Anyway, it's been a crazy entertainment week. Leonard Nimoy's passing hit a lot of people, Oscar hangover is still being argued and discussed and very quietly the Emmys changed all their rules, and we're gonna spend some time going over that by the way later, 'cause those rule changing caught quite a few of us offguard (Not to mention my TV VIEWING 101 Class, right as I was about to write a post about how Sketch Variety Shows and Variety Talk Shows would come together, only to now suddenly be separated! [In my best Gilbert Gottfried] SON OF A BITCH!]) Anyway, we'll get to those.
I hope you guys are paying attention to the Muriel Awards, they've been going on the last couple weeks btw. Those are often way more interesting than the Oscars, you should look them up. Anyway, let's get to it, on to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!
CALVARY (2014) Director: John Michael McDonaugh
John Michael McDonaugh's second feature "Calvary" begins with a startling confession scene. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is informed by one of his parishioners that he will be killed in a week. The parishoner, who we don't see but Father James suspects, was raped by a priest, regular from the age of 7 until he was 13. Father James was not that priest, in fact he's relatively new to the institution. He was actually married before, and has a grown daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly). The rest of the movie, is essentially a look into the last week of Father James life, an episodic journey through the coastal Irish town that seems to be full of eccentric mysterious characters, almost like a subdued version of a Coen Brothers more than it does the work of one of the McDonaugh brothers. Events start happening around Father James. Someone slits his dog's throat, his church is set afire, not that those two things are even related to the death threat; they actually almost seem like a regular days work for a priest in this film. It's a hopeless town, not necessarily godless, but one that continually and constantly finds less and less comfort in the prospects of such a being. There's a battered wife he comforts, Veronica (Orla O'Rourke) who's married to the town's high-strung butcher, Chris O'Dowd, but is also sleeping with the Ivory Coast-born mechanic, Simon (Isaach de Bankole), so either one of them could've beaten her up, but nobody will say which. He sees a man on death row, Freddie (Domhall Gleeson, Brendan's son) and there's numerous episodic sequences that occur. Too many to go over as the priest tends to his flock, whether they want to tend to by him or not. "Calvary" is a reflective piece, it's full of that dry wit and sarcasm that the McDonaugh are famous for, but what's really special about "Calvary" is Gleeson's performance. He's was the star of John Michael McDonaugh's last film "The Guard" which he was great in, and he was amazing in Michael McDonaugh's "In Bruges" and he really is this perfect actor for this material. I mean, this is great acting work from him, and he's constantly under-appreciated as an actor, but here, he perfectly underplays and he perfectly loses it when he finally has to, and it's not that he's just a overly religious priest who doesn't see or know the reasoning or the logic and history, he's thoughtful and observant, the sins of others do weigh on him, there's this angelic humanist side to him, where he has lived enough to know and observe, but is just not capable of completely of truly doing anything to help no matter how much he tries or wants to. Like a priest does, he sits in and listens to the sins of others, and that's all and he's got all this years of knowledge, but trying to do more in this environment, it's a-a, Sisyphus-like struggle, and at this point, he's not even reactive when the boulder comes down the hill anymore. The performance outshines the movie itself; the films tends to drag a little too much for me, too many episodes, too many characters, but still, "Calvary" is a very good dark comedy about the sins of the church and how that leads to the sins of man and vice-versa, and how innocent priests can get caught in the middle.
LOVE IS STRANGE (2014) Director: Ira Sachs
It's hard to think about Ira Sachs's latest film, "Love is Strange" without thinking about the film that is clearly it's inspiration. When Director Leo McCarey won an Oscar for directing "Going My Way", he thanked the Academy, but said that he thought they gave him the Oscar for the wrong movie. The other film he was referring to is "Make Way for Tomorrow", one of the most saddest and most touching films you'll ever see. I'll probably add it to my Canon of Film list at some point, and it's about how an old couple who's unable to take care of themselves anymore has to be separated as they move in with their respected families, neither of which are really able to adequately have them suddenly inserted into their lives. "Love is Strange" is essentially a modern day version of that film, but that doesn't make it any less emotional or tragic. The movie begins with the wedding of Ben and George (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina); they've been together for 39 years, and finally they have a nice quiet little ceremony. Unfortunately, George, a music professor at a Catholic high school, loses his job because of his marriage. Ben is a painter by trade, but that doesn't pay the bills, so they have to sell their apartment as George looks for more sustainable work, and then, find an apartment that's good enough for them to afford. In the meantime, Ben moves in with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and his family. His wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), who's a novelist working on her next book. Ben is sharing a bunkbed with their teenage son Joey (Charles Tahan), and tries to both stay out of everyone's way, but find something for himself to do. He takes up painting again, finding space on the roof and Joey's friend Vlad (Eric Tabach) is willing to pose for him, but that causes some disruptions in the order of the house. George has it somewhat easier, crashing on the couch of two young friends of his Ted & Roberto (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) who are both cops, but are prone to have numerous guests come over as well as throw occasional parties. It's not that neither household doesn't want their new houseguests but it is one extra person they now have to work around. The rest of the families try to figure out some other scenario for them, but that idea can only logically go so far. I won't give away the complete series of episodic events, because it's not about the plotpoints themselves, it's about the two characters, who've spent their lives together, now having to spent their lives separately for a little while. Both in a situation that's uncomfortable for them and everyone else involved and neither one of them wants to be in and in reality, neither of them should be in the situation anyway. After they separate, there's two moments when we get to see them together again, one is when George, frustrated with another gathering at his friends' apartment, just goes to spend the night with Ben and they share a bunkbed together because they want to be able to just fall asleep in each others' arms again. The other comes when they go together to a concert and a drink at the bar. They're amazingly touching scenes. Ira Sachs has been quietly making some of the best and most observant independent films around the last few years. His last film "Keep the Lights On", showed a young sexually-charged relationship between two young men in the city. His film before that, a stylized satire called "Married Life" that took an ax to some of the 1950s convention of marriage. Both of those were great films, but I don't think they necessarily had the universality to stick with the audience. Sure, he's borrowing a well-used story, but you know, it just shows that the story's still relevant now and it still has impact, and it's still- it's not just realistic, this is probably the reality for certain people today, and that's the saddest part of this film. This sad, beautiful movie about love.
