Thursday, November 13, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #98: "SAVING MR. BANKS", "ERNEST & CELESTINE", "THE INVISIBLE WOMAN", "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2", "DIVERGENT", "MUPPETS MOST WANTED", "LOCKE", "NIGHT MOVES", "PALO ALTO", "THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN COMES TO EDEN" and MORE!

Ah! I was trying get one more movie in but- oh well. I got my Netflix back, and I'm finally able to watch a few more movies from last year that I couldn't before, but I now have to watch a lot more movies. Hopefully that'll be good. Lately, it's a busy season for me, and frankly, I'm often finding myself distracted. There won't be a TV Viewing 101 update this time around, as I gotta get around to some other blogs first, including, my very long-delayed, Top Ten List for Last Year! Ugh! Yeah, I wish it was earlier too, but I've only got a couple other films to go, and I'm almost ready to make an official one, or an official enough one that may of course change many times later in the future. I'm also gonna work on adding some extra keys to my blog, to make it easier to navigate in the near future; I've been meaning to do that anyway, but I'll be getting to that.

Also, since I have been busier than normal, I'm looking for people who may be interested in writing a new blogpost or two here, as a guest blogger. I've always meant, even from the earliest days to have more than just my voice here, but things haven't turned out that way, and I do want to work on possibly changing that every once in a while at least. You'll still get plenty of me, don't worry, but just a nice mix-it-up, once in a while, I don't think would be unusual.

Anyway, it's time for this week's edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with the Oscar-nominated features "Saving Mr. Banks", "Ernest & Celestine" and "The Invisible Woman"!


SAVING MR. BANKS (2013) Director: John Lee Hancock

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It's been awhile since I last watched "Mary Poppins," but, I do distinctly remember this two-sided nature of Julie Andrews's character, and finding it out how she could one minute, brush aside the world and start singing and dancing, but then, the next scene, seem entirely too stern and abrupt towards the kids. I was actually always turned off to "Mary Poppins" as a kid because of it, but now, I wonder if it made more sense than I first thought. "Saving Mr. Banks", is about the struggle it took Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, as who else could really play him?) in order for him to get the rights to finally make "Mary Poppins". Actually, the film smartly focuses on P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) the authors of the Mary Poppins books, and even after twenty years, before she finally gave up the rights, she insisted on script approval, and that was just the beginning. Insisting that Dick Van Dyke not be cast, insisting on approval over the designs of the characters and the buildings, insisting on no animation at all, and don't make it a musical. Travers even insisted on all script meetings with her and the writer, Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman Brothers, (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) be tape recorded in case anything she says doesn't get done, she wants the backup evidence just in case. Between these scenes of debate and discussion over whether it should be 17 in the address of the home, should read "Number 17" on the Scene Heading or not, and her insistence on no pears in the fruit basket (and she has problems with the fruit basket to begin with), we get constant flashbacks in P.L.'s past in Australia as a child (Annie Rose Buckley) , having to suffer through her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) drunkenness and illnesses that often lead him stumbling from job-to-job, until he's bedridden, and her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) starts to go insane, at one point attempting to drown herself. It's here we see those origins of "Mary Poppins", and the source for P.L.'s temperamental nature. Some people, who might be looking for a more over-arching portrayal of Disney will be disappointed, the most negative thing the film seems to say about him is that he smokes. Or worst, that he's a film producer. I don't think it would've helped anyway, Disney was such a complicated character that it would take many more than one movie to truly portray him. (One's in post-production now as a matter of fact, called "Walt Before Mickey", and I don't buy that it's because it's Disney holding up his image, everybody knows both sides of him now, and besides, they could've easily just put Touchstone on the film if they wanted to do.) What the movie is really about is that process of adaptation, and the struggles involved, especially as an original writer of how one has long coveted the importance of their creations, especially when they are much more personal than they may at first seem. There's some really great performances her by Thompson and Hanks, as there's some good casting in general, there's some key smaller roles, that they just slip in Paul Giamatti and Rachel Griffiths into those parts. It was directed by John Lee Hancock, who I was skeptical of after his last film, "The Blind Side", but this is a far superior effort, and it actually kinda made me want to revisit "Mary Poppins" actually, maybe appreciate it more. "Saving Mr. Banks", gives us many sides and dimensions to that film and the story, and the whole process of filmmaking. Very impressive film.


ERNEST & CELESTINE (2013) Director: Stephane Aubier & Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner

