Wednesday, January 7, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #101: "THE IMITATION GAME", "THE WIND RISES", "THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL", "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER", "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY", "OBVIOUS CHILD", "BLUE RUIN", "A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST", "ABUSE OF WEAKNESS", "VENUS IN FUR", "DRAFT DAY", "FADING GIGOLO", "THE LAST SENTENCE", "ROB THE MOB", "THE ANGELS' SHARE", "MENTAL" and MORE!

Hope you're all having a Happy New Year, Everyone! As you can see, we did a little bit of redesigning on the website, it's minimal, but I think it's an improvement, and we're gonna little more periodically, I hope you enjoy it. And we are in the process of re-working the focus of the website as well. Right now, I'm gonna start putting out feelers, and am working on having other writers contribute to the blog periodically; I know some of you may get sick of me, but I also want to bring in some other point of views and thoughts anyway, possibly some other areas of focus as well. Right now, it's Oscar season, we'll have full coverage as we approach the nominees announcements. So film has been a primary focus for us and will be in the future, but we'll be working out of that in due time. If you're interesting or have an idea of something to write for this blog that might be in my milieu, let me know, and if I think I'll let you guys post here, give you credit, give you props, maybe advertise your own projects, etc.

Anyway, we got a huge set of new reviews to kick off the new year and the new look, starting with a SPECIAL REVIEW of "The Imitation Game", and finally, (Whew!) a review of the Oscar-nominated feature, "The Wind Rises", so let's get to it folks; pedal to the medal, and get to the RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


THE IMITATION GAME (2014) Director: Morten Tyldum

✰✰✰✰1/2



I had read slight blurbs about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) every-so-often on Facebook over the years, his story has become a- I don't know what you'd call it, actually, some sort of a warning or whatnot, but it's been passed around like a chain letter. It was Turing's mind, who helped create a machine with the same thought processes that would become computers today, and he did it, in order to decode and unbreakable code, the Enigma machine. He would end up committing suicide a few years later after he was outed as a homosexual back when that was illegal. I wondered more during the movie, "The Imitation Game" if he was autistic in some way. Perhaps Asperger's more than autism, but still, it was clear that he had a complete inability to really connect with people. He's one of those people for instance, doesn't understand sarcasm, and when he talks with others, if he can, they're abrupt with him, and clearly don't understand. In flashbacks to school, Alan (Alex Lawther as a child) is the victim of really bad bullying, including once being thrown under the floorboard, and then having the floor nailed shut below him. His lone friend, Christopher (Jack Bannon) saves him from that horrible fate, and they begin a close friendship and it's him that introduces him to a code book that leads to him focusing on and sharpening his problem-solving skills. As Alan notes, "Isn't that just like people though, they say things but it's not exactly what they mean and you have to translate it?" The movie shows Turing, at three different parts of his life, first this school friendship he has with Christopher, which is what he ends up naming the machine that he builds during the second part, in the early '40s when him and a bunch of the other great minds in the mathematics and other problems-solving skills like grandmaster chess players are hired by the military to break the enigma machine codes; his idea, since it's impossible to break the machine with human skills alone, that a machine could be built instead that can be design to break the code, an undertaking which gets lots of resistance from his co-workers, especially his antagonistic second-in-command, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), and then after the war, as a professor at Manchester University, after a break-in in his house spawns an investigation into his military past by one cop, Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear) which he finds nothing, but he does end up finding out about his homosexual activities, which were illegal at the time in the United Kingdom. The best section unquestionably is seeing him struggle and eventually succeed with the Christopher machine, and how he manages to build this monstrous machine and teach it, to decode. For those who don't know about the Enigma machine, it really was an enigma, it was a machine who's got millions of code combinations which were changed daily and was used by the Nazis in order to send messages to their troops. Once they cracked the code, they then had to keep that fact secret ironically, so that the Germans wouldn't catch onto that fact, which meant having decoding possible attacks, and then having to let them happen. His one close acquaintance who was fascinated and in-a-way understood his approach to the problem was Joan (Keira Knightley) who solves a crossword puzzle challenge he puts out to find more codebreakers for the enigma team, and then has to struggle to convince her to stay and join the team. She visits him at the end, after he's been arrested and fired, being force to go through hormone therapy in a failed attempt to rid himself of his homosexuality. (Homosexuality was listed as a medical disorder in the medicine book, during my lifetime) I don't know how accurate the film or Cumberbatch get to creating the real Alan Turing, like I said before, if I hadn't known his story previously I might've suspected autism before I suspected homosexuality based on the performance, and maybe he was a little of both, but the homosexuality I'm sure had little to do with him being able to essentially develop, what would become computers and eventually evolve into machine learning technically, which,- basically he probably foresaw the IBM WATSON computer that won on "Jeopardy!" that time, but whatever he's doing it's definitely an acting challenge. I'm still debating on it's success though. Keira Knightley's also getting some Oscar buzz, which surprises me a little bit, actually; normally I think she doesn't get enough acclaim for her roles, but she's fine here, not quite special to me, and she's got some tricky speeches that came off a bit clunky at times. I don't think it's her fault though, the movie's flaw is that, is it a unsure of itself. The director is Morten Tyldum, a name I admittedly didn't recognize offhand, although I had seen his film "Headhunters" which was a confusingly elaborate but entertaining con movie that I liked; compared to that movie, this film is as simple to understand as Dr. Seuss, but it does kinda all work together. Turing work on the enigma machine was so secret, it wasn't revealed until a couple years ago, and since he didn't live to really tell about it, I suspect a lot of inference going on and probably some fictionalized characters at play that are more symbolic than based on real people, which is fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but it does make the film feel a little more, legend than truth at times. Part of the time, the movie feels like "A Beautiful Mind" and the other times, it feels like, some other movie altogether. It's all a good movie actually; I'm definitely recommending it and there's some strong work here, but I think this is a very complex human that we're getting told a story about, and I just am not sure the movie knew best how to go about explaining his life. I think we got the best we could hope for, but I still feel like I get this sense of having something missing from this story, perhaps because Turing's life ended so early and tragically that maybe the reason something feels missing is because his life is incomplete and that's the tragedy though.


