Thursday, April 28, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #116: "SPOTLIGHT", "AMY". "HE NAMED ME MALALA", "SAN ANDREAS", "GOODNIGHT MOMMY", "DANNY COLLINS", "JAMES WHITE", "KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER", "SLOW WEST" and MORE!

Well, this year's really sucked. David Bowie dead, now Prince dead, anybody else you want to kill God that's cool? Anyway, long, rough week and we're still going through it in the entertainment world. Actually, it's mostly been slow as far as I can tell, If it weren't for the deaths lately, I'm not sure what there'd be to talk about. A lot of talk about Hollywood whitewashing keeps coming up, if an article or thinkpiece isn't about that, then all the articles seem to be about the election. everybody's waiting intently to see which television series that nobody cares about are about to be canceled or saved at the last minute. Yeah, everything's going pretty slow right about now and for me, that's good gives me time to watch all these films without having to work on eight different things at once for the future, and a little breathing room to work on other projects. Right now, on top of the films I'm reviewing here, I'm also finally getting around to, what's apparently a trilogy of films by Cedric Klapisch, by finally watching "The Spanish Apartment". You remember, "L'Auberge Espagnole", that French language DVD that looked like a comedy that advertised how much Audrey Tautou was in it, even though she's barely in the damn thing, but it was right after "Amelie" came out, so she was all over the promotion for it? Yeah, I barely remembered either, but then I heard he made a sequel, and now there's a third in this series of films, "Russian Dolls" and "Chinese Puzzle" I think his theme is nationality? Anyway, finally got around to it, watched the first one. Eh, it's okay. I think it'd be better as a television show but whatever. I still got major Award-winning/nominated films to get to, so let's get to that.

Here's this week's edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting off with reviews of the OSCAR-WINNING films, "Spotlight" and "Amy"!


SPOTLIGHT (2015) Director: Tom McCarthy

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I'm gonna try, although probably fail at decrying about the loss art of investigative journalism, especially in regards to the continuously slugging troubles of the entire newspaper industry, mainly because every other review and thinkpiece on "Spotlight" has brought it up, and yes, the comparisons the movie gets to "All the President's Men" are both inevitable as well as accurate; that's the clear and obvious film that "Spotlight" will get compared to, but honestly there have been several movies about investigative journalism over the years, or films that were at least made because of or inspired by, or are showing the behind-the-scene story of an article in a paper somebody wrote, or hypothetically couldn't written or were based on a true story. Just off the top of my head, "Nothing But the Truth", "Truth" is a recent one, "Philomena" just a couple years ago got a surprise Best Picture Oscar nomination, "State of Play", that was a good one, "The End of the Tour", recently, that was based on a book that was an account of a writing of an article. The point I'm trying to make here though, is that, "Spotlight" is the first one of these movies in a long time where I really, honestly cared about it. It's one of the toughest things to do, getting an audience fascinated and intrigued despite the fact that we actually know what's going to happen. For those who don't know the first major story, after 9/11, was when the Boston Globe's investigative reporting team, "Spotlight" revealed the true extent to which the Catholic Church had been covering up and settling incidents of pedophilia in the church. Yeah, this is not game-breaking even at the time, but the extent of which however, we didn't know, and in Boston in particular, Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) who routinely relocated pedophile priests to numerous new parishes after every new claim, having them continue to pederast over the years. We know now just how much the Catholic Church, really is, essentially, a cover for the crimes of the cloth. (If you aren't familiar with the extent, I highly recommend Alex Gibney's amazing documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" to really show the details of it.) "Spotlight" details the investigation which realizes, just how far the rabbit hole goes. The looking up and the finding of the facts, and how difficult it was. For all intensive purposes, this movie is one of those films where, there's closed doors with every interview they try and papers and cases are closed and sealed and not public and having to get public is a constant search for loophole inside loopholes and literally having to search and search until they finally fall into the one or two mistakes the church makes in covering the fraud. Explaining the details of the movie is not really entertaining, what's really special about "Spotlight" is how personal the movie is, how intense the movie is. How personal the movie is, for the characters and how it feels to us. The struggles of investigating such a-...  boy, I haven't had this much trouble writing a positive review in years. It's definitely too low-key to really explain in the normal terms of cinematic language. There's nothing flashy, there's nothing that stands out, and that's the point. There's a reason this film won only two Oscars, one for Writing and one for Picture, you can't quantify the aspects of the movie separately, only together. None of the actors are great alone, but the cast is all spectacular. Tom McCarthy's isn't flashy or groundbreaking or experimental, but it's exactly what the film needs. The movie and the investigation, it is small, it's just that the results of what they find are huge. The movie opens, simply enough, a new chief editor from out of town, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who's trying to learn about Boston by reading "The Curse of the Bambino". That's something that's brought up a lot too, the movie does make a point that, Boston is essentially, if New York was a small town, sort of speak. It's actually one of the biggest cities in the country but it's secluded away from most other metropolises, so the Boston Globe is essentially one of the most major newspapers in the country, but it's local, filled with people who've grown up throughout the greater Boston area, and despite the national recognition still has a small-town perspective and mindset.  This is especially so, with the influence the Catholic church has over much of the city, and sure enough, as the Spotlight crew finds out, not only how many priests but how many have abused kids, the closer and closer they get to finding out, the closer the story gets to them. The head of Spotlight, Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) went to high school at a Catholic school across from the Globe, Sacha (Oscar-nominee Rachel McAdams) took her mother to church every Sunday, but eventually had to stop in the middle of the investigation. Michael Rezendes (Oscar-nominee Mark Ruffalo, who is doing something weird with his posturing, but I can't quite figure out what but, yeah he's kinda squirly weird) is the typical cliched go get everyone reporter, who's going through a divorce and blah, blah, blah, it's not about them. Or about Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery) the "Spotlight" editor-in-chief, and yes, he is the son of Ben Bradlee, so there is a very direct link with "All the President's Men" in this story as well. Or the lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) who investigating the church at the behest of his clients in a class action suit that fist gets the investigation going, after a commentary piece in the Opinion section catches Marty's eye and he thinks it's worth writing on, or for that matter about all the people who didn't hold the church up to the fire and prevented and/or stopped them or highlighted the previous cases and stories that did stumble their way into the newspaper years before, but were ignored or relegated to the back pages, often by the same people investigating the corruption now. It's about all of them, but it's also about the system, and about the journalism-, ugh. I feel like I'm getting caught in my own ouroboros in this review. It's not that it's difficult to explain, it's that the movie is so bare bones brilliant that there's not enough to explain. It's an expert lesson in film storytelling. Like it's Director, Tom McCarthy is equally enigmatic. He's mostly known as a character actor, the kind who you've seen a million times and can't name a single thing he's been in and he uses those projects to funds his own films. I've written on one of them "The Visitor" in my Canon of Film section already, most of his movies are also character pieces, "The Station Agent", and "Win-Win" were great low-key character pieces, as was his most derided film, "The Cobbler", which he made earlier in the year with Adam Sandler. I'm one of the few people who highly recommended that sly comedy about a cobbler who magically is able to literally step into people's shoes and start seeing what it's like in their lives. I think that's actually what so perplexing to me about "Spotlight", it's actually the film that least fits in with McCarthy's ouevre. Every time I try to pick it apart through one character or one aspect of the film, I get tripped up, 'cause for the first time, he's not creating an interesting character to center his unique stories around he's telling us a true life story that's not about the characters involved. Well, he succeeds more than admirably and is a most deserving Best Picture winner.


AMY (2015) Director: Asif Kapadia

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(Depressed sigh) Excuse me a minute, I got to-eh, ugh-, hold on.

(Pulls out and puts on a bulletproof vest as well as numerous layers of guard-dog level foam padding, around his entire body. Arms, legs, neck. I then places on a large motorcycle helmet on my head, shield down. I then, go to the wall, remove a painting where a secret compartment in the wall is, and I flip a switch which layers steel bars surrounded by bulletproof glass in front of the figurative readers, before he sits back down at the computer)

Okay, I actually have to be completely honest with this one, but I never really thought Amy Winehouse's music was that great.

(Quickly ducks as flying objects and bullets come hurling at him)

I'm sorry but-, hold on let me-, alright, let me explain, let me explain. Okay! I know, this is gonna sound sacrilegious to some, but, I do think she was incredibly talented, and I like a few of her songs, in particular, "You Know I'm No Good", although admittedly, part of the reason I love that song is because it was sample for the theme song of the British television show, "Secret Diary of a Call Girl", but still that's a beautiful song, and if you know my musical tastes, in general you're probably really shocked that I wasn't immediately engrossed by Amy Winehouse's work. Yes, she was good, and who knows how much great and better work she could've made had she survived but I listened to "Back to Black", and I'm familiar with most of her work, and she was talented, but she mostly seemed like a shallow throwback to me, and I could think of artists in the same genre like PJ Harvey or Fiona Apple at the time who I thought and still think were a lot better. Hell, I think some of the artists out right now who were probably inspired by Amy Winehouse, like Gin Wigmore, Elle King, and ZZ Ward, their music is way the hell better than Winehouse's. Now, part of this is genre, Winehouse was a pure jazz singer and I think she was at her best doing that, and just that, while some of the other have jazz influence in their work, especially Fiona Apple, but they also have more of a folk rock edge to their work that they can thrive in. They're a little Melissa Etheridge and a little Amy Winehouse, and that was always better to me. In fact, Winehouse's more do-wop and girl group inspired work on "Back to Black", I just never thought was that good. I actually hate "Rehab", and I hate to say this, but yeah I hate to go right for the gallows humor, but yeah, the girl that sang about how she didn't want to go to rehab, um... yeah, it's a too-easy setup. (Her father seems like a piece of work himself btw.)

Anyway, I have to bring this up in order to discuss "Amy" the Oscar-winning bio-documentary about Winehouse's life, 'cause I think it does effect how I watched and view the movie. I know each film should be put in it's own little sphere and analyzed on it's own terms, but-, I guess I found myself waiting for the moment where I would recognize Winehouse as one of the greats, and, I just never saw it. I heard some great music and a very talented artist, and I do recommend the film, barely. The movie is made entirely of found from Winehouse's life and death, cut with, the voices of her friends and family, not their faces curiously enough, we get continued credits informing us of who's talking next over the old television footage, home movies, publicity footage, etc. It's mostly entertaining, although I don't get the decision to not use talking heads, but use talking heads, that's just confusing. But, we do get to see a little bit of Winehouse, at her barest, realest, the footage of hew winning those Grammys when she wasn't even allowed in the country, her struggling with her addiction. We see a lot of her growing up with her family and friends, much of it with her not in those damn up-dos that I never thought looked right on her, thankfully. We see the story behind that "Rehab" song, which is actually sad and powerful, how they tried to get her into rehab, but she convinced her father that she could clean herself up on her own, and of course after that song exploded any/all privacy left with her. She also, was a bulimic since high school and it's this combination that led to her inevitable death, on top of the general bad decision-makings she had. Yeah, I wish I did find a deeper layer in her work through this movie, I'm kinda searching for a reason for this film to exist, but I'm having trouble seeing it. It doesn't help that I watched this shortly after watching "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck", which is also a documentary on a late legendary musician who died young, and full disclosure, I didn't become a Nirvana fan until much later in life, but the deeper you dive into him and his music, there's no answer to explain it, but the more complex an individual Cobain becomes and he that movie really dives into the numerous tortures that soul lived with/through. Unfortunately, I don't get that with "Amy". I came into the film, believing that Amy Winehouse was a very talented young woman who was an out-of-control drug-addict bulimic that died and I really didn't come out of the movie finding her or her life more complicated than that. I know, a lot of rock'n'roll legends die young, and we think their work becomes greater and more rich in their passing, and their lives become more fascinating afterwards, but I don't get that with Amy Winehouse, and "Amy", it's a nice a tribute, didn't convince me otherwise. Sorry.


HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015) Director: Davis Guggenheim

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Oh boy, I'm going to be tough again on a bio-doc about a young modern influential public figure, and this one.... (Deep breath) Okay, if you don't know who Malala Yousafzai is by name, then you'll probably know her by reputation. This Pakistani teenager came out against the Taliban who had been burning down schools, particularly those that taught girls. As a result, a hit was put on her and she was shot in the head, and she survived. This was when she was 15-years-old, she's written a memoir about her life, and the significance of her name, "Malala", named by her father after another famous Pakistani young martyr who stood up to others and it cost her, her life, she survived, her family moved to England and continues to be a symbol as well as a constant advocate and presence in the pursuit of women getting education. In 2015, at the age of 17, a year and a half after getting shot by the Taliban, she became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She's definitely one of the most interesting people alive, and yes she is powerful and fascinating person, and who knows what she will do in the future. She is getting an education, and she is definitely inquisitive and wants to learn, on the other hand, she already knows quite a bit, and some of the more interesting scene were actually of her, just being, fairly normal with her family. We see her having fun occasionally, we see her book collection, but she's still fairly, standoffish as a person. Understandably so, but still, we don't get to see too much of her, personally. I mean, there's a little, but even Director Davis Guggenheim, who is an excellent documentarian normally, he won an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth", he made "Waiting for Superman", among others but he's struggling to get, much more than a few, not necessarily stock responses, but it's clear that, Malala is not exactly the kind who will let her guard down and let herself be, oh, what's-the-word, vulnerable. And, I get why, but-, it doesn't necessarily make for the most documentary. I'm actually, very close to giving this film a straight negative review; I think for the moment I'll keep it at 3 STARS, cause she is somebody who's story needs to be told and needs to be documented; I question whether or not, at this point in time, this is the best way that we can tell her story. Time may be needed, or maybe she's just, not the kind of person who will ever open up, and that's fine, understandable even. I mean, even if she were to bare whatever part of her soul is left for her to bare, she's still a seventeen-year-old girl. An impressive one, probably the most fascinating and important seventeen-year-old on the planet; certainly more interesting than the famous seventeen-year-olds I had to grow up with. That said, she's still got her life ahead of her, a full life ahead of her, one that will probably have many many more interesting things for her to do, to see, to, yes, learn. I'd feel sorry that she's placed in such a spotlighted point, but I don't think she feels that way, so I won't. Maybe she's too much of a symbol now to ever be so personable. I don't blame her for this again, if anybody has earned the right not to put every emotion and her entire life story documented for all of us to see, it's her. It's just hard to then find a portrait documenting her, at this time, more than just as an essential historical document.


SAN ANDREAS (2015) Director: Brad Peyton

ZERO STARS



(Slight growl under breath) No, no no. No-No,no-,no. No-no, NO! NO! No, no, no. No. Just, NO! No! No! NO! NO!. NOOOOOOOO-OOO! NO!

