Saturday, April 4, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #106: "WHIPLASH", "THE JUDGE", "LIFE ITSELF", "DEAR WHITE PEOPLE" , "SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR", "THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWWARTZ", "LAND HO!", "TRUST ME", "SOME VELVET MORNING", and MORE! (And the end of RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS. Sigh.)

Well, for those who have noticed and been paying attention to the screams of agony and frustration from me due to my recent inability to regularly work with an internet connection, it’s been rough for me. I know, god forbid, he doesn’t have the internet, how well he live? Well, my career is film, which is already an art from that generally requires the assistance of other people, even if I am mainly an unemployed screenwriter when I’m not blogging and two, I’m a blogger, which mines, I can’t do the second career of mine that doesn’t make any money, and I’m an entertainment blogger at best, so being connected to the entertainment news and the media and the people who watch/care about entertainment and the world enough to read blogs like this one about it, most of them are generally online. So I can’t connect to potential co-workers/employees nor can I connect to my potential audience. So yes, it’s frustrating. There’s also the matter of a great deal of my work requiring research by the way, which also primarily comes now from the internet, which makes my job even harder. Frankly too hard at the moment.

It’s with that that I now have to give in on one of my most beloved professional streaks/accomplishments. Until now, the only exceptions I ever made as to whether or not I write a review to a movie I’ve seen was if I had seen the movie on television instead of on DVD or in theater (With the exception of screenings at a film festival, which I did report on but didn’t write a full review) or streaming on a reliable legal website, with exceptions for things like HBO and whatnot where I can guarantee I haven’t seen an unaltered or edited version of a film in any way. That’s over, well over 1,300 films I’ve seen, and over 105 movie review blogposts over the last four and a half years and never, until how, have I watched a single movie, where I didn’t purposefully not review it. The word purposefully is unfortunate, occasionally I’ve seen a film, thought I had written the review and didn’t, (“Evil Dead”) or simply forgot to write about it entirely and left it off of my notes of the films I’ve seen, but that’s happen, less than six times over the years that I’m aware of. So, very infrequently. Well, I won’t make 1,400 straight. I just don’t have the time or ability to seek out and review every film I’ve seen in these last few weeks. I don’t want to pat myself on the back or kiss my own ass for this accomplishment, but frankly, I thought it was unusual that anybody who also runs a movie/entertainment blog like mine would watch a movie and not immediately write a review, or do a video review or whatever. Apparently, it’s far more common I’ve noticed that other bloggers would skip over several films and only review a few movies that they think are more worth their time than other films. Sometimes that’s beneficial I believe, especially when they use that time to really map out extensive analysis but overall, I never understood why you wouldn’t, well, I’ll be blunt, do your job. Review the films you watch. If it was theatrically released in America, I typically reviewed it. I would look around occasionally to see if there was some kind of exception I could make, like not review TV movie, or oh, it only showed at film festival, didn’t get release? Oh, it did get a major Indy Spirit nomination; oh, alright, I’ll review it. I’ve been through that occasionally. I know some websites have multiple reviewers now, it’s commonplace, hell, I’m even contributing to one regularly now, but I always thought, “Well, I’d still write the review and post it, whenever I see something.” Apparently, that’s quite unusual. I know it’s a lot of work, believe me, I’ve been there. I can tell when it’s a week later and I barely remember having even seen the film, and I’m scouring over imdb and other reviewers on rottentomatoes to refresh my memory on some of the more forgettable films I just saw. (2 ½ STARS and 3 STAR reviews, are by far, the toughest things to write, but I wrote the reviews anyway.) Some of those shortest of reviews took days for me to write, some of the longest took minutes, and many times I wish I wrote on those films more, but I knew I had others to review and couldn’t just focus on the one film I liked/hated the most.  Well, perhaps it’s good that I let go of this streak and not hold myself to this standard that even the top film critics in the business don’t hold themselves too. I do want to be able to focus more on other things, both on this blog and outside of it, but there’s a deep feeling of loss within me, on top of the frustrating annoyance that inevitably led to this decision. I’ve had delays before and I’ve done everything I could in the past to review everything I possibly could, but I have to face facts and just give in to the realities of the profession and the job.

So, now that that streak’s over, before we begin this week’s “RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REIVEWS- well, I guess they’re not “Random” anymore technically. (Sigh) Well, I’ll only give star ratings and a few thoughts if I have any to all the other films that I saw this week. You can always contact me by commenting on this blog or on twitter or on any of my two FB sites, the blog’s or my personal one and ask me to elaborate if you wish, but I hope this new chapter in the blog will indubitably make this blog and my career more fruitful in the near and far future. So, some quick thoughts on some films and onto this week, RAN-. (Long pause) SELECT- no, that sucks. (Pause, breath.) Onto this week’s MOVIE REVIEWS! Edition #1 I guess? Or not, maybe I won’t count anymore. Seems redundant now.  (I'll post the "Films I didn't Review" next post on Tuesday"). 