LUCY (2014) Director: Luc Besson
I guess I shouldn't be asking for too much intelligent analysis of-, well, actual intelligence, from one of the leading directors of the Cinema du Look movement, but it bothers me when this tired old plot device- well, it's not even a tired plot device, it's just done poorly and without imagination and even without really understanding what can come about and what intelligence actually entails and these usually just use of myth of how we don't use most of our brain but give a character the ability to use all of their brain and they end up in an otherwise boring action thriller. I guess if they're gonna just go that route than "Lucy" is the best version of this so far, by a mile. For those who don't know their anthropology history, Lucy is the name of the infamous fossils founded in Ethiopia back in 1974 by French geologist Maurice Taleb, which was often considered a missing link in evolutionary studies as it confirmed it as an,- oh boy, spellcheck's gonna go crazy this one, an Australopithecus Afarensis, which has most of the characteristics of a chimpanzee, but the skeleton had a valgus knee, which means that the knee was bent in a way that can only be produced if the chimpanzee regularly walked around upright like a homo sapien does. It was also named about The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and is the most famous skeleton in the world despite the fact that it's importance in modern evolutionary theories, it still comes up in pop culture, and Lucy is an even a character in "Lucy". However the main film is based around another Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, in a movie-saving performance), who originally is some kind of- I don't know, she seems like a good girl who always ends up with the wrong guy, only this American is in Taipei for some reason, and her ex-boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbaek) handcuffs a briefcase to her and she goes into a bank to deliver the case to Korean bankers who kill most everybody, including Richard and then knock her unconscious so that they can surgical implant a drug into her to be a mole. The drug, begins leaking into her however and into her bloodstream, and suddenly she begins to become much more aware and able to acquire knowledge far more quickly. This is because the drug is a synthetic CPH4 which is what developed in pregnant women to essentially help a child be formed into the bones and flesh that we think of as a human. (That's very simplistic and not completely accurate, but I'll go with it) Alright, I'll but that possibility, but it's rapidly going through her blood stream and when she gets to using 100% of her mind which is when she would probably die or go to whatever the next being of existence in. In the meantime, she's telekenetic, telepathic, apparently able to prescribe medication to her mindless roommate Caroline (Analeigh Tipton, in, basically a cameo) and able to destroy Korean mobsters in a single bound, but not smart enough to kill the main one, Mr. Jang (Mik-sik Choi) when she has him the first time, so he keep coming after her, while trying she tries to find the rest of the mules and their CPH4, with the help of an French officer, Pierre (Amr Waked) and reach the University where the world's expert brain knowledge use theorist, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is awaiting to study her, and following her exploits on the news at the same time. I won't give away the ending, but if you remember the episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "The Nth Degree" and what happens to Barclay when he accidentally becomes a supergenius, then you'll know what happens here essentially. (Oh, RIP Leonard Nimoy. Just happened and now that I'm mentioning "Star Trek"....) That said, "Lucy" didn't get on my nerves as much as I kinda wish it did. I'd like to bash it, but it was quick, just under 90 minutes, it was plausible enough if you don't think about it, and the movie really doesn't let you, and Scarlett Johansson gives an unbelievable performance. If this was a better movie, you could see this performance being brought up in Best Actress Oscar discussions. She had an amazing year btw with this and "Under the Skin", two great performances and ironically they're kinda the opposite sides of the same role essentially, somebody who is seeing this world and planet in a way that wasn't possible before and is using all of her abilities to understand and learn about the world around her as much as she can as quickly as she can before this time on Earth expires. I've always thought she was a great actress but the last couple films, she's shown just how talented and how much range she has. For her performance alone, "Lucy" is worth a recommendation, somebody else in this role the film really would not work at all.
