In the meantime, I tried to keep up the blog as long as I could; I think I did an okay job despite having to run back and forth to the local library whenever I could (Which is not as often as I'd like to, for various reasons) but when I don't have a computer and I don't have the internet for a long time, basically the only thing I could do was watch movies. Which is fine, that's what something I do anyway, but trying to write about movies, ugh. Normally I can pace myself and find a pattern of how I write reviews, and I did write a few reviews on pen and paper when I could, but man that was just not conducive to good film reviewing, especially at the pace I basically had to work with, which was now faster then normal since I wasn't pausing to write notes and/or reviews between films and then had to sometimes wait three or four days before being rushed at the library to write reviews, ugh. It just, it was getting away from me, and as much as I tried to simply put it aside, I couldn't. I was able to post a couple blogs where I gave ratings and maybe a thought or two on a movie, they were not full reviews most of the time, (And keep in mind, I'm only reviewing the most recent I can at the moment. If it's older than two years now, I can't guarantee that I'll be writing a review for it anymore. Even with that, I couldn't keep up, 'cause most of what I had to watch, were the newer films and releases, [especially since, for much of this time as well, including now, I didn't/don't have my Netflix account up, so that's one more barrier, I had to watch everything recent I could get my hands on]) This really was a hindrance and a pain in the ass. I'm glad now that I'm able to catch up on them now, and for the most part, I've caught up on everything else associated with this blog as well as other work outside of this blog I have. I'm not completely there, but I can actually see a finish line now. I wanted to go back and write full reviews for some of those films I had to include in those Movie Ratings blogs, which you can see by clicking the links below:
Hopefully I won't have to do those again. Well, if for some reason they come up later, I'll talk about them again; one or two of those films might show up on my upcoming Top Ten Best/Worst Lists of 2014, in the future, maybe, we'll see. In the meantime, I'm back for now, and this monstrosity of a movie review blog is me, finally able to post and write movie reviews again. I'm happy; I hope you're all happy also, let's hope that we're official back to normal here.
So, after much delay, let's get to it, for the first time in months, let's get to the MOVIE REVIEWS! YEAH!
AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) Director: Clint Eastwood
No, I don't really look at Chris Kyle as any kind of hero. Not that I'm not impressed by his accomplishments but this is a somewhat sanitized perspective on him. Not an inaccurate one per se, maybe incomplete. The guy was a racist and who was known for making outrageous, racist claims. That's not to say that I'm not glad that at least he was on our side, perhaps I just wish he had done this with a better war than he did, but I can't blame him for that."American Sniper is hardly the first movie about a legendary war sniper, every war seems to have one of them, "Sergeant York" and "To Hell and Back" are the obvious movie comparison although the film actually has more in common with "The Hurt Locker" as it's really about the single-visioned perspective of a man who thrives in times of war and is not completely capable of surviving in a world of peace. Perhaps his hatred and racism is apart of how a person like Chris Kyle could exist, but it's hardly the only reason and Director Clint Eastwood is never that simplistic. He doesn't so much glorify or even judge the war itself; he frames the action, with more immediacy, 'cause when you're on the battlefield it isn't a matter of political or personal beliefs. In the movie anyway, perhaps showing some hindsight, he joins the Navy Seals after the bombings at the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and he was brought up to be an amazing sniper shot. We see him making numerous kills and see him on the roof and on the ground, circumnavigating the war, and invading homes and seeing the legitimate bad guys from the good guys even when there facade is well-hidden. He spent his early years trying his hand at rodeo, which was nothing successful enough to bring up. He finds his place in war, going back multiple times over, long after most of the other soldiers there originally had gone and left, or passed or have rethought and reevaluated their thoughts on the war. It's hard to really get a read on this film, but I think it's also hard to get a read on Kyle. He's definitely more adept at war than he is at home where his wife Taya (Sienna Miller), who's very good here although the more I think about it, her character basically feels mostly like a typical military wife and not much more honestly. And while somebody will mention it, but honestly, I didn't notice the fake baby. Seriously, I didn't; I forgot to look for it and I didn't notice. My bigger problem with the movie is the ending, there's a scene that basically shows the last morning of Kyle's life. Kyle was killed by a crazed vet who he went out to the shooting range with, as he had begun working with soldiers at home that suffered from PTSD, and this soldier went off. I don't mind mentioning his death, but the way it comes across here, so obligatory and really unneeded. It put the same sour taste in my mouth at the end of Spielberg's otherwise masterful film "Lincoln". "American Sniper" is good, but not a really great film. It's an interesting biopic but it's hardly one that I'd call a great film. I'm actually kinda surprised so many people were taken with the movie. Eastwood's a good filmmaker and he's great at setting the tone here, but other wise, there's only a few great moments of tension, like his constant struggle to take out Mustafa (Sammy Sheik) a famed Olympic caliber Syrian sniper that's essentially Kyle's Iraqi counterpart. Those little battles and struggles within the greater struggle were interesting as action, where I think Eastwood and the film falters is that Kyle doesn't really suffer from those same struggle himself and therefore there's no counterpoint. He's a great sniper and soldier and the sad part is that that might be all there actually is to Chris Kyle.
CITIZENFOUR (2014) Director: Laura Poitras
I haven't quite figured out exactly who Edward Snowden in 'CitizenFour" reminds me of, but there is something about his tone and behavior that strikes me as familiar. The laid back behavior, the scruffy face, the slightly poetic pauses within his talking patterns. I can't quite put my finger on it, but.... Anyway, this is a strange movie to review. It's really...- well, Geoffrey Cheshire's review on Rogerebert.com explains it well, it's like seeing the behind the scenes or somebody like Daniel Ellsberg releasing The Pentagon Papers, if that's how you want to see Edward Snowden. Laura Poitras, probably most famous for her Oscar-nominated film "My Country, My Country", was tagged by the CIA for making a trilogy of films about, essentially a lot of what Snowden revealed, that I'll shorthandedly refer to as "Top Secret America". He's currently been given a temporary residency in Russia and to be honest, I'm not 100% sure about how I feel about him and about his whistleblowing. I guess I have a slightly more favorable view of him than I do, Julian Assange who's single-mindedly after complete transparency even if it hurts or kills others, Snowden isn't about that, he's mostly just frustrated with the techniques that the government's using secretly, particularly in how it's secretly often spying on it's own people through numerous various morally-questionable and illegal means. I guess where I tend to come down on this, while I'm completely in favor of whistleblowing, but only really when it's truly essential to really reveal the information to the public and needs to be known. I guess that's a weird line, I get exposing corruption, illegal activity, criminal corporate masterminds, etc. I just worry about exposing the government actions, partly 'cause of what is revealed and partly 'cause there's not much worth revealing. (That was my big issue with Assange, revealing everything even when there's no real point to expose most of the information.) Anyway, Snowden, we see got ahold of Poitras as well as journalist Glenn Grenwald and they begin interviewing and essentially following him, almost like those documentarians did for "By the People", about Obama's Election in '08, oddly enough. Sometimes they're in close to the action other times, it's all secondhand and following as they and Snowden slowly begin making the news. Snowden's clear from the beginning that he's completely aware that he's going to be revealed and in fact, wants to come out as soon as the story is about the illegal activities that started under Bush and then expanding under Obama. Of course, that was naive, but I admire him that he tried and he's make a good point about being unable to defend himself against the crimes because there isn't, essentially a morality standard against claims of treason and yeah, that's not good. I was never bought into the notion that Obama was going to be this great black hope that fixes everything, but I guess some were caught offguard by that and find his actions in this regard abhorrent, perhaps I was just more prepared to be disappointed. The remarkable thing about "CitizenFour" on top of the eyewitness and frankly, major player it is to history is seeing just how unremarkable the movie is. It's really kind of a gritty spy thriller with the look of a home movie camera that just happens to be focusing on this, smart and yet very moralistic person who came off to me as very small. Not in apparance, but unimpressive. He seems like a cool guy, but no, he's not this great heroic person, he's really quite laid back, and doesn't really seem that strongminded about his actions, although he's all-too-aware of what he's doing and fairly comfortable with the fact that he's now done them and is now apart of the history book. The title comes from his name codename that he used to reach out to the filmmakers, mentioning that he didn't chose them, they chose themselves by looking into Top Secret America themselves. I don't know, it's a fascinating documentary and it won the Oscar this year and I guess I see why. It's very much a film that's all essentially, pulling back the curtain. Pulling the curtain on the government the way Snowden did, the movie pulling the curtain on Snowden and of course, the surprisingly cold and quiet look at what Snowden was actually going, the very unimpressive-seeming way that history can be created by people who themselves, you know, don't really seem like people who would be so willing to plop into history. All in all, I'm impressed; I probably respect the movie more than I liked it, but still very important documentary.
