Tuesday, October 27, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #112: "THE SALT OF THE EARTH", "GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME", "SERENA", "DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS", "'71", "THE REWRITE", "5 FLIGHTS UP", "THE WRECKING CREW", "GODZILLA (Edwards), "LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED", "LAGGIES", "BIRD PEOPLE", "BETHLEHEM", "DINOSAUR 13", and MORE!

Ugh. Alright, I'm back to reviewing movies on a regular basis, (For the moment) and-eh, I'll be honest, I wish I wasn't. I' hate to feel so negative but I can't really say that I saw a lot of great films this time around. A few really bad films, but everything was pretty much average, spoilers, sorry. I watched a couple other movies than the ones I'm reviewing today, like that "Live from New York" documentary on "SNL" that aired on NBC before the debut. It was fine, nothing special; if you know about "Saturday Night Live" in any meaningful manner than you didn't miss much. Probably most interesting film I saw that I didn't get around to writing a review on was "The End of Love", it's on Hulu right now, and it's an emotionally powerful look at a young actor who's trying to handle a career while being a single father to a toddler after his wife passed away. It's got a few good cameos from Michael Cera and Amanda Seyfried among others, but it's not an easy watch, but it's a good film. I also saw Mike Newell's version of "Great Expectations", which two things, one, "Great Expectations" is good at the end, but everytime I see a new version of it, I hate the openings of the story more and more. The other thing is that their is such a thing as "Too Perfect Casting", and casting Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Haversham, is definitely too perfect casting; I wish they casted against type a bit more there. Other than that, it's a good but not a great version of the Dickens novel. There were a couple others but nothing worth talking about that I watched. I've brought up about how disappointing recent films overall have been to me before, and unfortunately this isn't a set of reviews that changes that, so let's talk something else.

Some of the things I got planned for later, include a Top Ten List soon of the Best Films of 2014, finally, I'm almost ready to finally make that list, also in the meantime I participated in GeekCast Radio Network's 100 Greatest TV Shows Poll, and I've even been asked to participate in the podcast revealing the complete, I might do that, I might not, that'll depend on some other circumstances unfortunately on my end, but after they post their full results I thought I'd post my ballot here and explain some of my choices, but keep an eye out for that if you're interested on geekcastradio.com. That should be interesting. They have some good podcasts there anyway, so check that out, and after they finish I'll post my ballot for those who are interested here.

I've also got a few other projects going on outside of this blog, so if I am delayed for blogging for a bit, that's gonna be part of the reason why. Hopefully it won't come to that, but I still have some fun and interesting blogs coming up soon, so I'm looking forward to that. Alright, that's enough for now, let's get to this week's edition of our RANDOM MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with reviews of the Oscar-nominated features, "The Salt of the Earth", and "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me'!



THE SALT OF THE EARTH (2014) Directors: Juliano Ribiero Salgado and Wim Wenders

✰✰✰1/2



I think the best way to approach "The Salt of the Earth" is not so much as a documentary about the artist, in this case Sebastiao Salgado, but as a mood piece. The mood being the emotions one gets when bombarded with the life and work of the artist, at least that's how it mainly felt to me. It reminded me of another documentary, "War Photographer" which is also about a photographer who's subject often happened to be the images and destruction of people. It wasn't really something that wet deep into the psyche of the man, but how could it? Co-directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribiero Salgado, the movie mixes color and black and white and uses the photographs of Sebastiao Salgado (Not sure if there's any relation to the director or not) and his voiceover about the incidents that he went through and captured. Salgado's definitely lived an interesting life although I'm not sure I'd want to experience it, or even hear him talk about it. He's captured the slave-like existence of workers at the Sierra Pelada Mines, the burning of the Kuwaiti Oil Fields, the famine in Ethiopia and the massed migration to Sudan that it caused to name a few of the worldwide desolation of humanity he's seen. The comparison that's brought up is "Heart of Darkness" and yeah, there's something in Salgado's tone that indicates that he's probably seen too much and has now just drawn more and more inward and spiritual inclined, having been bombarded with so much destruction and desperation. I think that's the real movie's intention; it doesn't really dig that much into Salgado's process or technique, it's an assault on our senses. That's what I felt and that's what I think was intentional, Wim Wenders has done this before with his documentaries, like "Buena Vista Social Club" and most successfully with "Pina". Here, I think it's more hit-and-miss the approach, but overall, "The Salt of the Earth" is pretty effective. I'm recommending it, but yeah, I can't imagine going to see this exhibit at my local art gallery more than once.