THE WIND RISES (2013) Director: Hayao Miyazaki

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Miyazaki's always been fascinated with flying. Apart of that is the medium of animation  It's always used in his films and airplanes are also a big source of inspiration for him. Here's a story about, a fictionalized biopic based on Jiro Horikoshi, a man who designs some of Japan's greatest fliers for WWII, although he notes that none of those planes ever came back. For his latest last film, (I know the claim, but retired more times than Brett Favre so I won't be convinced until it really is, but let's say it is) I think he wanted to one last exploration, not just of, flying, but I have a feeling he sees a lot of himself in Jiro. Jiro is a single-minded genius, who like all geniuses, see the world differently. He's nearsighted which makes him incapable of flying airplanes, so he decides to become an engineer and focus on building them instead, and focus he does. Focused to where it seems like daydreaming. When he mentions to his co-workers a potential girlfriend, half of them are shocked he has emotional urges at all. He often dreams of a legendary Italian airline designer Caproni, sorta like,- hmm, I wouldn't say he's channeling him, it's more like he's looking over Jiro, like a guardian angel or a fairy godmother, one that's not exactly the most angelic of angels, but as some sort of guide and protector passing on his genius from his generation to Jiro spiritually. He can fascinate over a mackerel bone, and we realize before anybody that he's talking about airplanes not fish. The girl he becomes in love with, he saves after the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Naoko, but he doesn't give his name and doesn't run into her again for years afterwards. He's started work for Mitsubishi, had some failed designs and flights, and heads off to Germany to see their metal plane designs to study and report back after too many failed wood experiments, showing Japan, who's heading towards war, is behind the time. That's one of the undercurrents of this movie, that Jiro knows that in order to work on the things he loves, airplanes, he knows that he has to design and build them for them to be used as weapons. "One way we can reduce the weight is to get rid of the guns," he once ponders as his design isn't quite working as well as it should be at one point. He's able to reconcile this, but he's not as easily able to deal with Naoko's illness. She's dying from tuberculosis by the time they reconnect, and she takes great care of her, but she knows she holds him back. Eventually, she leaves a note and heads off to a sanitarium, and Jiro wonders why she would do that. This is definitely Miyazaki's most personal film, as some have noted already, and this struggle between caring for his family and his craft, from a guy with seven noted retirement from animation already is probably something he's more-than-familiar with. I think that's why this films lack a bit in the Miyazaki canon though, it's definitely more of an emotional film as oppose to a great story, which Miyazaki's more-than-capable of giving. I have to infer that, this is essentially, if this is his last gasp, it's, done this way as one last cry of who Miyazaki is. An emotional cry, and it's powerful as that. Like emotions it's a bit muddled and random too; it's more adult than anything he's ever really done, done in a while anyway; even Disney decided to use Touchstone to distribute this film instead of putting their name on it. As always, nobody can touch Miyazaki visually; his animation is absolutely, beyond stunning; as a film, it's trying to get a lot of complex ideas that aren't really that visual, into a art medium that is, and that's where it falters, but this is still worth watching, and if it finally does become his swan song, it's an appropriate one for him to sing, maybe the most appropriate of any of his work.



THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) Director: Wes Anderson

✰✰✰✰1/2



I suppose to some degree, all Wes Anderson movies, to be really appreciated, need to be seen twice, at least, possibly more times than that. I must confess something here, that for reasons that are too droll to explain, I had a troubled copy of "The Grand Budapest Hotel", at least it was somewhat troubled when I finally got ahold of it, and it was tricky to tell sometimes admittedly though, but occasionally the smoothness of the film would be interrupted, and sometimes, it became difficult to see if I had missed two seconds or five minutes, before I realized it. Normally I am cautious enough to wait, but in this case, I wasn't able to fully do that, so instead, I had to take another a more unscrutable path to finding out just what I might have been skimmed, and how important it was, 'cause I knew I was watching special, but I couldn't tell how special, and I'm still not quite sure I will figure out how special it may be 'til later. That frustrates me slightly, but I suspect there's more to this movie than meets the eye. I never heard of the writer who's given an Inspired by credit, Stefan Zweig at the end of the film, and with the movie, being a book, told by an author, who tells about a time in the past, in which he's told a story by someone else himself, I was assumed that the author was probably a fake name, similar to how "The Royal Tenenbaums" is intentionally, if you're paying attention, a book in the movie that doesn't exist, (And it's an exploitative bad book at that [purposefully so of course) but no, the wry and poignant Austrian writer really does exist, and that's when something struck me about Wes Anderson, how books and novels, literature itself is a key source of inspiration for his work. "Moonrise Kingdom" not only had numerous fictional and possibly real young adult adventure novels within it, the movie felt and played out like one. "The Life Aquatic..." is clearly a play on Herman Melville's "Moby Dick', and I'm sure I'm missing a major literary inspiration for "The Darjeeling Limited", (Maybe Agatha Christie) but now that I think back on that movie, which also involved a short story writer who wrote his short stories based on his own personal experiences and events, I now realize that Anderson is attempting to explore the secondhand nature of storytelling through his movies. We're told by the Author (Tom Wilkinson) that some stories, are indeed just told to you once you become an author, and that this story is told exactly as it was told to him, but can we be sure of that? Even if we are, clearly the insinuation is that the story itself is also secondhand, and only somewhat trustworthy,.... Of course, by the end, the fact that the story is secondhand doesn't matter, and maybe that's Anderson's point. The story is told to Author (Jude Law at the time of the telling) by the owner of the once-famous "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in the Republic of Zubrowka, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The hotel at this time, is a shadow of it's former self, aging, decaying, empty, yet Moustafa spends a couple weeks there yearly, and still seems unwilling to alter or change the hotel too much. He's usually reclusive, but for some reason he opens up to Author about his first days as a orphaned refugee that led him to Zabrowska and then to work at the hotel as a concierge under the hotel's previous concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). He's then known as Zero (Tony Revolori), and he quickly learns the ways of the hotel concierge trade. What happens after that is gonna take a lot more explanation, but basically, one of Gustave's most appreciative dowagers, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) passes away, and wills to him a Gustave painting, "Boy with Apple". This pisses off Madame D's son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) but while he's busy swearing to make sure the painting stays with him, Zero and M. Gustave take it. However, they are then arrested for Madame D's murder, meanwhile Dmitri has sent out an assassin (Willem Dafoe), to get the both of them, or short of him, the proprietor of the will, Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) who's also the connection between the hotel's then-owner, who was anonymous and M. Gustave. He also slightly learn about Zero's relationship with the hotel's shy but talented pastry chef Agatha (Saorise Ronan) and there's more other interesting and strange characters after that, way too many to really go into their roles in what ends up being this strange adventure filled with Anderson-esque twists, turns, logic and just all around silliness. They pack a lot into this barely 90+-minute film. Anderson's experimenting a bit with changing the frame sizes and look at certain points too, but, you can spot a Wes Anderson movie by frame at this point; he didn't need to do that, but since he's already playing with literature using film, you might play with film too. If you can get past, how circular the story is as it's being told, it's entertaining as it is, but I think it might go one or two steps too far that direction, and without a real reason for it, in terms of the story, but besides that, we're basically in a classic screwball comedy told through Wes Anderson-colored glasses, and that's just fun in general. Cary Grant could've been in this Ralph Fiennes role at another time, maybe with Sam Jaffe as Zero, but that's too simple for Anderson as the eclectic cast keeps introducing us to some new wrinkle into the story and world, always keeping us guessing, and at level, it's just pure comedic delight. He doesn't make fun of the literature he uses, references and takes inspiration from, but I think he likes using the elements and conceits from it to introduce us into his worlds and then tell the stories within them that he wants. You never know what he'll tackle next, but I'm realizing now that there's few filmmakers out there who's take on subjects I look forward to more than Wes Anderson. 