Oh, where to begin here. Okay, "San Andreas" is the infamous faultline- fault-line, (Faultline is not one word? Really? Okay.) it's the infamous fault-line that separates the Pacific tectonic plate from the North America plate and it conveniently for this movie, cuts through the state of California; it's the reason why, at least back in the day, I don't think it's a widely believed myth anymore, but some hypothesized that when the big earthquake hits California, that the state, or at least part of it, might one day become an island or just sink into the Ocean entirely. So, it's a perfect set up for a disaster movie, it's already California, Hollywood, it's earthquake heavy, it's a famous location that people already think (or thought) could be the location of such drastic disastrous events, etc. etc.  Now, you'd think a movie that was named after a famous piece of geography, would know thing about the region, like, how Hoover Dam works, or where the Colorado River goes. (Okay, technically the Colorado River used to go down towards Mexico, but it hasn't done that in decades. Or, maybe not make up a place in Nevada that's supposedly near Hoover Dam, which is where the famous seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes ([Sigh] Paul Giamatti, what the hell are you doing in this movie?! Please tell me you really wanted a yacht or something so you did this. [Sigh]) goes to seek out the evidence that he can accurately predict when the next big earthquakes will arrive and this leads to the big earthquake that kills one of his assistant and destroys Hoover Dam in exactly the way that it would absolutely not happen. And btw, the San Andreas Fault is about 350 miles away from Hoover Dam. Look, I know there's other faultl-ines, but seriously, if the fault shook enough to destroy Hoover Dam, then it probably would completely annihilated Bakersfield, Barstow, probably Fresno. Okay, Giamatti, is the established character actor who's sole purpose is to give the made-up science as exposition sound credible, he's never even seen in the same scene as the main story which involves, (Depressed sigh) a, let's see, let me check the "Hack Writers Mad Libs Guide to Disaster Movies" and under dangerous noble profession, he wrote down, "Helicopter Rescue Pilot", okay, a helicopter rescue pilot, Raymond Gaines (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who's getting a divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) because plot convenience, and she's about to marry a new asshole Daniel (Ioan Gruffodd) who's trying to befriend their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who's about to head off for college, and before a bunch of shit happens, meet-cutes and befriends Ben (Hugo Johnson-Burt) a British college graduate and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) and they all end up in trouble, most of the time, they get out of it. Daniel does a few things that aren't as unreasonable as they want to make it seem, but they treat him like the Billy Zane character from "Titanic" because of it....

Oh, God this movie is painful, and yes, I'm focusing on the sketchy geography and science, but this movie would've been bad anyway. I mean, a good disaster movie that's dumb and stupid, like "2012" for instance, it's over-the-top and just a spectacle of bad; "San Andreas" is caught between taking things too seriously or trying to be humorous and it decides on neither and it makes the movie just unbelievably boring. It's just a film about a family getting back together because of disaster. It's like "The Impossible", only stupid. It's not even stupid, it's just inept.  Just-ugh. Look, I've never thought Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock was necessarily the greatest actor, but that said, nobody gave a good performance in this movie. Nobody could give a good performance in this movie. These aren't characters, they're plot devices. Archetypes of plot devices. It's copying the formula of every other movie like this. I'm seriously wondering if this movie wasn't cut-and-pasted together from some other shitty script with just the names and locations changed. I'd call it formulaic, but it's so beyond formulaic that I practically just want to call it copying. This movie is like, you ever grade papers in like high school or something, and two idiots who sat next to each other are clearly copying each other's paper, and they're so dumb they get caught right away because they both got all the same answers wrong and had all the same misspelled words, misspelled in the exact same way? That's what I think the first draft of "San Andreas" was, and then somebody cut and pasted the rest to make it look like they weren't copying from someone else. I don't know who was copying who but I'm just gonna presume/hope this was the one copying, 'cause I don't want to know the moron who copied this work, if that's the case. "San Andreas" was just an utter pain to get through, and no, there's nothing in this movie I can honestly recommend. It's a bad version of a story we've seen 100 times, the effects aren't really that special, at least in my mind, I've seen way better and more fun disaster effects...- this is basically a horrible Syfy channel movie that somehow got a budget and a theatrical release and has none of the camp fun of those movies.


GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2015) Director: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz

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"Goodnight Mommy", is one of those movies that I've been trying to, um, damn, what's the word, absorb and consider as much as I can. Watching it, was difficult, not that it was bad, but this is very deliberately-paced film that, leads to admittedly a pretty good twist that I didn't see coming. And yet, I'm still a little standoffish about the movie. This is an Austrian film from Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, a couple people who've done work separately but have started to work together on films in recent years and the movie begins with two kids, playing out in a very big backyard. It's not so much a backyard as it is, well, it's practically a landscape. I'm not sure where their home is, but it seems to be away from everything. The kids are two twin brothers, Lukas and Elias (Lukas Schwartz and Elias Schwartz) and then we see their mother, (Susanne Wuest) later as she arrives home after some severe accident that's never explained, she arrives wrapped in bandages, around her face. Soon however, the two boys begin to suspect that there's something off about her behavior, even for her having gone through a horrific incident, she stills doesn't seem to resemble her mother in her behavior. The movie, and I think this, on top of, honestly I just found the movie more slow than I did intense, but other than that, it also was a bit, inconsistent in terms of what exactly the mother's problem was. There's some scenes, I guess work for atmosphere, or maybe they were supposed to be symbolic and not literal, or maybe they were dreams, but they definitely give off an impression that there's a definite possibility that this person is not only not their mother, but possibly not even human. After a while, the kids begin to question their Mother's identity, challenging her, and her behaviors and actions. They do eventually consult a Priest (Hans Escher) at one point, to look into it, but that goes nowhere. They eventually start to take action into their own hands and that's when this psychological horror-thriller, begins to turn into a torture porn. And an intense torture porn at that. I guess I'm recommending the movie 'cause I think this is a film that needs to be seen, and because, like I said, the twist at the end is indeed a good twist that I didn't see coming and it makes the devastation at the end that much more powerful when do figure out what exactly is going on, although I still wonder if it contradicts some of the events that we saw before. Overall, "Goodnight Mommy" is an impressive, well-executed idea for a movie, although I think the film suffers from being way too moody; I suspect this movie could be better with a less ominous and more observant tone, maybe a deceptive tone perhaps, maybe. I don't know; this is the kind of foreign movie that I suspect will lead to an American remake, and actually, I find myself kinda interested in that possibility, if that were to happen. Might be interesting.


DANNY COLLINS (2015) Director: Dan Fogelman

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Hmm. This is a perplexing movie, albeit, it's still a mostly fun one, but yeah, the more you look into this movie, the stranger it becomes and seems. First of all, let's start with the Director, Dan Fogelman. He's an interesting guy, who's very inconsistent, but mostly he's worked as a writer and producer; this is his first feature film. Previously, he's bounced around, working with Disney, he was a writer on "Bolt," "Tangled" and "Cars 2", which, I know some people love "Tangled", I didn't, but he's also written "Fred Claus", "The Guilt Trip", "Last Vegas", yet he also did one of the very best recent rom-coms, "Crazy, Stupid, Love", so I'm torn, this guy's got a lot of interesting, yet average work on his resume, and he hasn't directed anything since a short film called, not making this up, "Shit Happens". So, what's this story about? Well, Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a very famous, aging rock'n'roll singer, who's currently touring the latest volume of his Greatest Hits, but years before he became known for a horribly cheesy-so-bad-it's-good "Sweet Caroline" rip-off called "Hey, Baby Doll", he apparently was a young folk singer in his twenties, (Eric Michael Ry) doing an interview with a no-budget magazine from some stoner interviewer named Guy LaRoach (Nick Offerman, nice cameo) that was read by one, John Lennon. 40+ years later, Danny's longtime manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) tracks down the letter, which was sent to LaRoach, who then sold it off 'cause that guy was a roach. Now that he's gotten the letter, all-framed at his surprise birthday party his latest wife, Sophie, (Katarina Cas) threw, which wasn't that different from the typical parties that he's been having for the last forty years of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, although he's less involved in all three of them then he used to be in his youth, he decides to go out and change his life. It's not that unusual a story, although the John Lennon note however, that is actually based on a true story. Not for Danny Collins, but that happened to a famous British folk singer Steve Tilson, who, I've never heard of myself, but he seems to have had a very successful, long-lasting and lucrative career, but there definitely is, nothing else remotely related to Tilson in this movie. Instead, Collins, decides to leave his California mansion and moves into a Radisson in New Jersey, run by Mary (Annette Bening) who is obviously his love interest, and they do have fun patter, as he has with everyone in the hotel; he's basically a Picaro-esque character to them, but he also goes and see his son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) for the first time, as well as his pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and his young Granddaughter Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). You can, pretty much guess, most of where everything goes from here, plot-wise, but it's done really well, and mostly it's a really delightful movie. It's well-written but it's definitely the acting that really pushes everything over-the-top. It's fluff, but it's really entertaining fluff, in fact, the movie really kinda falters most at the 11th hour when Danny, starts to slip into his old habits, and it's, I guess good drama structure, but-, I don't know, I wish once in a while these feel good movies would evade that last hike into the abyss sometimes, take a cue from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and just tell a happy celebratory story, with nothing more than happiness and celebration. Anyway, that's me, and that's a minor complaint; "Danny Collins" isn't anything deep or great, and whether and it's a lot of fun, and there is actually some good music with the film too, as he starts to write songs again, the music was done by Ryan Adams actually the former frontman for the alt-country folk band Whiskeytown and one of my favorite folk rockers, and I guess he's also semi-responsible for that "Hey, Baby Doll", which, yes, that ridiculous horrible song is alone, enough to watch the movie, but outside of that you get, a wonderfully-acted nice little fun movie.


JAMES WHITE (2015) Director: Josh Mond

✰✰✰



Okay, this is a weird pet peeve of mine, and I'm fully aware that I'm guilty of this in my own writing as well, but-um, I'm not big on naming movies after a very generic character name, even if it is a main character. I mean, I definitely get it in certain situations, especially if it's like an incredibly well-known name, maybe a symbolic name, and if it's a great movie of course, nobody will care about the title, but after "Danny Collins" this week, and now I'm reviewing a film called "James White". I'm just-, (chuckle under breath) I'm not saying that's an inaccurate or wrong title but-um, yeah- you know, colors are symbolic name-wise, not always but, white, usually represents purity or cleanness, sometimes ironically cause James White (Christopher Abbott) is definitely not any of those things in this movie, he's kind of somebody who's trying to be Hunter Thompson, but just basically got the sex and drugs part right and not much else, but still, this character could've literally been named anything- there's nothing about it that inspires his name to be a title, let me put it that way. If you're going do that, but you better at least make it a far more memorable name. Anyway, yes, James White is a wannabe journalist, mostly he's a trainwreck. He's the black sheep of the family and he's always heading off to go to some bar or somebody's living room floor. One night, he ends up back at his home, when his family is practices Shiva, as apparently his father had died. We meet the rest of his family, most of whom are pretty your cliche successful Manhattanites, including his successful writer mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon) is dealing with being the head of the family. James is going off to Mexico for, however long with some teenage girl, Jayne (Mackenzie Leigh) that he's dating at the moment. But, shortly after, his mother comes down with cancer, and it interrupts his, alcohol and drug-infused laze and soon, reluctantly, he ends up returning, since the rest of his family is too busy with, lives and now the story becomes him watching over his rapidly-dying mother. "James White" is a good movie, but I'm having a hard time racking my brain to call it "special". It's directed by Josh Mond, first time directing a feature but he's been very well-known in independent circles as a producer on such films as "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Afterschool" among others; he's proven to be quite an assured director. The best thing about the movie though is Cynthia Nixon's performance. This is an Oscar-quality supporting performance, and-I mean, I know she's been around awhile, I'm already a huge fan of hers and she's been action since "Little Darlings" if anybody remembers that movie, but- I don't know how they made her do it, but they made her look so awful in this movie. She is, incredible here as somebody who is very quickly becoming a physical shell of her former self. She's fifty years old, she's actually somewhat to play this part, really, this could easily been a part that say, Susan Sarandon would've been given and it would the ninetieth time she'd have played this role and she would've been good in it, but I don't think she would've been this good. The movie is actually much more about her than it is James, and I think that's a detriment to the film, but this is one of the better Supporting Actress roles I've seen in a while. It's the probably the one main thing that's powerful enough to remember this film by. Other than that, you could easily dismiss this film as just a regular good independent film about upper class millennials during their quarterlife crisis, it could been, a edited plot from "St. Elmo's Fire", or something from Nicole Holofcener's early films but there is more of an emotional hold in "James White". Still, terrible fucking title- I seriously can't get over that. I mean, seriously next time, if you're gonna do that, give your main character a more interesting name at least. You're a producer Mond, you should know that.


KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER (2015) Director: David Zellner

✰✰✰✰



I just looked it up, and, (sigh) well, I guess the word is bizarrely, although I'd rather not use that one, but bizarrely, this movie is actually based on a true story. "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter" is based on a young Japanese woman named, Takako Konishi who, committed suicide back in 2001 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, after she came to America, (Sigh) after mistakenly believing that- god this sounds so surreal I-, the young woman, here her name is Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) apparently had gotten ahold of a VHS copy of "Fargo", the movie "Fargo," and no, I did my Canon of Film article on the movie because I was reviewing "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter", I swear that was a complete coincidence, and she thought the movie, was real, and not only that it was real but, spoilers, the money that Buscemi's character buried in the snow and didn't get back to finding because of, um, he dies beforehand, it's not that memorable (eyes rolling)... anyway, she thinks the money's still there and using the movie in order to help find it. Okay, for those who don't know, outside of the horror movies, the most infamous use of the "Based on a True Story" trope, is "Fargo", which is, if you don't know, it's a complete lie. The Coen Brothers entirely made that story up, they only said it was based on a true story because they thought, A. It would be funny, which it is, but you don't realize they're doing it until you look it up, but, B. they thought that the pretense of it supposedly based on a true story which give the movie more of a heft and seriousness to it, and yes, this fooled and shocked and unnerved a lot of people at the time, but I didn't anybody actually did this. Now, I'm gonna mention now, that no, we don't see Kumiko commit suicide in the movie, and for all-intensive, this is also that's "Based on a true story", but moreso than "Fargo", not a difficult hurdle to hop over but still. This is by far, one of the strangest stories/films I've seen plot-wise in awhile, and I guess that's why the story did fascinate director David Zellner. Zellner, I'm not too familiar with Zellner as a director, he's starting to direct more features, but outside of his short films I mostly recognize him as being an indy-film character actor. He has a part here, when Kumiko finally makes it to America as a police officer who tries to help out Kumiko. She has a little English, but he couldn't find anybody around that spoke Japanese. He tried the girl at the Chinese restaurant but that didn't work, and he tries to explain to her that her quixotic journey was not a documentary, just a fictional film. The movie, is two-parted, one part in Japan, which is not particularly fun for her; Kumiko is already lonely and too old, at least according to her mother (Yumiko Hioki) who's pressuring her to move back home, and/or get married, and she's doesn't have much of a satisfactory job. It's clear, that she's possibly somewhat mentally ill, although it's not clear what. The second half is her making it to America and struggling to get by. I guess if there's a movie that this film actually reminds me of, it's Werner Herzog's "Stroszek" which was also about foreigners who struggled in their own country figuring that the best thing for them was to come to the American Great Plains where they'd be able to strike it rich. It actually was Herzog who endorsed this movie and presented it to a wide audience, and I first heard about it two years ago actually after Kinkuchi was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance. I definitely recommend the movie, it's just one of the most unique and strange films I've seen. I don't quite know how to handle it, or how much to appreciate, but it's definitely too unique to ignore and dismiss. So, I'm highly recommend it just an an oddity if nothing else.