THE INTERVIEW (2014) Director: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Well, I know it won't be if, but when Amy Pascal lands on her feet, she at least thinks back on "The Interview" and realize that, it's not that the threats from North Korea and the hacking and the horrible easiness the hackers had at dismantling Sony Pictures Studio, but that it the sentiment was worth fighting for. There's no reason what-so-ever why we can't or shouldn't make fun of Kim Jun-Un (Randall Park) nor is there reason not to demonize him or even for that matter, simulate his death in fiction. I wish it would've occurred in a better movie than "The Interview", but it's always easier to take a shot at them after they're out of office or dead, or already well-ridiculed and demonized, it's a lot more difficult to demolish or destroy somebody in power, even one who's very much, an enemy of the country, but it should be done. Chaplin went after Hitler before anybody went after Hitler, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg should easily be able to go after Kim-Jong Un. Rogen, who co-directed and helped come up with the story, plays Aaron Rapaport, a journalistic producer of an entertainment interview show hosted by Dave Skylark (James Franco), who's of questionable intellect and seems to have the emotional and intellectual range of a twelve-year-old. He wants some more hard-hitting interviews than Rob Lowe coming out with his baldness, or Eminem coming out, period. Luckily for him, Kim Jung-Un is a fan of Dave Skylark and decides to grant him an interview and fly them into North Korea for the historic moment. The CIA, represented by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) decides to take advantage of the opportunity convince Aaron and Dave into killing Kim on the trip. A couple things happen, first Dave really connects with Kim, as they have a lot in common, like they're lack of appreciation from their fathers, and a love of Katy Perry. Meanwhile, Aaron falls in love with Kim's right-hand girl Sook (Diana Bang). Honestly, the problem is that it's not really that funny. Yes, it's well-known that Kim is somewhat known for his fascination with American entertainment, but I don't know if you can make a whole movie on that. The problem is that, Rogen and Franco are outsiders coming in, and even Chaplin knew that the best way to tell of the horrors of Hitler, wasn't to just show him, but to tell the story from within the country. I saw a documentary a while back called "Crossing the Line" about an American who actually defected to North Korea, and while, I think life for him is probably better than most, there's definitely stories to tell about some of the people who live under Kim Jung-Un's reign. I think this would've been a better approach to the material. As it is, it's a nice fantasy, but it isn't really a full feature. It doesn't satirize entertainment news enough, real news enough, North Korea with enough believable context (I'm sure there's an actual grocery store in North Korea, somewhere; I don't know whether they have grapefruit, but I'm positive they have a grocer somewhere) it's strangely too much and not far enough. And not really that funny either. I honestly don't remember laughing once at "The Interview". It'll be an interesting Hollywood footnote in the history books, but I don't think anybody's really gonna seek this film out in the future.
FURY (2014) Director: David Ayer
For those interested in a really great movie called "Fury", they should look up Fritz Lang's 1936 film about a lynch mob and Spencer Tracy as a survivor of a lynch mob after being wrongly accused of murder. That film has nothing to do with David Ayer's WWII feature, "Fury" about a 5-man tank crew deep inside Germany as the war begins is heading towards a inevitable close but the fighting, death, brutality and the fog of war continues. The tank is led by Don Collier (Brad Pitt) a no-nonsense army veteran who's now encapsulated by war. There's other archetypes in the tank with him, a Bible scholar, named Bible (Shia Laboeouf) there's the Southern sociopathic mechanic they lovingly call "Coon-Ass", (Jon Bernthal) and a Mexican soldier Gordo (Michael Pena). They need to replace their latest gunner who got killed and somehow end up with Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who's only been in the Army for a couple months, and is a typist. If you're playing a game of archetypes from "Saving Private Ryan", this kid is clearly the 'fraid kid who unable to run around giving ammo to everybody else in the final fight sequence. Not a good guy to clean up the blood and guts or for firing the canon at the dead soldiers as everybody else understands that they can still jump up and kill you. "Fury" takes it's time and a very long time indeed at telling it's story. There's a lot of setup, including a stop to eat at a German family's house and the passing of burning cities and hanging deserters and all the other signs of civilization that seemed lost the farther into Germany one got and the closer they headed towards ultimate victory. The title comes from the name of the tank, or at least which is written on the canon in white paint. The tank, during the last 45 minutes of the movies becomes a battleground itself as it breaks down just as an SS battalion is headed right towards them and ready to fight. Instead of giving themselves up, they hang back and begin plans to fight back, with no other logical choice other than to hang back and use the tank as a Trojan Horse, since, it couldn't do much else. The beginning of the movie tells us how German tanks outgunned and outmanned American tanks, I guess that was used a way to explain what the tanks general position in a battlefield is, but I found it more unnecessary in hindsight. "Fury" is well-crafted movie enough to recommend, but I struggle thinking it's a special one. David Ayer's wrote and directed "End of Watch" his previous film, which I actually think had a similar plotline oddly, the story of two cops who as partners become friends as well as comrades at arms who at this would inevitably lead them to their demise, but we got to really learn and appreciate and felt close to Gyllenhaal and Pena's characters in "End of Watch", they weren't cliches they were each distinctive people and characters. He doesn't have that kind of time in "Fury" and he's trying to shove that arch into the last few moments of the war, so there isn't that much at stake at the end, for us anyway. "Fury" is well-done technically, story wise it falters; I think that means it's worth a watch but it loses the impact as it goes on this downward trajectory storywise, but it's enough to recommend.
THE TRIP TO ITALY (2014) Director: Michael Winterbottom
The latest sequel which talks about how sequels are never as good as the original, is Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip to Italy", it's the sequel to "The Trip", another one of those self-referential Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon collaborations, and unlike some of those sequels, this film's actually better than the original. I wasn't as high on "The Trip" as some others were, which focused on Coogan and Brydon, and their misadventures through the English countryside as they went from town-to-town and restaurant-to-restaurant, writing about their experiences for a Food & Wine-type magazine, despite neither of them being particular foodies. The first film was cut down from a TV series they made, "The Trip to Italy" feels a little more like a stand alone movie. Brydon is now the one inviting Coogan out on the pilgrimage and like the title says, they're touring Italy one town and restaurant at a time. A car with Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" album, which Brydon's new wife keeps in their car, as they go by boat and car throw Italy, and making Michael Caine impersonations along the way. Michael Caine, Al Pacino, numerous other impressions, and occasionally there's women involved as well. The dichotomy between the two characters is slightly different as their careers are in a way, switching at this moment. Brydon's get an audition and eventually a part in a Michael Mann film while Coogan's doing another TV show and while he is still a name isn't fully progressing his career. (A bit of fiction here, Coogan got an Oscar nomination just last year) Also Yolanda (Marta Barrio) at one point arrives again, back as the photographer for the magazine that Coogan slept with on the last trip, and his life has changed since that last encounter.Oddly, the small stories side-stories of the characters lives and plots are really only minimally interesting, especially compared to Brydon and Cooper exchanging Marlon Brando impersonations in Rome between courses. I think that's the secret to these "The Trip..." movies, is that, the events themselves are fairly little importance or even consequence, 'cause what they're really about are the exchanges and conversations between too good actor friends. Just hanging out, talking, debating, going after each other, outdoing each other, entertaining themselves with their conversations as much as they are whatever audience of local young women happen to be around. The location and the geography hardly matter, it's just something nice to look at and a new place for them to experience. Something else for them to go off on and that's enough. "The Trip to Italy" on that level is just fun and entertaining. I don't think it's much more but that's all it needs, and through in some good food and wine, occasional women, all background, even the places they go, like a petrified museum of Pompeii remains, just another audience to play to, even if they've been dead for a while. "The Trip to Italy" is a good movie, I just wish I was going on the trip instead of Coogan and Brydon, but that's more jealousy than a critique.
MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN (2014) Director: Rob Minkoff
I was looking for to "Mr. Peabody & Sherman, especially being such a huge fan of them. I grew up on "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" which doesn't get enough credit as one of the greatest of all cartoon series in television history, and being such a history buff, I particularly enjoy Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) as he taught his son Sherman (Max Charles) into the Waybac machine in time, so that he can teach him history first hand. Of course, there was still a very sharp sartorial wit to Mr. Peabody & Sherman, that made them and all the Jay Ward series and these Ted Key characters. That wit, has somewhat been discarded, and instead, we get a story, albeit, an occasionally funny one that's mostly about the logistics of whether or not a dog can raise a young son. On his first day of school, Sherman gets in trouble after being antagonized by Penny (Ariel Winter, Burrell's castmate in "Modern Family") and this leads to Sherman biting Penny, and since Mr. Peabody is a dog, a social worker Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney) is determined to put Mr. Peabody under a microscope. One of the movies best emotional sequences shows Mr. Peabody go from orphaned unwanted dog genius to eventually adopting Sherman through a montage with the Grizfolk song "Way Back When". It's a great emotional sequence, but emotion was rarely a word I ever think about when thinking about "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", but I was willing to make the jump. Okay, so this is a father and son story, and frankly at the core of the desire of a father to teach a son is indeed love. But, then they take the easy way out. At a dinner party with Penny's parents, Paul and Patty (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann), in order to charm and convince them to drop the charges, Penny talks Sherman into showing her the Waybac machine, and now we're into a fairly typical time traveling rescue storyline and that's unfortunate. I know, I should've expected that, where Mr. Peabody & Sherman would have to rescue Patty and then themselves all through time, without of course, breaking any major time traveling portholes or any other theories so expertly placed in our mind from better time traveling films. It's fun to go see Da Vinci (Stanley Tucci) and King Tut (Zach Callison) and Mel Brooks as Sigmund Freud is, frankly a good idea for a comedy album, but while everything is done well, and I like the movie, it's just so underwhelming. I expected more, something sharper. Maybe that was expecting too much; I'm sure there's was probably plenty of discussion about whether or not young kids would even know who Mr. Peabody & Sherman, but you know, why do you have to make it for kids, just because it's animated? That's the problem when you often take a cartoon or a comic that in three or four panels is much more sartorial and more a sly commentary then a kid's cartoon, and they try expand it to something else, but sometimes you lose the essence. Plus, you're combining two different things anyway and neither audience would know the reason the other likes it to begin with anyway. I'm tempted to recommend it, but I would just seek out old "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" episodes. Nothing against the film, but I kinda want to jump into a Waybac Machine and talk the filmmakers into doing the film a little differently.
ON MY WAY (2014) Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
I've often talked about how the toughest films to write a review are the movies that are neither good nor bad. The movies in-between, that are instantly forgettable. The really bad films, and the really great movies, I don't have to think about, I just write them. Other films, I'm struggling just to barely remember anything about them, literally an hour later. Emmanuelle Bercot's "On My Way" is one of those films. Bercot is a French actress who's work I've admired, but she hasn't directed too many features; this third attempt, "On My Way", has a lot of ideas, but none of them are really fully developed. Catherine Deneuve plays Betty, a grandmother who owns a restaurant along the beach who has two events on the horizon. One is the marriage of her former lover is ending, and the other is a reunion of former beauty pageant contestants, which once upon a time she was, and this trip down memory lane becomes a real road trip and this leads into more episodic interludes, like Betty having a one-night stand at a bar, Betty reconnecting with her family, stuck travelling with her grandson for awhile,... it's got so many different things, that are in some way supposed to have this connecting feeling, but they're just ways too disparate. And, you don't just get a bad movie when that happens, what you get is a disinterested audience. That's sounds counter to the logic but what happens is that we're waiting for this road to go somewhere and then this road comes, and then this road comes in instead and then another road comes in, pretty soon you're forgetting everything and when everything's important than nothing's important and nothing's important when you're important when you're watching the movie, (SNORING SOUNDS). That's what happens, a bunch of little done okay, doesn't make an overall good movie, and "On My Way" is a bunch of little things done okay but it's aimless and directionless. Even with Catherine Deneuve, she's only as good as the film she's in, and this film is hardly one that we're gonna remember on her filmography anytime soon.
ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER (2014) Director: Frieda Lee Mock
I was pretty young when Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court Senate Confirmation Hearings were going on, but I remember that my mother was glued to the television. Those hearing we'ren't just on C-SPAN or PBS or even CNN, they were must see TV for a while. Although honestly, the most I really remember about the whole affair, was on that town hall Governor Bill Clinton did on MTV; the one with the most famous being if he inhaled, another question was, "Who did you believe, Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill?". He said Anita Hill.. "Anita: Speaking Truth to Power", a documentary title after her book, gives us just the barest of insight into this law Oklahoma Law Professor who was brought to testify in front of the Senate, because she felt obligated to inform the committees and justices about the way Clarence Thomas acted and treated her and the workplace environment in which she claimed he was sexually harassment while he was her boss at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I know, it sounds funny to even think that Justice Thomas ever worked as either of those places, but wasn't just a lawyer for Monsanto that the first President Bush picked out because he needed an African-American to replace Justice Marshall. When the report Anita filled out and sent to the commission leaked out, (And she was not the only one btw) she didn't want to be there and she was fairly berated by some of the more conservative members of the committee, force to repeat time and time again about Thomas's obsession with porn and the pubic hair on the diet coke, and all these other notorious things we found out through her stepping up. This was long before anybody really ever talked about sexual harassment at the workplace and when Senator Arlen Specter accused her of treacherous motives, she calmly responded by saying that she was asked to come there and did not look for the publicity. She didn't want to have to take a polygraph, which she passed. She didn't want to collect all the years of hate mail and death threats that we see she's collected over the years. She now teaches at Brandeis, having basically been harbored unable to work in Oklahoma without being a nuisance to the University. Recently she got a phone call from Thomas's wife, where she asked about why she lied. We hear that phone message in the beginning of the movie; she originally thought it was a prank and informed campus security and the FBI. It's startling to hear her and I can't help but think about how Bill Cosby's wife is still in denial after all the allegations have come his way and how she truly trusts that he's innocent and that they're all lying. I can't help but think that there's this sense of brainwashing involved, manipulation from predators like Cosby or Thomas when I hear things like that. That nothing they do can or ever would be anything but honorable and all those who say otherwise be damned. That great line in "American Beauty", never underestimate the power of denial, eh? I enjoyed seeing "Anita..." and it's appropriate that it's quite a short documentary on a very brave and powerful woman who frankly there isn't much too, other then the fact that she worked with someone who sexually harassed and then told the world. IMDB.com says 95 minutes, I think it's closer to 80 minutes, but that's enough to tell her story and I imagine more than she even feels their should be.
THE DEN (2014) Director: Zachary Donahue
I'm not gonna say too much about this horror film and the direction it inevitably goes towards other than to say that it's very disturbing. I actually have heard about things like that, and I consider it, really disgusting, sick, the bottom-of-the-barrel, some of the things that-eh, ugh. Frankly, I don't have too many lines in particular of things that coarse me, but people who seek out the things that, without giving anything away, what "The Den" ends up being about, um, (Honestly, the people who seek it out disturbs me even more than the people who produce it to be frank) to me, we're approaching the lowest of the lows, and it sickened me to find that this was where we were going. That said, in that sense, the movie is effective, so I'm gonna recommend it even though, essentially this is another traditional horror movie, the kind where people have to be smart in some scenes and stupid in others, only this one takes place, from the images on a webcam. Melanie Papalia (Elizabeth Benton) gets hired to stay online, and talk with people and write and record her findings while strolling on webcam. Talking with her friends, finding new friends, seeing random penises or random stage murders and suicides by kids pulling pranks and way too much time at the art and makeup department at their film school's special effects room. (I've never been big on this,- this combination of real violence with the more over-the-top horror genre violence, as though to distinguish between the goofy and reality, but it does works effectively here.) Online, she believes she's witnessed a gruesome murder, and she has, but nobody believes her, and worst yet, the killer seems to be approaching and targeting her, and everybody around her. Naturally, everybody makes certain stupid decisions at certain precise moments that will lead to most or all of their deaths. I guess that's the as-expected department, but where it ends up going was indeed frightening on many levels, and it does effectively pay off at the end. "The Den" uses it gimmick, okay, it could've been better, and I would've liked to have seen it done without so much arching to the trepidations of the horror genre. I get tired of dumb people, you know. Smart people in a situation is a challenge, making them dumb and always making the worst decisions, it's such an easy cop out. But, other that that, here's something that's both innovative and horrifying, and surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I was surprised, not how I'd want to be, but that can good as well. There's a lot of movies this week that didn't effect at all, this one effected me and that's the ballgame.
