Friday, May 29, 2015

BY POPULAR DEMAND: THE TOP TEN FILMS ABOUT HISTORY!

Well, when I decided to poll some of my most loyal of readers last month, in a desperate attempt to post something that week, asking them to come up with a Top Ten List that they hadn't seen done before or done often, which ended up being my post on the Top Ten Worst Plot Twists, people seem to enjoy that. I do have a tendency to bash our obsessive list culture, especially in the entertainment circles, but I too am list-obsessed but I generally try to repress it, but I am interested in finding new and different approaches to the ideas of creating lists. I still don't want to do the ones that have been done a zillion times before, and since, I am in need of a certain amount of good will towards you, the readers, I decided that, if we keep coming up with some new approaches, then, perhaps it's not such a horrible idea that I go along and be a little more participatory in this list culture of the entertainment world.

So, we're doing it again. Yesterday I posted on the blog's FB page as well as in Cinema Discussion's FB group, (I swear, I'll post in more groups next time) and asked them once again to come with Top Ten Lists that they would like to see, but they simply haven't yet, or have rarely seen. I recognize this is tricky, 'cause we're so list-obsessed that basically there's lists for everything nowadays, (Watchmojo, I'm looking at you) but still, they were able to find some interesting choices, I took the most interesting suggestions and put up a poll asking them which Top Ten List, they'd like to see done, either by me, or in general. I do this, partly 'cause I don't really think it's that good of an idea that I come up with a list topic on my own and then just thrust it onto people. That makes it my more "My List", and I frankly, well, some of you know my stances on this, but I'm not big on my personal preferences being more of a determinate factor than the quality of the work, so I want to eliminate that as much as possible, and the best way to do that, is to take it out of my hands as much as possible, So I like how I don't 100% decide, what I do these Top Ten's on. (What, you think I wanted to do "Worst Plot Twists"?)

Well, enough stalling. It's about time I close the poll and look at the results, so let's see what won, (Scrolls down Cinema Discussions for a few minutes) here we go, and the winner is.... really? Top Ten Films About History? History- wow it won convincingly too. Really, you want history? Huh. I mean, I like history, but I'm weird, I mean, alright. I'll do it, just a little surprised by that one winning. Okay, Top Ten Films About History.

Wait a minute, "About" history. Well, that does, sort-a, narrow it down quite a bit. There really aren't that many movies that are "About" history. The typical combination od film and history, usually means simply, the period piece, or especially the historical epic. Most of those, it's kinda almost laughable to call historical, or at least historically accurate, but besides that, they're really more the setting(s) to tell the story with, instead of the history being the actual story. "The Ten Commandments" for instance, isn't about history, or even The Old Testament. It's about Moses. Or how "Schindler's List" isn't about the Holocaust, it's about Oskar Schindler and how he saved over a 1,000 Jews. The Holocaust is the murder of 6 million Jews, you see the difference? Actually, it's really bizarre to create a movie or any kind of fictional literature that's exclusively or even predominantly about history. (Hell, some could say that much history literature that we have is pretty much fiction, stories rewritten from the winner's perspective. Yeah, I'm a Howard Zinn guy) History is also usually an overall perspective while really telling a story is more, usually if done well, a personal journey. We're following the arcs of one or many characters as they experience and live through or go through these amazing events,- (Huh. Wow, I never realized how much "Forrest Gump" has in common with Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" before) It's almost the exact opposite oddly enough, to create work that's about "history", where we'd take out the personal narratives and the narrative instead becomes about the events themselves. Of course, most of the time, if we're watching a film about a past event, then, essentially, we're watching it from a point of view that it's happening in the present, 'cause we're experiencing it. So does that just mean movies that are about history just place events in a historical context? Well, hell, that's just flashbacks; that's not history either.

History by the way,- I looked for a better definition, but this is probably the closest I can find to one I like,  is "A continuous, systematic narrative, of past events, relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc. usually written as a chronological account". Hmm, I would change "country" to "land", that might be more accurate, but that's the thing, history does relate to us. Events of the past effect us, in many ways that often we aren't even aware of. Sometimes it's the recent past, sometimes it's even older than we are. Actually, this is a lot of what literature is, the ways the past effects us in the present, how the past is still omnipresent in our everyday lives. If I don't make a Chekhov reference here, I'll get in trouble, so think Chekhov, how everything seems to be exposition about the events in the past and how it affects the current stasis. That's about 3/4ths of every one of his plays, pretty much. He's probably the most famous author who writes about history in this sense.

So, when they say movies that are about history, essentially are we asking, "Films that are about the past"? Eh.... Well, whatever the standards are, I'll do the best I can. I'm only gonna try to figure out the best films about history, only from the films I've seen, so if I'm missing something obvious, ask, it's possible that I probably just haven't gotten around to it yet. Also, I'm not gonna take the easy way out here, for this Top Ten List, I'm gonna disqualify traditional documentaries. I know, I really would like to talk about "How to Survive a Plague", but that's too easy. I could just insert every Ken Burns project into the list and call it a list of history films, so not doing that. Alright, let's get to it, here's the Top Ten Films that are "About" History.

TOP TEN FILMS ABOUT HISTORY

10. THE NEW WORLD (2005)



Coming up with these ten was incredibly difficult I must say, trying to really narrow down movies that were genuinely about history in as many essences of the word as possible, was very difficult. There's a few other movies I considered here, and I guess I could've put "The Tree of Life" up here if I wanted a Malick, but that movie as great as it is, is really more spiritual than historical, even though it does document the history of the universe. No, Malick's best film about history is actually "The New World". I tried putting a few other titles here, but this is the one that really ended up sticking at the end. Yeah, it's basically a historical period piece, a more realistic retelling of the story of Pocahontas, played by Q'Orianka Kilcher, but if the movie was just that it probably wouldn't make my list. It takes place in the 1600s in America, and the movie begins with the settlers struggling to build a settlement and trying intriguingly enough, to not bother with "The Naturals" as they called the Native Americans at the time. We don't even realize the story we're in actually until, the scene where Pocahontas saves John Smith, played by Colin Farrell. It's through this action that the two tribes of people begin to make their first exchanges or traditions and ways and also get into the first of what we know will be many battles. This is a strange film, in that most of the history, actually comes later in the timeline, and we're aware of it. What it's doing is trying to capture the most likely scenarios of how that came about. No stereotypes or blood or goldthirsty villains, people who have heard of a new world and for some reason, have to chosen to abandon their old life and start a new one here. Pocahontas also gets to go throw the experience of course, of going over to England and seeing a place that nobody else of her time got to see or experience after being sent out of the tribe, adopting the name Rebecca and marrying John Rolfe (Christian Bale). It's a movie about experiencing these new worlds, two people, the British settlers and then Pocahontas, leaving their own lives and histories and experiencing and seeing a completely different culture's one and the struggles and the joys of having to embrace it. we know how eventually these will turn out, so it's actually intriguing to see this, as they might have at the time. Ironically this is the only movie that makes what I would consider a real attempt and a successful one at that, at trying to recreate a piece of history. Malick picked the right one too, this is really the beginnings of American civilization which, basically was the, probably the move earth-changing moment in the last millennium.


9. McCABE & MRS. MILLER (1971)



I ended up with two westerns that made this list, both of them are essentially about the same thing, but they go about it in different ways. This film, from the great director Robert Altman, is a realistic approach to the formation of the west, in this case, interestingly the Pacific Northwest. This is the coldest western I've ever seen. Warren Beatty is John McCabe, a local card shark traveler, who's known for having killed Bill Roundtree, who half the people have never heard of, and even those that did, they only know of him because he was killed. That's one of the running jokes in the film about how the mythos and legends of the American west, the outlaw culture of the frontier, is really, much more frontier and a lot less outlaw. Actually, it's more a history of how business came to the West, even the outlaw is a hired gun for Wells Fargo, and the title, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", with the ampersand, represents a business relationship, as Mrs. Miller, played by Julie Christie, is a madam who offers to bring her stable of women to work at a brothel in the new town that they're building, which is mainly a town that mostly contains just men at the moment. (Talk about smart businesswoman) Both McCabe and Mrs. Miller are business people, and the reason I'm choosing this movie, other than the fact that it's about the building of the west and of the town, so geography aspect of history, but this is the movie that I chose to represent the business history of the world. The economic history, the transition from the Wild West of lawmen and outlaw to the beginning of major companies seeing it as a financial opportunity. Shown here on a small scale of a town, but on a larger scale as well in big business, and how negotiations with them can be just as dangerous and life-threatening as challenging the best dueler in town.


8. MY FAMILY/MI FAMILIA (1995)



There's quite a few films that deal with family histories, often searching for them, sometimes documenting them, I thought of a few and had trouble picking one, for one reason or another. "Incendies" came to mind, as well "Antonia's Line", there's others as well. This spot technically represents all the good movies about this that didn't make the list, but the one that probably dived into this aspect the best, that also dealt with the changing times and the crossing land aspects of history is "My Family", also known as "Mi Familia" from director Gregory Nava. As told through Paco, played as an adult by Edward James Olmos, the writer in the family, he documents the history of three generations of his Mexican family, as they immigrated from Mexico to California, and would eventually settle in Los Angeles. There's a lot of these historical family epics as well, I can see something like "Giant" here as well, or "Doctor Zhivago" or "Reds" even, but I argue this one is the film with the more rewarding journey, from Jennifer Lopez nearly drowning with her infant son trying to cross a then treacherous river alone, to the comic relief of Paco's nun sister who comes back with a husband one day out of the blue...-; there's an unpredictability that I enjoy. The grandfather's brother, El Californio, is named after the territory, not the state, the territory, he was there before there was a border to cross, and get to modern time where it's almost a shame, to mention how he's buried in the backyard of the house he built for his family, it's moving and sad. There's some cliche moment, like one of the sons becoming a victim of gang violence, but if anything really documents the changes of people in history, it's in the immigration movements around the world, and this movie documents the full experience better than most, it's amazing how much they actually get in. For a movie with so many interesting and great characters, you feel like you know them all at the end and you've gone through multiple rollercoasters of emotions following their fights and trevails. So for the immigrant experience, for the family history, for the historical sweeping family epic, for the documenting of these stories, I think that's enough to make "My Family/Mi Familia" be the one that represents these genres.


