Alright, on to other films I didn't get a chance to properly review, I watched "Passion of Mind", Alain Berliner's film where Demi Moore plays a double-role as somebody who has two lives, one in reality and one that is in her dreams, or vice-versa, I'm not sure which is which. I didn't hate it, it's scripted was co-written by Ron Bass, he's an interesting writer that I've brought up before, and full disclosure I know some people who've worked with him, and it's not bad. I mean, it's a basically a bastardized Hollywoodization of Krsyzstof Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique", kinda in the same way that "City of Angels' is the bastardized Hollywoodization of Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire", but still, I didn't mind it that much, although I wouldn't exactly call it special or anything. I also finally got around to "Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould". Gould is the famous Canadian classical pianist who's arguably the greatest classical of the Twentieth Century. It's okay, I guess, for a documentary, I vastly preferred the wonderful Francois Girard feature, "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould", which is also a bit of a enigmatic mess, but Gould is an enigma and it perfectly portrayed the lack of consistency of the people's perceptions of him, but if you just want something informative, "Genius Within..." is a good place to start. I also saw, "Survival Island", that's a movie. A really lousy film about three people stuck on a desert island, two guys one girl, none of them can really act, not that they had much to work with. It went straight to DVD when it was released eleven years ago, that's where it should've stayed. It's shit, complete and utter shit. That's all that needs to be said, in fact that's more than ever needs to be said. I really need to stop being in the room when other people insist on putting crap like that on.
Anyway, we're prepping for the Emmy nominations, but for now, let's get to the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with reviews of the Oscar-Winning Films "THE BIG SHORT" and "BRIDGE OF SPIES", as well as an epic major review of "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY-PART 2" that is, well-, you'll definitely want to read this review.
THE BIG SHORT (2015) Director: Adam McKay
Just so everyone's clear, I knew. I knew that the housing bubble was gonna collapse and that the economy was on the verge of falling off a cliff before it happened. Yeah, like the guys in the movie. Okay, not like the guys in the movie, but I and most smart sensible people knew and should've known. How did I know? Well, for one thing, I couldn't afford to buy houses on bad loans back in the mid-'00s, although based on the sound of it, neither could anyone else, but people were. I know this, 'cause I live Las Vegas, which is ground zero on the housing crisis, and I saw houses that were little more than half of a windowless closet go from 4-digits to mid-6-digits in just a few years. Oh, and yeah, like the movie shows, strippers got the worst of it. (Yeah, I know strippers, it happens in Vegas, and I've never even been in a strip club. Oh, Jennifer Hornback if you're out there, you still owe me a trip to strip club.) Yeah, the Depression didn't hit in '07 and '08, it was going on every since 9/11, but the people at the top, were so corrupted to each other, and had gone completely off their rockers in terms of buying up bad debt and compiling bad debt into good debt, and-, well, don't worry, "The Big Short" does a really good job of explaining all the details that, I didn't know all those details at the time, but I and probably most people in my economic position, especially in Vegas knew something was wrong. Everything was going up, and money was going down. I was not capable or knowledgeable enough to do what these guys did, or even knew how to figure it out. The first person to catch on was Michael Burry (Oscar-nominated Christian Bale) a former Doctor who happened to be great at numbers, and was given carte blanche as a fund manager. He sits in his office and determined in 2005 how bad the housing market was, so he put his investors money against the market. How do you bet against subprime mortages and CDOs? Well, you didn't, until he went to each of the banks and created a way, and the banks were happy to sell it to him, millions of dollars worth, each bank. Word caught on to what he was doing but most of them just made fun of him, a few though, suspected he might be onto something, and what he was up to, he had read what most of those subprime mortgages were worth, nothing more. Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who for all intensive purposes I guess is our, narrator, (The movie takes the fourth wall and beats it's with a brick, rips a chainsaw through it, buries it under wherever they discarded the other three walls.) he's a banker on Wall Street, who goes out on his own begins selling the prospect of buying these bonds against the housing market, and essentially against the national economy. He mostly goes around town and gets laughed at. Then, he makes a wrong number to Mark Baum, who's small investment fun is actually in the Morgan-Stanley building, but sorta technically separated, it's difficult to explain, but Baum is great at spotting the most bullshit and is cynical enough in the market that he's looking for ways to drive against them, but this seems to good to be true, except it didn't to him. Baum is the one who begins investigating and it's through him, we find the bubble, and the corruption in the ratings agencies, and when we go to Las Vegas, where the convention of the securities leader was, they realize just how insane and moronic and/or corrupt and careless everyone was, and bunch up more money against the economy. At least at the lower rated banks. We meet too others, Charlie Gellar and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) who have a garage upstart and once they realize the investment opportunity in betting against the economy, with the help of an ex-bigwig Ben Rickett (Brad Pitt, who looks startlingly more and more like Robert Redford, never noticed that before) who they happen to know, get the ISDA which allows them to invest big against highly rated companies, ones that got AA and A ratings, which they correctly suspected were over-rated as well. The movie is based on Michael Lewis's book, he's written quite a few non-fiction books, probably most-notably before this "Moneyball", which I read and they made into a fairly good movie, but not a great one. Partly 'cause it didn't quite really strike the tone correctly for a movie about being drowned in baseball statistics and minutia, but inside baseball isn't too complicated to understand, most of us are more than familiar with baseball, but still I wish it was directed like "The Big Short" was, with quick-cutting and breaking fourth walls, and a constantly moving camera that seems more and more wild and disjointed the deeper into the depths of the rabbit hole we go. Adam McKay is probably not an obvious choice to direct this, but I think the movie needed a great comedy director, and with "Anchorman..." and "The Other Guys" among others in his resume, to balance out the really depressing aspects of the movie and relate both the excess of the people who were destroying the economy and the dizzying realization of those who actually discover and realize what they've been up to. McKay and Randolph's Oscar-winning script takes chances and while occasionally the movie might be over-edited I didn't mind. "The Big Short" is quite an essential film about the banking industry and how much it really has gotten out of hand and needs way, way, way, more government regulation than it has now, or once had in the past. Anybody who tells you private industries, especially ones like banking and stock trading, which, by the way, take it from a guy who lives in Vegas, Wall Street is a casino, it's not a banking strategy or whatever, it's a casino; I know what a casino looks like, and I've played the Stock Market more than I'd ever like ti, 'cause I had scholarship money tied up in it, I know how it works, and it works exactly like a casino, and how much the banking industry has gone-, long gone from the days of George Bailey and fallen into the hands of the Ben Bernanke's. Or worst, the upstart yuppie wannabes who don't even bother knowing who Bailey or Bernanke even is and just know that it's always a sellers market, and especially for what we're selling.
BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) Director: Steven Spielberg
Hmm, this is a peculiar film among Spielberg's filmography. I mean, it's definitely not a bad one by any means, actually, it's really quite good, but yeah, there's definitely something off about it. For one thing, it's his second straight biopic technically after "Lincoln". He's done period pieces of course, straight up biopics are rarities in his work. There's "Catch Me If You Can", and of course, "Schindler's List", and "The Color Purple" two of his very best films; but this fits more into the "Amistad" and "Empire of the Sun" side of the biopics, although "Bridge of Spies" is better than both of those films by a mile, especially, "Empire...", which is down near the bottom among Spielberg's filmography. (Oh, I guess there was "The Sugarland Express" too, but, boy that-that-, yeah, that film's so far away from this Spielberg it's practically a whole other person now) But still, the style of the movie is clearly Spielberg, but this is kind of an odd story for him, but still, Spielberg grew up in the late '50s and early '60s, so he grew up under the red scare and the Cold War, so that explains his interests in the era. He's also always wanted to make a James Bond film, but was never allowed, so there's his interest in spies and spyware. And then there's the particularly weird fact that two of the co-writers on the script were Joel & Ethan Coen of all people. I can see why they might be attracted to this project themselves, but yeah, it's clear they mostly just did slight punch-ups to Matt Charman's script, mostly from what I heard, they basically just re-fleshed out Tom Hanks's character. Okay, there's multiple stories going on here, but the first story involves the American U2 planes, that the CIA commissioned some Air Force pilots, most notably Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) Now, Powers crash and trial in Russia where he was accused and convicted of being an American spy was briefly brought up in my U.S. History textbooks, but the trial and conviction of Rudolf Abel (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance), a purportedly Russian spy who was convicted in America and sentenced to thirty years imprisonment, was not, even though it happened a couple years earlier. The movie begins with his arrest, and then proceeds to follow his lawyer, an major insurance lawyer, James B. Donovan (Hanks) who once upon a time, was on the team that tried the Nuremberg trials. (If you want to see a great movie about that, lookup Stanley Kramer's masterpiece, "Judgement at Nuremberg") He doesn't want the job, but somebody has to, and he provides a better-than-expected defense, and even brings the case all the way to the Supreme Court after much of the evidence that was admitted was gotten without a warrant. He lost the case, but saved him from the electric chair. There's also a third story going on, this one involving Frederick Pryor (Will Rogers) a Yale student, who happened to cross from Berlin to East Berlin, right as the wall was being built and he got arrested, not by the Soviets but by the GDC, the German Democratic Republic, check your old world maps folks, and now both the Soviets and the GDC and interested in exchanging each of their prisoner for the return of Abel, and it's Donovan's job to negotiate the agreement, between the three parties. This is way more difficult than it I just described it and with the cold war paranoia spreading through all counts, plus neither side trusts either side when they say that they haven't somehow gotten all the possible information out of each other's prisoners as they claim, and Donovan, a civilian has to go back and forth from both parts of Berlin, often in danger of being captured himself in order to broker the prisoner exchange. "Bridge of Spies" is a much more subtle and complex film than it first. In fact, this is one of those movies that perhaps could've been a miniseries in of itself, just when you think you know exactly where the story goes, the movie, suddenly slides into some new chapter of the events. Donovan we learn became and even greater POW exchange negotiator later on, convincing Castro to release over 9,000 POWs after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Mark Rylance won an Oscar for his wonderfully understated performance as Rudolf Abel, and I can understand why, this is a beautiful performance of a man who knows the wait of the world is on his soldiers, but has had this pressure on him long enough that he's able to realize that being overly-concerned, at least outwardly, doesn't do him or anyone else any good. He doesn't take things in stride, he just seems like he's thought for a long, long time about all the possibilities and perils of his chosen profession and is no longer shocked or surprised at any outcome. Exactly like a spy would probably think. There's also some wonderful supporting work from Alan Alda and Amy Ryan among others. This is definitely one of the more intriguing and curious works for Spielberg as a director. I can't tell if it's a standout anomaly or a radical shift into a new side of Spielberg, one where the more historical and political side grows to become the more dominant aspect of his work. Either way, "Bridge of Spies" is still a terrific and fascinating film, and a wonderful telling of a previously little known and little recalled piece of Cold War history.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY-PART 2 (2015) Director: Francis Lawrence
I'm-eh, I'm not quite sure if you, the readers, have kept up with my previous reviews of each of the previous three "The Hunger Games" films, because there's been a somewhat um, inauspicious common theme through each of those reviews. It's very subtle, I don't know if anybody else noticed it, but it's not a major thing, it's just that I have, eh-um, at the edges of the review you might say insinuated that the series has maybe, perhaps, slightly, borrowed/been influence by story structure that were originally used/most commonly used in professional wrestling. I don't know, if you've caught that or not?