LEVIATHAN (2014) Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Okay, fair warning, one of the problems with not having a regular internet, at least for me, is that, I can only take so many notes on the films I watch; I have pretty bad handwriting and that doesn't usually matter since I can barely find a pen that writes anyway with my luck, so I usually type my notes on films, and when I can't do that..., oh boy. "Leviathan" is one of those movies I really needed to be watching with a computer nearby to take notes with, 'cause there's way too much sullenness and subtle grandeur here for me to fully remember or comprehend however many weeks too long it's been since I saw it, ugh! (Most of you know, I generally only review about two weeks worth of films at a time and this post I'm reviewing..., well, more than that. Okay, I remember that I liked "Leviathan" a lot, that it was a lot of work to get through, the setting of Russia near the Arctic was a cold and brooding counterpoint to the surprising modern local corruption story at the forefront; while it's not placed this way, it actually is structured somewhat similar to a classic film noir, something like "Chinatown" perhaps. One of the films influences actually is an America story about Marvin Heemeyer who bulldozed a Colorado city hall and other buildings after being screwed over his land by a local government ruling. One of it's influences, there's some others, but that's the most tangible one to discuss. The plot revolves around Nikolay (Aleksay Serebryakov) who's hired a lawyer and an old friend Dmitry (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to help him out as the town's corrupt mayor, Mer (Roman Madyanov) is working around the law in order to gain possession of the property and kick Nikolay, his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and his son Romka (Sergey Pokhodaev) off the property. He believes the mayor just wants a mansion by the lake, although he does seem to have other plans, although it's still construction for profit. Soon, Dmitry gets something on the Mayor and begins to try to hold him up for the land himself. That would be where the tension seems to be, but Dmitry also ends up having an affair with Nikolay's wife, mostly she's having an affair out of boredom, and he's there. She's Nikolay's second wife, and not Romka's mother, and this is something that frustrates him. There's also Nikolay's drunken anger and frustration in general getting himself in trouble. Then.... well, most of the reviews I seem to be running into are giving away the next plot point, I'm-eh, I'm actually more reluctant to give it away, not that it's so unpredictable, but I think they're giving away too much by saying what happens, other than to say that this isn't gonna end up good for Nikolay. This is a fairly cold dark movie that revels in the worst aspects of local government and corruption, and it spreads across all parts of it. "Leviathan" was one of the Foreign Language Oscar nominees this year and it deserved to be. It's this strange combination of a very small story that seems so much bigger and foreboding. The title, "Leviathan" refers to a giant skeleton of some kind of monstrous creature that almost seems to have come from the sea, like it's trapped in time in some kind of evolutionary mishap that both haunts and encompasses the world surrounding them. "Leviathan"'s a deep film, that's critical of Russia as well as numerous other things. There's no heroes, just a system that screws over some, is overtaken and used by others for their own purpose and favors those willing to do anything to get what they want.
INTO THE WOODS (2014) Director: Rob Marshall
Apparently a lot of people were readily familiar with this Stephen Sondheim musical than I was; I honestly never heard of it until this movie, but based on what I can tell, this was one of the first big examples of this modern wave of fairy tale, eh, well, I hate using this term but let's face it, this is basically a fan fiction re-imagining. See uh "Once Upon a Time..." or for that matter most every fairy tale movie since. (And half of the "Wizard of Oz" reworkings since as well) That's not a bad thing, ; I actually have a small idea for one myself that I'm drafting out for a script as well, and I won't go into my twist ideas on it, but I do like the idea of trying to take a knew look and approach to Still, I am a little more blinder than most going into this film; I easily could've confused it for something that, say the same people that made "Frozen" might've come up with. That said, I did enjoy "Into the Woods", although the more I think about, it really is kind of a mess. I'm told there's lot of deletions and altering from the original musical, (Sondheim-approved ones, although some will be quick to give that blame to Disney) and the tone of the musical is apparently, well, no pun intended here, but more grimmer. (Although for Disney, this was pretty grim, I must say.) The movie is more based on Grimm's version of these Fairy Tales, and I'll try to keep up with them, somehow to give a brief rundown of the story. First, there's a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who want a child. The Witch (Oscar-nominee Meryl Streep) promises to life the curse that's preventing them from having a child, if they go on a scavenger hunt for her and attain four specific items, a white cow, a red cape, a yellow hair, and a gold slipper. This involves the two of them, getting in contact with, among others, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Maury) and Cinderella I believe. (Anna Kendrick) That's the simple-to-explain, first act of this movie, and I'm not even gonna pretend I can follow or even remember how or what happens next. Not that it's incomprehensible or bad how convoluted this fairy tale is, but trying to explain what happens in it, especially if I were to say explain the events to somebody who hasn't seen it....- Yeah, I'm not doing that. They're a bunch of fairy tale characters, and they all get weaved in and out of this story in numerous different revisionist ways. On that basis, it's fun enough, even if it's a little long, although I now finally get where that reference to "No, it isn't my fault..." came from, as the characters used they're eleven o'clock number to backtrack on what exactly has happened and figure out who to blame. Meryl Streep got nominated for playing the Witch, which, fine. There's a good ensemble work here, but, and I'll get some crap for this, but as much as I love Meryl Streep, and I do, they've got to stop nominating her for every damn performance. She's fine, good here,, but yeah, I'm questioning that nomination, mostly 'cause I'm not sure I'd single out anybody in particular for the film. If anybody, maybe James Corden's performance struck me the most, but there's so many here, that I almost think it's a personal preference more than anything. Maybe I should rank this as an incomplete film, I'm not really qualified to determine it's quality compared to the original and I'm not particularly sure how to analyze it alone. I can see how in the mid '80s, this would've been refreshing and twistedly dark, and well-timed to as the Disney Renaissance was just about to break, Nowadays though, with so much similar work out there that might've at one time been inspired by this musical, in every medium right now, I feel that whatever was special about "Into the Woods" originally has just kinda gotten lost through time now. I'm sure it's buried somewhere deep within the movie, and what I did see I liked, and it's well-made, I can't quite see claiming it's anything more than that however. Well, I will say it's easily Rob Marshall's best film since "Chicago", I'll give it that; it's certainly the first good one he's made since "Chicago", so hopefully this is a turnaround for him.
TIMBUKTU (2014) Director: Abderrahame Sissako
I'm not overly familiar with Abderrahame Sissako; but I have seen his most noted film in the west, "Bamako", which is also named after a Malian city. That film, was much more modern and was about a young singer dealing with her parents upcoming divorce. "Timbuktu", is a more ancient city I believe. It's also in recent years, been a battle ground for a few warring terroristic tribes. "Timbuktu" the latest film from Sissako and the first film from Mauritania to receive a foreign language Oscar nomination is I believe not to be taken too literally as a document of life in Timbuktu, under the command of one of these religion jihadist groups, but rather a fablistic tale of life under these conditions, this complicated, contradicting world. It's cliche now to show jihadist or for that matter anyone from a country that occupies under old dogmatic beliefs of the Qu'ran and other religious texts, to be shown talking on their cell phones, but it's a little more unusual to see them smoking cigarettes or talk about their favorite European soccer teams, just typical hypocrisy while showing them punishing their subjects for things as simple as singing or being a woman in the same room as a man who's not her husband. "Roll Up Your Pants, it's a new law", said at one point, to those unaware that the law had been changed, along with the banning of music and other such things. The story revolves around Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) a cattleman who gets into a violent fight with another cattleman who kills one of his cows. There's also his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) gets involved also after they struggle to administer justice, or for that matter law. The plot isn't really as important as the life of the people anyway. The movie is gorgeous, "Timbuktu" is a meditation more than anything else. It's a good one and a powerful one. I wish there was a little more to it 'cause I suspect the film can be more, but it's still haunting. There's other good movies about living under the reign of jihad, but this is a good one, mostly because of the filmmaking, not the story. I think that's why I'm more reluctant towards it, Sissako's a great filmmaker, and never more shown here. He succeeds in creating the mood and to me, that's all the film is, but that's also all he was trying to do. I'm conflicted because I think this could've been more, but okay.