7. VANYA ON 42ND STREET (1994)



Alright, remember what I said about disqualifying traditional documentaries? Well,... Like, I also said, Chekhov, when dealing with history, in terms of a having that be the focus of the piece of literature, it's hard to not have a Chekhov piece on here. What ended up being Louis Malle's last film, "Vanya on 42nd Street" is partially a documentary, but it's a performance documentary. Andre Gregory, who you might remember most as, himself in Malle's best film, "My Dinner with Andre," for years, directed and held quiet performances for friends and family of "Uncle Vanya", performed by an amazing troupe of New York stage and screen actors that included the likes of Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn of course in the title role, et al., and they would do "...Vanya," as adapted by David Mamet actually. It's "Uncle Vanya", it's the best filmed version of it, even if it, a documentary of a performance of it, the barest of performances at that. It's hard not to put a Chekhov on here, and considering how much and how critical all the exposition in his work is, and how everything is about the past....

From here on it, I think I'm pretty confident in my choices. Up 'til now, I'll confess, it's tough to do this list, much harder to narrow down what is history and what films are specifically about it and why.


6. INTOLERANCE (1916)



I guess I'm stretching a bit with this one. I'm actually not even a particularly big fan of "Intolerance" as a film, I tend to consider "Broken Blossoms..." to be D.W. Griffith's masterpiece, but it's this film that inspired most of the multi-narrative films that came after. Those movies that seem to connect through time, space, locations even that I didn't think we're really about history more than the ways the threads connected to each other. D.W. Griffith actually made this film as an apology for "Birth of a Nation", and it four different stories, told at different time period, connected through the way they show intolerance as practiced through the ages. And, I guess through the guise of cinema. I'll admit, some of the narratives a little bit iffy on whether they actually deal with intolerance or not, but I can overlook that. the movie is about themes and the common practices of humanity throughout the ages. Our prejudices getting ahold of our better angels and deluding our judgments. It's almost Griffith, conceded that while "Birth..." would inevitably have to be looked at through the gaze of time, that we should also consider it and ourselves throughout history too. It's subtitled, "Love's Struggle Through the Ages", with love being the thing that gets in the way of intolerance, and that idea dates back even further than Shakespeare, so you could say it's overall theme is about love, but the most distinctive aspects about the movie are infamous sets that were the biggest and most expensive of their time. One of the largest ones, they couldn't even afford to take down for decades, as the movie had flopped most everywhere and only became more well-regarded in time. It's the distinctive looks of the eras of history that's the real appeal of the film, so I argue that it's the history aspect that's more relevant. If he to just show intolerance through love, he could've made "Romeo & Juliet" or something else. So, I'm calling it a film about history.


5. THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)



Actually, this is not technically the highest-ranked sequel on this list, although you'd think there'd be more. Sequels have a natural history to reference already. I'll get to the other one in a minute, but I'm sure most people would've put this film on their list, not just because of the first "The Godfather" film, which also had a large aspect of the past looming in it, but that's not made as clear until this second one. Now, I'm not one of those who thinks it's a superior film to "The Godfather", but in terms of history, first it has the history of immigration in this country, as we follow Don Corleone from his youth in Italy to Ellis Island and inevitably, as portrayed by Robert De Niro, building his way up in the beginning of the crime world. Then there's the history of the past movie, that does filter in, to the present day material, in more ways than one, not simply in how you "never go against the family", poor Fredo, (John Cazale) but also in how Michael's actions in the previous film, eventually led to the actions in this one. Even going half-way across the country, he can't hide from his actions, or of course, the person he's become, which we see in the movies great final flashback sequence, him remembering just how much and how small he had once been in the family structure. If "The Godfather" is about how Michael became "The Godfather", than "...Part II", is about him, and looking back at how exactly he ended up in this position. More regret I'd say, which is a common theme when talking about personal history.


4. MANON OF THE SPRING (aka MANON DES SOURCES) (1987)



Okay, "sequel" is a bit misleading- it's not really a sequel so much as the second part of a story that begins with a film called "Jean de Florette". Both films were made at the same time, one after another by the great French director Claude Berri and are usually paired together when you see them, it often came like that when it was released on VHS even. Both films are already in my Canon of Film, so I've discussed them before, and while "Manon of the Spring" is the better movie, you do need to see the first film to completely understand the actions and complications of this second film. Manon (Emmanuelle Beart) was a child of Jean de Florette, an outsider and a hunchback who inherited a piece of land on it that was prized by Cesar Soubreyan (Yves Montrand) and his son Ugolin (Daniel Autreil), they're farmers and they want to use the land to start planting flowers. There's a spring on the land, but they close it up in the first film, unbeknownst to Jean, who inevitably loses his life trying to get the land to farm, trying everything he can to coax water onto the land. "Manon..." takes place years later after Cesar and Ugolin have bought the land and now have started to successfully grow flowers on it. Manon is now a young adult and Ugolin wants to marry her, but Manon eventually stumbles across the source of the mysterious spring, and clogs it up, not only drowning Cesar of water, but of the entire town as well in revenge, not only for their actions in costing her father a fortune and inevitably his life, but also the entire town suffers, for basically watching it happen and nobody stopping it from happening or stopping them. I'm not gonna lie, this movie feels like it's history, it's a slow-paced movie, but it's also a long, long play for a father so greedy that he's willing to wait out for years until he can possess the land. Plot-wise this movie actually has more in common with modern day business films like "Margin Call" or "The Wolf of Wall Street" when you really think about the business practice side of it, but it's in her revenge, for these past sins and actions, (Especially when, there's a particularly Greek twist that comes at the end of this story,although if you know your hunchback symbolism you might be able to guess it)  that adds more history to this and puts it into another light. 'Jean de Florette" is about the actions, but "Manon..." is about the result of those past actions, not only for the perpetrators but for those who did nothing but let it happen and that's why I'm only putting "Manon..." on here, and you can watch "Manon..." on it's own, but it doesn't have the power without first seeing "Jean...".


3. ONCE WERE WARRIORS (1995)



Kudos first of all, if you've even seen or heard of this film, and you don't or have never lived in the southern hemisphere. It's in my Canon of Film,  so I've talked about it, but I haven't discussed the history aspect of the film. It's a New Zealand film, often considered the best the country has ever produced (And I agree) and it takes place in modern day about a lower class Maori family that's struggling financially and everything, although it's mainly about domestic violence. Brutal domestic violence, fair warning if you haven't it, it's sudden and it's hard-to-watch. Temeura Morrison is the brawling Jake Heke, who has a short temper and is not afraid to use his fists above anything else, and his wife Beth is played by Rena Owen. These are two of the greatest acting performances of all-time btw. But, they're also Maoris, they're kinda the Aboriginals or Native American of New Zealand, and a crucial part of this movie is how the film is about the state of the Maoris people and culture at this time. One son, is learning the warrior ways of his ancestors, complete with facial tattoos and whatnot, while part of Jake's psyche, during a moving speech on the reservation where Beth grew up was how he was never accepted by her family as his ancestors were slaves, and were beaten and tortured and whatnot, and now that behavior is inflicted onto his wife. Nothing happens in a vacuum as most sociologists will tell you, and it is the history and ancestors of the past that do effect how you grow up. Even the title, "Once Were Warriors", is a callback to the place of honor Beth's family and the whole Maori people once were and how they lived. A personal call for inner strength as well as a general call to members of the Maoris. It's also that past that inevitably leads to Beth leaving Jake after a sudden and shocking tragedy, strikes the family. This is history, essentially through the eyes of what the past, both the good and the bad parts of the history, and necessarily how it lead to now, but it's a look at the history of a family and of a people, through the perspective of where they are now.

And before anyone asks, no I haven't seen the sequel, will try to at some point; I do want to see it. And also if anybody was wondering I'm using U.S. release dates for these.


2. MUNICH (2005)



I've talked a bit about Steven Spielberg's "Munich" before, I probably will bring it up again at some point. When I went through the Top Ten Films of each year of the last decade, I had #1 for 2005, and that didn't change from when it first came out for me. I remember, 'cause everybody liked all the independent movies, that was a huge Indy year, especially at the Oscars and, people rewrite history, it really was 50/50 "Brokeback Mountain" or "Crash", I don't get the "Crash" backlash since, but it was even split at that time, most were on one side or the other, and here I was in the middle of the Oscars doing their best Spirit Awards impersonation saying that Spielberg did the best film that year. Anyway, my anecdote aside, this has to go up there 'cause there is so much about history here. First of all, it's about the massacre at the Munich games from Black September killing 11 Israeli athletes, which in turn, causes the formation of the secret bomb/death squad to kill the members of the group, the financiers at least. Let's not forget, this is the Israeli-Palestinean conflict, this is one chapter in otherwise long battle in history that literally stretches to the beginnings of time, so there's history on top of the history of the single events, that these characters have grown up and still, in the Eric Bana character, he's filled with these nightmares of the events at the Munich, which are interesting those are all in his mind, effecting him. The reason for him to feel justified, for a while, in this eye for an eye approach, yet those are images that aren't things he witnessed or anything, just him filling in the gaps of what we saw and do know and whatnot. History effecting, too much our behavior. I claim that the film was actually a metaphor for America's reaction after 9/11 and it does hint at that at the end, as we see the Twin Towers, in the background, so it's recent history and our reaction and blah, blah blah, but even if you take that out and play it straight, the movie is very much how history effects us and our actions, and in some ways, how the farther away we get from the event, the more relaxed and calm we are about it, and it still shows this escalating of terrorism in Asia and Europe eventually finding it's way onto American soil. History is really the catalyst that leads to everything else essentially. It's one of Spielberg's best films and it's starting to get that recognition now, it kinda did then, but there was some backlash against it, but now it's getting recognized for how great it actually is.


And now the #1 FILM ABOUT HISTORY....

So, when you actually do look into history, there's really two kinds of history out there. There's the stuff that you learn about in history books, and then there's what really happened. We don't always like to talk about this, but first, history happens, and then there's the people telling everybody about, the event that happened, the documenting of the history. Now, even if it's unintentional however, we're still filtering the events through our perspective, the people who document history at least. Sometimes people really filter it, often to the point where it doesn't even remotely alter back to the actual event. (INSERT YOUR OWN FOX NEWS JOKE) But history gets written and recorded all the time, it comes from different perspectives, and hopefully it's remembered at all, and if it is, it's that perspective that becomes remembered. So if that perspective, isn't exactly what happened.... well, does it really matter? Maybe to some, but.... well, you all should already know where I'm going with this, but it's true, when the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.


1. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)




I think I could argue this as John Ford's best film, but when I think about history, this is the film I really think about. Told in flashback Jimmy Stewart's Ransom Stoddard in now a Senator, but he's talking about the old days when he came out west to, what wasn't even then a state, to be a teacher. This in a world where the outlaws ruled and the prison didn't even have a cell to lock and the sheriff slept in it during off hours. John Wayne play Tom Doniphan, the only gunfighter in town who the outlaw Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin is afraid of. He runs roughshot over the town from across the borderline whenever he feels like. In between teaching the Constitution and law and the history of America to some of the kids and other uneducated in the town, Stoddard tries to bring law & order to this town, that's barely a town, and this man, who frankly doesn't like or know how to shoot guns, has to compete in a shootout against Valance. What happens isn't unpredictable, although I won't give it away, but the whole movie is about, how the west and essentially was formed through mythos and legends and the fact is that what really happened might not be what's in those history books that he teaches out of (Or law books, Stoddard's actually a lawyer too, if I remember correctly and teaching human rights essentially, law themselves that were created through history) but that the legends are just as important. It's about the old west, but it really about how history is formed and shaped and that's in most aspect of this movie. They're debating over statehood and the borderlines are still being formed, it's land, it's the people who are finding and carving out a home on the land, and the forming of civilization, it's really all here, while looking towards the future. It honors where we've come from and it honors and nods that where we're going is pretty special as well, even if part of that may have been based on a myth.

Alright, that was rougher than I thought, so I'm gonna take a break now. Once a month is plen-ty for these, so I hope you enjoy them. Remind me, and I will eventually post a link to this and all my Top Tens on the top of this blog. Thanks.

Monday, May 25, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #109: "BIG HERO 6", "THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES", "BEYOND THE LIGHTS", "THE HUMBLING", "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY -- PART 1", "WINTER SLEEP", "RIO 2", "GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE", "THE BABADOOK", "A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT", "TOP FIVE", "THE LIBERATOR", "KILL THE MESSENGER" "SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON", "KINK", "AT BERKELEY", "WHAT RICHARD DID", and MORE!

Whew. Well, there's a lot of films to get to and a lot to get to here, first, so, here we go. I know that there was a certain amount of backlash from my "I Am Not a Fan..." blogpost. It caused some attention, it rattled some cages, most of what I got from it was praise, and I appreciate it and most seem to understood that this wasn't just a typical rant against the current trends of the time and that it came from a place of brutal and honest thought, observances and emotions, but I was asked to not post in one FB group that I normally post in anymore, partly 'cause I hit a little too close to home for some of them. I expected some to react this way, but this was building up for awhile to me. If you really go back and check some of my other commentaries on recent fan culture, you'll notice that much of what I wrote was essentially stuff I probably held back from saying in other posts. A lot of my readers don't go all the way back and check as much of my past blogposts and they would realize that much of the personal fan stuff that they expect out of some online critics and bloggers was stuff I wrote years ago, during the beginning months of this blog, but it was done as a way of introducing myself, and it wasn't my best work. Essentially it was what I thought people wanted to know about me, and it's true, they probably did, but I never thought it as part of what defines me or what I thought of as worth bringing up. Much of it, like when I participated in those 30-day Facebook movie things or whatever, was mostly filler for this blog, stuff that I would post in-between the posts I actually wanted to write. The things I really wanted to say. One of the reasons I started this blog was because much of what I think of as my perspective on the entertainment world, was simply not out there. Much of it, drowned out by the ComicCon fan culture that has mostly taken over, but also because it was a different and unique in general, and I firmly believe that it's an important perspective that at minimum, it needs to be out there and spoken, especially those moments when it seems like the only way it can get through is by raging against it. I stand by that article, every word. In fact, that's probably gonna become my signature article that not only defines me, but shapes my image for a while to come. In fact, I'm seriously considering changing the name of this blog to "David Baruffi, Not a Fan", not only for the self-referential joke aspect of that title, but also to further establish my and this blog's identity. (I haven't officially decided to do that, but don't be too surprised if that occurs sometime in the future) Yeah, I'm owning it. I'm not a fan and, now that that confession's out there, no point really in hiding it or trying to make it go away and I don't want to do that anyway, so I'm wearing it like a badge of honor. If some don't like it, well, (Shrugs) tough. I don't know what to tell ya.

Anyway, we have a lot of movies to review this week, including a lot of big ones, and honestly, there's quite a few that I didn't even get to writing a review. So real quick.... I saw two Astaire Rogers films, but I didn't get a chance to review "The Gay Divorcee", it's another of their typical films, 3 1/2 STARS. I saw a French film called "La Repetition", a lesser work by Catherine Corsini, about the relationship between two women who reconnect years after they separated after college, eh, I wouldn't recommend it, 2 1/2 STARS. I also saw, "Outbreak" the nineties Wolfgang Peterson drama with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo among others fighting a constantly-spreading disease. It's kinda like "Contagion", but with a ridiculous Michael Bay action movie in the middle and monkeys. (It was the mid-nineties, everybody associated monkeys with AIDS. I know,...-) It's dreadful, 1 STAR, only. It might've been entertaining then, barely, but now it's just stupid.

Okay, Happy Memorial Day Everyone, let's get to this weeks MOVIE REVIEWS! Including Oscar-winning and nominated films, "Big Hero 6", "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies", and "Beyond the Lights" and our first review of a 2015 feature, finally, "The Humbling" among numerous others, including another unique "The Hunger Games" review from me, so let's get to it folks!


BIG HERO 6 (2014) Director: Don Hall & Chris Williams

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I can definitely see in "Big Hero 6", some care and thought went into this project. There's some great animation as well, but somewhere along the way, too much got in. I can see this movie years from now being looked upon as an overlooked film in the Disney/Pixar canon, a cult movie if you will, where it will be appreciated by some but mostly ignored in the mainstream consciousness. It's kind of a shame, 'cause you can see thinking behind it, the parallels. The story is about two brothers in a future city of San Fransokyo? (Oh, they're just screwing with us with the Disney/Pixar Universe Theories people aren't they?) The brothers are geniuses in technology, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is the older one who's working with Dr. Callaghan (James Cromwell) one of the premiere experts in modern robotics. Tadashi's younger brother Hiro (Ryan Potter) is even more of a genius, but is much more self-evolved and not as interested in much else. Tadashi's working on a robot that's designed to be a universal health care provider, Baymax (Scott Adsit), while Tadashi creates robots to hustle in underground bot-fighting rings. (Insert your own "Real Steel" reference) When Hiro does get a look at the university however, he realizes quickly how much he truly wants to go and works on the invention of microbots, little tiny robots that connect to each other through thought, and can become literally anything as needed. It gets him into the university but after Tadashi's is killed in a fire that also destroys the microbots that he becomes a recluse and loner again, shilling his friends, his studies and his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph). It's then that Baymax, the last remaining echo of Tadashi begins to try to help him, as a single microbot seems to be wanting to go in a particular direction, like it's controlled, despite the fire, presumably having destroyed them all and the thought control panel. There's a few clear suspects that the bad guy can end up being, and that's a small part of the problem of the film, it's actually overwritten. Everything is so clearly laid out that we're usually a few steps ahead of the formula and conventions of the story. It also essentially devolves into a superhero film after Hiro begins reprogramming the gentle Baymax into a more destructive force, under the guise of helping him get over his grief, but he also ends up designing superhero outfits for his friends as they have to head out to the bad guy's secluded island to find out his plans. I wish it didn't go into the superhero motif, including the post-credit cameo by somebody who you could probably guess but for these purposes I won't name, the story alone of Tadashi using Baymax not only as a connection to his brother but also for his own desires is pretty strong, the combination of how they use their engineering skills is very well-done. I wish there was a lot more of that. I can respect "Big Hero 6", but in hindsight, it feels like a missed opportunity from something really special if they decided to keep it far more simpler than it became. Did we even a villain subplot in this film? I don't know, the character was so much more interesting; it might not have been Disney, but maybe this film could've been played straighter and more realistic and not just go into fantasy because it's animated. Or at least this comic book-like fantasy. Still, weak for Pixar is still leagues better than most so it's an easy recommendation, but this could've been more gripping than it was.


THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
(2014) Director: Peter Jackson

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(Shrugs) I'm as shocked as anybody that I'm actually technically giving a positive review to "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies". Me, the one who's literally hated, and has pretty much given a negative review to pretty much everything Peter Jackson's done, except for barely recommending "Heavenly Creatures" and in all honesty, I'm barely recommending this one. It's possible that I just found myself more tolerant of it than anything else, I'd hardly consider it the most dramatic or interesting of his films. I wouldn't say it's technically better than "...The Return of the King", which at minimum has the eventual build-up tensions and thrills that the other two "Lord of the Rings" movies slogging towards, and hell, part of why I'm recommending it really is that it we finally got the conclusion of the intense cliffhanger after the last film, as the Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) which, while I didn't recommend, it did end intensely and Smaug is a pretty vicious and somewhat frightening villain. Maybe it's partly because it's a shorter film in the series, not counting credits it's at 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is slightly more tolerable. Oddly the movie is actually messier and more confusing than any of them before, but it entertained me, enough. "...The Battle of the Five Armies" is the title of only one of the last chapters in Tolkien's "The Hobbit", and it's a bit crazy. Everybody's coming from seemingly all sides, converging on the battlefield. After the destruction of Laketown, Thorin (Richard Armitage) decides to go back on his word about giving the Smaug's treasure to the survivors, and this upsets Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who turns against him, by taking, and important stone, who's name I'm forgetting, the MaGuffin gem, as part of his share, and offers it in trade, in order to stop the inevitable battle. I'm not-, (Scoffs) I'm not equipped enough to recall or remember all the names in this story or what they are, but what was somewhat interesting and why I kinda enjoyed the film was the battle strategies and fights. The maneuvering, the effects were memorable, Bilbo using the invisibility ring (I'm sure there's more powers involved in it, but that's mostly all I can really tell that it does) to go through the battle to other lines to warn and protect others and whatnot, fighting with Gandolf (Ian McKellan) about it. Freeman's performance I found quite entertaining, he's become more sure of himself yet, he's still kinda looking at everyone else as though he's outside of what's happening, it's some funny, sly work to me. Honestly, I kinda found myself just sorta laughing at some of the ridiculousness of this. Jackson did direct, "Dead Alive" didn't he, a splatter comedy horror that was basically about as over-the-top as that can be, right? Well, I never saw that film, but I suspect he mostly made up for the lack of story in this film by essentially going into that same bag of tricks and making the film as over-the-top as possible. Oddly, I'm not usually a fan of that horror-comedy subgenre technique, but it kinda worked on me here. I mean, that battle sequence on the frozen lake which is quickly dissipating from the weapons and fighters just breaking the ice into islands they fight on, was emotional to me and an unpredictable battle sequence; I don't remember seeing something like that before. I think it's a mess, I hardly would say I enjoyed or that it's even the best technical film in the series, but I'd rather be entertained by this than to slog through the other movies, which only have minimal highpoints stuck between the more frustrating plotholes and boring meanderings of Tolkien. There's still some of that too, but this time, there was enough less of it comparatively, so more of the-, I won't say overly entertaining stuff, but it was enough for me to recommend this time. Who knew?


BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014) Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

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(Banging my head with a copy of "Beyond the Lights" DVD box, multiple times) Ow. (Me rubbing the side of my forehead after it hit a corner spot a little too well.) The reason, I was bangin my head-, ah, ouch, that really hurt. The reason I was banging my head while watching "Beyond the Lights" was because so much of this movie reminded me about, pretty much everything I hate about the music industry. Especially if you're someone from my generation and mindset, who grew was a teenager in the late nineties and early 2000s, basically having to experience music at that time when-, well, frankly I quit. Seriously, there was so little good that it took forever to search for it and pop music was overloaded with boy bands and what were then called "Teen divas" for reasons I will never understand or accept, and even rock'n'roll was littered with this horrid rock meets rap crud that only Rage Against the Machine was any good at, and they broke up leaving us Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, ugh. No, I wasn't a rap fan either, although Eminem certainly challenged a lot of what I thought of that genre, but after the great Lilith Fair singer-songwriter era that happened post-grunge to suddenly go from Alanis Morissette scratching nails down people's backs so hard you could feel it, to Britney Spears telling her boyfriend to hit her again as a sign of their love, frankly I couldn't deal with it. I stopped writing sub-Dylan folk lyrics and basically gave up on pop music altogether and any hope I had left I gave up on after "American Idol" basically flat out showed us the "process" of how they "manufactured" these pop stars. It's almost a sick joke now to see the pop charts and see how every song has three guest rappers on it and how manipulated everything is, and how often the great music (or sometimes the shitty but better than anything else today music) is sampled by everyone now into horrid, shallow, club/dance beats. Anyway, it's within this world that "Beyond the Lights" exists, the kids who've grown up the-eh, I don't know, I don't remember anyone's name now, but you all probably know the name's I'm talking about. Some of this shit drove me insane and this movie highlights so many of it's worst aspects.... So, why am I recommending it? Well, it criticizes much of it's worst aspects. It's also got a compelling enough story and characters. Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is one of these pop stars that's on the rise. Her first album hasn't even debuted yet and already she has an award for being on some rapper's single, Kid Culprit (Richard Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) and it's a typical dumb rap song that objectifies women that you wouldn't think would ever win an award, but whatever. At the hotel after, Noni tries to kill herself, as her mother, Macy (Minnie Driver) comes in, but the police officer escorting her, Kaz (Nate Parker) saves her. For some reason, this becomes a story. Seriously, this could've been kept completely quiet, but...- anyway, they're in spin mode. I'll spare some of the more ridiculous details, including one scene that reminded me of that unfortunate time when Fred Durst joined Christina Aguilera's VMA performance, and then talking about how he did that hoping he'd get laid from her, (God there's so many things wrong with sent-, god my music generation sucked!) and just talk about the broad outlines, in that basically, Noni hires Kaz soon become lovers. He's still an officer and he already has plans to start running for office, as his father, Captain Nicol (Danny Glover) is some kind of community leader, but this newfound publicity and rumored romance with a pop star, who's first album has yet to come out btw, is getting caught up in the publicity. Noni's at war with both herself, her image, and her agent/mother, who has spent years cultivating her talent and image and is basically running her life. She's definitely doing it lovingly, the mother is not an evil character, but perhaps bullheaded and misguided. She's been a single parent most of Noni's life and there's an opening scene where she goes to a closed beauty shop, desperate to give Noni a decent look before she performs Nina Simone's "Blackbird" at a school talent show, as she just doesn't know quite how to deal properly with a black girl's hair. That song comes up a few times and Noni is secretly a songwriter herself and Kaz encourages her to sing her own lyrics, and to her mother's credit, she tries to force the label to hold off on the album in order to get her to record the song. There's a lot more layers here, to the characters, not necessarily the situation. This is a good filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood; she's made some great films in the past like "The Secret Life of Bees" and "Love & Basketball", in particular, another strong adult romance about people who are in the entertainment world and are uniquely talented. She's also a strong African-American female director, there aren't enough of them around. The movie earned Diane Warren her 7th career Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, one that's not congeal to the plot, interestingly enough, it's just a closing song and no, not the song Noni's been writing; that's a curious choice as well. I am a bit of a Diane Warren apologist admittedly but her song "Grateful", I've heard both better and worst from her, so I was a bit surprised that got nominated, but there's definitely stuff here, despite some glaring problems with the film, and it's the acting and directing that pull this film together really. Mbatha-Raw was also in "Belle" recently in a very different role, she's quickly showing her amazing range and potential. Driver's always good, there's good all around the cast. It's a bit of a put-upon plot, which actually too much plot going on, but the characters and performances are so strong it holds it together enough.


THE HUMBLING
(2015) Director: Barry Levinson

✰✰



Well, we'll get the obvious thing out of the way first, "The Humbling" clearly suffers firstly from the fact that "Birdman..." came out last year. It particularly doesn't help that the opening sequence involves our lead character, a legendary actor, Simon Axler (Al Pacino) trying to get into the theater after locking himself outside, in time for his cue onstage. So, the movie's behind the eight ball already, but honestly, if you took that out of it, "The Humbling" is still, pretty much just a mess. And you know, I don't really get Barry Levinson lately. He's a good director, "Good Morning, Vietnam" is in my Canon of Film, and "Rain Man" is one of my personal favorite movies, I actually just saw "Bugsy" fairly recently that was a really good film too. I guess in hindsight there have been clues over the years that he has this fascination with satirizing Hollywood. The best of these films by a mile is "Wag the Dog", but this is the same guy who directed "Diner" and "The Natural", and produced, "Homicide: Life on the Streets" even "Sphere", I usually think of him as somebody who has range in subject matter and interests, but lately even in those projects that you would think there wouldn't be this behind-the-scenes deconstructing of Hollywood going on, he seems to be going after it. "Man of the Year", about a comedian who runs for President, or "What Just Happened" which is really a sharp satire of Hollywood, even "The Bay", which was a horror film from him, that I don't think I recommended, but that was one of the few films that actually found a new and unique approach to the found footage movie by telling the story through the perspective of a news reporter looking back on the footage that was taken and she was apart of, even in found footage horror, he's looking at the behind the scenes footage. I don't know why this has become his motif lately, and it's just become more and more cynical it seems. And this is the worst of the bunch too. The movie begins with Simon playing Jacques in "As You Like It" and he's practicing his "All the World's a Stage" monologue and then onstage he accidentally falls off of it. Admitting that he's losing a sense of reality between the real world and the world of the stage, he admits himself into an asylum for thirty days. When he gets out and back home, he talks to a psychiatrist (Dylan Baker) over Skype and the details are...-, um...-, hmm.... Eh, let's see if-, no, that's not really right either. Um, hmm. Well, I mentioned the "All the world's a stage speech...", well, that, and this quixotic script is based on a Philip Roth novel and co-written by Buck Henry of all people, it's intended to be difficult to determine whether or not the events that occur are in his mind, or are actually happening, even he claims, he doesn't even know and isn't sure he can tell. So, these events mainly are based around Pegeen (Greta Gerwig) the lesbian daughter of two of his oldest theater friends, Carol (Dianne Wiest) and Asa (Dan Hedaya), who suddenly knocks on his door, claiming...-, oh boy, um,- she claims a lot of things, basically, they start eventually being together. (Dear Lesbians, send your letters of complaint to Barry Levinson, et. al. c/o Ambi Pictures and Hammerton Productions.... California, 90rest of zip code) Anyway, she's some kind of pathological liar, sociopath, con artist, it's doesn't matter, it's some crazy-ass thing that's a partial side-effect of casting Greta Gerwig in the role, 'cause you want the lead female to straddle that line between "Oh, she crazy," and "Batshit, holy fuck crazy", also known as the "Parker Posey is-your-lead actress-in-an-underwritten-Indy film role" syndrome.  Her parents tell him this, his psychiatrist worries about this with him, then the ex-girlfriend comes around, Louise (Kyra Sedgwick) and talks about how she's crazy and that she's still in love with her despite the lying and apparent cheating and now fucking men, and women, she still screws around on Simon. (Seriously, Lesbians, you really should write a letter on this one.) And keep in mind, it's insinuated that it's unclear what or which of these incidents is real or not, because of Simon's inability to separate reality of the play and the real world, so.... (Shrugs) I got nothing. Oh, there's also a fellow inmate from the asylum who is now stalking Simon because she believes that he's agreed to be her hitman in order to kill her pedophile husband. It's this mess of things colliding and frankly, whether it's a tale told by an idiot or not, it doesn't really lead to much in the end. Pacino's good here, but that's about it. The movie gets worst the more I think about it to be honest. Yeah, the idea of an actor unsure what's real or not is interesting, but not unique and being inside his mind just makes everything confusing and not insightful. Again, I don't know why Levinson keeps pulling from this bag, I don't know what's left for him to explore in this world or why he keeps doing it to be honest, it's becoming repetitive and pointless. He directed the HBO biopic "You Don't Know Jack" with Pacino playing Dr. Jack Kevorkian and that was a good film and even then, a lot of the film was focused on the media aspects of that story. I wish he'd looked towards some kind of different material in the future, something's that not so cynical and so meta of Hollywood; it doesn't feel like it's as interesting a theme to him, as his recent filmography suggests, and that's probably why it so confuses me, especially after this film which is nothing but confusing. It doesn't have to be important or anything, hell, his Oscar is for a Ron Bass scripted film, he can take average material and make it stronger and these recent directions for his work just come off as perplexing more than inspiring. So, yeah, interesting film, but not a successful one, at all.


THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY -- PART 1 (2014) Director: Francis Lawrence

✰✰✰1/2



To catch everybody up, we're still in the midst of the fallout after the shocking and controversial ending to last "The Hunger Games" pay-per-view, and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon- eh, I mean, eh, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is on a vengeful streak. He's sent The Corporation Minis- eh, the Capital's Peacekeepers into District 12, and annihilated most of what and has sworn to destroy anyone in the WWE Univ-, eh, citizens of Panem, who even references or mentions the name Stone Cold Steve-, um, The Mockinjay, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). This is after she took out the Hunger Games electronic dome and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles) surprised everyone by turning face-, I mean, joining with Shane & Stephanie Allia- um, sorry, um (Checking IMDB.com) President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her Rebel Alliance, who are currently housing Katniss in their secret underground facility that Snow is unable to find, but despite all his attempts, he still feels their presence, and Sting- I mean, Katniss still makes her presence known by coming down from the rafters- or-eh, cutting more promos- I mean, propos-, (Wait they're called propos, they really are called propos in this Universe? [Struggling to loosen fingers so as not make a fist.]) showing not only that she is alive, but that the alliance is stronger than ever and leading and inspiring more rebellious to fight The Capital and take back the title from-, I mean, end the plutocracy and turns Panem into a Democracy again. However, he has captured Katniss's best friend and tag team partner Lex Luger,- um, her fiance and fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and in must see interviews with Jim Ross,- eh, I mean, Tony Schiavone-, I mean-eh, ah, what's-his-name, eh, (Scaning IMDB.com) the sleezy play-by-play announcer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), he is now calling for a stop to the ongoing WCW invasion-, I mean eh, Civil War. Katniss is reluctant to be the face of the revolution, but finally relents under the promise of keeping alive Peeta, rescuing him and all the other tributes from the brainwashing of President Snow- I mean um-, oh, no, that's actually right, as she doesn't quite believe yet that Peeta has turned heel and joined the Corporati-D'OH! uh, as Katniss believes that the Capitol is coercing and forcing Peeta to turn against her, and he may possibly be swerving-,  I mean fooling the Capitol themselves in order to give messages to  Katniss and the Rebel Alliance. With the help from her mentor and trainer, Captain Lou Albano-, I mean, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and her close friend Mick Foley-AGH!, (Rubs eyes above nose, holding back frustration) Sorry, her close friend and veteran Tribute Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) as well as fellow former Capitol member-turned-Alliance Rebel, Effie Trinket (Miss Elizabeth. No-, I mean, Elizabeth Banks, sorry) and technical advisor Beetee (Jeffrey Wright, ye-es, that's actually right, and Wright) and others, this intricate dangerous game of chess and chicken, that's turning evermore deadly on both sides as "The Hunger Games" move towards revolution or eternal damnation- I mean-, oh actually that fits anyway. The sides are being taken, but tensions are high and who knows exactly who is trustworthy? So far, this is the best of "The Hunger Games" movies and the most different and the three have essentially gotten better as they have correctly chosen not to simply be the exploitative gimmick- I mean conceit, of the post-apocalyptic contest that's a most twisted future world of "The Lottery" to really analyze the physical personal effects of living in this universe as well as the war and battles of the world. It's still essentially a fight very eerily similar to "The Hunger Games" but the battle is no longer inside this faux construction, and now after the Montreal Screwjob-, I mean, Katniss's arrow's de-electrifying the Games, the Games are now, to the streets, in the Districts and while Katniss is a freedom fighter, she has to deal with the hard fact that she's more powerful as a symbol in this war than as a soldier. It's well-made, well-acted and it's continually growing in intensity over each film and this one even looks different than the others. It's still lagging in places, but the fact that it keeps finding interesting ways to top itself is both impressive and increase anticipation for us to tune in for next week's "Monday Night Raw"-, I mean-eh, to see the next movie in the series.

Okay, seriously, am I the only one who (BLEEP)ing sees this! Seriously, all three of my reviews of "The Hunger Games" films I have clearly mentioned the (BLEEP)ing obvious parallels between "The Hunger Games" and Professional Wrestling, the last film, I even wrote the review in the form of a Pre-Wrestlemania Main Event promo package, and nobody, anywhere has said anything! I can't find a review that brings this up nobody commented on that review-, am I the only one who's noticed this! Am I crazy; and I delusional!? I mean, I know stories come from anywhere and pro wrestling, like any story-based art form has borrowed from numerous forms of literature and numerous other influences to set up their storylines including films motifs and story arches, and no I can't prove decisively that it's going the other way around, but holy (BLEEP)ing, hell, this  movie has the least obvious pro wrestling parallels and I still easily made about fifteen or twenty parallels,- Do I have to devote a whole blog to this before anybody realizes just how (BLEEP)ed up this is? Cause I will if I have too but-, oh- don't you dare cut my mike off! This has to be said, "The Hunger Games" is blatantly stealing from Pro Wrest- (Mike cuts off, I'm talking but can't be heard, as Security comes a takes me forcibly struggles to take me away, dragging me out of the ring and up the rampway as I exit screaming incoherently like a maniac.)

(Cut to commercial for Axe Body Spray)


WINTER SLEEP (2014) Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylon

✰✰1/2



Oh, good god this movie never fucking ended. Look, here's the thing, I-eh, I write screenplays as well as this blog, and I get it, that what Aaron Sorkin said is essentially true for all screenwriters about how we basically write scenes where people are talking in rooms. I get it, and frankly, I'm probably as guilty of that as anybody, that really is a preference in my style as well, and I know how contrite and-eh, talky that can be and not in a good way, but I normally am pretty tolerant of this approach to filmmaking more than others, but "Winter Sleep", pushed my last buttons on this. I know there's more than that, and for all-intensive purposes I probably am being mean in here in giving a straight negative review to "Winter Sleep", the Palme D'Or winner at Cannes this year and the latest from the great Turkish Director, Nuri Bilge Ceylon, who did a film I did like a lot, although that film also tested my patience called "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia", that was also overly long and had people talking in rooms, or mostly in that movie, talking in a car, which I guess is technically, at least, the characters are physically going somewhere for two hours and fifty minutes. "Winter Sleep", is well over the three hour mark and you know,- I get what he's going for, but it was such a struggle! You know, I might've been able to pass this off if it was just me, but I also watched a four hour documentary called "At Berkeley" this week, that was also basically, people talking in rooms, and it was one of the most fascinating films I've seen this decade, so I don't think it was just the length, there's a painful amount of inaction in this movie. I mean, the joke I made was that the title was off by winter, but this- this was a struggle, even for me. The movie revolves mainly around Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) who's a former actor who now owns a quaint mountaintop hotel in a very mountain area of Anatolia called, Cappadocia. He and his assistant Hidayet (Aybert Pekcan) are driving down the road when a kid throws a rock that hits and break the car window. They catch the kid, Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan) gives chase and bring him home to his father Ismael (Nejat Isler), a man who's actually Aydin's tenant also, and has just taken his refrigerator and television earlier that day in lieu of rent payment. This nearly causes another fight at the time, but Ismael comes back later, trying to pay for the damage, although Aydin, who also writes apparently a popular local column for a magazine and discusses his unkempt place. This leads also to a couple conversations with his sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and he also insults his wife's Nihal (Melisa Sozen) in discussing her charitable endeavors. It's basically these conversations which are, essentially passive-aggressive, from Aydin although they're disguised, I guess as philosophical moralistic debate, that instigates other conversations and reactions and everything else, and that's- there's nothing wrong with that, but there's such a thing as overload, and this movie is just an onslaught on diatribes and monologues. Aydin, doesn't even project when he's discussing, or any of the characters really, half the time,  he doesn't even get up from his computer desk, (Although it's rare when whoever he's talking to even stands up either.) I know what he's trying to do, but how much can you beat this into ya? Aydin is a shallow man who's under a false delusion that he's somehow above or better than those around him, I get it, his hotel is a mansion on a hill, or whatever. I really tried, but I know there's an acting and writing class in nuanced behavior here, but is there really enough here to recommend, just to say, it's a directorial choice, it's his aesthetic, and he's creating a character profile, if these are the character's interactions that, sometimes are powerful and have moments of shock, honestly and emotion but mostly are just as hollow as our main character, probably because they're all in some way reactions to our main characer catalyst? (Sigh) I don't know, somethings, they need to be earned and "Winter Sleep" simply thinks that we're just gonna automatically give it respect without needing to explain why it deserves it from us. I hate to do this, and I won't stop anybody from seeing it, but I can't recommend the film.


RIO 2 (2014) Director: Carlos Saldanha



I spent most of "Rio 2", trying to think of excuses to delay watching it. Any excuse. Like, "Oh, yeah need more soda, I'll get it!" or "Oh, I haven't been on the computer in five minutes, I better check my Facebook," or, "Oh, I forgot my soda, let me get it, (As I pass computer) oh, my computer, I haven't been on it in five minutes, let me go play Candy Crush and watch a Rap Critic video I haven't seen before." Looking up my old review of "Rio", I gave it a positive recommendation mostly because of how it reminded me of "Honeymoon in Vegas" of all movies, (Yeah, seriously, that was my basis for recommending that, look up my old review of it and see), and frankly I didn't even remember that until I re-read it. I didn't remember much of that film, and that's the real issue I have with all these Blue Sky movies, they're so vacant. They're vapor, really. They're not even overly bad necessarily, they're just so average, so unmemorable and thankfully so, 'cause you usually do want to forget you ever saw it. Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is now a father to third young birds with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) but now, his former owners from Minnesota, Linda and her now-husband Tulio (Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro) might have found more evidence of more Blue McCaws in the Amazon; Blu and Jewel thought they were the only ones so it's off to the Amazon they go, for some reason. Really, there's not actually a reason for them to go if you think about it. Also, Nigel (Jemaine Clement) the now-flightless actor is hellbent on revenge on Blu, and now he's got a poison frog sidekick that's secretly in love with him, Gabi (Kristen Chenoweth) who, reminded me of Harley Quinn in look and temperament believe it or not. There are numerous Blue McCaws and it turns out, Jewel's father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) is the leader of the bunch, and he's thankful for her return, and their kids, but is unimpressed with the pet that Blu is, as he still hangs on his fanny pack and GPS and can't really adjust to the settings of the jungle, more able to open a can of soda from a vending machine with his beak than a brazil nut.