From, "The Hunger Games" review:
...I was already having some grave concerns about it. The movie bore many similarities to other films that I wasn't a particular fan of, "Battle Royale," being the most notable. In my movie review for that film, I compared the idea of having a bunch of kids dropped on an island in order to fight to the death to a twisted and disturbing version of a pro wrestling pay-per-view.... Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson, and he's been on a roll), and apparently a fashion designer, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), who gives them an outfit for a Grand entrance in the Capital for the tributes, where it looks like they come in, wearing an outfit of, actual fire. It is getting really hard not to point out pro wrestling comparisons here, btw. Grand entrances, an elaborate production, filled with fire behind them, and they're not even fighting yet, but the music starts, and the crowds chanting "Goldberg!" in unison.... See, I'm telling you, pro wrestling. There's even a colorful commentator in a bad hairpiece, who interviews and gives us some analysis and exposition when needed named Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and a Satan-bearded overseer of the game, who seemed to able to change and alter the situation, and the rules whenever he feels like it named Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and an older, seemingly quieter but perhaps wise overseer to him in President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Many of the contestants seem to have weird symbolic names like Glimmer and Marvel and Rue. Since this bizarre and gruesome tradition is televised with big ratings, I guess we can presume that it's saying something about modern media, or modern government or the political scene, or how they're all done for reality-show based entertainment. (Or maybe reality-show style entertainment of all forms, is simply stealing blatantly from professional wrestling. Hey, if I'm seeing the parallels in what's not only a popular movie, but a popular novel now, I betcha others will.)
Okay, maybe it was slightly more than just an off-the-top-of-my-head idea that I espoused at the edges of the screen...
My ENTIRE, not joking, the full-length "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" review, written in the style of a pre-Wrestlemania main event promo package:
Over 75,000 on hand here in the Capital and millions watching worldwide on pay-per-view, as we await, the notorious electrified, triple steel cage, wrapped in razor-wire, to descend onto the ring, know simply as "The Hunger Games". And folks, while we await for the massive structure to descend we're gonna take a look back at exactly how we got to this point, starting with the unbelievable, unprecedented double-win conclusion to last year's "The Hunger Games".
(Foreboding ominous music plays, as haunting flashbacks and continues to build as images and sounds, often faded and muted, images flash on screen, along with video, and words)
And we're down to two. It's "Girl on Fire" Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her District-mate Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Face-to-face. "What's going on?" They're refusing to fight. There has to be a winner. The Referees and officials and trying to make sure they get this on their way, but they're simply refusing to continue. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has finally come out! He is ordering them to fight, personally. There has to be a winner.
Wait a minute what are they doing, they're walking out of the ring!
If both their feet go out at the same, then there's no winner! The President if furious, but they're not backing down!
(Heard but not seen, yelling)
"RING THE BELL!" "RING THE BELL!"
(Bell rings three times)
"By Order of President Snow "The Hunger Games" has been stopped, and there are two winners!"
CROWD ERUPTS IN GIGANTIC CHEERS
KATNISS and PEETA embrace and celebrate.
"This is the first time, anybody has successfully defied the Capital. And President Snow is not happy."
(Shots of random and aggressive violence 'cause by a raging President Snow and his Capital Cronies)
"President Snow"'s reign of terror has just gotten more and more violent, with each passing day.
The new head Peacekeeper of District 12, Commander Romulus Thread! (Patrick St. Esbrit)
(Shots of Commander Thread brutalizing people)
Commander Thread's idea of "Peacekeeping" is just profane.
"Wait a minute, Katniss is coming out!
What the hell is she doing; her wedding's tomorrow!?"
THREAD HITS KATNISS
"Thread has just struck The Girl on Fire."
"And now' Peeta's out here!" "And that's- that's Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) they're trainer, and he's getting involved now.
Katniss is back up! And now they're all getting involved! It's pandemonium!"
If President Snow's plan was to stop some kind of revolution from happening, this is not going as planned!
Images of cheers and applause for Katniss, including her mockingjay costume, as she becomes more idolized.
Now, they're calling her the "Mockingjay"!
PLUTARCH HEAVENSBEE (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
Don't worry Mr. President, I have an idea.
THE NEXT WEEK
For the 75th Annual Hunger Games, I'm enacting the Quarter Quell and announcing that the pool of participants, will come from all the former champions from each district!
"Oh my God!"
No President, has ever enacted a Quarter Quell before, and now he's making the former winners compete!"
CASHMERE (Stephanie Leigh Schlund)
"I was told, we we're never gonna compete again! This is (BLEEP)ing bull(BLEEP)!"
CEASER FLICKERMAN (Stanley Tucci)
"Okay, hold on, hold on!"
"We did get married in private, it's just ashame about the baby!"
(Audience in shock)
"Stop the games!" "Stop the games!"...
"Alliances are being formed, but make no mistake, there can only be one winner!"
"There wasn't last year, though!"
"And the President's not gonna let that happen again."
"They might not give him a choice."
(Foreboding music climaxes and the chaotic collision of images stops.)
Audience cheers as the cage has finally been lowered.
Ladies and gentleman, it's time for the 75th Annual Hunger Games!
(Bret Hart WWE theme music plays, Audience cheers even louder)
And here we go, what you've all been waiting for, the start of the most controversial "Hunger Games" to date, and here comes the Girl on Fire, the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen!
Katniss Everdeen, reluctantly comes through the curtain and heads toward the caged ring as fireworks go off in unison....
Yeah, in hindsight, I don't think I succeeded in terms of conveying this theory, what's-the-word, with the "utmost subtlety", that I probably could've.
