Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "THE GREAT ESCAPE"

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

Director: John Sturges
Screenplay: James Clavell and W.R. Burnett based on the book by Paul Brickhill



What is it about John Sturges's "The Great Escape" that makes it so inherently watchable? It's a bit of an anomaly when you really look at it. It was made right in that last era of the classic Hollywood film yet feels like a movie made out of time. Some say it solidified Steve McQueen as the epitome of cool, his rebellious Hilts, a renegade loner rebel, forever in the cooler playing catch with the wall thinking up his latest escape attempt. I don't know though, I never fully understood that appeal to McQueen and the movie doesn't really revolve around him. Actually, the film probably has more in common with something like "Seven Samurai" or one of those movies that has a group of people brought together to achieve a goal. (Which makes sense, Sturges's other most well-known film was "The Magnificent Seven" the western remake of "Seven Samurai") Yet it's also a war movie, a POW WWII movie, putting it in the same league as Billy Wilder's masterpiece "Stalag 17" and it's got some of the same comedic slice-of-life aspects as that film, but it also boasts it's accuracy, mentioning in the beginning how the details of the actual escape are completely accurate despite the composite characters.

Actually, the film is more accurate than it lead on, and that's the other thing, most of the escapees, end up getting killed, either trying to escape or after they get caught. Sorry if that's a spoiler there for you, but the movie isn't about the result, it's mostly just in awe at the accomplishment and the details therein. It starts with how truly difficult it is to escape and how even after an escape, it's almost impossible not to get caught and immediately brought back as POW camps were too far from the front and it's very easy to slip up on any fake persona they can come up with. But, officers and required to try to escape, so with that, we see the multiple ways they tried to escape, the escapes that were themselves distractions to the 3-tunnel approach, even the Nazis themselves in charge of the camp have a begrudging respect for the officers and their attempts however faulty or flawed.

Perhaps the real genius of the film is that it promises a great escape and it is. It's an elaborate, meticulously shot and detailed and deserves to be the three hour tragic, heroic epic, disguised as the prototypical man's man movie. For an epic, there isn't much more than that, and yet, you get so inherently engrossed in the struggle nonetheless, whether the amazing rebuilding of the escape tunnels, the tracking shots in those tunnels, or just those moments in between strategizing and preparing to escape to just see Steve McQueen being all Steve McQueen. "The Great Escape" is big, bold, action-filled, and yet, it carefully reconstructs, pretty factually, a real amazing escape from a German POW camp that cost nearly everybody involved their lives. It's a hard film to describe it's greatness, and yet, when watching it, there's no question of it, this was the kind of story that cinema was made for.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

MOVIE RATINGS: "THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING", "SELMA", "STILL ALICE", "MR. TURNER", "INHERENT VICE", "UNBROKEN". "THE COBBLER", "BIG EYES", "CAKE", "A MOST VIOLENT YEAR", "THE CAPTIVE", "STARRED UP", "300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE", "I ORIGINS", "ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON THE ICE" and MORE.

Well, Obamacare is still the law and gay marriage is legal everywhere, Congrats Supreme Court for doing a couple things good this week. What the hell is it gonna take to make Scalia suddenly drop dead of natural causes? (That's probably the nicest way I could put that without something being added to my FBI file)

Well, as promised, I'm giving you a list of my..., ratings for movies I've seen. (Frustrated sigh) Believe me, this is as frustrating to me as it is to you. As promised, I'll write reviews for, as many of these films as I can, when I can and as soon as I can. Especially the major films. But, without regular internet availability, I'm just not able to do that at the moment. I wish I could, especially with some of these movies I really want to talk about more thoroughly, but there's too many movies and frankly, I just can't do that at the moment. I'll still be writing commentaries on other issues whenever I can, but that's about all I can do until further notice. Hopefully this'll be the only one of these posts, where I just write the ratings I give the movies, and maybe a word or two, I fear that it won't and if/when I post that blog, i'm sure you'll hear more complaining and frustrations from me then.

Anyway, I'll try to at least, sorta explain my reasons for some of these ratings in a sentence or two, some I won't especially the older films, which I probably won't get around to reviewing, 'cause, why bother at this point, but if you're curious about some of these reviews and my additional thoughts, please, contact me, either comment on this blog, or through FB or Twitter and whatnot, and I promise I will respond in due time. For now, here's how I at least rate movies on my 0-5 STARS scale.


THE THORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) Director: James Marsh

3 STARS



While I was impressed with the performances of Redmayne and Jones as Dr. Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane, who's really the main character of the film as it's based on her novel about living with and dealing with Hawking as the genius of our generation disintegrated from Lou Gehrig's Disease, but I must admit to having a hard time feeling much for this film. For a mind like Hawking, I never really felt much sympathy for him, and I think the movie tried too much to do that.


SELMA (2014) Director: Ava Duvernay

5 STARS



Yeah, "Selma" was hard to watch, but it's definitely a masterpiece. A movie that really details the Civil Rights struggle, especially from the behind the scenes aspects of it and it shows a believable rare look at the more political side to Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as a personal one. It's definitely one of the most powerful films of the year.


STILL ALICE (2014) Directors: Richard Glatzner & Wash Westmoreland

5 STARS




All films on Alzheimer's are difficult to watch, but this is the first one I've seen that truly felt like it was from the perspective of the person going through it. Julianne Moore's Oscar winning performance was the star of the movie, but the film's directing and especially the screenplay are impressive as well. Richard Glatzner, the late co-director along helped make the film along with his longtime director partner and husband Wash Westmoreland partially based on Glatzner's experience dealing with his Alzheimer's and it's truly a sad and heartbreaking look at a once great mind, losing her capabilities. Definitely one of the more emotional films I've seen this year.


MR. TURNER  (2014) Director: Mike Leigh

4 1/2 STARS



Mike Leigh's can never make a bad movie and Timothy Spall's amazing performance as W.M.D Brown the great British seascape painter is quite marvelous and Marion Bailey's performance is also quite amazing. I still, my one hangup is that, at some point, the movie kinda seemed a little too much like a regular biopic, which is a bit of a shame coming from Leigh, but still, very minor issue.


INHERENT VICE (2014) Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

4 1/2 STARS



"Inherent Vice" is confusing, nonsensical, circular, mess of a Chandleresque mystery that constantly introduces new twists and new characters at will and random. In other words, it's a Thomas Pynchon story/Paul Thomas Anderson film. Leave it to the most audacious filmmaker around to attempt to adapt the most unadaptable writer out there. It's basically what it sounds like, and I enjoyed it as that mess that it is.


UNBROKEN  (2014) Director: Angelina Jolie

4 STARS



I think I got what Angelina Jolie's doing here. Despite some, questionable storytelling ideas and choices, I think her main objective was essentially, to make go through the emotionally-draining experiences that Louis Zamperini went through. Jack O'Connell does is very good as Zamperini a former Olympian who eventually becomes a Japanese POW in WWII. Miyavi is quite interesting as the vicious sociopath that runs the camp. It's more emotional than plot-based, but still, I appreciate "Unbroken".


THE COBBLER  (2015) Director: Thomas McCarthy

4 1/2 STARS



This is one of Adam Sandler's best films, and it's another great and interesting film from Tom McCarthy, the man behind "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor". Sandler's a 2nd generation cobbler who finds out that he can use one of his father's old tools and put on his customer's shoes and transform into those people by wearing his shoes. There's a lot of good jokes and situations here and some interesting good performances. Strong film here.


BIG EYES (2014) Director: Tim Burton

4 1/2 STARS



Amy Adams, once again gives an amazing performance as Margaret Meade, the painter of those famous Big Eyed children, and how her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) essentially stole her art work. Yes, this is a story about art theft, as Margaret's work gets credited to the outspoken and outlandish Walter who begins to publicize the art and make it available to the public. This is Tim Burton's most interesting work in years.


CAKE (2014) Director: Daniel Barnz

4 STARS



Another strong film and performance, this one by Jennifer Aniston as a suicide-obsessed L.A. suburbanite who's recovering from a car accident that she's still recovering from a car accident that severely injured her back, and lost her child. I'm a little surprise by some of the mix reviews 'cause I thought most of the movie worked pretty well as an emotional journey through a complex character.


A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014) Director: J.C. Chandor

5 STARS



This is Chandor's best directing job yet, and is really developing into one of the top American writer/directors out there. He constantly has good ideas and this is a great film. Great performances from both Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac as a husband and wife who have differing views on how their heating business should be run. Great movie, one of the year's best.


THE CAPTIVE (2014) Director: Atom Egoyan

4 STARS



If you like Atom Egoyan's typical films, then you'll probably like "The Captive". It's not anything special for him, but "The Captive" is still very frightening and intense thriller a la, "The Sweet Hereafter" about a kid who's kidnapped and held captive by a whole ring of pedophiles as she ends up being used to recruit other kids. It's disturbing and intoxicating, just like Egoyan at his best.


STARRED UP (2014) Director: David Mackenzie

4 1/2 STARS



A British film about a father and son who both find themselves behind bars in prison, it's one of the better prison movies I've seen in a while. Great performances by Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn


300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014) Director: Noam Murro

2 STARS



I actually liked the first "300". I can't remember why off-hand after watching this unnecessary and over-the-top remake, which was mostly just boring. We're not getting into the films that I will probably not be writing reviews for in the future.


I ORIGINS (2014) Director: Mike Cahill

ZERO STARS



Although I might find time to review this piece of shit. Mike Cahill should really let Brit Marling lead the writing next time; this film just annoyed me from one moment to the next, even from conception. If it didn't take itself so seriously and disturbingly so, maybe I could've forgiven it a bit, but, eh, they don't do that.


ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE (2014) Director: Anthony Powell

2 1/2 STARS



Eh, I think I understand why in Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World", why he'd rather stand over the edge of a volcano than hang out with the people living there. There's some interesting stuff here, but I kinda just felt like the movie was dragging on a bit.


THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (1995) Director: Sam Raimi

3 STARS

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) Director: Barbet Schroeder

4 STARS

Alright, I'm running out of time at the library, so no photos for these two, but they're a pair of outlandish films that satirize and subvert their genre and I liked both of them.














Wednesday, June 24, 2015

DEAR PATIENT READERS: A MESSAGE ABOUT CURRENTS AND ONGOING DELAYS, AND THE TEMPORARY MEASURES WE'LL BE TAKING.



