Sunday, June 5, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #118: "ROOM", "SICARIO", "WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE'S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM", "THE HUNTING GROUND", "THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL", "MAGIC MIKE XXL", "PHOENIX", "DIGGING FOR FIRE", "CREEP", "HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD", "WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN", "1971", "ANNIE", and "THE GIVER"!

RIP Muhammad Ali. And Prince. And David Bowie. And Alan Rickman, and Frank Kelly, and about three or four more dozens of other people. Jesus, is it just me or is that year just full of deaths? It's depressing, stop killing all the cool people God, it's making us sad. You couldn't take out Donald Trump or Ted Cruz while you're in such a deathy mood? Ugh.

Alright, let's see, only one film I didn't get around to reviewing, Philip Kaufman's 2000 film "Quills" about the Marquis de Sade; it's pretty good. I don't think it's one of Kaufman's very best, that would be either "The Right Stuff" or "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", but "Quills" certainly fits in his milieu, particularly on the "...Being" side of it. I can see how he would be most interested in the life of a writer who basically invented sexual vulgarity. It's worth a watch, although mostly I'm just glad to catch up on something from the early 2000s, that's the earlies peiod where I start to be a little weak in, years-wise. There's still quite a few things from that era that I've missed and got to catch up on, but that's for another day. The rest of my time is spent catching up on last year. Well, I'm definitely getting there, we got lots of major reviews this week, and a lot of good movies. So far, this has been a much better year than 2014, I'm quite happy about it, already.

(YAW-WWWWWWWWN) That said, watching this many movies can make me tired, so let's get right to it this week, so I can take a break/nap, before working some more. Let's get right to this week's "MOVIE REVIEWS"! Starting with reviews of the Oscar winning film, "ROOM" and the OSCAR-NOMINATED films "SICARIO", 'WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE'S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM", and "THE HUNTING GROUND"!


ROOM (2015) Director: Lenny Abrahamson

✰✰✰✰✰



(Long pause)

"Room". (Deep breath)

"Room". How to start this review? (Sigh) Well, let's get the obvious out of the way, no, I have not seen the damn Tommy Wiseau film with the similar title, "The Room", and I don't particularly plan on doing so, until I absolutely have to, and other than that, as far as I can tell, these two films have otherwise, absolutely nothing in common.

(Longer pause, deep breath)

Okay, now....- (Pause) Well, the reason I'm having such difficulty starting this review, is because, this is, just, a really difficult film to talk about. Not, plot wise, it's difficult emotionally. This is-, this is not an easy movie to watch, but it's definitely a movie worth watching. The movie takes place through the eyes of young Jack, (Jacob Tremblay) who's just turned five years old and the movie is, not necessarily narrated by him, but he does give voice over of his thoughts, or his perceptions of the world he inhabits. Unfortunately, the world he inhabits, is a, Room. One room, that he and his mother, Joy, although he calls her simply, Ma (Oscar-winner Brie Larson). Yeah, the movie, um,... I really don't know how else to say this, but Joy was a seventeen year old, who got tricked and kidnapped by somebody named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) who trapped her in his shed, which she couldn't get out of, and, well, a year or so later Jack was born, and I'll let you fill in the blanks. The first half of the movie, we get a sense of Jack's world, which is basically Room. Joy, in an effort to, well, I guess the best way to describe it, unfortunately, is to shelter him, from the real pains of her being kept, is to make up a story about how "Room", is the entire world and universe, and that the people on the TV aren't real or something or another like that. They have enough accessories to get by, and Old Nick, comes at night to bring whatever else he can, or wants to. It's still, a shed and nothing else, and they're stuck behind a combination padlocked door however, with only a skylight, a slight glimpse into the possibilities of the unknown Space outside. That is until, Ma insists on Jack making a daring escape, which involves finally smartening him up to the situation, and then putting him in quite a dangerous and serious situation, but thankfully it works. The second half of the movie, is the afterwards for both Jack and Joy, who reunites with her parents, Nancy and Robert (Joan Allen and a devastating cameo from William H. Macy) although, Nancy is now living with Leo (Tom McCamus) and, there's clearly a huge number of obstacles to help them navigate the next level of waters as Joy is struggles to regain normalcy as she returns to a world that's passed her by and a home that's different from before (not to mention, she's now different than before) and poor Jack, well, he's still getting used to the concept that there actually exists another world outside of "Room", much less, used to having to now live in that world. It's not that he now has to get used to other people in his life, he has to get used to the idea that there's other people at all. I'll start with the director, Lenny Abrahamsom, who I've seen two other films from, another tragedy about youths and crime called "What Richard Did", about an afterschool fight that got out of hand. Rechecking my review of that film, it actually has a similar story path as "Room", it begins by setting up the universe of the movie, and then, something happens that completely alters the world of the characters and now the movie is about the aftereffects of that incident. He also directed the dark comedy "Frank" about a musician and his clinically insane band who wears a giant paper mache mask over his head. I-, I guess there's the same arc in that movie as well, but it's much different and more loosely structured, but I-eh, honestly I never really knew what the hell to do with that movie although I do think it's pretty good. That said, while the directing is really skillful here, having to really establish two different norms, one claustrophobic and literally enclosed and another that's so vast and huge that it engulfs his characters, but the story was based on a novel by Emma Donaghue that she adapted into this screenplay, and while Brie Larson did an amazing job, I think it's debatable to some extent, just how big a Lead Actress she is; this is really young Jack's story. Jacob Tremblay is in nearly every scene of the movie, and more importantly that that the whole movie takes place from his point of view. His voiceover narration of his thoughts, remind me of the narrator in "Days of Heaven" the great Terrence Malick movie, that also focused on a main character who didn't necessarily know everything that was going on around her but tried to explain it to us by showing her perception of the world at large, and that film is also about a journey from one world to another, although the movie that "Room" reminds me of, is a film from a couple years ago called "What Maisie Knew". That movie, some of you may recall made my Top Ten List  and I actually just rewatched it not that long ago and it is a seriously underrated and overlooked masterpiece. That movie is shown entirely from the perspective of a little girl, who's caught up in the center of her parents' divorce and remarriages and struggles to fully understand why she's going from one new house to another, as new people begin entering her life as the world of her parents that she used to know, grows farther and farther away as they eventually start leading their own lives, just as another new home, is being forged around her. "What Maisie Knew" is for the most part, watchable, for lack of a better word, not that "Room" but it's relatively light, and the storytelling conceit of the story being told through only what the young girl sees and finds out about, was perfectly done, to give us more information that we learn, only as Maisie did, catching things that were sometimes only from the corners of the screen. "Room", isn't going for that, it's trying to tell a literal story, it's telling an emotional one. In one sense, it's a movie about, finding out your true emotions, as for the two main character, they've been suppressed, or in Jacob's case, not really allowed to be expressed until now. Were not getting a greater story, we're getting an emotional journey of two people who went through Hell, and are trying to not destroy themselves on the other side. It's probably the most empathetic film of the year, the one you feel for the most, the kind where you constantly find yourself muttering, "Poor girl", or "Poor kid", or "Poor mother" or Poor whoever, for all they go through. That's usually not a sign of a good movie, it's usually a sign of blatant audience manipulation, not here though.