From my review of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1"
To catch everybody up, we're still in the midst of the fallout after the shocking and controversial ending to last "The Hunger Games" pay-per-view, and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon- eh, I mean, eh, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is on a vengeful streak. He's sent The Corporation Minis- eh, the Capital's Peacekeepers into District 12, and annihilated most of what and has sworn to destroy anyone in the WWE Univ-, eh, citizens of Panem,... Katniss still makes her presence known by coming down from the rafters- or-eh, cutting more promos- I mean, propos-, (Wait they're called propos, they really are called propos in this Universe? [Struggling to loosen fingers so as not make a fist.]) showing not only that she is alive, but that the alliance is stronger than ever and leading and inspiring more rebellious to fight The Capital and take back the title from-, I mean, end the plutocracy and turns Panem into a Democracy again.... o far, this is the best of "The Hunger Games" movies and the most different and the three have essentially gotten better as they have correctly chosen not to simply be the exploitative gimmick- I mean conceit, of the post-apocalyptic contest that's a most twisted future world of "The Lottery" to really analyze the physical personal effects of living in this universe as well as the war and battles of the world. It's still essentially a fight very eerily similar to "The Hunger Games" but the battle is no longer inside this faux construction, and now after the Montreal Screwjob-, I mean, Katniss's arrow's de-electrifying the Games, the Games are now, to the streets, in the Districts and while Katniss is a freedom fighter, she has to deal with the hard fact that she's more powerful as a symbol in this war than as a soldier. It's well-made, well-acted and it's continually growing in intensity over each film and this one even looks different than the others. It's still lagging in places, but the fact that it keeps finding interesting ways to top itself is both impressive and increase anticipation for us to tune in for next week's "Monday Night Raw"-, I mean-eh, to see the next movie in the series.
...Okay, seriously, am I the only one who (BLEEP)ing sees this! Seriously, all three of my reviews of "The Hunger Games" films I have clearly mentioned the (BLEEP)ing obvious parallels between "The Hunger Games" and Professional Wrestling, the last film, I even wrote the review in the form of a Pre-Wrestlemania Main Event promo package, and nobody, anywhere has said anything! I can't find a review that brings this up nobody commented on that review-, am I the only one who's noticed this! Am I crazy; am I delusional!? I mean, I know stories come from anywhere and pro wrestling, like any story-based art form has borrowed from numerous forms of literature and numerous other influences to set up their storylines including films motifs and story arches, and no I can't prove decisively that it's going the other way around, but holy (BLEEP)ing, hell, this movie has the least obvious pro wrestling parallels and I still easily made about fifteen or twenty parallels,- Do I have to devote a whole blog to this before anybody realizes just how (BLEEP)ed up this is? Cause I will if I have too but-, oh- don't you dare cut my mike off! This has to be said, "The Hunger Games" is blatantly stealing from Pro Wrest- (Mike cuts off, I'm talking but can't be heard, as Security comes a takes me forcibly struggles to take me away, dragging me out of the ring and up the rampway as I exit screaming incoherently like a maniac.).
(Cut to commercial for Axe Body Spray)
Yeah. You know, I-, I wasn't kidding, I'm actually seriously thinking, that some day in the future, I'm just gonna snap and devote an entire blog or five to this subject, cause I-, like, I don't know how else to explain it, but it's up 'til now, been unbelievably obvious that-, I'm not gonna pretend I think it's a theory anymore, it's blatantly obvious that "The Hunger Games" is basically a complete lift of professional wrestling. That's not even necessarily a bad thing by the way, in fact I don't want to insinuate that it is, or that it even downgrades the series as a whole, inspiration and influence is fine in of itself, wherever it comes from, hell I've recommended each of these films and admittedly, myself, I've been influenced in my work, both in my personal screenwriting and in work on this blog by certain aspects and characters in pro wrestling. I'm not saying, it's bad that "The Hunger Games" is influenced by professional wrestling, which I-eh-, if somehow I find it isn't influenced by it; I will be so in shock that I almost would not believe it at this point, it'd be like telling me that we woke up one morning and the sun was now the moon and vice versa, I was just to trying to make the point that, "The Hunger Games" is, just borrowing so much from pro wrestling that it's pretty hard not to immediately notice the obvious parallels.
At least I thought it was impossible not to notice, although I'm the only critic or person even who has ev-er, that I've seen anyway, brought this up. (If somebody knows a critic who has mentioned this, even tangentially, please let me know, comment on the blog, comment on the Facebook posts, Tweet me, let me know, maybe I'm not alone) Honestly, I'm kinda shocked by that. I can't be the only critic or even the only person who's seen all these movies and lived through The Monday Night Wars? Right? Right!? (Sighs) Well, pro wrestling is definitely not nearly as popular as it once was, hell; I've actually made attempts, even recently to go out of my way to watch more pro wrestling and even I usually end up forgetting to watch the weekly ROH show or keep up with the WWE, I've come across two different and distinct reactions to this theory when I've explained it to others. One, they don't know what the hell I'm talking about 'cause they've never been watch pro wrestling and if they're a cinephile they mostly want to go on about how it's actually a remake of "Battle Royale", that piece-of-garbage snuff film, (Yeah, I haven't changed my view on that Columbine wet dream horrible excuse of a movie either) or they suddenly acknowledge I'm right about this, and you can see, very suddenly the light bulbs going off in their heads as they suddenly see all the parallels I talk about and now they can't believe they didn't see it before.
