Well, there's a lot going on in the entertainment world and I'll discuss them more during the week. Anyway, I got mostly positive responses from me doing that Top Ten Worst Plot Twists earlier, so from here on in, I'm gonna try to do at least one Top Ten List every month. Now, I don't want to do normal Top Ten Lists, one's everybody else has done or stuff like that, so if you can think of an interesting Top Ten List that you haven't seen others do, I know WatchMojo.com has really fucked this up but still, if you happen to think of one or two, let me know by either commenting, tweeting me, or tell me on either of my Facebook pages, and I'll do the most interesting ones that nobody or few others have done.
Alright, not too much else going on, so let's get to this week's MOVIE REVIEWS! And it's a big week this week, starting off last year's Best Picture Winner, "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"!
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014) Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Okay, I have...- well not a confession really, but I did not watch those early Batman movies with Michael Keaton, not at the time and actually I didn't finally see "Batman" 'til years later and frankly, it sucked. Not his fault, I blamed Tim burton, but this whole mythos of Michael Keaton being renowned as a superhero performer, honestly I never thought of him that way; I just always thought of him as an amazing and versatile actor. I was always happy to see him in a movie or a TV show even a bad one like "Jack Frost" or something like a guest role on "30 Rock" or "Frasier" even. I think of him in "Jackie Brown" or the HBO movie "Live from Baghdad", or a great little movie that nobody's seen called "Game 6", which actually, he has a very similar character arc and plot in that film compared to "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (It's not the long title that bothers me, it's the parenthesis, a colon after "Birdman", would've been a lot better.) I'm surprised actually that nobody's compared "Game 6" to "Birdman..." yet to be honest. I gave that film 5 STARS, so maybe I like "Birdman..." in much the same way, but there's something else here. There's a lot of something else's actually and I think that's partially the point. Yes, there's the gimmick of the long shots being used to similate one take; I'll be honest, I didn't notice. I mean, I did, but- well, I'm glad I didn't notice, I wasn't paying attention to that. I was paying attention to the bizarre drum and cymbals based score, it's one of the strangest and most unique scores I've ever heard for any movie. It's just batting and beating, like fireworks, but not in any pattern or noticeable chord pattern that I recognized. It's jarring, it makes everything off-kilter. And other than the fact that it deals with the depression, sadness and tragedy aspects of the human condition, this film also has nothing in common with anything we've seen from Inarritu before. Well, that, and I guess there's what can be considered multiple narratives. Keaton play Riggan Thomson, who yes, is famous for playing Birdman. He also plays Birdman in the movie, who talks to him in his moments of private, a stinging voice of his devilish instincts. He's opening a play on Broadway that he's written, directed and acted in, adapting Raymond Carver "What People Talk About When They Talk About Love", good choice btw, and it's still a mess in previews. Everyone's expecting it to fail, his co-actor got hit in the head with a falling light, so they have to hire someone on the fly, eccentric Broadway actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who is overly method on stage and then a disaster offstage. He's dating a fellow co-star in the beginning, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and he manages to screw that up so bad he throws her into the arms of the other female featured role Laura (Andrea Riseborough), while hitting on Riggan's drug-addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who's just out of rehab and is working, reluctantly as his assistant even though they don't get along. Whew, there's Riggan's boss/lawyer/publicist Jake (Zach Galifianakis) who's trying to keep everything calm during the chaos as the production's being sued by the actor with the head injury, as there's no money for anything else, no tickets being sold, no way to fire Mike after tickets start selling when he comes on board, keeping everybody and anybody else in line.... This thing is really crazy when you break it down, it's like "Noises Off" really, which is ultimately door-slamming sex farce, and that a door-slamming sex farce, about a door-slamming sex farce and the door-slamming sex farce that took place behind the scenes of the door-slamming sex farce, and there was actually more door-slamming sex farce in that then I'm actually letting on; I'm not kidding. This strangely is a dark comedy after everything. I think on some level I mostly admire "Birdman..." more than I like it though. It's technically amazing, but it's story doesn't feel completely original, sometimes it seems like a mish-mash of other stuff more than anything. I haven't even talked about dreaded critic (Lindsay Duncan) or Riggan's ex wife (Amy Ryan), not to mention all the modern-day references to Hollywood and the entertainment culture at large. It's definitely a good film, amazingly well-made, but I question whether it got the all the loftier goals is seemed to be trying to achieve. The film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Writing and Cinematography, and Keaton, Stone and Norton were subsequently nominated, it's definitely one of the stranger films to pull of Best Picture in a while and that uniqueness alone makes it worth checking out on a technical standpoint at least. Pardon the pun, but "Birdman..." is a bit of a marvel. A curious one though.