SICARIO (2015) Director: Denis Villeneuve

✰✰✰



The overwhelming praise for "Sicario" the latest from Denis Villeneuve, is kinda befuddling to me. It's not a bad movie, Villeneuve, might not be capable of a bad movie, even his worst films have too much skill behind the camera and storytelling expertise to make a bad film, but after his breakthrough feature the masterful "Incendies" which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film, I've found myself underwhelmed by the Canadian filmmaker's latest works. I admired "Prisoners" a lot, but I couldn't quite say that I was totally enamored with it the way others were and I barely, just barely gave "Enemy" a positive recommendation, despite the glowing praise that movie got in some circles of cinefiles, because of the supposed twist ending, which, I found to just be arbitrary and meant nothing in the grand scheme of the narrative. (Seriously, what the hell changed with that ending? Okay, the doppelganger, is an insect; did that really matter?) Yeah, after the twist in "Incendies" that one didn't nearly impress me; again, I only recommended it because of the technical filmmaking aspects, which as always with Villaneuve, are simply too impressive to dismiss, but still though....- I saw a review that really praised the movie calling it "Traffic" on steroids just now, looking up some of the reviews it got, which is a bit odd to me 'cause I was just about to call it, "Traffic"-light. It might be a little over-saturation for me; there's been no shortage of films, particularly documentaries that have been made lately about the drug cartels and the trade along the U.S./Mexico border, so this already kinda feels like four or five other movies I've seen recently. It's a little difficult to describe the plot, 'cause the way the story's told, the movie is sorta about, figuring out what everybody's doing and why, so I'm gonna give you the bare essentials here. There's three main characters that we're really concerned about. The first one is Kate (Emily Blunt) she's an FBI SWAT agent, who we see lead a raid/search/military invasion on, what seems like a mostly deserted suburban home in Chandler, AZ, only to find, part of the house was rigged with explosives, leading to two of her men's death, but still, the walls of the house, all of them, were literally lined with rotting corpses. This leads to her being recruited by Matt (Josh Brolin) who works for, some government policing organization, it's kinda difficult to tell which, but probably CIA, or whatever organization Col. Flagg was apart. Anyway, he's running what I'm gonna call a convoluted , and probably illegal series of actions, well not all illegal, but there's definitely shades of gray here, with what's happening, all of this is done, in order to catch the leader of one of the major cartels. Oh, the title is probably confusing to some, "Sicario", as they inform us in the beginning, was originally a word, I'm gonna guess, of Latin origin, but could be Arabic or Hebrew, that described the names of people who sought after and killed Romans after they invaded Israel, but the word now is just "hitman", at least in Mexico, and that's where our third main character, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) comes in. Brolin's character is already a bit of a mysterious enigma, but Alejandro, is more straight-forwardly what he is, even though he seems to be currently working for us, as this expedition to Juarez, Mexico, where naked dead bodies hang off the bridges daily, Alejandro seems to be our guide, our liaison and our most torturous interrogator. Most of the time, we're unsure of what exactly is going on, and only by the end does it actually become clear, and that's actually where I have a problem with the movie, because, without giving away too much, it's not really about the drug trade any more than say, hmm, what's a good example here, um, not really about the drug trade and the drug cartels any more than say, "In the Heat of the Night" is about race. When you get right down to it, it's actually just a setting for, what I guess is supposed to be a greater story, but actually, it's-, it's not. When you really analyze the plot, it's pretty much your basic hitman movie, motive and all. I think this movie might have more in common with the "Death Wish" franchise than it does something like "Traffic", which is what this is obviously gonna get compared to. Not the least of which, Del Toro, who quite a few thought was snubbed of an Oscar nomination for this film, is actually playing a somewhat similar character to the one he played in "Traffic", a law enforcement officer of some sorts, who risks life and death to play both sides of the drug trade for his own gains, but actually his character reminds me more of Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men". Actually, there's a lot of "No Country for Old Men", including a final scene, that really feels like it was an alternate version of one of the last scenes in "No Country..." . I don't know about this one, I guess I'm recommending it, but I can't help but feel that the parts of "Sicario" are better than the actual whole of the movie.


WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE'S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM (2015) Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

✰✰✰✰1/2



"Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom", is the other Netflix documentary that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary last year, along with "What Happened, Miss Simone", and that's about the only thing they have in common. The movie feels more like Netflix's previous successful foray into documentary features, "The Square", about the uprising in Egypt a couple years ago; that movie, literally and figuratively seems to keep growing since it first came out. "Winter on Fire..." is practically a first-hand account of the events that took place in 2014, as a peaceful demonstration, basically turned into Revolution. Ukraine's history is not a country who's history I'm overly familiar with, but a lot of shit's happened there recently, as has been happening. Basically, the President at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, was a Pro-Russian President, and one who was notorious for corruption. He had once already trying to steal an election before by stuffing the ballot box. Ukraine's trying to get into the European Union, and while Russia is trying to basically regain Ukraine as Putin's trying to rebuild the Soviet empire, Ukrainian's took to the streets, trying to make Yanukovych join the EU instead. He rejected their proposal, and eventually all was broke out, and in the square. The movie takes us, directly into the center of the streets, the fire, the protests. The movie does seem like news footage much of the time, much of it probably was, like the footage of Vitaly Klitchsko who vacated his World Heavyweight Championship, which he had held for over a decade, in order to focus more time as being a figure for the political left in Ukraine, and yes, he's in the middle of the clusterfuck as well. Not much in the middle, but he's there, and there's clearly bullets flying somewhere and he's there. The movie, focuses on a few of the people involve, but more importantly the movie focuses on the chaos and attempts at organization on the streets, as the protest grows into first a warzone, then a battlefield, and then again an evergrowing protest, and then to eventual revolution. Yanukovych, at one point, simply left the country after, probably behind the scenes, being usurped by his government and he found asylum in Russia, where he currently is. What does this mean for the future of "Ukraine"? Who knows for now. There's gonna be, who knows how much new maneuvering and adjusting afterwards as the revolution now requires reforming a new government out of the ashes. Go back to "The Square" and Egypt to see how messy that can be, and with Putin still in power, this situation is ever tenser than before. "Winter on Fire..." is a documentary is more entertaining than probably it's real intention of outlining the events of the 93 days, really should be, which is a benefit of the movie, although all it really does is document, a heavily one-sided documentation of the events at that. That's still pretty impressive though, and as a piece of modern history being documented, the film is undeniably important. If for no other reason, documenting the uprising, will at least leave a historical piece, of what to avoid and how to avoid such an event happening in the future.


THE HUNTING GROUND (2015) Director: Kirby Dick

✰✰✰✰1/2

 

Oh boy, this topic again. (Rubs sides of nose, pause, sighs, deep breath) Well, some of you may already know that I've tackled the subject of rape on college campuses before on this blog, I devoted a whole blogpost to look at Emma Sulkovich's controversial short film, "C'est N'est Pas un Viol (This is Not a Rape)", that blogpost is at the link below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/06/ceci-nest-pas-un-viol-this-is-not-rape.html