Well, that's a long beginning to review the final film in this series, subtitled "Mockingjay-Part 2", and it's a pretty good movie and ending to the series, and to it's credit, I didn't see as many parallels to pro wrestling in this one. If fact, I didn't see many at al. Mostly because it's really more of a war movie now. I mean, there's that one line of dialogue about how the battle between the Alliance districts and the Capital is the new Hunger Games, and yes, I guess I could make a reference to War Games or something, but really pro wrestling storylines, at their core are about building up a story going into a match, or in this case, a war at the end, and at that point, screw the story you're at the battle, so, we got to a pretty good battle. Filled with battle strategy and suspiciously-motive people on both sides, trying to outdo each other in order to win. Even the "propos", which is mainly what Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is supposed to be doing most of the time, being a symbol for the movement as oppose to an actual soldier, are really smart things to do in that situation, even if they're dangerous, that's what you're supposed to do. (In pro wrestling terms, they're called "Promos", 'cause they're promoting a fight and their image. It's when wrestling are just talking crazily about how indestructible they are and threaten to kill their next opponent. Propos, promos, you see?) When somebody's trying to kill you off, the best to way rally your troops is to show that you're alive and still fighting. That doesn't necessarily stop her however in her quest to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland), however she's also grown skeptic of the rebellion's presumed leader President Coin (Julianne Moore), no doubt as symbolic a name as Snow although she seems like an equally good military strategist, if not better. The districts have mostly aligned at this point, and it's only those closer towards the Capitol that are left to defend, but they've the weapons and the protections on their side, with numerous booby traps up above the city, so while they occasionally spurt out misinformation, of course using their go-to toupee'd announcer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) about Katniss and her group, they decide to combat Snow by fighting down in the sewers and railways underneath the city, which is where most of the major battles of the movie take place, including, weapons, floodings, numerous soldiers and even some more undesireable monstrous creatures that seem to call the floods home. Actually the whole sequence didn't remind me so much of pro wrestling, as the second Dragonstar match between Hakeem "The Machine" Alston and "Superstar" Ho-Sung Pak. ("WMAC Masters", anyone? World Martial Arts Counsil, the best martial arts stuntmen in Hollywood, they had their own fake little martial arts competition series for kids? Lasted two seasons? It had some guys from "Mortal Kombat", the real stuntmen from the "Power Rangers"?, Never mind, if you like martial arts stuff, look it up one day.) Anyway, at this point, since it's continuing from the last movie, which was the best of the four btw, there's no real surprises in terms of results, and I'm actually familiar with many of the characters at this point. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss's friend and fellow Hunger Games winner, has been brainwashed by the Capital, but he's brought along, and becomes somewhat erratic in terms of whether or not Katniss or the Rebel are trustworthy. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) isn't so much a Jacob to Katniss's Edward, or-, okay horrible example, I don't even know if that's right, but they're basically soldiers in the field of battle together. Others returned as well, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, and I'm assuming through digital techniques, Philip Seymour Hoffman has a few cameo appearances, although at this point, it's probably nothing more than fan service, they're real essential value came earlier in the franchise. That's a drawback to the film in general, the inevitability of it all; it's pretty anti-climatic, with the exception of one major character's death that came out, almost out of nowhere and really is a devastating and violent scene and battle, and leaves Katniss's life forever altered. Still, I think "The Hunger Games" franchise is about as good as this story can be told and it's told pretty well. Whatever influence that Susan Collins used, she combined them into something pretty good for a Young Adult epic series and they turned into some good movies, better than any of them probably could've been and that's an accomplishment.
I stand by my theory though, plot, story beats and structure, totally stolen from pro wrestling, but hey, at least she picked the good aspects of it.
BLACK MASS (2015) Director: Scott Cooper
"Black Mass" basically already begins behind the eight ball. For one thing, it's about a subject that's been seen in feature films before. Most recently in the documentary by Joe Berlinger "Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger", which is basically the documentary version of "Black Mass", but probably more relevantly, "Black Mass" is about the same topic as a more famous movie, Martin Scorsese's "The Departed". Yeah, we've already got a great gangster movie about the most infamous Boston Irish mobster. That said, there is still a really interesting story here, about how James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) was able to really run rough-shot all over Boston for decades by supposedly working as a source for the CIA, giving up information on other mobsters. I say "supposedly" because it's-, well, it's not unclear, he's currently in jail for, like twenty counts of murder, after years of being on the run and on the FBI's Most Wanted list. He also claimed that, he never ratted anyone out, and Bulger only at most, confirmed pieces of information that the CIA already had from other sources. Okay, first of all, anybody who tells you that being a rat, or that telling the police or any other higher-ups about their criminal activities is in any way the worst thing ever, they're fucking lying. Do not ashamed of telling and coming forward. Yeah, yeah, in cases like these there's a possibility of getting killed because of it, and you may have to go into witness protection, okay if those worries concern you, I get it, but other than that, no, tell, tell somebody and keep telling people. Secondly, that doesn't necessarily mean who you may tell is gonna do anything. That's probably the biggest lesson to take from "Black Mass", which in a sense isn't really about Bulger at all, instead, it's mainly about John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). Connolly was a schoolboy friend of Bulger, and once Connolly, got transferred to the Boston branch of the CIA, suddenly he got Bulger to be a source for the CIA, and basically allowed him to own the entire city, and terrorize the city and much more. The movie shows how he basically owned the leaders of jai alai and murdered the sport's commissioner. It also documents Bulget's murder of Deborah Hussey, (Juno Temple, in a cameo) who was Brian Halloran's (Peter Skarsgaard) girlfriend I believe, that's considered one of his most vicious deaths. That's the thing, Bulger was a violent murderer, he didn't just kill a few people and then let his chronies take over the killing duties, he basically built his own graveyards with his victims. A few of them probably. But, he was basically allowed to continue doing this, because of Connolly, who at first seemed to have an unreasonable childlike devotion to him but then basically by the end of the movie, seemed more like a gangster than he ever did a cop. Like "The Departed" the movie has an all-star cast filling in the major roles, for both the gangster side and the cop side. You know, need a D.A., just slip in Corey Stoll when no one's looking, or need someone who's slightly plain for a mob wife character, put Julianne Nicholson in there inconspicuously. Depp's been given a lot of credit for his performance, and I guess he's okay in the role, although with his makeup, mostly what I thought about was how Johnny Depp successfully proved that this was a role that Ray Liotta was born to play. Edgerton on the other hand, I thought was the real standout. I haven't actually been that impressed with his work over the years, but this was the performance that really struck me, and it's a far more interesting character than Bulger anyway. In many ways, he's the real villain of the piece, he just doesn't realize it. There's a lot more to the part and in many respects, I might consider Edgerton's role the lead in the film. Well, other than that, I actually don't know how much there is to talk about regarding "Black Mass". It's not a bad movie and it's director Scott Cooper, he's made a decent movie here and there, most notably "Crazy Heart", but I can't say that his direction is anything special in this film. But, there's enough to recommend, in particular Edgerton's performance, this is probably the best I've seen him do. It might be the most accurate Whitey Bulger movie, except for the documentary of course, but I don't know if I'd call it the best.