FOXCATCHER (2014) Director: Bennett Miller
I guess I was young, but somehow of all the infamous sensationalist news stories of the nineties, this one eluded me for some reason. Maybe because it was wrestling I overlooked it; '96 was a memorable sports year, the Atlanta Olympics, Michael Jordan coming back to the Bulls and going 72-10, etc. I'm pretty sure this got overlooked, and frankly, even if I had looked into the story at the time, it probably confused me more than anything else. For one thing, when I think of Dave Schultz, I think of the greatest goon in hockey history, (Broad Street Bullies forever baby, Go Flyers!), not the legendary Olympian medalist and wrestling coach (Mark Ruffalo), nor do I think/know of his brother Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) who also won Gold at the Los Angeles games, but was still mostly in his older brother's shadows. At least I knew who the Du Pont's were, but no I didn't particularly know about their direct interest in athletics, one that lasted generations. I didn't even The Pavillion where my Villanova Wildcats play many of their home basketball games was named after John Du Pont (Steve Carell), probably since the name was appropriately taken off. (For those who haven't caught on, I'm a Philadelphia sports fan) That fact isn't in the movie, "Foxcatcher" but I've been looking around the internet after watching the movie, 'cause this is such a bizarre, confusing and interesting story that I wanted to seek out the actual events and compare and actually looking it up, I'm a little more surprised that Bennett Miller was able to pull together this intense feature film. Du Pont is an eccentric millionaire who spent most of his life, just following numerous random pursuits. He published numerous texts on ornithology, he donated to numerous athletics and went a pentathlete when he was younger and even took up numerous other athletic pursuits, competing in local age-specific leagues 'til his fifties. The family tradition of putting money into competitive sports started with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) starting Foxcatcher, a program/property devoted to privately train the best athletes in the world, she started with horse racing, but his pursuit was USA Wrestling. Now, America does have a pretty good tradition of amateur wrestling, but it's never been as funded, especially compared to say, Soviet Union or Iran or some of the other powerhouses on the international stage. Du Pont built massive, state of the art facility on his property where athleteslike Mark would come to train and even live on premises in preparation for major meets.Du Pont also coached wrestling on numerous levels, although he essentially hired Mark as a player/coach in order to get to his big brother Dave. Dave wasn't interested in uplifting his family so he originally rejected the offer, while Du Pont would befriend Mark. How much were they friends? It's left vague in the movie how close, but they were close. Du Pont was a closeted homosexual and it's clear that his appreciation of wrestling as a sport is somewhat related to that. I think the issue however is that the biggest part of the movie is missing, showing Du Pont's long fall into madness, the one that inevitably led to him killing Dave Shultz on his property, a 3-day standoff with Police and then, him spending the rest of his life in prison. We see him manipulative and concerned, eccentric, his gun collection is brought up quite often, but essentially, the movie feels like he never got over this strange falling out with both brothers and then that would lead him to this much later. It's not said how much later, but this decent is sorta missing. What we does are three amazing performances by three great actors and especially with Carell, we get a man who's presence is so foreboding in this character who seems to want to care, but might not be able to understand how and what's the appropriate way too in these situations. He has a speech at one point about his mother paying a son of his limo driver to be his only friend as a kid and now we see him,essentially buying his way into an Olympic sports, but it's hard to tell whether or not he realizes that irony at that moment anyway. He is trapped under his mother's shadow the way Mark is trapped under his brother's, there is sympathy for him, but only to a point. The movie earned five Oscar nominations, two for acting, Carell and Ruffalo, although Channing Tatum could easily have been nominated himself for his work; the film also became the first movie to get a Directing nomination but not a Best Picture nomination since the extension of that category. I guess it's curious, although come to think of it, as much as I liked Miller's "Capote" I was surprised he got nominated for that film as well. He's made three good films, but I think the closer you look at "Foxcatcher" the more there's stuff that's missing that probably would've been helpful. Still, intense and terrifying in the moment and some great performances really carry the film.
NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) Director: Dan Gilroy
I've been told by many now, that "Nightcrawler" is a comedy, a dark one, but a comedy in the same sense that "Network" or "To Die For" were comedies, these other satirical looks at the media. I don't buy it. Maybe it's me, I heard the same argument from many people after my ZERO STARS review of "You're Next" last year, and later when I named it the single-worst film of last year, but that was a piece of garbage and everybody who likes it is clearly delusional. (I don't care what the positive reviews of the audience says, it was lazy, sick and disgusting.) "Nightcrawler" is certainly not that. I just don't know if it's satirical, at least anymore. Yeah, Rene Russo's doing her best Faye Dunaway here, but,- yeah, that's kinda how old this satire is, it basically is the same thing we were warning of/making fun of back in the '70s, before cable news even. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is some kind of...- well, the review I'm looking over on Rogerebert.com calls him a sociopath and that's nicer than any of the words I used in my notes, so let's use sociopath. He's a different kind of sociopath, this is definitely the sociopath who's entrepreneurial in his pursuits. Actually, we don't learn much about Louis Bloom. He apparently has no formal education, although I don't necessarily believe that. He's a quick study and learner, and he studies online a lot, takes online courses. We see him stealing manhole covers and wired fencing to sell to a scrapyard and he asks for a job but doesn't get it. He then runs across an accident and finds the freelance cameramen who follows police radio signals all night and heads to crime scenes and accidents trying to get the best and most gruesome footage in order to sell it to the local news stations which they can then air as exclusive footage. He quickly gets a handheld camera and a CB radio and begins police chasing. Mostly to little or no effect at first as he doesn't understand the police call signals. Soon , he starts to get the hang of it, and is more willing to get the more up close and gruesome shots that the networks, or at least that Nina (Russo) wants for her network. Eventually he gets enough money and work to hire an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) Who's job is to help him get the exclusives before anybody. Sometimes he even beats the cops to the crime scenes and that's when we really see just how despicable a sociopath he is and how he's willing to go the extra mile for those extra shots. One time, he moves a dead body to get a better shot, another time he enters a house after a violent break-in had just occurred. It's after the latter incident that the network has to bring in lawyers to see if it's even legal to show the footage. They do, but then the police start looking towards Bloom with impeding justice. Yeah, here's why I'm having some trouble calling this a satire, it's not really funny and worst yet it's not really unrealistic. Mostly what the film did was remind me once again, why I don't watch the local news anymore. It's a great movie about it, but I think the satire bus has left the building on criticism of the modern news culture, no matter how dark, none of it seemed like I hadn't seen it done before and for real, and that just made it more nauseating. The only other trait I haven't mentioned that Louis Bloom has, other than a thin-veiled reference to "Ulysses" in his name is that even above the money the job makes him, the main thing he seems to want is for people to buy into his bullshit. He's not necessarily a con artist, he's almost more like a cult leader. I suspect Gyllenhaal might've been trying to channel Harvey Levin, the head of TMZ in his straight-forward and seemingly friendly personality that still manages to live life leaching onto a bottomfeeding section of the media. He loves that people will give him money, praise, the time of day and that people will look up to him for the job that he does and the name that he makes for himself. He's a hustler that leaves a calling card after he's been caught. Hell, before he gets caught. I know there's people who make a living doing this, some travel the world making a living by filming the most gruesome realities of the world. There's a good documentary about one of them called "War Photographer" if you ever happen to run into it. Gyllenhaal's character definitely doesn't remind me of the more jaded and sardonic people who deal with these kinds of horrors and gruesome realities, in fact the character like that is his rival Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, with an interesting symbolic name. [A loder is the guy who puts the film in the camera]) who sees this as his day-to-day job, even though he's got an expanded future business plan as well. In a way, this movie feels like, if Travis Bickle got a job working for the news.... I don't know if it's a good thing, or even a funny thing that it is, but it was an exciting film to contemplate. The situation's too common and realistic to be satire but it's character is too over-the-top and heartless to be believable. Clearly Writer/Director Dan Gilroy is making a point about something here, I just wonder what his point is, or whether it's misguided or two seconds too late.
THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2014) Director: Isao Takahata
I've been staring at my blank page for awhile wondering where to go with "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya". Hell, I can't even decide how many stars to give the film, and I've gotta be honest, I've been struggling with how many stars I should give a lot of films this year. I know, the rating system is arbitrary but I know a lot of people will only look at that part sometimes, so I try to be accurate with them, but sometimes it's hard to take a movies and then decide, "Okay, 0-5, where do you stand?". It's actually quite a ridiculous thing to do. I can't quite comprehend at the moment the need to do that with this film, the latest from the legendary animator Isao Takahata. I've only seen one film of his, the masterpiece, "Grave of the Fireflies" one of the greatest of all animated films. The Princess in the title is found by a bamboo cutter one day. She was in fact, inside a suddenly sprouting bamboo that shined up. Originally, small enough to hold in his hand, Princess, which he names her, starts growing, rapidly and magically. His wife starts to head to town for milk, only to find that she is now capable of milking. She's nicknamed Lil' Bamboo by the other kids after she grows quickly like bamboo does, and they see her, first as a baby and then, they see her growing up into being a part of the group, a weird part, but an emotional spiritual core. Then the bamboo cutter manages to get enough gold to buy a castle in the city where he's convinced Princess's true place is in the nobility. She learns the ways of a Princess from Lady Sagami although it's a battle to teach her, she's a quick study. She's soon given the name Kaguya and once word of her sprite-like origins become known a handfull of wealthy royal dignitaries look for her hand in marriage. She challenges them to find the mythological objects that they all insisted on comparing her to and give them to her in order to marry her. When they all fail, the Emperor himself begins to desire her, while she still yearns mainly to return back to her home. This is based on 10th Century Japanese Fable but it's definitely relatable to anybody, although it's insistent on it's telling of the story through imagery and quietness. It's Studio Ghibli's longest film in length, and Takahata's visual style, simplistic as always, but it's almost seems pencil-drawn with watercolors, almost like if Bill Plympton was given a paintbrush, but it's definitely not his aesthetic at all. It makes the story more elegiac actually. This was written for a friend of his who asked that he make a movie for him to take with him to heaven, and that friend passed away before the film was completed. The film is about life and happiness, what one will do for it themselves, what they'll do so others can ultimately achieve it, and how both wishes are both out-of-their-hands and backfire on themselves. It's quiet a beautiful film, almost poetic, sad, just gives you this overall ennui emotion after you watch it, and it's hard to get out of you. "The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" is practically meditative. I find myself caught up and lost in it, emotionally, not story-wise, and that's probably the best way to approach this ancient material. Takahata himself is in his late '70s and most believe this will be his last film, not to mention with Studio Ghibli in the midst of a struggle for survival, the emotions of seem perfectly what they should be. I guess I'm giving it 5 STARS because of how I feel after watching it.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014) Director: Josh Boone
Um, occasionally I've been told I should tweet more and I do agree with that, but I've never been big on tweeting while you watch a movie. I know a few people who do that, and usually I watch most movies at my computer desk, so I probably could, but, eh. Well, A. I don't like foreshadowing my reviews to begin with, and B. it kinda feels superficial and vain to me, but more than those things actually, I usually want to just get through a movie so I can realize my own thoughts on it as a whole, and not do a play-by-play commentary. Yet, after about an hour of forcing and struggling my way through "The Fault in Our Stars", I strangely felt compelled to tweet this:
"Somebody please tell me there's something in "THE FAULT IN OUR STARS" that won't make me want to choke this movie! #Mightwalkoutonfilm
Mostly, I received good responses for that tweet, so obviously I might not be alone in that response. That said, no, I did not choke the movie and after that first hour, I will say that overall the movie got better. Better than where it was anyway, not much better, but.... Apparently, this is a popular young adult novel, I've never heard of it until now but apparently the MTV Movie Awards crowd is a big fan of it. Oddly, the film is a romance between two young teenagers who are both terminally ill. Hazel (Shailene Woodley) is in late stages of lung cancer while Augustus (Ansel Elgort) has already lost half of a leg from his cancer treatments; they meet in a local support group and sure enough, they speak in wise-beyond-their-years prose to each other enough that they start to fall in love, although they're both denying that reality because both know it won't last, at least for now. Yeah, the screenwriters for this movie were Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, which sounds like a good choice for this material, they wrote the script for "(500) Days of Summer", which easily can be argued as the best romantic comedy this century, but from what I've been told, they wanted to keep the film as close to the novel as possible and that meant that much of the dialogue that apparently works in the book, is used here, and it doesn't come off as authentic, even if you take into account the common notion of terminal illnesses making kids grow up and mature more rapidly, eh; I'm told it works in the book although I'm skeptical. They exchange personal favorite books, Augustus gives her a novelization of his favorite video game, (Which is something I didn't know actually existed, and scares me that it does! I don't know who these hacks are, but they gotta be the hackiest of the hackiest) and she gives him a book by her favorite author about dying. The author Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), ends the book in mid-sentence and she wants to go to Amsterdam before she dies to meet him and find out what happened after the book ends to all the other characters, including a hamster. This, they actually do. I know, there's a thousand jokes about wanting to go to Amsterdam before you die, but this storyline is just strange and predictably leads to failure in regards to Van Houten, but does lead to Augustus and Hazel falling in love and getting their "We'll Always Have Amsterdam" moment. They also did get to see Anne Frank's house in a touching sequence. Both of them remain sick and naturally, when they get home, one of them starts to take a turn for the worst. The second half of the movie, I didn't mind so much although it's still a cliche of a cliche of a cliche that didn't work all that well to begin with. You know, there a was a TV show that got canceled earlier this year I like called "Red Band Society" which was about teenagers who were also sick with life-threatening illnesses and conditions, having to go through the typical hormonal high school melodrama, but having to live in a hospital while doing it, and knowing full well that they might never leave. I thought, with that show, you got much more of the weightiness of the situation, more believable and interesting characters actually struggling with the realities of death on the horizon at such a young age. This movie is touching, but it's a teenage romance fantasy. There's some good performances in the film, especially from Woodley, she doesn't hit a wrong note at all. I guess something could've gotten lost in the translation from book-to-screen, but even at it's best, I'm not sure how this story could end up being much better than decent or mediocre at it's best and this film is far from that. Can't really recommend it.