If you aren't familiar with Sulkovich, she's the famous performance artist who was raped as a student at Columbia University, and in response to the University and law enforcement's lack of action against her accused rapist, started a performance piece called "Carry That Weight", where she carried around a mattress, everywhere for at least, a semester, maybe longer, I'm not sure how long now, but it was a major piece of protest and performance art, one of the most provocative and noteworthy in recent years, which I why when she released a short film, shortly after her graduation, that, if not depicted her own experience, confronted us head on with a depiction of, how a rape at a college campus could and probably does happen occasionally. I got a lot of shit for that blog btw. The thing is though, um, this is a problem a major problem. Kirby Dick's latest documentary, "The Hunting Ground", seems to be a slight continuation on his last film, "The Invisible War", which was about the rampant institutionalized sexual assault in the military and yes, it is incredibly fair to say that it is institutionalized, and "The Hunting Ground" isn't so much about the raping of these women, it's the way the colleges and universities failed to protect them before and especially after the rape. The movie give us portraits, of numerous young women from many university across the country, although the main focus is on, including the young woman who was assaulted by Jameis Winston, the current quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, she was assaulted by him when they were at Florida State, and his assault case wasn't brought to the board until two years after, and the charge didn't become public until ten months later. BTW, hers wasn't the only complaint against Winston. That's something that's brought up, how much of these account are often serial rapists. Many of them, are, and still, when they're reported on campus, they're often treated as the perpetrator, and penalties, often literally results in just a slap on the wrist. And in case, you're wondering, the numbers on supposed false rape allegations, well, they're shockingly lower than most of you might think, or at least the perception in the media might claims. There's a lot of statistics in the movie about sexual assault on campuses, each of them, backed up by one, and many times multiple sources of the research, often the research has been matched for years, and that's not including unreported claims, and underreported claims too. (The cop in the Jameis Winston case, apparently sat on the complaint and her rape kit for ten months, which was eight months after she identified Winston as the culprit, which once he was tested for the DNA, did in fact match. He still was not charged or punished, and won the Heisman Trophy the same year. The movie does go over, the disproportionate amount of athletes that are accused, which is particularly bad, 'cause yes, college sports, particularly football and most university, with mine being UNLV, basketball, the athletes are overly protected. Also the fraternities on campus, a few in particular that are named, included Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which has been nicknamed by other coeds "Sexual Assault Expected", and they have, by far the worst record across multiple campuses. I can go on a completely separate tangent on fraternities, which, no I am in no way in favor of, even existing, (I feel that way about sororities too, btw but definitely frats are the worst.) but that's the thing, there's so many layers and layers of problems with the system. Basically, what it boils down to, is that, the university is mostly in it to protect the image of the university and they want people knowing that 20% of the female student population gets sexually assaulted, at Harvard, or most anywhere else. And it is illegal. Two of the students, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, after being pushed aside and disappointed by the treatment of North Carolina University, they filed a case against them, for violation of Title IX, which requires equal opportunities and treatment of the students to provide a safe environment, and they're actions, begetted numerous other actions across the country, currently over 100 universities are being investigated for Title IX violations. "The Hunting Ground" more than anything else showcases these women, and how they criss-cross the country, help others file Title IX complaints, help other women, who btw, seems surprisingly happy and friendly when they see them. They're always hugging and smiling, and mostly excited. That's the thing, for the most part, people who go to college, they really want to be there, and this kind of thing, absolutely ruins it. This is a movie that needs to be seen and it's wake-up call, for all adulthood. I miss, real talk here, in any group, there's gonna be assholes, especially a large group like a university, it's not about making sure rape is a thing of the past and eliminating, I mean it is, but that's probably wishful thinking even under the best of circumstances, it's how you react and treat both the victims and the accused, and that's the real victimization. The movie earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song for Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens to You", which I was surprised to see how much it was used in the film, it was continuing motif in the movie; I wish it was nominated for Best Documentary, if it was, I would've said it would've deserved it, although I'm still going through those films, but this is a powerful and important film for anybody to watch, especially those heading to college.


THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (2015) Director: Marielle Heller

✰✰✰✰✰



Holy fuck, is this an amazing film. How did Bel Powley, who I never heard of before and found out later that yes, she is confortably older than the 15-year-old Minnie, play this role and not even remotely get considered for an Oscar nomination? Jesus Christ! Okay, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", overly generic title aside, is one of the year's best films. It's one of-, if not, the best film ever about growing up about the sexual awakening of a teenage girl. Actually that's,- that's way too limiting a description. It's a coming-of-age movie, but a coming-of-age that feels fast, real, and full of life. It's hard to describe this movie in one shot, most movies are impossible to simplify, but this one, this one.... Okay, the diary, like many movies and television shows nowadays isn't a literal diary, but a diary through some kind of alternative media and since this film takes place in the late '70s, San Francisco, right as the hippie scene wasn't completely sure what to do with their newfound adulthood and responsibilities and the punk rock gothic rebellion is just around the corner from a late night showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", it's a cassette recorder. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner, Minnie is, a half-pint of a teenage girl, the kind that's not exactly noticed by others, and not necessarily charismatic enough to make her voice heard to be noticed. Her mother Charlotte (Kristin Wiig) was a beauty in her youth, but now throws her days away on pot and half-baked relationships, when she's not cocaining up to clean and take care of the house. Her current boyfriend is Monroe (Alexander Skarsgaard) a forty-year-old with a half-baked idea for a mail-order diet pill company, who Minnie, decides to have an affair with. Yes, I'm wording that right, not that Monroe's actions aren't deplorable at worst, questionable at best, but yeah, Minnie, basically decides to have sex one day and chooses him, and begins flirting uncomfortably with him, and he makes a half-ass attempt to stop but, eh, yeah, it's one of those movies, but not quite. They end up fucking, and then Minnie gets a little more outgoing, sexually. Her and her friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) begin exploring the night life, and doing a few things they probably shouldn't, with people they probably shouldn't. Minnie, in particular becomes attracted to an androgynous lesbian, Tabatha (Margarita Levieva) who they run into and occasionally have some drug-infused makeout sessions with. The real tension in the movie is Munroe and Minnie, trying to figure out how to get out of, or remain apart of this relationship, if preferable, without tipping off to Charlotte that something's happening. If the movie I'm describing feels episodic, it is. The narrative isn't straightforward, but coming at you from all directions. It's hard to even mention Minnie's distant father, Pascal (Christopher Meloni) who her and her younger sister Gretel (Abby Wait) meet up once secretly to ask for money, as they know full-well that their mother really isn't capable or sober enough to take care of them. She does have a job as a librarian, but that doesn't seem to help much. I guess there's other movies to compare this to, obviously the first one is "Lolita", but "Lolita" told the story from the perspective of an old man in the story, which, never made it, in any version that interesting; the story was about lust and wanting, not about, adolescence. I think much better recent comparisons would be Lone Scherfig's "An Education", which starred Carey Mulligan as a young woman who has an affair with an older flamboyant man of the world, but that was a whirlwind romance kind of thing; swept up in a con. An of course, there's Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen", which is probably the closest, and that movie was actually written by a then 13-year-old Nikki Reed, and about her recent experiences. The mood of self-destruction and continuing to fall deeper into drugs and alcohol and sex is comparable, but it's still a difficult comparison. Minnie isn't in a girl crush; she's basically just out for rebellion, of everything. She's already surrounded by the debauchery that she would intake herself in. Drug-fueled party at her mother's house, drug-fueled party elsewhere, what's the difference really? Well, at the other one, she can get laid, I guess. This movie is painfully accurate about this. There's a wonderful scene, where she's in school, something Minnie rarely is, a private school nonetheless, where her reputation is growing, sleeping with the occasional student in between being serious about Monroe, and while chasing back for Monroe outside, who's calling her, a girl walking past mutters "Slut", directly to her. She hears it, knows what she said. She doesn't care though, walks on by, and that girl is never seen or heard from again; I'm not even sure she has an Imdb.com credit. 99.9% of other movies, something would've happened, either right then, or later, even if it's just a confrontation with that girl, nope, nothing here however. Not even an acknowledgement. There's a lot of great touches like that, peppering the screen. The movie is vivid and wild by the way, I don't want to make this sound like it's just a morose hard brutal look at the realities of a teenage girl, it's vibrant as well. She wants to be a cartoonist and in the middle of this downward spiral of a mess she's in, she begins drawing, even begins writing to the legendary underground cartoonist Aline Kominsky (Susannah Schulman [Voice]), and the movie is also littered with the comic art work, sometimes at the edges of the screened, only visible to us and Minnie as she ponders how to interpret what's happened, sometimes full giant sequences of just animated. It's a bit of a mess, but it's always intriguing and always something going on on the screen, and mostly it adds more to the scenes already, not that they needed these aberrations, the movie was already great without it. It's the first feature from Writer/Director Marielle Heller, who was mostly an actress in stage and television before fully transitioning to behind the camera in recent years. I mean, there's parts of this that are clearly first film imperfections, but I don't mind them. This was such an ambitious and brave film, especially for a first feature. Great performances, hell Kristen Wiig gives probably the best performance of her career so far here, she's having a helluva year, as is Alexander Skarsgaard, who mostly seems to be showing up in movies just to remind me to catch up on "True Blood", but he's doing his best here to seem unrecognizable and it eventually works. Still, Bel Powley, I never heard of her 'til now, and I was floored by this performance. This is a star-making role. A complex part, that maybe fifteen years ago would've been perfect for Christina Ricci, but I- I can't imagine anybody who could've played this role this well now. Powley's been mostly a longtime British TV actress until now, I haven't seen any of her other work, but I can't imagine any of her previous work would've prepared anybody for this from the 2nd generation actress. I warn, this movie will make you uncomfortable, but we so rarely see a story like this, told this well, this bravely, with this much care. This ambitious as well. There is so much good about filmmaking and storytelling in this film....