GLEN CAMPBELL: I'LL BE ME (2014) Director: James Keach

✰✰✰



It's hard to remember to some extent just how big Glen Campbell was in his day. And he was big, in and out of the industry. Behind the scenes, he was one of the best session guitarists working in L.A. You've probably heard him on records without recognizing it before. He was apart of  The Wrecking Crew, who I'll be talking about later in another documentary, and he worked with, among other, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Phil Spector, The Monkees, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole... hell, he was a member of The Beach Boys for six months at one point, all before he became famous on his own as a country-crossover artist. He even had his own Variety show at one point, a successful and actually a good one too. He even acted occasionally, most famously in "True Grit" opposite John Wayne. I knew most of this about Glen Campbell before watching "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me", but it does help to be reminded, 'cause he has been somewhat forgotten through time. Unfortunately, the movie isn't about his past, it's about his present. Glen Campbell's now 78 years old and suffering from Alzheimer's Syndrome. When the begins, it's in the early stages, but you can tell it's effected him. He can barely remember names, and dismisses the fact that he forgets dates. He's about to release an album, which turned out to be his last. They also decide to go on tour. It's here where we realize how great a musician he is, how even at his age his guitar solos can be a thing to behold. The tour was a successful "Goodbye Tour", the goodbye being painfully literal, as we can see Glen and his family deteriorate as the tour goes on. It was supposed to be a five week tour, but it last over 150 shows across multiple continents and even a couple television appearances, even a trip to Washington D.C. where his wife testified in front of Congress. One of the best films of last year was "Still Alice" a movie that showed the effects of Alzheimer's directly from the perspective of someone who had it and going through it. That's always been the unfortunate part of portraying this disease on film, you can observe it, but getting inside the mind of it, is practically impossible, especially since the disease specifically eats away at the mind. At the beginning of the movie, we can see a master musician at work, and by the end, we're feared for the worst and worried if he's even going to be lucid enough to go on stage for the remaining dates. And while the music abilities is the last thing to go, it is starting to go. The last thing he does musically is record the Oscar-nominated song "I'm Not Gonna Miss You", which he wrote for his miss, and is just maddeningly sad and beautiful. It's a tough film to watch, although it is worth watching. It pales compares to "Still Alice", which is unfortunate 'cause I shouldn't be comparing the two, but there are a lot of films already about people who watch as somebody they love succumbs to Alzheimer's.  Campbell's lived a helluva life and it's just sad seeing him in this position. I guess it's important to see but yeah, this isn't exactly a documentary you watch to be entertained despite the good music.


SERENA (2015) Director: Susanne Bier

1/2



Oh God, this frontier-era soap opera was doomed from the beginning. I think a lot of us have probably heard about the supposed nightmare production that was "Serena" by now. Not necessarily a nightmare in filming, just a nightmare of a film. In the absolute pinnacle of Jennifer Lawrence's star power as well as the rising fame of co-star Bradley Cooper, who we know they two have worked amazing magic together with "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook", this movie auspiciously remained on the shelf for three years before finally getting dumped into theaters early this year. Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) soon marries the rich timber tycoon George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper), I'm not glancing over stuff by the way, that's quite literally how much we learn about them and what happens right at the beginning. So what happens afterwards. Mostly, Serena, just makes her presence known. She's abrasive, cold and bitchy, towards everybody; I think she's supposed to be some kind of powerhungry, um,- I don't know. She gets married to this guy and immediately she is in charge of everything. Elizabeth Taylor's character in "Giant" is probably the closest thing I think this character was intended to be, but that's a real stretch actually, she was a gentle and nice character who influenced her husband to be less racist and more sentimental, this is just, I don't know. You can tell right away that she's somewhat more interested in the position the marriage gets her and the power that it invokes, by blatantly dismissing a townswoman who's carrying George's kid from an earlier affair, she and he doesn't dispute, she just doesn't acknowledge or gives a shit. It comes up later, but it seems like everything and nothing comes up later in this film. I called this a soap opera and that, yeah, that's it. It's over-the-top melodramatic emotions to a series of events that are occurring as often as they are random, maybe I missed the point where somebody threw a drink in this movie, but I wouldn't be shocked if I later rewatched it and realized somebody did. And the film was directed by Susanne Bier, the wonderful Danish director who's made some amazing work in the past, "After the Wedding", "Brothers" my favorite, the Oscar-winning "In a Better World", and she's done well in America before too with the wonderful "Things We Lost in the Fire",  but I think she was just given a terrible script and like everybody else, didn't know what to do with it. Everybody's trying to make a good movie, but it's not coming out that way. Bier's never made a period piece before and she's struggling to understand the mood of the movie, whether it's this elegiac sprawling observation on society, or a dark, cold Shakespearean tragedy. She's somewhere between John Huston and Clint Eastwood directing wise here, but it's just a mess. I don't blame her completely, this is just an anomaly for her, she'll bounce back and so will these actors. As for this film though, I don't blame the studios for holding this back. It reminds me of, like in movies about Hollywood actors and actresses making their big break and then suddenly, their next major film is a period piece and you see them on the set and in costume and it's big and overblown and the dialogue is shaky and best and doesn't seem like it would ever be from a real film, not that a movie like this would ever even be made nowadays 'cause even at the time this cliche of what a Hollywood movie was died 20 years earlier...,  yeah, this feels like one of those movies, like the fake movie someone's making within the real movie.


DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2015) Director: Spike Lee

✰✰✰1/2



Okay, going into "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" a little blind, I genuinely only know, little more than that this was Spike Lee's latest feature, a small independent one he financed on his own and that it had split critics and otherwise seemed like a minor entry into Lee's ouevre. It is all those things, and none of those are actually unlike other films from Spike Lee; hell, I really enjoyed his last film made under similiar circumstances and conditions like that, "Red Hook Summer", as well as some of his other smaller and more introspective works like "Crooklyn", or "Girl 6"; I've never really needed the big audacious project from him before and I didn't feel that I needed it now. That said.... Oh boy, I should not have walked into this movie blind. I've always talked about how even a bad Spike Lee movie is always a more interesting film than many filmmaker's good movies, and well, "interesting" is the right word. I wondered about the ideas and influences that Lee was using for this film and my thought processes as the film progress. It's clearly a, loose working on what a vampire movie is; it's strikingly similar to the recent Jim Jarmusch film "Only Lovers Left Alive", but it was also much more erotic. I got the sense that this was more European influence and perhaps he was going for something more along the lines of Catherine Breillat's "Anatomy of Hell", in how it explores the characters physical anomalies and desires. At least, that's what I was thinking and then, I caught the credit at the end of the movie that said this was a remake of a previous film called "Ganja & Hess", which is actually an American blaxploitation movie from Director Bill Gunn, a cult filmmaker and playwright who's mostly known for being a character actor. Not to mention that this movie is about blood fetishists, which....- well, there's definitely a lot going on here, let me put it that way. (Rubs forehead) Okay, now I really have to rethink this film. Having not seen "Ganja and Hess", I really don't have that comparison to go to, although I presume that Spike Lee is taking some liberties with the story. Okay,
let's start with, yes, this is in fact a vampire story, a different one though. The vampire is Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams), and he is an archaeologist who specializes in Myrthian artifacts. What's Myrthia? As far as I can tell, it's a mythological world that's shown up in literature and is often described as a land and place that was once comparable to ours until it was overtaken by vampires. (Shrugs) Okay. There's some legends about it apparently, but I honestly can't tell if this place is more Pandora or Atlantis on the mythological chart. Anyway, his uninvited houseguest Lafayette (Elvis Nolasco) commits suicide at his house one night and before that, attacks Ganja with a medieval-era sword that still contains blood on it. After he heals from his wounds, he now has a insatiable thirst for blood. Addiction-level murderous thirst. This leads to him, getting into numerous situations, including killing a hooker to drink her blood and any other ways of getting blood he can think of, usually involving the lower class areas of New York's black community (Dr. Greene lives in Martha's Vineyard, and yes, class and race distinctions and differences are shown). He even has some stored for cocktail parties that he can disguise as a virgin bloody mary if anyone asks. Then, his partner's wife Hess (Zaraah Abrahams) shows up, looking for her now-dead husband that Dr. Greene's been drinking the blood from and packed into a freezer. Before long though, Hess becomes a blood-addict herself, and this leads to a highly sexual and dangerous erotic partnership and Ganja and Hess now basically go from person to person and place to place, seeking out blood. They try to not be such addicts with their passion, even trying to enjoy the sex, which comes in multiple genders, forms and positions, but inevitably the addiction is too much for them. I don't really know what to make of this strange, strange film; I guess I'm recommending it just on how strange and bizarre it is, although for all I know, the original is much stranger, but this is certainly strange for a Spike Lee film. I can't remember him ever dealing with such supernatural and/or sexually explicit content before and I genuinely don't know how this fits in. I guess, it kinda goes into the same sorta territory he explode with his other recent remake, "Oldboy", but even still, I'm just not used to something like this from him. Just when I thought I knew a filmmaker, here, the most interesting filmmaker around, makes arguably his most peculiar, unexpected and perhaps his most interesting film yet.


'71 (2015) Director: Yann Demange

✰✰✰1/2



I imagine that, to some extent anyway, all soldiers go through a similar experience as what happens to Gary (Jack O'Connell) the young soldier in "'71". Not the specifics or the literal, but mentally, you're dropped suddenly, into an entire world you're not familiar with at all, things get violent quickly, you don't know anybody or anything around you, you can barely tell who's an enemy or a friend, and essentially, whether you actually are or not, you're pretty much lost and yet in that haze, you have to keep moving forward, somewhere 'cause everywhere you turn, whether you are or not, you have to presume that you're a target that somebody's trying to kill you, and they probably are. That's the most I got out of '71. Gary's a young British Soldier from London, I presume training, thinking he'll someday be off to Vietnam, but instead, his troop is suddenly heading to Belfast, and over a 24-hour period, he's dropped in, caught in riots and a pawn in a religious warzone. He finds a few allies and places to hide, the movie strangely sorta resembles plotwise "The Pianist" in this regard, and soon, once word's out that a British soldier is out there, there's people coming after him. 1971 was a very hectic year in Northern Ireland, rioting from the beginning of the year, even little kids during the day were peddling rocks and bags of feces at the soldiers, and this culminated in March when a group of IRA rebels killed three off-duty soldiers by luring them to their deaths. This film happens in February, about a month before that incident, so this is right in the middle of the upheaval and chaos. The other movie war movie this feels reminiscent of btw is "Black Hawk Down", also about soldiers caught in the middle of a war that nobody was prepared to be in, in a part of the world that they don't know. There's a lot here, and I'm sure if I went back to watch it again, I would find more details that blew right by me on just viewing, I was just caught up in the confusion and I think that was more the intention that anything, even showing the subtlety of the conflict of Northern Ireland, this could've been nearly any major international conflict in recent history, it just happened to be this one.