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There's a touching simplicity to "Ernest & Celestine". It's a fairytale world of mice underground below, and an overhead world of bears above. Based on the series of children's novels from Belgian author Gabriel Vincent, the Oscar-nominated animated film has a startling beauty, style-wise, somewhere between the harsh hand-drawings of Bill Plympton, with the touching soul of "Madeline". Celestine is a young orphaned mouse, who's precocious and daring enough to question the authority when the old woman or the old dentist tell stories of how vicious bears are, and to be afraid of them. There's a little "The Tale of Despereaux" here, but much more personal and enchanting. As orphans, in between drawing idealized pictures of friendly bears, unconvinced by the horror stories, her job like many mice, is to go up to the bear world each night, and find little cub's bear teeths from under their pillows for the dentists in the rat world, who, similar to much of the bear population, have rotted and ruined their teeth with sugar . It's after one faltered attempt do she soon get found by a homeless and hungry bear, Ernest, who's a failed street musician. After originally trying to eat Celestine, Ernest gets talked into instead, eating from the basement of a candy store, and then later, she helps out Celestine by having her acquire dozens of teeth from the bear dentist, across the street from the candy shop. (Location non-so-coincidental, the dentist and the shoppe owner are married) Eventually, both are ostracized and eventually they begin living and spending time with each other, trying to hide and survive from both the mice and the other bears. The animation is beautiful and the softly muted watercolors and hand drawings of "Ernest & Celestine" just place you in a feeling of timing and emotion of innocence. It's a little surprising considering two of the directors, Aubier & Patar had created "A Town Called Panic", one of the strangest and most surreally strange animated films in recent years; I loved that movie which was based around plastic toys and the strange misadventures they have. There was such an revelry of freedom in that film, that seemingly anything could happen and it was incredibly strange; this film almost feels like a complete 180 to "...Panic", which originated in Belgium as an animated television show; "Ernest & Celestine" is heartwarming in the best sense of the word. It's comforting like a warm fire on a cold winter night, like- like watching the log channel on Christmas and New Years really. The film is about the feeling that the movie evokes and it's that sense that really the film is about, and on that level, it way beyond succeeds. I watch the English-language version, which sadly marked this as the last performance from Lauren Bacall, as well numerous other great voice talents, led by Forest Whitaker and MacKenzie Foy, the French language version starred Lambert Wilson and Pauline Bruner, but it's worth watching no matter what language it's in.


THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (2013) Director: Ralph Fiennes

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For Ralph Fiennes's first feature, he tackled Shakespeare with "Coriolanus", and with his second, he tackles Dickens. Ironically, in both cases, they involve the theater world. It's a bit of a forgotten fact although not a terribly surprising one that arguably the world's greatest novelist, was intricately involved in the world of theater. In fact, acting was his backup profession, before he became famous as an author, and even afterwards he toured with his own theatrical troupe across England, producing and stage managing plays for others, performing as well. He also late-in-light performed readings of his novels to much acclaim. "The Invisible Woman" showcases this side of Dickens (Fiennes), but it's main story is about his longtime mistress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan (Felicity Jones). Told in flashback, years after Dickens's passing, Nelly was an actress with his troupe, minor one at first but she soon starts getting more higher profile roles, in and outside of the company as he quickly becomes friends with Nelly and her family. She's infatuated with his work, the kind who can't wait to discuss her thoughts on "Bleak House" or "Little Dorrit", and even after being with him, looks at his works even more closely. She's almost groupie-ish in her devotion, but things continue to get more complex as it becomes harder to hide their relationship. Dickens even publishes a public separation from his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who she has her son Charley (Michael Marcus) read to her, as she was distraught. Of course, Dickens, never did get divorce, and although the movie does focus on some of the other more infamously noted incidents in their relationship, Catherine delivering a mis-delivered gift to Nelly, the train accident they were in, where Dickens left her in the crash to be saved later in order for him to seem as though he was traveling alone, but it's the way was shot and directing that's really the intriguing thing here. The movie takes some great pains, not to follow the typical path of a romance, or even those of an affair. It's actually, kinda hard to explain the directing style, it's almost distant to the romance. Actually it's more like it's in profile from it. Except for a couple scenes, Fiennes seems more fascinated by the effects from the romance, the ways the characters behave, than it is, the actual romance. (Although one scene, I found particularly sexy). We see and understand Dickens not being able to love his wife for instance, and how he's inundated with kids from her, causing him more and more fiscal hardships that he has to keep writing and making engagements and readings, which some claim contributed to his death. We see Nelly's struggles with her true love of Dickens, but the pain it forces upon her trying to not simply be the other woman, which inevitably she becomes. The Abi Morgan based on the Claire Tomalin novel doesn't have a traditional narrative, and that makes the performances much more key than it first seems. Felicity Jones gives an amazing performance, as well as Fiennes as Dickens. The more you watch the film, the more complex it gets, in some ways, it feels more like theater, where scenes can sometimes come in and out, and while they don't seem particularly seem to directly relate to each other at first, they soon directly relate to each other. Like, they're not necessarily linear and scenes immediately leads to scene B, it's more sprawled out, Scene A occurred, then some time later, scene b happens, then the next scene, sometime later, not necessarily connected separately but emotionally, it's powerful. The more you dive into "The Invisible Woman" actually the more impressive the film becomes. The film was a very late release last year, and was under the radar until it got a surprise Oscar nomination for Costume Design, but there's a lot more to this film. This is one of those films that could get better on every viewing; it's a very accomplishment for all involved, and I'm very curious what Ralph Fiennes does next as a director, and Felicity Jones, I hope her name gets placed for more high-profile work; this is the kind of great lead performance that gets overlooked and it really shouldn't. Far more subtle complexity than it seems.


THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) Director: Marc Webb

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As I continue to try and dissect "The Amazing Spider-Man", the extreme juxtapositions of tones, moods and way too many disparate ideas coming together become more evident and clear. And I'm still half-tempted to recommend it; truth be told, of the five Spider-Man films between Raimi's original three and Webb's two, this one might be the one I would consider a favorite of them. Don't be alarmed though, I've never particularly recommended any incarnation of "Spider-Man". I've gone on that rant before about him though, and here, it seems like, the problem here, were clearly in execution as oppose to anything else. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are always in this lovey-dovey honeymoon period, even when they've broken up with each other, they feel like Nick and Nora Charles, are having another argument as opposed to being stuck in the middle of a potentially life-threatening situation caused by some new Oscorp fuck-up, who's products seems to have as much success rate as ACME. Those scenes were more a remnant of Webb's "(500) Days of Summer", while scenes like the opening, make Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) the lowly blueprint electronics grid developer who Spider-Man saves one time, and becomes obsessed with him, he seems particularly over-the-top dweebish. Other characters and scenes would've been greatly improved upon by simply playing them more realistically. Does a scientist have to sound obnoxious and evil when studying Electro? Every once in a while, somebody will hear make talk about how great Nolan's Batman movies are because of how seriously they took the story, saying "It's just a comic book movie?" Well, it's a lot of money and time put into a movie, you can't simply, be unsure of just how the genre; you gotta treat the film seriously, no matter how you decide to go about making it, and the problem with "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (Which interestingly enough, the original didn't have so much) is that, it doesn't know exactly what way to approach the material. Or worst yet, it wants to approach it in every way. Consider the cutaway scenes during Electro and Spider-Man's battle at the end, alright, the one with Aunt May (Sally Field) working in the hospital as she's completed nursing school, alright, maybe that's at the back of Peter Parker's mind, while he's trying to MacGyver his webs into something that can harness electricity, but other than the fact that Gwen Stacy was heading to the airport at one point, was there really a reason for the scenes at the air traffic controller? I mean, it doesn't really connect to anything else that's going on, and we don't focus on too much other collateral damage during the film, potential and otherwise? Plus there's the Harry Osborn (Dane Dahaan, looking like a young DiCaprio) character, who's close to dying, and will do anything, for Spider-Man's blood, hoping that it can somehow heal him. I will say that, I bought the explanation for why Peter Parker turned into Spider-Man, while everything else that comes of out Oscorp seems to turn into, well, I don't want to spoil everything, but you know. That's the other thing, pretty much all the "Spider-Man" stories, are the same, something bad happens at a lab, creates a unusally intentional supervillain to wreck havoc on New York, blah, blah blah. Also, does everybody in New York listen to call-in radio? I don't know, like none of it was bad, but nothing felt like it went together either. It looked and felt like a mess. There's no clear vision here. You want to know the real difference between Nolan's films and everything else? Nolan's had a vision. Okay, he was told to do Batman, he said, "Okay but I'm doing my Batman.", and he stuck to that version. I know, the original films, were basically a composite from a lot of people and ideas as well, and trying to push force them out in some way in which they constructed a feature, and it seems, like they did the same thing here and none of it really felt like it was supposed to be part of the same film. I can definitely appreciate the film, but there's no way I can really recommend it.


DIVERGENT (2014) Director: Neil Burger

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Before anybody asks, I don't have any immediate knowledge of the children's book series "Divergent" is based on; I've never heard of it until now. Honestly, most of the time, despite a few notable exceptions; I've never been that big a fan of adapting young adult children's lit stuff anyway honestly, and "Divergent" is no exception. It takes place in some strange future where based on their testing of some kind, people are separated into specific groups of society. I don't remember all of them, and I don't really want to sit through the prologue again, but apparently Tris (Shailene Woodley) comes from the Abnegation group, the more liberal and modest group, known for their altruism and selflessness, like feeding the factionless who don't fit in any group and are essentially ostracized from the rest of society. When everybody becomes 18 or whatever age it is, they get a test to determine which group they belong in, and Tris and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). Much to their parents' Andrew and Natalie's (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd) chagrin, Caleb gets Erudite, the-, hold on I'm reading it somewhere, the conservative high-minded scholars, but Tris, gets told to just be with Abnegation, but her test said that she fit into multiple groups, which means that she's likely to be killed if she ever found out because of the immense amount of power they hold. Apparently. (Shrugs) And apparently, that's a problem that people, don't fit into, society neatly. Anyway, Tris, for some reason joins the Dauntless group, which are the police and soldiers group who are supposed to be the group that protects all the other factions from each other, so they go through, I don't know, something between extreme parkour and the things Ethan Hawke had to do to become as astronaut in "Gattaca", plus unnecessary risking of life, plus, these dream scenes where you're injected with a serum that shows your deepest fears and you need to overtake them, which is what gives away Tris's divergency to Four (Theo James) one of her Dauntless bosses. The leading political voice in Dauntless is Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is the bad guy, she's trying to eradicate Erudite, by using a serum to suggest things to them, turning Erudite Abnegation into an army, or something like that. It doesn't really make much sense when you think about it. "Divergent" is one of those movies that seems like it's got a more important message than it really has, but eventually it boils down to a rather simplistic message into not being caught up or whatever. I half expected Winslet to say "Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated", When you look at it on paper, the story is worst than the film; it's one of those stories, that's so perverted, it could almost be the kind of story that some idiot's gonna misinterpret as important the way Ayn Rand is perverted nowadays. It's that kind of bad, but the film is actually made well enough that it does overcome some of those problems in interesting enough ways, for awhile anyway, that you kinda want to see where this goes, but ultimately it doesn't go anywhere we haven't seen other pieces of literature go before, or do it better. I don't get all the "Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter" comparisons I keep hearing, but it does sorta feel like it's a copy of some other better work out there, just not done well. It felt like a copy of a copy really, a mishmash of a bunch of other ideas, without any real purpose for putting them together. "Divergent" is really this unremarkable mess of a film.


MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014) Director: James Bobin

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I feel sorry for Kermit the Frog here; if this was a better movie, we could seriously be talking about him getting a Best Actor Oscar nomination; this is arguably, his most complete and complex work, but even the movie's wonderful opening song, about how sequels are never better than the original, which was quite a spectacular opening actually, the movie more or less lived up to that premise. And why do the Muppets keep going back to the crime movie for a sequel? That's a weird place to go to begin with; it's hard to believe that right after the Muppets reintroduce themselves to the national public and spotlight, and then suddenly, they're recruited for a world tour by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who's working for this Russian criminal frog mastermind, Constantine (Kermit the Frog, in a dual role) who just happens to look like Kermit, although he sounds very little like him, once Kermit is kidnapped and sent to the Gulag where he has to put on a show with the prisoners at the insistence of the guard Nadya (Tina Fey), while the tour stumbles leaderless through sold out shows through Europe, that coincidentally correlate with peculiar high profile robberies that happen to be at high-profile locations right next to the theater they're performing at. The locations and shows are a great excuse for Constantine and Badguy, to pull off the heists, but meanwhile, with Kermit's lack of producing behind the scenes, as an editing eye, the shows run long and go on forever. Salma Hayek, complaining to Gonzo that his indoor running of the bulls fiasco, was completely foreseeable. Those moments were quite fun, I love Cristoph Waltz dancing so eloquently with Sweetums, was so elegant, it reminded of Gilda Radner's wonderful bit with a 8 ft. carrot. The movie needed more of those moments, like Kermit having the prisoners audition for the show by having them perform "God, I Hope I Get It", from "A Chorus Line", and strangely, because you see Kermit outside of the Muppets, you realize just how critical his directing and producing eye is to the Muppets and how kinda leaderless they are without him. Only Animal (Animal) for some reason notice Kermit's different when Constantine comes, and eventually Walter (Walter) and Fozzy (Fozzy) pick up on it, and try to bust Kermit out of the Gulag, meanwhile Interpol and CIA agents, Jean-Pierre and Sam (Ty Burrell and Sam the Eagle, and Sam also btw, gave a surprising great performance as well, easily his very best) are on the case, as Kermit and Miss Piggy's (Miss Piggy) long-delayed wedding day, unbeknownst to her, to Constantine, is fast approaching. Overall, despite some really good, memorable moments, not only was a sequel not as good as the prequel, and I'm guessing they're not counting the first six movies in this series of Muppets films, (Hell, I don't like counting "Muppets from Space" either) but this movie kinda was an empty shell of what The Muppets at their very best can be.  That said though, Kermit was so good as Constantine; I didn't know he had that in him. I actually would like to see him, take on more roles like that, that are more complex and outside his normal range. We really haven't seen the full depth of his acting abilities, he's quite impressive her as a particularly disturbing character. He's a little over-the-top because of the role, but he could be a more subtle villain in a different movie; he could play quite vicious I found. The Muppets could do something quite darker next time, or maybe he'll take a role on his own in another's film, just to see what would happen. I really enjoyed seeing him extend his range quite severely. He could've been in like "Margin Call", as one of the higher-ups, there's something good here, a more character piece. He could be believable in a Stanley Tucci-type role, something more menacing, just as a change of pace, you know? We've seen The Muppets do more dramatic pieces, really well, like "A Muppet's Christmas Carol", it's not that far out of the ordinary, just a suggestion.