THE FIFTH ESTATE (2013) Director: Bill Condon
Let me talk for a minute about, what it was like watching "The Fifth Estate". First of all, I would watch a little, then fall asleep. Wake up, have to go back, find my spot, pause the DVD, go do something else, come back later, watch a bit more, go back to doing what I was doing earlier, try to watch it again, fall asleep, again, ugh. This was a chore to get through, and it isn't even that it's particularly bad, it's just,- ugh. There's just something off about the movie. It's underwhelming. There's a few intriguing stylized images and stuff, but this creation myth is certainly not "The Social Network". Not that I'm comparing the two, but that's the obvious parallel. Last I checked, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is still is still in, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and he's currently challenging to the Swedish Supreme Court the sexual assault claims against him. To those who remember my review of "We Steal Secrets...", the Alex Gibney documentary on Assange, you'll know that I'm not a particular fan of Assange. I think I said, "It was never a problem with the message, just the messenger," when referring to WikiLeaks, and I still stand by that. Transparency, especially with governments and businesses should be expected to provide, but that said, let's face it, nothing gets done on C-SPAN, it just doesn't. I mean, just to take something out of the recent headlines, there's a reason why Obama didn't come out being completely pro-gay marriage until he was elected, sometimes some things need to be not told or hidden or only alluded to, until later instead of right away, and when he printed those Bradley Manning documents, he puts lives at risk. The movie shows the deaths of two Kenyan anti-government protesters who were killed by the government after WikiLeaks published reports of government corruption. The movie is mostly shown from the perspective of Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), who was Assange's right-hand man originally, back when the hundreds of volunteers just turned out to be email addresses and names that were all Julian Assange, until he got big enough to actually get volunteers. The real problem with Assange was that, he was really interested in transparency at all costs, and didn't care about anything else, including what Daniel thought WikiLeaks was about, which was protecting whistleblowers so that they can indeed, blow the whistle on companies and governments. There's a difference between blowing a whistle and revealing a bunch of classified information though. Anyway, the mystery of Assange, born into a cult, world famous hacker, and apparent egotistical maniac,- honestly, we don't get nearly enough other than, sorta this aloof performance of a mysterious character from Cumberbatch- I gotta admit, I do have to eventually go watch "Sherlock", but I don't see what a lot of people apparently see in him, yet, as an actor. I don't know if he has enough to do here either. The interesting thing of course, is to get inside him and his motives and reasoning for his actions,- this story needs to be from his perspective, however deluded or rational it may be. He's the interesting character, and seeing that, we get a sense, and we know he's a liar and has properties that make other want to follow him into battle. And, just seeing a scene of him, dying his hair white, it isn't enough.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (2013) Director: Adam McKay
I thoroughly enjoyed the first "Anchorman..." film, which successfully satirized local news while simultaneously looking back fondly at this past era where the news anchor was a legitimate celerbrity persona and a powerful force in media, even if it was just the local media. I wasn't particularly looking forward to a sequel and it's definitely nowhere near as good, but I enjoyed enough of it. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is now married to Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and was working in New York until he got fired and she got promoted. Now they're separated, she got their kid Walter (Judah Nelson) and he's suicidal and back in San Diego, when he gets a call from Freddy Shapp (Dylan Baker) to wrangle up together the old news team for a new 24 hour news network. He gets into trouble first by his big rival, Jack Lime (James Marsdan) as Burgundy's originally relegated to the graveyard 2:00am shift, but after him and his friends start manipulating the news to bring entertainment like, human interest stories about AMERICA!, with all caps and instead of discussing the major important headlines, bring live coverage of unimportant events like high-speed chases and whatnot. Basically, the joke is that Burgundy's legend continued when he insisted on accidentally inventing the infotainment news as his ratings would continue to grow and shoot up. This is much to the chagrin of his competition including his ex-wife and including his producer Linda Jackson (Meghan Goode) but then, for reasons that are not worth explaining, he becomes blind and reconnects with his family through him and his son's mutual love for a shark. You know I like Ron Burgundy character in general so I essentially like the movie, but I don't know if we needed to go with the cable news satire direction with it; it a nice revision of modern history, but I think we're still waiting for the modern-day "Broadcast News" to really take a shot at this. (Or just go back and watch "The Newsroom" I guess; that really was the best by a mile this decade.) Still, I guess I'm recommending it if you liked the first "Anchorman...", that's not a ringing endorsement but there was just enough funny sequences including a star-studded battle royal of all the major news sections and industries at the end that escalated pretty quickly that I rather enjoyed.
GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY (2013) Director: Daniel Algrant
Some of you who may know my personal musical tastes, might be surprised that, for some reason, I seemed to completely miss Jeff Buckley when he was in his musical zenith. Honestly, I didn't start hearing about him until after his passing and his critically-acclaimed album, "Grace", the only album he completed in his lifetime, started showing up on numerous greatest album lists. I'm listening to it now on Youtube as I write this review, and while I've heard a few songs of his over the years sporadically, there's something ghostly about his music. It's moody, the voice is special, and definitely soulful, and there's an elegiac quality to his music. Oddly, his most famous song is his cover version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", arguably his version is the defining version of that song. (It was recently inducted into the National Recording Registry). As little as I know about Jeff Buckley, I actually know even less about his father, Tim Buckley. Tim was much more prolific quantity-wise, recording eight albums, although he never achieved much mainstream success, after his death at age 28 from a suspicious drug overdose, Tim Buckley's own popularity and music reputation grew over the years as his transitions from folk to jazz to avant-garde funk music was often honored. The place where these two young men's lives came together, is what "Greeting from Tim Buckley" explores. I had heard about this in rock'n'roll lore; I doubt there's much actual footage, but I'm sure some witnesses are still around. In 1991, Jeff (Penn Badgely) is invited to appear at a tribute concert in New York City devoted to his father's work. Jeff never had any real memory of Tim (Ben Rosenfeld, shown in flashbacks), his father left his mother before he was born and spent most of that time on the road. Jeff has also been considering a music career, but he's never played his father's work, and now he's introduced to numerous people who know and admire his father. The young son surrounded by people he doesn't know, in a place he's never been, and now he's stepping into the shoes of a father he never knew. He does make a couple connections, mostly with Allie (Imogen Poots), the one who took the strange shot at finding and inviting him to perform. There's music from both Buckleys in the film. Personally, I have no idea how accurate or fictional the events up to the concert which takes up enough to make us believe that his discovery could be profound, although it's not overly Earth-shattering that it seems unbelievable, which is right, it should be somewhere in-between. The rest of it, reality, legend, I don't care; if anything I hope it is the legend; it's better that way anyway. The film was directed by Daniel Algrant; it's his first directing filmwork of any kind in almost a decade, not counting a cameo appearance in Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience". His last film, a overlooked independent film with Al Pacino called "People I Know", that's worth looking up; it's one of Pacino's most interesting recent performance. This is only his third feature and he only does about one a decade, but he makes them count and their interesting. "Greetings from Tim Buckley"'s sole goal is not to recreate this unique moment in rock'n'roll history, but to simulate the emotions and feelings of the event that we put into it as we look back and think about the music of Tim Buckley and especially Jeff Buckley, two figures whose careers became more mythical and mysterious after they left us. This he accomplishes. I imagine the film might be more profound the more familiar I become with both of their music, but it makes me want to seek the music out.
SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (2001) Director: Roy Andersson
It's not that Roy Andersson didn't work at all in those 25 years between his previous feature film and "Songs from the Second Floor", but still, that's a long drought and then to come out with one of the strangest and most intriguing films I or most anybody else had ever seen, it's almost as strange and bizarre as the film itself. Almost. "Songs from the Second Floor" isn't so much a film really, despite some characters and vignettes, as it is a surreal collection of dark sardonic vignettes. I guess the closest comparison would be something like Luis Bunuel's more absurdist films like "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" or "The Phantom of Liberty" but without the joy. Like the images of the traffic jam that people are just stuck in for days on end, or the out-of-work crucifix salesman scenes as his merchandise gets thrown out and start to wear out. The employee who's fired but hangs onto his boss's leg and feet mightily in desperation to keep his job as his boss walk along. The scene of the volunteer at the magic show who ends up getting sawed in half literally and then arrives home from the hospital to a frustrated family. The film is mostly shot, in one takes, these strange scenes, and usually a long take, like the camera is just staying still, observing the absurdity but completely unable to do anything. There's something that's both angelic and very Ozu or Jarmusch in the influence. It's easy to simply get caught up in the describing the film to simply describe the scenes one by one, but it's the way they're put together the very sardonic look at the world they inhabit. How the modern city is basically swallowing itself up. Yet it also seems to have one foot blasting the modern wills of the world while another knife slices deep into the old ways as well. There doesn't seem to be anything that let's up here, just a different comedic take on things than we had seen before and that's really the ballgame. Andersson did television work and shorts in those years between "Songs from the Second Floor" and his previous feature "Giliap", he apparently shot a lot of commercials. That's the industry that's about selling a dream and ideal that helps make your lives better, right? I have a distinct feeling that this movie must've been brewing in him for awhile, a shot at the companies that advertise the agents who do the advertising, and the people gullible enough to believe the hype of the corporations that some would willingly sacrifice themselves for them.
WOMEN IN LOVE (1970) Director: Ken Russell
I'm not even gonna pretend I'm an expert on D.H. Lawrence, or his novel "Women in Love" that this Ken Russell film is based on, and frankly, I'm not sure what to even make of this film. I'm giving it 3 STARS, basically out of relevance, but it's this strange combination of philosophy and debauchery that doesn't make much sense or lead anywhere. There's a lot of sex and nudity, perhaps that's why Glenda Jackson won a surprise Best Actress Oscar for the film, although the most interesting nude scene, strange as it sounds, was actually a wrestling match between two male characters. I get the sense that, while it wasn't overly accurate to the novel storywise it did get the conceptual tone of the novel right. The script by the way, was adapted by Larry Kramer of all people, and he even produced the movie, so that explains the philosophical conversations, mostly about sex. The four main characters are Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates) they're the two guys, and Gudrun Brangwen (Jackson) and her sister Ursula (Jennie Linden) are the girls that guys are essentially trying to court. It's the '20s in Britain's Industrial Midland, although in hindsight, much of this movie seemed to exist in a world I might have seen in a 1920's version episode of "Videodrome" if they had such a thing around. The movie flips back and forth between these aberrational talks of sex and love and whether they exist or whether lust takes over, or whatever. I mean, honestly, it didn't make much sense to me. I guess I should've expected that a bit from Ken Russell, the director who brought us the great rock opera "Tommy" to the big screen; that's a movie about imagery over everything else, but that's contrast is what I think causes "Women in Love" to really kinda fail. The movie is really about the talking and the journeys of the mind and the challenging of the sexual morals and laws something very Henry Miller and Anais Nin really, but when they try to visualize this, it either stops the movie completely, or it just feels completely contradictory to the film, the story and the visual medium in some ways. I'm amazed it was actually so popular come to think of it. Russell is certainly and going out on a limb with this film, but it left me cold. I think that was the intent, but the further away from the film I get, the more the striking-ness of the images of the film fades, and you tear the flash away there isn't much really there.