SLOW WEST  (2015) Director; John MacLean

✰✰1/2



No, this movie isn't directed by the Bruce Willis from "Die Hard". yes I was disappointed too. "Slow West" instead, is a modernist western from, New Zealand, (Light confused pause) oh-kay, that takes place- well I think they mentioned it being around the Colorado Territory, so, let's presume past the Civil War, late 1860s, early 1870s, although, honestly the exact location doesn't matter much here. The movie follows a young Brit, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lovesick teenager who's gone to America in search of his true love, or, who he thinks he can convince into being his true love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), who he's pined over for years and Rose has desperately tried to keep permanently friend-zoned. She's had a troubled life and now however, she's gone off to America and Jay have gone after him. Already a foolhardy proposition as he's definitely not adequate ready for the American west. This is immediately spotted by Silas (Michael Fassbender) one of those silent brooding stranger types that all westerns have. He helps the boy and makes a deal to help search for the girl while helping him get through the terrains, and by terrains, literal and metaphorical ones. Soon, at a rest stop that, ends in three killings that are completely irrelevant and unrelated to everything else that happens, mostly, pretty much, Silas finds out that Rose is a criminal and there's a $2,000 bounty on her head and her husband. It's not so much that Jay is unfortunate, for picking up a bounty hunter, it's actually more problematic that he's not the one out for him, and as he gets closer to what's-her-name, everybody else gets closer by following them. Oh, she also a vicious killer and not that nice a person besides that. Yeah, "Slow West" is a bit-um, well, I hope say weird, there's actually much stranger modernist westerns out there, it's actually kinda worst than weird because it's actually quite conventional a tale, it's just trying so damn hard not to be. I wasn't overly impressed honestly. It's an interesting first film from Maclean, who's actually mostly known beforehand as a songwriter before this, most of his previous credits are actually on soundtracks until now. Mostly, I get the sense that this was, maybe a forty-five minute movie that stretched to make a suitable feature length film. I suspect MacLean can probably do better the next, or at least he should strive to in the future, so for that reason, I'm gonna give this a marginal negative review; there's nothing wrong with it, per se, but yeah, I'm not really enticed to go over on "Slow West", it's-, well, it is a bit slow, a little aimless which, I think is a detriment here more than a benefit. Maybe if there were more interesting characters or a greater world they're creating, perhaps, a la, "Unforgiven", but this movie isn't that good or interesting. Performances are pretty good though.


TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Director: David Lynch

✰✰✰✰



Okay, this is gonna sound sacrilegious but "Twin Peaks" was terrible. I know, people think it's this great television show that-, yes is influential, but that it was revolutionary and went off before it's time and that the show was one of these great television shows-, look I absolutely love David Lynch, but I've given "Twin Peaks" a bunch of tries and it doesn't work as a television show. I'm actually kinda disturbed that they're bringing it back, although I'm glad to see Lynch working again. That's one of the reasons it took me forever to get to "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", which, I guess is a prequel, it's mostly just ,an attempt to give the series a somewhat satisfactory explanation, or answer questions. It kinda does that, and it's good. It doesn't change my thoughts on the show, but it's good. The reason the show doesn't work is precisely because David Lynch's dream logic and style, works in movies, because they can approximate the length of a dream, two or three hours, just long enough to feel like an experience, but with a television show with that feel and format, it's one hour, each week, and you're constantly building  up and building up a story and in this case, a murder-mystery, (Another thing I can't stand, all these television shows that have the whole scenario of the show/season being about solving a crime or finding/searching for something, it's getting really, really old and tiresome and most of those shows are incredibly overrated.) and now, you're dragging the audience around and there's no end in sight and, then, creepy midget guy (Michael J. Anderson). Yeah, this show was overrated as hell, in fact it's downright terrible. That said, "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", is a movie, and as a movie, it works. It sorta explains the show a bit better, I wouldn't say it made it good, but it does create this world, this fantasy, sexual and otherwise, and like all people who live out their fantasies, it's all fun and fucking until someone gets hurt and we get to see what happened exactly to Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) as well as Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley) and a few other people, plus we get a better sense of Dale Cooper's (Kyle Maclachlan) place as we realize just how synced into Laura Palmer he was. "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", is everything that makes the series fascinating and intriguing, without all the delayed satisfaction. It's probably a key to most of Lynch's work, it's got a lot of motifs that we find in "Mulholland Dr.", which was also a great movie made from an abandoned television show, and "INLAND EMPIRE" as well. The young women, the sexual underground, the white picket fence world at the surface, the angelic dreamlike quality of the tone of his series. There's even a great Maguffin in that damn ring, as we see how it works. Does it make any sense? I don't know, and I don't care. I'm not waiting two years and 30+ hours to find out if it does or not, it's a dream, and in the surreal, it doesn't have to make sense. Well, it doesn't have to make sense for a couple hours anyway.





Sunday, April 24, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "FARGO"

FARGO (1996)

Director: Joel Coen
Screenplay: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen



It's so natural to look on the Coens as among the best American filmmakers alive and working today, that it's kinda difficult to go back and realize just how inexplicable they were originally. And they are inexplicable. I can easily put them on the same comedic pedestal as Woody Allen, Preston Sturgess, Mel Brooks, even the Zucker, Abrahams an Zucker team, but then you look at movies like "Blood Simple", "True Grit", "No Country for Old Men", "The Man Who Wasn't There", "Inside Llewyn Davis", and yes, to a certain extent, "Fargo", and you might not even realize these films are comedies. I'm not sure I'd argue that some of them are myself, but the comedic aspects of his movies are essential to all of them. It seems mainly that their major motif, if they have any consistent ones other than the fact that all their films are distinctly them, is that they're basically all different, epictions and aspects of Americana. They return to a few geographical locations more than once, but that's almost the exception and not the rule. The more or less seem happy to jump around the country and find some strange character or location or time period and find some their own take on it. It's bizarre, they have the surreal absurdist streak of a Seth MacFarlane, but they seem to trying most to replicate the complete works of Norman Rockwell.

What distinguishes them first of all is that unlike most satirists, they don’t seem to hate or dislike their characters, or for that matter the caricatured tendencies they are satirizing. If anything, the thing they might actually be satirizing most is Hollywood movie conventions. It's done more outwardly in films like "The Big Lebowski" and "Barton Fink" among others even their most recent film "Hail, Caesar", but take “Fargo,” which is widely acknowledged as their greatest work, while they take great care to carefully explain the motives of each of their main characters, and we recognize that Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is just a guy who’s desperate to get respect from his father-in-law, Wade (Harve Presnell) and get the money to advance his career buy by parking lots. Now, on the surface this movie appears to be, just a typical crime story gone wrong. And yet, nothing's typical. First of all, it's obvious from the get-go the plan is absurd beyond belief and couldn't possibly work. Secondly, we usually expect characters like this, maybe not be smart, but for their plan to really be something elaborate and thought-out, like maybe Sterling Hayden's character in Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing", there's usually an inherent desire to cheer for these bad guys and be impressed with the scheme they pull off. Lundegaard however, isn't that competent. Neither are the bad guys he hires without even getting their phone number, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare). He's not even that good at wiping down his tracks. It's pretty obvious that this plan will fail, but we still don't quite know how it will fail. There are a lot of false starts to begin the crime, and yet, it's strangely believable.

The second part of their genius is that underneath the rye kind of off-kilter humor is that their work is their depictions of Americana, and the American Dream, makes them the modern-day Mark Twain. In this film, a guy wants to get respected and get money, in “Raising Arizona,” a couple wants to have a family, in “O Brother…” a guy just wants to get back with his wife and kids… their humor lies in the feeble attempts of their characters trying to accomplish the American Dream. They also satirize numerous other things, but this is the undercurrent that runs through their work. Nothing is typical, for a movie in "Fargo", but it is typical for what could've happened, in "Fargo" at some point. Famously, the movie's biggest con was that they begin with a declaration that the movie is, "Based on a True Story", and of course, as I hope most of you are aware, the movie is not. It's entirely fabricated by the Coens. But of course it's fabricated, nobody but the Coens could create a character so charming and beloved as Marge Gunderson (Oscar-winning Frances McDormand).After forty or so minutes into the movie, like how Hitchcock shocked us by getting rid of our main character in "Psycho", the Coens shock us by introducing us to our main character, a Brainard, North Dakota detective who's pregnant, but still quite smart and observant. She realizes right away what's going on by reading the crime scene, noting everything from footprints to dealer plates, and soon, she's off to Minnesota to investigate further. Although, she's still going through her own adventures. She's married to her loving husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch) who makes her eggs before going out on a 3:00a.m. call. She also meets up at a Radisson buffet with an old high school friend, Mike (Steve Park) in between going to Jerry's work and interrogating him, as he so poorly, pitifully tries to cover up his lies. It would've been so easy, to skip this sequence altogether and just have Marge come in, bust Jerry rather quickly and then start searching for that damn missing Tan Sierra, but the fact that it does take two visits, in between the conversation with the old high school flame, is fascinating, but instead, it causes her to think things through, not just be the Sherlock Holmes-ian detective that solves everything through reading the clues. No, it's good, solid reasoning. It's also far funnier to have Jerry think he's gotten, at least her off his back, only to have her come back again. (Hmm, I guess she's more "Columbo" than Sherlock Holmes, come to think about it.) 

It's through Marge that we realize what the Coens are actually maturing as filmmakers, insisting, that maybe the American Dream isn’t what it’s cracked up to be? Or maybe it's that movies aren't all that they're cracked up to be. “And for what? A little bit of money. There more to life than a little money you know… and here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.” That famous line, could have her talking about the typical crimes that they commit, or it could be for the typical movie characters and cliches the Coens are subverting. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

GOOD ON TV: "GIRLS", THE BEST SHOW ON TV! NO, I'M NOT KIDDING! THE DIVISIVENESS AND BRILLIANCE OF LENA DUNHAM: A MATURE LOOK AT IMMATURITY.



Okay, how do I put this, I'm starting to get the suspicion that, we might not all view pieces of art the same way. Okay, yeah, big fucking shock, I know, people are different and they have different experiences and can relate to things differently than others,... yeah, yeah, I'm not trying to over-simplify something everybody knows; I realize this is not breaking news, but-, there are pieces of art and artists in particular who I suspect get some of the more, um, vehemently divides audiences, fans and critics than others. The thing is, I used to be able to foresee people like that. Like Paul Thomas Anderson's spent his whole career ostracizing some of the audiences while others wholeheartedly embrace his work, and however you feel on any of his films, you can very easily see why. Now, I do spend most of my time analyzing quality of work and disregard completely my own personal aesthetics and tastes, I've brought that up before, but believe it or not, you'd think that would mean that I can see these coming more frequently, but oddly, it usually shocks me more when people come out f the woodwork to go after somebody or some piece of art that-, well, I'll just get to the point, where you're just amazed people actually love/hate them so much and so many people?

It's something that's I've been observing and has been coming up a few times lately. For instance, half the Channel Awesome/Chez Apocalypse contingent seems to have decided to review "The Phantom of the Opera" like, different times recently, which, is a popular phenomenon and fanbase that I've known about since middle school, and,... WHY?! I-eh, okay-, look we'll start with the Broadway show, which sucks, btw, although caveat I have a major aversion to Andrew Lloyd Webber; it's not the worst thing he ever did, (that's "Jesus Christ Superstar" btw. I haven't seen the sequel to "Phantom...", but considering that "JCS" is the last time I ever walked out on a movie and that was like eight years and many many many bad movies ago, I'm gonna stick with that until further notice) but, is there actually a great version of "The Phantom of the Opera"? Anywhere? In any medium? Like, okay, the Lon Chaney one from the silent days, that's actually pretty good, but it really only works once, trying to watch that film twice is painful. More importantly however, I don't understand the appeal of it? Like even things I hate I can usually see the appeal of, but I legitimately have no idea why this story has caught on? Is there a sexual undertone that's appealing about the phantom, is Christine a character that people relate to, is it just the damn chandelier? Is it the music? Is it the idea of a haunted opera house? Is it that they like opera? What? What the-? Look, I'm not saying it's bad, I didn't even-, okay I didn't like the Schumacher movie, but I didn't think it was awful either, but I am trying to figure out how or why people like and keep remembering and retelling and re-imagining "The Phantom of the Opera", but I-eh-, no I don't get the appeal, at all. For the fandom it has, I don't get at all. 

And here's the funny thing, most of those critics and nearly other person I know, hates "Rent", which, I think is one of the best musicals ever made. I can't believe anybody hates it. I can see not caring about it one way or the other, but hating it? Think it's boring, I've heard. I've heard people who hate the characters for being "hipsters", which, A. I don't think was a word back in '94, and B. I don't know what a hipster is but whatever definition I've heard from people, I've yet to be convinced that there's a reason to hate them. No, "Rent" isn't perfect, but it definitely fits the mood and the tone of it's the story it's telling, which btw, is also, based on a lot of Jonathan Larson's friends and experiences living in New York in the late '80s, early '90s, art scene during the AIDS epidemic, so there's something kinda offensive about that already, although yeah, it's that's based on an actual opera, it's a retelling of "La Boheme", and it's a helluva lot better than btw, but it's a good base. The music is awesome and doesn't make me want to get nailed to a cross in order for it to end, (god, "JSC"-ugh!) I- I sense that people might confuse the fact that it's an attempt to portray reality and not a preaching of a lifestyle, or-, whatever it is, the point I'm making I think there is a divide with certain works of art and certain people, who are just seeing something so different and it's so shocking that it's almost like they're watching two completely different pieces of work. 

