Tuesday, September 6, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #123: "SON OF SAUL", "STEVE JOBS", "CINDERELLA (Branagh)", "WHERE TO INVADE NEXT", "IN THE HEART OF THE SEA", "THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER", "LEGEND (Helgeland)", "HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2", "AFTER THE DARK" and MORE!

Well, there's a lot going on this week, the Emmys are coming up and I have to stop being annoyed at the election long enough to make predictions; that's gonna be hard. Look, I don't know who or why Donald Trump is suddenly back in the race, but it's gotta fucking stop and stop now. Hillary, everyday you gotta beat down him down badly for every little thing he says. I live through eight years of Bush, and he will be worst; this has to stop now!

Anyway, I'll provide you full coverage and opinions on the Emmys, including a prediction list of all the major categories I can think of, including many of the ones that are presented at the Creative Arts Emmys. Those start in a few days, keep an eye on my Facebook and/or Twitter for predictions on those, and I'll have my predictions for the main show, the night before and coverage afterwards of the results, as always the best and most intensive Primetime Emmys coverage you can imagine.

In the meantime, a couple movies I watched but did not review this week, the first being "Coldwater" which was released in 2014 in the U.S., but didn't get around to reviewing. It's a noble-caused film about a troubled kid who's mother sends him to a for-profit boot camp for recovery. It's not really that interesting, basically a boring remake of other better prison movies like "Cool Hand Luke", or something, only with teenagers. The acting's done well, but it's such a slough to get through that it is barely worth mentioning I saw it at all. The other recent film I watched was "Girls in the Band", a documentary about some legendary jazz musicians, women who played in the Big Band eras. I didn't hate the movie but I thought it was more interesting as an album. The music was wonderful and it was great learning about some of these girls, but eh, the documentary itself was a bit tiresome to get through. Honestly, I had to keep waking myself up as I drifted off to the music. I don't know I like the movie in theory but maybe not in execution. The one movie I finally got around to was "Sixteen Candles". I'm not sure how I missed that one honestly; I think I was always so fond of "The Breakfast Club" that I didn't really relish of the idea of seeing another high school film from the '80s possibly ruin John Hughes for me. I guess part of me has always thought John Hughes was a bit of a fluke, but yeah, I gotta rethink that really, his films hold up. I was surprised how good "Sixteen Candles" was. It's not perfect by any means, but it's arguably his funniest film, and I like the conceit of this taking place over a couple days time, that was smart as well.

Anyway, not too much else going on, just preparing for the Emmys for when they'll take over this blog for a bit. Anyway, we've got a lot of films to get through, starting with the Oscar-winning, "Son of Saul", so let's get to it. It's this week's edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS!!!!!



SON OF SAUL (2015) Director: Laszlo Nemes

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I can't think of too many movies that are shot quite like "Son of Saul". The only one that I really think of is strangely the Dardenne Brothers film, "The Son (Le Fils)", that movie very closely and intently followed it's character, and as intently as he goes through an inner journey based on the surrounding circumstances of somebody from his past suddenly coming into his life. I'm stretching here too, but the shooting style was, close to the same, intense close-ups on our of main character, only occasionally it seems to we ever get a POV shot even of what he's looking at, we're usually instead graced with the just standing beside, intently on Saul's (Geza Rohrig) face, or his bak with the giant red X on his coat, or some other intense perspective. We're not following him per se, but we are as close to seeing everything that he's able to see-, no scratch that, we are essentially just seeing him, following whatever he sees. The movie takes place in 1944, in Auschwitz and Saul, a Jew has one of the worst, or luckiest positions in the camp. He's one of the ones the Germans have designated to live, at least for a little while longer than the rest, but he also is one of the main ones responsible for sending everybody else to the gas chamber. there's a frightfully haunting scene in the beginning where we see, after everybody hangs up their clothes and belongings, him collecting them all after the door is closed and the screams and wails can be heard on the other side. Heard, but not seen. The only other movie I can think of that dealt with that horrific aspect of the war was Tim Blake-Nelson's "The Grey Zone", a movie that unfortunately I haven't gotten around to watching quite yet, so I can't compare them. Anyway, he suddenly sees somebody come out of the chamber, dead of course, and he's supposed to be autopsied upstairs, but instead, Saul takes him and hides him, determined to bury him. As you may figure out by the title, this person, he's insistent on giving a proper burial, he believes to be his son. Is he? He may be, but I myself am not sure and can't be certain. His friends claim he didn't have a son, he claims he did with somebody not his wife. I doubt it matters, he believes him to be his son and that's what matters to him. The movie is thrilling from beginning to end, Gehrig's performance, basically is the movie to some extent and it's a subtle but determined performance that's quickly fascinating to watch. It was Laszlo Nemes debut feature and it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, first time in a while a Hungarian film has won and it's a deserving winner. It's one of the best WWII that's been out in a while, and definitely one of the most unique looks at the war, not only story-wise but more impressively, visually. I've seen some war movies recently try to depict war with this intense closeness to make you feel like you're not just following an actor, but are really in the middle of the battle, but none have been nearly this successful. Really looking forward to what Nemes does next.