LOCKE
(2014) Director: Steven Knight

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"Locke" is essentially a filmed monologue. People like to think of a monologue being a collection of jokes or something, or a long speech in a play or something that an actor has memorized for auditions but there's more nuances to it actually. It's still technically a performances it's just that you're the only one physically onstage. You're still talking to other people, you're still reacting, there's still conflict and drama, it's just that, they're not physically there. Sometimes you don't even get the conceit of the other performances over the phone or off-stage, although you absolutely could if you want, but the performance is on the stage, or in this case, on the screen. It would be possible to shoot this on stage, but the visuals of the actual journey and the drive are much more adept to the screen; in this rare case regarding monologues, this was absolutely the more proper choice comparatively. The title character is Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy). He's an architect on a major project that's about to start pouring the next day, it's a major skyscraper. However, he's just heard that he's about to have a baby, that night. He can't oversee the whole project, and he's left the notes of things to do in the car he's driving, and left in charge is an unreliable assistant. While he's worried about doing that, he has to call his wife and tell him about the affair he had. His son was looking excited for the futbol game that was about to start, and the whole family was awaiting him; which he would normally be excited about, but today's he's got too many other things on his mind. By the time he arrives to the hospital, on the other side of the motorway in the middle of a difficult labor, he would have gotten fired from his job. He would be kicked out of his house, he'd confront his long-dead father, and the mistakes he's repeating, and somehow manage to get the last permits for the road closures for the pour; his life entire life, completely changing in every possible way, and yet, on this late night, as he his team would win, he'd hear from his confused son, and through this long string of phone calls, he has to also someone keep on driving, keep on driving, as that one-night stand, that only one-night stand, will make him a father. "Locke" is quite a skilled directing achievement. Hardy's performance of a study of subtle intensity in the best possible sense, but I think it might be a trickier directing job, finding different angles and perspectives to shoot inside a car, outside a car, creating that, how-long-can-he-keep-this-drive-going intensity, have it the real aching time pressure of having of having to juggle so many catastrophes happening at once, all the while, the only path is the road ahead, and there's nowhere to look but right down the road, making sure the metaphorical crash doesn't turn into a real one. The filmmaker was Steven Knight, is was only his second time directing a feature film, but he also wrote this monologue, and he's a bit of an overlooked writer. He got an Oscar nominations for writing "Dirty Pretty Things" years ago, which made my Top Ten list of that year, he also penned Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises", as well the British series "Peaky Blinders". He's worked for some good directors and it shows here, his more adventurous scripts match his directing approach; I really was enthralled with "Locke", it clicks a lot of my buttons to begin with but this was incredibly well-made and well-executed, one of the films I'm most excited for this year.


NIGHT MOVES (2014) Director: Kelly Reichardt

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Kelly Reichardt's film is not a remake of the underrated Arthur Penn feature, that I thought, would've actually been a pretty interesting challenge for her I thought, but instead, we get, what seems like the fifth or sixth movie recently I've seen about environmental terrorism, which as much as I admire the motives and reasoning behind their actions and escapades, honestly, I usually find that like all other forms of terrorism throughout history, inevitably, it's actions are unsuccessful. Unsuccessful in actually getting anything accomplished that they really intended, and at worst case scenario, they actually cause unnecessary harm. "Night Moves", shows, basically another version of that. A- A good version, I guess. Well- I don't know, actually, I'm back and forth on this one.The movie follows Josh and Dena (Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning) two eco-terrorists, who are in the midst of planning an act, which involves blocking and a dam, and causing a major flood, and they do this by acquiring loads of fertilizer. Why they're doing this, is never completely explained, although there's a local filmmaker at the beginning of the film, showing her latest environmental film. Dena asks the director (Clara Mamet, David and Rebecca Pidgeon's daughter) what to do, and she responds about how she's not focused on the big plans, but a lot of little small ones. She's right about that, but this group doesn't want to hear it. In order to get their plan completely executed, they work with an ex-con named Harmon (Peter Skarsgaard) who they keep seeming to find out more and more disturbing things about as the project continues, or stumbles, like how they have to acquire more fertilizer, a lot of fertilizer, the kind that requires not only ID, but also, probably a farm to get away with it. Somehow, they slow long process continues, but during the flooding, a homeless veteran is killed. They're suppose to go back to their normal lives and not reconnect with each other in the near future, but the unexpected death causes grave concern. Like all Reichart films, the best of which was "Meek's Cutoff", about life on the Oregon Trail, is bare of pretension, sparce in dialogue, and long on sprawling locations and landscapes, not necessarily like a vista, but it's very based in the realism of the world she's creating. If I had, map out the universe of this film, all the locations and places, I probably could. She has a supreme evocation of sense within her. And place as well, it's special her filmmaking, but she occasionally draws it out too much. I didn't like "Wendy and Lucy", 'cause I'm convinced the only reason that film would work is if you owned a dog. I won't stop anybody from seeing "Night Moves", but I'm just barely gonna recommend it, because the film doesn't add anything new to the discussion of eco-terrorism, not the way that like, Zal Batmanglij & Brit Marling's "The East" did for instance. The lack of the showcasing of these emotions that would cause people to attempt these actions; and this is a problem with her, she's insistent of these minimalism and only insinuating through the actions, and that's fine, but you really do, have to put a lot into the films, that might not technically be there, and why these 3 STARS reviews of her films keep happening. She can do so much more, but it feels like she's asking me to do a lot of the work, without really giving us enough of a reason why our perspective/reaction to her films, is as important to the films as the films themselves; that's the frustration with her, but she's too talented to ignore, and there's some incredible acting in this film, especially Eisenberg and Fanning, so, it's a cautious recommendation.