MAGIC MIKE XXL (2015) Director: Gregory Jacobs

✰✰✰✰1/2



I hate to say this about a movie, but "Magic Mike XXL", is way better than it has any right to be. I know that's a weird thing to say, but in this case, it's completely true. I honestly can't really justify this positive review, much less, such a positive one, other than, well, it's just a lot of fun to watch. Well, that's not true, there's plenty of reasons why "Magic Mike XXL" is awesome to watch. I really don't recall watching the first one too well, but checking my review, I also brought up how fun the movie is, and apparently the movie was more of a mentor-mentee relationship film between Mike (Channing Tatum) and Adam, who's not in this movie. Neither is Dallas, Matthew McConaughey's emcee character that partially reignited his career. I was more impressed with Tatum's work than McConaughey's and we're a few years later and now, he's left the chippendale team abandoned. Magic Mike, has also left the team, focusing on his career as a furniture maker, but occasionally when Genuwine's "Pony" plays, he's still capable of drifting himself back into old form, like a trained dancer who's stepped away for a few years, but is still so talented and in great enough shape, that he can pull off a routine on the spot. By the way, there's something about the music in these movies. I didn't notice that before, but now that I think about it, the music choices are awesome, especially in this film. Well, not awesome, I don't really think Genuwine's somebody I'm gonna go out to defend, but it works here. I never noticed that before, but they make a point of it here, there's such strange and amazing uses of everything from Bruno Mars, to Barry White, to D'Angelo, to Backstreet Boys, to even Nine Inch Nails. Okay, so Dallas has left and Tobais (Gabriel Iglesisas) has taken over as an emcee, which is apparently really essential to a chippendales show, I guess? (Shrugs, I don't know, I haven't exactly gone to see Thunder from Down Under in awhile, I don't know how it works.) Anyway, they've gotten a frozen yogurt food truck, because that's Tito's (Adam Rodriguez) current business, and Magic Mike joins them for one last hurrah on their way to a male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. I'm told this is a real thing, which I'm not surprised at. I'm actually more surprised it's in Myrtle Beach. I live in Vegas, the convention capital of the world, and it's not like we're lacking presence when it comes to the adult entertainment industry, how did we...- doesn't matter, apparently the male stripper capital is a resort beach town that was built off of a golf course. Alright, so the movie is a road trip film, and instead of details about the industry of being a male entertainer, we get, the boys hanging out and talking to each other and having some fun, and learning about each other.  And they also start the idea of possibly, for this one last ride, trying out new routines, which they have only two days to prepare for, supposedly, although timeline wise seems fishy, but they want to have more appropriate routines to represent who they are as people. Their hopes and dreams, their lives, and they want to represent this. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) doesn't really want to be a fireman, he likes the Backstreet Boys and wants to fall in love, which he showed during an ecstasy-induced performance he gives to a cashier (Lindsey Moser) at a convenient store. At one point, the truck flies off the road and gives Tobias a concussion, so on top of all that, they have to now find a new M.C. There's also some romantic interests coming in and out of the movie. a bisexual photographer they meet at a drag show, Zoe (Amber Heard) and eventually, they run into her divorcee mother, (Holy shit, Andie MacDowell's here, and she's a southern belle, oh this movie is so much fun!) that clearly has some sexual chemistry with Ken (Matt Bomer). And Kevin Nash is back as Tarzan, who turns out to be a painter and artist, and a former Gulf war veteran. We only occasionally actually see words coming out of his mouth, the editing, like the last film works around his limitations as both a dancer and an actor. (For those who don't know, Kevin Nash is a former pro wrestler, who's known for having serious knee problems at the end of his career. It plays into his character, since he's the veteran dancer in his fifties, still in good appearance shape at least, but yeah, he once tore a quad just by walking, to say I'm kinda amazed he's in these movies is a bit of an understatement) They also find an ex-girlfriend of Magic Mike, and one of his former employees in Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith) to fill in for emcee at the last second, and she also manages to get them a last-second primetime spot after convincing her ex-girlfriend, Paris (Elizabeth Banks, 'cause of course she's in this as well). BTW, Michael Strahan also has a performance routine, as well as Donald Glover and Twitch from "So You Think You Can Dance" at Rome's new adult bordello which, um, how do I describe the kind of place that Rome runs.... um, you know those dancing bears that Miley Cyrus had at the VMAs and as apart of her performance for a while a couple years and some of you might've went, "What's with the dancing bears, I don't get it?" Um, I- I admit that I actually do know what that was a reference to at the time and now, dancing bears, is a reference to a male stripper, usually the kind who perform at private parties, and "Stripper" is a technical term, 'cause they're pretty much, naked guys who dance around and are just playthings for the room full of horny, horny, women. There's porn if you want to look it up, but yeah, it's sorta that kinda of place, although a PG-13 form of it, but yeah, there's-, let's just say they're more lenient on the no touching policies you see at most female stripper places. But, that's kinda what I love about this movie. I know, weird, but these things are kinda fun and for that matter, this world is really sexy. Enough for a straight guy, there's just wild eroticism and estrogen running all over, it's really fun and sexual, and the whole movie is like that, even if it's essential a film where six guys go on a road trip. I know that's a bit weird, but it is. It's legitimately a better movie than the original and even more of a fun one. We get to know the dancers, most of which I thought were completely indistinguishable in the first film,  and it really is about the fun people have in the world of being a chippendale dancer and it's fun movie about that fun as well. This didn't need to be this good, hell, it probably shouldn't have been, but it's well-written, characters and actors are all well-cast and mostly well-performed, it's just an exciting road trip movie, and it all, pardon the pun, climaxes, like a good old story about performers, at the big show with a big wonderful performances at the end. I cannot help but smile at "Magic Mike XXL".


PHOENIX (2015) Director: Christian Petzold

✰✰✰✰1/2



The broad outlines of "Phoenix" may sound a little familiar to you, but don't let that stop you, This is a German film from Director Christian Petzold; I haven't seen any of his previous works, but I've definitely seen some of the films that this movie is inspired by, most notably, Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo". Which, had me worried a bit because I've never felt that film should be as acclaimed as it has been in recent years. (Okay, look, I don't think it's bad; you can read my Canon of Film post on it if you want; I agree it's an essential, I just don't rank it as one of Hitchcock's very best films, okay!?) Anyway, this re-working of that idea for a story, is quite inventive. The movie takes place shortly after WWII, and two women, Nelly (Nina Hoss) and Lene (Nina Kunzendorf) are coming back to Berlin by way of Switzerland. Nelly, is covered in blankets and bandages, having spent the last year in the camps, her face is royally disfigured. Her family's been killed, and she's unable to have her original face entirely replicated, which Lene says is a good thing, in this situation. I happen to agree, especially since, she herself is presumed dead. She's supposed to stay away from the American side of town, (Yes, Berlin is separated into sections at this time, a la, Vienna in "The Third Man") but she's looking for her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) who's a pianist, so she suspects, correctly that he's in one of those cabaret club, the kind that, yes, similar to "Cabaret", have a somewhat androgynous main performance, this one involves two singing girls who I swear seem like a chorus with the songs they choose. Music is important to this film, the score invokes Bernard Hermann, and a really old Tony Bennett song "Speak Low", which is a bit anachronistic, he didn't record that song until '59, I'm guessing they either couldn't use a more appropriately-timed recording, like the Guy Lombardo version. Johnny, now known as Johannes, finally approaches Nelly, after she's come in a couple times. He, doesn't recognize her, which is bad enough, but he's also under the impression that she's dead, but she looks similar enough, that he believes that, with a little training, she can pass as Nelly, and divorce her so that she can get her family's inheritance. So, she moves in with him, but not as lovers, as him trying to train her to pose as Nelly. If you're wondering why he's so convinced that she's dead btw, it's because he was the one who turned her in, at least it seems likely so, although that doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't love her; a lot of people did some things they may have regretted. As I always say, you never actually know what you're going to do until you're actually in that situation and sometimes, a fight or flight situation, leads to doing what you can for your survival, even if that means sacrificing the lives of ones you love. Besides, we don't know that for sure, but the evidence that Lene provides does insinuate it enough, but Nelly wants to let Johnny go through this anyway. The most brilliant twist on this narrative, on top of creating a scenario where this situation makes logical sense, is that the movie is shown from the woman's point of view, not the man's. We see and understand why she goes forward with this, and see her suffering as she's living with a husband who doesn't recognize her, but is trying to turn her, into, herself. It's a pretty complex performance by Hoss, an emotional one, even though, I do think she seems a little too weak at times, it's understandable. I mean, she just survived the Holocaust, so she's already in a poor state of mind. So is he, of course. "Phoenix" is surprisingly emotional and absorbingly tense film, about the struggles of returning to a normal life after going through such a horror and presents us with many questions about one's identity, both personal and in many ways, national, there's definitely a theme of trying to understand the more conflicting nationalist natures of this film as well, if you want to read that parable into it as well.