Dear Patient Readers:

I'm saddened to report that at the moment, I will not be publishing blogs on any kind of regular basis in the near future. I'll try to publish whenever and if I can, but not at any regular interval, nor will I be going out of my way to post in the immediate future. There are personal and private matters that I fear I must place the majority of my attention to and while I'll continue to do whatever I can to keep this blog going, for the time being I fear there is no immediate resolution that will satisfy both me and you, the readers, in bringing a continued level of quality and quantity that I normally expect to, and desire to produce, so, I've decided that the best thing for me at the moment is not to do so, at least until I'm capable of doing so again. This is not an end to "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews", far from it, merely an act break, an intermission if you will, a stopgap measure perhaps. And any of these posts that comes between now and whenever I officially announce that I'm back, well, I don't know what you should consider them, but I'll leave an obvious signal that they're an anomaly, or I don't know, a reminder that I indeed am still here and not going anywhere soon.

For example, the biggest and most notable immediate change you'll notice is that I won't be writing or publishing movie reviews for awhile. I'll still be watching films of course, and my next post will simply be a list of the films I've watched and the ratings I gave them and maybe a sentence or two of what I thought and why if possible and when I am more capable or reviewing these films I'll write more proper reviews, especially of the major films I'm unable to review.

This is hopefully a minor setback and I'm hopeful that I'll be working at full capacity when the Primetime Emmy Nomination Announcement are released and I swear by hell or high water, I'll have my usual extensive Emmy Nomination Analysis posted as soon as I can after those are announced. It may be later than everybody else, but it'll happen.

In the meantime, expect more commentaries and whenever possible, Canon of Film posts, some of those might be newly-written ones, so keep an eye out for them, and whatever else I can and/or think of to post on, when I can, at least until I resume my more traditional, regular posting patters. Sorry again for this but, hopefully this is temporary and we'll be back to normal ASAP. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Sincerely,
David Baruffi

P.S. If anybody here has gone on or started using Patreon, let me know what you think about it, whether or not you think it works or might work for me. I'm thinking about it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

BRIAN WILLIAMS, EH, SA-GA? REALLY, IS THIS NEWS WE'RE ACTUALLY GIVING A SHIT ABOUT?



I've been noticeably absent from mentioning anything about Brian Williams and I'll be honest, I'm kinda surprised it's a big deal, at all. Not that the crime or the penalty are off in some way, but..., are we still in a "Broadcast News" world where this even matters? Is this relevant? I mean, symbolically I guess and yeah, it's one of numerous bad decisions NBC News had made over the recent years, you know, the kind of dumb things that Media Matters gets a hard-on for bringing up, like David Gregory's wretched reign on "Meet the Press". And yeah, Brian Williams is a bit more of a showman than an anchorman. We've all read some of the stories, how he loved going on the talk shows and guest appearing on "30 Rock" and other shows, submitting his name to replace Jay Leno, seriously (Well, seriously to him anyway) and the worse of his actions was how he apparently squashed some major news stories in favor of more light-hearted entertainment pieces. (Hey, I'm an entertainment blogger, not the "NBC Nightly News")

Really though, is this really important? A trust issue of all things with the "Nightly News", in this day and age? Hey, I know that "The Newsroom" was the best show on TV until it was canceled as well but-eh, I did regard that show as a romantic ideal of what a news show should be, but maybe it is more realistic. (Will McAvoy was purportedly loosely based on Brian Williams) That said, he exaggerated a few things, and they weren't even parts on the news, as far as I've noticed. He told lies on talk shows. Honestly, I don't think he did much worst than what Hillary Clinton exaggerated about during the '08 campaign, remember that? No? Exactly. She added drama to a story that was relatively benign and she got caught for it, that was it.

And yeah, I generally always liked Brian Williams as an anchor. Oh, don't worry I think he's earned losing the job to Lester Holt, who I like more but I also enjoyed watching him. I thought he was the natural choice and successor to tom Brokaw and I wish NBC had done more with his "Rock Center" brainchild, which was an interesting and insightful Primetime news magazine show; I'd rather see that than the other shitstain on NBC News's repertoire of shows, the goddamn insufferable "Dateline".

I'll admit also to being generally, NBC bias; I can't help it. I grew up in the two decades of MUST SEE TV where they absolutely ruled Primetime, so I always turned to their news programs first the way I turn to NBC first for everything. (Admittedly nowadays, I now change the channel after turning to them most of the time.) Still though, this is a day and age when MSNBC is a more relevant news source than NBC. Hell, Comedy Central is a more relevant news organization these days than NBC News. I don't know who really get their news on network these days. That's not something i think of as something prideful of this modern world; I like the idea of a nightly news broadcast, being an overall collective of the day's news, formatted like a newspaper. Headlines, politics, weather, stocks, sports, special interest, etc. etc. It's bad enough that most of my news (Annoyed chuckle, "My news")  comes from my Facebook wall, but it's worst that that news is filtered through my so-called "Preferences".

Anyway, I guess what I'm mostly wondering is-eh, well, how big a deal is this really? Okay, Brian Williams got caught in a few lies, but, to paraphrase Frank Fontana, "It's Brian Williams, Murphy! Forget about it!" that's what I think about this mostly, and yet, the media's covering it like it's really a major story. I mean, NBC is suddenly having issues with who should be in control of a flagship program, big fucking shock! (Eye roll) I know, it's the media covering the media and everybody's head is up everybody's asses but can we all stop pretending that this is, in any sense of the term, a "real news story"? This ain't the age of Edward R. Murrow, let's move from caring about the pretenders of the throne and care about actual news? I know, I'm sounding a bit hypocritical here, but, I mean, even in the entertainment world news, this story's relevance, ran out like, a decade ago at least.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "ATLANTIC CITY"

ATLANTIC CITY (1980)

Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: John Guare



I’ve noticed that a common theme in many Louis Malle films is that the coming together of characters or in some cases, people, and the reasons for how they end up together. There's always different reasons. Many times this is sexual, oftentimes it can be trivial, sometimes even taboo. Malle hardly ever gets mentioned when putting together a list of even the best French Directors. He was a French New Wave filmmaker with films like “Elevator to the Gallows,” and “The Lovers” that pushed the boundaries and standards of the time, although seem tame by today’s (and to a certain extent, their own) time. He also, unlike contemporaries like Melville and Godard, he was a minimalist, and oftentimes, his films have only the bare essentials of directing. I’ve written on his autobiographical film “Au Revoir, Les Enfants,” one of the last films he made in France, but that might be the exception. He made famous documentaries about India that eventually got the BBC banned in India. He went onto America where he would make “Pretty Baby,” with Brooke Shields, and possibly his best film “My Dinner with Andre,” a film that’s an entire dinner conversation between two New York playwrights who are basically playing variations on themselves. His last movie was "Vanya on 42nd Street" a part-documentary, part-theatrical production about a group of actors who every year, book a theater or 42nd street for a week and perform Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya".  

Sometimes its dinner that brings his characters together, other times it’s a play, while other times, his characters come together for reasons that aren’t as literal. In “Atlantic City,” all the characters come together out of desperation. Desperation also drives the plot of the movie. Shot just  a couple years after gambling had been legalized in New Jersey, the movie depicts an Atlantic City as a dying and decaying tourist town, standing, barely, side-by-side with a new Atlantic City that’s trying to emulate the Las Vegas Strip along the Boardwalk, a desperate attempt to bring tourists. Lou (Burt Lancaster) is an old, old-time numbers runner for the Mob, but now his job is not only dying out, it’s becoming legitimate. Left with nothing but memories of the old days, and one annoying downstairs relic, Grace (Kate Reid) who he waits on hand-and-foot, at least somewhat loyally. Sally (Susan Sarandon) is his next-door neighbor who he sometimes peers at through his window as she rubs lemons over her body while listening to French music. She works at the oyster bar at the casino, although she’s studying to become a blackjack dealer, hoping eventually to move to Monte Carlo. Her baggage shows up looking like Joseph and Mary searching for a room, but it’s her husband from Saskatchewan and her pregnant little sister who he ran off with (Robert Joy and Hollie MacLaren). He’s also gotten a hold of some cocaine, and through a coincidence, hires Lou to work as his dealer for a client. After he gets killed, Lou finds that he’s inherited small fortune in cocaine, and has every intention of selling and becoming like the big-time mobsters that he only worked for before. We get drawn into these characters the same way they keep getting drawn into the lore and promises of Atlantic City. They steal but they’re not thieves. They manipulate, they hustle, and they do almost anything to get what they want, always failing, always trying again; always getting caught up in their own dreams. It’s hard to completely call the movie unpredictable, but the characters certainly can be. That’s because the actors aren’t caught up in a movie about a drug deal gone bad, they’re people caught up in their own lives, which happens to include the drug deal gone bad. They come together out of geographical convenience, coincidence, and out of necessary desperation. I’ve used that word a lot in this article, “desperation;” it’s reserved for characters such as these who live on the fringes of society. If they were rich, the word would be greed or single-mindedly obsessive, cause they’re acting of out want and these characters act out of need.  

It’s a film that seems strangely relevant to today’s Las Vegas (My hometown) as we work to reinvent and restore our town. Two timeless characters who are simultaneously of their time and place and also capable of living and occurring anywhere and anytime, I think that’s probably the other motif in Malle’s work.Timelessness. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE"

HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE (1991)

Director/Screenplay: Fax Bahr & George Hickenlooper     
Director of Documentary Footage: Eleanor Coppola



I think I have to explain something about filmmaking before I tell you about “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” and that is that, you don’t just point a camera and click on and tell your actors to read from a script, there’s a lot more going on. You’re working 8-16 hour days, and you have to get all the crew together, the sets have to be built, the props have to be made, or brought in, the actors have to be paid for working specific days and times, special effects and stunts have to be coordinated, the script is often rewritten continually and sometimes will look nothing like its original form, and that’s just some of the dozens and dozens of things that have to be prepared before shooting, and that’s if nothing goes wrong, which something always does. For every filmmaker, you don’t just make a film, the way a painter may draw a painting, every film is a true experience, and therefore the experience will then be with you as you go into your next project, and than your next project… and so on and so forth. You than, must realize the state of mind that people who are in that situation day after day, week after week, and sometimes month after month will be in. This movie, which originally aired on Showtime, and than got a theatrical release, documents Francis Ford Coppola’s 3 year odyssey in the making of “Apocalypse Now.” Shot by his wife Eleanor, while on location in The Philippines while she secretly tape recorded conversations between her and her husband while he was going through a Kurtz-like odyssey himself.