THE REWRITE (2015) Director: Marc Lawrence

✰✰✰1/2



Ah, Hugh Grant is back. I'll be honest, I'm half-tempted to just give "The Rewrite" a positive review just because it's the first halfway decent film Hugh Grant's been in in years. Well, except for "Cloud Atlas", but I'm not talking about Hugh Grant the actor, I'm talking Hugh Grant the persona. Charming, witty, although almost certainly some kind of dipshit hidden beneath that smug but loveably selfish persona. First of all, that character's harder to play than it seem, which is why so few actors get that role, especially in romantic-comedies, and especially so in movies that only seem like romantic-comedies when they aren't like arguably his best role in the masterful "About a Boy". You can tell that Grant's either having fun, or he's having a miserable time that still comes off to us as though he's joking and having fun. This one is the latter, "The Rewrite" is a pretty simple story, Grant plays Keith Michaels a former Season three "Project Runway" designer who was kicked off the show for sneaking in a pattern book-, um, sorry, wrong Keith Michaels, (Resorting notes) here, we go, Keith Michaels, is a screenwriter in Hollywood who years earlier had a runaway smash that won him acclaim and an Oscar, but in that time, he's now on the outside looking in. Unable to pitch any idea, unless it's about a badass female who kicks ass. (COMMENT DELETED) Unable to get work in Hollywood unless he writes a long-awaited (Sorta) sequel, he finds work up in upstate New York, working as a visiting college professor teaching screenwriting. He doesn't believe in teaching writing, so he doesn't really plan on teaching although that plan gets shot down fairly quickly. First day in, he sleeps with a student, Karen (Bella Heathcote). That sounded about right, he then picks her script and a few others from a pile of those who are trying to get into the class, as well as any other that he finds a hot photo of on their school profile page. (To be fair, he only had a couple days to sort through about 70 or so scripts, even short ones, that's a lot, and actually, since you're teaching screenwriting, while it's a good idea for a student to come in to a screenwriting class with an idea, I wouldn't recommend a class where you're required to submit a script just to get into it, especially at a college where there is only screenwriting class. And, he included a couple geeky guys, but mostly hot young coed women.) This doesn't completely work. First off, there's a former military man who's the Dean, Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons) and btw this is all after he's pissed off the head of the ethics board, Mary Weldon (Allison Janney) the head of the English department, and the most fussy, prissy scholar of Jane Austen, ever. Okay, first of all, there should never be a movie where J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney aren't in it somewhere, secondly, there's multiple subtle jokes fluttering around Jane Austen and the fact that Hugh Grant himself has been known to do a few memorable Jane Austen adaptations in the past, as well as the treatment of her work in Hollywood. (BTW, other than "Pride & Prejudice", the book and the Joe Wright movie, [Which is easily the best Austen adaptation]  I find that I can't stand Jane Austen, in any form, including "Clueless", so as absurd as these scenes are, I must confess, I have a different appreciation for them than others might) Also, there's the single mom student Holly (Marisa Tomei, and man, this movie casted well.) Who calls out Keith's bullshit pretty quickly and pretty soon he's now teaching the class, and Holly's now apart of it, while dealing with falling in love with her, helping out the other students, shocking himself that he shows genuine interest in them, and not even just sexually. Look, I know this movie is little more than fluff, but man is it some great fluff. We know the steps that are gonna get there, hell, it's a Hugh Grant romantic-comedy, I don't want it to be that different; I just want it to do it well and for the journey to be interesting and different enough to keep me interested. It's well-written, well-cast, very well acted,... it's nothing great, but for it is, this was just a refreshing little movie filled with, admittedly great performances from some of my favorite actors. I can't believe I never thought to put Marisa Tomei and Hugh Grant together before, that's just a brilliant idea on the face of it and those two work well together, and both get to show off all their talent, and both of them need to be in more leading roles.


5 FLIGHTS UP (2015) Director: Richard Loncraine

2 1/2 STARS



Eh, I guess I could hypothetically give this film a 3 STARS recommendation and move on, but, I don't know, I can't really imagine any reason that makes this movie essential for anyone to watch.

(Ten minutes later)

I've been informed by my editor that I should make my review of "5 Flights Up" longer than one sentence.

(Two minutes later)

Okay, my bitch of an editor is now telling me to stop being a smartass and actually write a proper review of the film, and since I don't feel like being too pissed off by her, I'll need to. (Oh, stop giving me that condescending look, you didn't have to sit through it.) Well, there isn't really much to write here. "5 Flights Up" is about an older couple in Brooklyn, Alex and Ruth Carver (Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton) who live in a five floor walk-up, and they've hired they're niece Lily (Cynthia Nixon) to sell their apartment, convinced that they can get about a million dollars from it, which is reasonable for New York City. (I guess it's actually a condominium if it's owned, right? I don't know) Anyway, we see them now, and they're getting a little old for a walkup, particularly Alex, so they're hoping to sell the apartment quickly and then make an offer on another highrise apartment, with a nice view for Alex's painting, he's a professional painter and we also get flashbacks throughout the movie of Alex and Ruth (Corey Jackson and Claire Van der Boom) as they were growing old in the apartment and meeting. There's one peculiar scene that doesn't make too much sense, where we see Alex painting Ruth, apparently shortly after they first met, despite them being in the apartment, which they moved into two years into their marriage, so that doesn't make sense. There's some very typical and cliched people who visit the open house and consider buying the apartment, nothing untypical, but nothing horrible, just some typical quirky people you see when house selling/house hunting. Meanwhile, they're dog Dorothy injures her back and needs surgery. This is also costing money, so more reason to sell the apartment quickly. There's also a strange thing with a supposed terrorist from Uzbekistan that apartment left a gas tanker on the bridge and is now running around town as a fugitive. Honestly,-, I thought it was contrived, I didn't get it, it's just another thing about how the media overblows everything after 9/11. Honestly, "5 Flights Up" is a well-acted, well-made, Hallmark movie. It's just average and manipulative and-eh, not much really/ Everything's just small scale and there's not really any major drama. It's delightful, I guess but,...- Seriously, there's not much good or bad to say about this movie. Richard Loncraine's a competent director, it's based on a book apparently; I can't imagine it being that good a book. It's just a blah little indy New York movie that, sentimental enough but not too much that it's believable and well-acted enough that it's worth watching, but other than that, this movie barely exists. Keep our new apartment or a better/different apartment; yeah the drama in this decision, is really not worth a movie.