WHIPLASH (2014) Director: Damian Chazelle

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My Uncle used to play drums. It was a subject that was brought up a lot in the family but I actually never saw him play; that part of his life had passed before I came along and he’s since passed himself. I actually don’t know who he looked up to or who he thought were the best drummers out there. Music did not come second nature to me, but I know the best musician I ever saw play live was a drummer. Kenny Aronoff, look him up if you don’t know him; I saw him play live when he toured with Melissa Etheridge at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas and he is a beast. Muscles pumped out everywhere, in a black leather vest and shades, bald head, he kinda looked like J.K. Simmons’s character in “Whiplash”, not Simmons in real life, his character. This guys, never stopped playing, you can tell he was so fit, he could probably run marathons every day, but instead he played drums, and he must’ve played twelve hours a day everyday for years and years, decades at least; it was incredible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was ADHD or something and he just channeled it into mastering the drums and he played loud and it dawned on me just how physical playing the drums is, particularly if you actually want to be one of the greats at it. Believe me, you noticed him in the back as the best musician there; I noticed him and I was a teenage boy in a room partying with a bunch of horny drunk lesbians at the time. The title “Whiplash” comes from a song by Hank Levy and the film is really it’s about two people, Andrew (Miles Teller) a student at the Shaffer Music Conservatory who will do anything to be the best drummer in the world (And for him that means jazz drummer, one of the posters in his room has a quote, “If you don’t have the ability, you end up playing in a rock band”.) and a Professor, the head of Shaffer’s Studio Band, Terence Fletcher (Simmons in his Oscar-winning role), who’s willing to push, berate, insult, attack, anything to make sure…- you know, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know how to finish that sentence, and maybe that’s what makes him so menacing. He talks about wanting to find the next Charlie Parker and how he supposedly became Charlie Parker because Jo Jones threw a cymbal at his head when he screwed up a note, but I find fault with that logic. I think the movie secretly does to.  We don’t know if Charlie Parker was determined to become Charlie Parker before or after that cymbal was thrown at him or not, or if it just made him get there quicker or even if it did that. It’s a great legend and you should never let the truth get in the way of that, but the movie begins with Andrew already practicing double-time swing when Fletcher happens to run into him and put him in Studio Band. Was it the pushing or was it the fact that Andrew was willing to be so pushed? Curiously, the movie doesn’t answer this question. If anything it begs the question of does greatness mean one must descend into madness and obsession? One of them is there, the other’s getting there, although in hindsight I’m not quite sure which is which. Simmons is an incredible, menacing presence; it’s easy to see why this beloved character actor earned his Oscar for this performance. I’ll let the debate rage on about whether his teaching methods were beneficial or not. “Whiplash” is Damian Chazelle’s debut feature, and I find it curious that many people have become truly taken with the film as a whole. There’s issues with it, especially the script. A scene at a family dinner table introduces characters with clichéd successes that are more acceptable and commonly-understood within the household of his family only to be shot down by Andrew. There’s another subplot involving a girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) of Andrew that also begins, just to end. They seem almost tacked on, like he didn’t trust the core internal dramas of the two mains enough that he had to add more to them. There’s an unexpectedly good performance by Paul Reiser of all people as Andrew’s father which reveals him to be more caring and understanding then he seems at first. There’s other issues too, but still, this is a first feature by the young Chazelle and I think these trepidations are indeed just a first-time filmmaker a little unsure that his work is actually as good as it is, which, if anything is truly a sign of greatness, the constant belief that no matter how good some say something is, you’re constantly thinking it could be better.  


THE JUDGE (2014) Director: David Dubkin

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“The Judge” is about as good a movie as it could’ve been; hell, if anything, it’s probably better than it really has any real right to be. No, it doesn't all work and sure, the scene near the end that- I won’t completely give away but it involves a cross-examination on the witness stand during a trial that’s contrived and unrealistic in the kind of way that can only happen in a movie. There are other problems with “The Judge” as well, and I can see why some were taken with the film while other weren’t as forthcoming, but for me, I can’t really fault something done this well, even if it has been done many times before. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a major cocky but good lawyer in New York City. He never loses, is cocky and smarter than everyone. He left his small Indiana hometown years ago, the kind of town where his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall) has been on the bench for decades. Naturally, they’re so similar they’re estranged because of many differences they had when they were growing up. Downey’s originally back in town only because his mother has just passed, but then he’s brought back after his father apparently kills someone after a night of drinking after his wife’s funeral. He’s a former alcoholic whose slip is reasonable but he claims he doesn't remember hitting the guy, who turns out to be a former violent defendant that came before him multiple times before, who just recently got released. Naturally the two are reluctant to work together but inevitably have to. There’s also some typical coming home subplots, like the brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) who was a superstar high school athlete who had to give that up after a car accident and has stayed home and started his own family. There’s also his high school girlfriend, Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga) who now owns the local bar she’s been tending for twenty years, he’s reconnecting, and there’s a strange subplot that I won’t go into with her involving Hank and another character, that kinda, doesn’t quite get resolved if you think about it. I’m not even completely sure what it adds to the film in hindsight.