The shoot was a nightmare. After location scouting, he made a deal with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to use his Army’s helicopters for battle scenes, only to have his helicopters go and leave to fight rebel armies every other day in the middle of shooting. He then replaced his leading man early in the process and had to fly back to L.A. to cast Martin Sheen, who was drinking and smoking heavily at that time. He than casted Marlon Brando for the part of Kurtz, 3 weeks of work for $3,000,000 dollars, including a $1,000,000 advance, which he threatens to keep and leave the project later. Sets are destroyed and submerged after typhoons hit, and Coppola urges to keep shooting, and encourages the crew at almost every second. He does begin to lose it while shooting a scene at a French rubber plantation that didn’t make the cut in the film, as he wasn’t satisfied with his actors. Then Sheen, at age 35, had a heart attack soon after shooting his scenes in the hotel room, where he cut his hand, and did karate moves, all while being so drunk, the crew thought he might actually attack Francis. They then shot without him for some months while he was recovering in the states. All while talking discouraged writers and producers into believing the film will be so great it will win a Nobel Prize, he reveals to his wife, who shot most of the footage and secretly videotaped her conversations with him,  his fear that he’s making a bad film and might kill himself. When they get to Kurtz’s compound, Dennis Hopper is so stoned, he can’t remember any of his lines, and Marlon Brando insists on spending his three weeks talking about the character, as Coppola slowly realizes that he hasn’t read the book, and probably not the screenplay either. Which only adds to the increasingly urgent fact Coppola doesn’t know how to end the film, and is continually rewriting and shooting improvisations as he goes along. The 4 month project that was to cost $13,000,000 was over budget 3 months in, and finished 2 and a half years later, nearly bankrupted Coppola literally and metaphorically, and shows that Willard’s journey upriver into the heart of darkness wasn’t the only journey. 

It was Truffaut I believe who said that he was only interested in two things when watching a film, the joy of filmmaking and the agony of filmmaking. This film shows arguably more than any, the agony in filmmaking. Coppola descending into the madness that he's creating, terrified that it's all for naught, that he bit off more than he could chew and shows filmmaking as a continuously ongoing project, from both an artistic and business perspective, and all the ways that everything has to be negotiated around, to keep the project going, to keep the film going, to make sure everyone's happy. In my mind, there's three great documentaries about the perils of filmmaking, and along with Les Blanc's "Burdern of Dreams" about Werner Herzog's unbelievably even more surrealistic and disastrous shoot for "Fitzcarraldo' and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Lost in La Mancha", about one of Terry Gilliam's numerous failed attempts to bring "Don Quixote" to the screen. Seeing all three of these films could probably deter almost anybody from filmmaking, but if you can survive that, you also see all the positive aspects of filmmaking. Storytelling, determination, passion, desire, and just how much, skill and luck is needed for everything to go right. It makes you appreciate the film they were making even more. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"CECI N'EST PAS UN VIOL (THIS IS NOT A RAPE)": EMMA SULKOWICZ'S CONTROVERSIAL SHORT FILM: Yeah, we're talking about this elephant in the room, so fair warning, this blogpost is rated NC-17.



There's no comfortable way to go into this subject, some of you may even find it appalling that I'm even bringing up this elephant in the film world room, but most of you already know that I don't typically write about what everybody else does, so it probably shouldn't surprise you that much. Besides something this provocative and controversial should at least be given acknowledgement, if not discussion. So, let's discuss,... "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol", aka "The is Not a Rape", Emma Sulkowicz's short film.

For those who don't know Emma Sulkowicz, in 2012, she was a visual arts student accused a fellow Columbia student of rape. (Some sites give the accused's name, others don't; I'm not gonna give his name because, frankly I'm not quite sure what the standard or procedure involved is regarding his identity, so I'm gonna err on the side of caution and not give it here.) He denied the claim, saying the sex was consensual. An investigation by the university, concluded in 2013, said that the accused was "Not Responsible". This led to her performance art piece, "Carry That Weight" or "Mattress Performance", where she carried around a 50 lb mattress every day and everywhere on the campus of Columbia University, until the moment, her rapist, was no longer also continuing to attend the school. This started last September and continued this, until, he graduated last month and yes, she did carry the mattress, along with other student's helping her, (Which was allowed by the rules of the performance, that she could accept help from those who offered, but would not be allowed to ask for help) at her, and his, Graduation Ceremonies. In total, nine months, and yes, the irony in that the project lasted as long as a pregnancy, was planned. He has now sued the School and others for allowing her performance piece to continue, and leading to gender-based harassment, as well as sullying his college experience.

For those who are or think they are familiar with the details of this;  I'm not getting into a he said, she said discussion, over the validity of either side's perspective of the night in question. For one thing, it doesn't matter. Really, it doesn't, 'cause, let's say she's lying, so does that mean that this guy isn't a rapist, or that rape, particularly on college campuses isn't a real problem that needs to be addressed and discussed? Yeah, bullshit. And, frankly, even if the truth is somewhere in between, I'm not gonna patronize either side's feelings about what happened, 'cause it's obviously effected them and if in Sulkowicz's case, if she is, making this whole thing up, just to come up with the arguably the best performance art piece this decade and now the short film I'll be discussing that she made, and becoming a highly-respected and vocal leader and symbol of the Anti-Campus Sexual Assault Movement, gaining the respect and admiration of cultural and political leaders ranging from documentarian Kirby Dick, performance artist Marina Abromovich and New York Senator Erica Gillenbrand among others, as well as major acclaim from the art circles and feminist circles across the nation, then..., damn. Seriously, that would be a lot to do for something that was bullshit; I don't care who you are. Forget the symbolism for a second, walking around with a mattress in front of the guy, reminding everyone that "You raped me on this..." for a year,- okay, the mattress was bought, but still, it's the same kind of mattress in the Columbia dorms, but fuck. Somebody that determined, I'd presume that he did something at least. And yes, there were other complaints from others, all of which he was cleared of, (Although some of those complaints were from acquaintances of Sulkowicz), but if you're thinking he was the only person on campus who was ostracized for being a serial rapist, no, there were others who came forward with other claims, all of which were disregarded by the University, who frankly isn't thrilled about the press Sulkowicz's has gotten as she's claimed that Columbia University and other schools for that matter, would rather keep serial rapists on campus as oppose to dismissing or expelling them, or turn them over to the police. So, let me put it this way, if you think this is all fictional, then you're pretty much delusional. I could find the statistics for you pretty easily, but even still, most everybody's aware of how under-reported rapes are, including and especially on college campuses.

So whatever your thoughts on Sulkowicz...- actually why would you have thoughts on her? That's part of the problem, the perception of modern culture to slut-shame and ostracize, and Sulkowicz got a lot of it, even currently. Seriously, why would you have any thoughts on this? For one thing, you and I don't know what happened, and there's no discernible reason to assuredly believe one person over the other, and why, is that even a thought? Is she telling the truth; is he telling the truth? Are we, supposed to have an opinion on this, one way or the other, just as an outside observer who isn't privy to the particulars? Sulkowicz continues to be put through a lot for her accusations and her performance, most of which are variants of people claiming that, her claims are untrue, and I don't know why? Like a 22-year-old co-ed, that's...- yes, I know females have lied in the past about rape, but-eh, why would anybody remotely form an opinion on her. I mean, on campus people, who live with her and have personal experiences with her of some kind, that I get making a determination on whether to believe her or believe him, even if the media and it's audience is also the jury box of America, um, this path is a waste of time, and since most of it, is directed viciously at Sulkowicz, to those people, most of them, it's not about criticizing her art, ideas, beliefs, concepts, or protest, it's, as George Carlin would say about Conservation Pro-Lifers, it's about people, mostly, who are "Anti-Women", and they will do anything that they can, whether it needs to be done or should be done or not, to humiliate and degrade women, especially those who make such claims. Insert your own Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh reference, 'cause that's mostly what this is. (Oh, not to mention one of numerous judicial points I can make, about how her and numerous others' claims of sexual assault, not leading to prosecution, or trials of anytime, possibly be because of a lack of evidence by either the "beyond a reasonable doubt" or the "preponderance of the evidence" standards for judicial or civil cases, doesn't mean inherently that her or his claims are false; it means that there's not enough proof in the view of the court and/or prosecutors to proceed.)

Anyway, to show the shit she's getting firsthand, to those who've heard of this video and have had trouble finding this video, you're not alone. Shortly after it was put up online, hackers immediately attacked the site and it's been up and down ever since. Even yesterday, as I wanted to re-see the original posting of the video on her site, I had to go through about half a dozen sites and links to find it, finally able to connect to it through the Bustle article at the link below.

http://www.bustle.com/articles/88974-emma-sulkowiczs-ceci-nest-pas-un-viol-site-was-temporarily-disabled-by-cyberattacks-but-her-opponents

The original site is the link below, or at least it should be:

http://www.cecinestpasunviol.com/

If you're still having trouble with it..., you can find the video on Pornhub, and probably every other free porn site you can think of. But it's important to see the video on the site, as it's originally intended. Sulkowicz put the video in context for us, through, what is admittedly a strange but unusual, report-structured explanation, complete with the title, her name and the date, in the top left-hand corner and then a quixotic title that seems partially edited out, "A_____'s S_____t". There's five spaces between each of those words, and other than that, I have no idea what they mean. She then opens with something she's calling, a "Trigger Warning", which reads:

"Trigger Warning: The Following text contains allusions to rape. Everything that takes place in the following video is consensual but may resemble rape. It is not a reenactment but may seem like one. If at any point you are triggered or upset, please proceed with caution and/or exit the website. However I do not mean to be prescriptive, for many people find pleasure in feeling upset." 

There's other words she could've used instead of trigger, in fact, she just could've just called it a "Warning", and not let us focus on the word, but since she does, there's a multiple meanings here. First she's insinuating that the images in the video may indeed cause a negative reaction, in some way, causing us, the viewer to be triggered or upset, but then saying the thing that could trigger the upset feeling might be enjoyable to some. "I do not mean to be prescriptive"? As in diagnosis? Well, upset could mean, just regularly negative reactions to viewing a scene of sexual attack/violence like the one we're about to see, but it could also mean, upset that we're seeing the author, portraying this attack. She calling out both sides, those angry that what she'll be portraying and those for whom, just her existence at all, causes outrage, and indeed, triggers, a reaction, like a gun, causing the audience, to literally and figuratively, take a shot at her. A verbal shot anyway, although I wouldn't be shocked if she's indeed had death threats against her. "Trigger" also has another meaning though, one that means, arousal. It's another word for a person's fetish, or something that can 'cause a reaction, but in this case, whether it's the portrayal of sex/rape or something within or regarding the act thereof, can as well 'cause that reaction. Take, a girl who dresses in a way that's a little too sexy or revealing, in some ways, this is unfortunately giving credit to the idea that "If someone dresses like that, aren't they asking for it", but it's more the effect that is caused by people who may think way, but a better example might be, just a regular fetish that simply turns people on, say, how some people are turned on by leather, or lace, or anything. She mentions she not prescriptive, she's not diagnosing the audience's fetishes, she's simply acknowledging that they exist and while this is an upsetting video, she's not admonishing anyone who may indeed find it arousing. (It's worth noting that, while the actor's face is blurred out and his name has been deleted from the credits, it's rumored that the performer is a known fetish porn model, closely associated to the bdsm porn subculture.)