DIGGING FOR FIRE (2015) Director: Joe Swanberg

1/2



Oh my god, here's a few terms I never thought I'd use in the same sentence, pointless, Mumblecore, cameofest, and it's boring on top of that. Joe Swanberg, is probably not the best of the Mumblecore movement, but he's definitely the most prolific. Not counting his acting credits, which would be a lot more than this, and only counting feature film credits, except for "V/H/S" which he only co-directed, Swanberg has directed, twelve feature films. and he's got a thirteenth in post-production that will come out later this year, and that's only, this decade! I'm not counting what he's done before 2010. That's insane, even for low-budget indy directors. Edward Burns hasn't directed that many features, in his 20+ Year career and that's probably the only other indy director I can think of who's even close to the rate and pace of Swanberg. It's not that his films are bad, either, I consider "Drinking Buddies" to be pretty damn good, and I guess I didn't outright hate "Happy Christmas", but honestly, I'm starting to think he's starting to lose it. He's never been a favorite of mine, but there's a pattern and the pattern is that, more and more of his films, come off as, unfinished. Like, there's an idea here, and he just sorta plants a few things in the movie, but he never really goes anywhere with them. Now when it's done well, since most of his films are relationship pieces, you can kinda take the often-improvised dialogue and sorta find some greater truths below the surface, that's the real reason why "Drinking Buddies" does hold up, um... well, I think here there's an idea for a subtext-filled tale about a couple, but, where he went wrong with it, um, I don't think he ended up anywhere near John Cheever or anything. Okay, so, like a lot of these Mumblecore directors seem to love to do, the main characters, a yoga instructor to the stars, Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her public school teacher husband, Tim (Jake Johnson, who also wrote the feature) have been given a 3-month stay at a client's house, and it's a pretty lavish house and just enough time to get away from it all, and have some time together, and apart, as well. They also take their 3-year-old, Jude (Jude Swanberg, yes, Joe's real-life kid). Everything's rather cool, although Lee wants to take the kid to their grandparents, Grandma and Pop Pop (Judith Light and Sam Elliott) both to see the kid, but also so that Tim can stay home and get done their long-delayed taxes. However, he also wants to have a little fun, and asks some friends to come out for a barbecue. Among his friends is Sam Rockwell's Ray, I guess the most interesting and memorable of this group, which says more about Sam Rockwell in general than his character, I'll explain in a bit, but he also brings along a couple of hookers to the pool party, Max and Alicia (Brie Larson and Anna Kendrick). See what I mean, when I say this film is a cameofest. I'm not done by a mile on that by the way. Anyway, instead of partying too much, or doing something stupid with, either of the hookers or anyone else really, he ends up distracted by a find in the backyard, a rusted small gun, and what appears to some kind of human bone. As he continues to search the area, and eventually begins doing some amateur digging in the area, he starts finding things like, an old license plate, more unusual bones, many of them in the dirt, and other odd objects, a plastic trash bag for instance, a watch. It's suspicious, and in a normal movie, this could've been interesting and some kind of metaphor for the relationship struggles they're going through, and they are going through those. During one day, when the grandparents have the kid, Lee ends up having a day with Ben (Orlando Bloom, of all people, I barely remember him playing a major role in anything since "Elizabethtown", what else has he been doing? [Checking IMDB] Oh, he was in "The Hobbit" movies. Who the hell remembers any of the characters in that. Eh, oh, "Sympathy for Delicious" but he wasn't a lead in that. Oh, a "Romeo & Juliet" on Broadway, directed by Don Roy King, I might be interested in that.) who she runs into at a bar, I believe on a night out, and gets close to maybe doing one or two things she probably shouldn't, but not really. Okay, let me just list off everybody else of note who seems to float into this movie almost by accident: Chris Messina, Mike Birbiglia, Jane Adams, nice to see her again in something since "Hung" got canceled, Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Timothy Simons from "Veep", and those are just the ones I instantly recognized. And they're all pretty much wasted. I mean, there's something between Jake Johnson and Brie Larson's character, as she actually starts helping Tim dig, and because they're dirty, she ends up putting on some of Lee's clothes while hers are in the wash, but, it doesn't really go anywhere. There's one weird scene, with an old neighbor, Tom (Tom Bower, oh forgot about him) and he mentions that he knows what's there that he's digging up, and the history of the house they're staying in, and nothing! Literally, he doesn't even ask, "Can you tell me the history, what is down there?" Nothing! Like-, I, I guess this was meant to be symbolic, but you're finding suspicious items underground on somebody else's property and you're becoming more and more obsessed with digging up whatever's there, and somebody tells you, they know what's there? I mean, even if he's lying and he makes up some ghost tale, which he doesn't even do, at least it's something that could lead somewhere. I-, I honestly have no idea why that scene's even in the movie, or why he went and did nothing with it; it's barely, if ever brought up again. I haven't had the fortunate opportunity to go through Swanberg's entire filmography, I'm sure there's gems I'm missing; I really should get around to "Hannah Takes the Stairs" at least, but this has to be his worst film yet. It's definitely the most pointless one, and moreso because there really was so much potential and not just in the waste of supporting actors either, there's a good idea for a film here, instead we get, two separate adventures that a couple goes on, and nothing comes of either of them.