Those are two examples, I can think of plenty, hell, I got into a long argument earlier this year with some people on Geekcast Radio Network's website over "Scrubs", which basically amounted to the same thing, but yeah, especially since, I do basically try to look at the piece without personal context, it actually makes it weirder to me when people see something so vehemently different than I do, 'cause I'm trying to be unbias at all times, but when what I'm clearly looking at it, doesn't click with what somebody else thinks they're watching, yeah, it's just confusing. And I can't say, "I better take a closer look at the work," 'cause I'm already looking at it closer than most, so something else must be going on. 

Okay I know this was a long intro, but, I'm gonna say something here that's gonna divide everybody, so here we go, let's get to it: 

(Clears throat)
Lena Dunham's-,

(Sound of angry typing)

I'm already hearing the boos, (frustrated sigh) Lena Dunham's "Girls" is the best show on television! At least the best sitcom. Yeah, talk about frickin' dividing everybody, just mentioning Lena Dunham or anything remotely related to her nowadays just completely ostracizes everybody, much less, somebody like me, who's about to de-, I was about to say "defend her", I'm not defending her, I'm applauding her, or I'm trying to. What's there to defend, she's one of the best writers around, has one of the most unique and fascinating visions and perspective in entertainment today, and yes, the best television show, you know short of I guess, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver", but yeah, ignoring the still golden age era of Variety Talk Series, I put "Girls" ahead of everything else right now, especially after seeing this season's finale episodes. How is this show not winning the Emmy every year, much less not getting nominated at all? Well, I actually do know how and why that is, but even if I didn't, the fact that she is so divisive-, (frustrated sigh) and no, I don't get it. At all. 

And yeah, this maybe because, (frustrated sigh) I may believe that her work speaks more towards me than it might others, I'll admit that. I get it, Hanna Horvath is a perpetual woman-child who writes but doesn't make a living at it and basically stumbles from job-to-job and terrible boyfriend-to-terrible boyfriend and is selfish and narcissistic and acts like she's the center of attention at all times even when her friends need her most, in other words, and I say this as a 30-(coughs)-year-old who still lives at home and has never worked a day in his life, (deep breath) she's the person I want to be when I grow up! Okay, I get it. I see that there's a lot of me in her characters, if not her. (And from all accounts I can find, she is very different than her character) So, what pisses people off about her? That she depicts this adolescent behavior in adults and, adults, presumably find her childish, confusing her for her characters? I think that's a great part of it, one of the arguments that came at me when I was debating "Scrubs" was that, a lot of people who don't like the show, really hated the main guy in the show, Zach Braff, which, A. He's an actor, he's playing a somewhat unlikable character at times, did you need to like him, and B. It's not like, he created the show, or the character? I mean, I would get that, if somebody said they didn't like "Louie" 'cause they didn't like Louis C.K., that would be weird but, I'd get it at least. You don't like Woody Allen, then you're probably not gonna like "Annie Hall". And I guess if you don't like Lena Dunham, then you'll probably not like "Girls", but on the same token, I don't quite get why anybody hates her. Likes hates her, not dismissive or uncaring, people vehemently despise her and her show, and that's where those people lose me. I mean, you hate the characters? You know, that might've played back in the olden days of television, when you pretty much did have to have likable protagonists or someone to care about or catch on too, but I'm not buying it here. There's plenty of pretty terrible excuses for people characters that people do like, including in sitcoms, especially in ones that under normal circumstances might appeal to the same audiences that "Girls", let's say is hypothetically aiming at. There isn't really The Lester Guy Rule anymore. ("The Lester Guy Rule", the rule about how a show had to have a likable main character, named after the main character in the short-lived David Lynch series, "On the Air"? No? Okay, I may have just made that up, but I'm sure there's some rule about that, and I just got the character wrong. Maybe I'm thinking of "Buffalo Bill".)  Yeah, we're passed that, or I like to think we are. So, what exactly about Lena Dunham makes people hate her? From what I can tell, at least in terms of her actual content in her series, there is this sense that people just hate how she depicts herself. This mid-20s young adults that's more anti-adulthood that skewers the people, which I don't get at all? First of all, it is a fictional depiction, and yes, as many have pointed out, nobody who's actually like the character she plays would ever get a TV show like "Girls" off the ground, especially as young as she is, but still, they just hate the adolescent characters she writes and portrays. I-, I just don't get this criticism. I would if it was, unrealistic or poorly done, or maybe just, in some way completely disconnected from reality, like say "2 Broke Girl$" is, but, that's not the case at all. If anything her weakness is that she's too painfully aware of the realities of her world and writes these characters too realistically that it makes some uncomfortable. She is a brave creator and actress who doesn't shy away from depicting herself in the worst possible light and in many cases with the least possible clothes. I'm sorry, that's just more of a reason I respect her, not a reason to bash her, and even if I didn't relate to her characters, I think anybody who watches the show can at least believe these characters,somewhere, can exist in the world and this is a realistic portrayal of the world to somebody, which is enough for me. 

I don't know, that reason still feels thin to me. I find that weird too; I don't hate too many people myself and the reasons I give for hating people when I do are usually way more elaborate and thought-out. I'm not expecting that kind of passion from everyone but there's usually more reasons than that. I have very specific reasons for being particularly negative towards Shane Carruth or Joss Whedon or Peter Jackson and few other people who I, in particular cannot stand as artists. I don't hate people arbitrarily, I mean, I don't like too many things Antoine Fuqua has done, but I can't say I hate him or his work, there's usually something much more concrete for me to get upset enough to despise people. Is there anything concrete to hate Lena Dunham or "Girls"? I don't know, I know there's some people who find much of Lena Dunham, just uncomfortable, to say the least. She isn't the most careful human when it comes to her public persona, I don't think that's all her fault, and honestly I've never seen a good argument for why she is a horrible person. Doing a quick Google search, I realize I'm not the only one who's tried to get to the bottom of this fascination with people hating her in particular. Let's go down the reasons I'm seen hypothesized, um, jealous of her success as a writer? Well, as a writer yes, but her talent more than makes up for it from my perspective. At even if I did remain bitter about how successful she is at such a young age, there's other people who draw my ire much more. (If you don't know who Saffron Herndon is, look her up, she's one of the funniest and most talented stand-up comediennes out working today, and I absolutely  hate her. Not joking, there is literally nobody in the entertainment world I hate more viciously for being as talented as they are, than her. It literally pains me, to think about her and her success grrr! (Anger-ridden breath) But seriously, she is fucking hilarious and when you do look you up, you will understand immediately my jealous-ridden hatred of her) I've seen articles about how she's a feminist, a sexist, a racist, none of which I find remotely credible, I find some who can't stand that she came from a rich upper class artistic family and that her fame is due in part to her status, A. No, it's not, she's famous and relevant 'cause she's talented, and B. even if that wasn't the case, I'm not gonna criticize somebody for having a door open to them, she still had to go through it, so that's pretty much B.S. She might've had more doors open to her, but you don't get this kind of fame without having some kind of skill to back it up.

There's the more famous incidents that have been misinterpreted in her autobiography that supposedly she sexually molested her younger sister when she was a child, which is crap, and there's an account of her being raped at Oberlin she gives, that's come under scrutiny for numerous dumb reason. I read "Not That Kind of Girl", and I just laugh at these misrepresentations of her words. In one, she was seven and fascinated with her sister's vagina, in an exploratory way that I think most kids go through about private parts, okay, she's her, so it was a little weirder, but no, it was not sexual molestation. As to the rape allegations, apparently and this is a bit weird, she described the person who raped her and unaware that she was using a pseudonym, somebody who purportedly matched the description in her book threatened to sue her for libel. A lot of people have used this to discredit her, mostly from right-wing media groups, which should really have better things to do even for them, but, yeah, it's clear there's a smear campaign out on her. I don't find it that interesting, or convincing when you look into it to be honest. As far as I'm concerned the only thing she's guilty about in either case is not living up to the standards of simple-minded people who don't like her anyway. 

Honestly, looking this crap up is just annoying as much as it is a waste of time. It's not like only good angelic beings are the only ones that make good art anyway, so even if she hypothetically is a child molesting Feminazi girl that cries rape, that's not a good enough reason to discredit her as an artist. Or as a woman, which let's break this barrier down, is probably as much the real reason people despise her. If a guy had created this kind of show, I'm sure there wouldn't be so much backlash. And she's not alone in this, I've heard the same amount of vile hate for her as I've heard for people like Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman and Abbi Glazer & Ilana Jacobsen among other women who tend to go against the typical comedic norms and present a more adult and controversial perspective into their work. Look, this could be a completely different article if I want to go there, but yeah, the comedy world is pretty sexist, in general and yeah, there's backlash to anybody talented who challenges that male-dominated perspective in any serious way, which is probably why I find these artists and others like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Margaret Cho and Samantha Bee and a few others, (Including Saffron Herndon that little-hmm, god I hate her! GRRRRR!) basically the most important artists in the field right now. One of the reasons that their perspective is new. I mean, comedy is-, look a joke is a joke, setup, then punchline, that's never gonna change, it's how it's told, and who's telling it, and yeah, there are quite a few major female players in the comedy world and it's spanning across all mediums, not only is there a sexist male-dominated perspective in the comedic world, there is also one in the general audience. Hell, I'm reading an article now about the rampant sexism in nerd culture, and I'm sure somebody can point to those stories about how badly female gamers get treated. (That article I'm reading is at the link below btw, if you're interested)

Hell, one of my Facebook friends recently, I won't say who it was, she posted recently for like the fourth or fifth time I've seen her post about this, having to clarify that, and I'm paraphrasing here but basically, she liked something in a film group or back something up, and had to constantly fight off members of the group who were trying to pick her up romantically. She's trying to have a conversation and basically can't do anything in a room full of teenage boys without getting hit on and harassed constantly. I mean, Lena Dunham is being herself, which is clearly somebody different than anybody who's come before, and then she gets criticized for being a woman, who's being herself and no, that's not the first time that's happened to somebody and yes, it is bullshit. 

Alright, so enough defending her, which I shouldn't have had to do or been doing, Why do I praise this show so highly? What is it about "Girls" that's Good on TV? Well, obviously I like her perspective and her humor, which, is distinctly hers. Does that mean this show about screwed-up twenty-five year-olds the best on television alone? Well, that's the thing, how many show are actually like hers? I mean, she's using the "Sex and the City" formula, four girls in a large city, making it, or trying to make it on their own, and going through job and relationship troubles, this isn't terribly new, at the surface, this formula could go back to "The Golden Girls", and there's been numerous other variations, "Desperate Housewives" is probably the other most infamous one. She actually makes fun of it in her show sometimes, but not always. She's actually got Louis C.K.'s amount of freedom and she uses it. There are many episodes that literally only focus on one or two characters on their own separate journeys, sometimes to completely other states and other continents this past year. But the formula is only the familiar backdrop and she knows this. This state of quarterlife confusion she depicts however, that's this seemingly lazy and inept stumblings into adulthood, that's something that's a little new. I can think of a few shows that did this, but most of those shows, like "Friends", "The Big Bang Theory" to some extent recently, or the webseries "Quarterlife" now that I mentioned that term, they were about those character evolving, like most shows are, including "Girls", but they were about evolving into different better people. "Girls", probably what I like most about the show is, how it isn't doing that. I mean it is, but it's much subtler and most of the time, the characters aren't evolving forward they're often devolving or worst, just staying put. The drug addict, she seems okay, but she relapses badly. The one who wants to get married and find loving husband, she's failed at that twice, even with a more freeing career change after life smacked her around, even the one who's think she's smart enough to follow through and get everything together and does everything perfectly, she struggles just to find a job now after freaking out, that god forbid, she had to take a summer school class 'cause she failed a semester at college 'cause after losing her virginity she slept around, a bit. There's normally obstacles we put in front of our characters, but Dunham at her best, is just taking her characters and just when you think, maybe they're on their way to a breakthrough or a change, immediately just takes their hopes and ideals and destroys them; they are there own obstacles most of the time, and they usually lose. Yeah, none of these girls are dumb enough to think they'll be able to just create a cupcake brand and fight their way out of poverty, although granted these characters are mostly too privileged to come up with that idea (And too smart too) but there's impulsiveness and there's the simple fact, that, changing and evolving, is hard. You gotta really be motivated and even then, that motivation is filled with false starts and backslides into their more typical default behaviors. I mean, when you look at other shows, "The L Word" is a nice example of this, the characters definitely evolved and changed on that show, but it was so drastic over the course of the series that, it's sometimes impossible to believe how some of them turned into someone else. "Girls" you don't get that, and yes, that's much more naturalistic and real. At least to me it is. It's going for character growth and change, but it's the bare minimum, and you don't see that enough, and certainly not enough done well. I love "Sex and the City" but the show, was basically about how they evolved through and into relationships and in the end, they all ended up happy in one, at least at the end of series; I'm gonna ignore the movies, like everybody else in the world should, but it was simplistic, and the point of that show was that, that was the only part of their lives that we saw. "Girls" is far too complex for that, and frankly, I'd be shocked at this point if any coupling formed at the end of the series next year would result in a happily ever after. Even Hannah's parents are in a loveless marriage including a gay husband. It's a show about being stagnant, if not literally stagnation, then at least an emotional ones. And it treats it realistically. I mean, I remember one episode of "Roseanne" that had Darlene sitting on the couch for the entire episode, but she was a moody teenager and the end she met David for the first time, who had a different name in that episode. Anyway, some of the moody teenagers don't really get up and that makes it a lot harder for them to eventually get up as adults. This show, depicts that really well and I can't think of too many other shows that do. It's actually difficult to show, essentially forward-moving inaction and make it fascinating and funny and touching and tearful and just flat-out entertaining. 

I have to give credit for this, a lot. It's much more difficult to do that than most realize. That's not to say that everybody can relate to this, but I think it's behaviors we've seen and I just haven't seen them as the center of a show, especially in a medium like television, where it's usually about drastic changes of characters over time, I kinda like that she goes out of her way to make the changes as minimal as possible and she should. Not everybody changes that quickly and even when we think they do, they really don't. You don't just becomes different people because you pay your own taxes or earn your money for rent. Dunham realizes this and more than that, tells this story well. You see, I was being honest when I said Hannah, flawed and fucked up and all, is the one I want to be when I grow up, 'cause the one character from the show that  I actually relate to the most, is Shoshanna. Yeah, Zosia Mamet's character. Now, I don't talk like Six Lemure on cocaine, (I can't be the only guy who will constantly make "Blossom" references, can I?)  but her path is through hard work, and studying to get the jobs she wants and dreams of, and that's still her go-to, that's her stagnant place. It's not, sitting on the couch half-naked eating cake and Haagen-Daas, but it's still stagnant, and I relate to this, that's how I spent most of my youth. I missed out on quite a bit because I was more interested in impressing people by my knowledge and my skillsets, and well, I'm writing this blog, so yeah, it doesn't always work out and there's a lot less fun activities like raves and partying and salad tossing, but it's actually the counterpoint to the rest of them who seem to be, stumbling, matriculating through their twenties that, even the best laid straight-on paths might still mean you have to go the other side of the world and turn that marketing degree in for a job babysitting kittens. I'm actually more dumbfounded by people who hate this character, again, I don't get it, but maybe I do associate with her more. I've heard her called a "Creator's Pet" character, which is a trope I only learned about recently, and don't understand why Wesley Crusher is the archetype, he was the best character on "Star Trek: The Next Generation", well after Data. (No, I'm not joking there.) but no, that's not true at all of Shoshanna . If anything, she's the character who most grounds this show, at least among the girls, Alex Karpovsky's character as well does this, but she's the character that seems the most active and the most practical, even more than Marnie when you think about it, but she probably gets it worst than everybody else and it's purely because of who she is and her own natural stagnation traits. If anything, she's not involved enough in the main plotlines. 