1/2

In case you're wondering why the rating is suddenly in the middle of the review, well, the paragraph above was written while I was still watching the movie. I had to stop and do something other than keep watching it. Apparently Nigel was the secondary comic villain, I don't know why he was supposed to be funny, it seemed like he had an actual beef with Blu but, oh well. The main villain is a stereotypical logging company threatening to knock down the rainforest, represented by a villain named, Big Boss (Miguel Ferrer) who's unusually evil for this kind of work, without really an explanation. You know, this kind of movie just annoys me. It's borrowing, literally from everywhere like an ending of a soccer-like game between the mccaws and a rival neighboring red parrots, ending the same way the soccer scene in "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" ended, and the stories are all borrowing from other things, and the side character are just annoying and there to just pad out the film, usually with musical sequences. Lots of musical sequences. I guess there's something Fleischer Brothers about that, the way they chose not to focus on comedy or plot and story and really just want to bring an array of visuals to you, but none of these movies have had a impact at all on me. The one's I've seen, somehow Blue Sky films often skip my purview as they don't get most honors and respect either by critics, or withing the industry for me to even notice half the time, and from what I have seen, I'm gathering that that's a good thing.



GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014) Director: Jean-Luc Godard

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Describing any modern Godard film, as anything other than a collection of scenes is kinda impossible. He's not trying for narrative, he's trying to challenge the conventions of cinema. There's a scene for instance, involving a couple, a man and a woman, naked, talking about, nobel literature mostly, and other such things. The focus is on their bodies, not their faces, or their characters, if they even have them. The juxtaposition of their nudity and whatever they're talking about or mentioning is the scene. At one point, we see her talk about how he stabbed her once, while ascending the stairs. Then they cut to a dog hiding under a bed. Did the dog stab her? Then there's graphic sex scenes, followed closely graphic scenes of war. The conversation continues, or really the talking continues. Sometimes we hear what they're saying, sometimes we see them talking and nothing comes out. Sometimes there's subtitles for things that aren't said. The entire of Godard's work is a study and analysis of how exactly we look and take in cinema. Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure the naked girl in the scene ascending the stairs was even the one talking about being stabbed. In some ways it doesn't matter. Godard's "Goodbye to Language" is a collection of shots. Sometimes, it's not even a shot, just darkness. Images, a lack of images, he's throwing everything at you, including the screen. I was unable to see this in it's proper 3-D so I'm afraid I'm missing some stuff, although I'm not sure I want to see a dog shitting in 3-D, or a shower rape in 3-D. But he's clearly using every technique around, dutch angles, montage, color distortions,...; Godard is the pinnacle of his rebellious anti-cinema and at 83. I think his goal is mainly to confront and force the audience to notice, to see, to contemplate, like Bertoldt Brecht or somebody. It's not whatever's on the screen, it's the fact that you have an effect to whatever's on screen, that it effect you and becomes ingrained in your memory and shape and shift your psyche. I think the best determination anymore of whether a Godard film is any good or not is mostly based on whether or not you were able to be absorbed by the film. His most-recently accepted addition to the essential Godard canon his miniseries "L'Historie du Cinema", gets better the more you engulf yourself in it. "Goodbye to Language" I feel is very much the same way. At only 69 minutes, it's one of his shortest feature films, and the more I watch it, I'm sure the more I'll enjoy it. And the 3D probably helped as well, as, I think this is the real reason he's using it, other than just another piece of his cinematic exploration, was that 3D forces the viewer to be involved become apart of the film, engrossed out of necessity. The need to hear music and dialogue, interrupt each other and talk over each other. It's essential. Forceful  really, it's the movie's screaming, coming out of the screen to the audience, saying "Look at me!" essentially. Of course, aren't we all? 


THE BABADOOK (2014) Director: Jennifer Kent

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"The Babadook" is about a single mother who's kid is impossible to take care of, above and beyond what that normally means. She loses sleep to the point where she literally can't and neither does her son, and soon enough, the stress involved begins to drive her crazy. I can relate.

I seriously could've stopped right there with this review; that would've been enough. That's not to say the movie's simple, quite the contrary, but that's the prevailing metaphor in Jennifer Kent's debut feature that premiered in America both online and in theaters on the same day. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a troubled mother of six-year-old Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who's quite a vicious kid. He's constantly getting kicked out of school for some pretty violent acts and we do indeed see some of his actions, but Amelia is unprepared or unwilling to have somebody watch him every minute, which is the recommendation of the school. His Aunt Claire (Hayley McElhinney) at one point, after he attacks his cousin Ruby (Chloe Hurn) she absolutely refuses eventually to have him over, unwilling to even be around him he's so vicious. Yet the story isn't completely the bad seed terror children, Amelia herself is losing her mind, and at certain points, it's hard to tell the difference between which character is the monster and that's the point. Samuel shows an old book called "The Babadook" to her mother and he claims that some creature is causing much of the contention and chaos and lives in the basement, but the mother is skeptical to believe until it's way too late, for her. She's unable to sleep and falling deeper and deeper into madness as the babadook's presence continues to grow and the worst and most frightening of repressed desires and thoughts come to the forefront. The film works best metaphorically, in fact, the fact that there is a monster is almost incidental and I like that. Essie Davis's performance was discuss by a few as being Oscar-worthy, I-eh, I can understand, but I have a little trouble going that far myself. "The Babadook" isn't about the scares, but the terror in one's mind, and that's what makes it effective. A simple, yet powerful tale, just like good horror films should be.


A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014) Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

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Above anything else, "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is a mood piece. Not a movie that attempts to jar you with the shocking content, and the content, especially for an Iranian film, could be considered shocking, but instead, a mood piece, that attempts to jar you from one emotion to another. It almost feels more like an album one could get high to than a vampire movie. Hell, we had one of those earlier this year with Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive". This movie also has, what I guess could be considered lovers, although they might be more kindred spirits. instead. The Girl (Sheila Vand) in the title is never given a name and is a vampire. She haunts the night in a long shrouded, liquid-like black outfit, acting more like a presence than a character, she's almost more ghostly than anything else, until a victim get mesmerized and then caught in her web. Arash (Arash Marandi) is probably the closest to a friend The Girl has, they at least share a few moments together. Arash works some odd jobs, including dealing drugs and it's mostly through him curiously enough that we meet some other strange character in this Iranian underworld, Bad City it's called. The film is shot black and white, probably both an homage to early Jarmusch and possibly also to Frank Miller's "Sin City", this is a more realistic universe oddly enough, but first-time director Ana Lily Amirpour did adapt this from her original graphic novel, it feels inspired. In fact, you can go scene to scene and see new pieces of inspiration, everything from James Dean to Madonna to David Lynch. There's an iconographic tone to the film, Amirpour calls it an Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western actually; I have no idea what that is, but I guess it's as good as any other description. To me,  this feels like and is a movie that could be playing in the background competing for attention with the lava lamps, if you get my drift and that's a compliment. It's seductive, it's eerie, it's cool, it's contradictory, even hypocritical. It's supposed to take place in Iran, but it's actually shot in California and filled with ex-pats as the actors. Amirpour is of Iranian decent but is from England originally and grew up in California, so no wonder it's filled with so many disparaging images. I can't imagine who else could've made such a film, despite how much it evokes other films. I still think she's seeking out a more clear-cut direction with her voice, but this movie has a lot of ideas and tries to say, maybe too much. Or maybe there's too many different ways she's trying to say them. I don't know, something preventing me from fully embracing "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night", perhaps it's the fragmentation nature of the film. I guess it qualifies as a film that more interesting to talk about then to see, but it's almost like it's more interesting to listen to as well. In that way, it's like any other mood piece really, if you like the mood, than you'll like the film. I like the mood, so I like the film, I still would like to see her do more though. 


TOP FIVE (2014) Director: Chris Rock


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I've heard some talk about this movie being the funniest of the year, and it's, got it's fun-ny, mom-ents, eh... Honestly, I was fascinated by Chris Rock's "Top Five", but I didn't find myself laughing much, and I was okay with that. In fact, while there is a dark satire of Hollywood culture here throughout, the movie was about a major comedian, probably Rock loosely playing a variant of himself and maybe some other comics he's known over the years, trying not to be funny. Very adamant about not wanting to be funny, in fact. Rock's alterego is Andre Allen, and he's trying to promote his latest film, a period-drama about Haitian slave rebellion leader, Dutty Boukman, (Look him up) but mostly the press are talking about his upcoming wedding to Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) a Bravo celebrity who's wedding is national news and a national television event. She's one of those people who grew up taking Warren Beatty's words about Madonna not wanting to live off-camera a little too close to heart, although, just like Madonna, she's more observant, smarter and savvy than she seems at first glance. As he's ending the press tour, he's going around New York, making the rounds to his friends, family, old neighborhood, etc., and he's followed by Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) a New York Times journalist who he clearly doesn't want hanging around as their critic has given some particularly vicious reviews of his films. Granted, his films until now were Hammy the Bear, where he is completely hidden in a bearsuit playing a bear that talks and is a cop, I guess. He's made three of those films, and doesn't want to do anymore. Chelsea herself is an intriguing character. We see in her apartment briefly, living with her mother, and daughter, and another major point, like Andre, she's a recovering addict. I bring this up, because part of Andre's reluctance to go back into comedy is his fear that he won't be as funny anymore now that he's clean. She herself goes through a breakup during this day and night with her boyfriend Brad (Anders Holm) that involves the funniest scene in the movie that I will not spoil for you. At least she can be somewhat anonymous with her demons and pain, Andre needs absolutely brutal honesty in a celebrity culture that desires anything but. Clearly, Rock has clearly named Andre Allen after the director/actor of the film this movie most resembles, Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories", also a meandering Felliniesque journey of a major artist's struggle with fame and the expectations of the audience fighting with his own desires. Each time someone asks Andre about another Hammy movie you can almost see people telling Woody how much they love his movies, especially the early funny ones.  Like I said, I didn't laugh much, but I genuinely don't think he was going for comedy, at least not more comedy than can naturally be in this film. No more than comedy that is simply just tragedy turned inside out. There's a lot good supporting performances here as well, JB Smooth in particular as Andre's closest confidant Silk, who gets him out of jams and protects him from others better than anyone else can. There's a lot of one-off cameos as well, the one with Tracy Morgan is nice to see, although you can't help thinking about how he's doing now. Chris Rock's shown an underrated talent as a director; I haven't seen "Head of State" yet,  but I enjoyed his Eric Rohmer remake of "Chloe in the Afternoon", titled "I Think I Love My Wife" and his acting has just gotten better over the years as well. Yeah, he's playing a version of himself, but that's not a bad thing here, and it's not quite himself either; it's a good performance that's hidden-in-plain-sight. I don't know if it's his best performance but as a writer/director, it's his best and most personal film yet. 