CREEP (2015) Director: Patrick Brice

✰✰



Oh, the other Mumblecore disappointment this week. Okay, that's actually not that fair, I use that word "Mumblecore" partly because that's the term I grew up with using for the mid-2000s American independent film movement of the filmmaking collective of close-knit young actors, writer-directors and whatnot that all made some low-budget indy films starring them and their friends and often involved a lot of improvised dialogue and whatnot, that movement has really been dead for awhile though. It's debatable as to whether it even existed to begin with, but I still associated the filmmakers with the movement but really, the Duplass Brothers have been making major Hollywood films and TV series for years now, so has Katie Aselton, even Andrew Bujalski's starting making thoughtful indy rom-coms with major Hollywood stars now, and I guess Swanberg's still doing, whatever he's up to. We're way into the post-Mumblecore movement of directors now, the people inspired by those filmmakers. Patrick Brice is one of those new breed of Post-mumblecore directors; he two feature film debuts were released in 2015, the first "The Overnight" was a light and sorta funny, sorta interesting quirky comedy about two couples with kids having a night together that is creepily going more and more towards a wife-swapping, modern-day "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"kinda movie, as it goes, only more lighter and comedic than that. "Creep", I guess has it's comedic moments, but this is more in the horror side genre of the Mumblecore, which is a thing. Hell, that actually predates mumblecore with films like "The Blair Witch Project". This movie, is done in first person, but I'm not sure I'd call it a "found footage" film. The movie is basically a two-person show, with Aaron (Brice) playing a filmmaker, who's been hired to document Josef (Mark Duplass), who he feels an instance connection with Aaron. They meet at some creepy house in the mountains, where Josef is alone, and tells a story about how he's got a brain tumor and only has a few months to live, and wants to document a few things for his unborn daughter. This soon, clearly is realized as B.S., and he soon begins obsessing and seemingly stalking the camera guy, and it's clear that Josef, if that's his real name, is some kind of psycho, well, "Creep", and what he wants or plans to do to Aaron, is, predictable, but I'm not gonna reveal much. It's a short movie, just under the 80 minute mark, and I guess there's nothing wrong with it, but it's not like this is a psychological thriller of a really intriguing and intricate serial killer. Josef maybe a creep, but he isn't exactly Hannibal Lecter or anything and that's the major problem with the film. The movie is only about as tolerable to you as you are with dealing with these characters, and since one of them is a sicko creep, he's not that tolerable, but even if he is, there's just not much else to the film. I mean, it's a decent idea doing it in first person like this, I guess, but that also gets old fast. Yeah, I can't really say that this is creep that's worth looking out for. Still, it's not a bad documentary at all, and it's a pretty interesting look at how a group turned into a movement, and then turned into an organization, a rough and difficult road at that.


HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (2015) Director: Jerry Rothwell

✰✰✰1/2



So, in 1971, the U.S. Government was preparing for a test of a nuclear bomb on a small island off the coast of Vancouver called Amchitka, it's part of the Aleutian Islands, anyway a boat of protesters made up of a strangely eclectic group of hippies, ecologists, a journalist, a few environmentalists, and others and took a boat to the island, and got the U.S. to delay the exercise, and they continued to stand in the way as long as they could. There boat, was called, "Greenpeace", a made up word after somebody said "Peace out" and they replied, that let's hope it's a green peace. "How to Change the World" takes a rare look at the beginnings of, what started, not necessarily as a movement, but practically as a collective of environmental-focused people, who were looking at the prospect of continuing growth in the field of nuclear annihilation, and during an illegal war mind you, and decided to step in the way. To their shock, they're little stunt protest, while ultimately unsuccessful, gave them international recognition and pretty soon, Bob Hunter, quit his job as a reporter covering the environmental protest movement and instead become the voice and conscious of it. I don't remember exactly who it was, but somebody explained it to me this way years earlier, if you're looking for environmental help in say, France, or England or Germany, then you go to the Green Party, but if you're in America, you go to Greenpeace. You can infer the sociopolitical implications and whatnot of that kind of analysis, but yeah, that's pretty much right. Most of the environmental movements, that confronted political organizations, eventually became political organizations but Greenpeace was not started, or intended as such a group, they were, literally a few guys, who knew enough about public relations and concocting a narrative in order to really see issues that globally could be catastrophic and show that it's in the people's best interest. Obviously the big one of those right now is climate change, and yeah, Greenpeace was on that back when it was just, the hole in the ozone layer or  global warming, but the movie focuses on the early days, from around '71 to '79, when it was still basically a ragtag group that was still evolving as local chapters began to spot up. They were the ones who literally saved the whales and brought attention to the clubbing of seals, which I personally always thought was a madeup thing, but was actually a festival tradition in Newfoundland, although it was when the group really did enter a more political arena, when they tried to and successfully negotiated with the local fishermen. This caused the major divide between many of the founders, and Bob Hunter, who's narrating the story supposedly, although Hunter passed away years ago and is voiced by Barry Pepper, would go on to find his way back into journalism, becoming an investigative environmental journalist, one of the biggest and most prolific of the time as well, and Greenpeace, they don't exactly have the mindset, youth or willpower or the strategic media advisory to really be the provocateurs protesters of the past, but I'm also saying that in a world that Greenpeace helped create and their influence and ever-reaching. "How to Change the World" does one thing that's kinda interesting, in how the movie is divided, by literally giving us instructions, one-by-one on how to change the world, through the tactics that "Greenpeace" used. it reminded me mostly of Robert McNamara's eleven lessons that Errol Morris outlined in his masterful documentary "The Fog of War", but no, it's not exactly as well-integrated into this film as that is. That was an interview and this movie, is typical talking heads and archival footage.


WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN (2015) Directors: Adam Corolla and Nate Adams

✰✰✰



It's commonly known that Paul Newman was a race car driver. I mean, we all know that firstly, he was an actor, and a great one at that, and I think the general populace in Hollywood understand that he indeed had a fascination with auto racing in his spare time, but I don't necessarily think they all, actually get it. I mean, not only is it not just a passing fad for him, like, say the Hollywood poker boom of the 2000s, where any and all celebrities seemed to be trying their luck to win tournaments and bracelets at the W.S.O.P., but Newman, was a race car driver. A damn good one at that. Adam Corolla I think wants to get that across. Yeah, I've never been the biggest fan of Corolla's work; I still mostly think of him as that guy who worked with Dr. Drew on MTV before being the that guy who worked with Jimmy Kimmel on "The Man Show", and he shows up other places occasionally. and he's gone behind the camera before, most notably for writing and acting in "The Hammer" a pretty good comedy about a forty-year-old amateur boxer. Here, he and Nate Adams have put together this labor of love documentary on Paul Newman's auto racing history and career. He spends his off-days taking Newman's racing cars and refurbishing them to museum quality, to keep his racing legacy in tact. He originally became interested after making a racing movie called "Winning", he learned to drive and after the film, he sorta, just kept at it. He was in his mid-to-late 40s at the time, but he started taking it up as a career, and it is wasn't a fluke. I'm gonna run off some statistics for you here, but in '72, under the modicum P.L. Newman, he competed in his first race, as a professional, he had raced on amateur tracks for a little while, but he too good at it and kept winning. He raced in the SCCA, the Sports Car Club of America, and won it's national championship, four different times. In 1979, he competed in the 24 hours of Le Mans as a driver in Dick Barbour's team, one of the biggest and toughest races in all of race car driving, and his team finished second and came damn close to winning, and the only reason he never competed at the race again, was because of the overabundance of the undo paparazzi and attention he got. (Actor Patrick Dempsey, who like Newman also is a professional race car driver when he's not acting, competed in the race a couple years ago, and one of his teammates was killed in a crash during the race.) He co-founded two different successful racing teams, which ran races in SCCA and IMSA, and won a national championship as an owner during this period, and more successfully, Newman-Haas racing which among others, was the banner that Mario Andretti raced under in the CART series, IndyCar racing, and his team would win eight national championships over a twenty+ year run. He was also still driving cars at this point too, btw. and he won his last professional race at Lime Rock in 2006, his car number at the time match with his age, 81 years old, and yes, he was competing against driving, more than half his age, and some more than half that age at the time. And btw, he occasionally would make food for the guys and teams and that inadvertently led to his career making salad dressings and other foods, all of the money from sales of that, goes to charity, not that he wasn't already one of biggest philanthropists in Hollywood already. After his passing, btw, he was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame. It's hard to completely contemplate and explain it, but yes, Paul Newman was a legendary race car driver, The movie uses stock footage to highlight all of these accomplishments, as well as some of the other endeavors he fought through while racing. He even got Tom Cruise to race professionally for a couple years, and he certainly got more people interested in the sports inside and outside of Hollywood; I don't think that was ever his intention however. He mostly just loved auto racing and was damn good at it. I have to agree that this is a legacy that's worth remembering and taking care of, so I can understand why Corolla would want to make this film. There's interviews with his friends and family, some of them famous names like Robert Redford and Jay Leno, other famous car guys in Hollywood. I don't know if it's a great film per se, but it's certainly an eye-opening film. I, like most everybody else I think tend to think of Newman's racing career as a side note to his life, something that, before now, I might've almost wrote that sentence with the word "career" in quotes. Newman was on the board of the Actors Studio and he in fact, was the first guest on "Inside the Actors Studio" and if you ever see that episode, when Lipton asks what career does he wish he have, Lipton presumes he knows what he'll say and then is surprised when Newman responds "Pilot", surprising Lipton, who thought he'd say race car driver, but it didn't occur to Newman, he already was one.