Robert Duvall received an Oscar-nomination for this role, at age 84 he’s one of the oldest to ever get nominated as he’s as good as ever, maybe it’s stretching a bit for nomination worthy, but from what I’ve seen so far this seems like a week year in the category, but everybody else was really good as well. Downey, Jr. is giving a performance that’s kinda already in his milieu but he’s good, Vincent D’Onorfrio is always strong and here again he’s solid. Vera Farmiga’s good as always, some other good supporting work from Billy Bob Thornton among others; the performances really make this movie. Everything else is fine. It’s stuff we’ve before, it’s mostly done decent enough, but you buy into it ‘cause you buy into the performances, it makes up some of the issues with it. Some were big problems, like, we find out in the beginning that Downey’s character is divorcing his wife, Mary (Catherine Cummings) who he’s found out cheated on him, they have a kid btw, Emma (Lauren Palmer) so this is a custody battle as well, yet, he makes one passing reference to his wife in the beginning, and then there’s a scene where basically he confronts- it’s not even really a confrontation, he yells at her and literally before she gets five words out, just completely demolishes her as a person, and then, she’s never seen or heard from again, his wife. I mean, basically this actress got hired to stand there, look pretty and get yelled at by Robert Downey, Jr. I’m not sure that approach to this was taken, but that something that you’re almost wondering why did even bother with that, and I felt sorry for the poor actress there; her part could’ve been replaced by a voice mail. Another thing that I thought was odd, and I don’t know what happened here but this is one of those weird things that you notice that you probably shouldn’t notice but it sorta bothered me and it involves a scene where Downey’s character is looking through his old high school yearbook, and the pictures they used of a young Downey and a young Farmiga, I don’t what it is, but they looked like the photos were taken the day before. I know this is weird of me, maybe that’s part of the charm or whatever of the film, maybe it was intentional, but a little different might’ve been nice? I mean, remember what RDJ looked like 30 years ago, I have a copy of “Back to School” somewhere, so I don’t know, anyway, that’s a pet peeve of mine, that’s one of the reasons I don’t write photographs into my scripts usually. Anyway, most of the movie works though. It’s a bit frustrating that this is one of those good movies that could’ve been a really great movie, didn’t quite get there, more than worth recommending however, especially for the performances.



LIFE ITSELF (2014) Director: Steve James

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For months, before and since the Academy Award nominations were released, I insisted and then scolded the Academy and often preached and informed the numerous reasons outside of whether the film was any good at all, that they absolutely have to at least nominate “Life Itself” for Best Documentary. (Annoyed shrug) Well, if you don’t know Steve James’s notorious history with the Academy and in particular the Documentary Branch, I’d advise you to look it up, you can start with my Canon of Film post on “Hoop Dreams”. I’ve now seen “Life Itself” and now I can claim that it should’ve been nominated for Best Documentary because of the quality of the film. I think it comes to nobody’s surprise that Roger Ebert was a hero to me. A hero to many critics and film-watchers the world over. Many of the events in the film I knew about and followed all the way up until his sudden passing. I followed him on Twitter, read his blog regularly, watch almost every guest appearance on a talk show he made before and after the infection that would cost him his lower jaw and his voice. I had read most everything that was quoted from his writings in the film and certainly knew the stories behind some of the most famous film reviews. Oddly, I’m only now getting to his autobiography which the movie borrows the title from. Frankly, I prefer the movie more and more as I read the book, not that I don’t find the book not as good, but the stuff that mostly interested me comes later in his life, but we do see how he was shaped into this beloved character that he became. The movie was shot near the end of his days. We see him and that voice machine that he types on when he can. He tells Steve to shoot himself in the mirror to make sure he’s in the movie himself. He’s funny, he’s witty, even when dealing with the daily medical issues he has, one of the last being a broken hip that just broke without any notable causation one day. We see Chaz, and we see them look back on their lives as much as they can. He’s still busy, blogging, writing movie reviews, preparing the design and restructuring of his website as he’s bringing in new correspondents and other critics to inevitably take over. Him and others pontificate on the past, his life as a newspaper man, starting in Urbana, Illinois, getting the film critic job at the SunTimes which he kept ‘til his death, the television work, the battles on and offscreen with Gene Siskel, his work with Russ Meyer, there’s a funny montage of reviewers and filmmakers talking about their thoughts on “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”. His marriage to Chaz, who confesses her alcoholism for the first time publicly admitting that she met Roger in AA. He was public about it late in life as well, after he was basically only eating using a feeding tube, figuring it was relatively unlikely he would ever start drinking again. (There’s an episode of “Siskel & Ebert” of “If We Picked the Winners” Oscar edition floating around if you can find it, that I saw recently where they debated over Paul Newman’s performance in “The Verdict”, which feels more haunting now, knowing the fact of Ebert’s alcoholism, if you ever want to seek that out) The sad parts of the film, comes when he does start slipping further and further away. He doesn’t answer Steve’s questions like he used to, suddenly prone to one or few-short word answers only when he would still pontificate on things his controversial negative review of “Blue Velvet” just weeks earlier. Chaz reveals for the first time how he had secretly signed a DNR without her knowledge at the end. She was angry, but she talks also about how this air of calm came over her when it happened. This puts that last mysterious blogpost of his, where he announced a leave of presence, even more prophetic than even we knew at the time and now officially places it as his goodbye to this world. It’s not surprising that a great documentary about this great man of cinema is as good as it is. Perhaps it is because of the subject matter that it does strike more of a cord to me, and to many others in the film community, but that it isn’t great either. As a biodocumentary, it’s as interesting and as fun as anything. As a sad look at the final days of that great man, it’s heartbreaking to see someone so apart of our lives for so long, in print and on the small screen on television (And yes, I watched every episode from when I started watching it, ‘til it ended, and even the short-lived revival version with Kristy Lemire and Ignaty Vishnevetsky on PBS that Roger and Chaz would produce) and be this amazing presence, suddenly stop being that, falling so sadly, so gracefully. Look, I know people may talk shit about critics sometimes, but nobody sits through and obsesses, writes, devotes their whole lives to the theater, if on some level, they didn’t love movies. Ebert loved movies. I love movies. If you love movies then you really have to see “Life Itself”, simple as that.  


DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (2014) Director: Justin Simien

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Dear Stupid People: 

White, Black, Latin, Asian, whoever and whatever races you may be, racism is by no means dead. It probably won’t be anytime soon, especially with stupid people like you around, racism is sure to continue to thrive for many more generations. All thanks to you and your continued insistence on being so (bleep)ing stupid. I know, Justin Simien’s debut feature “Dear White People” is supposed to be a satirical commentary on race relations today, it is, and for that I recommend it, but mostly what I felt like I was watching, was stupid people taking over. It's not that the characters are stupid, but stupidity in general is overwhelming society. Sam White (Tessa Thompson) is right, that when a party invite goes out for people to come to dress and act as stereotypically Black as possible, including drinkin' purple drank, weaves, freestylin’ blackface and mask, and advertises that here, all the white folks can now gleefully say “Nigger”, and 100 people show up, even though the party was in fact called off officially, all prepared and dressed for the occasion, I have to believe that it’s actually stupidity that is the core to all racism. Where she’s wrong, is in her quest to reverse a recent policy that the college implemented which requires housing policy to be random (Even though, it frankly isn’t) and for the school to reinstate the original campus housing policies and help make the Armstrong-Parker House as an African-American house on campus, that, I’m not sold on, completely. I get it, she’s not stupid, and she makes solid points on her radio show, “Dear White People” and during her campaign speech for House President about the importance of retaining their culture, but I’m not sold completely that culture, particularly the best parts of a culture, anybody’s culture, are any better because they’re separated from others. If anything, I feel like this leads to parties such as the Halloween party in “Dear White People” more, when supposedly funny people like Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner) can think such a thing can be ironic because he’s not racist, or that their isn’t racism anymore. No, his character is racist, he’s also not funny although he’s the head of the school’s “National Lampoon”-like satirical magazine, “Potiche”, and even if those two things weren’t true the joke still wouldn’t be funny ‘cause in order to be ironic about racial stereotype and the cultural significance about them, you actually have to have knowledge about the cultural stereotypes and the cultural significance about them, and not simply what’s told/shown on Fox News and VH-1 reality shows. Coco (Teyonah Parris) the stereotypical outrageous black girl who does embrace white culture is right that nobody cares about Harriet Tubman, but the problem is that they should. Actually, I’ll be honest, much of this movie, I didn’t particularly find funny. As a white person, I know a lot of people have a desire to be Black and embrace the African-American culture as their own. I never have, but I understand people having that desire. I can even understand that being African-American means certain pressures and stigmas that others races simply don’t have to suffer through. And god help someone like Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) who’s shy, Black, openly gay and never seems to be accepted anywhere and is constantly asked to find more suitable campus housing. “Dear White People”, I hope, is a call for understanding, at least in my untrained eyes. Not embrace, but a call for knowledge and is against ignorance. The movie reminded me of Spike Lee’s “School Daze”, not only in the subject matter but also the style of these episodic scenes from all around the campus, each of them expressing modern-day thoughts on the African-American experience from multiple different sides, often using pop cultural references ranging from Tyler Perry to Robert Altman to Taylor Swift to Malcolm X. Oddly I think satire was the incorrect choice for this material, it might have been stronger if it was taken a serious look at how such stupidity can run rapid at a major college institution. (And such stupidity does, in real life and in this movie). So you see, Stupid People, or I hope you do anyway, this is all your fault. Movies like these wouldn’t have to be made if it weren't for your failure to think, understood, contemplate, basically anything having to do with a function of the brain. Especially you stupid people who happen to be in college wasting space for somebody who probably really wants to be there who may actually benefit as he/she observes, participates and appreciates the cultures of others. So please, for the sake of humanity, stop being stupid. We can’t deal with it anymore and you’re ruining it for everybody else. Sure, it leads to occasional good movies like this one, but frankly that’s not enough for us to want to keep you guys around. Thank you. 

Sincerely, 
Smart People. 

P.S.: Eh, when you run into your friend The Media, tell them that they can help out a lot more than they are. 


SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (2014) Directors: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller


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I guess it is asking a bit much that a movie like “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For…” make sense. For some reason, while the look of the movie is still this gorgeous slick black-and-white like the Frank Miller comics with sudden bursts of glowing primarily colors like red and gold, it’s not as pristine a look as the original movie was. Some of the scene come of as downright cartoon-y to be honest, in particular, some of the car chasing sequences. It’s a minor complaint, but the original “Sin City”, which made my Ten Best list the year it came out, the movie was mainly about the look, the style, the tone, that pulp film noir aesthetic world where every man’s killer, every girl’s a dame and danger lurked around in all the darkest shadows of a town of shadows, but with the style points pumped up ‘til 11. The fact that the narrative threads came together was basically an afterthought to me; it was more interesting to experience than to analyze. Now, I find myself analyzing a film that, really I shouldn’t have to, or even want to. This is a sequel to the original and it combines stories involving some of the original film’s character along with some new ones, which is fine although I wanted to see as much of the world of “Sin City” that they possibly could, Marv (Mickey Rourke) would be as appreciate as a cameo in the background to me than as a central story character for instance, but I think this film is missing the beauty of the storytelling method. The first film took it’s time, separated it’s stories just enough to have them almost like little separate episodes, even though they do collide and come together overall, now they feel more disjointed, like they’re being shoved together. I was 45 minutes in for instance and I had already long last track of just how many times we had gone back to Kadie’s Bar, literally. A new character is Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is one lucky and good gambler, too good as it gets him in trouble with Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) after beating him at poker. The titular thread involves Dwight (Josh Brolin replacing Clive Owen a private eye who’s finally getting over a dangerous relationship with Ava Lord (Ava Green), right as she walks back into her life wanting her back and strives to coax him into helping her get away from a sinister rich husband. When this plan backfires, Dwight goes to Old Town for help from Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her group of hookers to help him recover and inevitably get vengeance. We also learn that Nancy (Jessica Biel) the stripper who all the guys pined over in the original film is now haunted by Jack Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the old cop who saved her from the treachery the Yellow Bastard, but his suicide has spiraled her into alcoholism and is now starting to develop a plan for a similar suicidal mission to take out the Bastard’s powerful politician father. There’s numerous other threads and characters getting introduced throughout the film, most of them don’t go anywhere in particular, although they seem ample to be set up for characters in the future, if there is another installment of “Sin City”, and I hope there is. Overall, I’m recommending the film, with reservations. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s segment doesn’t really go anywhere when you think about it, it could’ve been more integrated into everything else, it’s almost a throwaway bit when you consider what really could’ve been done with it. On the other hand, while Ava Green is one of the film’s biggest highpoints, her story section, almost seems too big, there’s more sideplots and characters in that story than there probably was in the first film. Rodriguez and Miller kinda got lost a bit when trying to figure out how much of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” should be a straight sequel to the original, and how much more the world of “Sin City” they could’ve explored, revealing new characters and stories and evoking the overall feeling and tone that made the first film so special. You can tell the balancing act was tricky for them. In a perfect world, I would probably enjoy “Sin City” as an anthology television series, perhaps take a whole 13-episode season, kinda like “True Detective” or something to tell its stories, not necessarily one linear one or thirteen smaller ones, but spend more time creating the atmosphere within the world, have some characters have major stories some times, other times minor ones, sometimes have a single episode story that doesn’t call back ‘til much later, perhaps sometimes spend four or five hours going through one story. The movie must be doing something right, ‘cause I still want to see more of it, if I’m trying to think of ways to do that.


THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ (2014) Director: Brian Knappenberger

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You know, this has happened to me a few times lately, particularly people who knew me from high school, even with close friends of mine, they see me now, this frustrated screenwriter/blogger guy I’ve become and they wonder about why I never went into IT or computer of some kind. I was the smartest kid in the class, many times considered smarter than the teacher was. (There were times where I would in fact agree with that actually.) Whether that or not and many times it wasn’t, that said, I was never computer-savvy. I mean, hell, look at my website, does this look like somebody who’s got a background in computers? I took me half a year to figure out how to put a Youtube clip on here in a way that doesn’t make me look like a complete moron. At fourteen years old, Aaron Swartz created RSS. I don’t think I knew what a blog was when I was 14 and now I run one with an RSS attachment and after seeing “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz”, I only still don’t have any idea what the hell RSS means or what it does or why I need it or why it helps…- actually, I don’t fully understand most of the things Aaron Swartz was able to accomplish and do in his brief amount of time on this Earth. I’ve been told multiple times that I should be on Reddit, which Swartz co-created, but it looks like chaos to me, (Which is how it’s described in the film as well) and frankly I’m amazed that people can find anything on there, much less my little dog-and-pony show of a blog.  I have friends who are much more computer-savvy than I am hackers, and I’m scared to ask them about Aaron Swartz although I know I have to before completely understanding this documentary, which I gotta admit, I’m underwhelmed by. It’s not that I don’t think Aaron’s accomplishments and talents weren’t special or amazing, or even inspiring but frankly the movie seems to feel like hero-worship. Even the people who know him, and there’s this grave sense of unjustness to what was done to him, and for those who don’t know he was prosecuted for trying to get academic articles and journals that would cost most people money even on online because of obscure copyright laws meeting with…- god, I don’t even understand what he was doing completely, but his circumnavigate certain loopholes in the internet in order to put out more free that for reasons that are at best, arcane, wasn’t, and yes, there seems to be this distinction between what Swartz and people like him were doing and say somebody like how Julian Assange was going about the same thing essentially but where Assange was going for transparency above all costs revolution, Swartz was doing this for more altruistic reasons, to make sure things that should readily be available to the public like scientific journals and the law even, available for all, but it’s almost like his friends are just in denial. Maybe it’s of his suicide, maybe it is of his actions, I don’t know, they seem like they  think he wasn’t committing a crime at all. I’ll be honest, I don’t share this opinion of Swartz, from what I’ve heard and seen. Fine, he helped stop SOPA, he created dozens of organizations and he certainly was one of the great minds of his generation and ultimately the actions he took were more beneficial to society so much so that perhaps the federal cases made against him for these actions, which are now subject to reversing the law in which most of the crimes we’re prosecuted against him for are in the process of being reversed in his names, but I also don’t think he went about this in the best possible way. Frankly, we was capable of going about it in a different way, and circumnavigating the tangled mess of government; his actions helped get Elizabeth Warren elected to Senate in fact, and late in life, before the struggles of the case would lead to his sudden suicide, he had political ambitions himself. I’m of conflicted minds about the man myself, and frankly the movie didn’t make me change that perspective and the movie barely got into those details. One lawyer who studied the case, late in the movie is finally brought on to say that, yes, the government’s case, legally was understandable, irrelevant of the moralistic aspects of it or the civil disobedience of it. I think he was capable of getting this point made in some other way. Much of this film is often people who knew Aaron talking about how right his actions were and frankly I wasn’t sold on it. To them this was a foregone conclusion, yet I came out the movie needing to be more convinced. That’s probably why I am gonna ask my hacker friends more after I finish writing this. Maybe they will help me see the light and I’ll kneel down at the church of Swartz soon enough, but you know, that bothers me too. The more I focused in on this movie, the less informative and more lackluster it becomes. This could be because the story of Aaron Swartz is a great deal of what could’ve been, and how one of the great minds of his generation was cute short, in their metaphoric symbolism by the ways of the old world crashing with this new computer age making Swartz a martyred victim while they were only trying just to make an example of him. Maybe I was looking for a more “Frontline” approach to this person than the movie wanted or was willing to give us and maybe I should just judge the film on its merits instead but looking at trying to find something that isn’t there, but you know, I can’t get pass this sense that there was a better way to approach Aaron Swartz’s life than the way this movie went about it. (Frustrated thinking sigh) This is a tough call for me, and maybe I’m about to cause some trouble with this, but as a film, I can’t quite recommend “The Internet’s Own Boy…”.