THE WRECKING CREW (2015) Director: Danny Tedesco

✰✰1/2



(Frustrated sigh) Okay, you guys might remember back when I wasn't writing reviews for a few months because I was unable to work online regularly for awhile, so I ended up watching a shit-ton of movies without reviewing them. I made up for that by eventually, reviewing quite a few of the more recent films I had seen during that time, and skipping the older ones, which I'm now prone to do anyway, 'cause after well over a 1,000+ movie reviews, I burned out even before my internet/computer troubles, so I only review older movies now if I have time and am so desired. One of those movies that I did not review during that time was "The Wrecking Crew" a rather mediocre profile of the famous group of session musicians in L.A. from the '50s and '60s all the way to modern time even, some of the original members still play. I felt okay skipping it, because according to IMDB.com, the movie came out in 2008, seven years ago. Now, here's the reason I'm doubling back and reviewing it, some, two, three months after watching it, you see, in case anybody wonders, while it is in some cases debatable about when a movie is officially released, I have my own standard and my procedure and set of rules about this, and the first thing on my checklist in order to determine the date is the American theatrical release date, 'cause that's a pretty solid standard, especially for someone in America like me, 'cause that's not only when I usually see a movie, that's often the time when most everybody else will get the opportunity to first see the movie. There's exceptions of course, but that's usually I think a good, strong determining factor. Now, sometimes that date is different than the IMDB date on the top of a film's page, sometimes off by a year, maybe two tops, if a film finished early or screen at an early festival or something of that nature. Anyway, it's rare that a movie get a theatrical release later than a couple years after it's finished or completed. "The Wrecking Crew" screened at numerous festivals, originally in 2008; it didn't get a theatrical release until, March of this year! Seven years! SEVEN YEARS! I'm sorry, I'm usually on top of this, but seven years later for a theatrical release is really unusual, especially in today's world where there's just too many damn movies getting theatrical screenings to begin with. The reason for this btw, and this is a legitimate issue that movies like this have and it does need to be looked at and fixed at point was licensing for the music. Guys, what little I know about the music industry, I do know that the licenses, rights and copyright practice are just a mindfuck of a mindfield to walk through. If you think the absurdity of Hollywood's multiple Unions rules are a tightrope walk to dance through, I'll do that any day over having to figure out song rights and usages. It's a pain in the ass, and it's expensive, in fact they had to do a Kickstarter just to pay for the song rights. I feel sorry for them, 'cause boy is that annoying, but to be honest, this isn't a great rockumentary. I think it is important to know about some of the great session musicians who often are the legendary artists of rock'n'roll that we don't know about, and I'm happy that we are, but there's better and more entertaining movies about it; just off the top of my head, this movie has to be compared to recent ones like "Muscle Shoals", about the Swampers, and most notably, the Oscar-winning "20 Feet from Stardom" about generations of some of the most famous backup singers in rock music history from Darlene Love to Judith Hill. Those films really dig into the music and the people making it, "The Wrecking Crew" is really more of a fan film than anything else unfortunately, It's nice to see the people behind such wide-ranging artists as Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Cher. and The Monkees to name a few, and they were great musicians, some of them are pretty famous in their own right like Glen Campbell who was apart of the crew at one point. Director Danny Tedesco is the son of Tommy Tedesco who was the legendary guitarist of the Wrecking Crew before his passing in '87, and the movie feels more like a tribute to him and the rest of the crew than it does a documentary, and that's really the shame of the movie that brings it down. I wish it wasn't, he's trying but I think similarly with my issues with the "Nas: Time is Illmatic" documentary, it didn't feel like there really was enough material here for a feature film, despite the greatness and legendary status of the artists. Tedesco tried and passionately so, but you can more or less look up what they did and be just as if not more impressed with them than you would with this documentary.


GODZILLA (2014) Director: Gareth Edwards

1/2



I've never particularly felt any desire to watch a Godzilla movie before, and I don't really feel like seeking out others now that I've seen this one. I'm not surprised that Americans have an interest in remaking "Godzilla"; I never watched the previous remake attempt although I heard mostly negative things about it then and now, but, I always got the impression that this was mainly a story that only really works in Japan. I'm not even sure how or why it works there, but the metaphor of the giant lizard monster that rises from the ashes of nuclear energy overload goes back to the atomic bombs being dropped on the country and I guess this is their version of a repressed fear of the worst case scenario from this; I mean, we usually turn people into superheroes after coming in contact with such radiation, so I don't know which idea is stranger, but either way, whenever I did catch some Japanese monster movie, whether it be "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell", or probably the most recent one, "The Host", I found it very difficult to really take this seriously. I guess it's a fun little action story, but still, it's always just seemed bizarre to me personally. Gareth Edwards previous feature, "Monsters" was actually a creative horror/thriller about aliens and monsters that actually had legitimate scares and played with the atmosphere and our expectations of the genre. This time however, "Godzilla" is basically, a disaster monster movie, the kind where, no matter where the characters we are following go or end up, it's going to end up being the wrong decision and they have to escape with their lives as disaster and destruction occurs around them. Honestly, the biggest sin with "Godzilla" is, it's boring. The movie begins in The Philippines interestingly enough, where eggs are found, one apparently hatched and ends up crossing the South China Sea, if my geography is right, might just be the Atlantic Ocean, but he heads to the nearest nuclear plant, which is on the coast of Japan, where young Ford (CJ Adams) lives with his father and mother (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche for some reason, what the hell are you doing in this movie Juliette?) who both work at the plant the day a "tsunami" or "earthquake" occurs and leads to a Chernobyl-like disaster, and his mother being killed. Fifteen years later, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a bomb defusing expert in the Army, and he's in America with his wife Ellie (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam as his father has now become convinced that something happened that he wasn't told about at the plant and that there's a major coverup. Of course, this is a disaster movie, so he's right, and coincidentally this happens to be the day when the shit hits the fan and the Gojira awakens from the plant and now Ford and his father are brought in by his dad's old co-worker Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to help track Godzilla as he's traveling to American it turns out, stopping in Hawaii of course, and there's also giant monsters in America causing disturbances and now the U.S. Army, led by Admiral Stenz (David Staitharn, who introduced in a strange sequence where we only see the back of him for about a minute even though to a cinephile like me, David Straitharn's voice is unmistakable, so I don't know why that kind of reveal was done. There's other actors like Sally Hawkins around in minor roles worth noting, but this movie just lagged. I guess it make some sense, if you're actually gonna do this, but I barely could care. I'm really just surprised at how boring the film was more than anything else; Giant monsters battling other giant monsters, I would've thought just on a kitsch level that would've been enough, that seems to be enough for people who are Godzilla fans, but even conceding that they do need more than that in a film or story like this, um, I might as well have been watching "The Impossible", it's just another movie about people struggling to stay out of danger and come together in the middle of the apocalypse or some other disaster, and that's been done better way too many previous times for me to give it slack here. It's not even entertainingly bad, it's just a boring retread of typical movie plots and cliches.


LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED (2014) Director: David Trueba

✰✰✰



Spain's official entry into the Foreign Language Oscar race last year, "Living is Easy with Eyes Closed" is a film I liked more in theory than in actuality. I don't quite know what it was that stopped drawing me in so much, perhaps it was just the-eh, travails of the road trip movie are so familiar to me now, that I almost immediately tuned out once the trip began and the strange mix of characters come began forming a unique and unusual familial-like friendship. The title as most of you should know is the opening line of The Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the movie is indeed about a Beatles fan, Antonio (Javier Camera) an English teacher who uses Beatles songs in order to teach the language to his students. The movie takes place in Spain in 1966 and is apparently based loosely on a true story. There's a few things you need to know, one, Spain was under the repressive rule of Franco at the time, so there's that, and that's the setting and so to extent I'm a bit surprised Spain even got the Beatles. Also, John Lennon at this time is actually shooting the Richard Lester film "How I Won the War", which I reviewed myself recently; it's not that great a movie but represents the most famous acting performance from Lennon. He's shooting on the coast, and with Antonio feeling that this might be his only chance, decides to road trip to the shoot and try to talk with Lennon about his music. On the way, he ends up taking the trip with two teenagers a runaway boy, Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) and a pregnant girl Belen (Nathalia de Molina). I can't quite describe it, but this was when the movie kinda lost me. I know it's essential to bring characters in like this, but I thought we had such an interesting story and character and a goal, and then suddenly, I felt like I was walking into a movie I had seen a million times before at that point. I'm still recommending the movie, it's mostly good, but I think it had one, two-many people taking the script and putting in the most cliched acts into it, or at least that's how it felt to me, maybe it's actually based on his experiences and the teens are real people too, they probably are, but they weren't interesting to me. Road movies can either keep you excited about the journey or make you feel like you're meandering sloughing through, and this one felt like a slough through to me. There's enough to recommend it and it is a cool story, but yeah, this is another film that's severely underwhelmed my expectations. Maybe if I had seen more films by the director David Trueba and can put it in context with his work, but without that, I really couldn't grasp it much more than at arms length.


LAGGIES (2014) Director: Lynn Shelton

✰✰✰



Okay, before anything, Keira Knightley is one of the best actresses alive, and she doesn't get enough credit for that.... in almost every role I've seen her in, I've believed her in. Doesn't matter what it is. (Although "The Imitation Game" did test my theory) Especially this film, she's not who I would've immediately thought of for this part, but that's partly because she's too beautiful that it's easy to forget how versatile she is. That said, "Laggies" is a bit of an erratic and meandering movie, that maybe was only about half-thought through. I still like it enough to recommend it, pretty easily, but even for a quarterlife crisis mumblecore film, I think some of the stakes could've been interesting. Okay, I don't know whether it's mumblecore or not, don't send letters, but I do consider Director Lynn Shelton's work to be apart of it, and this fits pretty naturally with some of her other films like "Humpday" and "Your Sister's Sister", and it's way better than her previous feature film "Touchy Feely". Anyway, Knightley plays Megan, who is your typical aimless 20-something with a useless college degree, she currently lives and works with her father Ed (Jeff Garlin) part time, she spins a sign outside of his tax place. She's also apart of this group of lifelong friends from high school who she keeps finding ways of antagonizing, the main one at the moment being Allison (Ellie Kemper) who's getting married and she's, either the maid of honor or the bridesmaid, or something, but clearly she's the last one who's "grown up", although probably a better description would be to say that she just isn't really connecting with life, or the group anymore the way everybody else does. I can appreciate this sentiment greatly; I think most people who start entertainment blogs like this do. Anyway, at the wedding, Megan is proposed to by her boyfriend, who's been her boyfriend since high school, Anthony, (Mark Webber) and he wants to get married as soon as possible, having felt this new insurgent need in his life to stop being so stuck and this causes Megan to regress. She's the one who still likes her life and everyone around her is getting married, real jobs, with kids, yeah I know the feeling. So, she decides to hide out for a week from her life, under the guise of going to a seminar. She hides out at her friend Annika's (Chloe Grace Moretz) house, who's a sixteen-year-old that she bought beer for earlier. and felt a kinship too. This plan is moronic on many levels, but it worked for me. Obviously, hiding out in a teenage girl's room only works for so long, and eventually Annika's father Craig (Sam Rockwell) finds her pretty easily. He's a lawyer who's wife ran out on him and her daughter years earlier, and questions why this, almost-30-year-old is hanging out with his daughter. I won't say he's satisfied or understanding of her answer, and of course, she's lying about her upcoming nuptials, but for the most part, I bought into the relationships between the characters, even if this is where she loses me a bit; if I was her, this probably would've been a college girl's dorm that I was hiding in. Which has happened to me once or twice before, although I didn't end up sleeping with her, that's all on her. "Laggies" is better in concept than in execution, it's almost like a hodgepodge of moments without really the immediate need to connect them more than a straight-through narrative, but I liked most of the moments, so I am recommending it, barely. The performances especially by Knightley are what sold this for me.