1971 (2015) Director: Joanna Hamilton

✰✰✰



On March 8th, "1971", the night Joe Frazier knocked out Muhammad Ali, the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania were broken into and over a thousand documents were filed, the contents of which, revealed numerous programs that the FBI had been enacting in, against hippies, the Black Panthers, and numerous other domestic organizations, in an effort t undermine and destroy the counter-culture movement from within. Okay, first thought, where the Media, Pennsylvania, and why the hell do they have an FBI office? I mean, I-, okay it's thirteen miles west of Philadelphia; I don't know what or why someplace has an FBI office, it's not like a local police station, from what I understand they're usually divided by areas, but I would've thought, that some place that would have an FBI office, would be a place I had heard of. It definitely helped, because, while it wasn't unguarded, the place was surprisingly easy to steal from. More importantly, is the aftermath of the break-in, at least in terms of American history, since, when the pages started getting sent to newspapers, and this predates, both Watergate and The Pentagon Papers btw, once the Washington Post decided to publish the stolen documents, this lead to the first time the government began investigating the FBI. (This was right at the end of J. Edgar Hoover's reign by the way) The movie is about the actual break-in itself, and the people behind it, who by the way, were never caught and there were rarely, if ever any suspects directly linked to the case, although a couple members of the Camden 28 might've been suspected, (especially since, one or two of them actually did it) This is the first time that the culprits have revealed themselves. There were eight people involved, and we see interviews with the surviving members of the crew, who were originally, just planning on stealing from a next-door draft board, which a few others had tried to do in other cities, as a way to at least slow down the draft and essentially protest the Vietnam War. But it was obvious to people in the local Philadelphia radicals who were interested in civil disobedience as a course of protest. We see reenactments cut in with interview, similar to Errol Morris's work, and it interesting how they pulled it off, correctly predicting that the office would be abandoned and that anybody who would've been on guard, would be too busy watching the fight that night. They had known that there were some pretty obvious plants in many of the local groups that they suspected for years had been CIA. Apparently the undercover department was about as subtle as a Senior transferring to an ethnic high school, with a generic name, hippies who seemed to have just now grown their hair out, and had tye-dye shirts that read, "Kill the Pigs", caused all kinds of alarms. Apparently either the CIA was stupid or they just thought the kids were. While numerous files they stole were important in showing the out-of-control ways the CIA was spying on its own citizens, without due cause or purpose, It was only one random document with the words COINTELPRO that led, eventually to the revelations of just how long and how elaborate Counter intelligent programs the CIA had been running. "1971" is an interesting little piece of history that's worth documenting. It's not a grand or great one, but at only 70+ minutes it's a quick one. And it could've used a better title, naming it after the year it happened is really generic, but it's worth a watch for those interested in this forgotten piece of modern American history.


ANNIE (2014) Director: Will Gluck

✰✰1/2



Okay, once in a while, there's a problem that Hollywood has to try and deal with, and then when a star that's very talented is finally recognized for his/her work, usually with an Oscar nomination or something akin to that, or something of that nature, but for reason or another, they're unbelievably talented, but they don't necessarily fit the mold of what we think of as stars, so finding projects for them to be in and showcase their talents can be difficult. Whoopi Goldberg faced this problem constantly throughout her career, Melissa McCarthy is dealing with it presently, Peter Dinklage, Paul Giamatti in recent years, Eddie Murphy to some extent, over his career, all really talented people, who can do a lot, but it's a bit finding parts for them, especially in lead roles. It's not their fault by any means, but you don't necessarily see scripts written for them, so what happens a lot, and this happened quite a bit with Whoopi in particular, is that, they take a script that maybe was designed for somebody else, that hasn't been made, 'cause, usually it was crap, but they hope by putting Whoopi in it and reworking the script towards her sensibilities it might then start working, but it usually didn't. But, you have a star, and they're too talented not to use, that.... but those actors have reinvented themselves several times and have found a few niches and some continue to get work and acclaim, even if that means writing the material themselves, and despite the #Oscarcontroversy, there's still a more diverse Hollywood now than ever before, there's certainly gonna be jobs for whatever incoming talent comes along...-

(January 10th, 2013)
SETH MACFARLANE
...and Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild"

EMMA STONE
...Quvenzhane Wallis is the youngest Best Actress nominee, ever, she's nine.

(Long pause)

HOLLYWOOD
Oh, fu-uuuuuuuck. An overly talented but untrained nine-year-old African-Ameican girl. Um, what do we have for you, um... (Sorting through pile of screenplays, throwing each out as he realizes it's not for her) No, no, no,um,  no, no, not that, not that, no part for you, um, not that, not that, too adult, not that.. um, not that,....

(FIVE HOURS LATER, sweating onto back cover of the blacklist)

Hey, we haven't done a remake of "Annie" in a while, maybe we should do that?!

Yeah, that's pretty much why this movie exists. And to be clear, that's not inherently a bad thing, or even a bad reason to make a movie, it really says more about Hollywood's lack of scripts for people of minority, but even then, you'd be searching a while to find her a good leading role. And what's wrong with doing "Annie", again, it's the classic tale of an orphan, who through her, we eventually find um, love, and the rich Daddy Warbucks, realizes that money isn't everything, it's a classic musical that gets revived all the time-, okay, I, I'm sorry, I can't bullshit on this much longer, I never really liked "Annie". In any form really, I'm actually not really sure how good this even is as a musical or as a play even. I guess, the closest equivalent, might be "Oliver!" which, I think is flawed as well, but you know, it's flawed for the same reason that it's source material is flawed, "Oliver Twist" is the least interesting character in "Oliver Twist", so it's basically just a parade of other more interesting characters who walk into the story for a minute and then leave soon after. "Annie". "Annie" as a character is at least more interesting and in her original form, from the comic strip that started in the '20s, which was adapted from a James Whitcomb Riley poem from the 1880s, which led to two movie adaptations, before the 1977, musical adaptation, which has no been adapted into, three different movies now, each coming about fifteen or sixteen or so years apart, on top of numerous radio adaptations and other adaptations. BTW, the comic strip which ran in papers through several writers lasted until this decade, and apparently, it's now been inserting into the Dick Tracy universe. (Raised eyebrow) . Oh-kay, thanks for that Wikipedia; I could've gone my whole life without knowing that. Anyway, the movie, in this film, Annie Bennett (Wallis) is the titular orphan Annie, and she's a foster child, currently living with other kids at a group home of a foster mother Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) a music washout who only watches kids for the government checks they come with. Cameron Diaz, is another hugely talented actress that Hollywood never seems to figure out a good part for. Anyway, the Daddy Warbucks here is Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx, another uber-talented actor-, you get the idea) a cellphone company CEO who's running for mayor, despite not being particularly well-liked, no matter how many cell phones he gives away to earn his constituents vote. Grace and Guy (Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale) are his top campaign aides and advisors, and after running into Annie, and Will saves her life, which was caught on camera, on one of Will's cell phones, they decide to be her foster parent, at least until the election. And because Quvenzhane and Annie are just ballfulls of charisma, it slowly begins to work and Annie becomes a household name. Yada, yada, yada, you all probably know the rest of the story, or could at least guess it from here. Eh, the music was surprisingly better than I thought it would be. I'm not 100% sure what that means. Part of it was done by Sia, so that probably explains that. Honestly, I hated the original '82 version of "Annie", I didn't hate this one, I'm not sure I can recommend it. I guess there's nothing harmful about it and most of the performances are pretty good, but I also think it's "Annie" there's only so much you can really do with her. And I'm not sure I love the idea that he's running for office the whole time, I get why they added that, but if you ask, it's a bit of a pointless addition.