She continues...

"Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" is not about one night in August, 2012. It's about your decisions, starting now. It's only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him."

Hmm, uh, we'll get back to that. Here's what else she adds:

"Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desire are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable.
You might be wondering why I've made myself this vulnerable. Look--I want to change the world, and that change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn't resist the urge to make "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" about what you wanted to make it about: rape.
Please don't participate in my rape. Watch kindly."


Okay, as much as even my eyes are rolling at the "I want to change the world" part, although I do like the idealism, this is how you can tell that we're dealing with a performance artist. It's not about the actual content of the video, what the actual subject is, as much whether you or I watch the video and then, why we watch the film, and then, what we do with it, if anything. I'm writing this blog. I don't know what that means or says about me, probably that I'm a bit of a sadist who is in fact, capable alienating his entire audience by devoting a blogpost on his entertainment blog to this kind of subject matter, but hell, it wouldn't be the first time I've alienated everyone. (Hell, this will be the second time this month) That said, I doubt she's talking about me. She's more directly talking to people, who do see her as, whatever the archetype that's berating and trying to shame her, constantly. The people, who, probably do see this as simply a porn, which it isn't, no matter how many idiots post it on Pornhub, or even just those who say that it's porn, on Youtube. (Go ahead, just type her name in, and most of the video say she's done a porn.) She's not only telling us, to not look at this film, like that, "If your motives would upset me, desires unclear, nuances indecipherable, as if anybody would have those traits would even understand what half those words means, but that's apart of the video. She knows damn well that people would in fact do this. You see-, I know some people get upset at me when I mention how I agree with Roger Ebert's thoughts that video games aren't as high an art form as film, and some bring up performance art as another art form that similarly incorporates the audience's actions into and apart of the art piece itself as a defense of video games. Here's the problem with that, that's not exactly true. Yes, the audience reaction is a key component to performance art, but unlike a video game, where you are indeed creating or becoming part of the art itself, the reaction of the performance artist's work, isn't as random as you think. A video game puts up an obstacle for the audience to go through, it's not manipulating the emotions, so much as, simply creating an obstacle course, but performance art is controlling and manipulating our reactions. It's anticipatory. While some people react differently than others but the audience is controlled by the artist. She's playing us. However we respond to the art, is apart of the art, but it's not like the reactions are random. Take her idols, Abromovich's infamous "Rhythm 0" piece, where the audience was given 72 objects designed to give pleasure or pain, including weapons, even a loaded gun, and were advised to do basically whatever they want to her, humiliating and objectifying her, cutting, slashing, ripping her clothers off, beating, torturing etc. even the gun was almost used, at one point although even the audience convinced the guy to put that down, and then when the six hours of this was done, she walked towards the audience, who then scattered. As grueling and defiling as this is, it actually was manipulative. Allowing the audience partial control, aware of the possible consequences, but then, bringing those actions into another light, by simply confronting them. That was back in '74, this isn't the modern-day equivalent this video, but the reaction, without the personal confrontation, is essentially the same, as long as Sulkowicz is treated as a figure, or an object that's open for ridicule, a certain amount of the public at large, will indeed treat her and this film as such. In this case, she's challenging the audience, to equate some of these negative reactions with those, essentially of rape. In essence, she claims that, the people who say, put this video out Pornhub, completely out-of-this-context, and treat her like this, with raping her physically. Which, is, something I would agree with. I would equate that example, to say, a disgruntled ex, putting a personal homemade sex tape of their former significant other on a website, without the other's consent, as retribution after they had broken up, essentially to be a rape of that person too? Just because one consented to being taped by somebody else in a compromising situation, doesn't mean that they consented to that footage being shown to the entire world, especially if it's just for petty retribution.

Now, she also provides a few "Questions to help you reflect", for those who do watch the film without her consent, but-eh, I'll get to those if we need to, let's get to the film itself. You can watch it, and follow along if you want on the site above, or where ever you're able to find it. And, WARNING: SPOILERS, and from, GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD. It begins in a dorm room, shown from four different cameras, each taking up a quarter of the screen, a la Mike Figgis's experimental feature, "Timecode" although as far as I can tell, not only is each camera showing the exact same scene, but it's the same unbroken shot, or it at least seems that way. They're resemble hidden security cameras, which in one interpretation, would be disturbing on a whole different level of privacy invasion, but I think the reasoning behind this, is to show the timestamp, which ironically has the date scratched off. Is this for us to interpret that this is supposed to be a reenactment of her August rape, or is this to represent that, this could happen, anywhere at any time?

Well, anyway, Emma and the actor with the blurred-out face, enter the room, and begin making out by the door way, each taking each other's clothes off. Emma's noticeable wearing only a loose t-shirt, and daisy dukes with panties, that are quickly taken off and the guy, actually lovingly picks her up and carries her gently to her bed when she is completely naked, he is still wearing his pants, which will come off shortly, lovingly holding and caressing her, with his hands and mouth. As he takes his pants off, he makes down her body and begins cunnilingus. I-, well, this probably reflects more on me than the film, but I couldn't help but think about Judy Gold's in "The Aristocrats", when she's telling her version of that joke, and makes it a point to begin with the initial sex act, being the guy going down on the girl, because of, feminism, or something. It's funny in the movie, trust me. (I also, well, he goes down on her, before she goes down on him, so this is clearly not a porn.) Anyway, they then, switch roles and she gives me a blowjob, and yes, this is graphic. She then gets a condom from a nearby nightstand, and then, they have sex. I'm not gonna give a blow-by-blow of all the details, but the important thing to note is that, this is at least now, a consensual sex act, which Sulkowicz claims that the rape started out as, before things turned, literally and figuratively. Everything seems fine at for awhile, but while the actor is on top of Emma, he then suddenly, violently smacks her in the side of the face, without warning. You hear her pant in pain, and squeak "Ow,", although, she stills seems to be somewhat okay with this, even uttering, "Oh, yeah," as they continue. He then smacks her in the side of the face again, and the two "Ow!" from her are louder and more clear. He then takes his hands, which her already aggressively pushing her down into the bed, and places them on her throat. You hear her mutter to "Stop.", which he doesn't, either the sex or the hands by the throat. He then repositions her, pushing her legs up into her chest further and then, ripping off the condom, which is thrown violently onto the floor, and he goes inside her anally, causing sudden distress moans and she struggles to fight him off, to no avail. This is when this consensual encounter turns into a rape. After she gives up fighting, he finishes and she is left in the corner of her bed, in a fetal position, when he picks up clothes and walks out of the dorm, still naked. Emma lies on her bed, stretching herself out and tentatively walking, looking through a bag, before finding a towel to wrap herself in, before she also exits the room. When she comes back, she takes off the towel and then, makes her bed, starting with putting a sheet on over it. (Remember, the incident took place at the beginning of the calendar school year, she hadn't yet unpacked or made her room; in fact, you'll notice that her stuff is still in bags and that the dorm room is noticeably empty.) She puts a pillow, and another sheet which shee crawls under and lies down. She now sleeps in the bed, presumably for the first time, the bed that is the location of where she was just raped. (Which if you consider this film as a companion piece to "Carry That Weight", makes the symbolism of the mattress even more powerful than at first)

The short is eight minutes and ten seconds long. in full, I don't know whether it was one take, but it was shot like that by the film's director Ted Lawson, who Marina Abromovich recommended for Sulkovich, and seems to be, at least from her perspective or account, the night of her rape.

Except it's, not a rape. No, I'm not saying that it isn't a rape, she is! Remember the part of her report I said we'd get back to....

"Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" is not about one night in August, 2012. It's about your decisions, starting now. It's only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him."

The title, translates from French to "This is Not a Rape", and it's not. It's not even a reenactment of the events at hand, by her own admission. It does seem that way, admittedly, but this was just a consensual, planned out sexual encounter. Not even between two people or based on a previous experience, but between Emma and the other actor. That's just, a sex/rape scene in a movie, really. "It's only a reenactment, if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him." Me and everybody else are putting into this film, what we want to put into it, whether we despite or disregard her as the slut who cried rape, or a personal artistic statement that shows a realistic and unglamorous portrayal of a consensual encounters turns non-consensual, or, in my case, some of that, plus I thought about a Judy Gold joke.  I don't know whether or not she'd approve of that part, or any of what I'm doing with this blogpost but that's what I brought into this. And yes, as I wrote, where I directly referenced the film with details about the rape from some account, I wrote about the incident in some ways, as though it was a reenactment. Part of that, was intentional to mislead you readers, but also because that's how, to some extent I saw this piece of art as I was viewing it. Now, I have no idea whether that makes me a consensual viewer or not, but this is confusing and yet thoughtful. Is this a reenactment or not. If she saying not to consider as such, so that we may then consider it as such, kinda like how when, before an episode of "Law & Order" they put that "Not Based on a True Story" warning, only for those episodes that are clearly based on true national news stories. I said this was performance, and performance art, is a manipulation of our experiences, and it does what good performance art does, forces us to confront our own reactions to what we're presented.

Confront, or in her word, help you "reflect".  I mentioned the questions she gives us to reflect upon before, here they are now, all ten of them:

Are you searching for proof? Proof of what?
Are you searching for ways to either hurt me or help me? 
What are you looking for?
Do you desire pleasure? 

Do you desire revulsion? Is this to counteract your unconscious enjoyment? 
What do you want from this experience? 
How well do you think you know me? Have we ever met? 
Do you think I'm the perfect victim or the world's worst victim?
Do you refuse to see me as either a human being or a victim? If so, why? Is it to deny me agency and thus further victimize me? If so, what do you think of the fact that you owe your ability to do so to me, since I'm the one who took a risk and made myself vulnerable in the first place? 
Do you hate me? If so, how does it feel to hate me?

I won't ask, request or demand any of you answer these, especially the "perfect victim" or "worst victim" question, which is, even among everything else, just terribly written. Actually, my issue with these questions is that they're for the people who don't view her film consensual under her guidelines, and I gotta admit that, I think most of the public who she describes as those non-consensual viewers, wouldn't reflect on any such questions already, and probably wouldn't read them to begin with.  I guess that means, they're for the consensual viewers as well, but on the opposite end of that, most of those questions, probably are already what the consensual viewer would think about. (Hell, I essentially answered some of these earlier in the blog, especially those "Searching" questions) Now, I have no idea which one I qualify as, what I know is that, this film, with this prologue of a report before it, is the most interesting piece of film I'd seen this week, and that's it's worth exploration and analysis no matter which interpretation she intended, her interpretation one or our personal interpretation's of the film. Or our interpretations of our interpretations or whatever. You can and do start, going around and around on this if you really dig into it, as you've all probably noticed. And that's one of numerous reasons why "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" should be discussed and talked about, and doing so, at least trying the best you can, under the guidelines that Sulkowicz insisted on.

