white rabbits I guess. It's sorta knows what a horror movie is supposed to have, but it has no real idea how to make it into anything coherent. The next time somebody tells me "You're Next", it better be Goldberg spearing me through a steel cage onto a concrete floor, at least that'll be more enjoyable and less painful than this film, and hopefully a lot shorter too.


AFTER TILLER
(2013) Directors: Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

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The typical joke I make about my support for late-term abortions is that, if it takes you over seven months to figure out that you're not capable of taking care of the child that's growing inside of you that whole time, then, you're probably right. Is it the best option, no, but there are no good options at that point. "After Tiller" begins with the assassination of George Tiller, the most high-profile of the then-five doctors that performed late-turn abortions. It's actually legal in most states, but few people are willing to house them because of the backlash from the religious zealot community, among others. Actually, even the most stringent women's rights activist tend to be against late-term abortions, and after Tiller's murder, the public seemed more against them then ever oddly enough. Kansas banned late-term abortions (Only for doctors), so some relocated inevitably to New Mexico, where they found the laws to be too loose, oddly enough, and too many women who were coming in, without a sob story or a nightmare scenario like their embryo having a fatal illness, or being in denial because the child was a product of a rape they were still too ashamed of to even report to the police, and you get those more heartless people who are frankly the inspiration for that joking retort of my first sentence. They struggle with it, not-to-mention worrying about they're lives being cut short by a maniac with a long-distance rifle. "After Tiller" is a look at a profession with too few practitioners at the people who do practice, and what makes them continue to do so, despite great pressure not to. The abortion issue constantly continues and remains ongoing in certain parts of the country even though, as one person who worked with Tiller said, "They were happy when they needed him," about the Omaha people who would protest and preach for his destruction. It also reminds us of just how much apart of the fabric of society abortion is, and it makes those anti-abortions activists look even more ridiculous and out-of-touch with reality then they really are. The doctor that got thrown out of Kansas, inevitably opened a clinic in Maryland, but even there, picketers protest at the middle school of the daughter of the guy who let him rent out the space. Thankfully, he wouldn't relent to that kind of intrusive behavior and his clinic is still open.


THE PATIENCE STONE (2013) Director: Atiq Rahimi

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It does require patience to watch "The Patience Stone", that's the first observation. The movie was adapted to the screen by it's novelist Atiq Rahimi, and the film which takes place in an unnamed war-torn country- actually there's a lot of unnamed things in the film. The characters, are never named. The Woman (Golshifteh Farahani) is the wife of a rebel fighter, The Man (Hamidreza Javdan)  that's been shot in the neck and is currently hiding in their house, but in currently in some form of a comatose state where he's immovable but still alive, and she cares for him in this state. Then she talks, and she talks. Like Scheherazade, talking and telling stories, occasionally hiding and protecting her children as the fighting and bombing continues in the town. Two soldiers  come and she has to hide the body from them, while she's at first, berated by one angry one, after claiming to be a prostitute and not following the Qu'ran, and the other soldier (Massi Mrowat) is a stutterer, who finds tenderness in her. First he goes for sex, which is aggressive, but she relents, and then only conversation and help. The story is paper thin, but in a good way, as the war, her husband, the fighting, the town, helps her digest and discuss her life, both now, and earlier and all that led up to it. It's also a slice of life, about living in a world surrounded by terror. This isn't the correct medium for this material; this probably would've worked better on the stage, where the acting and the characters would be stronger, but it's still fairly good, but it could've been more perhaps with a more skillful director, and somebody who could really take the material and adapt it more properly to the film form, but there's- eh,- it's not my most enthusiastic endorsement, but the strong parts of the film, I think are enough to recommend the movie, but again, like a comatose body, it takes some patience to get to them.