THE GIVER (2015) Director: Philip Noyce

1/2




Ugh, "The Giver". I-eh-, this movie. This film is kindly like, if Ed Wood, tried to make "Pleasantville", and no, not as cool as that might sound. Ugh, apparently this is based on a popular young adult novel, which, I- I have to address this part first, look, I know there's been a few Harry Potter/Hunger Games-size exceptions in recent years, but in general, "YA novels, suck!" Like, even at their best, they mostly sucked, even when I was a kid. "The Outsiders" isn't nearly as compelling as your average ten-year-old thought it was. Neither was "A Wrinkle in Time", neither was "The Chocolate War" or "The Basketball Diaries", or "The Girl That Owned a City-, okay, actually that one was really good, but I seriously doubt it's adaptable to film, and now, that there's a run on adapting these new batch of young adult novels. and I'm sorry, most of these are terrible. Why are there multiple "The Maze Runner" films, or "Divergent" film or "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"? Okay the first Chronicles of Narnia book was okay, even though the film was boring. And that's a bad example really, that book predates the term "Young adult" which is a really inaccurate and condescending term, and it's not even accurate. My general rule, was, that the moment you're old enough to read young adult novels, was the moment you were too old to read young adult novels. That's not the reason "The Giver" sucks, but it doesn't help. Secondly, this is a sci-fi film, again, dumbed down for the "young adult" market, that takes place in a fictional future world, that on the surface seems like Utopia-amazing, but underneath, it turns out that the world is a bunch of lies. I'm not a sci-fi expert, but-, actually, this gives me an idea. Excuse me a minute...

(David goes onto Facebook for a few minutes.)

Okay, I just posted this in about a half a dozen FB film groups:

I'm looking for a list of SCI-FI and/or FANTASY FILMS/PIECES OF LITERATURE where it turns out that the future world that all the characters live in, and everybody accepts, turns out to not be as ideal, moral, truthful, real, or is in any other way deceptive, and turns out to be a bunch of lies, that usually one or more characters discovers. Just keep listing them, and GO!

Alright, and so far, after five minutes, which includes being smacked around for my bad grammar, which wasn't true. (Okay, it was, I used "turns out" twice. I fixed it, don't, worry, that's not what his complaint was.) I've gotten, let's see, it's been four minutes let me list the responses I've gotten so far:

"World on a Wire"
"Logan's Run"
"The Village"
"Demolition Man"
"They Live"
"Escape from New York"
Anything by Philip K. Dick, specifically "The Tree Stigmatas of Palmer Edlritch",
Novellas by Leigh Brackett
"Stranger in a Strange Land"
"The Aleph"
"Dream X"
"The Nightland"
"The Mirror", the Tarkovsky one
"On the Silver Globe"
"A Scanner Darkly"
"Dark City"
"How to Live in a Science Fiction Universe"
Shorts stories by George Saunders, specifically, "Escape from Spiderhead"
1984
Zardoz
Sleeper
The Island
District 9
Brazil
Blade Runner
THX 1138
A Clockwork Orange
Total Recall
RoboCop
Akira
The Running Man
Dune
The Hunger Games
Star Wars
Soylent Green
The Sixth Day
Rollerball
Star Trek VI
Alien
I, Robot
The Matrix Trilogy
Minority Report
Avatar
Planet of the Apes
Waterworld
V for Vendetta
Elysium
The Truman Show
High-Rise
Seconds
The President's Analyst
Dead and Buried

By the way, the first response I got was, and I quote, "All of them". I don't think that's quite true, but yeah, you see my point, this basically works, maybe if it's your first of these, but, otherwise, especially in film, you better pull this off so amazingly well. And besides, why the hell is it always, the future world has to be some conspiratorial sham being pulled on the rest of the world? Can't the future ever just be good on the outside, and actually just be better than it was before? Like I'm not saying it has to be perfect, but why does it always have to be, this?

(Sigh) Anyway, "The Giver". What's this world about? Well, apparently, there's no emotions. Or, I don't know, it's just an overly-planned community. To the point where, certain tough-to-describe concepts have basically been eliminated from the vocabulary for being to arcane. Oh, it's a black-and-white world too btw. At least in the beginning. I told you this was like "Pleasantville". Okay, the main character are graduating, to... I forget the word they used, but the three main friends are eighteen now, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is the main one, and he's unsure of what his future will be. I know that sounds normal, but he's about to find out, because now that they've graduated to, whatever-the-terms they used, the children of his block, find out their career that's been specifically designed for them by the elder scrools, who have been watching them their entire life and have come up with their ideal professions. Jonas's friend Fiona (Odeya Rush) turns out to be a nurturer they're friend Asher (Cameron Monahan) is told he'll be a pilot, which is kinda weird in this universe actually, but it leads to revealing a major plot point about what's outside the community. (Yeah, this is really like "Pleasantville", I can't stress that enough, and strangely, nobody's said that one in any of the FB groups yet, huh, weird.) but when the Chief Elder (Meryl Str-, oh c'mon, what-the-hell- Meryl!?! What are you doing here?! Really?!) skips his spot, he then finds out that his job, is to be, something called the "Keeper of Memory", which means, he is going to learn about the secret of life, and he's to keep that knowledge to himself. No, I'm dead serious. The past, is not known to everybody else, and there's a bunch of childish rules like "don't lie", that everyone follows. His "family unit,", not a family, a family unit, is excited for him, at least his Mother and Father (Katie Holmes, who honestly I don't think we see enough of and Alexander Skarsgaard, who seems to be in everything these days) is excited, although they're dealing with a young child, Gabriel, who hasn't matured yet despite reaching a year old. Oh, Father is a nurturer too, and, I-, I don't know where babies come from in this universe, but they're assigned to families once they mature, the nurturers watch them before they do that. Anyway, Jonas, it told he's allowed to break some of the rules as he goes to the town's keeper of the memory, and he gets told everything about humans before the world that they created and enforced on everyone now. This person, is "The Giver", (Jeff Bridges, oh dammit, "The Dude!" is in this too! WTH, anybody else you want to put in this cesspool of a film that's talented?) Anyway, it's here that The Giver, each day, shows Jonas, everything that humanity once was, much of which are emotions and feelings and a lot of good stuff. He'll get to some of the bad stuff later, but it's causing some changes and reflections on the world from Jonas that's making him rethink the world around him, and he even begins seeing in color. And tries to turn Fiona into his girlfriend, despite, apparently, love, sex and attraction don't seem to exist in this world, but he's trying to show her. If you've seen a movie before, you can probably fill in the rest of this plot outline like it was a Mad Libs. The Chief Elder doesn't like the latest actions of Jonas, and tries to dissuade him, and The Giver,who spends his days on the edge of the world, or the world as they know it, pondering the last person who was a keeper of memories, ten years ago, Rosemary (Taylor Swift) who herself cause some butt-, (Whoa, whoa, Taylor Swift is in this? I don't even know how to react to that one, at least I didn't recognize her til the credits, but, okay whatever) anyway, this movie, it's just bad, and boring. I mean, it's well-made technically there's ideas here, but this is so amateurish. It just feels like they took away all the aspects of other sci-fi movies, and made it so simplistic a child could understand. A two-year-old can understand it. The two-year-old that was dropped on his head can follow this. It's so unimaginative and uninteresting, I can't express how painful this film was to sit through, just waiting for this film to crawl and slog to a conclusion that was so obvious. And the sad part is, Philip Noyce, is not a bad director. He's inconsistent over his career, but his last film before this was the action-thriller "Salt", that wasn't bad. He also made a couple wonderful films, in 2002, "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and especially "The Quiet American", that film's a damn near masterpiece. I'm sure he was trying his best, but this film was D.O.A., in fact I'm giving him all the credit for making it as tolerable as it was, which wasn't much. This film is terrible, and Hollywood, just-, just start being a little more selective on what young adult novels you're gonna adapt in the future; not everything with a fanbase is really worth making a movie out of .







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