PALO ALTO (2014) Director: Gia Coppola

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This latest Coppola, is Gia Coppola, and if you're struggling with the family tree, she is third generation, director, fourth generation in movies; she's Sofia and Roman's niece, believe it or not. Her father was Gian-Carlo, who died at age 22, after a fatal boating accident before she was born. (She's named after him, her full name is Giancarla Coppola) The film itself, is also the latest James Franco project, who wrote the collection of short stories that "Palo Alto" is based on, and he has a significant role here as a soccer teacher, Mr. B., who's fallen for his babysitter and player, April (Emma Roberts). That's one of multiple narratives however, and it's tough to keep all of them straight, through this dreary, boozy, world of high school in this uber-rick neighborhood. One of the days, I'm gonna write something that showed high school from my perspective but it'll never make a full feature. That doesn't mean, I don't think there's truth to the characters but, the characters were just so aimless, and it frustrated me. I was frustrated for them. This is a notoriously rich suburb home of Stanford University, and in the midst of the Silicon Valley, and basically these amazing houses, buildings, and cars, were a backdrop to them for materialistic nothingness. What few parents we see, are usually drugged up and useless, the kids all smoke cigarettes, school is as much a wasteland as the after school parties, and everybody more-or-less fits into some cliche archetype, almost because they don't know what else to do.  Take Teddy (Jack Kilmer, Val's son, in his debut role), a rather nice kid, probably the most likable of the bunch, but he continues to get high and drunk, and do incredibly stupid shit with his friend Fred (Nat Wolff). Fred's one of those kids who's just fucked up, and it takes a bottle smashed against his skull before he even begins to realize that everybody else isn't having the kind of fun he has, chainsawing down trees or holding up drug dealers jokingly with weapons. Fred has an affair with Emily (Zoe Levin) the school's whore. She has sex with every guy who asks, and a few girls too, sometimes they don't even really seem to ask. I'd almost think she was the young girl in "The Young and the Damned" who most think grows up to be a prostitute, but, there isn't that kind of symbolic depth to her actions. Besides, she's too rich to be a prostitute; it's just that somebody has to, so she does. Teddy's meanwhile, struggling with his community service, 'caused mostly by Fred, and it's Fred who usually screws up even that for him. There's a few other girls talking talking about Mr. B. mostly, as though, that's basically what soccer is really about. It's hard to describe "Palo Alto", it's goal isn't to tell a new narrative or even be some kind of expose, or exploitation piece on high school, it's really just a very typical slice-of-life, just in a new location. Frankly, after thinking it over, I'm not quite sure what to make of "Palo Alto". Gia Coppola's clearly got some talent behind the camera; she's definitely influenced by her aunt, although I still think she doesn't quite know who she is as an artist yet. Still, I think it succeeds at what it's going for, so I'm gonna recommend it, but I'm not sure exactly what it aiming for, really leads to that much, maybe that was the point too though, but even if your goal is to show emptiness, the audience should still feel full about the emptiness afterwards, and I think that's a nuance that she'll work on, in the future, but it's an interesting and impressive first feature. Good acting all around too.


THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN COMES TO EDEN (2014) Directors: Daniel Gellar & Dayna Goldfine

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I've always had a personal fascination with the Galapagos Islands, but who hasn't though? It's not simply a mysterious place 'cause of the history and the unique specimens that are there, the ones that famously Charles Darwin would observe and famously come up with the Theory of Evolution. There's such an aura about them; this enchanting archipelago in the Atlantic, that's a modern paradise that's almost like it's been preserved in another time. It's therefore not surprising that some would consider this Eden-esque world as a perfect ideal spot for a spiritual rebirth to forego society and civilization and start anew. A few people would actually start doing that in the late 20s & early '30s, and unfortunately, ultimately, it ended in a tragedy as mysterious as the place itself. "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Comes to Eden" follows a few outcasts who went to live on the more reclusive Galapagos Islands, the ones without people and that weren't strategic outposts full of people, leaving everything from their world behind to live there. Most did not make it back, and their ultimate fate remains a mystery. We see interviews with many surviving relatives and experts go over the accounts of the people, like Friedrich & Dore, Nietzsche nihilists who were the first to leave Germany, after Dore's Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, Friedrich is a doctor who uses unconventional methods to treat her.We also get some voiceover from famous celebrities like Cate Blanchett reading their letters home and others account. Probably the most amazing parts of the film, are the rare films they took of themselves and of the islands, they even, for fun, shot a movie on the island. We don't know exactly what happened, but eventually, most of them ended up confirmed dead, or presumed dead after being missing. The movie, does tend to drift a bit from the mystery more then it probably should,  but then again, their is such mystery, that there's only, at most speculation about what happen, after looking at profiles of the people themselves, as well as the few documented accounts that they have, with a few of the rare visitors around. This is probably the best account  of the mystery that we'll ever really get today, so for that I'm recommending it, despite some of the film's issues, but it's still the best telling we could probably of this little-known mystery that at one time, captured the world's attention, but has since, been left forgotten in the history books. 80 years ago or so now, and one image that they do keep coming up with, along with the numerous other shots of the nature and naturalistic animals, are those amazing Galapagos Turtles, those magnificent creatures that live famously, hundreds of years, older than any other species on Earth by a mile. Whatever happened to those recluses who vowed to find Eden, they're probably the only witnesses left, who may know.