DANGEROUS MOVES (1984) Director: Richard Dembo
The first feature from Switzerland to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, "Dangerous Moves" was the debut feature from Richard Dembo, who's a bit of an odd character himself. He's only directed two other feature films since "Dangerous Moves"; he seems to work on a Malick-like pace, but his other films however, didn't get nearly the credit or acclaim as this one. And "Dangerous Moves" frankly, also seemed to split critics. Now, it's a little difficult to contemplate this if you don't know the history, but one of the key battlegrounds in the cold war, believe it or not, was chess. You gotta remember, before Big Blue, chess really was considered by many to be the ultimate determinate battle in knowledge, and the world of chess was mostly dominated by the Soviet Union. This is where our version of the story kinda starts with Bobby Fischer, before he started losing his mind, but within the Soviet Union, many of the world's grand master chess players were at odds with each other, as their worldwide fame led to many of them defecting to other countries and subsequently, some very competitive and notorious battles in the chess arena. The contest in this movie, taking place over a couple weeks (Which was typical, usually chess contests spread over time and use a best of # of games.) is between an older Soviet Communist Grand Master, Akiva Liebskind (Michel Piccoli) and his young former protege who defected to the West, Pavius Fromm (Alexandre Arbatt), and has become more capitalistic. A little better looking, more conniving and strategizing, trying to play mind games and even being paranoid that Akiva has bugged his room, which he hasn't. The battle in Geneva in highly watched and covered around the world, and it's close. Back and forth the games go as they continue on and the friendly rivalry becomes more intense. Oh, and for some reason, Leslie Caron and Liv Ullmann are in the movie as the wives of the players, and that's probably why the film won the Oscar that year. Looking at it now, I think you almost need a history of chess to even put this film in the correct context. It's entertaining and competitive, but it's more in the mindset, and strangely, while you wouldn't think the actual gameplaying of chess on a big screen would be interesting, a movie like "Searching for Bobby Fischer" shows that it can it in the right context. The movie actually feels more like the Broadway musical "Chess", which I know, that sounds made up but it isn't, and it's actually pretty good, but it also goes through the history of it's characters more thoroughly and really digs into why they decided to defect or didn't and where they stand now. (Fun fact: the song "One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head is actually from that musical, and that's the last time an original song from a soundtrack of a Broadway musical broke the Top 40) So, I don't know, I'm on the fence, but I was entertained enough during "Dangerous Moves" to recommend it.
TURN ME ON, DAMMIT! (2012) Director: Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a 15-year-old who's consume and obsessed with sex, both in the mind, and in her
THE INCREDIBLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE (1995) Director: Maria Maggenti
I'm always a little partial to an adversely quirky long title like that, so "The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love" already kinda has me smiling. The story is not particularly grandiose or even really incredible,- well, the ending is pretty incredible, and a little over-the-top. It was-, I was gonna say it takes place in a small town, but double-backing, I'm not sure it was actually, but anyway, the two main girls are Randy Dean (Laurel Holloman) and Evie Roy (Nicole Parker) and both are in high school. Randy is a mechanic at her Aunt Rebecca's (Kate Stafford) gas station. It's an eccentric household and Randy is definitely a female James Dean type. She's never had sex, but a local housewife Wendy (Maggie Moore) who she's having an affair with on the sly, which, is a little unrealistic. The not having sex part with her, not the affair between a 16-year-old and a married woman twenty years her elder, that's sadly more realistic. Evie (Nicole Ari Parker) is a young African-American Senior, who's family is rich as her mother, Evelyn (Stephanie Perry) is an successful professional and she's popular and college-bound. She's in the cool mean girls group essentially, although she just sees them as friends she's had for years. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend Hayjay (Andrew Wright) is your typical non-committal teenage boy who wants her when he doesn't have her, but is not sure he wants her when he does have her. They meet and talk after Evie's car needs a quick fix and stops by the shop. It's there that the seed of their love starts. Randy clearly knows she's a lesbian and is already ostracized because of it, but Evie is new to the experience, and frankly both are really unsure about their own hormonal feelings they have towards each other. Neither have been in any serious romance and neither are sure exactly how to handle it. Not to mention the baggages each of them has that, once they're more comfortable with each other, they're willing and worried for introducing. Evie's friends are predictably intolerant although the mother is more of a question mark. Evie's romance with Wendy will come up surely, but her family situation is already fairly weird with an Aunt who lives with her current girlfriend Vicky (Sabrina Artel) and her ex-girlfriend Lena (Toby Poser), and that's a normal day, and it can get out there. The best parts of the movie is the slow but rather innocuous and innocent ways this relationship grows. It's a story about first love and how that can consume the two people in it. The movie ends, in a bizarrely ridiculous scenario involving all the characters a chase and a motel room, that, I don't really know how that kinda came about but in the thrusts of passion I can kinda see how logic sorta got away from them, but that's minor. "...2 Girls in Love", is cute, harmless, sexy, and a surprisingly mature teenage love story. Not necessarily happily ever after, but happiness for the first time in their lives. It's touching and beautiful, a small story of two people that feels bigger than a hill of beans even if it isn't, it is to them. I enjoyed it, definitely a recommendation.
DEAD SNOW (2009) Director: Tommy Wirkola
Eh, I watched "Dead Snow" at some point earlier this week as well. I-eh, eh, guess I enjoyed it. It's a little hard to remember, but I wrote down three stars and I recall it having a bunch of Nazi zombies coming up from the snow, so I thought it was enough to recommend. Just ridiculous enough for me to go with and interesting enough to recommend, but it didn't have a great impact on me. It's a Norwegian film, so I guess that explain the cabin in the woods in the snow that these group of young people go off to more than, say whenever it happens in most other horrors movies. I'm told this was intentionally comedic, and I kinda got that, but I gotta be honest, this Sam Raimi, over-the-top horror-comedy so-ridiculous-it's-funny kind of comedy, I've never really got that. I think probably the reason that I recommended "Dead Snow" is because it seemed enough like it was actually being taken seriously. The funny stuff was actually some of the conversations between the actors, often referencing other movies, trying to compare these events to others, that was interesting in a similar kind of "From Dusk 'til Dawn" kinda way, which I appreciated. The director Tommy Wirkola's debut feature was actually a Tarantino spoof called "Kill Bujlo" so I can kinda appreciate it on that level instead. So, eh, it's an interesting premise and an interesting little horror film. This is one of those films you're probably either prone to liking or not, if you are, then you'll enjoy it, for the rest, it's fine.