Friday, February 3, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #130: "FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS", "CAPTAIN FANTASTIC", "LIFE, ANIMATED", "ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS", "THE MERMAID", "THE MEDDLER", "COMING HOME", "ADVANTAGEOUS", "MISS YOU ALREADY", "MACBETH (Kurzel)", "INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS", "STEVE McQUEEN: THE MAN & LE MANS", "THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ" and "ALEX OF VENICE"!

You know, I used to really want to think about some interesting things to comment on and say during the openings to my movie reviews blogs. maybe comment on the rest of the world for a moment, entertainment or otherwise or just, mention something that's going on, that's tickling me. Just, sort of a mini state of the blog/me/entertainment world address, kinda thing. Maybe something funny, maybe something serious, outlandish, or just a fleeting thought to send out into the ether, that's slightly longer than a tweet, but not long enough for more than a paragraph. Nowadays, I don't feel like doing that much anymore. Mainly 'cause I've said quite a great deal of what I wanted to say already, and mostly because if I did pontificate on some of the goings on, there's a decent chance this'll just turn into me, writing a new version of The Federalists Papers, so, I think it's a bad ideas to do that. Anyway, things are, about as fine as they could possibly be at the moment.

Other than that, I did watch a couple older movies that I didn't get to review. I wish I did have more time to review older films like I used to, but I'm finding that's happening less and less often at the moment. Anyway, "Salvo" is a pretty good Italian movie, from a couple years ago. It's about a hitman who befriends and essentially holds prisoner, or sanctuary depending on perspective the blind sister after murdering one of his boss's rivals, she was in the house at the time, and he's supposed to kill her too, but he things get complicated from there. It's an interesting premise, and I was pretty entertained with it; it went places I didn't expect it to go. I also watched "The Innocents", not the one I reviewed last time, the 1961 horror movie with Deborah Kerr who's a governess for a couple kids in a spooky haunted house, with some truly terrifying kids. This was quite a good, classic horror. I guess this was when that trend of frightening kids started, like with "The Bad Seed" even before this. It's based on a Henry James novel and the screenplay was co-written by Truman Capote, so a lot of good interesting people involved in the film.Worth looking up, especially if love really classic spooky horror films.

Alright, it's early in the morning and I need to go to bed soon. Let's get to it, here's the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with the Oscar-nominated features, "Florence Foster Jenkins", "Captain Fantastic" and "Life, Animated"!


FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016) Director: Stephen Frears

★★★★



Stephen Frears's latest, "Florence Foster Jenkins" is the true story about supposedly the world's worst singer, an aging, dying, aristocrat, and legendary opera patron, who managed to somehow play Carnegie Hall, unaware of how inept a performer she was, before her sudden passing. Now, if you're me, you're probably going, "Wait, haven't I seen this film, before, and recently?" And yes, I have. Through a stroke of parallel thinking, there was another feature film, a French film called "Marguerite" that was also about Ms. Jenkins, from director Xavier Giannoli, and it took a more wry and darkly comic approach to the movie. It was, okay, but I vastly prefer this one. It's more fun, and takes a more caring comedic approach. Frears's the one of the directing world's great chameleon's able to switch genres and stories at whim, making vastly different and good movies, with subjects almost at random, but the common theme is that, whatever his subject, he gives a touching and loving towards his characters, even in, what is essentially a broad comedy with one joke like this film. Mrs. Jenkins (Oscar-nominee Meryl Streep) plays Mrs. Jenkins, who runs often holds private recitals of her "performances" for members of her organization, "The Verdi Club",a private Opera aficionado organization in New York. In the film,she performs, but doesn't sing, originally, but is taking "lessons", from people, who say she's exquisite, thanks to a hand from her husband, an actor and caretaker, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who goes to great lengths to help out with Florence's delusion. He hires a talented young pianist, Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) who, is essential our entrant into this world as he discovers as we do, the ways in which the allusion is kept up. He pays the patrons who buy tickets, he bribes the critics, he makes sure she's taken off to bed quickly and that those who aren't in on the charade are quietly, or as quietly as they can be escorted out. Honestly, this is one of Hugh Grant's great performances, and should be a revelation to those critics of him who may claim he's always playing the same character. Yes, there's a few of his charms and quirks, but here's a character who's basic simple goal is to take care of his sick wife, and he does it, and does it well. Even though he has a separate apartment, and a live-in girlfriend, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson). She's aware, she pays for the apartment in fact, and she is sick, suffering for years from syphilis from her first husband. Before that, she was a classically-trained pianist, even as a little girl, she even played for the President, she confined to Cosme one day. Kind of a secondary joke in the casting, is that Meryl Streep, some insiders might know, is actually, an opera singer, first, who then became an actress, so her portraying a bad singer is delightfully awkward and funny. She does get one moment to shine, showing that, yes, she can in fact sing. The whole movie, while occasionally tough to watch, is quite delightful, and incredibly well-cast and well-acted by everyone. There's one role played by Nina Arianda as a showgirl wife of one of the Verdi Club members' that's not much of a part, but is honestly one of my favorite characters I've seen this year. There should be a part like hers in every movie. Also, Christian McKay plays a pretty good New York Post critic, Earl Wilson, who isn't bought and is the one that writes the most scathing article about the performance. It's a bit of a touchy dance on the tightrope this film, trying to balance between where and whether to be funny and whether to be touching, I don't know it's entirely successful, but I think it's successful enough. It really does make you look at this action, from all sides, and whether or not it's a good idea to do something misleading and, essentially bad, for someone you really love. so that they can achieve their dream, or is it worst to deceive them, into thinking they can do something that they really shouldn't? I understood both sides of the argument in this film, and that's what makes it a strong film.


CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016) Director: Matt Ross

★★★1/2



(Waking up, yawning)

Alright, what am I reviewing?

(Gets handed Netflix jacket)

"Captain Fantastic", (Sigh) Oh great, another fuckin' comic book superhero; I'm really getting goddamn sick of these.

(Puts DVD into DVD player)

This one doesn't even sound like a real superhero. "Captain Fantastic"! God, that sounds more like a four-year-old pretending he's a superhero than Spider-Man does. Oh whatever.

(Clicks play)

Hmm, okay. Well, this one starts weird. Why am I following a deer in the woods? So, what is this, Marvel or DC? Eh, I forget which is which. So, there's the deer, still the deer, and-eh, oooooooooooooohh shit!!!!!!!!!!!

(Deer gets throat slit open with knife and dies)

Okay, well this is definitely DC, 'cause they wouldn't have something that graphic on Marvel. Okay, well, I guess this is a different kind of superhero. He's a survivalist, okay. Lone wolf in the wood, with a family, of kids. That he's taking care of..., and homeschooling...., away from society...- what the hell am I watching?

(Grabs DVD jacket, read description)

He's worried about his parenting skills? After a tragedy. Oh, maybe his wife got killed by some supervillain. No, she slits her wrist?

(Five minutes later)

This isn't a superhero movie, is it? Huh, okay. You can see how I made that mistake though, right, what's with this title, "Captain Fantastic"? Well, I guess he's a bit of a brown-dirt cowboy, but um, yeah, until I actually looked at this thing, I didn't realize that this wasn't a superhero from a comic book. Sorry, you see two words like "Captain Fantastic" and with movies the way they are, I just sorta went there immediately, and honestly I don't really get the title at all, but anyway, the Captain I guess, is Ben Cash (Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen) the patriarch of this family, who have, chosen to have a strange existence, by living up in the Oregon woods, and basically schilling all or most of modern society in some vague attempt to-, well, at one point they talk about recreating Plato's "Republic", but I think more apt people to compare this too, might be, Henry David Thoreau or Leo Tolstoy, maybe on the far end, somebody like Jack Kerouac during his Big Sur period-, there's always been somebody who tries to start their own Utopia by shunning all of modern society in protest to the corruption or continued expansive nature of our more manifest destiny practices..., frankly I've thought about it once or twice myself, but yeah, I like things like the internet too much, and unlike Ben, I am not a survivalist, but Ben and his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) somewhere between Christopher Hitchens and Abbie Hoffman decided to just do it, and raise their family like this. I mean, there's nothing wrong with teaching your kids how to hunt for dinner or rock climbing, or mending wounds, and there's really nothing wrong with teaching the Bill of Rights and the Military-Industrial Complex and six foreign languages including Esperanto, and-eh, for some  reason, Noam Chomsky's birthday, instead of Christmas, what the hell? But yeah,-

There's been a couple movies lately about people who basically have been segregated from the rest of the known world, especially kids and now have to adapt to the modern world, everything from "Hanna" to "Kick-Ass" to "Dogtoth" has dealt with this subject, and to varying degrees of success, but there's always something that's off about this for me,... I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I am vehemently anti-homeschooling, as in, I believe that should be illegal. I'm not crazy about private schools either, that's just another way of separating one's self and your kids from the rest of the world and controlling them, but there's still pretty good private schools out there and with certain people and situation I understand taking that route, although I find them overrated compared to public schools, which, if funded could be amazing, but homeschooling to me, is damn-near child abuse and this is a pretty good movie that reveals why I may think that. It's not like, he's a bad teacher or parent; he's parenting in a different way, and his kids are smart, and repeat and learn what he teaches them, and a lot of what he teaches are important, and they seem to know enough of the outside world to be aware of what's going on, however, you're still only teaching them, what he knows, and that's my issue. Your homeschooled kid may be great at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but if they don't know what Nike and Adidas are, it's not gonna seem like they're aware of the world around them, and basic social skills and knowledge are gonna be lapsed, and take it from somebody who's already naturally inclined to be an anti-social introvert, that's not good. It's bad enough that people use homeschooling so that they can teach that the Holocaust didn't happen or that Creationism is real and Darwinism isn't and shove their kids into those worst kinds of bubbles, but they'll never be smarter or better than you, if they only learn from you; people need to learn and be taught by several different people from different walks of life with different experiences than their own. Be able to voice a thought or an opinion that wasn't just simply beaten down into them, but one that grows out of a lot of others and their own separate experience.