A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1967) Director: Sergio Leone

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I have seen "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" a few different times; I've even written on it once or twice, but only now have I finally gotten around to finishing, the "Man With No Name Trilogy", which is what I was always told it was called, until, suddenly, for some reason it started being called "The Dollars Trilogy"; I get that it's easier to say, but it's also completely missing the legacy and inspiration of the film. In a way, I've already written on "A Fistful of Dollars", when I added Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" into the Canon of Film earlier. (Go to the Canon of Film key, to see a quick link to that film.) It was essentially a remake, in fact, it's a pretty literal remake, but the iconic loner image of Eastwood's mysterious stranger, called in this film, "Joe", is what's most key to the film's legacy. Eastwood had been a western star on television with "Rawhide," but his career had been in a slump when he flew to Spain to shoot this unique western. Leone's daring new technique of making a western was quite startling at the time. This wasn't the Monument Valley of John Ford or the Red Rock Canyon deserts of Nevada that we were used to, the world looked foreign, the characters seemed foreign, it was foreign. Leone being an Italian director, was used to never really recording sound and everything was dubbed in afterwards later. So Eastwood's dialogue is his natural dialogue, but everyone else is town is dubbed in, which is perfect for this bizarre film town where there's only two gangs, who's currency is essentially killing the other gang, so much so that the casket maker makes more money than the canteen owner. The rest of the movie, is him, scheming and manipulating the two gangs, as they both try and hire him as a hired gun, multiple times over, until he destroys both, and then calmly, leaves the town, realizing that there's no more money to make there now that the gangs are eviscerated. The classic final sequence, with the surprise bulletproof vest sequence is incredibly enthralling; Leone always uses every trick in the book to make a shot more compelling, great framing of images, amazing use of sound and score, there's always something interesting on the screen, even if the story itself, is a bit on autopilot. "A Fistful of Dollars" is iconic, although, overall, I think it's the weakest of the three, it's still an essential watch.


FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1967) Director: Sergio Leone

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"For a Few Dollars More", is somewhat considered a sequel to "A Fistful of Dollars", it was originated as one, after the success of the first film,  although it's really an original story in it's own right. In this version, Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, (Although not the same character as "A Fistful of Dollars, which was called Joe, while this character is called Monco) is a bounty hunter, who makes his money collecting bounties for the most vicious of gangs and villains. But, we don't meet him first, instead we meet Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) who's also one of the most successful and frightening of bounty hunters around. Inevitably, as we follow each bounty hunter as they seek out and collect their bounties, until inevitably, their paths cross. Like "A Fistful of Dollars", the actual story isn't nearly as relevant as the excitement in the scene themselves, they're long on gunfire and melodrama building up to them, and then, they move onto the next one. It's almost like a bunch of unconnected western sequences sorta shoved together more or less. Every introduction begins with a gunfire, and every gunfight or street fight, or saloon stalemate or anything else is done, big and large, bigger-than-life. Leone's spaghetti westerns are really in essence a study of storytelling through the use of iconic imagery. Almost Warholesque really. Gian Maria Volonte plays the main bad guy, El Indio which just means The Indian, and eventually both Monce and the Colonel, decide to pool resources in order to capture and kill this more crafty and bloodthirsty killer leading to a memorable shootout at the end. "Fora Few Dollars More" for me was more fun than the first, also a different more elaborate story, that was somewhat more complex than "A Fistful of Dollars", which is really, just a remake of "Yojimbo", although the real reason to watch the films is the great way that through these stories we get the instantly recognizable filmmaking of Leone, and the image of Eastwood, scruffy-bearded, cigar chewing, poncho-wearing lone hunter able to outsmart and outshoot anybody with barely a word of dialogue said.


INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2004) Directors: Andrew Lau and Andy Mak

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For reasons that are not nearly as interesting as they would originally sound, I actually watched "Infernal Affairs II" years ago, long before now, finally getting around to Andrew Lau & Andy Mak's original film that inspired William Monahan to write the script for Scorsese's Oscar-winning remake "The Departed". I want to get around to rewatching "Infernal Affairs II" and then watch the third in the trilogy at some point, although honestly having seen "The Departed" I really didn't need to see that much out of this original one, as I basically knew and remembered enough from "The Departed" to keep up well enough. If I had to say what the real difference is, other than clearly, the two filmmakers styles, it's that "Infernal Affairs" introduces a foreboding and ironic sense of destiny into the story. It's still littered with careful and contrived strategizing and game-planning and cell phone manipulation that's constantly going on, between those sequences, which was the predominant focus in "The Departed," but the two characters, Lau (Andy Lau) the cop who's gone gone undercover and infiltrated the Hong Kong mafia, and Chen (Tony Leung) the lifelong gangster who's job becomes to work undercover as cop struggles with their switching of lives, is far more the focus of intrigue here. The movie starts with them being young cadets, who barely spot or know each other, but then the film jumps up ten years, Lau desperate to get out of UC work, while Chen, thriving as a cop, but both men constantly under duress, with the profession of having to essentially pretend to be someone else for what piling up to being the majority of their lives. This is always a fascinating subject in film to begin with, the living the life of somebody one isn't. And in a sense, each other's lives here. The irony is not lost on either or them, especially when they both get assigned the task of trying to find each other. Essentially, you're not missing much, storywise, but it's basically we are getting two different approaches and ways to tell the same story. Auteur theory at it's highest really, two great filmmakers making two great films, and this is a great film on it's own, although I have a feel, this works better within the much beloved trilogy. The second feature had a more pressing sense of time being passed, especially considering Hong Kong's recent history at that time, as it's power was being transferred from the United Kingdom to China. In some ways that film might be more powerful actually, but this film is definitely a must-watch as well, whether you appreciated Scorsese's remake as much as I did or not.