I do find it interesting that most of the African-American audiences at his movie is in line for a Madea film, and the one character who's genuinely interested in his Dutty Boukman film is a gay white guy. Not sure if there's anything to read into it, but, it's interesting.   


THE LIBERATOR (2014) Director: Alberto Alvaro


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(Sigh) I guess the standard I put on movies like "The Liberator" isn't completely fair, but basically, my thought is, is this historical epic more or less interesting that reading a history lesson or a biopic on the same material. That's a weird standard 'cause frankly, I'm not sure how many people really know about Simon Bolivar (Carlos Ramirez) or how he basically shaped the way South America is today, hell there's a whole country named after him, but, if just introducing people to somebody was a standard then, I-, well, I don't think the audience is or should be that dumb. Let me put it another way, if the first time you heard about Abraham Lincoln, was after watching "Lincoln", you better not be old enough to talk, at least in America. I would say pre-school, but he's on the penny and the 5-dollar bill, at some point you should've at least been taught his name and that he was important. That said, "The Liberator" is pretty forgettable. It's not bad for a sprawling historical Hollywood-style epic, the kind that basically seems to be getting made everywhere but Hollywood now, but it's not overly memorable either. This was Venezuela's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar and it made the Academy shortlist and it starts with him being noticed by Spanish nobility for his badminton prowess, and then it flashbacks and then it goes all over the map, metaphorically and figuratively. Half the time it's about some liberating of the people other times it's as much about his wife Maria (Maria Valverde) and their romance and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. That's the thing with these historical epics, it's probably better to focus in on certain or specific parts of his life instead of over-arching the entirety of it, and this movie tries to do the latter. There's nothing wrong with "El Libertador", it's a beautifully-made movie that's slow at times, but it's a sprawling epic and there's good performances, but do you really get encapsulated by it? Honestly, his wikipedia page of Bolivar is more interesting. So, there's not much I can really do here; it is what it is, and frankly I think there's plenty of good movies about Simon Bolivar yet to be made, or yet to be seen by me at least, I hope, but I don't think this is one of them. 


KILL THE MESSENGER (2014) Director: Michael Cuesta


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I've always had-, I guess you'd call it an obtuse reaction to Michael Cuesta's work. Something about it, every time I've seen one of his films has always been a little off somehow. His last feature, "Roadie" would've made my worst film's list the year it came out, and I wasn't as taken with "Twelve and Holding", which I found to be more simplistic than others did; I guess it worked on a metaphoric but I thought it was painstaking to force it's way through that. "Kill the Messenger" is certainly better than those film. It's also more important to watch. The movie follows Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), who was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News in the '90s and was the man who found out that the Nicaraguan Contra fighters in the '80s were funded by the CIA through cocaine funds, by selling it to dealers in major cities, starting of course in Watts. It begins with a Daniel Blandon (Yul Vazquez) a prosecution witness where more information about him on disclosure was given out and accidentally made public. On the witness stand in the case against Ricky Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams), one of the biggest and most successful of crack dealers in L.A., Daniel admits to being a CIA informant and begins to name names, starting with Norwin Menesis (Andy Garcia) currently a prisoner in Managua, but Gary gets in and he talks about how it worked. When the story gets printed, he's revered as a hero, despite CIA pressure, but soon enough the story systematically keeps getting killed and more and more Webb's work keeps getting more and more discredited as witness stories are changed and denied, despite accolades from the reporting community. The stories were inevitably verified of course, but at the time, nobody noticed, and Webb was basically a pariah in the media and never worked as a reporter again before his suspicious "suicide" in '04. The movie is, well, it's strangely formulaic but it's also oddly rushed and edited. There's a strange sequence with his son, Ian (Lucas Hedges) who's confronting him about a past infidelity, and it's- first of all, the whole relationship with his son is unnecessary and frankly, doesn't add much, (Yeah, this is one of those weird movies where it's better that arbitrary side characters, remain arbitrary, sorry wife, Sue [Rosemarie Dewitt, oh crap, and it's Rosemarie Dewitt, who's way too talented to keep getting way too many of these parts] and other kids [Matthew Lintz and Parker Douglas]) but worst than that, it's shot with a handheld camera technique that really doesn't work. It kinda works with the pacing of the rest of the movie, the more intense and frantic moments, but some of these later scenes needed pacing. And then when you really get down to the bareness of the script, there's a lot less there than a typical story of a reporter trying to report the truth at all costs, and then getting lambasted for doing so. I guess I'm recommending it, 'cause it is intense for much of the film and the story is worth noting. Renner's give a good performance as well, but I'm still on the fence of Cuesta, I like him when he does television, like directing and producing much of "Homeland", but I'm not sold that his work in film he improved much. 


SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON (2014) Directors: Beth Aala and Mike Myers

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I guess it's nice to see Mike Myers doing, anything right now. He's been conspicuously absent from the entertainment landscape lately other than his voice of Shrek, partly due to an unofficial blacklisting for being difficult to work with. And I guess Shep Gordon helped him out through some of those tough times and I guess he's a good choice for that. This documentary about somebody who is truly one of the most interesting people in Hollywood though, eh, it's a nice tribute. I don't know if it's a good documentary though. Gordon, first came to California, got beat up at his job as a parole officer on the first day for having long hair, and then after getting high, something that will be a continuous theme throughout his life, got beat up trying to save a girl from being raped, by the girl, who was pissed that she interrupted her sex. (He heard her screaming through the walls, and misinterpreted.) Long story short, the girl apologized the next day, and it was Janis Joplin. The guy she was fucking was Jimi Hendrix, and Shep had a shit-ton of weed. The next day practically, and after getting high with Jimi, Janis and Jim Morrison, who showed up later, and someafter the next day he had become Alice Cooper's manager. He also manages Anne Murray, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and eventually started the celebrity chef movement after beginning to manage every major chef he could, right as the Food Network kicked off, starting with Emeril Lagasse. Right now, he lives in Hawaii, and pretty much any major celebrity knows him and they can stay on his couch for a few weeks if needed, he'll cook you a nice meal everyday. He's had a couple marriages, including to a vegan chef, but now he's just a Hollywood legend, one of those iconic characters you hear about. It's an interesting life, definitely worth hearing about, but I don't know. I mostly watched "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" mostly just thinking that Shep's life was more interesting than his movie about him was. It's not horrible or anything, but I don't think that's a good enough reason to recommend a film either.


KINK (2014) Director: Christina Voros

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I am actually familiar with Kink.com. Uh-um (Annoyed sigh) yes, okay that way too, but I also have had a few twitter followers that have worked there from time to time. ([Shrugs] Hey, I'm glad they're following, I don't care who they are and I don't know how they find me, but I'm glad they did.) That said, I don't know exactly how much there is to learn about BDSM and bondage from the documentary. Hell, "Kink" has always been more of an open book than most other websites to begin with; they even have a BehindKink.com site that's always showed the behind the scenes footage and that site you don't even have to pay for, so I guess to some respects this documentary is a bit redundant but, I guess since it's a bit taboo and niche of a subject, I can overlook that. Those who want a complete overview of Kink can probably just check out their websites, so the movie isn't that either. It's partly a behind-the-scenes and a history of the site, with the creator of course, talking about how he bought the strangely non-descript but appropriately ominous San Francisco building that the majority of Kink shoots take place in known appropriately as "The Armory". I know sadomasochism is back en vogue with "Fifty Shades of Grey" right not, but Kink.com has existed since 1997 and has only grown in popularity, prestige and respect in and outside the porn industry. You can definitely argue there's some artistic merit to their work. We meet some of the people responsible for some of the sites, some of the performers naturally, and we see how some of the shoots are run, very much like any regular film set. Even directors, orchestrating the action, trying to get the right reactions and shots. During one of their gay men shoots, the director tries to show how to hit the guy harder, a the dom was actually being too cautious to the tied up man, and he was right. Kink's main appeal other then the content is that they want the-eh, "reactions" to be as authentic as possible. (Long awkward pause) The-o'se, kind of reactions. (I hope I'm not spoiling too many fantasies here, but most porn actresses are faking their orgasms) This is probably where the one intriguing concept of BDSM is brought up, the concept of "subspace," which I think some might not be aware of and frankly is difficult to describe here, but basically is the mental state of mind that a submissive is in, especially when he/she is into the euphoric zenith of a scene. (If you want to learn more I suggest you seek out literature on the bondage lifestyle and whatnot, from experts, they can explain it better.) Despite all this "Kink" is still mostly is another profile of the adult industry, and while it's probably a higher rung on the ladder of that industry than most, both in terms of it's quality of product, name recognition and quality of it's content and even artistic integrity, but it's still the group of lost souls and others artists that come together to make a movie. The modern pseudo porn family, a la "Boogie Nights", only with more rope, whips, sybians, floggers, rope, safewords, etc. etc. That's not a bad thing, it's oddly human and in some ways touching. One of the performers, Felony, has an emotional interview about being a mom in this line of work, a single mom of multiple kids and having half of her family disowning her because of this. There's some talk as well about the process of being open about being into a BDSM lifestyle too, that's actually starting to become a thing too so it's worth noting. There's enough here to tempt and intrigue, if you're interested. I don't know if it'll turn anybody who aren't inherently intrigued, but for those who are curious..., I guess, I'll recommend it.