Anyway, sorry for soapboxing there, but this is genuinely something that I have a lot less tolerance for than most people. Anyway, as the movie continues, two of Ben's kids, begin to notice and feel this. The oldest, Bo (George MacKay) who's eighteen and has secretly applied and gotten into basically half the Ivy League, and every great school on the West Coast, and one of the younger kids, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) who's overheard private moments between Ben and Leslie, and is the first to fully not trust Ben's ways anymore. Their mother, I mentioned killed herself after she went off to New Mexico to be near her family while she got treatment for bipolar disorder, and she ended up cutting her wrists. He's determined to bring her back and stop the funeral so that she can have a proper Buddhist cremation. He does get some brushback as they all head out in their camper/house named Steven, first from some old friends, Harper and Dave (Katherine Hahn and Steve Zahn) who have a more traditional household and kids who's main interest is the XBox. (Little cliche but okay) Later, from his father-in-law, Jack (Frank Langella) who's wealthy and is prepared to sue to get custody of his kids, and has threatened to have him arrested if they interrupt the family's Christian funeral and burial, so it's a road trip movie on top of everything else, where the family's way of being confronts the outside world and they have to navigate it, without, or by, losing themselves in the process. First of all, Viggo Mortensen, is almost subliminally great in this movie. It's one of those performances that doesn't feel like he's acting, even though it's clear he's nailing that part, that, the movie wouldn't work without. He's the best part of the movie, although there's some great work by everyone, the kid actors are especially good as well. I feel like we learned and know enough about each of them to understand who they are and their characters. Also, Steve Zahn, might be the most underrated actor alive. Just throwing that out there. That said, the last twenty minutes of this movie, eh, kinda throw me off. I don't want to give it away, but a lot of events are shown and happen, and in my mind, this feels like, they weren't real and maybe were instead, things that occurred instead in a character's mind, if I was to hypothesize, even though there's no specific indication of that being the case.... So, I'm not sure that works, but other than that, this is a pretty solid and inventive indy film, led by a great leading performance at it's core. It's the second feature and first I've seen that was written and directed by Matt Ross, the great character actor you might recognize him now from "Silicon Valley" although I remember him more from "Big Love" myself, I don't have much to judge it against, but I enjoyed it enough, despite some cringeworhty elements it's definitely worth the recommendation.


LIFE, ANIMATED  (2016) Director: Roger Ross Williams

STAR RATING FORFEITED



(Deep sigh)

This is not gonna be a normal review. It can't possibly be, at least from me. Honestly, if I didn't follow a particularly stringent viewing pattern of what I watch, why and when, I probably would've put this film off as long as I could've. Look, I have and watch my autistic brother, I've discussed this before, here's a couple of my more personal blogposts about it:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/08/why-ill-never-watch-temple-grandin_19.html
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-worst-thing-about-having-autistic.html