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
(2014) Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo


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(Yawwwwwwwwn!) I swear I'm trying, I really am, but I am just too tired of all this now. the movie after movie of all these different superheroes, and then the movie with all of them, and then the-, I don't know, whatever the hell else I have to care about- I'm trying but Jesus Christ. Why is this Marvel Universe thing such a good idea anyway? Seriously, why? I have to watch six movies to know what's happening in the seventh, and then that doesn't even matter, since there gonna end with the hint of what comes in seventh or eight or 12th I supposedly have to look forward to (Which btw, I know a lot of people do those "Most Anticipated Movies lists" and whatnot, especially for the new year, fuck all of you! Really, don't get excited at least until the reviews come out, then maybe, care or give a shit; you're just setting yourself to be disappointed. There is no movie I am looking forward too, so don't expect me to have a list, until it's in theaters, and I hear it's good, then I'll put it on a to-watch list, and it will wait it's turn; if it's good today, then it'll be good tomorrow, no need to get excited or jump ahead until after you see it.) Anyway, back to this,- which one is this, oh, "Black Widow",- oh I'm sorry, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". Shouldn't it be Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), really? Captain America (Chris Evans) was the worst and most boring of the first set of Avenger origin films to begin with, he's not much better here, and in case you think that, him coming up to modern time, after decades being frozen under the Earth would be an interesting contrast, well I'd like to see that movie actually, but he's slightly more educated at this point, thanks to the internet on his cellphone, to modern ways, and yet, he's fighting a Soviet. Yeah, Soviet, it's still the Cold War apparently. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised, and they suspect Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is, if not behind it, he's at least given knowledge to Steve Rogers, aka Captain America about what he knows, but he's been attacked by a mythical fighting machine called "The Winter Soldier" (Sebastian Stan) Except he's not that mythical, and as an assassin, he's quite powerful; Black Widow has met up with him before. With Fury laid out, and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, for some reason) as some head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now out for Captain America, who's on the run, and Black Widow's helping him hideout. And apparently this has something to do with HYDRA, and apparently the Nazis are still involved in this incredibly elaborate paranoia thriller, sorta. There's also a former Iraqi soldier, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who is apparently also an Avenger named Falcon, who's becoming a running buddy of Steve, and he's also helping him out as they dig into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s past, and therefore, Captain America's past as well. Apparently HYDRA's spent post WWII, infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. and causing the world to devolve into the kind of chaos that would need a group of superheroes. (Which, reminds me, why aren't the other Avengers looking for Captain America; you'd think that would've been interesting having to go after one of their own, and again, they really should just be called for everyhing at this point?) "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" isn't entirely bad, it's compelling seeing an Avenger on the run, and we actually dig into Black Widow for awhile, and her arc is most interesting as her mysterious past starts to get revealed more than normal. Still though, the more of these movies they make, the less and less impactful they are. We know there's gonna be, god-knows how-many-more-of-these, so nothing overly dramatic or shocking is gonna happen here, and we all know that, so this is more or less, an aberration than it is a superhero movie at this point, and basically I just feel jerked around now, by all these Marvel Universe projects now. They're like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that's never getting solved. As to, whether the puzzle piece is entertaining or not, it's got it's moments; I went through it twice, just to be sure, but it's still a bit too messy of a story to really be that engaging.


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) Director: James Gunn

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Normally when I composed these movie review blogs, I actually have a method to arrangement to how I position the movies I've seen that week, for instance, Oscar nominated films from earlier in the year, get moved to the top in most cases (Today an exception for films out in theaters that I happened to have a chance to see, on that rarest of occasions), then the most important or essential-movies-that-I-had-to-watched from this year, or at least the year before, (Maybe from two years ago depending on the time of year) come next and then of course, anything 3 years or older go on the bottom in same terms, how important and essential they are and usually I don't even list those reviews in the title since they're so ancient but in this case, if you happen to be reading these movies in order, you'll note my rant about the Marvel Universe in the review of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" above. It was purely coincidental, but I did happen to see "Captain America..." first and then immediately wrote that scathing retort, and then literally the next day, I watched "Guardians of the Galaxy" which is hardly great by any means, and I'm informed that they are in fact apart of the same Marvel Universe, but hopefully they won't become apart of it, 'cause it is something different, slightly more witty, almost a parody of these films actually, that I frankly enjoyed. Now, clearly I'm not a comic book person, but usually I've at least heard of the superheroes and characters involved in these films, at least the big ones that they've made movies about, but I hadn't even heard of "Guardians of the Galaxy" until the movie came out. Apparently a major character is a mix-tape of wildly familiar and overused-in-movies pop songs. The tape is Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) aka Starlord, who's a famous space outlaw from Earth, which is called Terra, in whatever part of the heavens this film takes place in, The cassette is his mother's favorite songs that he was listening as he watched her pass before being taken up to wherever. His latest crime is to get ahold of a powerful orb that apparently can help some disreputable people destroy the galaxy. The most evil, at least in this movie is Ronan (Lee Pace) who's a warlord who's slaughtered numerous tribes already, including the family of Drax (Former pro wrestler Dave Batista) The others three in this ragtag group is Ronan's adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and a genetically mutated tree and raccoon, the tree is Groot (Vin Diesel, who literally only has four different words in his vocabulary it seems) and the Raccoon is Rocket (Bradley Cooper) who talks enough for the both of them and is generally a narcissistic smartass, who does happen to make good points here and there. The movie is a little frustrating in that only seems to go, about half the way towards comedy and it deals with a lot of these double and triple crosses between many of these characters. Michael Rooker's a criminal-for-hire as well who Starlord owes a debt to after he saved his life years earlier, and Thanos (Josh Brolin) is orchestrating Ronan's terror of destruction while playing politics with the head of the planet, or whatever the hell she is, Nova Prime (Glenn Close), I would've rather that stuff been more simpler and not be as intricate to the world, but at least this was a Marvel world and point of view that I haven't seen before, and so for the time being, I have some faith in these Marvel comic book movies. Hopefully the next one, which they promised us at the end will be better, and hopefully it won't have Howard the Duck in it. Why he was in it at all, I don't know, but oh well.


OBVIOUS CHILD (2014) Director: Gillian Robespierre

✰✰✰✰1/2



I think there might be a tendency to see Jenny Slate's performance in "Obvious Child" as. almost an extension of herself instead of an actual performance, but this is not that though, this is an absolutely great performance, not a comedic performance, just a great acting performance. She plays a New York stand-up comic named Donna Stern who, like many young comics that doing stand-up is easier and more fun than working for a living, and that goes along with her relatively simple job of working at a bookstore during the day, that's going out of business soon. Then we see Donna's life fall apart. After one performance, her boyfriend Ryan (Paul Briganti) breaks up with her, and she's crushed. The next time she performs on stage, she's wasted, in no condition to perform, and not really coherent enough to formulate a joke. I should mention that- there's a few different types of stand-up comics, as most of us, she's the kind who's confessional about her life, on stage. Baring, everything, whether it's as simplistic as a farting habit, or her hygienic problems to her sex life. She doesn't use a traditional joke structure either, it's written and formed, but it almost seems improvised, somewhat similar to when Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin 30 years ago, when they would just go onstage and talk about what happened to them that week. So when shit happens in her life, it happens onstage too. Then, she has a one-night stand with a nice guy named Max (Jake Lacy) and now she's pregnant, and everybody from her mother (Polly Draper) on down to her roommate, Nellie (Gaby Hoffman, also really strong here, in only a few scenes; boy she's suddenly become one of the most interesting actresses out there), both of whom at separate points talk about their abortions. Donna's in her late twenties, but is nowhere near capable of taking care of a child and she knows it, but with Valentine's Day coming up, the ironic date of her abortion appointment, she suddenly confronted with numerous other paths and thoughts. Max, turns out to be a good guy, and a student of her mother who's a noted college professor, and he's a top protege, so ironically, she keeps running into him, when the last thing he wants to do is see the man whose child she's about to get rid of. Yes, the movie doesn't hide or shy away from abortion, and I'm gonna say right now that, she doesn't change her mind, however the feel about that, the movie isn't about the struggle over the decision, it's about the struggles of this girl as she has to deal with this decision she's made. She now has to make a grownup life decision, and ironically it's one that in theory allows her to remain in this childlike lifestyle, but just a little more mature about than she was before. She's still as confessional in her stand-up and she searches for the humor in her life, all the difficult moments in order to deal and conceive of these moments more clearly. She's goes from "If I can make fun of it, that's it's not a problem" to "If I can make fun of it, that doesn't mean it's not a problem, but that's okay." This is really one a great and surprising performance from Slate, and despite a few minor imperfections, "Obvious Chile" is a funny and smart film about a tough subject, and deals with it intelligently. It's a debut feature film from writer/director, Gillian Robespierre, and she's been working on this since her first short film five years ago, and she used that time to really tell this story, and the page is transformed by all the performances, particularly this performance by Slate who reveals herself here to be a true actress here, and not just somebody who can be funny occasionally. I'm looking forward to the next projects of Slate and Robespierre's in the future; this is a very strong first effort.