ARTHUR (2011) Director: Jason Winer

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I don't know how or why we got overloaded with remakes this week, but of all the ones I watched this week, I was worried the most about this one. The original "Arthur" is not only a masterpiece, it's one of my personal favorites but to my surprise, as a modern-day interpretation and homage toSteve Gordon's only feature, it worked for me. The film's smart enough to know that it'll never be able to fully replace the original, so it's smart to know not to try. Arthur Brand as the uber-uber rich heir to the Bach family trust is nothing like Dudley Moore's iconic drunk, but he is an overgrown kid, who parties and drinks too much, capable of going out and wreaking havoc with his Batmobile before bailing himself, his driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman), and the rest of the jail out, before learning about how preposterous his spending seems during a recession. That's when he decides to just give his money away to everyone in the bar. In another smart casting choice, his unamused foulmouth butler Hobson for which John Gielgud won an Oscar has been replaced by his longtime nanny, Hobson, played by Helen Mirren. In fact, a strange theme below the surface of the film is how Arthur is surrounded by domineering women. His mother, which he calls Vivienne (Geraldine James) is the proprietor of the family's multi-generational fortune and is the one, not his father, who orders him to be cut off from the money, unless he marries the daughter of a self-made millionaire, Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner) who only wants to marry Arthur so she can be in control of the Bach trust, and be more respected among the polo-playing community. That is, if she can be demagnetized from the bottom of Arthur's bed, long story, a bad attempt from her at spontaneity. The Susan role is actually much more elaborate in general in the film, much more crass, she's not the more WASP-like doormat that Jill Eikenberry played in the original. It's then that Arthur begins falling in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig) a free-spirit of sorts, who's also rebellious to society, often getting arrested for giving illegal unlicensed tours of Grand Central Station to unsuspecting tourists, between writing a children's book about the friendship of New York City buildings. Actually, this is about as perfectly as I would've cast an "Arthur" remake. Arthur makes more of an attempt at a job, and even sobriety for awhile, that's where the movie strayed most from the original in my mind, but it had more than enough to show that the film cared about how good and special the original was, even writing in a nice little homage to Gordon, as a way of explaining the lack of Bach's father being a character. (Which acutally might be an improvement from the original to some degree.) To my surprised, I thoroughly enjoy this remake of a beloved classic. It knew when to modernize and where to go for it's own identity, and to do it without going overboard and straying too far away from the original, Director Jason Winer, like Gordon before, made his mark primarily in television until now, and him and screenwriter Peer Baynham, also from television, primarily in the UK, knew when to change something, and when not to quite well. As a film, it's not a masterpiece, but I doubt it was really aiming that high; it more-than-achieved it's goal of making an honorable and respetctable remake of a beloved classic though, so I'm gonna recommend it; especially if you've seen the original, I'm not sure someone being introduced to this material through this film is gonna fully grasp the richness to it that others have coming into the film with the original in their memory banks, but other than that, it's just a good film. Better than I think most would've predicted.


THE SEA WOLVES (1980) Director: Andrew J. McLaglen

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"The Sea Wolves" is a grand ole, old-style manly fun war movie, in the spirit of a Gunga Din, or something of that sort. It's technically based on a true story, about how an old regiment, the Calcutta Light Brigade, leftover from the Boer War, were brought in, 40 years later, in the middle of World War II, Col. Pugh (Gregory Peck) and Capt. Gavin Stewart (Roger Moore) concoct a plan to bring in the brigade, for one final mission. The mission is to steal a boat, to disguise itself in the Indian Ocean around India, and then to be able to board, capture and/or destroy one or more Nazi ships in a neutral port of Goa. It's the top secret mission, and all the old ex-soldiers are told to tell their loved they're going on a two-week exercise retreat with their old army buddies and whatnot. Creating distractions on the shore, like buying all the hookers in the red light district for the night, or putting up a carnival suddenly, some real outside-the-box thinking; it kinda reminded me or "Argo" in that respect. Capt. Stewart has time to have a little romance with Mrs. Agnes Cromwell (Barbara Kellerman) for no reason, other than she turns out to be a spy, if you're paying attention, but no matter, it's typical for this kind of classical filmmaking. This is one of those movies that looks and feels like it should've been made twenty or thirty years earlier than it was, sorta like "Tora! Tora! Tora!" or something like that, like it was pulled from another era. It's director was Andrew J. McLagen, a decent competent director, most well-known for the John Wayne film "McClintock!", and a few other notable films, although he split time between film and television most of his career, mostly even there, dealing in westerns. "The Sea Wolves" isn't anything special, but it's a nice film if you happen to run into it. Nice action-war-comedy for a rainy day.


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