I-eh, I don't-, (sigh) Look, "Life, Animated" is a biodoc about an autistic person, Owen Suskind, to be specific, whose life and experiences with autism are very different than mine, and of course my brother. And that's okay, there is a wide spectrum of levels of autism on the scale, the depth of my brother's autism is particularly rare, and extreme, and on top of that, unlike Owen, he was most likely born with it, there was a couple years there where he seemed to be progressing normally and then, suddenly, a shift happened and he begins regressing and displaying clearly autistic mannerisms. This happened to Owen at age two. Now, if the name Suskind sounds familiar, it's because he's the son of Ron Suskind, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, most notably for the Wall Street Journal, who's also about both the George W. Bush administrations and thr Barack Obama administrations, and his book is the base of this documentary. It also means that Owen was the beneficiary of being born to a well-to-do family, which is something my and my brother weren't so lucky, and to the movie's credit, they do bring this up. I'm not trying to be dismissive because of their privileged, I know more than anybody that autism doesn't give a damn who or where you are but you know, in a better world, and with my brother in a more advanced state of the condition, I doubt I could've gotten Jonathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried to appear at my Disney Club meeting. (Although maybe I could've if I tried; I know a few people now and perhaps I could've called in a favor or two.) Yeah, that's what started to normalize Owen, Disney films. Like most kids, he watched them continuously as a kid, and when it looked like he might lose his ability to speak, he started, it was garbled, but he started quoting phrases from "The Little Mermaid". At first, the doctor's thought it was echolacia (That's a trait some autistic people have, where they're not able to form their own words, but can repeat what others say) but, they kept at it, and through the power of Disney movies, Owen improved. He was still clearly autistic, but enough of him was there, and he thankfully, he's able to, go to regular high school (Although it was Hell for him, suffering from severe bullying) and he's now living on his own, in an apartment. He had a girlfriend for a while, although, since his most prominent place of departure is Disney films, well, there's a limited knowledge of relationships, adult relationships Owen can get from them, and unfortunately, that relationship didn't last. It crushes him, as he's used to Happily Ever After. He makes note at a speech Owen gives in a conference in Paris about how his friends manage to find their own specialty subjects which help them overcome, or not overcome-, help them transcend their autism. I have no idea what my brother's subject is, or if he has one, I suspect it's music, but...- (Shrugs) yeah, even with hard work and determination, this isn't the happy ending story for all, but it is for Owen. Look, "Life, Animated" is a good, well-made movie, I particularly like the animation sequence in the middle that looks at Owen's own story about how he related to Disney films during his darker days, about sidekicks looking for a hero, (He's more intriguing strangely enough by the sidekick characters than the heroes) and the movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. That said, I think I have to forfeit giving this movie a rating. I'm too close to this subject matter. I have an idea what rating I would give this film, and it'll be placed in certain records if you're really interested you could seek it out, and I'll say that I'll recommend it, if that helps; it's not a "Mercury Rising" situation where I'm so close and personal to it that I couldn't objectively determine it's quality, (And in that film's case, it's extreme lack of quality thereof) for fifteen years when I was able to honestly look back on with more un-subjective eyes but, look as good of a critic as I can be, and as much as I strive for analytical analysis of a film, regardless of subject matter, I know my limits. Maybe on another day, I could've looked at this film, otherwise, and be appraised enough to follow my regular protocol and judge the film that way, but at this moment; I'd rather not do that. I hope you all understand and hopefully accept my apology from breaking protocol on this occasion. To be entirely honest, I have seen other movies about autism, or Asperger's Syndrome, it's similar sister syndrome that I have been able to look at objectively and rate appropriately, and while I can't explain why "Life, Animated" is more or less of an exception than those other films, other than perhaps it's more powerful, or I'm just more in-tuned to it's emotional runs now than I was then, I feel an adequate rating isn't appropriate from me at this time. I can say that I think and I hope, and in many ways feel, that's because the movie is powerful enough to effect me, and therefore it is good. I just can't be sure it's not me, or the movie that's effected, and that's the reason for the ratings forfeit. I hope you understand, and I hope this is an exception and not the rule.


ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016) Director: James Bobin

★★



I would've sworn that I had written a review of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" but double-checking my records, turns out I didn't. Kinda surprising to me. I'm definitely firing my editor for this. When did that film come out anyway, three years ago?

(Checking IMDB)

Oh, seven years ago. That long? So, before I started writing this blog? Well, that explains it. Okay, um, well, I guess my editor, was right and didn't-, well, I got some apology calls to make. This'll require chocolates and flowers. (Sigh) So, anyway, I liked the first movie. I know, it's got a lot of backlash against it, I saw Nostalgia Critic's review of it a few times, but honestly I don't understand the backlash to the original. I mean, was it 100% accurate to the book, no, but he wasn't going for that, and frankly why would you want that? The book's never been adapted well, to the big screen; I don't even think Disney's version is any good. I think the structure can work, Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" proved that, and I'd argue that's the best version of the story, even though, other than the fact that there's two mature female rules in a fictional world, one mean and one nice and a young pre-teen girl that goes into the world and explores it with it, there's nothing in common with the original material. Still, I love Lewis Carroll, but I never though his material worked on screen. I understand trying to attempt it for sure, but only so much as I want to see how other people interpret the material and that's all I thought Tim Burton original film was, and for that, I liked it quite a bit. It was a mess, but most of Burton's movies are and people seem to like some of those movies more than I do. I stand by my thoughts; I don't know what was so different about this one or so offensive about it. It was accurate enough, it felt like someone's version of "Alice in Wonderland" and visually was interesting, even if it wasn't my thing. It was well-acted for the most part,... (Shrugs) Not the greatest interpretation, but not the worst, and it's not like can do it well, the best you can hope for is somebody doing it in an interesting enough way and Burton can do that in his sleep. Sometimes I think he has, but those are other movies, he was awake enough to entertain me here.