CHAPPIE (2015) Director: Neil Blomkamp
I gotta admit that I've been a little baffled by some of the backlash that "District 9" has gotten over the last couple years. Not that I thought it was a great movie, but I thought it was quite good, and much of the criticisms I've heard towards it, kinda through me. A lot of it, being talk about how it wasn't as original or creative as people thought it was. (Shrugs) I- I honestly didn't care much about that, but apparently there's similar stories in recent modern literature but I didn't really think about that, I just thought it was a well-done story told in a new and unique way, at least on screen. Anyway, here's his new feature film, "Chappie", a movie that's basically "District 9" meets, um, "Short Circuit"? Okay, I'm starting to see their point, now. I mean, I still like "District 9" quite a bit, but I can't say I thought it was the greatest thing ever either. "Chappie" definitely feels like a retread of other material, the sad part is, it's not even good material to begin with. Okay, what's with the strange title, who's Chappie? Well, Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is a robot. Specifically he's an artificial intelligent designed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, not stretching too far from his character on "The Newsroom") Chappie is a robot that's supposed to be designed to be taught to help out the cops so as, they don't get too killed by, the criminals in the future who are particularly overly-violent and have taken of the streets of-, I think it's Johannesburg, I'm not 100% positive though. However, Chappie gets stolen from the police, but before he was officially trained to be a policeman, by a gang led by Ninja and Yo-Landi (Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er). I'm told these are members of a major South African rap group called Die Antwood? Just looking them up online on Youtube, okay, they seem weird, I don't get it. Anyway, the major crux of the movie is that, Chappie, who's basically a robot child, is being taken care of by people who probably shouldn't be taking care of themselves, much less a robot. Ninja is particular, seems like a violent psychopath who's only a step or two away from going off, while Yo-Landi is at least maternal and caring about Chappie, as they teach him how to shoot a gun, and beat up a car, and talk gangster? Oh, eh, Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are also in this film. They don't do much, I'm not actually sure why they're there, but they're there, we're reminded of that once in a while. Yeah, I liked "District 9", I even liked Blomkamp's follow-up "Elysium", but he's clearly going backwards. It's the same parable each time by the way, there's an oppressive group, and the oppressed in some way fight for equality over the regime; I get it, that is a powerful metaphor in South African culture, but "Chappie" is definitely one idea too far with this parable. More than that, trying to take this film seriously is almost impossible. It's too goofy and even if it wasn't, it's not really that good. This is the film where I actually do see the criticisms Blomkamp has coming to fruition. Maybe thirty years ago, this would've been interesting, now, I feel like I've retreading over stuff that I can't remember why I ever watched to begin with. I mean, the effects are done well, the actors are actually pretty decent, even the weird rappers, felt believable as characters, but this movie is just not entertaining. There might be a laugh or a tense moment here and there, but this is the quintessential kind of movie where you watch it only because you know eventually it'll end. I mean, it's better than that kind of movie 'cause Blomkamp's still talented enough to make a better movie than just that bad, but yeah, wash the pig all you want, it's still a pig.
A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (2015) Director: Roy Andersson
I have no idea who I'd rank as the greatest director living today, if pressed, I'd probably as a default say either Jean-Luc Godard or maybe Werner Herzog or Wim Wenders, but even more of a difficult question is who might be the most unique or original director out there, at least unique and original in the good sense; I'm not counting the really obtuse avant-garde people like Matthew Barney's "Hoist" or whatever, nothing that-, no Lucifer Valentine in this conversation, or whoever the hell Diamanda Hagan scrapes off the bottom of The Cinema Snob's shoes to review. (I've really got to stop making Channel Awesome reference don't I?) Anyway, I think if I had to answer who is the most original and unique, Roy Andersson would probably get my vote. He made three films back in the seventies, and then took a 25-year break from feature-length films, returning in 2000, with "Songs from the Second Floor", which is the only other feature I've seen from him, and it's strange. In my review of that film, I wrote that the movie: and I quote: "...isn't so much a film really, despite some characters and vignettes, as it is a surreal collection of dark sardonic vignettes." And, yeah, I can basically describe "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" the same way, and basically just reprint that review and cut-and-paste a few words and Voila! my review of this, his latest film. That's not a criticism by the way, it's just, Roy Andersson. He is a sardonic, sharp-witted satirist, who's films are episodic surreal vignettes, usually show in long take and master shot, with very little cutting if any at all within the scene and sometimes, I swear there's dialogue being spoken by characters who not only can we not tell are talking, but I'm fairly certain they weren't moving their lips at all. And what are these scenes? I don't even know if they're worth explaining. There's purportedly 39 different ones in "A Pigeon...", I don't remember how many were in "Songs..." or the second film he made in this trilogy of films, "You, the Living", which I haven't seen. The all seem to be about the absurdity of life, many of them seen upon in the face of death. For instance the overconfident king, who bursts into a diner, on his horse, announcing he's going to war, as soldiers humming "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", a song that's heard multiple times during the film, each with different lyrics. First he throws out the women in the diner, then he drafts his waiter into the war. Then, he comes back, after losing the war, telling all the women now, that they're widows, and has to wait for his main objective, going to the bathroom, as someone's already in the bathroom. There's another scene where a diner is filled with soldiers and another version of "The Battle Hymn" is sung, and a bunch of soldiers off to war, pay for their drinks by making out with the bartender, as they sing. It's surreal and weird, and very sly. I've heard some compare Andersson to Gary Larson, I'm a huge fan of "The Far Side" so I can kinda see the comparisons, combine him with say, Aki Kaurismaki, some of his films, but his films while sly comedies, usually had a core emotional center to them.There's no emotional center to Andersson. Hell, there might not be a center, or an emotion. It's almost like, he took the weird random ideas in his head, wrote them down and just combined them into a movie, with no real purpose, other than absurdity for absurdity's sake. I guess if there's two visitors to the film, they're a pair of novelty products salesman who are trying to sell their products and collect from the sellers they've already sold to as though they were some kind of gangsters. I don't know why he's interested in these characters, or who or what he's making fun but it's apparently what he thinks about when it comes to the absurdity of life, and that's the delight of his films.