WILD TALES (2014) Director: Damian Szifron
"Wild Tales" is one of the absolute very best films of the year. I have not said those words much this year, but oh boy, this film absolutely earned it. It's hard to describe "Wild Tales" or why this collection of, what are essentially short stories are so entertaining, but they are. It's fun, kinetic, each story is twisted, only one of the 5 1/2 wild tales in "Wild Tales" I found predictable and even that one, took a different direction getting there that I thought it would. There's a few themes and motifs that get repeated. Paramedics and hospitals, and ergo death and murder, strangely, broken glass for some reason, transportation plays a major role in most of the stories, but the key motif is revenge and that thirst for it that inevitably leads to madness. The first story, after the surreal opening involving passengers on an airplane who discover they have something in common, "Las Ratas", takes place in a diner, as the waitress at a rundown diner spots a customer from her hometown that her and her family ran away from in the past. The cook suggests poisoning him with rat poison, and things get complicated when his son enters the restaurant later in the evening. The next story, "El Mas Pluenta" is basically a twisted twenty minute remake of Steven Spielberg's "Duel" as two guys battle each other on the road. The third story, "Bombasa" involves a father who's car was towed away, despite not parking in a lane with a yellow strip, to clarify that parking was illegal. he tries to get the DMV to listen to his plea, but they insist that he pay the fines instead of investigating his claim. How this one ends is just genius. The fourth, probably the least fun of the stories, but still entertaining, involves a father who's son has just run over and killed a pregnant woman. He's rich and is trying to buy his son out of jail, first by having the gardener take the fall for the son, as long as the lawyer can get him down to a lesser time in prison, that is until the lawyer and then the investigating officer arrive and also want money for helping the coverup, making the father question exactly whether or not he can actually afford to cover up his son's crime. The last and my favorite story, "Hasta que La Muerte Nos Separe", takes place at what for all intensive purposes seems like a pretty happy wedding, until the wife, realizes that her husband has invited over somebody who she suspects correctly, was his mistress. If you think I've given away a lot, trust me, I have not, in any of these stories (Especially the last one, this is one of the absolutely most insane wedding scenes I've ever seen on film). In that last one, Erica Riyas, who played the bride, gives the best performance in a film of great performances. I don't know all the actors names offhand, without double-checking Imdb.com and going back and forth, but I made sure to remember her name. It lives up to the title, "Wild Tales" is just a wild random collection of tales. They're not related in any way, there's no connecting of the stories, it's just a bunch of a small tales. There's been movies like this before, most comparably, probably the "I Love You" movies, most famously, "Paris, Je T'Aime", which are also a collection of short films cobbled together with a theme, those films are also made by numerous different directors however. "Wild Tales" was made by one guy, writer/director Damian Szifron, it's the first of his films I've seen, and his first film in almost a decade; he's mostly worked in television in South America. This film earned a Foreign Language Oscar nomination and it should've won. It's a refreshing, exciting movie that's constantly got you on the edge of your seat and is finding new ways to entertain, and especially in this genre, where even at it's best, these anthology movies, there's usually gonna be one or two stories that aren't as good or entertaining and the rest of the films, not here. All the stories are great and entertaining. This is one of the most exciting and best films of the year,
VIRUNGA (2014) Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Subconsciously, I knew about the rare mountain gorillas and how their existence was essentially under the cover of warfare. I always associate them with the country of Rwanda, and I guess I remembered the devastation that occurred there, but I never really thought much about it, other than my much more than my own superficial fascination with world geography. "Virunga" is a national park in the Northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, and the area is where the mountain gorillas are protected. The area, on top of a long history of war and whatnot, is where oil is was founded in 2010, and now the numerous tribes are fighting, over the oil rights, and over the land, and British Petroleum's involved, and... basically, it's more of, well, Africa. The movie was mostly intended to be a look at the conservationists who protected the gorillas, but they were caught in the middle of this drastic war between everybody. I remember years ago watching a National Geographic documentary on people, I believe in the Kalahari who protected against animal poachers, they were a literal environmental army that was formed to protect endangered species. This movie, documents another such group of soldiers It earned both an oscar nomination, as well as a few Emmy nominations since Netflix picked up the film and showed in theaters and, I guess on television, something's that particularly weird, and I'm sure they'll fix some rules about that, but this is a strong documentary, that continually evolves and grows, although I kinda think that's a bit of a fault; I would've rather just hung out more with the rangers and watch their day-to-day job on normal times, but well, I guess this is normal for them now.
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (2014) Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
I'm usually more of a defender of the Dardenne Brothers but I gotta be honest on this one, this is one of their weaker films. Perhaps, part of it is because this is the first time they're using a professional actor in their film, but I suspect there's something else going on. They've always used amateur actors before and their characters have always been on the fringes of society in some way, but I also always got the sense that their films were more personal and were about the interesting characters and dilemmas they go through. Films like "Le Fils (The Son)", "L'Enfant" and "The Kid with a Bike" were strong 'cause they created strong characters that we usually like or were at least fascinating enough to follow through. "Two Days, One Night" seems more conceptual and is as much about the situation the characters are in, then the characters themselves. If they're work was more Dreyer and Bresson-influenced before this one feels more Italian Neorealist; you can really sense how Vittorio di Sica would've probably dealt with this material. Marion Cotillard got an Oscar nomination for playing Sandra, a mother who works at some kind of blue collar job. She's just come out of an unspecified depression, but the main plot involves her trying to convince her coworkers to ler her keep her job. Basically, they can either have her stay on, or have her fired and they get a nice bonus with the extra money. You can basically see where this is heading from here and there isn't much else to the film. It's an interesting moral dilemma, I guess; I think that's the problem, it's a scenario more than a film. A good scenario, one I recommend, but ye-ah.... That's probably why they went with Cotillard, 'caure their really isn't much of a character to her when you get right down to it, so a good actress can give it extra depth. I guess she's okay in it but, while she's in every scene, it doesn't feel like she had much to work with. I've been underwhelmed a lot this year and the Dardenne Brothers are unfortunately not an exception this year. Another good, but not great film. Maybe it's a high-standard thing, but yeah, a disappointment.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015) Director: Matthew Vaughn
Whether or not you like "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is probably based mostly on, whether or not you like the style of "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" which is somewhere between James Bond parody a la, "Get Smart" mixed with actual James Bond slickness and old-time "Wild Wild West" absurdity, (The TV show, not the Will Smith movie) and there's probably some slick "The Avengers" in it, both the British show and a little of the comic book films. Well, I liked the style, so I liked the movie. It's absurd, ridiculous, and at times it doesn't completely work, but you know what, I kinda thought most of it was cool. The Kingsmen, are some kind of bizarre CONTROL-like secret organization that's inside a high-end tailor shop where they protect the world from, whatever, this world's version of CHAOS is, represented in this movie by Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) a lispy multi-billionaire who's trying to destroy the majority of the human race through giving away free SIM cards to everyone for,-, it doesn't matter, other than that somehow this plan involved kidnapping Mark Hamill and holding princesses and Iggy Azalea in a secret underground prison. (Put your own jokes here) The main superspy for the Kingsmen is Harry Hart, code named Galahad, and he's bringing up a potential new Kingsmen, an unlikely candidate named Eggy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and eventually, (And yes it takes awhile) he does become the new kingsmen and gets his bulletproof tuxedo and his umbrella shield that's also a sonic gun. That's just awesome. There's other characters, but the movie is actually about the tone anyway. Matthew Vaughn's really good at choosing the best approach to these kind of films, he also did "Kick-Ass" which was flawed but fun as well, but he also did what's easily the best "X-Men" movie "First Class" which was appropriately sincere and dark; he's not making this over the top and ridiculous because that's all he knows, there's a wink and a nod here because it's the appropriate approach to the material. The movie's well-made and well-casted and it's just a lot of fun. Maybe too much, the movie is erratic, but overall I definitely enjoyed the world that was created in "Kingsmen..." and that's pretty much the only real appeal of the movie anyway, and like I said, I liked it, so overall, I enjoyed the movie.
CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (2015) Director: Olivier Assayas
I can already feel some of the criticisms I'll get for overly-praising "Clouds of Sils Maria". What are you doing, this movie makes no sense, nothing happens, except Kristen Stewart's character (SPOILER EDIT) and you're giving this 5 STARS? Well, yeah, I can a few pretentious holes in the film, but it's one of the most thrilling movies I've seen so far this year. Yeah, thrilling. It's tension-filled, it's mysterious, it's quixotic, there's a bit of an enigma trapped in a meta-film about films, or acting really. Olivier Assayas has made some good films in the past, and a lot of his movies are reflective in some way. "Summer Hours" was about a family fighting over a house they've all grown up in, "Something in the Air" was a reflective look at Paris in the late '60s, even "Clean", was about characters who were tortured by their actions in the past and how they've left them damaged in the present, so it's definitely a motif that he's been working on, at least, I have to admit to not having gone further back in his filmography than that but so "Clouds of Sils Maria" is the best of his recent films. Maria Enders is a legendary French actress of stage and screen, who was on her way to Zurich to give a speech for the Wilhelm Melchior who casted her in her most legendary breakthrough role when he passes away suddenly. She still accepts the honor for him, although the event is more somber. What's really important is that she's offered a part in a remake/loose sequel of the director's previous film. He had started supposedly working on a sequel, and Wilhelm's widow Rosa (Angela Winkler) is trusting the notes to a new German hotshot director, Klaus (Lars Eidinger) to do a new version of the play, only with Maria now playing the character opposite who she played before. (Oh, um, I'm trying to be vague here without giving too much away, but the play is about a lesbian romance between an older boss and her younger subordinate, she originally played the subordinate, Sigrid, but twenty years later, she's being asked to play Helena, the boss.) Klaus also is trying to get a talented but somewhat or a tabloid trainwreck actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) to play opposite her. Now, believe it or not, this is actually mostly backstory what I've just told, and I'm still leaving things out btw, and the movie itself, is about Maria and her personal assistant Valentine (Stewart) staying at Wilhelm's older home at Sils Maria for a couple weeks, mostly discussing and debating the play, running lines with each other, as well as talking about Hollywood movies, and other things. Romance, ancient history, most of it revolving around the play and Maria's struggle to be able to play Helena, who she's not capable of seeing as a complete or compelling character. It's this debate over the text that's fascinating, what this actually is, is a real look inside the acting process, at least that's the part I got out of it, but that's really just one level, this movie works on about seven or eight. The movie became famous here because Kristen Stewart became the first American actor to ever win a Cesar Award, the French equivalent of the Oscars, and she is amazing in this film. Although I've usually found her to be amazing; I'm never gotten into more arguments over an actor than over Kristen Stewart and it's mostly because everybody saw "Twilight", and think she can't act, ignoring pretty much every other movie she's ever been in, (Well, "Snow White & The Huntsman", but nobody acted well in that movie) where she's usually been at least passable, and usually amazing, and this might be her best performance yet, playing off a typically stellar Binoche performance, this movie has this interesting subtext of not two different ages of actresses but also the kinds of actors they are. Valentine even makes a defense for the power of the modern-day Hollywood comic-book sci-fi/fantasy films for creating interesting characters usually out of fantasy creatures. "Clouds of Sils Maria", works as a commentary on the film and theater worlds at large, but it oddly works best just as a compelling story of these two characters. It's one of the first truly great films of 2015, at least of the films I've seen so far.