BLUE RUIN (2014) Director: Jeremy Saulnier

1/2



Watch "Blue Ruin" is kinda like watching an Anton Chigurh character, only without the abilities that Chigurh has, or for that matter, the logical and thoughtfully calculated plans of attack, and that joke gets old fast; if this was intended to be a joke. Jeremy Saulnier's breakout film is nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for best film made under half a million dollars, the John Cassavettes Prize, and it's getting comparisons to films like "Blood Simple", which I might as well confess this now, I never thought was that great a film either despite my admiration for the Coen Brothers. The main character is Dwight (Macon Blair, not a professional actor, he's a longtime friend of the filmmaker) who often seems like, nothing frankly. That's part of the point, he's not that educated, he's homeless, living out of his old Pontiac, (Which is where the title comes from), he's not even a particularly good shot with his shotgun, but he's out for vengeance to go after those who killed his parents years ago. Why's he doing this now, and why do we care- honestly I couldn't come up with an answer to that. The fact that he's not the typical character or actor and performance is interesting, and sometimes there's some intriguing situations that he gets himself in, and that dynamic works for a little while, but the character barely exists really, and frankly the movie barely does too. Saulnier's background is cinematography, so there's a lot of interesting sub-Malick, sub Kelly Reichardt-like shots, lots of them, and I think that's as much the problem as anything else frankly. At a certain point, a story is really not worth telling; it's too basic, and you can blame some of that on the budget, but I've seen complex thrilles on the same budget too; this is really somebody thinking, "If I shoot this with enough style, of some kind, than it'll make up for not having a decent story to tell." Well, it doesn't, and frankly, even when I liked the shot, I was so annoyed by the film's flimsy story and character, that I was actually yelling at the movie to hurry up after a while. This was a frustrating film. Saulnier can play some of the same notes as those filmmakers who he's clearly inspired from, but he doesn't have the music quite yet. The style should enhance the story, not replace it. There wasn't a character I cared about; I couldn't give a shit who lived or died at the end of this movie, This was a startling uncompelling movie that thinks it has everybody's attention, and even if it could've grabbed mine, it didn't do much interesting to keep me intrigued. After he kills his parents' murderer, he's left more than enough evidence around, so he's on the run again, and now he's got to kill everyone else, before they kill him, and everybody else- this is supposed like the Virginia Beach area, a little cross between Small town with a strip club, to- I don't know, the hicks from "Deliverance" or the family from "Winter's Bone" or something like, but everybody felt like a caricature. I was cheering when shots were fired, but I didn't really care who they hit, and that's a bad sign for a movie.


A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014) Director: Seth MacFarlane

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If this was an attempt for Seth MacFarland to do his version of "Blazing Saddles", well, I think he'll even tell you that he fell short, but still, I laughed enough at "A Million Ways to Die in the West" to recommend it. It's pretty much inevitable though, you do a western parody and,- I'm sure MacFarlane new the waters he was jumping into here, but I think the real problem is that this is probably the wrong medium strangely enough for the comedy he's trying to do. I know that's an odd thing to say, but sometimes, his character, Albert, a sheep farmer and not a good one, often talks in long monologues about how horrible life in the west is. Some of the great humor is in that, but I think this might've been done a little better if it was a comedy album actually, sorta in the vein of the "2000-Year-Old-Man" perhaps. I will say that I laughed at most of the deaths, especially the cameraman getting killed at the fair. The story revolves around Albert getting in trouble, first with Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) the local moustachery owner, after his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) left Albert for him. He gets shooting lessons from a new-in-towner, Anna (Charlize Theron) who unbeknownst to him, is the husband of Clinch (Liam Neeson) the most vicious and murderous outlaw in the west, and if the block of ice, syphilis, snakebites, or everything else doesn't kill him, after falling in love with Ana, Clinch will probably surely kill him. There's also a cute subplot with Albert's best friends, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth (Sarah Silverman) and how they're saving themselves for marriage despite her job as a prostitute, that was probably the one really good, physical joke, in terms of it needing to be visual that really kept working throughout the whole, and that's going back to my theory that this probably could've been better as a recording than it is a movie. Although it's good setup though for other movies. I'm expecting "A Million Ways to Die in the Time of Christ" or "A Million Ways to Die in the Middle Ages" or "... the Renaissance" or "...in King Arthur's Court"...., Seriously, Seth, I want you to do these in some way. Oh, "A Million Ways to Die in Space". Anyway, I laughed enough, so I'll recommend it, but disappointed 'cause I know he can do better. Hopefully he will next time.