This one, "Alice Through the Looking Glass" however, hmm, first of all, while "Alice in Wonderland"'s adapted all the time, I don't remember too many versions of "Alice Through the Looking Glass", which is weird, 'cause a lot of the more infamous and famous characters in Wonderland, like the Jabberwocky or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas) are from that book, but that said, it's a little darker and trickier to adapt. "Alice in Wonderland", there is a secondary base story there, but "Alice Through the Looking Glass," is a sequel that works even more on the metaphorical cerebral scale that "...Wonderland". For those who don't know, it's actually supposed to be a metaphor for a chess game. "...Wonderland" was based around cards, but "...Looking Glass" is chess-based, and you really the game and the time period to understand it. That said, none of that matters in this film, but we'll get to that. Secondly,Burton's not directing it; this one's directed by James Bobin, he's more of a TV director, who's most known for having directed the two recent "Muppets" movies, but like I said, I'm wishy-washy on Burton anyway, but, unfortunately, more than any other problem the movie has, it's boring as hell, and not that entertaining. It looks nice, but,... (Shrugs). Anyway, it's been six years, and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now, a sailor, I guess, that's a weird choice, and there's a few pieces of the real world where there's a squabble over property, or the rights of the heir,...-, I don't remember, some tacked on bullshit, anyway, she then is whist away back into Wonderland, and Wonderland is in trouble. Well the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in trouble, as he has come under the delusional belief that his family is alive; in this version, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), for some reason murdered his family. She approaches, Time (Sasha Baron Cohen), yes, Time is literal here, and Alice steals the chronosphere, from Time, in order to go back in time, and save Hatter's family, I think. I get the feeling part of the script came from abandoned drafts of "Charlie and the Glass Elevator" that never got made, because that Tim Burton adaptation didn't pan out. Anyway, when I think of a literal character as "Time", I can help but think of the horrible Rankin & Bass sequel to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Rudolph's Shiny New Year", where he saved Baby New Year, although with the help of the Great Quarter-Past-Five. Yes, Frank Gorshin's greatest character. Ugh. Anyway, basically, it becomes a story of Alice trying to save all her friends, that maybe she cares about, but honestly I really don't, not even Anne Hathaway. Okay I care a little about her, but eh. It's a biggest visual mess of a movie that's desperately trying to make up for it's flimsiest of premises that basically has nothing to do with the original story, but I'm okay with that, I just wish they came up a more interesting story to make a movie out of. And worst yet, they bring up the Mad Hatter's family, that alone can be interesting, actually, but they don't have fun with it. Hell, this is a Disney movie, how about bring back the Copycatter Hatter, that would've been cool.

Wait, you don't know, the Copycatter Hatter? Oh god, you're all young, you don't remember,- hold on I gotta find this-, stop the review for a moment, where's my Edit-, fuck! Alright, I'll find it myself, give me a minute.







You might be wondering what that is. Um, the short version of the story, uh, kids, Once Upon a time, the Disney Channel didn't suck; it actually had some pretty cool kids shows back in the day. I swear, this show is the coolest version of "Alice in Wonderland" I've ever scene. Seriously, this is way the hell better than all those supposed sitcoms with future mediocre pop stars that they have now. Anyway, where was I, oh yeah, "Alice Through the Looking Glass", it's just boring to slog through. It's unnecessary, it makes us try to feel more for characters than we actually do, the plot borrows some of the bad aspects of some of the hackiest of ideas that didn't work in the past, and worst than all of that, while it assaults the eyes with style and effects, and tries hard, but, there wasn't any reason to care and therefore, this was just a horrible unnecessary bore.



THE MERMAID (2016) Director: Xingchi Zhoe

★★★★1/2




I give up. I don't know how to explain or what to make out of Stephen Chow. Stephen Chow has the same reckless abandon when it comes to his filmmaking that the Zucker Brothers & Jim Abrams had, or Preston Sturges, or perhaps his most obvious and biggest influence, Chuck Jones. The best word to describe him isn't cartoonish, although that would be accurate, it's zany, but it's not just in jokes, it's in his ideas and execution. This story's about a guy falling in love with a mermaid, that alone has been a story that has been told several different ways, but Chow still manages to be different. I find it fascinating how difficult for other critics to describe him as well. Reading some of the reviews, they're just at a loss, and I can't blame them. To me, he is the distinctive comic genius filmmaker that everybody keeps claiming Edgar Wright is. I'm not even a particular big fan of his, I haven't seen most of his films, including his most famous successes, "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer", but I've seen his version of "Journey to the West..." which was strange, and I didn't know what to make of it at the time. So is "The Mermaid", and I'm not quite sure I understand what to make of it now. It's fantastical, surreal, bizarre, strange, hokey, over-the-top excessive, but I like it. It's funny; it won me over. Okay, so the main character is an uber-rich overspoiled tycoon, Liu Xuan (Chao Deng), I don't remember exactly what he does, but it doesn't matter, he's young, rich, makes enough money that he can literally throw away millions on women. He's also destroying the Ocean and Oceanlife due to his sonar that ring through the waters, and in particular, to surviving pod or mermaids? I don't know what the term for a group of mermaids are, let's go with pod, and because of this, they've sent Shan (Jelly Lin) out to the world to kill him. Disguised awkwardly as one of his hanger-on girls, (Which totally songs like a song Gwen Stefani should write) Chan becomes intrigued when he can't seem to buy her off, and through circumstances that are-, you have to see to believe, he begins to fall in love with her. Look, trying to explain the events of the movie is a useless cause, this movie is a screwball comedy version of "Splash" if Preston Sturgess were given Terry Gilliam's toys but with the sensibility of "His Girl Friday". This is a movie where the only true understandable response while watching it is, "What the fuck?!", that is, until you just give in and start laughing your head off. There's one scene in particular at a police station, that is just one of the funniest scenes ever, and it's because the setup is so brilliant, that even though, you know the joke that's gonna happen, you can't help but laugh. (And they tell this joke, to it's fullest extent, too.) And it truly is Stephen Chow's directing that makes this film work; if you read this on paper, this wouldn't work. (Just trust me, it wouldn't)