LAND HO! (2014) Directors: Aaron Katz & Martha Stevens

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Well, it’s not like I ever, not wanted, to go to Iceland, but…- well, I love Bjork, but I never particularly envisioned it as a vacation location,  but I would probably accept an invitation if asked. “Land Ho” was nominated for the John Cassavettes Award at the Independent Spirits this pass year and it’s a curious, quirky little comedy about Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) a retired, divorced doctor who’s obsessed with sex and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) a recently-widowed former classical musician, who’s also retired from his banking job. and it follows these two old former brothers-in-law as they go to Iceland for a vacation. Why Iceland? Why are they even vacationing? Well, Mitch bought the tickets and invited Colin, and you’d have to ask him about why Iceland, but there’s definitely stuff to do in Iceland. Reykjavik is a notorious party town and certainly Mitch is looking to party. He may be in his sixties or seventies maybe, but he mostly has the personality mind of a fourteen-year-old boy who’s fascinated with women but doesn’t quite know how to talk to them. Colin’s not as interested in that, mentioning how he hasn’t gotten high since the ‘70s to Mitch’s disbelief. They try to get some women at first, Ellen and Janet (Kerrie Crouse and Elizabeth Mckee) but they then head off into the more rural areas of the Arctic island nation. They definitely want to see the geysers, and yes, Iceland is full of geysers. More per capita that any country on Earth. It’s actually directly over one of the world’s most active faultlines, it’s actually kinda amazing it’s still there to be honest, the whole country, but…- well, that’s my geographical lesson of the day. (Huh, I guess I did remember something from those frigging JASON thing; do they still do those?) Whether you like the movie or think it’s entertaining at all is basically predicated on whether or not you think the two main characters are fun to be around or not. Naturally, we learn to appreciate and like them more the more the movie goes on and we learn about them. I guess I would say that I enjoyed them more at the end of the movie than at the beginning, so for that I guess I recommend it. 


TRUST ME (2014) Director: Clark Gregg

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Clark Gregg’s performance is so amazing in this movie, I just realized that I have spent the last week after seeing “Trust Me” his latest directorial effort, believing 100% that this wasn’t a performance but that this character was him. Howard Holloway is a former child star who is now a down-on-his-luck agent for other child stars. He knows all the ins and outs and how child stars have been taken advantage of, and how to manipulate the system, or at least force the system to manipulate to him, which is why he’s often getting the door slammed in his face as other more high-profile agents like Aldo (Sam Rockwell) undercut him, and the system often uses him and his clients as leverage for to get the actors they want. Here’s the thing, I’ve known Clark Gregg’s work for years; my first real impression of him came as Agent Casey on “The West Wing” and I’m sure most of you know him from the Marvel Universe, but I’ve never looked that deeply at his filmography before and frankly I just realized that I don’t honestly know how long he’s been acting or whether or not he was a child star or not. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, and first chance I probably will look it up now, but it took a week for me to even think about that. “Trust Me” is something that’s said often in Hollywood and yet, from Howard Holloway, I felt like I could. The movie takes place, in probably a 48 hour timespan at most. He’s on one audition trying for one of his clients with a producer, Meg (Allison Janney), when he runs into an another audition after hearing what he instinctively thought was something going wrong, but it was just Lydia’s (Saxon Sharbino) audition. He was clearly frightened, although he’s able to recoup himself enough to try and hire her on as a client. When everything else goes downhill, he eventually does bring her on and news about her audition spreads and reportedly Ang Lee wants her for his movie a blockbuster franchise about vampire angels. The only real problem is her father, Ray (Paul Sparks).  Her mother is already absent, apparently a druggie and this low-life-with-a-beat-up pickup truck is apparently the best parental option. I hazard to reveal much more of what happens next, since so much of the film is dependent on the events and developments themselves other than to say that we know that somebody or multiple people are getting played. We know it’s gonna happen, and we know that the trusting Howard Holloway will somehow fall into it. He almost knows inevitably he has to fall into something, he’s got too good of a commodity. He’s already getting dozens of phone calls from others who want his employment just on the news that he’s representing Lydia and he’s willing to do, literally anything for her. He’s seen the best and worst of child stardom. He tells his neighbor, Marcy (Amande Peete) during a rare moment of tranquility about his first kiss with Anissa Jones literally days before she was found dead of an overdose. There’s a lot of well-cast cameos here, and not to be outdone, Saxon Sharbino, who I’ve never heard of before either, also holds her own in a spectacular and necessary performance as well, but this movie belongs to Clark Gregg. He's directing himself in a great film, sure, and he gave himself a great role, a rare lead role for this amazing character actor, but it's one of the very best of the year. "Trust Me", there's a great actor showing just how great he can actually be in this film. 