STEVE JOBS (2015) Director: Danny Boyle

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I guess Aaron Sorkin is now just the go-to screenwriter for any biopic about people in the computer industry? (Shrugs) As long a he keeps writing, I don't really care what he writes about. Sorkin has always said that he basically "Writes people talking in rooms", which is true enough and he does it better than anybody else. Still though "Steve Jobs", probably exemplifies this more than most of his previous work, at least in film. Actually, I should backtrack, is this a biopic?

It's more like a three-act play that happened to be filmed. Of course, "Steve Jobs" is one of the most enigmatic modern American folk heroes I can imagine. They already tried to make one biopic about him recently, a complete wrong-headed disaster of a film called "Jobs" with Ashton Kutcher in the lead,(Kutcher wasn't the wrong-headed part, that movie would've failed no matter who was in that role) and that's not including god knows how many documentaries on him in recent years; I haven't even seen the Alex Gibney one yet. Actually, I've always argued that the underrated TV movie "Pirates of Silicon valley" which focused on the business friendship and rivalry between Jobs and Bill Gates, is probably one of the better versions out there of this story and even that one doesn't really get to the bottom of Steve Jobs; and whatever truth we find in trying to understand Steve Jobs's life, is, I assure you, it's not found within the lyrics of one of the thousands of songs in our pockets, or any other part of our iPods. I wouldn't know where to begin with a story about Steve Jobs (Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender), but this is probably the best approach, create, what I presume is an exaggerated if not fictional account of three moments in the life and time of Steve Jobs, all of them backstage, before he's about to go on and introduced something. The first third, is the infamous introduction of the Apple Mackintosh, the second, is his introduction of Next's Black Cube, and the third is the introduction of the iMac, tracing his course from his peak at Apple, to his firing from the Board, to them bringing him back after the failure of John Sculley's (Jeff Daniels) idea, the Newton. Each time behind these scenes, we get major players in Jobs's life coming in and out and he deals with each problem or problems, or doesn't. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) for instance, is annoyed that Jobs's won't ever give proper credit to the team that built the Apple II computer, which, even though it's been a bit rewritten in modern history, was way more successful than the Lisa and the Mackintosh, mainly because it wasn't so self-contained and had more options for additions and expansions, something that Jobs was curiously always a behind in. Remember, he was the last holdout on computers having a compact disc drive. (Which for me personally was always the reason I was a PC guy; and still am to be honest. I lied about having an iPod before, I don't own one and never have.) Speaking of Lisa (Makenzie Moss, age 5, Ripley Sobo, age 9, and Perla Haney-Jardine, age 19) she shows up behind the scenes, twice along with her mother Chrissann (Katherine Waterston). Maybe the most paradoxical behavior of Steve Jobs, involves Lisa, his daughter, who he denied was his daughter for years, even after curiously naming one of his first major computers after her. Chrisann is a piece of work in her own right, but his denial never made any sense, and it seems he keeps giving in to whatever guilt-ridden demands Chrisann asks anyway, in terms of cash. This is the most interesting way I've seen someone confront these characters in Jobs's life. John Sculley was Apple's CEO, formerly with Pepsi, (Although if I was pressured, I thought he was with Coke, but maybe I was wrong) Jobs got him on board early and then, when the company was going under, he's the one that got the Board to vote him out years later, which he considered a betrayal. Woz of course, has a free pass for life, he always mentions. Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of his best and closest technicians, seems to always be on the verge of either getting fired or applauded for whatever he does. All this, supposedly in run through his marketing executive, Joanna Hoffman (Oscar nominee Kate Winslet), who's interestingly the one character that I don't know much about going in. Had I not known she was a real person, I could've and would've presumed that Sorkin had made her up; if you just listen to her dialogue and looked up to see who's playing her, you could've easily mistaken her for Allison Janney, reprising her C.J. Cregg part. That's not to demean Winslet, who's giving one of the greatest performances in her career here. Everybody is actually, this is some of the best ensemble acting you'll ever see, and considering this is came from a year that had "Spotlight", "The Big Short", "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", "Straight Outta Compton", "Chi-Raq" and about a dozen other great all-star cast-filled films, that's saying something. "Steve Jobs" might actually top all those films too. Danny Boyle's directing, is ironically the weakest part, which makes sense; Boyle's one of the most kinetic directors around, and Sorkin, keeps his characters in the same small space for three forty-minute spurts. He and editor Elliot Graham do what they can, and they succeed at times, with some interesting, almost theatrical techniques, like suddenly showing images of things that are being talked about on the literal walls of the hallway and background, almost like a way a film or an animated lighting change can reflect a person's thoughts on stage. Is there any conclusion or help us to understand or think about Steve Jobs differently from this film? I don't know, but I don't think that was the idea. The idea, was much more difficult, find a way to see the world through Steve Jobs eyes, or harder yet, inside his mind. There's a scene that hints this, late in the movie where Steve Jobs realizes something about a Time Magazine cover that he never noticed before. It doesn't change much or even mean anything on the surface, but he missed it, and he can't understand why or how. Steve Jobs, missed a lot of things in his life, that were probably right in front of his eyes, 'cause he was thinking of things that nobody else could see until he made them.