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (2015) Director: Alex Gibney
On top of all the other movies I'm behind on reviewing, I also got around to watching "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" which, for reasons that aren't worth explaining, despite being an Emmy winning documentary is actually eligible for the Academy Awards this year, so it qualifies for me to review. (Somebody's gotta get the Television Academy and the A.M.P.A.S. together so they can figure out how to fucking fix this.) Anyway, I'm probably the last one who's getting around to talking about this, and since I've got another dozen or so films to get through, I'll make this brief, yes it's an amazing documentary. I think I prefer Gibney's last HBO film, "Mea Maxima Culpa..." but yeah, there's a lot here and it's deserving to win all the praise it's been getting. And it does give us, much more of a disturbing look inside the inner workings at the highest levels of Scientology than ever before. I've heard stories before, although I didn't get around to reading the book this was based on, but yeah, there's a lot of levels involved here with all the conspiratorial and downright illegal actions of the church, not to mention the bizarre holds they have over celebrities, in particular Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Some of the claims are more shocking than others, but this is still a great investigative worker from one of the best filmmakers, documentary or otherwise today. It's definitely worth watching, catch it on HBO, and will, in a just world, unless it's just a damn great years for theatrical documentaries, this should get an Oscar nomination for Documentary Feature.
PREDESTINATION (2015) Directors: The Spierig Brothers
The concept of "Predestination", started with John Calvin and was a subset of the Protestant Reformation, mostly distinctive from Protestants in Calvin's belief in that free will doesn't in fact exist and that all of our actions and destinies are predetermined by God. I have no idea if Michael and Peter Spierig had that concept in mind while making "Predestination"; I doubt it, but maybe. It's what I thought the movie was about going in, but, oh well. Instead, we do get a strangely interesting twisted little compelling thriller, that's, probably nothing more than a god 90-minute "The Twilight Zone" episode, but I enjoyed it. Now, the plot is a little complicated, so I'm gonna try to dance around giving too much away. The main character is only known as Barkeep (Ethan Hawke), although that's misleading, what he actually is what's called here a "temporal agent", which means he travels through time in order to adjust the past/future, the main person he's after is a notorious terrorist known as the Fizzle Bomber who has been blowing up bombs all over New York City for years, terrifying the city. Now, that seems like a major plot, but actually the movie revolves around a bar patron who's an anonymous true confessions writer named "Unmarried Mother" (Sarah Snook). You know, those pieces of personal fantasies at the back of trashy women's magazines? This leads to a telling of a story about Jane, an orphaned girl who excelled at most everything, school-related, including beating up everyone who picked on her, and she was picked out to work at SpaceCorp, an early NASA subsect that was selecting women to go off into space, and begin colonizing space stations and whatnot. Basically, they're unusually well-adept and overly-qualified and capable fluff girls for the male astronauts, at least that's what it seems, but even within this secret sub organization, there's another secret organization seeking out....- You know what, let's stop there, not that it makes any more sense at the end, but...- First of all, I'm not overly familiar with Sarah Snook's acting work, but she gives a really amazing performance here. I know it's an early in 2015 film, but I hope somebody remembers this Australian actress for it; she is really incredible here and by the looks of some of the projects she's gotten since, people have. Ethan Hawke, as always is pretty strong, even though this is another one of those dark and brooding indy thriller performances from him, that usually grates on me, but this is too well-made of a film to ignore. There's a lot of twists and turns in the movie, not that you won't see them coming, but they're all done well enough in the moment that it makes for a compelling feature. It's an interesting twist on the time travel movie, I'm not sure what else is particularly special about it, except for Snook's performance, and even that's more than I really needed. Nice way they puts some pieces together of other films and genres and made a good story, told differently enough to keep you interested, if not necessarily guessing.
MCFARLAND, USA (2015) Director: Niki Caro
It's fine. It's a typical, Disney sports drama, based on real life, blah, blah, blah, the same kind they've been making, fairly regularly since, "Remember the Titans". There's nothing particularly special about it, other than this one involving the legendary McFarland High School Cross Country Team that won the California state championship in '87 and then created a dynasty in the sport, and the focus is how the coach, this one played by Kevin Costner, is bringing his family to this fruit picking, immigrant labor, barely-a-town somewhere between Bakersfield and Mexico, so the film has the added aspect of Mexican culture shock for him and his family, although for the audience, it mostly just feels like they combined a sports film with "Stand and Deliver", but it's an interesting world I guess and cross country is a bit of an unusual sport to use, so it's nice, I guess it's nice to see the dynamics of that sport being showcased. Mostly however, I'm just wondering why the hell this movie was popular and important enough to warrant a spot on my Netflix queue; the way I heard people talking about this film you would've thought this was a major film that I had to eventually see. Mostly, I'm disappointed that the movie isn't a documentary on the spread of Seth McFarland's influence all over the country, which is probably what I secretly hoped this movie was while I put it off and put it off, before finally getting around to it, but other than that, it's fine. It's full of cliches, the wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) mad at the forgetful father disappoint his own kids, while training a ragtag team of nobodies, who don't believe anything, were never told they were good enough for anything other than working in the fields. Okay, there's a couple good scenes where we do see the coach actually picking grapes with the team, as they have to hold down a part-time job in the field and go to school, and train for cross-country running, something that ironically, the new coach has never taught before; he was a football coach originally,.... I mean, it's a nice story, I don't have an issue the movie, some of these movie can really be great, one of my best friends ran cross-country in high school, and she was good at it, but I-eh, I don't know, I can't make myself say that I needed to have seen "McFarland, USA". I mean, I guess in, what was it, '87 this movie took place in? Yeah, I guess it was a little unusual and a bit of culture shock for a white family to suddenly move into a Mexican-American run town, I get it, I've lived in Las Vegas for much of my life, I'm still taken back sometimes at how many Mexican restaurants their are around. (Oh, eh, I don't usually eat Mexican food; it's a mini rivalry in the food world, Mexican vs. Italian, which is what I am, and we're supposedly much similar to each other than we admit, foodwise, and, yada, yada, yada. It's stupid, I know, but I'm starting to come around on Mexican food, a Roberto's opening up within walking distance definitely helps.) Anyway, I guess I just don't really relate to it, and besides, I'm not crazy about the white hero going into a poor neighborhood and learning about the culture of others narrative in general, even if it is true, the story could've been told through one of the kids' perspectives, yada, yada, yada. Yeah, not new complaints, for this kind of film, etc. That's my problem; it's a fine movie, it's just not really something that anybody needs to see, 'cause we've most likely already seen it 100x before, often done better, sometimes done much worst, granted, but (Shrugs) it's just not a film that I absolutely had to go seek out or anything.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS (2015) Director: Richard LaGravenese
The latest Anne Kendrick musical-, oh my god, that's a genre now! How the fuck did that happen?! Uh, anyway, the latest, "The Last Five Years" is by far the worst and I'm gonna start at the top here, the music is terrible! I'm told this is a popular musical from Jason Robert Brown but there's not a single memorable song from this movie. Half of them sound the same, occasionally there's a funny idea or line, and I know, essentially this is an opera, (I won't go so far to say "rock opera") so the dialogue is sung and whatnot, and I'll admit to having questionable musical taste, with my conspicuously high amount of Jewel CDs that I still listen to, but I can't think of a song from this movie I ever want to hear again. Admittedly, the movie's half screwed for me already 'cause of this, but that's only the first problem. The movie follows Cathy (Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) as it documents their relationship over a five-year period through song, with Cathy's songs starting from the end of the romance and going backwards and the guys songs starting at the beginning of the relationship and going forward because,-... um, eh, I don't know; I think the author thinks he saw Harold Pinter did it once or whatever, there's no point to it. Cathy is a struggling New York actress who takes a lot of Summerstock work in Ohio, while Jamie is suddenly the next huge up-and-coming wonder boy in the literary world and falls into the trappings of being 23 and a huge successful novelist. basically, it's every other bad New York City independent movie ever made. It's what happens when "Listen Up Philip" thinks it's "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". I don't even know what else to say, it's a boring tired plot of a movie with boring tired musical numbers...;- I can't even imagine how this would be better on stage; there's literally nothing here I haven't seen done better multiple times over. It's not even horribly awful for a musical that you can see it as camp like "Rock of Ages", except for maybe director Richard LaGravenese's strange choice of some Bergmanesque two-shots a la 'Scenes from a Marriage" and this movie's romance is nowhere near interesting enough to rip off Bergman. It's bad in dull and uninteresting ways and it's dull and bad for a musical.