However, I would add one other question to those that might be worth answering, before we finish pushing this elephant outside (Okay a multiple-question, question):

"Why is your view of rape in this society? Why? Is this because of how it's portrayed by the media and culture, or by other experiences, inspirations or teachings? How does or doesn't the western media and culture portray/consider rape? How do they consider the victims of rape? How do they consider the accused rapists themselves. What preconceptions do you have when someone says they are a victim of rape? And are those preconceptions, in some way, influenced by the media/culture's perspective on rape, and/or on women in general, and/or on me (Sulkowicz) specifically? Does the media inspire the current cultural conceptions on rape, or does the media just reflect the thoughts and preferences and opinions of modern society on rape?

I'll let some other more thoughtful and knowledgeable people answer any those questions. Oh, and-eh, in this rare instance, while I am usually tolerant of most every opinion outside of spammers, I will delete any and all responses to this blogpost that, here or on social media that are clearly from a perspective that's undesirable to me, upsetting to me, and/or are unable to grasp or take into account the nuances that this piece is intending to present. I'm not as generous as Emma Sulkovich and willing to allow the thousands of comments on the film's site, probably about half of which are indeed at best, insipid.






Monday, June 8, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #110: "INTERSTELLAR", "LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM", "GIRLHOOD", "ST. VINCENT", "JOHN WICK", "TUSK", "THE HOMESMAN", "THE BLUE ROOM", "THE LUNCHBOX", "THE BOOK OF LIFE", "COLD IN JULY", "SAGRADA -- THE MYSTERY OF CREATION", "THE RETRIEVAL" and MORE!

Congratulations to American Pharoah the first horse in 37 years, in my lifetime in fact, to win the Triple Crown, and he did it, during the one year I decided not to watch, figuring, "Oh, I'll skip it this year, they never end up winning it anyway." Son-of-a-bitch. Anyway, there's not too much going on right now to be honest. Right now, I'm writing this part ahead of time, so I'm looking forward to tonight's Tony Awards. I always have fun with them, since I haven't an interest or seen any of the plays, I can just appreciate the awards as a show, and boy they usually put on a show. It's easily the most entertaining of all the award shows, and the most consistently fun award show.

Anyway, not much else going on, so let's get right to this week's MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with reviews of the Oscar-nominated films, "Interstellar", and "Last Days in Vietnam"!



INTERSTELLAR (2014) Director: Christopher Nolan

✰✰1/2



Okay, (frustrated deep breath) for whatever reason, and I don't have a great answer to be honest, "Interstellar" takes place in a future Earth that,- (frustrated deep breath, holding back anger) well, it pissed me off, greatly. I get the notion of some of the ideas, the weather forcing the ending of crops, and that leading to the dying out of the human race, there's an idea there, and I know the part that upset most, is basically the part that, the entire rest of the movie, basically proves is complete bullshit, but it pissed me off, so much, that I paused the movie and starting writing this review, my own rambling, on paper, I wrote it too, 'cause my computer was being used by someone else at the time, I'm  holding it in my hand, this raving scribblings about all the ways this and the people who actually somewhat think this...- (Looking over paper, growling angry scoff) Anyway I'm not gonna publish that, but if you're like me and you know, smart, you'll probably be just as pissed off at it as I was when you see it. So, (Deep breath) moving on from that, if possible. "Interstellar" takes place in a future, where farmers are more necessary and coveted than engineers and apparently, nothing is invented anymore as we've- (Frustrated sigh) I don't know, some Ayn Rand Tea Party morons took over and ruined everything, seriously, Nolan, did you need to do it this way? Like,- engineering is needed for farming too you know. (Frustrated breath) Okay, clearly, I have trouble moving on from this, so we're just gonna skip ahead to the space exploration. Anyway, a wormhole has shown up passed Saturn, and what is now a secret government organization, NASA, is preparing to send a ship through the wormhole. Others have gone before and three planets that could hypothetically sustain life are on the other side, and with Earth being a generation away from human extinction, the need to seek out a possible new home is vital. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot and now a single dad farmer of two kids, Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and his precocious younger daughter Murph (MacKenzie Foy). It's through Murph and a ghost, that she has in her room that somehow leads them to discovering the secret location of NASA...-, (Dear God, did I just write that sentence? Why am I recommending this?) And Cooper after finding out about how dire it is, agrees to take the two-year piloting job to the wormhole and who knows how long after. There's a few others on the trip, most notably Brand (Anne Hathaway) who's not only the daughter of Professor Brand (Michael Caine) the man who runs NASA at the moment but he's the person's who's theory this whole journey is based on, and TARS (Bill Irwin) a voice operated robot, that's actually a rather interesting robot design-wise although a bit too much of a smartass when replicating human speech. These are the scenes that are the most impressive, the Oscar-winning Special Effects, and while it is space travel and nothing particularly we haven't before, it's done very well. The first planet they go to turns out to be a bust, a mostly water planet where the shuttle has to escape from a monster wave, not to mention a heavy does of gravity that, at least hypothetically ages them, although it's insinuated that they still remain the same physically, but time definitely goes by as we don't see Murph much until she's much older (Jessica Chastain) and now working for Professor Brand and struggling to finish his theory and still angry at her father, leaving her and her brother alone with their grandfather (John Lithgow) while the Earth does seem to be quickly disintegrating in drought, dust and dying crops. The next planet they go to is where they find, Mann (Matt Damon), (Really, his name was Mann? How did I miss that before? [Annoyed sigh])  who's been there so long, he's mainly just amazed he's still alive and relieved to see humans again. The planet is mountainous although he claims there seems to be enough to be able for humanity to build from and this is when they start investigating and exploring. (Frustrated sigh) Actually, you know what, (Delete 3 STARS and turn it into 2 1/2 STARS) yeah, I'm not gonna recommend "Interstellar". It's not just, the implausible stupidity of this future Earth (Implausible and stupid for no reason) he creates either, there's some great ideas and visuals here and some strong performances, and I don't even mind Nolan's overuse of exposition, I kinda enjoy it most of the time and it really does feel natural and forwards the plot, but the climaxes and inevitable conclusions to this film and I won't give them away, while they are intense, but....- I guess he's making an attempt at combining the scientific, the spiritual and the fantastical into the same world, but when you really think back on it, it just doesn't work, despite how impressive it is. I know, there's some plot and symbolical similarities but I keep hearing people comparing this film to "2001: A Space Odyssey", that's a helluva a standard to begin, but, where the hell are they making these comparisons from? Seriously, the quality level between those films is ginormous, despite the great technical achievement, but "2001..." actually was spiritual in nature and wasn't so literal with it's journey and end result, which helps make it work on all these levels so well. If anything, "Interstellar" has more in common with Robert Zemeckis's "Contact", which is easy to shit on, but actually does hold up pretty well and more successfully and naturally hits all the notes this movie tries to. (There's also some of Madeleine L'Engle's young adult novel "A Wrinkle in Time" in it as well) Christopher Nolan is a great director, and he's made some amazing films over the years, but the more I think back on "Interstellar" the less impressive it actually gets. I guess I should be nice and tell you to see it and come up with your own conclusions, but there really isn't anything here that needs concluding. (Sigh), I've made a lot of noises, grunts and sighs and such during this review, but the movie, kinda deserves it. Even at it's best, it doesn't inspire awe, it just inspires a lot of "Hmm"s, and I can't really say that's worth recommending. (Slight chuckle under breath) Maybe I'm in an alternate universe of timeline or something, in two weeks, I've panned Christopher Nolan and recommended a Peter Jackson film. Anyway, no "Interstellar" could've and should've been better.


LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM (2014) Director: Rory Kennedy

✰✰✰1/2



It's easy to kinda want to look pass and over Vietnam nowadays, it feels like Ancient history timewise, and frankly the obvious parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, at least from an American perspective are as much frustrating as they are disappointing. "Last Days in Vietnam", earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and finally started airing on PBS, as apart of their "American Experience" series and it details those last days of the war, as Americans were trying to get out themselves, but also help numerous Vietnamese escape the country as the North Vietnamese are about to run over Saigon. It's mostly told throw lots of great stock footage and news reports as well as talking heads from the time, the most harrowing part of the story, involves the U.S. Embassy as it struggled to get thousands of Vietnamese, most of whom were hiding in the embassy out of the country and onto marine ships by helicopter. In fact, over the last years, Americans were working on getting thousands of South Vietnam. They leave a lot behind, 420 in the Embassy by the time President Ford order the Ambassador get out of there and the hidden operation is halted, but not before thousand of Vietnamese end up overloaded the American ships, and now the plan is to try to keep them clean and fed until they can get them to America. This story is the most intriguing, as it really gets us into the way and tells this very little-known and harrowing aspect of the last days of the war, and how our failure in that, is a microcosm for our failure in the war in general. Honestly, I question the Oscar nomination a bit, because I don't know if this was better than your average war documentary than you'd see on PBS or something like that, but it actually is nice to see that PBS is getting into back into that race. (Before recent rule changes, it wasn't against the rules oddly for television documentaries to be Academy Award eligible at one point.... I don't know why exactly, but... [Shrugs]). It was directed by Rory Kennedy, she's Bobby's Kennedy's daughter by the way, and she the documentary "Ethel" a couple years ago, which I haven't unfortunately gotten around to. It's definitely worth watching, for a compelling documentary and giving us a new perspective on the Vietnam War.