ABUSE OF WEAKNESS (2014) Director: Catherine Breillat

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Whew! Catherine Breillat is autobiographical and ballsy. Neither of those traits are at all surprising to anybody familiar with her work, but she's never been those things like this before. Breillat, a few years ago, suffered a paralyzing stroke over the left side of her body. It was sudden and shocking, and left this strongest of strong-willed artists and women, to need help in order to help overcome her vulnerable and lonely state. The next two things that happened are immensely shocking. The first is that she becomes fascinated by a con artist, and is interested in not only telling his story, but also casting him in his latest film. He would end up conning her out of $800,000, as he essentially helped take care of her while recovering from her stroke. The second thing that happened, is that she wrote a novel about it, and then went public, and in 2012, because of her help and testimony, he was sent prison, and forced to repay her. Breillat is a lot of thing, stupid is not one of them, yet, she thought that she could control and manipulate this master manipulator herself, and invited him into her life, despite her friends telling her not to do that. Most people who would be so duped like that, in her position, would probably keep their failure of humanity quiet, and on the down-low, maybe, once the shock and pain was over, turn it into a story to tell at expensive lavish dinners about how foolhardy she was, like in "Six Degrees of Separation" or something, make herself the butt of the joke, for being so dumb. But she's not dumb, and that's the little thing about con artists, it's not the stupid that gets conned, it is the people who think they are smarter than they indeed are that get themselves into this situation. A book wasn't enough though, and now, we get "Abuse of Weakness", maybe her most powerful personal film. Her stand-in character is named Maud Shainberg and is played by Isabelle Huppert, who amazingly I'm told, has never worked with Breillat until now, and in a career of amazing performances, this ranks right up there. I'm actually shocked that her name's not showing up right now on Oscar ballots, but if there are reasons for why it isn't than their are some good leading actress performances out there. Yeah, in some sense she's playing the director, but holy hell, how hard that must be. Not just, one who suffers a debilitating stroke, one that's still a smart woman, one who's more vulnerable than she normally is, one who's more lonely that she normally is, one who's cocky enough, and strong enough to think that nothing will happen to her, and what he, the conman, in this film, named Vilko Piran (A French rap artist named Kool Shen) of course, wouldn't try to con her, especially when he's so caring and nurturing with her, as he nurses her back to being healthy enough to make her next movie. Huppert has to play all these things, while the person she's playing is the one telling her how to do it. It might her best acting work yet, and that's saying something. "Abuse of Weakness" is a film about two people abusing Maud's weakness, Vilko and Maud. Vilko for taking advantage of her situation, Maud for letting him do it. It's not an apology from Breillat but a reality that shows that if it can happen to her, than it can probably happen to anyone.


VENUS IN FUR (2014) Director: Roman Polanski

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After adapting Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" to the screen, and with him now adapted David Ives's "Venus in Fur", I'm starting to wonder whether Polanski's been hanging around catching Broadway plays recently. I'm kidding of course, I'm sure he saw the play in Paris or somewhere like that; he even made this one in French instead of English, a somewhat intriguing choice considering it's an American play, although it is, loosely inspired by the Austrian novel "Venus in Furs" by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Von Sacher-Masoch's work was the "50 Shades of Grey" for it's time, other films inspired by his work include "Devil in the Flesh" and "Seduction: The Cruel Woman" and if you haven't notice, yes, a-eh, pronunciation of name, is sometimes considered one of the origins of the word, "Sadomasochistic". Now, "Venus in Fur" though, is about a playwright/theater director who's auditioning actresses for the main role in a theatrical adaptation of the novel. The playwright is Thomas (Mathieu Alamric) and the entire movie. like the play is two performers, as Thomas suddenly has one last unannounced actress, Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) come in, dressed in a dominatrix outfit, and seeming scatterbrained, but she's mostly critical of the work and the writer's interpretation, yet, he's impressed with her acting as they continually switch between reading lines and arguing about the work and how the writer is inspired by it. Then this back-and-forth really goes back and forth as parts and sexual roles and of course, dominance and submissiveness gets changed and reverse multiple times over. I can totally understand how Polanski can be inspired from this material, one of his most common themes, is this, almost conspiratorial worry that, sometimes people get overtaken with the parts they're in some ways forced to play in their lives. That's a common obscure undercurrent, in some of his work, for instant, "The Tenant" which is one of his very worst film, but it tackles this subject head-on, or even a recent film like "The Ghost Writer" or even "Rosemary's Baby", and here's basically another version of that, but done in this very minimalist, theatrical way that we're not used to seeing from him much. He's always been involved in the theater as well as film, Polanski, really bringing that to film now more than ever, and this is a good mixing of the two, continues on his themes and motifs fine as well; it's not the greatest play to begin with, but it's a good adaptation. It's hard for me, to call it a special Polanski film, but it's certainly a good one; worth a viewing, recommendation. Good acting btw, also; I think I'd rather explore more of von Sacher-Masoch's work


DRAFT DAY (2014) Director: Ivan Reitman

1/2



Oh man is this film awful. I'm more than familiar with the NFL Draft; I remember being the only Eagles fan to not be booing Donovan McNabb when we drafted him 2nd overall in '98, because he wasn't a guy named Ricky Williams, who would retire a few years later to get high for a few years with Lenny Kravitz before becoming a #2 back in a 3-back system in a few different places while McNabb was leading us to a Super Bowl appearance, six or seven division titles and 5 NFC Championship game appearances, most of those happened, without having a receiver of any noteworthiness or talent, btw. Anyway, the NFL Draft is an interesting subject matter for a film, many films in fact, but not the kind of movie that's made here, and even if it was, frankly, this is not a good one. Ivan Reitman should know better. Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. A team GM is the person who's basically in charge of drafting, signing, sometimes releasing players and coaches. He's the one who's essentially the head of football operations. When a team decides to go after a player and sign him to a huge contract, it's the GM who's negotiating that deal. It's the owner, this one's named Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) who hires (and fire) the GM and signs the checks. The first day of the NFL draft (There's actually three days; there should be two; it was better when it was all on a weekend) is the most pressure-intensive day for the GM, and under normal circumstances, analyzing talent, looking through every possible piece of game film and scouting reports and accessing all the needs and the players available, stressful enough in the war room. Here, his girlfriend, the team's salary cap guru Ali (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant; the owner is insistent that he make a splash, or else his job and everyone else's is pretty much on the line. He makes one hasty move, trading basically the future of the franchise to get the number one overall pick from Seattle, which is supposed to be a hotshot QB named Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Everybody thinks he's the clear first number one pick, and he has all the talent and skills to boot. With such a move, naturally, he better be right about the guy, but he makes sure every available player is out there to be sure, as the draft continues to move up closer and closer.- I'm gonna get right to the point, this movie sucks. It's poorly written, knows, very, very little about the actual goings-on about the NFL Draft, and why it's important, other than it's important, and frankly, since it is the NFL Draft, without giving away how exactly this plays out, there's the other problem of, we don't really know how the hell this plays out at the end. "Ryan Leaf won everywhere, nobody said that about Tom Brady", to paraphrase one of the dozens of inane and most well-known and common pieces of draft trivia their is by the Garner character. It wants to be the football version of "Moneyball" but "Moneyball", A. we actually got to see the results, and B. it actually knows about the wheelin' and dealing behind-the-scenes world of sports, and really gets into the minutia of it, and it isn't simply, passion vs. talent as the movie makes it out to be, or simply knowing how to "Trust your gut". And there's a scene that really, especially when I thought about this later, that makes zero real sense, how the war room is looking over a football game involving two of their potential picks, Bo, and a linebacker named Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and both played incredibly well during the game, but Mack got thrown out after touching an official after celebrating after he got a fumble return for a touchdown after his fourth sack, and frankly, what they end up seeing and finding that they didn't see before, there's absolutely no way in hell they wouldn't have seen or known about until they looked closely at the footage, especially since this is an outspoken player who's known for speaking his mind on Twitter. The movie isn't even really focused on the draft anyway, it's about layering a bunch of shit on Costner's character to make us care about him. Having to fire his father two years earlier who passed the week before, his mother (Ellen Burstyn) insisting, for reasons, beyond any piece of logic that I can find, on today of all days, being the day that she must spread the ashes onto the practice field (And everybody but Costner's character, coming out to join her, literally a couple hours before the draft, apparently they had nothing better to do), the pregnant girlfriend/co-worker, the owner, the trade, the misgivings, the security P.I. guy, the new annoying intern, you're now, pissed off quarterback (Brian Drew), who is apparently in town close enough to go and destroy your office, the head coach (Denis Leary) who's he doesn't like and wants to quit...-, I mean, this is bad Robert McKee screenwriting, where they're told to build up the drama in your characters, and yet, you the movie doesn't realize how to do any of that correctly. It's the generic plot formula, it's- ugh everything we hate about the movies, and absolutely nothing that people like me, who religiously watch the NFL Draft on TV (When I have cable) every year tune in for. Fine, it was shot at the draft, it looks good, there's nice overhead shots of stadiums every time there's a phone call from a new team interested in a player or a trade or something, the acting is as good as it can be. I think Reitman knows it's a bad script, does what he can to try and save it, but it's so much worst than it even seems, 'cause it comes off as patronizing pretty much. Sam Raimi directed a similarly shitty sports movie with Kevin Costner called "For Love of the Game" years ago, which was basically the same bad generic plot movie; he's a character in the sports world, let's put all the shit possible on him, let's make everything else as generic as possible, maybe a few things unusual that actually happened (Although they're so commonly known to sports fans that they happened that we point at the screen and go "That happened to..." for the non-sports fan watching the movie, like they care.) and then, he'll against all odds succeed at the end; and this movie is even worst 'cause at least, the shit that happened to him in "For Love of the Game", was mostly character building, none of it is here. It's all written and done for the sake of adding reasons for us to care, as though, the NFL Draft, if handled correctly, wouldn't be enough for us to be interested in a movie about it, even though, the only reason the movie is being made is because the NFL Draft is interesting and popular to enough people that they might be interested in seeing a movie about it. We are, but not this one.