ROSEWATER (2014) Director: Jon Stewart
I still recall the Iranian election pretty viscerally, I'm actually surprised to learn that it was six years ago when all hell broke out there after the obviously fixed election that re-elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and everything that went with it. From my perspective at that moment, I worried about Jason Jones who, for some reason, "The Daily Show" not only sent to Iran to cover the election, but was the only American reporter sent to cover Iran and he got caught in the middle of the chaos and took weeks to get home. Jones plays himself in a cameo and we see a rare glimpse of the behind-the-scenes of how those comedic interviews and reports get made. Jones got off easy as Time reporter Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) who like most everybody went to Iran, his home country in order to cover the election from both sides and we see the distinct differences between the two cultural sides at war in Iran. One that's convinced of the radical fundamentalist perspective that Ahmadinejad insists on, one that's paranoid and skeptic through history and power and the other, more intellectual idealist side that's grown up seeking out outside information. There's powerful scene where Bahari is shown a secret rooftop filled with satellite dishes, one of the few times that television is ever shown as an educational tool as they pronounce this as their school. After filming and reporting on some of the violent demonstrations, he's calmly taken from his mother's (Shohreh Agdashloo) house one morning. He is then interrogated and locked away by a nameless man he calls "Rosewater" (Kim Bodnia) who is convinced he is a spy. He said so on the news, which turns out to be that "The Daily Show" clip, and he's not willing to be convinced that the show is in fact comedy. He's not even able to fully understand. He seems to regard almost anything foreign as porn when he goes through Maziar's collection of "The Sopranos" DVDs and Maxim magazines. Is it intimidation, do decimate the symbols of the west? After months on end, where he has imaginary conversations with his family, living and dead, including his pregnant wife in London, Paola (Claire Foy), he finally confesses to being a spy in a televised press conference that nobody believes and besides, he remains locked up anyway. He finally, in some funny sequences begins using Rosewater's lack of knowledge of the outside world to entertain him as he makes New Jersey seem like Sodom, which for some reason fascinates Rosewater. Of course, the major point that Stewart and Bahari try to make is that while he was imprisoned as a spy for months, others are still there, he just happened to be high-profile enough in the west that his friends, family and co-workers kept his name in the press and public eye, eventually causing Iran to break the dumber they were looking. It's hard to not consider "Rosewater" in this latest light of Jon Stewart recent announcement that he's retiring from "The Daily Show" having created a legacy on Late Night that I would argue not only equal Carson or Letterman, it might actually exceed both of them when all is said and done. He took time off to shoot this film and not only do I wonder if he just got exhausted from doing the show, but also if this incident painted him too close to the news and not enough towards the comedy. It's clear that making this his directorial debut came from a place of obligation for Stewart as it did passion, he certainly didn't have to do this film, but he probably figured that it was the least he could do, It's a good film, good job directing and a good story and look inside the actions and the mindsets of modern-day Iran as it's still struggles over it's past, present and it's future.