THE MEDDLER (2016) Director: Lorene Scafaria

★★1/2



It took me a little while to finally figure out what "The Meddler" was, but at some point it finally kinda dawned on me, that basically this was the female version of "About Schmidt". I don't know if that Alexander Payne film has held up as well as he other films, like "Sideways" or "Election" or "The Descendants" but, I think it's still pretty good and is much more observant and has a lot funnier than people might realize or remember. Basically, they're both character profiles based around an aging person struggling with the death of their loved one, while their kids are moving on with the problems of their own fucked-up lives, without them. "The Meddler" focuses around Marnie, (Susan Sarandon) the mother of Lori (Rose Byrne) who's a Hollywood screenwriter and after Marnie's husband passed away two years ago, she's moved out west. New apartment, she's promised to do some volunteer nursing work to deal with the time, but mostly she meddles in everyone else's business. Constantly calling her daughter, and later, because her husband did leave her, exceptionally well-off, spending the majority of her time and money on Jillian (Cecily Strong) Rose's friend, as she agrees to pay for her and her partner's lavish wedding. She also befriends Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael) at the Apple Genius bar, who helps with her tablet when she's stuck, which is often, and convinces him to go back to school. There's other adventures, she was seeing a therapist, Diane (Amy Landecker) but once she was confronting with her own problems, she stopped going insisting that everyone else is the real problem. She does go back east for a visit, that happens to coincide with Lori shooting a television pilot that was, for some reason shot in New York instead of L.A., which is a bit weird for a sitcom to be honest from what I here, but okay, and deal with her husband's family. I'll break this down for ya, she's trying to evade her own grief by avoiding it entirely and shifting focus onto everyone else, It happens, I get it. At some point, she finally, sorta lets her guard down when she befriends a cop-turned-chicken farmer, Zipper (J.K. Simmons, doing his best Sam Elliott) but she makes that start-and-stop several times as well. Okay, first, Susan Sarandon is amazing in this movie. This really is a great performance, the problem,is that it's a really difficult character to endure for an hour and forty-five minutes. There's some other good supporting work here, Michael McKean, Jason Ritter, Lucy Punch and Casey Wilson show up for some cameos, but, I get the feeling this movie, is just,-, well, it's being really safe. Now, when you compare it to something like "About Schmidt", that movie, went really dark with the humor, and the humor came from the juxtaposition of Jack Nicholson's Schmidt character placed in these very unusual and awkward situations where he's clearly the fish out of water. There's some of that here, but it doesn't confront that direction in humor, in fact, too often it laughs it off. And besides, except for a few scenes in New York, the fish out of water is trying hard to, make Los Angeles seem like a strange and awkward town, particularly the Grove area, but eh,- this is one of those movies where I feel like the people behind the film are trying to tell a personal real-life story, but because they're L.A. writers, they sorta get lost in their own world a bit. This was written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, she made the wonderful apocalyptic rom-com, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World", and she also wrote the screenplay for the cult teenage romance, "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist". the latter I think others enjoyed more as a light Cameron Crowe-esque sorta story, I didn't honestly, although admittedly, I think I've given Kat Dennings one-too many passes on her other projects because of that film. (Well, plus I think she's a better actress in general than the material she's given shows her to be most of the time, but yeah, I probably watched more "2 Broke Girl$" than I should've because of that film.) yet, with "Seeking a Friend..." a movie I really liked, a lot, she gets right, what I think this movie gets wrong. It's an absurd situation, the surrounding world around these characters who are rushing towards the end of civilization, while the world around them is going crazy. I think that's what sorta saves "Nick & Nora..." as well, where the main pair are going around New York City, chasing a supposed secret concert from their famous artists and shenanigans occur, but here, I guess we get a little of L.A. and New York, and the entertainment scenes. There's a funny moment where she's confused for an extra on a film set and she just goes with it; that's kinda clever, Other than that, and couple of the other sideplots and characters, she's actively rejecting her environment. I get that the character, is going through grief and that's what the movie's about, and for the record, there's a lot of good characters in this movie, but still, I feel this is a hindrance. It's like she's trying to have it both way, she's too frustrating to be around, and she's not dealing with the surrounding world, and that's just, one step beyond what was needed for this to really work. Maybe I'm thinking too hard on this and rambling; I guess there's no harm in this film to watch, and there's a lot of good in it, but I still feel like I'm only watching half a completed movie. There's a good film, somewhere in here, but I think it just didn't come together enough for me. This one a close call, but I'm gonna give this a negative review, just because I think this could've been better and I expect more from Scafaria, plus as good as Sarandon is, it's teeth-grinding, fist-makingly painful to endure this character for long. I guess I kinda panned "At World's End" for similar reasons; I probably was too hard on that film too, but what can I say; I do grade on a curb occasionally, when I know the filmmaker can do better, so... (Shrugs)