SOME VELVET MORNING (2013) Director: Neil Labute

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I’ve seen films and plays like “Some Velvet Morning” before, none that have been dedicated to August Strindberg, but still…, and you know, it almost always works. I know to feel safe in the hands of Neil Labute. He’s been a director-for-hire lately on such films as “The Wicker Man” or the remake of Frank Oz’s comedy “Death at a Funeral”, but I’m a fan of his writing; he’s one of the pre-eminent playwrights of our time. The last time he wrote and directed a feature was when he adapted his hit show “The Shape of Things” to the screen, complete with the original cast of the production in both London and on Broadway. That film made my Ten Best List the year it came out and amazingly this film feels even more like a play of his. Insular, trapped in a room, or in this case a house with characters who are all in varying degrees, some fairly despicable human beings. “Some Velvet Morning” has only two character, Fred (Stanley Tucci) a middle-age man who’s leaving his wife and Velvet (Alice Eve) a prostitute he hasn’t seen in a couple years who not only he used to see socially but she also used to see his son. In fact, she’s still seeing him, as a client and is supposed to see him later that day, but Fred has shown up on her doorstep packed bags and all. What follows is essentially a dance. A verbal dance, a physical dance, an emotional one, even a violent one. Two people, both trying to get what they want out of the other, whatever that is, whatever that may entail. Velvet knows Fred has made a grand gesture he can’t go back from, but is she ready to let him back into her life, and more than that, will she be willing to leave her own. She seems to have a pretty nice place, and work is steady. As secret after secret and revelation after revelation get revealed we wonder how exactly this will play out, and how can it and how should it. Which is more cliché, the hooker with the heart of gold who doesn’t want to be saved or the knight in shining armor coming to save her in the name of love? I will not discuss the ending, or whether or not it works other than to say that I hardly think of it as surprising, but still, I wasn’t completely sure that I saw it coming. It doesn’t matter anyway, the film is about these two great performances by Tucci and Eve playing two great characters and doing them well, well enough that we buy into the reality of the situation. It’s probably a letdown for me considering how I think LaBute can do more, this felt like a throwaway piece of writing essentially, not really an in-depth script or play, but more like a writing exercise than a complete thought, but his writing exercises are better than most people scripts and they’re a joy to see perform especially by great actors. Definitely recommending “Some Velvet Morning” and while I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind it if Neil Labute would direct more of his work in the future than he does.


SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP (2012) Directors: Ice-T and Andy Baybutt


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I think most interesting people growing up go through a phase where they think can be a musician, or preferably a music superstar, and I’m gonna tell you about my experience with that ‘cause after watching “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap”, I realize now that, if I were to go down that route that I probably should’ve been a rapper. I can hear the jokes coming but bare with a second, yes I’m white and generally talentless musically and my CD collection looks like what I am, some classic rock standards heavy on Springsteen and Dylan, and then all the emotional white girl Lilith Fair era music that people like me would listen to while reading Sylvia Plathe in their bedroom on prom night. (Yeah, I’m a Sylvia Plathe guy too)  Here’s the thing, while I was not inspired by rap for most of my life, the fact is that rap, unlike most other forms of music, in general, most of rap especially in the early started with the lyrics. I actually have written-down, like 200+ sets of lyrics, most of which I wrote in high school, and maybe three of those are still relatively good, and then I tried to learn to play guitar and that was just a disaster. I still occasionally contribute a lyric or two to musician friends of mine, if they might be having trouble with it, but I always listened to music lyrics first, strangely. My mother’s tone deaf so the nuances of the notes are lost to her so that’s how I was brought up. It’s a hard habit to break actually; I’m learning how to dissect the music first but it’s something that didn’t fully click for a long time. That said, rap, which is honestly, not music I particularly gravitate towards, but in the beginning days of rap, they didn’t have musical instruments for whatever reasons, most blame the cutting of music programs in many big cities, but actually it would begin with the lyrics and that would be the front and center of rap. It probably is for the best that I went into film instead of staying into music, although if I was more inspired by Dr. Dre and Eminem instead of Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette but then who knows. (Shrugs)