FADING GIGOLO (2014) Director: John Turturro

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John Turturro has quietly become one of the more interesting actor/directors around. He's films are so unusual and strange and unpredictable from one to the next, that it almost seems like this great actor is simply directing and finding interesting stories to tell, simply to challenge his own skills and pique his own interests. "Fading Gigolo" is essentially his Woody Allen movie, and a light one at that. Turturro plays Fioravante, who's a bit of a do-anything kind of character, who's friends with Murray (Woody Allen, in a very rare acting appearance in a movie that he wasn't a writer/director on.) a now-bankrupt rare book store owner, who for reasons that are never fully explained, lives with a younger African-American women, Othelia (Tanya Pinkins) and looks after her four kids, when he's not at the store. He catalyst for this story involves Murray meeting with two different women, and one hairbrained althought not-that-hairbrained scheme. The first person is his doctor, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) who's married, but is interested in her and her girlfriend, Selima (Sofia Vergara) having a threesome. The other involve taking Othelia's kids to the Hasidic side of town to get their lice dealt with, that's where he meets Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) who's married to the Tony Soprano of the Hasidic Jew community Dovi (Liev Schreiber) but she's lonely and sexually frustrated. Murray suspects, correctly so, that Fiorvante would make a good gigolo, and after some convincing, he gets him to go along with this scheme. First, it involves being with the Dr. and her girlfriend, separately, as they both want to try the guy out separately, although this leads to some jealousy between them even before they get to the threesome, as both worry they'd rather have Fioravante all for themselves. Then, while easing Avigal into the arrangement slowly, he begins to fall in love with her, which is a terrible problem for a gigolo under normal circumstances, but also, her husband strongly suspects his wife's having an affair and is now zeroing in on Fioravante and Murray.  (He's actually more annoyed at Murray, for being a Jew who seems to be going against his own by helping Avigal supposedly break her vows. This leads to numerous absurd scenarios, that aren't treated that absurdly; actually there's a sweetness and tenderness to this film, especially in how love really does play such a huge role. The two stories actually parallel each other well, they're both about people looking for the love they can't get from their partner, and they go to extreme measures to try and get. Although some extremes are more extreme than others, but still, stuff happens, and you can have all these rules and customs but emotions, heart and nether-regions may try to supercede those. rules. Otherwise, the story is about a short-term although surprising successful money-making venture into male prostitution for both Fioravante and for Murray, who was working as his pimp for all of this. It's a quiet little nice indy, probably nothing more than that, but I enjoyed it; it was cute little fun thing to do for a little while, just like the gigolo business. 


THE LAST SENTENCE (2014) Director: Jan Troell

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Years ago, I read a book in middle school; I can't for the life of me remember the name of it, but it took place in WWII, in Denmark, I believe, which is a bit of a forgotten area piece of geography during the war to begin with, but Germany did occupy Denmark, and the book was about a family that trying to find a way to get out of Denmark and eventually into Sweden, which strangely, not only was still not taken over by Germany, it actually remained neutral and unoccupied entirely during the war, throughout the entire time, and I always kinda wondered why Hitler didn't particularly go after it, but actually, it was also Sweden's choice as well to stay neutral, and even though they weren't occupied and remained a safe haven for Jewish escapees and others, it was hardly a calm neutrality, and the war did divide the country. Jan Troell's latest "The Last Sentence" is his first attempt with a digital camera, which is a bit unusual consider Troell, who's subject matter is often the past, (And in his previous film "Everlasting Moments" the past and film.) The film is still shot in black and white and is about Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), a journalist in Gothenberg who's one of the first to start criticizing and condemning Hitler, almost immediately as the Nazi party gained power, and then continued on even under pressure from the readers, advertisers, the politicians and even the King of Sweden, tried to lure him off the topic. And, he's personal life was one of peril. He was married to Pusta (Ulla Skoog) but was carrying on an affair with his publisher's wife Maja (Pernilla August) who was Jewish, which led some to think his rants against concentration camps were because of his affair. His publisher Axel (Bjorn Granath) would keep publishing his commentaries usually, although when he was told not to print one, he seemed slightly smarter than the government, by just leaving the section blank, making it seem worst than it really was. There is an inner conflict playing out within him, although that point gets a little too well-made, at one point, three people different people go and tell that to him in three straight scenes, but "The Last Sentence" gives us a slight glimpse into this complicated time and place in a country that's literally in the middle of everything and yet is at odds with itself as it struggles mightily to stay out of it. As Torgny calls for Sweden to take arms and fight, he's told about how the Swedish military wouldn't last ten days with either Russia or Germany and they're right about that. (Which always made it seem stranger that Sweden ended up missing out on the war entirely.) Troell has a tendency to drag on and he does here a bit too, but overall it's a very intense if uneven film, but still very strong.