It's a show that struggles with being an adult in a world and with character who, for them, in one childish way or another, that's not their natural inclination and it deals with it. And it does it in a sardonic-laden comedy! And it's from Lena Dunham's most perspective and observant view. Yeah, for unique, for it's difficult subject matter, for creating it's own niche perspective on this subject matter, for creating this new perspective for the television medium, in this manner, for being so groundbreaking in it, and just for being one of the few really great shows out there, I-eh, yeah, when I look at the whole television landscape and there's other great ones, and some that might one day be bigger or better, but right now, yeah, I give it to "Girls", it's the best show on television. I stand by it. Her vision's the most unique, her execution of that vision is the toughest to pull off and the most successfully achieved. This last season was arguably it's best, and the only thing that annoys me is that there's only one season left, and I really hope that these characters still continue to fall headfirst and hard into immaturity as often as possible as they continue to grow into adulthood. It won't be easy, at least as a writing and filmmaking project it won't be, in reality for some, at least for these characters, it's probably more likely than most of us are comfortable admitting. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

THE STATE OF TELEVISION: THE LOUSY STATE OF THE DYING MEDIUM- Yeah, I said it, and I'm sticking by it. IN LIGHT OF RECENT EVENTS.

So, a few months back, I casually mentioned, what I thought was not that an inaccurate an analysis when I said that, quote," This was such a lousy time for television." The people that I was talking to online, they were in my industry, they run a website, they also have podcasts, which I don't but might in the future, and they were shocked at hell by this, 'cause I was the only person they knew who thought so negatively about television. They bring up how, no that there's so many channels and options, and now, they claim there's way more better television now than ever before! That we're in some kind of golden age of television, where there's more quality television around than ever before, and they're just ecstatic about the place television is in at the moment? Honestly, I'm, I guess more of a couple minds in terms of the quality-wise, but to begin with, I'm actually a bit iffy on statements like this, one way or the other. A. the obvious, they're subjective, B. People who usually say things like that, rarely, if ever, have actually gone and looked up an entirety of history of the art form, or even taken closer looks at other time periods, 'cause I think, if we really wanted to just cherry-picked examples from either side, I can just as easily make the argument that this is the worst period in television history. But, let's play it straight for a second, let's play it for a straight for a minute. I would argue, actually that part of the problem is that there are so many good shows that, A. there's no way to ever actually see them all, so half of them get cancelled and no we end binge watching a bunch of shows that, have cult following instead of actually being hit series, and even then, I'd argue most of these shows were painfully average. Yeah, that's the thing, in terms of what some people think of as television, I guess you can say that shows are better, aesthetically, which isn't much as far as I'm concerned, everything's better aesthetically now that it's all on digital, but B. even with this supposed influx of "good television", the fact is that, yeah, some shows are great, but that actually makes some of the decent and even the good shows, well, they look worst. I'm sorry they do. It's an over-saturated market, and when you do that, things that get left behind usually, well, they're good for today, but they're not in the same league as the great shows of today. If anything, the over-saturation of the good and great shows is causing, well, a lot of those shows to, sorta be easy to dismiss. No matter how good a show is, if there's other things on that are better, how good is the show then? Hell, I'd argue for instance, "Veep" and "Game of Thrones" the two Emmy winners from last year, eh, both of them are, good, not great shows, and they're miles away from being the best on television, even within they're genres. Yeah, they're not bad, they're even pretty good, but that's simply not good enough. 

And let's be clear here, when you consider all of television, literally ALLLLLL of television, there's still more crap than ever, so yeah, I don't buy this notion that this is the best era of television. Ironically though, that wasn't entirely what I was talking about when I called this a lousy time for television. You see, I was talking about, how television is dying. Like, literally dying, in that, television might not exist a few years from now. There's a few things that got me thinking about this, for instance, a couple weeks ago, there was an FCC ruling regarding cable boxes, which basically means that, cable companies no longer have to insist that customers purchase/buy their cable box, in order to get their cable, (and not have to buy a new one each time either) and simply have that an option, either use their cable box, or get another one that the company would then use to produce their cable. It's kind of a big deal in one way, and completely irrelevant in another. Yes, this ruling should've happened a long time ago, but is it gonna help the long-term abandonment of cable television to things like Roku and other streaming services? It really shouldn't, but I won't go so far as to say that it's going to completely eliminate cable television. That said though, we talk about television as a whole, but really, as much as there is this talk about how television is getting better and blah, blah, blah, nobody watches television anymore. Streaming is a big reason why, but I don't even blame that entirely, the networks caught onto streaming early, a few of them bought into Hulu, the one that didn't CBS, has their own streaming service, but it's not coincidental that they're the only channel with ratings these days, people actually have to watch those shows when they air. Television is becoming bigger, literally, figuratively, and that's destroying what television. Television, up until now has always been about, the literal "small screen", the one that's in the living room that sends messages and talks to us. That we let into our home, that we observe major events with, etc. etc. But, there's just too many factors going into television right now that's causing fewer and fewer people to watch it as it's originally intended, and the shows reflect that. There are way too many shows that seem to matter more what season a show is in, or come in with a long-planned out over-arching story-line, never mind the fact that they don't even know if people are even gonna be interested to follow this kind of long-form narrative for years, it might not survive the first few episodes, so plan out? 

But then again, why not plan it out? What I recognize as television, just is fading and fading out. It's not even the over-abundance of reality shows, or the lack of influence in the network shows, it's just that, we've outgrown the medium and evolved and expanded upon it so much so that, there's really, no way for it to survive. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the idea that a television show in order to even grab my attention has to be better than a rerun of a show that's already well-established for being great or at least important. But they're all in their own worlds now and that's the other thing, television with all these channels and outlets, yeah, it really is over-saturating, but worst than that, it's causing us to, not know when shows are on or around. I mean, I'm keeping up the best I can, but yeah, I'm missing more and more shows every day, and the ratings say it, nobody's able to do it, and with all the expensive streaming options that's maybe still cheaper than cable, but still not quite inexpensive enough to be able to watch everything at once. What constitutes a "hit show" these days, is pitiful. There will never be a time where the whole country will gather together to watch one thing anymore, there's too many other things to watch, and besides that, nobody knows about all these shows to begin with. If you looked at the ratings for "New Girl" like fifteen years ago, and you were told it was still on the air in, whatever-the-hell season it's in, somebody would've been fired. Television isn't becoming better it's becoming more inclusive and exclusive, people seek out things they think they'll like and they often don't get or see any of the possible shows that they might actually love more if they gave them a chance. Used to be, no matter what crap was the best option available, the television remained on, now that's not the case, and to me, that's specifically why this is such a lousy time for television. 

And, exactly how bad is it for television? Well, the things that's really gonna keep television relevant is it's immediacy. The fact that once something airs on television, it's spread across the world in record time, and the best events for that, are usually things that air, live. And recently, some of you may have missed it, but one of the greatest moments in live television history occurred.



Holy cow, did you see how amazing that was! It's the greatest thing in television. Okay, maybe you need some context, let me show you what happened before.



You see that, that was unbelievable. Greatest television moment ever! Wasn't that amazing. You can watch that a million times and it'll always be great.



 I mean, look at how everybody watching that on TV reacted:





Yeah, everybody was losing their minds and if they were all in shock that they had seen such an amazing moment of television that they didn't know how to react appropriately. Everybody can agree, amazing moment. Even people who were on television, at the time that happened, stopped everything when that happened! That's how great a moment that was!



You see, that's the kind of true greatness that live television can provide, with that kind of immediacy, great moments like that. (In case you're wondering, no, I am not at all bias in any way, this was just an amazing great moment. [Opens package from Amazon, pulls out Villanova Championship T-shirt] just ignore this, I'm putting away clothes while I'm doing this. No, bias, at all. [Obviously sneering, lying grin])

Yeah, this moment was not available for everyone to watch however, which is why you may have missed it actually, they aired it on cable for the first time this year. I've actually complained about this before, you see a couple years ago, CBS "expanded" their March Madness coverage to go across multiple networks, all three of them, cable networks, TBS, TNT and TruTV, they're owned by Ted Turner you'll notice. Here's the blog I wrote at the time:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/03/march-mundane-ness-why-cbs-is-dumb-for.html

I still have to pretty much make the same complaints about their coverage, although I did find the March Madness Roku app to be quite helpful, so I can't entirely rake them over the coals here, but this was the first year they actually had the Final Four, all three games, including the National Championship, on Cable television. TBS held the national broadcast, and something that, outside of this I kinda like, they had on TNT and TruTV, homer games, where the games were also broadcast there but with announcing and coverage from the perspective of one of the particular teams playing. I actually like that idea, and think that that's actually a good use of this multi-channel broadcasting; I of course, was watching the main TBS broadcast 'cause I don't have a dog in this fight, (Lawyer's note: That's just a boldface lie, he was watching the Villanova coverage) but for fans of particular teams, who have the cable option, I think it's actually a good solid benefit that normally wouldn't effect the main broadcast, so I like that idea.

Now, why would broadcast do this? Sports are literally the only things that actually get the big ratings anymore, pretty much on network, especially championship games and events like these? And CBS, a few years ago, had EVERY NCAA Tournament Game, on their channel. All of them, and now, they're spread over four other channels, why? Well, there actually is a reason for this downgraded of coverage and the ostracizing of fans without cable, like myself, who had to watch the game on his computer and borrowing somebody's cable account. It's in the contract. You see, a few years ago, the rights to the NCAA tournament were up, and CBS was in competition to keep the tournament on it's network, but, they didn't have enough money to pull together, so, they had to seek it out elsewhere and the only way to do that, was to find other channels who were willing to flip the bill, so a call was made to Turner Networks. And in that deal, they had to give up the championship game, every few years to cable. Yeah, they actually don't want this to be on cable either, especially since it is network and it's sports, something that, for all-intensive purposes should be on network television, and it should be national, at least for major games like these. It's in the networks best interests anyway, sports get the highest and biggest ratings of anything, they should be fighting over all the major sporting events every time they're up. But the battle was competitive, and CBS, had to give up complete autonomy to keep it on. Now, I know what you're thinking, that's sad how the broadcast networks are battling with each other over these once-a-year events to stay afloat and have to resort to cable to be able to broadcast events as these, and yes that is sad, and it's a particularly sad state of television, until you realize that, they weren't competing with the other broadcast networks, they didn't put up competing bids. No, they should've been, but they weren't; they were competing with ESPN. Yeah, they were competing with cable. It was damned if they do, damned if they don't situation, so it was an occasional year on cable vs. never on network television again. And that's already happening btw with other major sports, so, this isn't exclusive to CBS, the #1 network in the country at the moment.

(Sigh)

You see what I mean, when I say "television is dying" and that this is a lousy state of television, it's crap like that. The behind the scene stuff that's costing television. (And if you guys don't know about ESPN's part in basically charging cable providers to have ESPN as apart of their service, and how they've boosted their prices more and more year after year, to the point where cable prices have to keep raising their prices to their customers... yeah, ESPN is the worst offender in terms of the cable networks, just so you know) This is the kind of programming the networks should really be striving to keep and instead, like everything else, the quality sitcoms and dramas and in some cases, the quality reality shows, they're all going to cable. No wonder everybody's gone to outside options like streaming.

So yeah, great television moments still happen, but overall, this is a truly lousy time for television right now, and who knows how or how long it's going to survive, but if it's keeps eating itself, and give in to streaming, television is going. But, maybe it's inevitable, and television's one shining moment is just ending soon. I don't know. Honestly, I'm not looking too forward to whatever this new form of television is that's replacing it. I find it overrated, but yeah, let's not look at the few outliers and claim television to be so good, when it reality, it's barely hanging on.

 (BTW, not related to this, does anybody know a good lawyer, I just had to fire mine? No? Well, let me know if you do.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #115-PART 3 OF 3: "SHAUN THE SHEEP: MOVIE", "CARTEL LAND", "MR. HOLMES", "COP CAR", "GOOD KILL", "MEDITERRANEA", "MERU", "THE SEVEN FIVE", "DELI MAN", "MATT SHEPARD IS A FRIEND OF MINE", "ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS", and "CONTAINMENT"! and SOME SPECIAL REVIEWS!

Whew, alright, I'm finally done with these batches of reviews . I know, it's a lot, but I've gotten through every film I've seen from 2015, over the past few months B.W.C., Before Working Computer, so that's it. I've still seen a bunch, a buuuunnnnnnnnnch of other movies in that time, so in the interest of time and sanity, before we get to the reviews proper, instead I'm just going to go over each film and give you no more than 25 words on each one. Wait-wait, WHAT!? Wait, I didn't agree to that. Hey EDITOR, what the hell!?

(EDITOR makes trumpet sounds like adults in "Peanuts")

No, I don't want to narrow myself.

(EDITOR trumpet sounds)

No, I'm not writing full reviews on them, this is already taking too much time, so I-,

(EDITOR trumpet sounds)

Well, I'm sorry but what if I go over a bit?

(EDITOR trumpet sounds)

What do you mean pay the penalty?

(EDITOR trumpet sounds)

I have to what? No, I don't want to answer stupid questions about my personal tastes and preferences in film and television, I'm the guy who analyzes quality, I don't have personal tastes! I'm NOT-A-FAN, remember!

(EDITOR trumpet sounds)

Why do I have to listen to you? This is my blog, why do I even have you working for me; I can just fire you, you know.

(EDITOR makes foreboding trumpet sounds)

Okay, okay, you don't have to tell people about-, "the thing", we'll, okay 25 words or less, or answer personal questions, deal. Stupid blackmailing Editor,

(EDITOR loud trumpet boom)

I said, nice, good-looking Editor, you are. Whew. Okay, let's go these done, and- ahem, limit myself to 25 words or less.