BIRD PEOPLE (2014) Director: Pascale Ferran

✰✰1/2



(Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird" plays in the background) Um, yeah, this is eh,- I don't know what to make of this movie. It's by far the strangest film I've seen this week. Director Pascale Ferran's "Bird People" is a meditative...-, oh I don't know, it's appropriately named, let me put it that way. The title reminds me of a title I always wanted to save for a screenplay I wanted to write "Box People", which is a phrase used in anthropology to distinguish between the survivor practices of species, humans are box people predominantly, we live in a house, which is a box, we drive a car, which is in a box, so we're in a box even when we're outdoors, our workplaces are indoors, we get food at a supermarket, which is inside a box called a store, etc. etc. So if we're "Box People" what are "Bird People"? Well, the movie sorta tries to answer that. There's two stories, although I'd only call them coincidentally connected. Gary Newman (Josh Charles) is a Silicon Valley businessman who's flying into Paris for a meeting, and even then, only for the day as he has to hop a flight to Dubai the next morning to oversee a project there. Then suddenly, he decides to quit, everything. He doesn't take the trip, quits his job, stays at the hotel, sells off his bonds, even leaves his wife (Radha Mitchell) and kids. Why does he do this? He just does. It's sudden, but it does happen sometimes I guess. This is, not juxtaposed, but the other story involves a maid at the hotel, Audrey Cazumet (Anais Demoustier) who we see quite a bit from in the early sequences, traveling by bus and calculating the amount of time and hours she travels from her work, her home, and her schoolwork in college. She also, in a way, suddenly jumps up and begins to take complete leave of her life, in a very different way, and I'm reluctant to give away what actually happens. Let's just say there's a reason for starting this review, with a Nelly Furtado song, without any mention other of it whatsoever and it's not because it's in the movie, it's not. This movie's just strange. I guess I get the symbolism, but I don't think it's that great a parable bringing the surreal and fantasy aspect into the world of reality, or vice-versa for all I know. There's something called a "Rule of Three" where if you're gonna do multiple stories or something, that you should do them in 3's for the greatest effect, doing duality is usually never good unless your name's Stanley Kubrick. I'm not sure three of these would've helped either by the way, There's two decent ideas for films here and I don't really get the need to put them together in comparison, other than the fact that these two people are "Bird People".


BETHLEHEM (2014) Director: Yuval Adler

✰✰✰1/2



Israel's official entry a couple years ago for the Foreign Language Academy Award, "Bethlehem" is an intriguing albeit somewhat cliched story-wise look into the Israeli-Palestinean conflict through the perspective of both the militant Palestineans, who are more prone to fighting among their own separatist groups than the Jews themselves, and the Israeli Army Military Services, who are basically Israel's version of the FBI, although I think that could be misleading, somebody correct me if that's not completely accurate. Israel and Palestine have been making quite a few memorable and good films lately, they're two nations whose film industry is probably one of the most underrated in the world. I mention both of them, 'cause while the film is by an Israeli director, the debut feature by Yuval Adler, the film was actually written by Adler and a Muslim screenwriter Ali Wakad. Wakad is a journalist who's writes on Palestine, while Adler was apart of the IAMS before going into film, so where this movie might struggle with a more inventive story when you think back upon it, the movie's real depth is the insider perspectives into both of these sides of the conflict that makes up for it. It's almost too simplistic in a neorealist sense, I've heard some criticism in that regard, but I'd argue it holds up. Sanfur (Shadi Mar'i) is the Palestinean teenager. His brother Ibrahim (Tarik Kopty) is currently in Bethlehem, which is mostly now a Muslim and Palestinean controlled city. He's hiding after he took credit for a bombing that kill 30 Jews; he was a leader in a terrorist group called the al-Asqa Martyrs Brigade, which is a group I'm not particularly familiar with, however it's implied that the brother may have turned on this group and joined Hamas, a group I am familiar with as are most of the west. The Martyrs Brigade, as far as I can tell, after a wikipedia search anyway, is, I believe a subset terrorist group of Fatah, which is the group that Yassir Arafat famously was apart of. Sanfur is also an informer for Razi (Tsahi Halevi), becoming an asset to the Israeli Military Officer after his brother left, in order to gain more information on the Martyr's Brigade, particularly the de-facto leader of this branch, Badawi (Hitham Omari). Razi has slowly begun to get caught up in Sansur's life, almost to a fatherly degree, even puting him over his family. Razi however gets more and more ostracized by his family for continuing to hang around the Martyrs, worried after his brother's action. It's a daunting and scary world that their all essentially apart of, and it's these conflicts pulling Sanfur in multiple directions while everybody else is caught up in a never-ending literal and metaphorical battle. "Bethlehem" also is a bit too caught up in the battle itself, and it gets a little overbearing at times. Still this is a good first feature for Adler; I'd like to see what he does next; if you take away the Israeli-Palestinean stuff, this is basically just a decent spy movie, admittedly that factor does add more to it, but still that's either gonna disappoint you or enthrall you, I'm not sure which, and that's probably the point.