COMING HOME (2015) Director: Zhang Yimou

★★★★1/2



I guess, I really noticed this before, but Zhang Yimou is surprisingly eclectic as a director. He's a great director, one of the best in the world. That doesn't make him a perfect one, he's got more than a few questionable films on his resume, but it's kinda surprising how many different genres and styles of filmmaking he's used. This movie, for example, "Coming Home", lacks a lot of the trademarks of his that I'm used to thinking with him. Yeah, the cinematography's great, but it's muted, it's not as glorious as I'm used to seeing. The costumes are good, but they're subtle. The story, well, I guess he's always been all over the map when it comes to that. Everything from Coen Brothers remakes to stories of marriage imprisonment to, war movies, to martial arts movies, to sweeping epis, to intimate personal films. He's played it safe enough to conduct China's Opening Olympic ceremonies, and been as risky and dangerous to get banned in the country a few times. "Coming Home", is probably his most intimate story. I could've imagined several other Asian directors telling this family drama. Ann Hui, would've been a great choice for this material for instance. I'm not saying it's a bad choice by any means, it's just, something I never thought about with Zhang. Anyway, "Coming Home", no relation to the famous Hal Ashby film takes place, during and after the Cultural Revolution. Lu (Daoming Chen) is a political prisoner, who has escaped in order to see his wife and daughter. His wife is Feng (Li Gong, in one of her best performances, and that's saying something considering how often Zhang's gotten some great performances out of her.) loves her husband and will help him out, but the daughter, Dan Dan (Huiwen Zhang) is a ballet dancer at the Art Academy, and even though she's the best and most determined dancer, she's constantly rejected for the lead roles, because of the reputation of her father. That's the first part of the movie. After he's caught, the movie jumps ahead 'til after the Revolution, when Lu is finally released, and he tries to come home again. This time however, his wife, has forgotten him. I mean, forgotten, as in, amnesia. I know, I know, I called it one of the worst plot twists, amnesia, but this is how it's supposed to be done. She's forgotten him, and doesn't recognize her husband after several years away. Also, while it might not have been as apparent at the time, it seems like she's beginning to suffer from Alzheimer's. They try to work a way around this. She's convinced her husband will be released on the fifth, and in the meantime, Lu tries to befriend her, hoping she can remember. He also writes her letters like he did in prison, and soon, he begins coming over to read the letters to her. Unfortunately, after a little while, she sometimes doesn't recognize him as the letter reader. Basically, this is a sad tale of regret and time spent wasted. The daughter and father feel the most, because they've experienced the most regret, and their relationship also has to be unfractured, but they come together trying to help their Feng remember Lu. The final scene of the movie takes place years later, and is just a shot of the mother and daughter, standing out in the snow, on the 5th, during a winter, waiting outside for Lu to come out from behind the gates in the snow, Lu, standing beside her, disguised as a pedicab driver. It's heartbreaking, and normally give something away like that, but the movie earned it. This was an emotionally powerfully that sticks with you in a melodramatic story of three people who love each other, who lost that love, some of them twice, and will do anything they can to simply, get it back. In hindsight, I don't know why it's surprising that Zhang Yimou and Gong Li would give me something like this, he's always been at his best when he's at his most emotional.