ROB THE MOB (2014) Director: Raymond de Felitta

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LOL, oh I actually heard about these two in Mafia folklore before seeing "Rob the Mob". ([In my thickest Jersey-Italian accent, voice and arm movements] Hey, I'm Italian, my family's from Jersey, later on we moved to Vegas; I'm not saying that's anything more than a coincidence, or irony, but-eh, I hear things, sometimes, I may talk to a few people, who may know some things, but that don't mean nothing. I hear things; you know?") Anyway, (waves hand jokingly, referencing the bit) no, I am not a member of any organized crime family, but it's something we're familiar with, and during the Gotti trial, it's something that was an odd post-script on that trial was the sudden robberies of numerous Mafia social clubs in the New York area. The two unlikely folk heroes are Tommy and Rosie (Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda), a young couple of ex-cons. They both found each other and then spent most of their time, in and out of jail. This latest time, they actually succeed at going straight oddly enough. Rosie gets a job as a debt collector for another ex-con, Dave Lovell (Griffin Dunne, having a lot of fun) who enjoys giving ex-cons another chance. He's an interesting character himself too, but Rosie's a natural at debt collecting, and she gets Tommy a job too, and things start going well, although Tommy's still unable to really convince his family, especially his mother (Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, in a cute cameo.), Meanwhile, John Gotti's trial is going on, and they're paying close attention, as is everybody, but they're close to obsessed, even actually, and people don't always realize you can actually do this, they actually just go to the trial and watch the proceedings, and one thing they find out is that there's weapons allowed in those Mafia social clubs where those old time mobsters hang out, and eat and stuff like that. Little Rao's type-places, not that I've ever been there either, although if somebody's not using their table for that one day-, sorry nevermind. So, they realize, a bunch of mobsters, lots of big wallets, nobody with a gun, the last people, who'd want to call the police, and suddenly, they're back in the robbery business. Slowly the word of their actions catch on, as eventually the mob realize that it's not another family pulling off the heists, and eventually they start looking for the two Bonnie & Clyde-like robbers. Meanwhile, they enjoy the publicity and the riches and the case, which helps them come up with new places to his with each testimony. Eventually the mob reporter, Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano, reminding us that he's quite a strong actor; we forget that about him sometimes, but nice to see him a good role) even starts reporting on it, and they end up calling him with the inaccuracies and they then get interviewed. They're full of passion these two, but they aren't bright. Eventually, they have an advantage, when it turns they steal the list with the order of hierarchy on it, the proverbial silver bullet, if you will, for the prosecution. Of course, they use it to try to call the members and extort more money from them. The leader, turns out to be Big Al (Andy Garcia, unrecognizable here behind the way; I had to look up that it was him) who actually owns the supermarker, he's a grocer and spends much of the time, spending it with his family, teaching his grandson how to make arancinis, fearing about the days when he realizes all the evils acts and deeds he's done. It's actually a striking performance Garcia here; I really felt like he embodies; every performance is really good here actually. This is actually about as good a movie as you could make out of this brief with note in mafia folklore. Pitt and Arianda, are incredibly good as young, ambitious, in love people, who can't conceive how in over their heads they are, and it's a romantic look at them. The ballsy genius really, of going into a mafia social club, and screaming for everyone to give them their wallets, and it takes them a minute to realize he's serious and how he embarrasses them; it's funny, it's observant, it's a little slice of the Mafia not talked about much, and there's some really good characters and performances here. Very strong film.  


THE ANGELS' SHARE (2013) Director: Ken Loach

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Steven Boone's review of "The Angels' Share" on rogerebert.com, takes a look at the at the film through the perspective of looking at Ken Loach's political perspective, and the film as some sort of socialist parable, or some other mumbo jumbo. Not that it's entirely wrong or irrelevant, Loach is certainly political in nature and in his films; Boone probably makes agood point or two, but frankly, but frankly I just watched a fun little movie about a group of British lower class hoods who get one over some upscale snobby whiskey connoisseurs. The social realism is there for sure, but the interesting parts come later. First, we meets these convicts as their rejoining society, led by Robbie (Paul Brannigan), who's the leader of the group out on community service. He beat someone up, fairly bad, and the confrontation is tense, and his family's not crazy about him either, but he's just had a kid with his girlfriend Leonie (Siobhan Reilly) but during his service, Harry (John Henshaw), the guy overseeing their service, takes them on some field trips, and one goes to a whiskey distillery, and it turns out, Robbie has an unusual stout pallette for tasting whiskey, and it's noticed by a collector Thaddeus (Roger Allum) who happens to be auctioning off later, an incredibly rare barrel of whiskey. The title refers to, the amount of whiskey that naturally evaporates when it's in the barrel, that's "The Angels' Share" of the whiskey supposedly, and this barrel is worth millions. A bottle or two would set them up, and Robbie's pallette gets Thaddeus interested in him possibly working at the distillery, but more than that, it gives him and his group of Albert (Gary Maitland), Rhino (William Ruane) and Mo (Jasmine Riggins) have an in to possibly the inner workings of the distillery, where they can bottle some of the whiskey and sell on the black market, without anybody even realizing it's gone. It's a smart plan, and the way it plays out, with the clash of these lower-class rapscallion-like characters with the more supposedly sophisticated group of whiskey experts. That was the more enjoyable part frankly for me; I usually find Loach, while his work's always good, there seems to be a denseness to it, and especially when it does dive headfirst into the social realism and just stays there; there was enough of that, but it was still just setup for this rather ingenius and fun little comedy of manners. I rather found myself thinking highly of "The Angels' Share," mostly 'cause of the joy of the story, and not so much that the group manages to find a way into a world which normally they wouldn't necessarily be invited to join. They came in through the back door, just out of prison, but it only takes the one thing your good at and you can start climbing the reigns, even if that one thing is an ability to taste whiskey better than others. (And frankly that's a pretty cool one thing to have.An ability to steal it is pretty good too though.)


MENTAL (2013) Director: P.J. Hogan

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I'm not sure what it is or why, but Australian comedies always seem to lean towards the exaggerated and grotesque, this almost surrealistic point of view of the world. Somewhere between Fellini and Dali lies Australia. I say this affectionately but it always seems rather bizarre to me, and I think Director P.J. Hogan, herself directly apart of this milieu with such films as "Muriel's Wedding", but she takes it on directly here in "Mental". "Mental" is a slang term for crazy, and in the town of Dolphin Head, everyone's crazy. But let's start with the one who gets sent to the hospital for being crazy, Shirley Moochmore (Rebecca Gibney) who begins the movie walking out to her backyard and singing "The Sound of Music", much to her five daughters' chagrin. All five of the daughters are supposedly a little mental too, each in their own different ways. The oldest, Coral (Lily Sullivan) tried to jump off the house, only to land her father's car as he was pulling into the driveway. Their father is the town Mayor, Barry (Anthony Lapaglia). He's a demanding, abusive philanderer who rarely comes home, and just doesn't want to deal with anything involving the family. Bad enough the rumors and the nosy neighbors, and with an election coming up, he hires a nanny off-the-street so he doesn't have to stay home and watch the girls. The Nanny, named Shaz (Toni Collette) is new in town, and doesn't necessarily buy into everybody being as mental as they seem, and she's got a medical dictionary to prove it. She's also got a knife, and hears voices from her daughter, who she suspects lives inside a shard that's on display at the shark exhibit that Coral works at and is owned by Trevor (Liev Schreiber) who's unusually frightening and sometimes overprotective of Coral, but frankly, somebody should be. Coral, quickly investigates, and realizes the problem isn't so much the family being crazy, it's that everyone is, to some extent. Eh, this is a country that was started as a prison colony, so actually it's probably not that strange, how out-of-whack everyone behaves. "Mental" is certainly not Hogan's strongest work, but I liked enough of it to recommend it. The set and costume design are pretty hilarious at times, and the absurdities I did find intriguing, and I liked the arch of Coral, who's also starting to date around this time, and through Shaz really does start guiding her messed-up family into a range of stability. Collette and Schreiver are particularly good here, Lapaglia is also believable as somebody who see himself as a Kennedy-esque figure but without really the insight to live up to him. "Mary Poppins" it's not, but I enjoyed "Mental" as a satirical look at Australian comedies, the country itself, mental illness and the perpetual overuse of psychological disorders,... there's more going on here than it looks and it's done well, could've been a little more focused, there's a few-too-many that end up going on, but other than that, enough moments, peeking out for me.


THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1954) Director: Richard Brooks

✰✰1/2



I first came across "The Last Time I Saw Paris" years ago. Haven't seen it until now, but came across it. It's based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called "Babylon Revisited", a story I'm very familiar with 'cause I once went out looking to buy the rights for it 'cause I had an idea for a short film based on it. That's when I came across the film that I'm finally now getting around to. I never ended up writing the story or buying the rights, although I'm not particularly concerned as my interpretation is nothing like the version that's here. As we have here, it's not a bad movie in particular, but it's not a great one, and frankly for the fifties especially, it doesn't really compare all that well to similar movies and stories of that era, so for that reason I'm not recommending it, but I wouldn't dissuade anyone from watching it. In case you're wondering, most of the short story, basically is fifteen minutes of so of the last half-hour, with a tacked-on happy ending. The story revolves around a character named Charlie Wills (Van Johnson), he's the presumed Fitzgerald stand-in. The story was one of his later ones and looks back on those Jazz Age times in Paris. Charlie is back in town, and we see the excitement that he first has there after leaving the army and starts to try to build a career as a reporter. He meets and then marries Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor) and their whirlwind romance is good while it lasts, but when children start entering the picture, both of their problems with booze and monotony, and eventually this gets in their way of trying to grow up in mature parents. Charles drinks heavily and Helen continues to go out partying like before, both of them get caught in their own traps of desperation and despair. When Helen arrives at her sister Marion's (Donna Reed) doorstep, she's about on her last ropes. Charles is sober now, Helen didn't survive it, but now James (Walter Pidgeon), Helen's brother, and Marion are raising their daughter, and Charlie wants a shot at being able to take care of her again, but Helen won't hear any of it. I'll tell you guys my version of this story some other time, as it is, it's a decent adaptation from the Epstein Twins and directed by Richard Brooks, a good technical director although he's a bit iffy in terms of getting the correct sentiment sometimes. especially for a tragic romance. The way this film is now, it's definitely what they would've called a "Woman's picture" back then, and that's kinda the problem, everybody's okay in the movie, good at times, but everybody's also a bit out of their element, and that's what really keeps it from being a truly special film.


MRS. DALLOWAY (1997) Director: Marleen Gorris

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It's pretty inevitable to run into some trouble trying to adapt Virginia Woolf to the screen, particularly "Mrs. Dalloway", a novel that's not only got controversial material in it, but is really at it's core about the inner thoughts of a character. The complete contrast between how one acts, and what one my think, or, for that matter, somebody may be somebody completely different than who they seem and are. I know the feeling, and I've tried writing screenplays with theme, and it's tricky, no matter the limitations- it's easier to get away with in a novel, where inner monologues and thoughts and first person storytelling is practically the norm, but on screen, you need a really skilled director, and the right one, assuming the script's even good enough. I don't know about the script but "Mrs. Dalloway" has a very good director in Marleen Gorris; this was her follow-up to her Oscar-winning masterpiece, "Antonia's Line", and strangely the two movies, are practically opposites. The title character is Clarissa (Vanessa Redgrave) although most people call her Mrs. Dalloway, and that's how they think of her. She's throwing a party and we see her going about that, and her day. We also see her, as she was in the past (Natascha McElhone) when she's being courted by both Peter (Alex Cox) and to some extent by her friend Sally (Lena Headey, although that's not as clear as the book is) and of course, she instead ends up with a bore of a political-minded character, Richard (Robert Portal). Of course Peter now, (Michael Kitchen) is back in town and is going to the party, but is in a bit of trouble at the moment. The movie continues to alternate between the past and the present, the past being countlessly more interesting until the party when people start attending, and we hear all of Clarissa's thought, while everybody comes up to arbitrarily meet Mrs. Dalloway, the host. I'm not sure how entertaining the film is, really; the book seems pretty unadaptable to begin with, even the very best one Stephen Daldry's film "The Hours" from Michael Cunningham's novel and that's a very aberrational reworking, and Gorris is a good director but it does seem to be against her strengths to begin with also. I'm on-the-fence, but I'll recommend it because it's a good introduction to the material, and the parts that do work, work really well.


THE FIRST TIME (2012) Director: Jonathan Kasdan

✰✰1/2


I don't know quite what it is with me, but I keep on waiting and hoping for one or more of the Kasdan siblings to finally burst through with something great or special, and it's not like, there films aren't that in their own positive ways, but, you struggle looking for the sense of greatness in them. Or this feeling of classical-ness that their father's films often have, that, they can really be films that survive the test of time, and feel more comfortable as you get older, but, maybe that's me, and frankly they should also find their own style and paths, but still, I struggle a bit with their work. There's nothing bad in "The First Time", in fact-, people are amazed when I say this, or say something like this, but I really don't consider whether I like a movie when I analyze a film, and I only judge whether the film is good or bad, and I take out or eliminate that bias as much as possible. Here's a movie that's very quintessential of what I'm talking about, I like "The First Time", I cannot recommend it though, 'cause it's not quite as good of a movie that it should be, but personally, I would enjoy movies like this, as I'm watching them. When I think back later, it becomes clear that, there isn't much here. The movie takes place, supposedly on a weekend and two teenagers, Aubrey and Dave (Britt Robertson and Dylan O'Brien, both very good) strike up a conversation outside of some party that neither one of them particularly wants to be at, but it's,- I don't know, the social expectation/convention or whatever-, don't look at me on this one, whatever everybody else did in high school, I did the opposite and that involved never go to parties I'm told. (Not that anyone ever invit- oh, wait, that's not true, I just said no usually. Alright, nevermind) Anyway, they're both, going through, rather pedestrian,- well,  not pedestrian but they're stuck in some very typical high school relationship-sorta problems and they start discussing them, and there's a bit of a connection between them. Then the party gets overtaken by police, and everybody starts scrambling searching for the next party. David and Aubrey decide to head home instead. Dave is in love with Jane (Victoria Justice) who's making out with,- I don't remember, some ripped guy who she'll likely sleep with and then forget soon after, before using Dave as her hook to talk to late at night about all her problems. Jane's dating some bad older musician guy, Ronny (James Frecheville) who she plans on sleeping with and, getting it over with, her virginity I mean. Not in a prudish way, just move on with it. The title is about, well the first time having sex, and inevitably, after some typical high school shenanigans, they do, and that's scene plays out both romantically and clumsily, it reminded me of that beautiful scene of Renee Zellweger and Tom Cruise on her front porch. That said, there's a lot of, ranting dialogue, that even I found a little too romantic for these high schoolers to be sprouting off, a lot of referential stuff for instance, and really,- I mean, we get to know these two characters a little bit, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly why we have to care for them, over any other pair of teenagers in any other film, and that brings the movie down a bit. I know it's a high standard to live up to, but because the movie is about them, isn't really enough when you think about it, and that's really what the movie comes down to. Again, I like it, but I can't quite recommend it. 


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