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) Director: Lasse Hallstrom
First things first, this movie takes place in India, England, The Netherlands and inevitably France. Shouldn't this film be called "The 30.48-Meters Journey"? I know "The Hundred-Foot Journey" sounds prettier but all those countries last I checked used the metric system. And it's a movie about food too, which has it's own mathematical nomenclature that doesn't include feet- Alright, maybe I'm being picky here but it bothered me. I guess they could've said the 100-Step Journey, but...- Anyway, not important. Although I'm not sure exactly how much this film is about food. It technically has at the core of it's story two competing local restaurants in France and I guess it's knowledgeable enough about the restaurant world that nothing is exactly inaccurate but then again, I'd hardly say that it took anything more than an artificial look at the world. Just knowledgeable enough to tell the story, but not much more. One the one hand, there's the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri) who's run a restaurant in India for decades but is now based in Europe. He found the weather in England wasn't suitable so they relocated to the continent and took up root in a provincial French town where there car finally died. He plans to bring the Indian style food to the French in the area, normally I'd say not the worst idea, but the only restaurant in town, is literally their neighbor, also run for generations and this one by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and her restaurant has the biggest reputation within a fifty mile radius, including a coveted Michelin star. For those not familiar Michelin is the famed restaurant ratings guide based in France. They do not give those stars out easily. It's a 3-star system and to give you an idea, I live in Las Vegas, where especially on the Strip you'll notice a giant foodie culture here and I can literally two or three dozens of the top chefs in the world, the ones you've heard of, that have at least one major restaurant in town. Currently, there are seven restaurant in Vegas with a michelin star of any kind, only one of those restaurants has three stars and that's Joel Robuchon's at the MGM Grand, so, yeah, they're correct that 3 STARS is only for the Gods. That said, one Michelin star, as per usual, is not nearly enough for most chefs, and Madame is constantly trying to seek out the next big star. This is where we meet Papa's son Hassan (Manish Dayal). He discovers some French cooking books and with his Indian cooking experience, wants to study and learn even more. He gets help from Marguerite (Charlotte le Bon), Madame's sous chef who's training to be a chef de cuisine, another thing he'll have to learn, chef terminology, Hassan just says he's a cook, which he is, and a damn good one. He'll have to sit through first the war between the owners, while gaining trust and increasing his skills and learning, all while secretly hoping he can begin becoming a chef at Madame's restaurant. Her challenge for a chef, one bite of an omelet, and yes, that is the very traditional challenge in France to see if someone can cook. Naturally, the two restuarants become closer over time and the two owners become friends and soon, Hassan is off to Paris to learn the more scientific molecular gastronomy techniques you might've found at a place like elBulli before Ferran Adria closed that legendary restaurant's doors. I guess I'm barely recommending it, 'cause there's nothing wrong with the movie. It's a nice story, hardly one I'd put in the upper eschelon of Lasse Hallstrom's oeuvre, but he's always consistent although there's nothing here story-wise that you wouldn't expect, so I guess I would've appreciate more insight into the restaurant world then, instead of just using it as setting. Especially after a film like "Chef" really did dive into it, this seems disappointing comparatively. It's looks good on the plate, but it couldn't had a little more flavor.
WISH I WAS HERE (2014) Director: Zach Braff
Exactly how long can you beat a conflict to death? That was one of my constant thoughts as a sloughed through "Wish I Was Here", and before anybody asks, no I did not donate money to Zach Braff's Kickstarter program for the film. A. I was broke and B. I probably wouldn't have done it even if I had the money although I did admire his debut film, "Garden State". Strangely, I tend to think of that as a quiet and almost silent film while this one is surprisingly wordy. Like, actor-y wordy. He co-wrote this one with his brother Adam, so maybe that explains the change in style to a dialogue-heavy script, but this was tiring. I mean, how many times can you talk about the differences between trying to follow the core beliefs of Judaism and do what you need to provide for your family and also trying to follow your dreams of being an actor? Actually, that's not even what the conflict was, it's just-, basically Braff played Aiden Bloom, another struggling actor, but unlike his last one, this one, is a little more together. He's got a wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) and two kids Tucker and Grace (Pierce Gagnon and Joey King) who go to this conservative private Hebrew school. They go there because it's his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) that pays for the education and part of the deal was that he'd pick the school if he was paying. Bloom is still going on auditions most of the days, and his wife works at the water company where she's got an asshole of a cubicle partner who she wants to complain about, and in fact, she doesn't like the job much at all, but she's technically the breadwinner as parts are few and far between. There's a funny scene where he asks one of the rabbis about following your dreams, isn't that Jewish, and he says, "No, that's the Constitution."