THE MAZE RUNNER (2014) Director: Wes Ball
Apparently, this movie, already has a sequel out; I have no idea why. Well, I do kinda have an ideas, "The Maze Runner" is another, attempt at taking a popular series of young adult novels that I've never heard of and adapting them to the big screen, and this one by James Dashner, actually was made before the similar-themed "The Hunger Games" books that have become popular are relatively good, but this has started and-, look I know there's exceptions to this, but most "Young adult" books sucked. They really did. I know they're popular, and there's exception, I'm a little older than most, my era didn't have anything better than "The Outsiders" and "The BFG", we didn't have "Harry Potter..." but really, this is not a fruitful for movie adaptations. I read Nancy Drew like every other young boy,- (The Hardy Boys were idiots; I read Nancy Drew; not apologizing for that) and I guess one day I'd like to see an adaptation of OT Nelson's "The Girl Who Owned a City", out of curiosity, although finding that many good kid actors is probably impossible, but overall young adult is basically a genre for people either read everything, or,- you know, that weird area where you were too old for "The Babysitters Club", but you know, not old enough for John Updike, which lasted, what, 5th grade, maybe, if you were an idiot? Once you're old enough to read them, you were mature enough to deal with other writers. (Alright, maybe not Updike, but I was reading Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson at that time) Of these "The Maze Runner", is, another one. Honestly, this movie did feel like a maze, not in a good way; it just was confusing and pointless. I'm sure it probably makes more sense, in the book,-, well, as much sense as putting a bunch of teenagers inside a labyrinth and, I don't know, having them destroy each other, or put them in a test involving them destroying each other in a dystopian,-, I-eh, look I know, I'm trying to remember a lot more movies at the moment then I care to, 'cause of my recent computer problems, leaving me unable to type up reviews when they're fresher in my mind, but what the hell was this?! I was just befuddled at what the hell was going on, and after Patricia Clarkson showed up to explain everything, I still was left with more questions than answers, and maybe that's why there's a sequel, but that I didn't mean I wanted those questions answered! There's a group of kids, there's other groups of kids; ugh, I don't know. This film, was a mess of random bullshit; you can edit this movie in literally any order and it wouldn't make much difference. In fact, when I watched this movie on HBOGO, I accidentally did that a few times, as I stopped and restarted the movie a couple times, after other people in the house also watched the film, and I didn't notice the difference, until way later, then I went back, it doesn't matter. It's a mixture of a lot of other films, smashed together, and made just overly confusing. I try to get to popular sequels of movies that I don't even like, if they're important; I really hope I get to skip the sequel to this, maybe it's better, but that movie's gonna have to do so much to even get me to care, that I can't imagine that it's gonna be worth it.
THE KILL TEAM (2014) Director: Dan Krauss
The military has always been a breeding ground for some of the more violence-prone to act out their frustrations and to some extent, live out their more murderous and perverted desires. Not to, demean all the branches or anything, as they say, a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch, and "The Kill Team" is about the few bad apples. There's been quite a few stories about the behavior of our military over the years of these wars, and a few documentaries, detailing some of the more egregious behavior they've practiced, Errol Morris's "Standard Operation Procedure" is probably the best of these films, detailing the abuses at Abu Ghraib. "The Kill Team" details Private Adam Winfield a member of the Fifth Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry Division, where five American soldiers were accused of murdering three Afghan civilians. One of them, Specialist Adam C. Winfield, is the focus of the movie. Director Dan Krauss, worked pro bono for his defense team as a videographer, fascinated by how he was the one who tried to warn about the viciousness of the troop that had gone rogue, and how he was still considered a murder suspect. The dichotemy fascinated him, and while the movie is about the team, the movie mostly focuses on Winfield, although we looks and hear from some of the other soldiers who were in fact apart of this group within the troop and looked at how Winfield continued to try to rise up the chain of command to get the troops actions stopped or at least under control, but was denied continuously. Eventually the soldiers were arrested, but,-, ugh. You know, I was gonna give this movie a pass, but I keep bringing up other movie and thinking about other movies about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but this movie's boring. I know, it's trying to tell a critical story that needs to be told, but it barely tells it, and it's mostly from one perspective. It's barely an investigative piece. This movie reminded me a lot of the overrated "Dirty Wars", that also discussed some aspects of the war that should be discussed, talked about and analyzed, but it was just so clumped into this un-entertaining droll of a film that you can barely get anything out of it. "The Kill Team", is kinda the same way. I wish it was better and worth talking about, but documentary especially should get you inspired by/for/about the subject matter. I was almost ready to give this movie a barely-positive review just out of obligatory, but no, there's so many better documentaries out there on the subject that, this isn't worth my time. It doesn't give you the same insight into soldiers that "Restrepo", or it's sequel, "Korengal", it's not as interesting about morally questionable/illegal activities during war as perhaps, "The Tillman Story", or about seven other films, or "No End in Sight", or... so many. I need to put the hammer down on this one; how do you make a movie about murdering soldiers who killed Afghans for sport and collected body parts of their victims as souvenirs, forgettable and uninteresting!?
RED ARMY (2014) Director: Gabe Polsky
I don't think I have to go over too much, the American perspective on the Red Army Soviet Union National Hockey Team, it's been built into our Cold War folklore for years now, not to mention, that Lake Placid, as far we're concerned might as well be the location of our of the greatest military victories in our country's history, like the Alamo or Bunker Hill (Actually, neither of those were American victories, huh. That's odd.) So, it is somewhat of an untold story here to tell the story from the other side. It doesn't just narrow it's focus on that infamous hockey game however, the story of the Soviet dominance in hockey goes back before and after the game, and it's told to us mostly from most of it's athletes, mainly the legendary Soviet Defenseman and Team Captain, Viacheslav Fetisov. I certainly remember that name myself, him and what would be called The Russian Five, led the Detroit Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cups in the '90s, including one where they beat the living hell out of my Flyers. (Ugh, I don't want to talk about it) That wasn't so much the metaphorically triumphant end to the Soviet hockey machine on the international stage, that pretty much ended years before, even before the wall nation collapsed, they had started letting players to go play in the NHL, although under strict conditions, including giving most of their salary to the nation and on top of getting used to another country and language they weren't familiar with, most of those players struggled to adapt to North American style hockey. That's also something that's documented, how this Russian style that we're more familiar with now was created by their legendary coach Anatoly Tarasov, who took his cues from everything from ballet training techniques to skills involving chess, to create this wide open, circular, pass-and-timing oriented system that would stumped the U.S. and the world for years, winning multiple gold medals and would remain dominate for decades. In the Soviet Union, the team was a contradiction. Beloved celebrities, although thrust upon a demanding and rigorous training schedule that kept them away from their families and homes for most of their lives, those lucky talented ones capable of making the team. It's a bizarre contradiction really even today, seeing them interviewed, some of them, particularly Fetisov seems mostly annoyed at Director Gabe Polsky's insistence and questions. I understand; no matter how much you can try, it's impossible to truly understand what it's like to grew up in Communist Russia, unless you actually lived in it. They're not regretful of the era, and to them, the changes do seem cosmetic on the outside, although Fetisov in particular, who's been the Minister of Sport in Russia and is basically one of the main people that still runs hockey in Russia, it seems he sees a lack of a sense of national pride in the youth, and that's something that's lacking now, the sense of national pride. "Red Army" is a wonderfully fascinating documenting,following both the history of the Red Army team, hockey, the Soviet Union, the Cold War, or an aspect of it at least, modern-day Russia after the Fall of Communism, the personal stories of the players involved, there's a lot going on, it's all entertaining to watch.