GIRLHOOD (2015) Director: Celine Sciamma

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Any similarities between "Boyhood" and "Girlhood" is purely manipulation of the title. Probably to try to get some people in to see the movie, although I probably would've seen it anyway as I enjoyed Celine Sciamma's previous films, "Tomboy" about an eight-year-old girl who dresses and looks like a boy, so much so that she can play sports without much notice, even when she takes her shirt off for shirts vs. skins, and "Water Lillies", about the relationship and eventual romance between two high school girls on a swim team. She's got a way of looking at the experiences of young woman in very entertaining and realistic ways. The original title is "Bande de filles", which translates to-, (Google Translate shows title as "Strip Girls", confused look on my face) wait wha- no that can't be right. (Continues typing, still confused) There's gotta be-, "Bande" is Band, filles is Girls, it's "Band of Girls," what the- (Continues typing) "Bande" means "Strip" and is a version of the word "Band" or "Group"?! (Shocked expression) No wonder I failed French four times. If it was "Strip Girls", they wouldn't need to change the title-, anyway, perverted google translation aside, the movie opens with something I'm amazed hasn't caught on more over the years, even in the U.S., women playing American football. Full pads and everything, Schiamma likes showing young women participating in athletics for some reason. 16-year-old Mariemme (Karidja Toure) is one of the football players and the girl we follow for about a year of her life. She's been held back three times, unable to qualify for high school and is instructed to go to a vocational school, which she's not interested in. Her homelife is a mess. Her mother is working too much to be around. She has a younger sister who she cares for, and an older brother, Djibril (Cyril Mendy) is standoffish and abusive. She clearly hasn't had any kind of homelife that's remotely conducive to a thriving education, but, she recognizes she was capable of more. It's then, that she joins a gang. A female gang, something that isn't brought up in movies enough. And by gang, there is this element of violent undertones, but the aspect that Sciamma is focusing on is the camaraderie and family element that a gang brings, especially to those who don't really have other options else-wise. In fact, most of the crimes they commit are mere shoplifting, which they mostly use for clothes and such, in order to go out to parties and have some fun times singing in hotel rooms on weekends and whatnot. Good times mostly. She even changes her name to Vic, within the group, a new identity you'd say. They do fight with other gangs, where apparently they've been at this long enough, where they fight until somebody beaten the other bad enough to where they can rip off the other's shirt, and if they're really beaten, cut off their opponents' bra, leaving them beaten and topless in the middle of the street. (Maybe it was supposed to be "Strip-, no, no, forget that thought. It's "Band of Girls", I'm reviewing). Eventually this life gets caught up with them. Vic starts a relationship with Ismael (Idrissa Diabate) a boy she's known for years, and they begin to get close, and soon the gang starts to pull away from each other, not from the fun, but from the side effects starting to interfere, and the limited futures such a life has. "Girlhood" is another slice of life of female adolescents from Sciamma, not necessarily anything more or less than she's done before, but you could argue girlhood is a good overall theme for her work as this is another strong and memorable exploration of this subject. She like to capture these moments in time of a girl's life, and not judge or criticize the behaviors and actions, but show them and the emotions and desires that lead to their actions. There's a lot to like in "Girlhood", it's episodic than her other previous films seemed to be, but other this is another strong effort from one of the most interesting filmmakers around.


ST. VINCENT (2014) Director: Theodore Melfi

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I'm not quite sure where to begin with this one. Not because there's too much, it's just...- so, hmm, eh. You know, I happen to catch Christy Lemire mentioning how she called "St. Vincent" the worst film she saw from last year, mostly figuring, alright, it's probably splitting critics, and she's just on the far extreme, but now, I kinda see what she's talking about now. It's not badly made or acted, but there's just this...- I guess it's one of those movies that's a combination of other movies smashed together. It's done that way in lieu of giving some of the characters actual depth, so that they can have their quirks. The title character is Vincent (Bill Murray, doing a somewhat odd accent choice), a cranky old curmudgeon with a cat, who owes everybody in town money, and what money he does have, he spends at the racetrack, or on a pregnant Russian prostitute/stripper, Daka (Naomi Watts). He soon gets acquainted with his new neighbors, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after their movers ran their car onto his lawn and tree. She's a recently singled mom, who moved to this new town and works at a hospital working in the radiation department. The move is traumatic and she's still fighting off her ex-husband David (Scott Adsit) over custody, even though, he's clearly the one to blame. Basically, because she's overly busy at work, she ends up hiring Vincent as an after school babysitter. The school by the way, is a Catholic school, where the only Catholic it seems is his teacher Brother Geraghty (Chris O'Dowd) and he's kind of a non-traditional Catholic professor although he mostly focuses on saints for, contrivances. So, we got the old guy young neighbor kid story, like, eh, I guess the best recent version of that film was "Everything Must Go", you've got the curmudgeon and the struggling single-working mother comedy, so there's a little "As Good As It Gets" in this, which I guess means that Naomi Watts is in the Greg Kinnear role...- actually, her character is so bizarre that-, I'm sure there's like numerous pieces of religious symbolism I'm missing with her, but it's so strange. It's, almost like this role was written for somebody else, with maybe a more broad comedienne, maybe a Jennifer Coolidge-type or somebody like that, and then for some reason, Naomi Watts ended up accepting the role, it's so bizarre and odd. She's fine in it by the way, she got a SAG nomination for this role; I don't know how that happened but it's very quirky for quirkiness sake, and for some reason it was Naomi Watts, in the part. There's also the teaching movie and the roving around town with the kid, the "Scent of a Woman" aspects of the film. Then, there's other hidden subplots that come about, like Vincent's dying wife, Sandy (Deirdre O'Connell) who's suffering from Alzheimer's but he still comes by to do her laundry once a week, and then there's a really pointless part with Terence Howard as Vincent's bookie, that literally goes nowhere, wasn't needed at all to tell this story. Then it turns into the makeshift family film and then there's-, oh the worst thing, and I am so sick of this conceit, the kid's giving a report in front of an audience of their parents and friends and family at the end, which- honestly, how often does that actually happen? Like,- this contrived ending has got to go and btw, eh, part of why it's bad is that kid's report aren't usually that great to begin with. (ie. see "Spanglish", or actually don't, just trust me on that one.) Anyway, it's not the worst movie of the year, I wish it was 'cause this would be a lot better of a year than it's turning out to be, but "St. Vincent" is a bit of a hodgepodge of styles and influences without a real direction. The acting is mostly good, McCarthy in particular reminds us of just how much range she actually has. Murray's trying a lot of different stuff here, and it didn't all work but I can see where he was trying to go with it, but this is an overall disappointment.


JOHN WICK
(2014) Director: Chad Stahelski

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So, this is what all the fuss was about? "John Wick," he's, a hitman. Was that it? I mean, he's a badass hitman, but there's certain films that people keep bringing up that I keep seeing get brought up in the Facebook film groups, and for awhile this was one of them. Keanu Reeves is back or whatever the fuck. I mean, it's a hitman movie, it's an action film, (Yawn). Alright, it's well done, he's a good badass I guess, it's kinda funny how apparently everybody knows he's a mob hitman even a retired legendary one, I mean, he's practically signing autographs and he gets standing ovations from the mob and everyone in the bar, yada, yada, yada. Okay, maybe not literally, although he seems to be able to get some special treatment at a hotel that you usually wouldn't see gotten to, unless you were an out-of-town whale at a hotel-casino and was preparing to gamble. I guess this was trying to be somewhat comedic in that all this happens because of a dead dog, but other than that.... At the time we meet Wick, he's actually long left the life and the mob, when a son of a mob boss, Josef (Alfie Allen) kills John's dog, shortly after his wife, who he left the life for, had just passed away. The boss, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) puts out a $2million dollar hit on him, hoping against hope that somebody will kill him before he gets to them. Yeah, that's how badass he is, that all the other hitmen, pro and amateur are now going after him. This leads to some ridiculous scenarios, including, a running joke about the noise in his hotel room. He's also struggling with whether he should be getting back into this life or not, and that's another running joke that everybody keeps asking him, it's almost like they're a retired athlete if he's gonna come back and play again. I get the mocking of the celeb culture thing, but, are there that many people who know who the best hitmen in the world are? Like outside of the life? I'm just asking, that seems like one of the few professions where I can legitimately knock points off for having heard of you at all. There's others involves, Willem Defoe is a hitman who's waiting around to see how this plays out, there's a waitress/hitman, Mrs. Perkins (Adrienne Palicki) who's biding her time, Dean Winters is in this as well, playing something in this wheelhouse again. It's basically an action movie, was a comically held together plot. It was directed officially by Chad Stehelski, although David Leitch is uncredited as a second director working as a team and both of them came into the business as stunt coordinators and fight choreographers, this is both of there's debuts as directors, and it's got it's moments, I particularly liked the stunts near the end of the film more than the beginning, it does build up, There's a few things that are relatively cool and I think if the script, maybe had one more pass, to fine tune the decisions it makes, it could've been good. It kinda goes for a few different tones and I don't know if really hits any of them. It's trying to be a little different but mostly it ends up being another "Death Wish", or whatever, insert generic action film title here, It's a decent hitman movie if that's all you're looking for, but if that's all you're looking for, than I kind  point you to better movies.


TUSK (2014) Director: Kevin Smith

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I'll be honest, I don't quite know what to think of "Tusk". It was a frustrating film to force my way through, but once you did.... Well, let me go through a few of my thoughts. First thing is, that Kevin Smith, is probably going through some things. I've always been a fan of his work, and as somebody who's family is from Jersey, he's not only been a standard of great comedy for most of my life, but he's also touched upon notes of familiarity that I find more endearing that some might. That said, he's actively been going against that perception lately. His last film "Red State", was a straight up horror, and a legitimately good one. I certainly don't think I can call him the laziest director out there anymore, something that he used to say about himself. Yet, I think it speaks volumes that he's chosen as his lead character, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long, and I'm not sure what to make of his performance either) a podcaster who's become successful for some of the more crude humorous tactics, that Smith has at times been accused of. (Smith has also run a podcast) His show is called the Not-See Party, (Ugh, I really hope that this running joke started in it's original form as something stupid Randal said, and then led to an argument with Dante somewhere on one of the "Clerks"' films' cutting room floors. At least that's how I imagine this joke originated) It's called that, yes, for the stupid pun, but also because the format of the apparently successful podcast is that Wallace would go out and find/do stuff to make fun of and talk about and also show to his co-podcaster Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) who doesn't go out and sees this stuff, so it's his, Not See Party. (Eye rolls) Anyway, Wallace's latest pilgrimage is from Los Angeles to Manitoba to interview an unfortunate viral video sensation known as The Kill Bill Kid (Douglas Banks) who taped himself, accidentally slicing his leg off doing stunts with a samurai sword. They mock and lambast him on the air, but when Wallace gets to his home to do the interview, he finds that he's killed himself. While this is tragic, he still needs something for the show, and he finds out about an old guy named Howard Howe (Michael Parks) a man with tons of stories looking for somebody to do some of the household activities he's unable to do now that he moves around with a wheelchair now. He does have some interesting stories, but then, he kidnaps Wallace and begins to physically torture him in a way that I won't describe other than to say that if you're familiar with the work of Eugene Ionesco, it's-eh, well-um,... okay maybe it's not like Ionesco. There's also some peculiarly placed flashbacks placed throughout, showing Justin, Teddy and most notably, Justin's girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) before he takes this trip up to Canada. They're not only strangely placed in the movie, but timeline wise, they seem to jump around from strange points too. Eventually though, they find out about Wallace's plight, and head up to look for him, along with the help of a Canadian detective named Guy LaPointe, (J-, whoa, that's who that was! Okay, I'm not revealing who played that uncredited cameo.) Still, as I think back about this movie, there's clearly some themes directly related to the story, like the choice between living with a permanent deformity or death for instance. But, I can't help but go back to the author and try and think about Kevin Smith, creating, this. Putting this character, through this,-, well, just putting him through this, frankly. It almost feels more like a dream one tells their shrink that they had, hoping they can explain it as oppose to a horror movie. The decisions and actions that Wallace makes are quite curious as well, considering who he was before, what he's been through now, and inevitably where he ends up. Is this his penance to himself for all his sins, or is it karma,...? Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but part of this feels like that script you read that your friend wrote and by the end, you turn to the friend concerned, asking, "Hey, Buddy, are you okay?" That's not that it's a bad thing, although most so-called therapy scripts I wouldn't advise letting see the light of day, (And that advice is from experience btw) but it is sorta telling that, despite some previous declarations and the clear shift in subject matter and tone in Smith's recent films, that the last couple rumors I've heard about him, involve making sequels to either "Clerks" or "Mallrats. In fact, he's got both those projects listed as "In Development" on Imdb.com on top of four other directing projects that he's either filming, in post, or been announced for; he's quietly one of the busiest filmmakers working right now. Well, whatever it was in Kevin Smith that made him create "Tusk", I hope he got it out of him.