25 WORDS OR LESS SPECIAL REVIEWS!

ABOUT ELLY (2015) Director: Asghar Farhadi

5 STARS



I'm not reviewing this 'cause it's Farhadi's first film, even though it hit American theaters last year, it was made six years ago, but it's a great movie and Farhadi's one of the best directors in the world.

(PENALTY)

Oh, c'mon, how much over was I?

(TRUMPET SOUNDS)

8 words! Aaaaah! Okay, give me the question.

Is there a film that when you were younger it was awesome.... but when you watch it now you wonder what you were thinking? 

(Long pause)
Um, hmm. honestly, not really with movies, but with television, I used to really love "Popples" as a kid. I don't know what I was thinking, I just had the VHS at the time. Alright, next film.


CAMP X-RAY (2014) Director: Peter Sangler

5 STARS



Oh, great film about the friendship between a Gitmo prisoner and a soldier, Kristen Stewart and Payman Maadi are amazing, really special, wonderful film.


RUN & JUMP (2014) Director: Steph Green

4 STARS



Interesting film about an Irish family who's had a young family member suffer a stroke and the American psychiatrist who lives and studies the family. I recommend it.

(PENALTY)

DAMMIT!

What's a movie that triggered your will to educate yourself on a particular topic? 

Um-, I-eh, again this is more television than film that inspires me that way, like getting into geography by watching "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" or something like that. Film-wise, I guess "Magnolia" is probably when I subconsciously knew that I'd probably get into film though.


PROXY (2014) Director: Zach Parker

4 1/2 STARS



Ooh, shit. Yeah, tough film to watch, but it was very good. Kind of a modern-day "Rosemary's Baby", it's intense, but I'm definitely recommending it,


NON-STOP (2014) Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

1 1/2 STARS



Oh, I'm being generous with the stars, this was stupid. It's entertaining-stupid I guess, but yeah, really dumb action movie.


THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS (2014) Director: Mami Sunada

4 1/2 STARS



Oh, great documentary about Studio Ghibli, really inspiring film about the behind the scenes of them making Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises". Beautiful film.


LUCKY THEM (2014) Director: Megan Griffiths

2 STARS



Oh, interesting but insipid indy film about a rock journalist looking for that "mysterious enigmatic rock star from the past who hasn't recorded in blah, blah, blah, eh, it has it's moments, but I didn't care for it.

(PENALTY)

Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, this is way too hard!

What is your favorite "Older Disney" Animated and Live-Action movies? 

Oh c'mon, I don't want to answer a "Favorite" question!? Oh Jesus Christ, really? Um, I don't know, I don't really have favorites. Um, well what the hell does "Older" Disney even mean-, Um, I guess for animated, probably "Lady and the Tramp", I guess. For live-action, I don't know if I'd call it a "Favorite", I don't really have favorites, but the one I've probably thought about the most in recent years, believe it or not, "Pollyanna". There's some stuff, subtext-wise that I find interesting.


WHITEY:  UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VS. JAMES J. BULGER (2014) Director: Joe Berlinger

4 1/2 STARS



Oh, this was good. It's the documentary about the criminal trial for the Boston mobster that's the inspiration for Nicholson in "The Departed" and Depp in "Black Mass", very good film.

(PENALTY)

Oh fucking hell, c'mon!!!! (Growl)

Have your personal experiences ever effected the way you see a film?

Oh, actually that's not that bad a question. Um, yes, but I couldn't express how per se. Having an autistic brother films like "Rain Man" and "The Miracle Worker" effect me more, 'cause I personally relate to some of the experiences, and I-eh, I will never sit through "Mercury Rising" again, that film, ugh, that was so-, ugh. But of course, we're always effected in some way by our own um, precedents and experiences and knowledge, I do think, it's usually important to try and separate that however and try to see if a movie works despite that our own personal feelings, but yeah, it's okay to be effected, it's just also important to recognize why you're so effected and then try to correctly analyze those thoughts separate from the film as much as one can.


AT MIDDLETON (2014) Director: Adam Rodgers

1 1/2 STARS



Oh this film was so boring. It should've been good, Garcia, Farmiga, they're parents looking at colleges with their kids and then they separate from the group and it's a little "Before Sunrise" on campus, but oh, it's not that interesting. The characters are barely written, it's just boring, an idea and nothing else.

(PENALTY)

Ah, fuck, c'mon!

Who are your top five favorite actors? 

Oh, really!!! UGGGGH!!! Top five, favorite actors. Um, any question like this, is basically come down to how I feel that day. Today, I'd say, Edward G. Robinson, um, Humphrey Bogart, Groucho Marx, um, I don't know, Paul Giamatti, and-eh, (shrugs) Gerard Depardieu. I wouldn't-, I don't know if they're my favorites, they're just the names that come to my mind immediately.


VIOLETTE (2014) Director: Martin Provost

3 STARS



It's a French biopic about author Violette Ludec; I don't know a lot about her, but it was okay. Little erratic and boring, but I didn't hate it.

(PENALTY)

Oh c'mon, that can't have been more than 25! ...23, 24, 20- GRRRR! Okay, we should only be counting, nouns, verbs and adjectives!

Who is your favorite Rocky opponent? 

LOL, um, I don't know, Thunderlips. No, I'm-, I don't know, um, probably Apollo Creed.


SIDDHARTH (2014) Director: Richie Mehta

4 STARS



Oh, really tough-to-watch Indian film about a family whose son gets kidnapped after they send him to work in a factory across the country. Eh, it's a bit of a message movie but it's a good one. Not the most fun thing to watch, but yeah, it's worth looking for.

(PENALTY)
Fuck. Alright, what is it?

What are your top 3 Mel Gibson movies? 

(Eye rolls, annoyed sigh) Okay, um, "Lethal Weapon", obviously, um, "Signs", I do think that's Shyamalan's best film, it's the only one I can actually sit down and watch more than once and still enjoy it. Annnnnd-da-um, hmm, I think I'll go with "Maverick" actually. His best film as a director btw, is "Apocalypto", but I'm not really a fan of his directing work in general. Yeah, "Lethal Weapon", "Signs" and "Maverick" those are Mel Gibson at his best, to me. I guess I should've picked a "Mad Max" film, but I-eh, I don't really think of them as Gibson movies, I see Gibson, these are the films I see and think of.

Alright, before we go on, how many more do I have?

17 

Haha, no really how many more of these do I have?

Oh, you're right, it's 16, not 17. Sorry, I miscounted.

Oh fuck- c'mon! Jesus, I'm about to cry here. Ugh! (Deep breath, deep breath, sigh) Alright, what's next?


THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997) Director: Steven Spie-

WAIT! What year is that film from? '97? No, no, if it's not within the last two years of movies I've seen, I don't have to review it. Anything left after 2014?

(No answer)

NO!? Alright, then we're done with this shit. Oh fucking Christ, thank God. I am never doing this shit again. If you guys want to know about my opinions on any of these movies here:

"The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997)
"Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974" (1974)
"The Chumscrubber" (2005)
"Mother of George" (2013)
"How to Make Money Selling Drugs" (2013)
"That's My Boy" (2012)
"Friday Night" (2003)
"Jurassic Park III" (2001)
"Reality" (2013)
"Out in the Dark" (2013)
"Girl Rising" (2013)
"Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story" (2013)
"Burn" (2012)
"Horror House" (2008)
"Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance (aka Belle and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale)" (2007)

Just contact me, through one of my FB pages, Twitter, comment on the blog below, etc, ask me on any of them, and in this case, you can ask me one, other whatever, dumb question, you want, and I'll answer it there, not in just 25 words. Ugh! Yeah, I don't care if anybody says I write too much, or whatever, people who underwrite aren't trying hard enough. Ugh, enough of this crap, let's get to it, so I can end this and get back to modern times and review films I've actually seen the week I'm reviewing them.  Here we good, let's get to PART 3!, THE FINALE of this week's MOVIE REVIEWS! Thank fucking God!


SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (2015) Directors: Mark Burton and Richard Starzak

4 STARS



Going into "Shaun the Sheep Movie" the Oscar-nominated animated film based on the British TV series, the only thing I knew about "Shaun the Sheep" was, uh, well, that he exists. (Shrugs) Sorry, I missed this completely until now and really didn't have any real knowledge of what the hell I was getting into with this film. I then saw the Aardman Animations logo however and quickly knew I was in relatively safe hands. Aardman Animation if you don't know, are the stop-motion and now computer animation group behind Wallace and Gromit, and "Creature Comforts" among others. They are the premiere animation department of the United Kingdom, and they're work has won multiple awards worldwide including three or four Oscars. "Shaun the Sheep Movie" their latest is basically, "Shaun: Sheep in the City", but that's pretty okay with me. Shaun (Justin Fletcher) is a sheep, who lives on a farm with Farmer (John Sparkes) and the dog Bitzer (Sparkes, again) and there's numerous other Sheep in two straight lines, the youngest one was Timmy (Fletcher, again, and I have no idea why I went with the weird "Madeleine" reference there, it's pretty irrelevant to everything actually, well other than the fact that "Madeleine" is awesome!) and Timmy's protective mother, Timmy's Mum, (Kate Harbour). You know, I've given the actors' names who portray the characters' voices but that's stretching it actually, they don't really have voices. There's no dialogue in this movie, unless you count some of the lyrics in the songs that are heard, but this is basically a silent film. The characters do talk to each other and are incredibly expressive, but it's all bleats and grunts and gasps, and that's all that's needed. It's a delightful little tale about Shaun, in an effort to take a day off from, um, I guess being sheep (Shrugs) accidentally gets Farmer to lose his memory and get stuck in town, where he inadvertently becomes the next big name is hairstyling, so Shaun, Bitzer and the rest of the Sheep have to navigate the Big City, in search of Farmer, who they must help regain his memory and come back home, all the while avoiding the ever more insane animal catcher, Trumper (Omaj Djalilli) who's out to capture Shaun and the rest of the Sheep, and Bitzer. I mean, there's nothing deep or meaningful but it's just a quirky wonderful little story, told beautifully by people who are absolute masters at telling quirky wonderful little stories. I'm definitely gonna try to look into "Shaun the Sheep", the TV series after having seen the movie, it's one of the most delightful little films I've seen this year. If you love Aardman Animation, then you'll love this one, it's arguably their best feature film so far.


CARTEL LAND (2015) Director: Matthew Heineman

4 STARS



I don't think I'm going to be making the most shocking or damning statement when I say that the War on Drugs, is a losing battle that we never should've tried to fight in the first place. This is probably not news to any reasonable-thinking person on the left and right side of the aisles. That said, personally when it comes to drugs and the drug war, honestly, I don't get it. I mean, I get that others do, that people are addicted and it is a plight on society, and that there needs to be a more vigorous effort put in on addiction treatment as oppose to combating the cartels, but that said, trying to understand the drug war, as somebody who has never taken drugs or ever felt the need to and was frankly rarely-if-ever in a situation where the situation would ever even come up, it's always been a bit foreign. I don't think it's as simple as the idea of "Just Say No", ever pretended that it was, but at the same time, I don't quite get why the answer would have ever been "Yes" to begin with? I guess that's what always confuses me about many of these drug movies and drug documentaries lately. "Cartel Land", the Oscar-nominated documentary from Matthew Heineman, takes place in both Mexico and in Arizona, the border area to Michoacan, which is about a 1,000 miles south of the U.S. border and is probably where the most violent of the drug cartels, the Knights Templar operates and runs the city through fear, intimidation and beheadings, lots of beheadings, among other gruesome deaths Vlad the Impaler would be proud of. After an opening scene that's returned to at the end, showing masked meth cookers which, in of itself is quite shocking, but the movie then follows two groups of people. In Arizona, it's a group called the Arizona Border Recon vigilantes, led by a former meth-head, Tom Foley, who's leading the pack to take down undocumented illegals who try entering the state. Arizona has been the home of some of the most atrocious recent laws revolving around eradicating illegal immigrants lately, and it's clear that they're beyond delusional. Foley talks about looking for work and seeing his jobs taken over and we see them getting excited by watching Fox News before "patrolling" the border. That said, it's pretty clear to me watching the Mexico side of the border that those trying to get across have damn good reason to try to leave and they ain't exactly the ones causing the so-called problems with the cartel that so far comparatively, have only taken idle footsteps across the U.S. border. In Mexico, one Dr, Jose Miguel Mirelles has started a civilian-based paramilitary group that works outside the government to conduct the cartel. This has caused him great distressed and at the time of the film's release was currently in jail, and it's not completely sure whether his motives are completely true or if he himself has enterprises at work. "Cartel Land", to me, was repetitive and not necessarily new insights, but more, an interesting look at new aspects of the drug war, that were interesting but, it was also rough-to-watch, not just content-wise it was also just wasn't overly-entertaining to me. It's a hit-over-your-head documentary with the brutal realism and I think the best documentaries are doing a little more than that, but that's a minor critique from me. It doesn't completely succeed, but I can see what it was trying and it mostly did it well, so I'm recommending it, I can think of other more interesting films in the drug war subgenre of documentaries at the moment, but it's still pretty powerful. I think it's a bit two movies shoved together instead of the ideal that he's going for of two similar sides of the same affair but still, it worked enough; you won't forget it for awhile.