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN (2014) Director: Jason Reitman
Okay, the last Jason Reitman film was "Labor Day", which was awful! Really, really disappointingly horrible film, and this from the director of such masterpieces as "Juno", "Up In the Air", and "Young Adult"; it was such a drastic quality drop that I wondered if everything else he had done was just a fluke. Adapting good books beforehand, working with amazing writers like Christopher Buckley and of course Diablo Cody, who proved with "The United States of Tara" and her debut feature "Paradise" that she was just a great writer, but an impressive one-of-a-kind creative visionary who is also a capable director, but still, Reitman knows filmmaking more than most, I decided to think of "Labor Day" as an anomaly, presuming his next film will be a triumphant return-to-form. So, now I'm onto his newest film, "Men, Women & Children"? (Long disappointing pause) Uh, really, that's the title, Reitman? "Men, Women & Children"? Well-, I,-eh, well I hate stealing a joke from Kathy Griffin, but, isn't that just, "Everybody"!? Even if you're an adult transsexual or whatever the latest en vogue sex is you're still a child of someone! Ugh, okay, stupid title aside, "Men, Women & Children", is, um.... Well, it's nowhere near as unwatchable and horrid as "Labor Day", but I'm a little on-the-fence still on whether it's any good. It's based on a novel by Chad Kultgen; I'm not surprised it's a novel, it felt like it, in particular, the strange and annoying Emma Thompson voiceover narration, which, I guess does eventually make it's usefulness quota with it's parables to the Cosmos and Carl Sagan, but overall it was more unnecessary cliche than anything else. The film is a multi-narrative, I guess revolving around, adults and the kids, I guess based around the same high school, although honestly, the stories are so disconnected that this could've been a bunch of separate short films and I wouldn't miss anything. In fact, I probably already have seen most of these movies before separately, and even shoved together; this is basically a mosiac of other cliche indy movies that revolve around characters whose lives are basically all revolving around the internet to some extent. Let's see, there's the Truby's Don and Helen (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who are rather stale in their marriage and both of them use the internet to seek out sex elsewise, Sandler through a prostitute website, and pays for a one-night-stand, however Helen goes to AshleyMadison.com and has a full-blown affair with Secretluver (Dennis Haybert), we never learn his real name. Um, there's the single mother Donna (Judy Greer) who runs her daughter's website, which is basically a modeling and acting, although Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia) is obsessed with it, and her mother absent-mindedly allows followers to pay for private photos and, other PG-13, hopefully, although there's some indications that it might not be, material involving her daughter, who's obsessed with the fame and neither realize the perils, morality or possible illegality of what they're doing until the site costs Hannah a part on a reality show. Hannah also starts dating Kent (Dean Norris) the first woman he's dated since his wife left him, and they're shared heartbreak in past romances makes their romance make sense. He's also concerned over his son, Tim's (Ansel Elgort) obsession with an internet role-playing game. He's quit football, which he excelled at, so much so that the team is still pissed off that he left and feel he's being selfish, although part of why he's on is that he's secretly in touch with his future stepfather through the game. He also starts a small relationship with Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) who's mother, Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is beyond obsessed with the horrors and perils of technology, to a ridiculous degree; she even holds town meetings on how to follow your kids actions online and go through their phones, and-, okay, this is an obnoxious character that Garner plays, and my biggest quibble with this movie, is that, with every other character, we understand and have enough background about them to understand their behavior and actions. Garner's character is just obsessed with hating technology and protecting her daughter from it. There's so explanation; no past incident she had, no, obsessed with the news horror stories, nothing, to explain her behavior throughout the movie. She is a caricature, that is acted by an amazing actress, so it doesn't come off as a cartoon, but there's no reason, ever given for her extreme perspective. She could be the mother in "Carrie", and even she had more of a reason for her justification. This is just weird, especially in this movie where they do go into depth with the rest of the characters, they're actions, they're reasons, how some of the bad things they do or happen to them happen. It's not all great, but it's there. There's a few other stories and characters too, I'm skipping over, but I guess that other then Garner's character being inexplicably monstrous, everything else I think is just, okay. I guess objectively, I shouldn't recommend it, 'cause Reitman can do better, but there's some good performances here, and an attempt at something greater, but this is much more shallower than I believe the original material thinks it is. It's almost like, somebody kinda knows these random tales about technology, tried to put them together, as though it's a commentary on modern culture, but it's from somebody who really doesn't know and is in some ways outdated. I hate panning a movie that I actually like Adam Sandler in, and mostly all the performances are really good actually, but I can't really give a good reason for watching this. I guess it's an interesting experiment for Reitman but, I'm waiting for him to come back to form still.
THE CONGRESS (2014) Director: Ari Folman
I grew to really loathe this film. The more I thought about it, the more it just grated on me. And before any of you defenders ask, I get it, but it still sucks. It's one of those boring and pretentious films that is supposedly making a larger emotional and symbolic point, but, ugh, it's mostly just nothing there. I think it's trying to be like a sci-fi "INLAND EMPIRE", but it's more like the draining pointlessness of "Mr. Nobody". It's director is Ari Folman, the Israeli director most well-known for "Waltz with Bashir" which was a film that I also thought was more admirable than it was watchable. (Actually, I'll be frank on this one, I never cared for "Waltz with Bashir". I know, I know, but you know what, the animation was distracting and unlike say, "Chicago 10", for instance, where it complemented the documentary being told, it just was just distracting. You can barely tell it was a documentary, it was just visual noise, beautiful visuals, but it got in the way) This is not a documentary however, although it is half in animation and worst than that probably, it's a meta Hollywood satire. It's also a political allegory, and a cultural allegory. Okay, Robin Wright, is playing, a version of herself in the real world, and many actors, particularly actresses are getting themselves digitized so that they can never act personally again, but still be constantly working and looking young forever. Robin's not particularly thrilled at this offer from Miramount Executive Jeff Green (Danny Huston, and yeah, you can figure out how they came up with "Miramount" pretty easily) Now, Robin is reluctant to do this, but being single and aging, she won't be getting much work in the future, especially with these digital performers becoming more common, eventually agrees to this, and it also allows her to stay at home and take care of her sick son. So, they own her 3-d digital likeness and they start producing films with her for the masses, which is weirdly represented in this otherworld of animation, and she herself becomes apart of that world, twenty years later, and becomes stuck there unable to get back. This isn't a Toontown, this is a hallucinogenic fictional world, that apparently people can live forever in, but it's all created by taking this pill. I'll admit that the animation and the visuals are something to behold, but I felt the same problem with "Waltz with Bashir", this is a lot of noise that leads nowhere. There's too many better movies that talk about the dehumanization of Hollywood, most of them are better and it doesn't really fit into this story which is actually based on a Stanislaw Law novel, from the '70s, and that was an allegory on the Soviet Union. There's performances, live action ones by Harvey Keitel and Paul Giamatti that are nice to see, and an interesting animated performance from Jon Hamm; you can tell there's some talent and ideas here, but I really just think it was simply an excuse to create one world that's live-action and another that's animated and sorta say it makes sense, and then throw in as much David Lynchian crap as you can. I'm usually glad to see an adult animated film, but this just drove me up the wall. On top of everything else, I just mentioned, it drags and drags and lulls to eventually really get nowhere. I really came out of the movie, finally forcing my way through it like I was really just taken in and scammed by this. I really came out of the movie pissed at how big of a waste this was.
MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORKS OF ORSON WELLES (2014) Director: Chuck Workman
Okay, it's always a little bit tricky when discussing a documentary about famous people in the film medium, especially for critics like me, 'cause while there are a few exceptions out there, we typically already know a great deal about most of the subjects these films are about. There's exceptions, and it's possible to still make amazing documentaries about people that we are familiar with, a couple recent ones like "Life Itself" and "Jodorowsky's Dune" come to mind, but if you're an actual film junkie, then you already have a good bio of Orson Welles in your mind, so, I don't know how useful "Magician: The Astonishing Life and Works of Orson Welles" will be for you. (I stand by that, film junkies already should know about Orson Welles, if you're not, then, you're just somebody who watches movies occasionally) I myself, usually rank Orson Welles as the greatest director of all-time and I've written on "Citizen Kane" and "The Stranger" already in my Canon of Film series, and I'd probably argue that "F for Fake" might be his best film. Does that mean, I didn't learn anything by watching "Magician...", um, no, I learned a few things about his childhood and how he grew up that were interesting actually. There's a lot of talking heads and of course, we're all relatively familiar with some of his best and most infamous works, but I certainly enjoy getting a reminder and diving into the life of works of Orson Welles. We do see some never or rarely-before-seen early works of his, as well as some glimpses into some of his famous unfinished projects. Other than that, if you really don't have much insight into Orson Welles, than I guess this is a decent opener for you, so I'll recommend it. For the rest of us, this isn't exactly the missing 22 minutes from "The Magnificent Ambersons" if you get my drift, although it's probably better to see the films.