CINDERELLA (2015) Director: Kenneth Branagh

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Maybe I'm just on Cinderella overload. I feel like this is tenth different re-imagining or remark or new version of the story I've seen in like, I don't know the last three or four years or so. Maybe that's just because every story romance about a Prince and Princess feels like a remake about "Cinderella"; I certainly don't feel like any of them have been remakes of "Roman Holiday"...- why, we did we stop remaking that one; I used to complain they were all "Roman Holiday rip-offs...- never mind, not important. And I guess the main question that gets begged by this is, well, is "Cinderella" actually any good as a story? (Shrugs) I guess so, yes, but, this film isn't. And this one is actually kind of an easy call once you think about it, 'cause it's a direct remake of the most famous film version, Walt Disney's famous one, the one all "Cinderella" stories are measured against, which is a little bit unfortunate because I have that to directly compare it too, but I don't know if I would've recommended this one anyway. The first thing I recognize that the original version did something many of these new versions don't and they really should, and that's, completely skip over the backstory. Yeah, we meet Ella (Lily James), and yes, Ella is her actual name that aspect of her becoming Cinderella because she got cinder marks from sleeping next to the fire is in the original version of the story, begins with her being happy with her father and mother. (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell) and then proceeds to see them both die one-by-one and suddenly Cinderella is basically a maid to her Evil Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her two wicked Stepsisters Anastasia and Drisella (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger, and I do like that they're both wicked and despicable this time, instead of the recent trend of having one of them have some kind of humanity) who's only friends are the mice, including Gus-Gus. Yes, the mice are back in this one, but they don't really have the influence they used to, in this one, they, for all intensive purposes are just, mice who don't talk but magically know to befriend Cinderella for some reason. (Scratches head) Anyway, so we have two twists to the original that don't work, one that actually does work pretty well is the Prince (Richard Madden). We see him beforehand, and we see him and Ella meet beforehand, and also the relationship between him, the King (Derek Jacobi) who is dying, which explains why they're so rushed for him to get married, and why the Prince has the bright idea to have a ball for all eligible maidens, (Although he's hoping Cinderella will attend.)  This is all actually a decent improvement, including one aspects between the Grand Duke and the Stepmother that I really like, 'cause that's a little twist that I do think improves the story quite a bit, and justifies why the Stepmother would lock Ella in her attic, where, the mice have to get her out. Why does that seem more plausible in the original than it did here? There's some good twists and additions to this "Cinderella", and Kenneth Branagh does a decent job directing, especially for the ballroom scenes in the palace, the production is magnificent, the costumes um, what the-, that first costume the Stepmother wears, is, um, wait.... (Staring long at the film)-, okay Michelle Lesniak Franklin you should sue, 'cause that is a blatant rip-off of the outfit you made that won the textile challenge in Season 11 of "Project Runway", I can't believe nobody else caught that, shame on you Sandy Powell. Uh, other than that, they're fine, but I don't think they're as special as some think. In the end, I found myself having more respect for the original Disney film than I ever had before, which is kinda interesting I never really liked that film all that much. Not sure why it never really appealed to me, although I imagine my mother nicknaming me "CinderDavid" when I had a list of chores to do, didn't help. Is this a good "Cinderella" story, well considering all the other I've seen lately, no, it isn't. The main character is boring, and not as interesting as she seems, the insistent focus on spending half an hour on how she ended up like this, god, that's the worst idea of what to do with this story is start in the beginning and then don't go forward, and really, Branagh's a weird choice for this film. He's great with Shakespeare, but this fairy tale is, yeah, I don't get it honestly. I think, uh, "Henry V" when I think of him, not the themes of "Cinderella", he can make something grandiose but most of the story is specifically not. There's a twist or two to "Cinderella" that I think can be done well and be interesting, a few films even pulled it off, "Into the Woods", "Frozen" to some extent, even "Shrek", even "Ever After..." which, admittedly I'm not even that big on as others either, but it's certainly a more interesting and better version than this one. Look, I'm being a bit mean, it's some good parts and there's nothing horrendously awful or incorrect or terrible about "Cinderella", but in a saturated market for "Cinderella" stories, I can't think of a good reason why one should watch this one.


WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015) Director: Michael Moore

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I seriously wondered whether or not Michael Moore would ever make another movie again after his last film, "Capitalism: A Love Story". It actually concerned me, 'cause after years of bouncing around the subject, now that he had, essentially just declared that the whole system itself was the problem and had to be held accountable...,, well, after that,  what was there for him to make a movie about? It's not like the country hasn't been problematic or that there's anything to be critical of, in fact Michael Moore has at times been one of Obama's biggest critics on the left during these last few years, but he wasn't gonna make anti-Obama movie, he actually did the best he could with most of the subjects Moore's attacked in the past, health care, Wall Street, even the NRA, sure his success rate was 1 out of 3 there, but it clearly wasn't his fault that he failed at defeating the Republican gerrymandered Congress. (Not primarily his fault anyway.) But still, I might see a remark or an essay or article he'd write every now and then, but I'd check in on his IMDB.com page and there wouldn't be anything in any form of production going on. (Maybe there was on IMDBPro for all I know, but I can't afford to pay for that at the moment but I highly recommend it if you're in serious and in the Hollywood business.) Then suddenly out of nowhere, we got "Where to Invade Next", and where did Michael Moore go with his next movie? Well, to other countries. (Shrugs) Yeah, that's about the only place I would think he could go too.

I've never understood most of the criticism of Michael Moore, and I'm not expressly talking about the political ones, like the ones about how "He's bias" or "He's manipulating the images and facts", well, A. all documentaries are bias and images are manipulated, that's called filmmaking, so fuck those critics, and facts-wise I've really seen something really inaccurate. Or "He doesn't even live in Flint, Michigan", well, God after the way he shows the place off, I wouldn't either, seems to like a shitty place to live, and now I hear there's no drinking water there, of course I'd move. "He's gone commercial and he's not the same since he sold out?" That one I really don't understand at all. He's evolved, yes, gotten richer, but sold out? To what, to who did he sell out too, the public who watch his films. Definitely not the corporations or the right-wing, so I-eh..., he got rich because he made movies, that's selling out? Yeah I-, no, there's nothing selling out about him as far as I can tell. "He's just doing it for the money?" Making documentary films, uh, no they don't, they really don't, that particular complaint is so obnoxious and wrong-headed, I don't even know where to start on that one. "He just some egomaniac guy who needs to be in the public eye?  I mean, you can see it in his movies how he's evolved as a filmmaker and person, that's actually fascinating to me, one of his best aspects, and in terms of needing to be in the public eye, he just six years not making anything and barely being mentioned so, that's not it, that's the longest he's ever taken a break from the public eye, and even still, so what? I don't get the criticism, you want him to be Terrence Malick and never get a photo of him and not show up at award shows, what do you want? He's a public figure who's got an interesting perspective and opinion to express in a creative way and he expresses it.

Don't get me wrong, he's not a perfect filmmaker, "The Big One", (Which was his anti-Clinton movie essentially, so he's more-than-willing to go after the left) is kind of an forgettable film, and his failed attempt at a regular film, "Canadian Bacon" is kinda hard to defend or sit through more than once. "Fahrenheit 9/11" also isn't as repeatable to watch as some of his other films, although that film is great, but yeah, there wasn't much left. He did a bit of globe-hopping before for "Sicko", and there's a bit about healthcare here, but the conceit of this movie is that, he's representing the Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces, seriously, (Or rather satirically I guess) and after bringing home all the troops and giving them a break, he's going alone to go and invade other countries so that he can find the good things in the country to bring them home to America. It's definitely hearkening back to his more "Roger & Me" style humor and antics, but really that's not a bad film idea. And it's not like there weren't some great places to go. I knew about a few of these, for instance I figured he would go to Norway and show the prison system there, especially after seeing a glimpse of that on the special features for "Sicko", but I shocked at Finland's amazing school system. Not that their education was better but the practices they were using. Shorter school days, fewer school hours, no homework! (I know it sounds like I'm excited by that, but I actually like homework) No multiple choice tests! Teaching that's geared towards the students and their anti-Standardized Tests stance I wasn't surprised at, and I do agree with them on that, but yeah, that really through me. Illegal for school to charge a tuition. Free college in Slovenia, drug use, legal in Portugal, the vacation time in Italy, Tunisia didn't surprise me, although the thing he found there did, the free healthcare for all women's service. Yeah, their version of Planned Parenthood, not only is free for all, after the Democratic Revolution, the one that started the Arab Revolution a few years back that began when Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor who had his scale taken away from him by a corrupt government official set himself on fire in protest (That's a story and a man that needs to be brought up whenever possible), when the new leaders tried to ban the clinics, the women fought back and not only got the clinics to stay, most of the opposition political leaders resigned. Iceland also didn't surprise me, they're the one country that got rid of the bankers after the recession, and placed them in jail, I was a little surprised by the gender equality laws in the country they felt were a major part of that. It does seem, kismit, I guess that's the word that the one bank that didn't fail and was able to pay off all that they owed to their employees and customers, was run by women CEOs; it is the first country that to name a female President. Of course, the irony is that all these ideas the countries claim, are essentially ideas that started in America, well, most of them at least (I don't think Portugal was that influenced by much of our drug policy at any point during our history that I can think of). Moore claims that not one location shot in the movie was shot in America, I buy that. The last scene is one where he returned to Germany, where there's reminders at every street about the Holocaust, in a way, let's say slavery or the genocide of Native American is not done here, him and a friend, who happened to be there when, a few people with hammers and chisels started, taking down the Berlin Wall, there's surprisingly U.S. optimism that, yeah, we let these things get away from us, but we still have done plenty and suddenly, anything could happen. One day, there was a wall that would never come down, then, a few days, of hammering and chiseling, suddenly it was gone. (Fill in your Trump joke, but yeah, the timeliness of that metaphor, damn.) I've always said that the best way to look at Michael Moore's work is first to look at it as a filmed essay, then secondly, through the personal perspective of his own journey and realizations of the world, and maybe it's not his best essay, but that's okay, it's still a damn good one. It's a bit erratic and messy but I tend to prefer his films when they're that way and not just argumentative pieces that are simply anti-this person or that person or this idea, when he knows the problem and the solution, it's not as interesting to me as when he's searching and trying to gather facts and finding the answers for himself and he's still unsure and overwhelmed and shocked. Usually when he's like that, such as "Bowling for Columbine" or "Capitalism: A Love Story", he's searching for someone or something to blame for the problem, but in "Where to Invade Next", he's searching for ways to make the world better. Whatever criticisms of Michael Moore you can make, I damn sure can't condemn him for trying to do that.


IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015) Director: Ron Howard

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A young man walks into a hotel, asking to speak to one of the owners, he says, "Call me, Herman Melville, I'm here to speak to your husband, he's the last survivor of a ship that went down, and I want to interview him for research for my novel." Okay, he didn't actually say that in those words, but, still, okay, Movie, you've got my attention. Forgive me, I've never actually gotten around to reading "Moby Dick", but I think I'm familiar enough with the story to follow "In the Heart of the Sea", I had a professor who always brought up that, "Moby Dick", "Madame Bovary" and I believe "Crime & Punishment", don't quote me on the last one, were significant for being the only novels that worked on every level of conflict. Let's see, "Man vs. Men", "Man vs. Nature", "Man vs. Society", and "Man vs. Self", and I'm fairly certain I'm missing one more, but yeah, I guess you can make that case. I think that was what it was, it was the fact those novels got all of something in that no other, I don't remember it exactly. (Where's Mr. Akers when I need him.) And I saw, what I guess is the most famous filmed version of the story, the John Huston directed one with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Um, I don't really recommend it, it's not that good, outside of an Orson Welles cameo in the beginning. I'm not exactly sure "Moby Dick" would make that interesting a film actually,;I don't believe anybody really thinks that one version is a definitive version as far as I can tell, so this is probably a better idea, to look into what actually inspired Melville (Ben Whishaw) So, that's the setup, Melville gets told the story of the Essex from the reluctant narrator Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson in present time, Tom Holland in the past) So, what' the story of the Essex. Well, it was a whaling ship back when that was the dominant industry in the New England region, particularly Nantucket and it sank in the Pacific Ocean, where the went after having some rough luck filling up enough barrels of oil. Although there's a really surreal scene of how they do that where Young Tom, actually climbs into the whale through the blowhole to find the oil, ugh! Anyway, the ship's first mate was a veteran seaman named Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) who was promised to Captain the ship, but was given to a younger more privileged sailor George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and they butt heads at first, but they eventually come to working arrangement, but after the pour idea to go out near the Equator where the whales were prevalent, they didn't heed warning of the great white whale that eventually sank the Essex and the survivors, what few there were spent months on the Ocean, struggling to ration and survive, even resulting in cannibalism at their most dire. I think I've heard this story before, but... well, it's okay here. It's interesting enough to recommend as just an adventure film, but yeah, there's little emotional appeal to the movie. And there's one complaint I don't normally make, but I didn't care for most of the special effects. That's not something I usually pick about, but there were times when I can very easily tell when I was looking at a green screen and when I wasn't for instance, and that took me out of the movie. I wouldn't normally be so bothered by that, but in recent years since "Titanic", we've had "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World", "Kon-Tiki", "Life of Pi", some amazing visual feast of movies that have taken place on ships traveling the Ocean and never in any of them did I feel like I was watching special effects. Still, I'm recommending it, 'cause it's an interesting story; I think they were aiming for a classically-styled film, something like a "The Man Who Would Be King" type story here, it didn't really pan out, but I was intrigued enough and entertained. This is certainly not an essential film in Ron Howard's filmography, but he knows how to make a blockbuster interesting enough and he does that here. And I gotta give him props for attempting something even tangentially related to "Moby Dick", that story just seems doomed to never be great on film, so considering all that, I'm giving the film a pass.


THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER (2015) Director: Chad Garcia

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I do hate to say this about "The Russian Woodpecker" because I'm not overly familiar with all of the details, about Chernobyl, but, this movie, the more thought about it, the more I felt like this was, not so much a factual or investigatory look at Chernobyl, but moreso, it seemed like conspiracy theory run amuck and without any of the circumstantial evidence and charm and case-building that something like "JFK" had. So, (long pause), um,- damn, how the hell do I get into this movie? Um,... okay, let's start with Ukraine. For those who haven't paying attention, um, there's a lot of shit going on there right now. I'm not gonna pretend I know every little nuance about this, but Russia and the Ukraine have had a long history of tension between, ever since they were apart of the U.S.S.R., and lately that's escalated into protest and war, revolution to a certain extent. I'm not sure where it stands right now, but things have been fucked up and screwy in Ukraine since they declared their independence, in 1991, not counting the two weird times they were independent nations during both world wars. In terms of countries historically cursed by geography, I wouldn't exactly say their Poland or Israel or anything, but you can make a case that they're probably below them, in the rankings. Now, before they had their longest run of Independence, they were most famous, for Chernobyl. (Sigh) Okay, you guys know nuclear power plants are supposedly dangerous? Um, they are, and in 1986, we found that out the hard way. To this day, there's a protective area known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Area, where the radiation levels are still somewhat dangerous to be around, and that area is about the size of Luxembourg is still off limits and nobody's allowed in still, although I think it's finally starting to let some in under certain circumstances, I remember seeing a documentary about the area. Anyway, the movie look both at the history of Ukraine before, after and current goings-on with the country and tries to link the possibility that Russia purposefully caused the explosion at Chernobyl to hide some of the other things they were doing, mostly involving Ukraine's radiowave frequency, which was nicknamed "The Russian Woodpecker" because of it's (knocking quickly on desk) sound it caused. To his credit, it's possible, but we don't know; we can't get into Chernobyl to see any evidence has survived, but he does seem to have a bunch of talking heads who thinks this is a possibility. I wouldn't put it past the Soviet Union, but yeah, this is a bit too far-fetched for me, and the movie, didn't provide a lot of exacting evidence. I mean, I tried but, this movie, just didn't lead anywhere. It's got some great footage of the events and even the film's cinematographer was actually shot during the Euromaiden Protests and they show that, and yeah, you can argue that Chernobyl is one link in long, complex, fragile "relationship" between Ukraine and Russia, but there's better movies about the protests, and the evidence is lacking. It's all theory, and maybe it's true, but even worst than that, the film is not convincing in it's hypothetical. The circumstantial evidence doesn't add up to me, not even slightly. So, I don't know what to do here, but if it's not adding up, then, I think I gotta pan this, for now, and maybe someday I'll be proven wrong, that Chernobyl was a diversion to hide all the other atrocities Russia committed against the Ukrainians. Yeah, that's one Exclusion Zone-sized leap too many for me.


LEGEND (2015) Director: Brian Helgeland

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So, "Legend", on top of being a really stupid and generic title for this film, (Seriously "Legend", you have an Oscar for writing Brian Helgeland, try harder! "The Brother Kray" maybe? And don't say it was because the book was titled "Legend", the most obvious comparison film to your, which I'll talk about in a second, had it's script written by the book's writer and that film's title was different than the book.) is basically, "British Goodfellas". Okay, so Tom Hardy is playing both the Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci role, but yeah, it's basically "Goodfellas". including the main character, Reggie (Hardy) getting a girlfriend who gives her own narration about the events, and even a scene where he takes her through the back entrance of the club that owns and runs that's full of celebrities and mobsters. Yeah, it's "Goodfellas". The movie is centered around two mobsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Hardy, in a duel performance), who are twins and basically ran the London mob scene during the '60s. Both were criminal, Reggie was legitimate however, running business and nightclubs, smiling for the cops he paid off and runs the town, and is deeply in love with his wife Frances (Emily Browning). Ronnie is insane, literally, they threaten the psychiatrists to let him out, and at best, he's used for muscle, 'cause he'll kill everyone who threatens him or the Krays, and he does. Together, they worked well together, but separately, Ronnie is a psychopath who shouldn't be out in public. When Reggie goes to jail for some smaller crimes, Reggie runs the club into the ground. He doesn't like the glitz and glamour and dealing with the Meyer Lansky types overseas that Reggie likes, and Ronnie wants being a gangster to, basically be, a perpetual terrorizing presence, and of course, this will lead to inevitable disaster, although they do become "Legends". Okay. (Shrugs) Hardy is incredibly good in the duel role, and it's not a complete gimmick since he's playing identical twins; the movie is basically another excuse to show off his incredibly skills. That said, I might argue that both roles are slightly over-the-top both ways, but they're both great characters and performances. And it's "Goodfellas" it's astealing from a good movie, so "Legend" isn't too bad. Is it anything special? Eh, maybe, I was entertained for most of the beginning of the film, but once it became clear what the story was going to be, I felt mostly that I was waiting for the inevitable. I guess most gangster films are like that, but still; I get the sense that this is one of those movie people are gonna really over-brag the film, mainly because it's focus is on two brothers, That's how I feel when somebody tells me how great "Warrior" was, which was a decent film also, but not exactly anything that we hadn't seen in dozens of other sports films before, except for the fact that it was about MMA. I'd say that this is like every other gangster movie, except for the double casting, and because it's British, but there's way more British gangster movies than ever. (Too many of them in my mind, too many bad ones at that, thanks for that Guy Ritchie). Still, though, there's a lot good here to recommend. And at least, unlike most of those British gangster films I can think of, this one is a historical period piece; most of them just seem like weird excuses for funny characters, accents and half-assed heist plots, they never seem like they ever could actually exist. You don't have that excuse here. Maybe "Legend" is the British "Goodfellas", but that's a damn good thing to be.


HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (2015) Director: Steve Pink

✰✰



So, this film happened. Yeah. I forgot I watched it last week, didn't think it came out in 2015, so I was thinking of skipping a review, until I looked it up. It came out in 2015, after having it's 2014 release date pushed back, so as not to coincide with "The Interview", 'cause, apparently we couldn't have two lousy forgettable comedies in theaters at the same time all of a sudden. Or didn't want to get swept up in that controversy, whatever. So "Hot Tub Time Machine 2". Is it good? No. It is funny? It's got a moment or two, sure. Is it worth watching? (Slight chuckle) How about "Was it worth making?" that's the question. The original "Hot Tub Time Machine" was stupid, but it was kinda fun enough to recommend, even though all it really did was play around with the same time travelling ideas and concepts that everyone else has before. I'll give them credit for coming up with a new, different time travelling vehicle, but yeah, I didn't really think I needed another of these. This time, after the success they've gotten, they head into the future, because they have to go and change the past, or-, I don't know, I wasn't enough attention to care honestly. It's nothing we haven't seen in any other time travelling sequel. There's a few ideas, like a future reality game show that's a little too extreme, and there's a funny cameo from Lisa Loeb, who's not famous in this version because Nick (Craig Robinson) has become successful stealing songs from the future and whatnot. I guess there was potential here, if they actually wanted to be interesting, perhaps something akin to "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey", also a sequel to a time travelling comedy, but that one had it's heart in it's right place, was actually funnier than the first film, which was pretty funny to begin with, and really, genuinely found funny uses for the time travel and expanded upon the original, and told an original story come to think of it, that had nothing to do with any of the events that happened in the first. The "Bill & Ted" films are seriously, underrated. Why isn't "...Bogus Journey" the standard for comedy sequels again? (Shrugs) "Hot Tub Time Machine" had that kind of potential, but, yeah, it didn't exactly take advantage of it's potential.


AFTER THE DARK (2014) Director: John Huddles

✰✰1/2



So, I liked school. I liked going to school, I liked learning, I liked participating, I liked tests, I didn't care much for group projects, or for that matter, science fair type displays and crap, and I certainly didn't care much for the other students; they were the worst, but I liked most of my teachers, hell I even liked homework. Okay, not all homework obviously, but still, I might've been a bit weird in my time, but it was fun and enjoyable for the most, especially in college, when the students stop being annoying assholes and were also there intent on learning, I really enjoyed it. Still though, this philosophy class, the one "After the Dark", for the most part takes place in...- you know, this always sounds like a good idea in theory, have a movie take place mostly over a class period, but come to think of it, I can't think of too many successful examples of this playing out. I can think of a few movies that kinda pull, being about a class, but not take place, entirely over a classroom session. "The Wave" the '08 German film about a dictatorship class that goes a little too far, but when I think of films that take place in a classroom, where we have student(s) and teacher fighting squaring off, I mostly think of... um, well, (Sigh) "God's Not Dead". Yea-ah, it doesn't help that people that use this formula, really have no fucking idea how to use it correctly, or know what the hell actually happens in a philosophy class. True story, my first semester at college, I took a Modern Philosophy class, for the most part it was fun, but it was really, just a trainwreck of a class. I don't know why, but very uniquely my generation, is really where, logic and common sense took over, and basically the prepared books and materials, many of which I still have a copy of somewhere, like works by Stephen Jay Gould or a collection of scientific articles debunking Creation, they just, suddenly weren't relevant in the class, because, everybody pretty much agreed on the scientists', because, you know, they had facts on their side. Apparently, that was a huge shift from before, like even a year or two earlier, that was a like a huge battle in such classes, but, I don't know, maybe it's a my generation thing, (Although it shouldn't be) but we had no tolerance for a faith-based point-of-view. I honestly don't even remember what the rest of the class ended up being; I think we debated movies more than anything, at least that's how I remembered it. So, "After the Dark", takes place entirely on the last day of a philosophy class run by Mr. Zimit (James D'Arcy), in an American college, in, Jakarta, Indonesia, for some reason. (Shrugs) I-eh, I have no idea why the filmmakers picked there; the location doesn't matter, 'cause the whole movie, is basically making the class replay in their minds, and onscreen, 'cause we see all three hypotheticals in action. The hypothetical. There's 20 in the class, and each student is given some traits and a character. It's the apocalypse, and there's a bunker that's got enough for supplies for ten people to survive for a year, so the class must select which ten in the class should go, including the teacher who's always playing a wild card in this experiment, because he's an asshole. Well-, no, he's just being an asshole, we learn how big an asshole at the end. Anyway, this idea is interesting, but it leads nowhere. It's not accurate to as many philosophical classes as I believe the filmmakers actually believe and it doesn't exactly solve or ask as many actual philosophical questions as it thinks it does. I can see why this movie would be interesting to some, philosophically class, an experiment involving doomsday and teenagers, there's more of those than their probably should be (And few of them are any good), it seems to favor ideas over action, there's a lot here, but it's all window dressing. And the twist at the end, which, I'm not gonna give away, but why? I mean, make the teacher more of an arrogant dick, really? I don't get it. This is a movie that seems like it has a lot of ideas and then, the farther away you get from it, upon closer inspection has surprisingly little.


KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (1985) Director: Hector Babenca

✰✰✰✰



I don't suspect I'll have too many opportunities in the immediate future to talk about Hector Babenco, so since I finally got around to "Kiss of the Spider Woman", Babenca is one of Brazil's greatest directors, and he's still making movies with his newest "My Hindu Friend". After his masterpiece, "Pixote: The Law of the Weakest", which I consider one of the best movies of the 1980s, he started to make movies in America for awhile, most notably "Ironweed", as "Kiss of the Spider Woman", which also won an Oscar for William Hurt for Best Actor. Hurt's a bit of an interesting actor to me, especially in the '80s, there was often a joke that his characters were often somewhat emasculated, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively in his films. "The Big Chill", he's a Vietnam vet who's injuries left him impotent, "Body Heat," he's manipulated by a femme fatale "Broadcast News", he's a great on-camera anchorman although not much of a reporter, and his talent is faking being genuine, "Children of a Lesser God", he's a sensitive teacher teacher to a school for the deaf. Eh, maybe throw "The Accidental Tourist" in there too I guess, plays a travel writer who writes for people who hate to travel, his character's logo is literally him sitting in an armchair while he takes off. And Geena Davis pushes him around enough to get her an Oscar. (Okay, that's mean, she actually deserved that Oscar) I still suspect that's part of the reason that he got that Oscar nomination for those four minutes of screen time in "A History of Violence" is that, that one of the first time anybody saw him convincingly in a masculine role. Here, he plays a homosexual prisoner, Luis Molina, I think in Brazil, although the country isn't particularly clear, and he shares a cell with a political prisoner, Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia) who's very much his opposite. As people they're opposites, as political entities they're opposites, as tastes go, they're really opposite. Valentin is constantly beaten and berated as the warden tries to get stuff out of him, to turn on his fellow revolutionaries. Luis, who's in prison on a sexual molestation charge, is very feminine and he tries to relive and tell Luis some of his favorite old movies. One of them is strangely this Nazi propaganda romance thriller, that he adores, even though the politics are horrendous, but he's in love with the love story. On the stories he tells is what gets the films this title. He retreats into fantasy to distract from reality, while Luis doesn't see the point. That said, they become friends, maybe more. There's homosexual undertones but it's a friendship more than anything. There's also more going on than meets the eye with both of these two, which I also liked a lot. "Kiss of the Spider Woman" isn't the easiest to watch, although Babenca has never been easy to watch, "Pixote..." is the toughest films any important cinephile will one day have to get themselves through even though it's totally worth it. That said, this is about as light as he goes. It's a subtle film as well, with layers of the story of both men only revealed slowly. "Kiss of the Spider Woman" feels like, and I guess it is, one of those really wonderful old movies that can succeed at getting you emotionally involved in it's characters. It's not exactly the greatest plot or story or anything, but that helps it, 'cause these are two great characters we both care about what happens and how they change in the end. That's not always a strength of Babenca who often looks for telling an overall look at a world we haven't seen before, but he doesn't forget that part of it too much. (And when he does like in "Carandiru", he simply expands the story in television form and turns it into a Brazilian series) There's a lot of miniseries remakes of great films recently, this is one that can easily be done Hollywood, if you're interested, and it would still be pretty great.




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