MR. HOLMES (2015) Director: Bill Condon

3 1/2 STARS



Like everybody else who's ever had even a passing casual fascination with the detective genre, I like many before, have at some point decided to dive into arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character, the great Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, played here by Sir Ian McKellan,here in "Mr. Holmes" is not at all much like Doyle's brilliant if not, egotistical and eccentric quixotic detective. Actually, in this universe, Holmes is not the creation of Doyle, he's the creation of Dr. Watson, who apparently took the cases and stories that Holmes, who doesn't live at 221B Baker Street, although he is friendly enough with the actual occupant that any real cases can be sent his way if needed, Holmes has since been long retired and growing ever more senile. He's just come back from a recent trip to Japan to retrieve an herb called prickly ash, that supposedly could at least delay the effects of senility enough for him, to write the real story behind his last case. Or supposed last case, while there is something familiar about this story about a husband Thomas (Patrick Kennedy) concerned that his wife Hattie (Ann Kelmot) might leave him, or worst while under the instruction of her suspicious music instructor Madame Schirmer (Frances de la Tour) but after doing a little research, I think the Holmes mystery inside this film itself is made-up, so what we got here, is a fictionalized version of a fictional character (And yes, this is based on a recent novel, not at related in canon or related at all to any of Doyle's works) trying to correctly and more accurately, re-tell a fictional story that was written about him. Okay, admittedly, that might be one backflip too many for some of you, but you know what, we've had fictionalized Sherlock Holmes tales and stories before, hell, I can think of two of them on television now, in "Sherlock" and "Elementary", that's not even counting "House, M.D.", and lest we forget, or wish we could forget, the two Guy Ritchie "Sherlock Holmes" films with Robert Downey, Jr. that took way more creative license than "Mr. Holmes" is taking, and those are all just recent examples, so I think we're than willing to accept this Sherlock Holmes as much or as well as a direct remake of any of his books. The movie even makes fun of some of the Holmes archetypes, like the coonskin cap, which is not mentioned in any Doyle tale btw, or his love of smoking a pipe, which apparently was true to this Holmes, but after the legend of Holmes became the fact, he switched to a cigar. He's now, rarely smoking, he's moved to the country, and now lives with a disgruntled housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney, wasted here btw) who's looking for the first job out of town as soon as Holmes is put away, along with her young son Roger (Milo Parker) who is interested in mystery stories and try hard to keep Sherlock aware enough to recall that final case and what it was exactly that caused him to retire. That's really the meat of the relationship, the relationship between those two characters, and it's pretty good. Not what I would've expected, but it works here well enough. And yeah, Laura Linney's part is somewhat one-note. The film was directed by Bill Condon, who's got a history of being a bit erratic as a writer/director, most people mostly know him nowadays for directing the last two "Twilight" movies, which, I haven't seen yet, but I remember most of his other films pretty well, and except for writing the screenplay for "Chicago", he seems to mostly like unconventional biopic narrative, or at least, stories about famous characters, in this case a fictional famous character, that's character and less story. His best film is "Kinsey" with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney, not wasted in that film which earned her an Oscar-nomination, but since then, on top of the "Twilight"'s, he's also made the forgettable Julian Assange biopic, "The Fifth Estate", and before that, the music version of "Dreamgirls", a film that I'm particular despondent towards, although granted, I don't think he had a good musical to work with to begin with, but, ugh. (Eddie Murphy was robbed though) However, the movie that "Mr. Holmes" is clearly most similar to is "Gods and Monsters", his breakout movie that starred McKellan as "Frankenstein" director James Whale, an aging, dying old man who also only has a maid as his main outlet to the outside world. I respect that film as a character piece, but I vastly prefer "Mr. Holmes", As interesting a character as Whale was and is, that movie basically meanders around until we get to his eventual suicide, "Mr. Holmes" is about an aging character who's struggling to find the will to survive, at least long enough to remember key parts of his past. He's a shell of his former self, but he's still quite an interesting and mostly active character. This is Condon's best film in years, so I'm definitely recommending, but yeah, I can see an argument that there's no real reason for this film to exist, but, I warmed up to it enough. It might not be a Sherlock Holmes that I wanted, but it's a good, different Holmes that's done and told well. I was entertained, it kept me guessing, there's some great pieces of ambiguity storytelling..., there's more than enough here that works.


COP CAR (2015) Director: John Watts

2 1/2 STARS



Roger Ebert once referred to a movie as an "unsprung screwball comedy, slowed down to real-life speed,"; he said that in a review of Curtis Hanson's underrated masterpiece "Wonder Boys", which is about as far away from "Cop Car" as you can get, but the line remained in my mind as I watch "Cop Car". It's a goofy but fun premise of a film, and yet, I had a little bit of a hard time really warming up to it. I think a few screwball comedies can work at real-life speed, but there's a reason why most of the best screwballs happen at the quickest, breakneck speed possible. The movie begins with a couple of ten-year-old runaways, Travis and Harrison (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) who are walking through, a-, was it a desert landscape or a plains landscape? God, I only watched this movie yesterday, uh, it takes place somewhere in the midwest, and anyway, between trying to catch snakes and trying out cus words, they spot, a cop car, just there, in some secluded area behind the trees. At first, they're worried that a cop might catch them and bring them back home, but they don't see an officer there and the cars were left there. They're already on the run, and with long walks ahead, they figure, what the hell, steal the car. The cop, turns out to be the town's Sheriff (Kevin Bacon) was doing some somewhat unsavory things, returns to find the car missing. He can't report it missing, so he has to hide the fact with the dispatcher (Kyra Sedgwick) that the car's stolen, while still trying to figure out how to find it, and who took it. This is, basically all there is to the film. There's some other development, and characters played by Camryn Manheim and Shea Whigham come into play, but the movie, while it does go into the absurd and the absurdly stupid, it doesn't really go into them. If anything, it's almost too smart, the cop is swarmy and a big cliche, complete with a bad '70s pornstache, but he actually thinks through his problem quite intelligently and even the kids, while occasionally coming up with dumb ideas like testing the bulletproof vests they find in the car, they're not completely dumb either; they seem to work out their problems well too. And they the realistic amount of time to figure out these problems too. I think that's my major problem with "Cop Car", it's supposed to be a hilarious independent comedy but really, it's just a little too slow. I found myself falling asleep during this movie one-too many times and then, waking up minutes later, feeling like I didn't miss anything important, and I really hadn't. There's a few interesting developments and again, they kinda make sense and are thoughtful, intelligent, but, it's almost like, they had a great concept and treated it, just a little too realistic. It's trying to be too smart, and too cute for it's own good instead of just being funny. "Cop Car" isn't bad, it's actually quite witty and at time emotional, but I don't know, I can't quite recommend it. I just found myself, waiting around for the inevitable to happen, a little too much. This is a good, 45-minute short film, spread out to a just under 90-minute movie. I don't know, I won't stop anybody from watching it, but this was just a comedy that, didn't make me laugh enough to recommend. I think if it was a little-less slowed down to real-life speed, I might've enjoyed it more.


GOOD KILL (2015) Director: Andrew Niccol

4 1/2 STARS




I seem to be one of the few people who consistently tends to defends Andrew Niccol's work, especially his recent work. I'm probably one of the few, despite the heavy-handedness of it all, who actually thought pretty highly of "In Time", which tried most critics, although I did reach my limit of defending him when it came to "The Host", one of the truly most horrible, boring film experiences I've had to suffer through. Although, that's part of the problem with him, ever since he broke onto the scene with the screenplay to "The Truman Show" and made his directorial debut with "Gattaca", he's kinda been pegged as a science-fiction filmmaker, and one who, worst sin of sins, like ideas more than say, action. "The Host" aside, and unfortunately I haven't seen "S1mone" yet, but I typically think highly his work, and there is another side to him, and it's seems to be a fascination with warfare. Arguably his best film as a director is "Lord of War", a seriously overlooked film with Nicholas Cage as an arms dealer who sells to, whatever country's having a war that week. (It's one of Cage's very best performances as well) and now he's given us, "Good Kill", this time focuses not on the profiteer, but on the soldier an air force fighter pilot, Maj. Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke). Everyday he flies over Afghanistan or Iraq and drops bombs onto suspected terrorists and criminals. He does this at Nellis Air Force Base, outside Las Vegas, NV, before he goes home to his wife, Molly (January Jones) and kid Jesse (Sachie Capitani) each-, well, most nights. (Oh, and like every other Las Vegas based production, conflict of warning, there's a decent possibility that I probably know or knows somebody who knows somebody who's worked on the film, should've put that at the top. Oh well.)  There's been a lot of talk about drones, not as much about the people who actually control them. I doubt that this film is a super-accurate portrayal of them, the same way that I doubt "The Hurt Locker" speaks for all the EOD teams in Iraq. but that said, I have met one or two of these drone pilots over the pilots, and I can't help but think they relate a little to this film. Egan spends his days in a lock box that looks like a trailer/school portable, where inside, he stands guard over Afghanistan and Iraq. Looking for suspicious activity, hovering, watching, trying to determine whether or not something or another is a "Good Kill", and then blowing them up from the sky, seen only through video periscope image that's unusually clear, he looks over the country. He hates the job. It's tough enough training to be a pilot for all your life only to be susquestered in a hot room in middle of Mojave Desert, much less the concept of going home for the day after fighting in a war, and blowing up suspected Taliban cohorts, and otherwise just watching over a country that's halfway around the world, especially if you're trained to put your life on the line in battle, not, play real-life X-Box. (And yes, the video game company did indeed help develop the technology.) He is unfortunately for him, the best at the position, which is why his boss, Lt. Colonel Jack Jones (Bruce Greenwood) isn't interested in transferring him, not that he could. The only fellow soldier he sorta gets along with is a young airmen named Vera (Zoe Kravitz) and that's a slightly dangerous and tenuous friendship, while the relationship with his wife at home becomes more and more tension-filled and fragile. Then, he gets a mission that's top secret from the CIA that he has to follow through on, but the more he looks at this mission, the less and less he agrees with it, and of course, begins to suspect that the higher-ups aren't exactly as exact when it comes to finding and killing the terrorists. "Good Kill" is a really special portrayal of a complex new character, and while it trends towards the melodramatic, it's really intense and satisfying. One of the more overlooked films of last year and it deserves to find an audience. It's definitely in the vein of "The Hurt Locker" where it's not so much a war movie as it is, a journey into the mindset of a particular soldier, and I won't claim it's as good as that film was, it isn't, but it's pretty damn good.


MEDITERRANEA (2015) Director: Joseph Carpignano

4 STARS



Somewhere, somehow, somebody must've kicked Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) around some, at least enough to make him go on a deadly, dangerous journey across three African countries and take, what we'll generously call a "boat", to as close to Italy as he and the dozens of other people could get before somebody seeing them floating out there. Okay, I know, technically Ayiva and Abas (Alassane Sy) are not refugees, (I'm just gonna presume you all easily caught the Tom Petty "Refugee" reference and know what the hell I'm talking about, 'cause, I...-, no, not explaining this) but I couldn't help but think about refugees, particularly the Syrian refugees who are right now, ostracized, not just by America, for reasons of,... I don't know, people are idiot racists. If you don't know the processes with which  refugees go through, just to be refugees and then have to go live in some country not chosen by them to then live, go seek out the clip from "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" and educate yourself. "Mediterranea" follows Ayiva, mainly as him and Abas, and several others make this arduous journey, he's originally from Burkina Faso, and as far as I know that's the first time I can even remember seeing a movie character from that Central African country. We see them struggle to get through both Algeria and then Libya before making that doomed boat trip. They survive and make it to Italy, and struggle to get work, the main job they find is picking oranges, and even then, they're mostly ostracized from everybody else. At one point, a young nine-year-old, continually just throws Ayiva's box of oranges onto the ground. There's numerous other incidents of how poorly these immigrants are treated, and it's basically a movie about, well, the life and journey of a migrant and nothing more. They have a three-month permit, but after that, they need a steady job, and papers which they don't have. Ayiva befriends one interesting character, a young black marketeer/tradesman Pio (Pio Amata) who's too young to be smoking, be too worldly for anybody to not give him a cigarette when he asks, especially since they're already buying ipods and other such devices from him. "Mediterranea" is pretty simple in it's intention and it succeeds. It's the first feature film from director Joseph Carpignano, who's split most of his life between New York City and Italy, so he probably has some sympathies towards being a man, suddenly plopped down into a strange world and culture he doesn't understand, and has probably noticed ever-growing migrations throughout much of Europe, that's pretty undocumented generally. Fatih Akih for instance, often makes movies about the Turkish population in Germany for instance and things like that, and it's more than reasonable to believe that desolate and distraught Africans would travels over a desert and through the world's largest Sea just to make it to a better life in Italy, and yes, that would cause a lot of tensions and boiled up racism to start exploding, but to the film's credit, it also shows them trying to accept the new norm, and we even see some generous people trying to help them out. "Mediterranea" is a good first feature about the immigrant experience, one that's not documented much in film, hell, it's one of the few I can even think of that I've seen that's not about immigrants coming to America. "Dirty Pretty Things" comes to mind I guess, but that was a thriller about other things, this is about the experience as seen from Ayiva's perspective. It's not all bad, but you can see he's constantly wondering if it wouldn't be better to go back. I'm sure even in the best of circumstances that thought crosses a lot of immigrants minds, much less ones going from one unfriendly environment to another.



MERU (2015) Directors: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

3 STARS



(Looking down at list of movies I'm reviewing)

I gave this film 3 STARS, really? Uh, okay. Hmm. For some reason I thought I had been somewhat harder on this film, but I guess I was nicer to it. I think it's just partially, me getting overwhelmed lately with particular kinds of films, and I swear, for reasons that I can't completely understand I keep running into and watching films that are strikingly similar, and one of them, oddly enough has been this documentary subgenre about, either mountain climbing or surviving in some sort of dangerous climate or profession, and honestly I'm getting tired of them they start to blur together. Like everybody else, I pretty much give these films a pass, if for nothing else the amazing cinematography, which basically means I'm basically congratulating a movie for actually being able to shoot in a part of the world that's not conducive to filmmaking, or even setting up a camera and tripod without freezing to death or falling off a mountain and into a ice crevice. "Meru" is the name of a notoriously difficult-to-climb Himalayan mountain, it's not as big as Mt. Everest, although it's still 21,000 ft. high, or so, but nobody's ever been able to climb it and survive. On top of everything else, the main culprit is the design at the top of the mountain, famously and correctly called "The Shark Fin" by climbers, is just-, it's a giant flat thousands of feet tale piece of rock that looks like a shark fin at the top of the mountain; not that I'd ever be so inclined, but I wouldn't have any idea how to climb that thing. Even the locals who will at least escort and your equipment up Everest, to a point, they don't even dare try to conquer "Meru". Of course, what did Sir Edmund Hillary say when asked why he did climb Everest? 'Cause it was there. And that's basically why Conrad Ankar, one of the world's most prolific of mountain climbers has attempted it before, and this time, is determined to try again. We see actually see two different attempts by Ankar and his team, many of which, suffer some serious setbacks and injuries during the climb and the training for it, one of them is seriously putting his life on the line just going after a horrific brain injury from before, but they go for the glory and because, well, it's there. They have wives and kids and/or family who cares about them and would probably rather not see them risk their lives again just to say they climbed the unclimbable, the in-climb-ab-,no, that can't be right. the impossible-to-climb mountain. Like I said, I've seen other films like this recently, this is probably the best one to sit back and watch in awe, but when you're not doing that, or just, fearing for the climbers to, not die, basically, I don't really know why else you'd watch "Meru", but yeah, in hindsight, while I don't recall the movie as well as I probably wish I could, or should've, it's still an amazing accomplishment and adventure to document, and the fact that this is documented, is pretty amazing.