THE SECOND MOTHER (2015) Director: Anna Muylaert
Anna Muylaert is the famous Brazilian writer/director, probably most noteworthy for writing "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation", and directing "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", this is first film of hers that I've seen however, and it's a quite good one. "The Second Mother" is really an awkward title translation; the original title is "Que Horas Ela Volta" which translates directly from Portuguese to "What Time is Back", although a more accurate translation is "When Will She Be Back", which is a phrase that's used multiple times during the film. The movie follows Val (Regina Case) a longtime live-in maid to Dona Barbara (Karine Teles) in Sao Paolo. Her life is mostly happy, especially in regard to caring for Barbera's son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), who she's basically cared for for the last decade. She's practically a member of the family at this point, although she makes sure to keep herself separate from the rest of the family. That is, until her daughter Jessica (Camila Mardila) who she hasn't seen in ten years comes for a visit. She's about to test for college, just like Fabinho, however, she doesn't realize that she's going to live with her mother, in the house where she works, and this leads to the initial conflicts. Basically the line between family and staff, and guest and servant get blurred, on multiple lines, and it begins to get played out as she comes and visits. She's not necessarily sure where or how to be treated, and nobody else is quite sure either. At first, the family treats her like a beloved guest, but then Val tries to get her to be more separate from the family, but she's also an attractive young girl with and there's teenage boys and a pool around. It's a complex movie, about relationships, and what it means to be a parent, and what it means to take care of a kid. I've seen people compare the film to an Eric Rohmer film, which I guess I can see, although the director that I was really reminded of was Yasujiro Ozu, films like "Floating Weeds" or "Tokyo Story", other movies about family dynamics between members who have left and the struggle to rejoin the family after a long time has passed. I mean, this is a beautiful little movie about complex emotions between families and family members as they struggle to sort things out during a transitional phase in all their lives. There's regret of the past all around reminding everyone of how things ended up how they were, and a last opportunity for everyone to make one last leap towards a new future, and it's only themselves and each other in the way. Not to mention the differences in class and status that in many ways are old and don't reflect modern sensibilities like the kids, but in many ways they're also inevitable to conflict. "The Second Mother" is quite a strong film, it's quiet, subtle, low-key but really layered and thoughtful about parenting, class, family and the relationship dynamics therein and how they bounce and reflect each others' lives. The film was Brazil's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar last year and it was a deserving entry.
PAWN SACRIFICE (2015) Director: Edward Zwick
Once upon a time, the greatest chess player in the world was a young man who lives in America. He was renowned for often beating many of the best world champions at the same time. It was remarkable especially for his age, but soon after his fame rose, he suddenly spiraled into insanity before passing away broke and practically living on the streets, and raving like a maniacal homeless man. That guy's name was Paul Morphy, and he came to fame right before the American Civil War, "Pawn Sacrifice" is about the more well-known modern-day equivalent to the most haunting chess tragedy of the time the U.S. Grandmaster, Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire). For those who don't recall before computers mastered the game, chess was for centuries thought to be the greatest test of skill and intellectual superiority there was. I personally would argue poker probably has a better claim nowadays. That said, it became one of the major battlegrounds for the Cold War, as the Russians, back then, dominated the World Chess Rankings. It used to be the Top Ten in the world, were all on the Russian team, and that was not a coincidence, the Soviets believed the myth of chess dominance being paralleled to world dominance, and they put money and trained their players. For those who haven't heard of Bobby Fischer, most would probably rank him as the greatest American chess player. A child prodigy who outright obsessed over the game from youth, he was the son of a Russian immigrant Regina (Robin Weigert) who wasn't exactly stable as a parent, and he retreated within himself. It's hard to say whether Fischer was already long gone, or if it was chess that led to his more erratic behaviors. I bring up what Bobby Fischer became, because it haunts every aspect of the film. His handlers a former Grandmaster who retired to the priesthood Father Bill Lombardi (Peter Sarsgaard) and his lawyer/agent Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) are constantly trying to keep him in line and organize his actions and thoughts as much as possible, especially as he finally gets his wish, the infamous battle in Reyjavik with Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) the best of the Russians, and ergo the de facto best player in the world. This was one of the major sporting events of the era believe it or not. A Cold War standoff between the young brash, eccentric and possibly erratic Fischer and the quietly confident Russian Spassky. Those games are legendary, I myself used to study their games back when I was learning chess back in elementary school, particularly the famous Game Six that completely altered the series and the chess world. "Pawn Sacrifice" shows us this battle and the lead-up through the actions of the brilliant but unstable Fischer. It tries to recapture the moment and importance of the event on camera, and the paranoid psychosis of Fischer that led to his inevitable dropping out of the public eye, and before his passing a couple years ago, and one rematch with Spassky years later in Yugoslavia that more or less got him evicted from the U.S. for participating in an unsanctioned sporting event in a war-torn country we were supposed to be in, he most turned into, well, the modern-day Paul Morphy. "Pawn Sacrifice" is probably as good a film that could've been made that would've captured that. I'm not exactly standing in line to call it masterpiece, but it does a good job of documenting this important piece of history. It was directed by Edward Zwick interesting enough, because I often confuse him for Steven Zaillian, who wrote and directed the best movie about chess, that was also about a child prodigy and the struggles of being a natural genius at a game that most would take lifetimes trying to master. You should all look that film up, it's called "Searching for Bobby Fischer", and no, it's not about Fischer himself, it's referencing both the seeking him out after his long absence from the public life, but also, more hauntingly, the continued search for, well, the next Bobby Fischer, and whether or not that's a good thing or not.