AT BERKELEY (2013) Director: Frederick Wiseman

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When I did my Top Ten of 2013 List, I didn't include a documentary in there for the first time since I've been doing this blog, and boy do I wish I got around to seeing "At Berkeley" before now, 'cause it definitely would've made it. Before "At Berkeley" is four hours long. Before you dismiss that however, I went to college for eight years. Hell, if I didn't have to eventually graduate with god knows how many credits and whatever my GPA ended up being, I'd probably still be there, taking whatever classes I could. Granted, while I have nothing against my amazing UNLV education, there does seem to be a different tone with the conversations and teachings feel like they come from a higher level at Berkeley then they did when I was in school, and I was utterly intrigued. I recognized Robert Reich, one of my economic idols, and he's giving one of his usual lectures I've heard before, but most of the colleagues I didn't know and that was okay. The movie was shot in 2010 during the battle with the state and board of regents and faculty over funding, which is shows an intriguing contrast between the students of today's Berkeley, who still fight for education and knowledge more than ever, the history of the university, sometimes represented by numerous members of the faculty, some of them who were on the battlelines with Mario Savio, and are still teaching and preaching, with the current economic climate and restrictions of they day as they struggle to remain the most prestigious public university in the country and have their students be able to afford their classes. There's other aspects to the university too, like a theatre production about living in the Facebook era that's one of the funniest and most observant satires of it I've seen. There's also the robotics and engineering departments, the medical schools, the more brainy boring teachers with the more philosophical ones. Differing styles of teaching from Robert Reich to the more traditional grab your copy of "Walden" and sit around a table classes while we analyze the text. The movie doesn't give us names or people or followers particular characters it's just an observer, listening in, it's apart of the protest, it's in the regents hall as they decide how to respond to the protests. It's in the medical lab, it's listening in on classes, it's absorbing the entire experience of Berkeley. Well, not even that actually, I doubt anybody takes all the classes and is in the faculty meetings or goes to all the football games or whatever, but it just documents everything that's happening "At Berkeley" at that moment and whether you like the movie will be as much, how much you're willing to tolerate or let the experience engross you. Or, to put it another way, you get as much out of the experience of college as you're willing to put into it.


WHAT RICHARD DID (2013) Director: Leonard Abrahamson

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Much of the discussion of"What Richard Did" revolves around, well, what Richard does. I'll discuss it too, but it's important to know, more importantly than that is how well the beginning of the movie is at creating a realistic universe, along with some strong interesting characters that we do care about. Richard (Jack Reynor) is a prolific but rather typical high school kid, bit of a contentious side that intimidates others, but that's not necessarily his defining characteristic. It's summer so everybody's partying a bit much, but nothing out of the ordinary. He a star athlete on the rugby team but he's generally a cool guy to hang out with, he even has a girlfriend Lara (Roisin Murphy) and it's actually quite tender seeing them fall in love. Lara used to date another friend Conor (Sam Keely). At a party, Richard drinks a little too much as gets upset at Conor and eventually a brawl ensues. Richard, at one point, kicks Conor square in the head. The next day, he finds out that Conor died. He seems to be hurt, but he was alive when he and everyone else left. At first, he threatens everyone not to say anything, but eventually he's interrogated by the police as more and more, his actions set in to him and the less and less sure he is of what to do, or what is there to do. He confesses to his father in a teary scene, who suggests sending him somewhere else. He shows up at Conor's funeral, where his mother Eileen (Gabrielle Reidy) pleas for somebody to come forward, how at a party with dozens of people, only three have come forward voluntarily, just three have. "What Richard Did" is quite a realistic slice-of-life drama. It's director Leonard Abrahamson directed "Frank" last year, that movie with Michael Fassbender as the lead singer of a progressive rock band that wore a paper mache mask and these two movies couldn't be more different. This one's so well-acted it almost has a documentary feel to the performances, especially by Reynor. I guess it feels a little bit too much like a short story instead of a movie, especially since it's fairly short, under 90 minutes, but it taps into those aspects of the human condition, the fragility and the emotional, and the realization that a single decision can change your life forever, and it looks at that frightening line it's impossible for even the person responsible to tell whether or not his action leading to a death was either an accident or murder, and either way, and neither result is easy to live with.


THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

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I'm just gonna copy down my notes here on Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Holy Mountain":

A man, strips naked two kneeling women in some Buddhist-like jade colored room and shaves their heads.
Then there's a key behind several other doors and images.
There's a dead guy covered in ants and he still seems to be peeing.
There's a guy with no hands or legs and a bunch of naked tribal children, they throw rocks at a human male who's tied to a scarecrow-like cross. This is the first five minutes of the movie.
He gets down from the cross and screams, scaring the children.
He smokes a cigarettes with the armless, legless guy who starts licking his forehead before they embrace in laughter.
In town, there's a truckload of dead naked bloody bodies going down the streets.
Imp and Guy are on the street, and- Okay, I give up, I'm not gonna pretend I'm going to be able to follow any of this, it just gets weirder, stranger more surreal and more Jodorowsky from here folks. Did birds fly out of that dead guy's bullet wound?

Finally near the end, there's a speech that might explain the movie. "The cross was a mushroom and the mushroom was also the tree of good and evil. The philosophical stone of the Alchemist was, LSD. The book of the dead was a trip and the Apocalypse describe a mescaline experience. In these flasks are all the holy mountains, and in this beautiful young man, is eternity." Whatever the hell that means. If you're not familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky, surreal is a simplistic way of describing him. His masterpiece, "El Topo" is in my Canon of Film, and that one, had a story. I'm not sure it had a plot per se, but "The Holy Mountain" is really plotless, just one surreal amazing image after another, it's on overload. The most infamous scene, I didn't even mention, I guess I should warn anybody, it involves such things as anus cleansing and turning of fecal matter into gold. This is done by somebody named The Alchemist (Jodorowsky himself.) after he captures somebody known as The Thief (Horacio Salinas), who we've I guess been following up until now, although take those words with a grain of salt. He's then introduced to seven more fellow fighters/travelers that The Alchemist informs The Thief of, and we see each of their worlds and backstories. I'm sure this all means something, allegorical, religious, political, sociological, but I'll be damned if it can actually be explained or not and it doesn't really matter. The images are more important in Jodorowsky's world than what they mean, if they mean anything at all and it's the journey of these images bombarding our mind like one fucked up acid trip inside a kaleidoscopic lava lamp. Jodorowsky is his own genre, his own brand of surrealism, and it's really impossible to criticize or to defend. I guess I just found it a little more lulling and meandering than I did "El Topo", so why I'm knocking it 1/2 star, but I mean, talk about arbitrary, it's ridiculous to give a movie like this a rating. Just sit back, watch it, and whatever happens, happens. There's not much else you can do with Jodorowsky.


MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1986) Director: Stephen Frears

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Man, every time I review a Stephen Frears movie, I get more and more impressed and yet confused by him. "My Beautiful Laundrette" is probably regarded as his first major worldwide theatrical release, but before this feature, he had only done two theatrical features, "Gumshoe" and "The Hit", two films which came out 13 years apart. It's not like he wasn't working though, he directed several TV shows and movies between then, but still, both those movies were fairly well-acclaimed, both even got BAFTA nominations. Yet, "My Beautiful Laundrette", being his next film.... at the time, we didn't quite realize that this was one of those directors who really would become capable of, basically making anything afterwards. You never hear his name mentioned among the best directors alive, 'cause you just can't pin him down-, hell, it's hard finding a common motif in his work, much less even a genre. If I had to come up with a director who made a film about the travails of a young Pakistani squatter son of a journalist, and his downtrodden London ruffian friend/lover who used to be a fascist, and have it all centered around what, in America is more likely to be called a laundromat,- uh, well Frears wouldn't have been the last person I'd guess, 'cause his name wouldn't enter my mind at all. Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is the Pakistani son, who's Papa (Roshan Seth) is an aging drunk former journalist, who's relatively unreliable although he used to be somewhat respectable and his friend Johnny (Daniel Day Lewis) into the family business. Omar will work a little more legitimately, working in the parking garage before getting ownership of the broken-down and beaten up laundrette that he decides to make his mission to fix up and look nice, even if that means getting the funding to do that through some dubious people and ventures. Johnny, is used sporadically more as a brawler, working to collect money for Nasser from some of his tenants at his apartments and other businesses like that. The other interesting character is Tania (Rita Wolf), Nasser's daughter who's we meet as she flirts with Omar, even going outside to flash him through french door windows during a meeting. She's bored with her position or lack thereof in Nasser's world and seems willing to do anything to get out. It's a bit of an odd movie, it's not really based in a linear plot, all events do happen as they come. It's more about getting to know these character through their actions at this early stages in their life. They're all outsiders through their race, their class, their sex and/or sexual preferences, etc. and they're all essentially trying to figure out how to go about the world. What paths are best for them and what options are actually available. It's a family story, it's a British story, (Remember this is Margaret Thatcher era Britain, so this lower class isn't particularly well regarded at this time, hence Johnny noted brief flirtation with fascism.) and it's a character piece. "My Beautiful Laundrette" like Frears, seems to steadfastly refused to simply be categorized under traditional terms and narratives, and that's partly why it holds up so well.


SHALL WE DANCE (1937) Director: Mark Sandrich

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I mentioned watching a couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films this batch around, I didn't have time to write a review of "The Gay Divorcee", but really, I don't need to. These movies are mostly the same, some ridiculous idiot plot contrivance is basically used as an excuse to get the characters together to dance and to fall in love, but mostly to dance. I still think "Swing Time" is the best of the bunch, maybe the only one you really need to see. but this one has actually a pretty funny story with it, along with some great songs by George and Ira Gershwin, like "Cheek to Cheek", "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", and the Oscar-nominated "You Can't Take That Away from Me", wow, that was the only one nominated! Those are classic songs, wow. Anyway, most of the movie takes place on a cruise ship as Fred Astaire is Petrov, the lead performer at the Russian ballet, who's actually not Russian, but pretends to be for the act, and he's in love with a famed tapdancer, Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers) even though, and this is a common theme in these movies btw, they haven't met yet, and of course, she has to be convinced that she's in love with him. She's supposed to be married soon to somebody else, but eventually, rumors start flying of their romance, and their marriage and unlike some of their other movies, this one's more of a satire on how to deal with the public perceptions of the story than anything else. Having to create new lies to make up for the last lie, or calling bluff on the lie for it to be true, and then reversing that truth, etc. etc. It's actually kinda funny. Of course the dancing scenes are what's really special, although I like the music a little bit more even. There's a great sequence with Fred Astaire dancing all up and down the ship's boiler room, while music is played by an all African-American band, that's a great solo dance scene that's strategically place so that the scene could probably be cut from screening in the South I imagine. Anyway, "Shall We Dance", is another very good Astaire/Rogers film. It's not much more, but that's fine, that's all you need, and the music is particularly special in it. That's more than enough for me.


MEXICAN SUNRISE (2012) Director: Roddy Stovall

ZERO STARS



This is maybe my shortest review ever. Saw "Mexican Sunrise," 'cause a friend was streaming it on Hulu. It was unbelievably terrible. Director couldn't direct, the sound was horrible, the two competing stories didn't really connect, there was a point where a character said to sit down, and the camera stayed in shot and lowered, for some reason, and Armand Assante was in it... for some reason. It was originally made in '07, but didn't hit theaters 'til five years later, for good reason. There's nothing good about it and-eh, there's nothing else to say, it was shit. Moving on.