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
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 with, 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
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
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
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
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 that include, Willem Defoe as 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, with 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 it 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 can kindly point you to better movies.
TUSK (2014) Director: Kevin Smith
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.