MISS JULIE (2014) Director: Liv Ullmann
This is actually the second filmed version of August Stringberg's "Miss Julie" recently; I borrowed the Mike Figgis version from the library a few months, as me and a bunch of other people, thought it was this film. (Yes, it wasn't just me, 'cause I had to rush through it 'cause there were list of holds on the film) Uh, I won't review the Figgis film, 'cause I just don't have the time but needless to say, I didn't care much for it. Admittedly, I'm not overly familiar with the play, although I pretty much am now that I've seen a couple adaptations about it, but even still; this isn't really a play that works that well on film to begin with. Figgis's film, like most of his movies were experimental, it expanded the play, although it also seemed shot on handheld and really showed why the play shouldn't be expanded upon. This movie, doesn't directed by the legendary Swedish actress Liv Ullmann, is truer to the original play, and while there is the grandeur of the locations, the Irish mansion, the large garden, the extravagant hallways and staircases, (Hmm, Idea for a board game, Hallways & Staircases, a murder-mystery in a mansion a-la Clue, but with the rules of Candy Land.) Miss Julie in this one is played by Jessica Chastain, and the footman that she decides to seduce John, is played by Colin Farrell and John's young cook fiance is played by Samantha Morton and the story is told better enough here that I'm going to recommend it. It's a Midsommer Festival and for whatever reason, Miss Julie seems insistent on being with John. At first, it's a regular game of master and servant, and naturally the happy and engaged John gives into temptation, despite the fact that this will be terrible for both of them if anyone found out. It's not so much the cheating and seduction mind you, or even the boss/servant dynamics of an affair, but the upper class/lower class dynamic is what's really at play. The movie doesn't show you much of the actual event of Midsummer event, which is good, I didn't like that part of the Figgis film, and except for a few well-done flashbacks that actually add to the story, the movie stays true to the three-person play, and tha's something I like about it, and you do believe these characters would do the actions they do, that's a credit to the acting which I think is good all around, although not great; I've seen all these actors do a little better, but they pull it off here. I still think this is a story that really only works on stage, but this is a decent filmed version.
WETLANDS (2014) Director: David Wnendt
(Retching vomiting sounds)
This movie more than any I've ever seen has made me want to barf. I'm still nauseated. Uh, look, eh, if I wanted to, I would give a detailed analysis of this, but I don't want to. I've never seen a vagina treated so horribly before, and in case you're wondering; I've seen "Antichrist", as well a, way-more-than-I'd-like-to-admit amount of very degrading and disturbing pornography, so I don't make that statement lightly, but, ugh, oh god!
(Retching sound. Attempt at a deep breath)
Okay, I will try to explain this movie, without, involutarily-,
Alright, Helen (Carla Juri) is a peculiar teenage girl, one who's just-, just, gross, in a general sense. Like, you know the kid that would be willing to eat, or put anything you happen to find or around on his tongue. Well, switch out tongue for pussy and you kinda get her, except she's not doing it for anybody in particular. I'm serious, this movie grossed me out more than any movie I've, probably ever seen, Anyway, the girl, cuts herself seriously in a shaving accident, I'm not even gonna bother explaining it, but she ends up in the hospital where she begins, sorta befriending a male nurse, Robin (Christoph Letkowski) who she's attractive to, and trying to ruin his romance with another nurse, meanwhile, she's also scamming out the hospital in order to try to get her parents (Peri Baumeister and Meret Becker) because, I-eh, I guess she wants them to get back together because of her shaving injury, which; I-eh, I don't get it. I'm sure this is a personal story that speaks to some people, probably women, and you know, it's well-made, well-acted and technically fine, but it's just not really watchable, at least to me. Look, I know I'm supposed to be a little more, ambivalent of the content of a film, I like to look at a movie with a completely unbiased view and analyze a movie on it's merits without care of my own personal thoughts, um, but, oh boy, is this movie...-, this movie pushes those limits for me. It's based on a novel by Charlotte Roche, who's apparently a famous German television personality, I can't find any English language clips of her, so I can't really make a determination about her, but I suspect that this works better as a personal novel than it would a film; I hope it is anyway; I'm trying to justify this. It's definitely an original character; I'll give the movie that, but I-, I can't go too much farther than that. It is a fucked up movie, and all that that can entail, I'll give it credit for that, but I'm not 100% positive it needs to be seen. It's not like this character improved or changed significantly at the end, at least not in any way I noticed. I guess that's my analytical problem level with the film; she's not really a character you want to get to know more and she doesn't really change much. I guess you can call her a Picaroesque in that she might effect others around her, but I think that's a stretch too. I think we're mostly just meant to be shocked at her actions and how brazen she is with them. That may be done, but I'm not entirely sure that's a movie, even a really well-made one. I know I might be thinking with my stomach over my head on this one, but even without the barf bag, I think I can justify panning "Wetlands". I won't stop anybody from-, well, that's not true, I will definitely try to stop people from watching this, but if you're really intrigued, I guess you can try to watch it. I don't know why you'd be like that, but go ahead, but don't say I didn't warn you. Ugh, I need to throw up.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (2014) Director: Shawn Levy
I'm gonna confess that I think that part of why I'm recommending "This is Where I Leave You" is simply because I was in the mood for a film like that when I was watching it. I know, that's a terrible reason, but you know, there isn't anything wrong with that as a reason to recommend something either. It's a well-acted dramedy starring a pretty good list of who's who among the better comedic actors and actresses of the day, and it feels really now, with the modern dialogue and jokes about such things and Jane Fonda's giant breasts. (Not kidding, that's a running joke.) It's also a typical family melodrama, the kind where everybody gets called back home for some reason, in this case, four siblings come home 'cause of the passing of their father, and being Jewish, they have to observe, shiva for a week at their home. Jason Bateman plays the typical Jason Bateman character, he's about to get divorced right as he's called in, and he runs into his old crush Penny (Rose Byrne) while in town. There's other siblings, Wendy (Tina Fey) is going through a mid-life crisis and reconnects with her own crush, Horry (Timothy Olyphant-, wait, Horry? Imdb must have that wrong, right? No, apparently not.) , Philip (Adam Driver), is the youngest brother who's brought his older girlfriend, Tracy (Connie Britton) to shiva, which causes more issues. Paul (Corey Stoll) and his with Annie (Kathryn Hahn) are in the middle of trying to have a kid during all this, which is really that good a storyline; it's more of a quirk, but it comes up for farce purposes. It's a, relatively interesting little light story, and I don't think it's trying to do more than that, which is probably why I'm being a little more lenient on it. We know these are actors who can do more comically and dramatically, but they're not doing that here. Shawn Levy has also directed more outlandish comedies, good ones occasionally too like "Date Night", and frankly, the material for this film, based on a novel by the film's screenwriter Jonathan Tropper, is pretty light and weak as is, lacking in really in-depth conflict, so unless he completely changed the film, it's probably as good as the film can be.It's an ambivalent recommendation but the movie had enough strengths for me to recommend the film.
NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC (2014) Director: One9
One of the critics' quotes on the DVD case for "Nas: Time is Illmatic" says, "Nas fans rejoice! 'This is Illmatic' was made for you." I have to agree , 'cause I'm pretty sure Nas fans and probably even then only the real big fans can really enjoy this film. Look, I'm trying but I've never really been into rap or hip hop; I'm really trying but...- rap did put a bad taste in my mouth early on when I was young (Well, okay rap to me when I was young, during the mid-nineties gangsta rap era, was noticeably hypocritical to me, like how certain rappers would talk about how their lyrics weren't their actual experiences but were detailing the conditions and ways of life of others, and then they get arrested for doing things that said in their lyrics wasn't what they did; that really ticked me off my ten-year-old mind, and the fact that that era lead to two deaths for nothing but image and a building up of a stupid fictional war..., yeah, I just never got over that, plain and simple, and really to this day, distrust the genre, even though I know consciously it's a very inaccurate and uninformative elementary school perspective) and it's not a natural sound to my ear to begin with. That's probably why I've seeked out a few rap documentaries lately 'cause I am trying to learn, some films have done well in teaching, like Ice-T's recent documentary, "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap" but other than the fact that Nas is not the other guy in The Fugees (Yes I did confuse Nas for Pras apparently, before going into this movie, sorry.) I really wish I could learn more about Nas from this film, but honestly, the film didn't teach me a lot and worst than that, it didn't really entertain me either. His "Illmatic" album is apparently legendary and from what I heard, his music; it was good; I'm not sure it's the best and/or the most important or groundbreaking rap I've every heard, but it's good, it also seems like the only thing he ever did. He's actually got eleven albums, and from what I gather he's one of the most respected MCs of all-time; the movie ends with a scholarship named after him to Harvard. The movie is about more than that album; it's about him growing up in Long Island City, and the many people and places he grew up around, and-eh, I-, I hate to be mean, but I've heard this rags-to-fame hip hop story many times before and it wasn't told compellingly here. It's very erratic and meandering storytelling, I almost wish this was a "Behind the Music" instead; I might have cared more. It really drags a bit and seems to focus and showcase nearly everybody but Nas. For the hardcore fans who know the background on him already might be interested but this was a slog to get through for me. This might be a Nas movie for some, but not for me. It's actually barely a movie; it's only 75 minutes and I would've thought for a music documentary there'd be more to a legendary artist and yet this film felt like it was stretching. There's about a minute or two devoted to a Middle School assignment he did; I mean, maybe he's the greatest MC of all-time; I'd believe that, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a compelling character for a feature film, or at least he wasn't for this film.