STRAW DOGS (2011) Director: Rod Lurie

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I never particularly liked the original "Straw Dogs" the Sam Peckinpah film from '71, so I wasn't exactly expecting much from this relatively faithful remake. The original film symbolically started with kids playing, because in the original novel, it was the kids that would inevitably head and lead up the town against newcomer David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth). Amy left years ago for Hollywood from this rural Mississippi town that's obsessed with the local High School football team, and David is somewhat- it's hard to say, but essentially, his natural instincts are constantly driving the locals the wrong way. One of Amy's old boyfriends, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) owns the construction company that inevitably David hires to help fix part of the cabin they bought, which need some roof work after the latest hurricane. David's not exactly at home in this environment, and the locals, vice-versa with David, but he's looking forward to the piece and quiet needed to write his latest screenplay on the Russian Revolution. David's a strange character, and I think what always bothered me about the film is his lack of a consistent point of view. He tries to adapt to the situation and befriend his workers and the locals, but he constantly absent-minded about the situation, even regarding his own wife, when he mentions how she's sick of the construction crew ogling her breasts, and he tells her to wear a bra. Then, she does something really stupid, that unlike in the original movie, we got to see in its entirety, we only get a close-up here. One of the more interesting changes from the original involves a drunken old high school football coach, Tom Heddon (James Woods) who is already somewhat on edge normally, but is particularly disturbed about his rather rambunctious daughter, Janice (Willa Holland) as she seems more than willing to put herself into vicarious situations with people she probably shouldn't. He's shown as an overriding influence, the person who taught the town to behave. I think my issue with the film, similar to the first one is that, not only do too many people act unreasonably, and seem to betray their character's basic instinct, but the actions themselves, never seem enough to really seem like the violence at the end is deserved, and while there's a below the surface story going on, it's really subliminal and dependent on a lot of melodramatic reactions to events and behaviors and that's particularly off-putting to me. I guess there's some point to be made about how easily a society can devolve to violence, and how people are more willing than they may believe possible to fail to their own barbaric murderous instincts, but I guess I never was that impressed with the transformation. I'm not which I prefer offhand, they're about equal to me, but I guess Peckinpah's was more artistic, but I guess they're both worth watching as a comparison of auteur theory, but that's about it, and that's not enough for me to recommend either.


KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005) Director: Ridley Scott

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It's hard to not on some level compare "Kingdom of Heaven" with Ridley Scott's other, more-famous historical epic "Gladiator", especially if you're someone like me who found "Gladiator" to be a dreadful embarrassment of a film. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by "Kingdom of Heaven". It's not a great historical epic, and I doubt it's exactly too accurate either, (Was Italian, a language yet in the 11th Century?) it's more interesting and unusually well-paced for a Scott slow-moving epic. It takes place in and around Jerusalem right as a religious war between the Christians and the Muslims begins progressing, not over religion so much as power and control, and on both sides, that truth seems to overwhelm and overbear the leaders on both sides, but the battle continues, with a non-believing blacksmith, Ballan (Orlando Bloom) caught in the middle. He's advised early on to go Jerusalem, not because of the religious symbolism, so much as for the moneymaking opportunities, like finding out he's the illegitimate son of Sir Godfrey (Liam Neeson) who then knights him and gets him a job working for Tiberius (Jeremy Irons) the King's right-hand man, and that lead him to have an affair with the King's sister, Sibylla (Eva Green). The King of the Christians in Jerusalem, is King Baldwin (Edward Norton), a wise and tentative king dying of leprosy who's fought most of his life in battle with the Muslims, and now hides his face, behind a mask, never showing his face. The leader of the Muslims in the battle is Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). He's a more prepared strategist, but he also realizes the real reasons behind the battle with the Christians, all this while Richard the Lionheart (Iain Glen) is spearheading the Crusades through Europe and making his way towards Jerusalem. "Kingdom of Heaven" takes a more sobering, and perhaps a more honest look at this obscure part of history right at the beginnings of the Middle Ages, and yet, foresees how the conflicts continue to escalate and how it can be prevented. It's a surprisingly mature epic, that's not based on a traditionally-structured plot, but is instead more focused on tone and seriousness; it wasn't simply an epic to make an epic, it was a historical drama that had points to make, it made them well, and then told a good story, one where even those typical ebbs and flows that too-often slows his movies down for no reason, but this is one of those times, where they're used correctly and to advance the story tangibly. Not a perfect film, but definitely a movie that was better than it really to be.



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