- I'm blowing half the joke and screwing up the punchline there, but trust me, it's kinda funny. The reason he's talking to the Rabbi is that the kids' tuition hasn't come in yet and when he confronts the father, it turns out, he can't pay 'cause he's dying of cancer and has spent what's left of his money on some alternative treatments, which naturally didn't work. So, his father's on deathwatch, and with little else to do, he begins to try homeschooling his kids, something he's clearly ill-equipped to do as they usually end up teaching him as much as anything. Then there's this subplot about his brother, Noah (Josh Gad) who is the intellectual one, he's some kind of scientific genius but he's mostly become the a recluse in his trailer and he downright refuses to see his father no matter how sick he gets, and is generally unreliable else-wise as well, as under his care, Grace shaves her head, as she's was looking forward to after marriage, I think. I didn't quite understand this Jewish tradition, sorry, I grew up with Sinead O'Connor, that sorta thing wasn't that unusual oddly. Anyway, I'm recommending the movie, because it is touching the way the characters are essentially falling into adulthood, all of them in some way, but the more I think about it, the film feels structurally a lot like "Garden State". There's even a road trip he takes with his kids in the second part and there's another shot of them up a mountain looking over, and it's kinda in the same emotional place as the canyon in "Garden State", only it's with his kids now. Maybe it's symmetry, I buy that it's personal for him, so I don't mind it that much. There's a few other details to the subplots that are unpredictable as well, especially late, but I keep finding myself growing farther from this movie rather quickly. I do wish some of these sideplots weren't so contrived, like his brother deciding to win a Comic-Con costume contest to impress his neighbor, or even the wife with her day-to-day job. There's a lot going on here, maybe too much, but I didn't mind that in "Garden State", 'cause there so many unusual things happening, strange characters with unique and unusual quirks, I think that's probably the biggest issue I have with this, there's nothing really here that I probably have seen before. It also kinda ends a little too neatly because of that, but I guess there's enough to recommend.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (2014) Director: John Ridley
I have some friends who are guitarists and other musicians who don't really see the genius of Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 from OutKast) the way I think people did when he first hit the scene in London. They're more interested in progressive music and now Hendrix is somebody who has pretty much passed them by, but putting him in the context of his time.... Well, nobody ever saw anything like him. There hasn't been anything like him since. When he burst onto the scene in London, he was almost like an alien. The hippie scene hadn't quite transitioned from the mod scene and here's this giant black man wearing every color of the rainbow, playing a right-handed guitar upside-down and backwards, making sounds out of it that seemed otherwordly, extra-terrestrial almost. There's a scene in "Jimi: All is By My Side" for instance, where Hendrix gets an opportunity to jam with Cream, as he was a huge Clapton fan and wanted to meet them. He went into a blues song that Clapton didn't know and halfway through, and Hendrix's manager Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) the former bassist for The Animals, went to go find Clapton (Danny McColgen) who descended backstage in disbelief puffing a cigarette and he turned to him and said, "You didn't tell me he was that fucking good?" The movie, the first from "12 Years a Slave" screenwriter John Ridley, takes only a look at Hendrix's early rise to fame, starting from him being discovered by Keith Richards's wife Linda (Imogen Poots) in New York while he was playing a jazz gig for somebody with him eventually making his legendary, Earth-shattering performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. He was dressed up like he was in a big band, but it was clear that he was different. When she heard him play, she basically fell in love with him. One of many to do so over the film. He had a quiet, unassuming personality who didn't fit in musically anywhere. He was from Seattle, Washington, which was not a hotbed of music like it is now, he wasn't black enough for Harlem R&B in New York and he certainly wasn't white enough for whatever was on the AM stations at the time. He didn't fit into any popular music at the time, but he could be different enough to be appreciated in London, and even then, his presence made him standout; he was other-worldly to even those who thought they'd seen it all. He taught himself to perform "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band", in hours, just a day after the album was released, and performed it in front of The Beatles, and the Stones among others. Part of why they spent time focusing only on this particular part of Hendrix's life is because the film was made without the consent of his estate so they couldn't get the rights to most of his later music, but that's okay, you can all listen to that later anyway. The movie shows him as a calm man, who is capable of violence when provoked at times, who struggles with his father, never knew his mother and mostly seems like he would've just been happy if he can perform paid gigs for others most of his life, but he was just too good to do that forever. He was too good, too original. I think that's why the movie is successful, not because of the accuracy, although from what I gather much of this film is, but because it's about the tone and aura that Hendrix exuded, both on those around him who saw him first-hand and inevitably on rock'n'roll in general. It's done well, well-acted enough, so it succeeds at what it's going for so I recommend it.