DOM HEMINGWAY (2014) Director: Richard Shepard
2 1/2 STARS
You know, I never took it, but one of my old film school professors used to teach genre class just on British Gangster Films. Uh, I guess that was a genre that he was familiar with, and I guess it's nice to be reminded that British cinema is more than just James Bond and Merchant-Ivory films, but I-, I personally couldn't imagine sitting through a semester's worth of British gangster, especially with a few "A Clockwork Orange" exceptions, I generally think of British gangster films, at least modern ones as basically just Guy Ritchie, and Guy Ritchie wannabe films, neither of which I'm a particularly big fan of. Now, that's very narrowing that description, but you can definitely see his influence all over the gangster movie genre, especially in British films. The title character of "Dom Hemingway" is played by Jude Law, he's pretty good in this; Hemingway has been in jail for the last 12 years and we begin with him, giving a monologue about his penis. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Then, we see him getting out, and in a weird way, the plot is almost like a reversal of "25th Hour", he gets out of jail, now he has to reconnect with all the people from his past, although basically the only one of that ilk that still talks to him is Dickie (Richard E. Grant), although there's a brief respite from the usual gangster movie over-the-top behavior when he confronts his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) but the main tension of the film involves Don going to France to see Mr. Fontaine, the man who he did the time for, and Russian assassin named Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir) who has since, grown in stature in the underworld since, and while he's supposed to be well-rewarded for his troubles, he starts causing incidents that begin to lead to his own demise, These plots are shoved into the film between numerous monologues from Law, which is probably the real appeal of the movie. I guess "Dom Hemingway" is entertaining enough on a standalone viewing, and I did think the convoluted ending was funny, despite it being probably one twist too many that you could see in advance, but overall, despite Law's great monologue, I'm struggling to give this one a positive review. I'm seeing some people compare it somewhere between Nicholas Winding Refn's "Bronson" and the work of John Michael McDonaugh and/or Martin McDonaugh, the latter two are the real kings of the modern British gangster genre, and I can see the comparisons, but I can also see how this film is lacking compared to them. I call this a British film 'cause it is in that style, but it was directed by Richard Shepard an American director, whose best films "The Hunting Party" and especially "The Matador" were basically sharp comedies that were more or less imitating a style of other films in their genres, and it's gotten mixed results; I'd hardly call any of his films special and he's much more adept at directing television, which does require him to work in numerous other genres, so he probably struggles to find his voice in film. I get that here, this feels like a film made by somebody who kinda knows the words of how these things go, but doesn't really know the music and that's a shame. There's some stuff to like here, but if you ask me what from "Dom Hemingway" absolutely has to be seen by others, I couldn't come up with anything. It's a reluctant negative review for me.
BEYOND THE EDGE (2014) Director: Leanne Pooley
I'm actually a few Kevin Bacon degrees away from Sir Edmund Hillary believe it or not, and I like the idea personally of a movie about how he and the British crew were able to climb Mt. Everest, which back in 1953, was about as unbelievable and impossible a feat at the time as walking on the moon was back in the '60s. But, that said, this isn't so much a movie as an interesting radio play with some extra footage shot. Even talking heads would've been more interesting, but they stay on the footage. It was fun to listen to, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. This film should've been a book on CD or something like that. I'm told the movie was actually in 3-D in theaters, and maybe that might've helped, but, uh, yeah, a more realistic feeling of climbing a 29,000 ft. high mountain, somehow I'm not sure I would've enjoyed that more. I guess the movie does faithfully combine archive footage of the trek made by Hillary as well as Tenzig Norgay and others in the group that made the climb, along with some very well done re-enacted footage with Chad Moffitt and Sonam Sherpa as Hillary and Norgay, however that can only compelling for a bit. I actually in many ways preferred the voiceovers just listening to the story of the going up the mountain, that was thrilling, but as a movie, I just didn't get it. I have this strange feeling that this documentations, as critical as they are were simply in the wrong medium. This was not a film I would call fun to watch. It was tiring for me, and it didn't come off as thrilling. Maybe it's me, but I think there's ways to make things that otherwise I wouldn't have much interest in participating in, and make it compelling for the audience to watch onscreen, and even replicate the feeling of these actions in a way that we can understand the interest in the moment when normally, it would be an action or activity that would typically not intrigue us at all. The first film to come to my mind for instance is "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World", after that movie, I'm interested in fighting in the British navy on a swashbuckling battleship across two oceans, meanwhile, I can't swim, certainly have no plans to join the military of any kind anytime soon, frankly, don't care for boats, or about a 100 other things that would keep me away from that activity, but I can buy into the romance in that film. Now that is a documentary, so it's not so much a romantic telling of the climbing of Everest as it is a more detailed one, but that's my problem. It was fascinating, the details of the journey, the gritty bare ones, but I'm just not sure that's an actual movie.
R100 (2014) Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Okay, I'm actually like, going through my second or third viewing of this movie as I write this, partially 'cause like too many of these titles I watched it so long ago that I gotta go back to recall what I was watching a bit, but also because the more I dig into "R100", the stranger and more bizarre it gets. I saw it mostly watched it feeling it was playing it straight,- well, typical dark comedy straight, as straight as can be for a movie that's about sadomasochism, but the farther I go the darker and more twisted it gets, and it's already about sadomasochism. Seriously, this is so much more strange and fucked up that it's almost like a John Waters movie. John Waters should remake this, he absolutely should, if nobody's started that petition yet, we should start that petition. Okay, so, the main character is Takafumi Katayama (Nao Omari, you might remember him from "Ichi the Killer") he's a single father who's wife is in a coma, but he's also a submissive and he hires a company for a year that will randomly during the day, interrupt his day-to-day experiences to beat the hell out of him. It's kinda like "The Game", sorta, only it's just random S&M, sessions. They're violent, often full of mindfuckery more than regular fuckery and it's also a fairly random collection of dominatrices that this service supplies. There's the Whip Queen (Shinobu Terajima) there's the Gobble Queen (Hairi Katagiri), the Voice Queen (Mao Daichi), who's capable of emulating other people's voices, so don't be around her blindfolded. During one session, one that he no longer wants anymore at this point with the Saliva Queen (Naomi Watanabe, btw, this isn't clear to an American audience, but this is strange fucking casting considering who all these actors are in Japan. This would be as eclectic as casting Meryl Streep, Margaret Cho, Ronda Rousey and Megan Hilty in the same movie, all of them as dominatrices.) something happens that brings everything to ahead, it's actually kinda unfortunate, the movie starts to turn into the conventional at this point instead of just remaining in the disturbed and surreal. (Well, "conventional" in this film is probably a word that shouldn't be used at all, I'm talking in "conventional" in a story sense here more than anything) Although to some extent this whole movie itself is a surreal sadastically erotic thriller movie within this movie. Yeah, the title "R100" is actually a joke on the Japanese movie rating system, and it's not really a funny joke, but the joke is that the movie is rated R100, meaning that the movie is so offensive and ridiculous that nobody under the age of 100 is admitted. (From what I can gather movie ratings in Japan go like, R18, R16, etc. depending on age, so think of the American title of this movie as being the equivalent to NC-100.) There's also one other strange piece of casting I have to bring up, the CEO of the bondage company, is played by Lindsay Hayward, she's the only American actress in this movie, I believe and she holds the Guiness World Record for being the tallest leading actress in history, standing at 6' 9'' and you might recognize her from her reality show "My Giant Life" she's also worked as a professional wrestler in the past and yes, she holds the record for being the tallest females pro wrestler ever as well. She's basically only in the film for an extended cameo, near the end, but she is pretty good actually in this small role that's probably tailor-made for her. Well, make of the movie what you will; I don't think you need to be 100-years-old to "understand" it, per se, although it did take me a couple viewings, but this does feel like a movie that's strange almost as a purpose for existing. This movie is sorta beyond even a simple look at a film that's about the dangers of a fetish going too far, it looks like a movie that's supposedly about being as over-the-top and offensive as possible, oddly I don't think it does that at all; it's more or less just how funny it is that people actually do try to be as offensive as possible. This is one of the strangest movies of the year; it is a midnight cult classic in the making. It's directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, a comic performer in Japan who's recently-turned director, he directed "Big Man Japan", which I think is being optioned for a remake in America currently, that film's basically a comedic parody of Japanese monster movies; I guess this could be a parody of some of the more extreme Asia Extreme movies, but it's almost too gentle for that; as much as those movies had sadomasochistic themes and tendencies, particularly the South Korean ones it's so cartoonishly over-the-top that "R100" really does stand out on it's own.