DINOSAUR 13 (2014) Director: Todd Douglas Miller

✰✰✰



You know I never really thought about it, but I never really got the whole "Dinosaurs are cool" thing as a kid, in fact in hindsight I was wondered why the hell they were taught to us for numerous years in elementary school. That's not to say I didn't like dinosaurs, I wouldn't want to run into one tomorrow. but it kinda just see like a random thing you had to learn when compared to the alphabet, the colors, basic arithmetic, and all the countries, capitals, largest cities, populations, government systems, current, symbolic and historical leaders, mountain ranges, bodies of water and memorizing the most important and famous landmarks of the world. 2nd grade was fun. Anyway, I guess there was more going on though, 'cause this was actually a major time for archaeology, in particular with the tyrannosaurus rex. I didn't know how many T-rex's had been exhumed by 1990, but I wouldn't have guessed 12. I think I presumed that we'd have a lot more dinosaur specimens in the world then we do. In 1990 in South Dakota, the 13th and most preserved up 'til that point tyrannosaurus was found. Sue was the dinosaur's name, the group that found him was led by Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research and it's the find of a millennium. What happened next would be satire if it wasn't real. Basically, since the land and the landowner of where they found the skeleton was in dispute, that meant, depending on what statutes and law get followed, they may have committed multiple felonies by digging up Sue. They paid off the landowner and even though it was a verbal contract, caught on tape, and claims that the land actually belonged to a Native American group, and then the court determined that fossils are indeed apart of the land and stripping of land and crossing a border illegally with it, is in fact, a crime. Larson would spend almost a couple years in jail in fact for this, and Sue was packed away and taken as evidence by the Feds until possession could be determined where it eventually sold at a Sotheby's auction to a museum in Chicago for an astounding eight-digit sum. "Dinosaur 13" is pretty one-sided for a documentary, although I wish they would've played up the absurdity of the case moreso than the sentimentality aspect; I don't mind the one-sidedness but it often came off as just whining about how they were basically being sent to jail for doing their job and finding the greatest archaeological find in North America up until that point. I guess it's too personal for them to see the ridiculousness of it all, but I suspect the movie would've been stronger that way. Still, it's an interesting enough story even if it probably belonged as a "Frontline"/"Nova" crossover documentary as oppose to this, but still, I gotta recommend it. There's enough here that I didn't know about and learned that I think it's worth a watch if you don't know all the details of the story up to this point.


AMERICAN PROMISE (2013) Directors: Joe Brewster & Michele Stephenson

✰✰✰1/2



Hmm, okay first of all, it should be pointed out that it's not unusual for documentaries to follow it's subject for years on end. So, while a movie that follows young boys for over a decade from elementary school 'til they enter college, it's a little simplistic to compare it "American Promise" to "Boyhood". It's more inspired I'm told by Michael Apted's "Up Documentaries", which I swear I will finish someday; I keep putting them off,  however, the movie that's probably the best comparison to this movie is "Hoop Dreams". Two young African-American youths going to a prestigious school to further their education and possibly career advancements and we follow them through the years.Although, the way the parents act in this film, strangely reminded me of Caine's grandparents in "Menace II Society". I mean, they don't jam religion down their kids' throats, but every other thing is school and future and blah, blah, blah. It's exhausting to put up with that kind of pressure, constantly, especially when the work is difficult enough. It's hollow words after awhile, especially at the end when they're pressuring them to fill out the apps for colleges. That said, "American Promise" is a good documentary, although I'd be hard-pressed to call it a great one. The movie was actually intended to be about numerous kids but eventually it only became about the two kids of the filmmakers, which I think is a bit unfortunate; I tend to groan at movies where basically the filmmaker is just filming their family, with very few exceptions like Doug Block's films, that mostly ends up feeling like you're looking at the family photos of somebody else's family that you don't know. (Also, I can't help but imagine Paul Reiser's character from "Mad About You" as the archetype of someone doing stuff like that, film stuff for PBS stations and stuff although any episode you see of him doing it, you realize that he's actually terrible at it, especially the one where he's filming the ball dropping at New Year's...- eh, sorry, another rant. "Mad About You" is a great show though, despite that) The movie does look into the phenomenon of the upper class African-Americans now going through upper education private and prep schools and the dynamics they experience and go through. It's interesting to me that the two kids themselves aren't as intrigued at the project themselves, if anything they're just ambivalent towards it; I think they like the idea of not being followed with a camera by their family for awhile. I liked "American Promise" but I can't I thought it was this great documentary about growing up and going through the school system. It has some powerful moments, including when one of the relatives of the kids dies unexpectedly from a home accident and he goes through trouble at school. It's interesting how the kids perceive that they're treated differently in school than others, and how they feel unfairly antagonized by the teachers and that it's making them struggle in classes. The parents look upset by it too, noticing that the kids are pulling all their time and effort into homework, most of it anyway. That said, I didn't exactly notice it by the school footage of them in class. Maybe that was just me, but it seemed just as likely to me that maybe the kids just weren't that good at school. It happens, some people can find their way through most any education system thrown at them and others aren't, and I've been through both of those dynamics so I get that. (Granted, mostly I've been through the former) In terms of being biased against and realizing and feeling it, we see how they react, but I also suspect the homelife has as much to do with how one does at school, and like I said before, if that's all that's battered into you, at some point you will tune it out. I think that's what I'm most struggling with this movie, the film seems to be more interested in the kids homelife as oppose to seeing them go through the education system, and yeah, the parts where the parents are debating about public or private and struggling to get them into the best schools are intriguing, that is something that irks me a bit. As good as I was at school based on my Awards, diploma and GPA average, I've never really bought into the notion that supposedly certain schools are so much better or greater than others, (Or at least I believe that they shouldn't be, I'm also in general against private schooling of all kinds anyway, including homeschooling.) and instead, believe that it's more important what you put into your education than system that you're in. Take it from a guy who once complained to a teacher, much to the chagrin of most of the class that we weren't learning or doing enough work, and that the assignments we were getting were absolutely useless. True story, shockingly once I explained my position more people took my side than I would've thought, so I'm still alive to talk about it but this is a subject I already get personal about, as you can tell. Maybe I do have a certain perspective myself then, regarding this film, I still observe that the film could've been more interesting if it focused on the school system itself more. Perhaps a lot was edited, but this was a movie that took 12-13 years to make, they should've had it if it was there to see clearly.







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