THE CIRCLE (2014) Director: Stefan Haupt
"The Circle" was Switzerland's submission last year for the Foreign Language Academy Award and it's an interesting, although a bit of a tricky one to go through. It's one of those montage works that are part documentary part dramatic recreation of event. I can't really say I can tell or remember by the end. "The Circle" is the name of a Swiss magazine, better known Der Kreis in German, which ran for over decades from the early '30s all the way to the late '60s, which is really an amazing run considering it was the highest-profile and most important and longest lasting gay publications of the time, continuing to be published all through the Third Reich and all through WWII. I guess if I would've guessed a European country where a magazine that promoted the homosexual agenda, including the legal, societal and civil rights of gay men (Although it's origins began as a lesbian-based magazine oddly enough.), I guess Switzerland would've been my guess, but even though the country is known for it's freedom and peaceful independence even during the biggest perils of war, that's not to say that it was a tranquil heaven for gays or for the magazine. The movie takes place in 1964, a few years before it folded as racier publications would replace it, but for now, it's holding a lavish international party for it's silver anniversary, which includes documentary interviews of people who were there at the magazine and during this time period, as well as following Ernst Ostertag (Mattias Hungerbuhler) a young Literature professor who falls in love with Robi (Sven Schelker) a transvestite lounge singer. I guess emotionally all this works, although I still get the feeling that this wasn't the best approach to this material. I like the history lesson and documentary interviews, I never heard of this magazine and I'm glad I have now. There's also a murder story involved where the police suspect someone within the gay community was responsible and this leads to violent attacks and abuses of rights by the cops. There's so much going on, I think it's hard to keep track of it all in this style. I guess that's the point, I was never too big on this montage style that I usually associate with more Eastern Europe film traditions like the work of Dusan Makavejev for instance, but I think all this could've been told in a more straight-forward way and would've garnered more power and emotion behind it. Still, I'm reluctant to pan the film outright, there's a lot of interesting stuff here, and this is a story worth knowing, so I guess it's a recommend, but some disappointment 'cause I think this could've been approach differently and it would've been better for it.
DIVINE MADNESS (1980) Director: Michael Ritchie
Okay, it's easy to forget just how awesomely awesome Bette Midler was. No, I'm not kidding; Bette Midler's fucking amazing! No, not the "From a Distance", "Wing Beneath My Wings", "Beaches" Bette Midler that I grew up with. No, I mean the trashy, brashy, Bathhouse Betty, bitch and a half you called The Divine Miss M, that's the Bette Midler I love. Switching between dirty and profane jokes one second about finding her backup singers working in the alley and telling dick joke after dick joke, flashing her tits and coming out and performing in multiple ridiculous characters and costumes, all over the stage, distorting her body in suggestive ways...- Yeah, the night Madonna rolled around the stage in a wedding dress singing "Like a Virgin" with her underwear and everything else hanging out while she moaned her song, you remember who was hosting those first ever MTV Video Music Awards? That's right, it was Bette Midler, and you know what, if you ever see "Divine Madness", you'll get why that not only wasn't weird, it was ironically appropriate actually. If you don't believe me, than you really should check out "Divine Madness", one of the very best musical concert films. I actually know more about the stand-up performance films, but this concept of a performance documentary has been around for awhile, but not like this. Usually you think of something like "Woodstock" which is more about the event than the performance themselves, it only got switched around the '70s when these stand-up performances really attempted to capture the feeling of being there and witness the live performance of the performer,most notably and memorably Richard Pryor's great stand-up performances. Nowadays, while once in a while you'll see a film like this make the big screen, they're really relegated to cable television but it's still amazing to see it done well and for a big screen. There's a lot to her performance and it's all captured on over twenty different unseen cameras (It was unusual to some degree not to see performance without a camera accidentally getting into the shot.) But her performance was perfectly synced and time and after a week of rehearsals they captured the best of Midler, and there was still room for improvisation, as she joked with the audience. There's costume changes where she comes out dressed in multiple characters. A legendary nightclub performer who travels by motorized wheelchair dressed in a mermaid outfit for instance, or the way she can contort her body in Jersey girl lovesick teenager clothes, you know those terrible skintight polka-dot mob-wife pants outfits, and still be sexy. I love it when she plays old classics. I still think her version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" is the definitive version and it's not much different than any other version, it's '40s girl group style, but it's just done with Bette Midler's ironic twists, a little dirtier, little more obligatory like what she started out as, a performer in a bathhouse who has to play all the standards to keep people entertained. (And yes, that's where the Batthouse Betty moniker came from; she became famous for playing/performing at bathhouses in front of half-naked people.) We get to see her at her prime in this performance. She had just done "The Rose", so we get to hear that pop ballad, we see her performing, doing cheap stand-up amazingly well, her still performing those old standards, and in still mostly in Batthouse Betty mode. It's right before she transitioned to that more serious artist/actress that would get on my nerves when she was at her worst. This film reminds us just how daring and unusual a performer she was in her prime. She set a standard for other female performers that other would add onto and follow for decades to come. This is one of the best concert documentaries of the era, especially for a musical performances and it really is just a concert documentary. Just see the artist performing, doing what they do best. No interviews, not even that many crowd shots, it's definitely stylized and we're not on a moving crane like one camera is but in general, it feels like how a concert documentary should feel, like were in the audience watching the show.