THE HOMESMAN (2014) Director: Tommy Lee Jones

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Counting the two TV movies he's done, Tommy Lee Jones's directed three westerns so far, and the other one was a play written by Cormac McCarthy, probably the author most associated with westerns of some kind these days. I greatly admired his first theatrical release, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" a modern-day darkly-comic western that involved Jones's character holding up a border patrol agent at gunpoint and taking him on a journey through Mexico to bury his friend that the agent killed. That movie has numerous levels of ideas and images that were preactically surrealism to it, not the least of which, oddly enough, was an opening dominated by the slice-of-life aspects of living in modern-day El Paso. "The Homesman" in many ways seems like a more classical western, in fact the Glendon Swarthout novel has had the movie rights bouncing around Hollywood for a few decades now as there's been abandoned attempts at adapting it until now, and it takes place in the old west, but it's definitely one of the more unique stories I've seen. The movie follows Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) a spinster farmer originally from back east, who now owns and farms land in Nebraska herself. The point is made fairly clearly that she's oddly undesirable, when she offers to marry a neighbor more as a business decision than for love, but the neighbor remains uninterested. At the church, her pastor (John Lithgow) informs her of the need to take three of the town's women who have pretty literally lost their minds in differing ways, and take them, oddly enough, east to Iowa where they can then be sent to more proper facilities back east. This is the early days of the west and a second common theme is that, everybody's a little crazy the farther removed from civilization they are, some in more extreme ways than others. As Mary Bee seeks out a homesman for the journey, she finds George Briggs (Jones) a career outlaw who's about to be hung after taking resident illegally in what seems like an abandoned property. So now these two societal outcasts are traveling, from west to east oddly enough to take three more societal outcasts back home. Yeah, that's kinda the interesting thing about the movie, the numerous subtexts the film has are actually more interesting than the film itself is. The idea perception of single women in the west, the outright craziness involved with first going out west to the frontier and then the numerous effects of living in a desolate uncivilized environment, trying to live on your own, or in a family, the fact that it's probably people who were outcasts in their own home places that chose to make a trek out west, the irony of this being a film about people going east from the old west,... in a way, the movie is about the ways people behaved and became in the old west, how some were able to channel their madness and others weren't and how it lead to numerous different and disturbing and even shocking outcomes. There's a major sudden twist in middle of this movie that I won't give away that I and from what I gather most people who weren't familiar with the original source material didn't see coming. It not only puts another light on all these themes, but it also changes the trajectory of the story entirely. "The Homesman" is another sure-handed strong western from Tommy Lee Jones both acting and directing, with some strong performances. It's a movie that I believe plays better after you see it than it actually does when you're watching it, but that's a relatively minor complaint, there's still quite a bit good here.


THE BLUE ROOM (2014) Director: Mathieu Amalric

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I think most people, at least in America are probably most familiar with Mathieu Amalric's work mainly as an actor, but this is his 4th theatrical feature as a director and it's an interesting little movie. It's based on the Georges Simenon novel "La Chambre Bleue", and it's an erotic film, that begins with a couple, Julien (Almaric) and Esther (Stephanie Cleau), getting too caught up in the romance, when she bites a little too hard on his bottom lip. This doesn't sound like a plot point, I know, but believe it or not, it is, as both of these two, are actually cheating on their spouses. Julien has to make up an excuse and a story explaining the cut before he goes home to his wife Delphine (Lea Drucker) and daughter Suzanne (Mona Jaffart). Yet, this story is actually a flashback. Julien is currently telling it while being interrogated by police and is under arrest. We don't know what he's arrested for at this point, and it only slowly becomes apparent through the story and interrogations what has happened, so I won't go into too much detail but if probably a fair assessment to presume that someone is dead. As the story continues, it becomes, slightly more confusing. The movie skips back and forth between the interrogations and the events, and then suddenly to a courtroom. I don't know how this is handled in the novel, but it does seem like a lot for what is ultimately a rather simple tale. It's actually quite quick too, the movie is only 75 minutes in length and the movie moves fairly fast, too fast much of the time. Ultimately it's worth recommending 'cause the film is well-made and well-acted. The editing is interesting, and I wonder if the movie wouldn't have been better overall as a short film, or if it needed to be extended even more. Basically, it's a film that looks at the mindset of two characters and what they may or may not do if they truly believe they're in love. It's actually kinda shallow when you think about it, but it doesn't dwell too long, so I don't really mind.


THE LUNCHBOX (2014) Director: Ritesh Batra

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I think your tolerance of "The Lunchbox", will be dependent on how much you're willing to put with something, fairly Jane Austen, "The Lake House"-like. material. Not chick flicks, per se, which first of all, is not a term I like, but this is the kind of movie where a lot of what takes place, isn't action, it's actually, read. In letters.  Ritesh Batra's debut feature is an Indian film and is based around a literal lunchbox. Apparently, there's numerous delivery systems around India where you hire people to deliver lunch to you in a lunchbox. Some are delivered from a restaurant or some kind of house cafeteria, others, like the one prepared by Ila (Nimrat Kaur), are made at home and delivered to their loved ones by these couriers called dabbawallas. In this case, the dabbawallas delivered Ila's food, not to her husband Rajeev (Nakul Vaid), but to a retiring claims adjuster, Mr. Fernandes (Irrfan Khan). Ila's husband, naturally doesn't notice that her wife didn't prepare his lunch, but Ila ate all the food. The next day, the lunchbox returns to Mr. Fernandes, and this is when the story turns into "The Shop Around the Corner", as they begin writing letters to each other and slowly but surely falling in love with each other, just through the letters. Naturally, Ila's husband has fallen out of love with her, and Mr. Fernandes is a cranky widower who's finally starting to open up the possibility of letting someone into their life. He's training his replacement Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) a Saudi orphan who he's reluctant to work with, but eventually, he begins to start helping him out as well, even sharing his lunch with him, despite him clearly being slightly less educated than he claims. The whole movie is essentially what we learn about them through these lunches, and it's slow, much of the time. It's a paced movie, and to it's credit, I think it works, the minimal amount of character change and development is more interesting, both from performance perspective and from the story itself. It would be a little ridiculous for some of the big over-the-top plot contrivances we'd normally expect in this kind of romance and the movie doesn't go there the way we expect, or for the reasons we expect. It's a little "Brief Encounter" than most people might foresee, and I guess it's a bit disappointing, but I think I appreciate more. It's still a slough to get through at times, I mean, this really is a lot of just letters being exchanged between the two parties, but despite that, I felt rewarded at the end.


THE BOOK OF LIFE (2014) Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez

✰✰1/2



Most of "The Book of Life" seems to take place on the Day of the Dead. Wow, is that confusing already. Actually this entire movie just seemed strange to me. At first, I thought, maybe I'm missing some important Mexican symbolism, but then, when out-of-nowhere a character starts singing "Creep" by Radiohead.... among one of many strange pop culture song choices, during the movie, I wondered maybe the movie doesn't really know what it wants to do either. The movie actually begins, at a museum with a school bus tour of, what I guess are the remedial kids in the class, who are taken by the tour guide, Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) into a secret, Mexico room, I guess, and included in that is "The Book of Life", a literal book, with every story ever told in it. (Shrugs, I don't know, this whole conceit was weird) Anyway, this town in Mexico is named San Angel, and it's constantly under the threat of attack by Chakal (Dan Navarro) who's some kind of mystical outlaw that's very powerful, except for not having the Medal of Everlasting Life. The medal, is in the hands of Xibalba (Ron Perlman) who is the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. Oh, this universe has reality, well the reality of the story in the book, in San Angel, then there's two different underworlds, one the Land of the Remembered, run by La Muerta (Kate del Castillo) and is generally pleasant. Very much like a neverending Day of the Dead ceremony with all your past relatives you've cherished, and there's churros there, and then there's the Land of the Forgotten, which is pretty desolate, full of, forgotten souls who have passed and are no longer remember by anybody living; this land's run by Xibalba. Xibalba is the name given to the underworld in Mayan mythology; Muerte is Spanish for Death, and that's about all I can kind find on that, so I don't really know-eh, what, if any meaning I'm supposed to take from that, but Xibalba and La Muerte, in a strange, I guess a Greek-like twist then, are actually married, or were at one point until they separated, or died of whatever and each became in charge of their respected worlds because, La Muerte is nice and Xibalba isn't, I think? Good lord, I haven't touched on the main story yet and already I'm struggling to figure this out. Okay, this whole thing boils down to a bet between La Muerte and Xibalba, Xibalba mainly wanting to be in control of the Land of the Forgotten. Okay, so the Gods, naturally, they're about to start screwing with the humans now.  Anyway, two young boys of San Angel, Manolo (Diego Luna), a legendary son of a long line of bullfighters and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), the son of a legendary soldier and fighter are fighting for the love and attention of Maria (Zoe Saldana), and La Muerte and Xibalba bet on which won will ultimately marry her, La Muerte takes Manolo, Xibalba takes Joaquin. This friends/not-so-friendly battle goes through childhood to adulthood until one of them end up dead, and must then go through both The Lang of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten in order to make it back to Earth back from the dead and fight Chakal to protect the town, and do you realize what the problem with the film is. I have a few issues outside of this, but good lord, there's too much going on. It's a story being told, that's itself has a story within it, that follows this one story, there's three world, two of them underworlds, so it's already kinda half-depressing with all the dead going around, there's the love triangle, there's the outlaw, there's also the family honor thing going, it's essentially mythology with Gods fooling around the mortals, I mean, Jesus! This is a kids' movie? I know, animation but it told to kids, within the movie, and the animation's kinda weird too, I might add, all the characters in this world are designed similar to-eh, like old toy figurines, 'cause the kids see these characters as they see the figurines in the museum, remember we don't even really have stakes 'cause the story is being consciously told to us.... it's way too layered, and not in a good way, it's just constantly, one more thing going on. I get that this is surrealist fantasy, but.... I can see the good intentions but this overwrought and nothing at the same time. I don't know, I guess on another day, I can see myself recommending this, but it went for so much and it ended up losing everything. I mean, this is literally dizzying to me, thinking about how too much is in this story, like, I'm a little light-headed just thinking about this. I mean, if it's too much for a 30-year-old like me, I can't imagine what a kid is looking at this movie and thinking.