ROBOCOP (2014) Director: Jose Padilha
I only saw the original film, very recently and mainly only because I knew I'd have to get around to watching this remake and I was pleasantly surprised by Paul Verhoeven's original film. It was goofy, and ached with cheese, but it was a pretty good sci-fi story that was told really well, and knew where the more comedic aspects of the premise were and still managed to balance a corporate satire, that wasn't entirely harrowed down to simply, "Corporations are bad". Although for the record, corporations are really lousy, but you know like anything else you get the right people running them and they can be beneficial, and you can even see how they're tactics, may actually not only be for the purposes of profit, they may occasionally actually want to help out the public and society at large. This "RoboCop", feels like it's doing that as well. I guess some of the reviews have picked up on how it's slightly more serious and darker, although I would probably say that the film in general just treated the situation more realistically. That's not surprising considering Jose Padhila, he's the Brazilian director most known for his "Elite Squad" movies, which, curiously seen the second one of, I've got to get around to the first one. Basically from what I remember of "Elite Squad: The Enemy Within", it was basically like, "City of God", but from the perspective of the cops, who were corrupt. "RoboCop", is not a little about that. Detroit has been, well, Detroit. Crime has overrun what's left of the city, and the cops are pretty much powerless to stop them. This has led to corporations, this one called, um, um, (Scouring pages in flip notebook), um, dammit, hold on a second. (PLEASE STAND BY, Musak version of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" begins to play a few seconds pass) OmniCorp, thank you Wikipedia. They specialize in drones, which due to something called the Dreyfus Act they aren't allowed quite yet to use to fight domestic crime, because, of the fallibility of robotic drones, and whatnot. So, the head of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellers, (Michael Keaton) wants to, figure out a way to combine the robotic crime-fighting technology with the best they can find out of human crime-stopping, and I guess you can figure out where this goes. This leads to Alex Murphy (Joel Kinneman) who basically gets killed in action, suddenly alive and surviving but now he's half-machine and is being trained to be, the ultimate crime fighting machine, with an ability to decipher right and wrong of a human, (Make your own joke about some of the recent headlines about cops killing African-Americans) much to the chagrin of his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and his kid David (John Paul Ruttan). Actually, the movie basically was and just a straight remake story-wise of the first film, only without much of the personality. I didn't hate it, but I have trouble finding a point for it to exist, except for perhaps Samuel L. Jackson's interludes where he plays a chorus-like character as a conservative news commentary show host, someone a la, a mix between Glenn Beck meets Chris Matthews, kinda, or at least Sam Jackson's interpretation of that kind of character. I thought about giving "RoboCop" a pass, but it's just another remake in a long line of remakes that's like an article people read in magazine in coffee shops that are like every coffee shops, that are forgotten right away, like the Goldfish being shocked by the Little Plastic Castle every time he happens to see it. (What did I just write? Okay, sorry, I didn't mean to slip into Ani DiFranco lyrics there, my apologies there.) Yeah, the first "RoboCop", made me look at Paul Verhoeven in a new light and convinced me that there was a place for an absurdist comedy mixed with sci-fi. while this one, eh, made me look at my watch while I waited for the beats that we're all expecting to come, to come. They did, they were done well, but yeah. It's okay for a pointless remake.
KNUCKLEBALL! (2012) Directors: Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
For those uninitiated with baseball, knuckleballs and knuckleball pitchers, are weird. Not just weird, they're rare. They're kinda like the barefoot placekickers of the baseball world, which shows you how weird they are since the NFL hasn't has a kicker do that in like 15 years, and that's stretching it. Knuckleballs are pitch with their fingernails, not their knuckles, if you ask me holding and throwing with knuckles is easier, and unlike most other pitches, not only are you not trying to throw the baseball as fast as you can, and place spin on the baseball so that the move in particular ways, a knuckleball is a pitch you typical don't throw as hard as possible, in fact you throw it as soft as possible much of the time, and there's absolutely no spin on the ball. And nobody, including the pitcher, or the catcher, knows where the hell the balls gonna go/end up. God help the hitters. It's actually kinda amazing more pitchers haven't tried to adapt a knuckleball, but most don't. In 2011, there was only two knuckleball pitchers in Major League Baseball, Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, the ageless wonder who was seeking his 200th career victory, as J.A. Adande the New York Mets starting pitcher who was barely still in baseball after struggling with years for most teams before adopting a second life when he adopted a knuckleball the year before. The movie "Knuckleball!" is, (shrugs) fun and harmless, a nice look at the history of the pitch and a protected but sincere look at the two pitchers and their struggles and triumphs during the 2011 baseball season, Wakefield last which meant and Adande's first as a team's #1 starter. It's a fluff piece, but it's there's no reason to bash it. Besides if there's ever a weird little anomaly subject in baseball that's worth discussing, further in a quirky little documentary, it's probably the knuckleball. It's hard to imagine a documentary on the ground-ruled double or anything like that, but the knuckleball, yeah, just strange and weird enough to make a film about.