THE SEVEN FIVE (2015) Director: Tiller Russell

4 1/2 STARS



I had a friend once who, let's just say was a more conservative leaning than I was, and he was always a bit shocked at how I was so anti-police, you could say, at least in the political abstract. I've never voted to give the cops pay raises or anything like that, and I don't think more police on the street will help deter crime or anything. If anything it'll more-than-like just help exacerbate police corruption. More police to take out the bad guys, then more illegal activities the cops could take over, or better yet, keep the bad guys on the street, just steal their money and drugs and whatnot, 'cause, hey we're the cops, what are they gonna do, go to us, to report their stolen drug money? That's pretty much the logic of Michael Dowd, the ringleader as it were of Long Island's Seven-Five station, the most corrupt police station in New York's history and possibly ever. He spent eleven years in jail eventually, but not before spending the eighties basically being the head of one of the biggest crime syndicates in New York, all working at the police force. He still claims he was a good cop, although he still thinks that the job of a police officer is to never rat on their partner no matter what. He even mentions how, during the initiation and Academy classes, the uppers cops would come in and talk about how there were two ways to go, basically to Internal Affairs, or to make money on the streets. This movie is basically the real-life version of "Goodfellas" just told with the backgrounds and settings of "The Departed". Dowd, is probably the one who would've been corrupt no matter what, his partner Ken Eurell was more honest at first, but yeah, you see the guy steal and steal and steal and then deal and nothing keeps happenings, and sometimes he would forget to even pick up his check 'cause he'd make thousands a day going into the ghetto and just stealing all the drug dealer money he came across, I-eh, I get it. That's something that's never brought up, it's almost inevitable. It's so tempting in that position of power, protected by the thin blue line, and even if they weren't, why would you not? I've seen some criticize "The Seven Five" because of how it sometimes seems to overly paint these characters positively, but I think it's even-handed enough, and I think it matches the characters personalities, and the tone of the movie, accurately reflects their mindsets at the time, of these cops. The world they lived in, and the Seven-Five police district was their oyster. The strange thing about Dowd is that, he probably would've made and in many cases did seem to be a good cop, and I do think one good cop is better than twenty bad-to-average ones, particularly the corrupt ones, and let's face it, the more cops there are, the less likely they'll be good qualified cops. Ask Miami in the eighties about that when they tried to boost their police force to equate the numbers of the cartels how well that worked. It's still, overall just amazing how horrible corruption is for everyone. I wouldn't even be against the idea if it actually didn't take away from people doing their jobs as police, or whatever they're jobs actually are; all forms of corruption, as far as I can tell, is just a way to get paid for not doing whatever job one has, and "The Seven Five" is no exception. It's an enlightening and powerful, well-made documentary, that is a bit talky at times, but gives us some incredible insight into this world and gives us the real characters involved. We see how both sides of the blue line work, both in committing the crimes and going down the spiral into the criminal and we also see the cows, looking at how they think and investigate and the differences are startling. One IA agent, talked about seeing Dowd the first time, just walking out of the station in his uniform one day, and he immediately thought "perp", not cop, just based on instinct, and how it haunted him for years. You never ever heard that kind of intuitiveness out of Dowd, not that that's always reliable, but yeah, if you do this enough, it wouldn't be so unpredictable most of the time.


DELI MAN (2015) Director: Erik Greenberg Anjou

4 1/2 STARS



Technically, I'm born and raised in Las Vegas, technically, I've spent literally all my life here, but, while there's a few exceptions, nobody actually is, "from" Las Vegas, we're all from, somewhere else and we somehow ended up in Vegas. That's true of most people who live here, and there's very clear signs in many of us exactly where we're probably originally from. My family's from the Philadelphia/South Jersey area, and there's certain East Coast things, you can tell I, and many others in fact, gravitate towards, and lot of them are food. Hell, just today, I went to eat at my local Philly Cheesesteak place, 'cause, well, I-, I had to. I was craving it, and short of paying the airfare back and forth just to hit up Geno's (Or Pat's, I like Pat's too, don't hate me, Pat's people) I'm gonna take the best closest thing I can get at that moment. I'm not just limited to Philadelphia delicacies, (and yes, I lot of these signs about our actual homeplace are food-based, but not all) there's food all up and down the East Coast. New York Cheesecake, Atlantic City salt water taffy and sea foam fudge, New England Clam Chowder, (Sorry, Manhattan), New York-style pizza, yeah. And one I absolutely love, Jewish deli. Oh, I love Jewish Deli. I love the lunchmeats, I love bagels, oh, I love Jewish delis, and there's so few of them, it's a damn crying shame. I mean, I'm more of a roast beef guy than a pastrami on rye guy admittedly but still, the environment, the food, there's just something so right, about going to eat at a real, true Jewish deli. Let's just say, people are always shocked at how much lunchmeat we not only buy at the deli counter, but how much meat we put in my family's sandwiches, (and thin-cut meat, really thin, and I have two grandfathers who were butchers, so don't give that bullshit that something's thin enough when it isn't, I know.) So yeah, as a foodie, as a man fascinated with historical pieces of Americana, and just as an east coaster who'd probably in another lifetime, would still be sitting down and enjoying the chatter of old Jewish men, while I devour a giant sandwich, I'm already predisposed to liking a documentary about the deli. I don't know who wouldn't be predisposed to enjoying stuff like this, I guess vegetarians maybe, but even then, get some bagels, and some smear, I mean, that's good enough for me, and beside the food, the culture and history of the deli, is so rich. We get a few notable famous names talking about eating and working at the deli, Jerry Stiller, Larry King and Fyvush Finkel make some talking head appearance, and it's really nice to see Finkel in particular but the real focus of "Deli Man", is Ziggy Gruber, the owner of Kenny's & Ziggy's Deli in Houston and arguably the most successful and biggest deli currently in the United States. At the dawn of the industrial revolution and the rise of immigration especially in New York, the deli would become the staple of American cuisine for the lower class. It's tough to imagine now that one could get a nice hoagie of all that beef and cheese on their lunch breaks and it would only cost them a nickel, yes time's have changed, but still, even with inflation, the food was cheap and oh, so mouth-watering good, just thinking about it. (Man, I need to go on a diet) Today, when there used to be over a thousand delis just in New York City, there's fewer than 200 in America, and the number is ever-dwindling. Gruber, who grew up in the deli, keeps the tradition alive. We see him, early in the morning meeting the delivery men with the meats, smoking and cooking them for hours on end, making the sauces, the juices, oh, all these great foods. He's out to preserve the culture of the immigrants and their recipes, often searching for the most obscure foods and preparations trying to revive them. Food, is a much more ever-changing medium than we may realize sometimes, so it is good to preserve these things. We see a bit of his personal life, trying to stay in shape, exercising, even doing acupuncture for his back. Ziggy is a character, he is young, but he's one of those young guys who's always been an aging Jew telling stories about his families while serving the food at your table. Hell, there's a part of me that's like that and has always been and I'm way younger. So, yeah, I'm predisposed to this, but this is a fun movie. You know, like-, I know documentaries get a bad rap, and sometimes, yeah, it's a lot of depressing subject matter, but there are lighter, funnier, more breezy documentaries out there, this is one of them. "Deli Man", is just a fun movie about, a deli man, who loves his work and the deli, and about other people who love delis just as much. See it on a full stomach if you can, 'cause you'll get hungry quickly, but yeah, this isn't the greatest or most groundbreaking anything, but it's a fun documentary about a subject I think nearly all of us can get behind. And pity those who don't, but more food for me then.


MATT SHEPARD IS A FRIEND OF MINE (2015) Director: Michelle Josue

4 STARS



I-, I think if your my age, then you get a unsettling and disturbing chill that runs down the back of your neck and spine when you even here the name Matthew Shepard. I can't quite explain it, and maybe it's just me, but there's a certain amount, just horrid sadness that goes with the story. I swear to God, you want to look at how my generation's been so insistently pro-LGBT community in the last twenty, forcing our way through such things gay marriage, eliminating Don't Ask, Don't Tell, etc. It has a lot to do with how, a lot of us, myself included, just kind found ourselves so upended and emotionally offended at the atrocious death of Matthew Shepard. I even remember very distinctly a MTV-produced dramatization of the event that disturbed me immensely. The only thing, I can compare it to,- I've heard Jewish people talk about going to Germany, I've heard this a few times, Joel Gray in particular I remember talking about this, just even the second he stepped off the plane, there's this sense of, infinite sadness, like something bad happened here, close. I know that seems a bit heavy-handed a comparison, but yeah, just hearing the name gives me that feeling, and I doubt I'm alone in that. For those who aren't familiar Matthew Shepard was a 19-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming, who was beaten, tortured, robbed, and driven out into the middle of a field, miles away from the nearest house, and tied to a fence and left to die by two men, who pretending to be gay in order to gain his trust; it is to this day the defining gaybashing hate crime, maybe ever. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Obama. The movie is a documentary, made with the help of his family including Shepard's mother Judy, who now runs his foundation and by Michele Josue, who indeed was one of Matthew's friend, although I do get the sense, that like many others, she wishes that she probably would've liked to have known him a bit more. We see a rare look into his family and home movies of Matt himself. He actually had a pretty unique life, having lived in a boarding house in Switzerland while his family lived in Saudi Arabia of all places for much of his life, and he lived in Colorado and North Carolina too before going to college in Wyoming. He was an actor and creative type as well; I have no idea what would've happened to Matthew Shepard if things had gone differently, but things didn't tragically and "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" is one sad reminder that we never got a chance to find out what Matthew Shepard would become. It's an important film, especially for those young people who might want to know a bit about the psyche of the generation before them, this movie might give them a little insight into that.


ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2015) Director: Mark Hartley

4 STARS



Cannon Films, oh boy. Well, first of all, let's talk about Director Mark Hartley, 'cause he's kinda making a weird name for himself, as he is the go-to documentary director when it comes to detailing the history of cinematic schlock. He has done some non-documentary movies, "Patrick" most notably, one of the latest in a long line of horror movies that take place in a psychiatric institution of some kind, but mostly, he seems responsible for films like "Machete Maidens Unleashed" which I actually reviewed years ago, about the American movies made in the Philippines by exploitation filmmakers and studios because it was cheaper to make movies there, during the Marcos reign. In fact, this is the second movie he's made, that uses the phrase "The Wild, Untold Story of..." in the subtitle of his film after "Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation". I had to look it up too, since that film I haven't seen yet, but Ozploitation is the name given to the movement of ultra-low budget Australian, exploitation films (Shrugs, okay) that began popping up in the late '70s after the introduction of the R rating and is considered apart of the early movement that would develop into the Australian New Wave. Don't worry if you've never heard the term before, this would stump even the most knowledgeable of underground world cinema historians and it's partly because, "Ozploitation" is not a common term to describe this Australian film movement now, and especially not at the time, that's because he made the term up. It was actually Quentin Tarantino who penned the term "Aussieploitation", to describe these films, but he shortened it to, Oz-ploitation, which- no, that doesn't really work, 'cause I don't hear the syllable "Oz" and think "Aus-tralia" I think Dorothy and Toto, so I-um-, (flips hand,  signalling never mind) Anyway, his latest movie is about Cannon Films, which does begin earlier with them being a distribution company who made their original name by being one of their first major achievements was distributing softcore Swedish porn films with English dubbing, and yes those films were pretty popular in the early '70s, at the height of the posh era for porn, but this story is mainly about Cannon Films after they were taken over by Israeli cousins and filmmakers Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus. They-eh, well how do I explain them and the films they made. You ever happen to be home on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and going through the local channels, you run into some low budget '80s action movie with Dolph Lundgren or somebody like that, which has a title that's a sequel to a movie you never heard of don't remember? Cannon Films probably made it. Golan & Globus loved making movie, they made them quick and preferably as cheap as possible, and many of them. How cheap and how quick, this is actually the second documentary this year made about Cannon Films. Golan & Globus, didn't participate in this film, because after they were asked to interview for the project, they decided instead to make their own, and true to form, their film, "The Go-Go Boys" beat this film to theaters. I haven't seen "The Go-Go Boys" yet, so I can't comment on that film, but this one, gives us a bit of an inside glimpse into the world of Cannon Films and the Israeli cousins. They loved jumping on trends and then making a movie about them, and bought out the rights for superheroes, including making "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", which inevitably came close to bankrupting them, and they had a smart idea to buy theater chains throughout the UK, so their movies would constantly play there, and eventually there business practices, which, yeah seem particularly sketchy, unsurprisingly. Cannon probably had more delusions of grandeur than the other major studios, (Although calling Canon a major studio is a bit of a stretch.) but they did take more risks than all the others. But yeah, they're more well-known for "Death Wish" sequels, than much else. "Electric Boogaloo..." is entertaining, wild, completely unbelievable and kinetically entertaining to watch, even if it doesn't quite make much sense. So, it's pretty much like most Canon films, or at least how Cannon Films operated it seems. It's an entertaining documentary, and I can't wait for Hartley to dive into even more forgotten subsections of exploitation films and filmmaking. How about a film about the European softcore porn industry in the '60s and '70s, that would be interesting.


CONTAINMENT (2015) Director: Neil McEnery West

2 1/2 STARS



(Sigh) You remember that article I wrote about how there's too many movies out there and how critics were getting bogged down by arbitrary theatrical screenings of vanity project independent films that really shouldn't be in theaters? Well, here's the link if you don't remember that, it's right here:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/06/ny-times-choosing-not-to-review-every.html

"Containment" isn't quite one of those films I'm talking about, but it's kinda close to it. The movie got a 100% review on Rottentomatoes.com, which is probably how it ended up on my Netflix account, but I should've looked a little closer. 100% is still pretty good on RC btw, and it did get nine positive reviews, but none from any of their "Top Critics". Although I'm a little surprised to find that Mary Ann Johanson isn't considered a Top Critic, I guess because she just has a website like me, but still she's been doing it a lot longer, although even reading her brief review on the film now, it seems like even she's stretching more than I am-, well, not more than I am, but yeah,-, where was I going with this? Um-, well, there's not much to say about "Containment". It's not a bad movie per se, it's got a decent idea at the center, it doesn't do anything horrible or horribly wrong, shot well enough, acted well enough, etc. etc. It's just,-, it's just, I can't think of a reason for anybody to see it. It did open theatrically briefly, probably out of contractual obligation, but as those N.Y. Times have brought up, that's not a good enough reason for them to review a film anymore, and that's unfortunate. It's still enough for me technically, but I should rethink that policy. The movie begins with all the characters in an apartment building/complex, suddenly waking up to find that, they can't get out. Not only out of the apartment, but even out of their rooms as the doors have been glued shut. The phone lines are soon torn down, and they're trapped, just looking out the window and seeing, people in HASMAT suits, and clearly something's gone wrong, but they're not telling anyone anything. Quickly the walls start getting smashed down and the neighbors start trying to figure out what exactly they have to, or can do to get answers. It's not dumb about the situation they're in, it's mostly thought-through how these characters might react and, while I would've gone a different direction with the material, there's nothing wrong with how they went with it here, but there's also nothing's that's particularly compelling about the film, or something that we seen somewhere else before and done better. Still, I like the idea and concept, but yeah, this is a decent average film from a decent young filmmaker, it is his first film, but if I'm looking at this film and thinking, "Is this the guy who I definitely, positively, have to see the next film this guy makes?" then, the answer's no. .