COLD IN JULY (2014) Director: Jim Mickle

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Ahh! After a week of mostly boredom and frustration with most of the movies I've been watching, it's nice to come across a nice little deconstructionist action mystery thriller like "Cold in July". It's not a great one or anything, and frankly if you really think about it, it doesn't make that much sense, but what are we taught about good mysteries, folks? Repeat after me; "It's not about whodidit, it's about the process of the solving of the crime." (Pause) Not a single one of you repeated that did you? Ah, screw you all, anyway, "Cold in July", is just a hardboiled, stylized piece of pulp. It's based on a novel by Joe Lansdale, mostly notably from "Jonah Hex" fame, but this is definitely more of a sub- James M. Cain by way of Elmore Leonard, and that's-eh, fine by me. The movie begins with Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) a low-key family man, who one day, shoots and kills a masked intruder (Ken Holmes) in their house. The guy turns out to have been a felon ex-con who's father, Russel (Sam Shepard) was a recently-released felon as well. Feeling guilt, Richard goes to Russel, the kid's only living relative it seems, and he threatens his family. The police at first don't take his threat seriously, but then, they start putting up protection for him and his family as Russel showed up at his son's school. They manage to neutralize Russel but it's around then that Richard suspects that the person he shot in his house, might not be Russel's son after all, and suspects some kind of coverup that the police may or may not be involved with. It takes a while but he gets Russel on board, and he brings in a P.I. from Houston, Jim Bob (Don Johnson) to investigate. Where it goes from here I won't reveal, other than to say that yes, Russel's son Freddy (Wyatt Russell) is indeed alive. "Cold in July" is definitely breakneck. Director Jim Mickle's film is stylized in it's kinetic pace. It takes place somewhere in Texas so it's gotta little Tracy Letts in it's setting a bit, but ultimately "Cold in July" is a bit of a hodgepodge of stories and influences. Some of the parts work better than the whole, but this was mostly just a fun little intense mystery. It doesn't completely make sense, there's a lot of loose ends, but your following it the whole way, you genuinely don't know where you or any of the characters are ultimately going, what they'll find when they get there, or how they'll react when they find it. That's all I really want in a mystery movie, so I'm recommending it.


SAGRADA -- THE MYSTERY OF CREATION (2014) Director: Stefan Haupt

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I seem to getting more of a grasp of Stefan Haupt's work. I just recently saw "The Circle," the latest release from the Swiss documentary filmmaker, which was a combination of a documentary and period piece live action footage about the history of the famous gay magazine. "Sagrada--The Mystery of Creation", is also a documentary that is very much is about the past, while although spreading over periods of time, although this one takes place in modern time. The Sagrada is actually La Sagrada Familia a cathedral in Barcelona originally designed, at least the way it's being constructed now is by Antonio Gaudi. Yeah, being constructed... still. It was designed in the 1880s, but over 125 years later, they're still building the cathedral. It's a monstrous building with a revolutionary constructed that never had enough funding to be completed. If you're like me, you're probably thinking about the epic miniseries, "The Pillars of the Earth", based on Ken Follett's novel, which also often centered around a church that was continuously in construction and being built. The movie goes through the history of the building, and Gaudi even was known for going door-to-door to try to raise funds. The building is still being fought over whether it should get constructed or not. There's zoning issues, there's people wanting to building things over it, under it, etc. The plans were destroyed at one point, and still they kept trying to build it, and they're still trying to build it. I personally found the footage of the current workers on it far more interesting than most of the history. I had similar problems with "The Circle", where the juxtaposition the time periods, no matter what form was more disorienting than anything else, and didn't fully work on a montage perspective to me. It's still interesting enough to recommend though as a piece of modern-day and past history as a look at something that combines humanity, art, architecture, religion, etc. There's a lot of history in this cathedral, past and present.


THE RETRIEVAL (2014) Director: Chris Eska

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I sat through "The Retrieval" twice, trying to figure out why I was struggling with it. I think what it is that ultimately bothers me about this film is just.... it doesn't actually do anything other than, make you think. I know that's a weird complaint but the movie feels like one of those moralistic questions that somebody asks you, like when you're in elementary school, like the one about the husband of the sick wife and the pharmacist who won't sell the drug she needs,... only it's not even actually a question, it just want to make you feel like there's a question being pondered and asked of the audience. "The Retrieval" takes place during the Civil War and Will (Ashton Sanders) is a teenage runaway slave, or at least that's what he seems like. He actually works for white bounty hunters. He gets the trust of fellow fugitive slaves and he then turns them into his bosses who make $600 for each slave. He, and his Uncle, Marcus (Keston John), who might not actually be his uncle but also works for these bounty hunters, They're next project, is to trick a free Black, Nate (Tishuan Scott) to abandon his land temporarily and journey to the South in order to go and see his sick, dying brother one last time. His brother is still a slave, but his master has master has allowed for his brother to come see him, which leads Nate to believe he must be in bad shape. Of course, this is just another ruse but the movie mostly follows this journey of these three African Americans. There's a Terence Malick/David Gordon Green/Joseph Conrad-like tone to this film, and it's well-made for a low budget, but as I gave it a second try, I realize just how hollow this film actually is. I know, it seems like it's saying something, but for one thing, were there actually African-Americans that did this? I know, there were Jews who were choosing to work with the Nazis as oppose to getting destroyed themselves, like in "The Grey Zone" for instance, but this isn't that situation. And wouldn't the bounty hunters just turn in these two African-Americans? It's not like they need someone on the inside to find fugitive slaves and they'd earn more money just turning them in, plus, in the South during the Civil War, they probably could've just killed or capture the runaways on their own. I know, it's probably possible and even likely that some did it, but still..., and I know it's moralistic, but if the situation doesn't even make that much sense in terms of reality then how would it make sense symbolically. That's the other problem, is this a film that makes you ponder and think about the questions it raise? I don't think it is; I'm not even sure it actually raises any questions come to think about it. It wants to be, that's for sure, but think back, you're an African-American in the Civil War.... first of all, not everybody can relate to that. Most questions like these, usually involve a relatable scenario, something that most anybody can empathize with, but this seems to go out of it's way not to do that. And then, it's asking what would you do? Granted, we see what the characters do, and the story itself is rather intriguing, but the way this movie went about this story, giving us moralist conundrum route, instead of telling an interesting Civil War story of an African American tricking another African-American into going South and the journeys they have on the long road down, that's interesting when you say it out loud, but not the way this movie goes about it. This happens occasionally, where I rewatch something, thinking, "Oh, I must've missed something," so I watch it again and it turns out there was nothing there to miss. That's why ultimately I can't really recommend it. I admire the thought, but it's just not the right story to do what it's trying to do.


WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (2001) Director: Ming-liang Tsai

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As you may have noticed this week, there were a lot of movies that I reviewed and for the most part, lately they've been, unimpressive. There's good films here and there but admittedly nothing has been, particularly special, especially this week. It's possible that I might just be too distracted sometimes, most of you probably know that I'm often doing multiple things at once, not just for this blog, but in general. I know this isn't the greatest thing, but honestly, from my experience, great movies will usually present themselves as such and will allow make me focus my attention rather quickly, no matter what I'm doing. That said, occasionally, just to be sure, I do try to watch some things multiple times. "What Time Is It There?" is one that required multiple viewings for me. My original notes for the movie were just confusing more than anything, and I frankly wasn't familiar with Ming-liang Tsai's work before, this was the first one of his that I had seen. After looking up more on him, I gave it a second viewing, and it was still, confusing, there are some strange scenes in this movie so that's an uncommon reaction, but I found something interesting happen, it didn't bother me as hope on a detailed story analysis that our lead character, Hsiao Kang (Kang-sheng Lee) does things like, pee in a plastic bag late at night, or that another character, takes a woven-like basket object and rubs it on her vagina, erotically. No, believe it or not, I found myself feeling more meditative about the movie than before. There's something rather rather calming and transcendental about the movie. The film starts off in Taipei, where Hsiao sells watches on the street. He tries to sell one to Shiang-Chyi (Shiang-Chyi Chen), but she insists on buying the on his wrist, because she's going to Paris the next day. These are two sad and lonely characters, and we follow them. Hsiao's father passes away rather suddenly and his mother is obsessed with thinking that a giant blowfish, or what I thought was a blowfish, but some kind of monstrosity in their aquarium, now possesses the spirit of him. Hsiao also begins finding all the clocks that he can, from around the house and all the ones he sells in his display case, to around the town and starts turning them into Paris time as he's obsessed now with Shiang. BTW, I'm shortening their names for time, I know it's Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-Chyi. Shiang, is fairly lonely in Paris. She takes a lover here and there, including a female one, (Actually all three characters turn to sex to try to combat their struggles) but she's often seen just walking around the city. At a cemetery, she talks to a strange man sitting on a gravestone, that I should mention, but the man she talks to is Jean-Pierre Leaud, and he's playing himself here. "The 400 Blows" is a movie that comes up a few times, and while I had to look this up myself, it's not entirely made clear in the film, but the gravestone he was at was Francois Truffaut's. I don't know how that actually parallels the rest of the character's plights in the film to be honest, but I think emotionally it would play better. I think after two viewings, I still need more of this film to let it fully engross me to where I'd fully appreciate it. The tone is surreal in that it can seem comedic on the outside, but it's also sad and morose. It's too sad to laugh, not tragic enough to cry, but the way in stays in that spot is truly meditative. I'd like another couple viewings, but it's definitely worth the recommendations, and I hope Ming-liang Tsai's other films are just as good if not better.