Anyway the interesting thing about Ice-T’s directorial debut, which doesn’t strive so much to give us a history of rap although it does that in a sense, but it’s far more interested in the actual physical craft. How do these great artists go about creating their rhymes, developing their sound and image and yes, even their voice. Ice-T is really doing two things, one he’s pulling the curtain back and we’re not only seeing how talented some of these artists but we’re seeing, more importantly them creating this art. Literally starting with pen and paper, some of them, the approach, the stories they’re trying to tell, etc. Eminem talking about how to piece together words like they’re a puzzle, others literally using a story-telling structure they learn from school, even really going into the depth of a sixteen bar poem. We see these great artists, both creating and freestyling showing how they adapted that format from their ability to write down original rhymes. Basically Ice-T is trying to show why and how rap should be raised to the same level of an art from that all other art, or even all other music is. There’s some notable comparisons to jazz, which really is the comparison, both rap and jazz in different were created essentially in the same places by the same musical subculture of African-Americans, both created their own culture aesthetic that transcended music and went into other art forms, yet, there’s no histories of Dave Brubeck slamming Herbie Hancock on their albums. This was an art form that did not come of age in a culture of camaraderie among those within it, something that’s still haunting the genre. Leading to scenes like Dr. Dre talking about how Tupac would hear the beat in the studio and then write in the corner for an hour and then record “California Love”, among all the other dozens and dozens of tracks he’d create in his brief career. Grandmaster Caz who originally wrote “Rapper’s Delight” before it was stolen from him from producers who brought it to The Sugar Hill Gang, is shown prominently as we see in his apartment writing and creating rhymes, his process from beginning to end. He’s regarded within the community as the greatest rapper of all-time and he’s never been highlighted so much before, not just as a historical figure but as an artist.   


THE ASTRONAUT'S WIFE (1999) Director: Rand Ravich




Holy hell, this was bad. Wow! I have might have to suggest The Nostalgia Critic do a review of this movie if he hasn’t, oh my God. Where do I begin with this piece of shit? Seriously, I don’t know where. Let me first say that, the reason I did call these Random Weekly Movie Reviews is that, basically it’s pretty random what movies I end up watching from week-to-week. This week is a bit different but, generally the rule it, if I see it I write about it. Well, I saw “The Astronaut’s Wife”. I don’t know how many others have or how many of them even remember seeing it, but  this movie, is kinda like trying to combine a sci-fi thriller with the tone and sensibilities of one those horrid Lifetime movies where suddenly the wife doesn’t trust her beloved husband and suddenly you add in strange angles and menacing tones suddenly make everyday things seem much more threatening than they actually are. Spencer (Johnny Depp) is an astronaut who’s latest mission involved a near-fatal incident in which he and his co-pilot (ACTOR AND CHARACTER NAME) seem to have died for about two minutes when NASA lost contact with them and there was some kind of explosion. When he comes home, his co-pilot drops dead, his wife who we learn is pregnant kills herself and he suddenly leaves NASA as a hero in order to work for a big firm in New York, to start designing the latest in privately-owned space shuttles. The move is somewhat out of character, but considering he nearly died during his last mission, it’s understandable. In fact, most everything is understandable. Even Joe Morton’s character, the NASA engineer who’s fired because he truly believes that the suspicious behavior is, well, suspicious doesn’t have that much of a case. The handwriting changed, well people handwriting does change from time to time actually. Frankly, for most of the film I don’t see much difference between Johnny Depp’s character before and after the accident. Sure, that might be suspicious, and except for the scene of ducking behind a wall at a New York party where the company’s other wives are stupidified that Jillian (Charlize Theron) is a 2nd grade teacher, dear god! (What the hell was that about btw? Alright my second grade teacher was a bit of ditz, [Sorry Miss Simms, but you were like 20 at the time and my mother constantly tells the PTC story about how you told her how you had learned so much from me already. That secretly terrified her.] but that’s-, there’s no shame in that career, in fact that’s a pretty tough and good job teaching 2nd grade. That’s not a humiliating or worst thing anybody can be, by far.) and then he takes her behind a wall and has sex with her right there, which, frankly even doesn’t seem that, odd. I mean, it is his wife, they are in love, it’s a boring party, not like they’re the first couple to ever sneak in a fuck behind a wall. And of course, the pilot seat that Depp’s character is designing, has two seats, and now Jillian is pregnant with twins?! (Fake gasp!) Which was also what the other pilot’s wife was pregnant with when she killed herself so,…- Um, people do know, it’s not that unusual to be pregnant with twins, right? Like, sure, strange, ironic, coincidental, not that impossible. Had they both had, quintuplets, maybe, okay, maybe that could be suspicious, but…- like, what the hell, that’s the big giveaway, she pregnant with twins, she’s trying to take over from within, two-by-two, twin-by-twin? Eh, no. I mean, up until he kills Jillian’s sister, (Clea Duvall) there really isn’t anything suspicious here about the Depp character. I won’t even discuss the stupidity of the ending, but it’s fucking stupid. (Frustrated sigh) It’s days like this where I hate my job. I don’t know this has been waiting on my library queue list, or whatever or why I got to it now, but all those movie waiting for me to watch and I end up with this piece of garbage. Makes me so horribly, horribly sad.











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