ADVANTAGEOUS (2015) Director: Jennifer Phang

★★★★



Well, this one slipped under my radar originally, and I'm not sure why but I'm glad I caught it now. This is "Advantageous", the second feature film from Jennifer Phang. She directed "Half-Life" a while back; I remember that felt, I met a producer of that film once. It was okay, and similar to "Advantageous," it took a relatively real-life modern family drama story, and added some magical-realism fantasy elements to it. "Advantageous" isn't magical-realism as it is, science-fiction added to a much more complex and better family dramatic arc, and it's interwoven into the story well. That said, describing some of this movie in terms of action, is gonna be a little difficult, because it's not really, what it's about, as it is, what it means for somebody to do what the main character in the film does. And it looks at that aspect, pretty thoughtfully, meditatively, poetically,... this isn't your typical sci-fi thinker, it's-, well, I mean,- I guess it's not that different than your basic Turing Test hypothetical scenario, but it-, it doesn't take a simple approach, in fact, it's far more human than one would imagine. I don't know how far into the future the movie takes place; it's implied that it's the near future, however, although we don't learn much more than that, other than that, there's some kind of drone-based terrorism attacks that occur on a regular enough basis that it doesn't impact anybody's day-to-day activities, and that there's an artificial intelligence presence in this world. Mostly though the world revolves around the image of wealth, opulence and beauty, especially that last one. The main character is a single mother named Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) who up until now, was basically apart of that class, but on the bottom end. She's more qualified for the position than it seems, and does more behind the scenes, but she's a spokesperson for some kind of medical scientific company, that specializes in, making people look beautiful, and younger. Age and beauty go hand-in-hand and now that she's older, she's being pushed out of the job. At first, she thinks she'll be okay, because she's overly qualified, but the job market dries up, and she wants to keep her daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim) and making sure that she remains in a good school program. After a while of jobhunting, she goes back to her old job, represented by Fisher (James Urbaniak) and promises to participate in an experimental procedure. I'm gonna err on the side of caution, and not disclose exactly what it is that she's going to have done with herself here, and the movie is about, how this choice, not only how and why she decides to partake in the procedure, but also what it means for everyone involved, especially her and everybody else around her, but it would also provide the benefits and luxuries that they're accustomed too, and keep Jules in the good school. There are obvious parallels to real life here, especially real life scenarios for women, especially women in an appearance-based profession, like acting or modeling for instance, but, I don't think that's necessarily the only parallel. I could easily see this story, just being told about somebody forced into retiring early because of their age. But that's only level, there's several other ways to read this material, 'cause it doesn't just have one level. I think, the overall tale is as much about the role of women in society and what happens to them as they combat these numerous challenges and how they adapt. Being a working parent, in this case, being a rich and ethnic working parent in a modern society, despite still having your main criteria for qualifications for work be your looks, in a society that honors both beauty and wealth as primary goals they're to achieve. Youth vs. Age, Quality of Living vs. Availability of the best advantages for others, Material possessions, vs. emotional connection, vs. physical connection even. This doesn't take an easy way out with it's conceit, it really explores it, and all the aspects and possible aspects of making such a drastic decision. How something extreme, done to improve one's life and the life of others, can indeed be a step too far, and whether or not that risk is worth taking. This is a movie that has more emotional pull because at it's core, because it's conflict works on so many different and convoluted levels, and that washing you in the exploration of those levels. Really this is a powerful little piece of science-fiction, that makes something that's visually impressive but only seems deeper, like perhaps Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" and really reveals how simplistic a conflict, even a good one like that film, can be. The main theme of the movie, is, "It's advantageous, but at what cost," and it doesn't let you put the foot off the gas once that thought is triggered. It's still, quiet and meditative in approach, but it gives you more than enough to meditate on, so it works.


MISS YOU ALREADY (2015) Director: Catherine Hardwicke

★★★



(Waking up)

Yawwwwn! tsk, tsk. Alright, what am I reviewing?

(Handed DVD box of "Miss You Already")

Hmm, well this looks okay. I guess, it's a girls friendship comedy-drama, I guess. I like Drew Barrymore; I like Toni Collette. That could be interesting. Buzzfeed quote on the back, it says...- uh-oh.

"...'Beaches' for 2015."

Shhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit-T!

Boy, is that a loaded statement if I've ever heard one. Oh-kay, I don't know how often Garry Marshall's "Beaches" gets mentioned today; I don't hear it brought up much at all actually, but there was a time when that was the most quintessential and cliched example of a "Chick Flick" you could've used. It was the go-to, for a long time. I distinctly remember a running joke on "Married... with Children" about how "Beaches" was a punishment for Al Bundy. This was the movie that women loved and men hated, and men hated that women loved it and women loved that their man hated it. Until recently though, I've rarely ever heard the film get mentioned, other than the fact that Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" was from that film, and that for reasons that I don't understand even for the channel, Lifetime is making a remake later this year, with an African-American cast. They did the same with "Steel Magnolias" recently, which, I thought was arguably a worst example of a chick flick from that time. There were quite a few of those films around then actually, but those two have I guess been the most remembered, at least of the bad ones. Well, that's not fair, they're not horrible. They are very flawed, and actually, it strangely does improve the stories with the African-American recasting, but their reputation, especially "Beaches", which even at the time, critics did not look fondly on, ("Steel Magnolias" at least got Julia Roberts an Oscar nomination, for dying, I guess? Should've been nominated for "Mystic Pizza" that year, if she was gonna be up for anything) So, the story of "Beaches" is that, the two friends, played as adults by Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, are very close, and we see in flashback their friendship start and grow over the years, until Barbara Hershey dies and for reasons that I can't remember, Midler ends up watching over her kids. It's weird, because they show Midler as some kind of hugely successful singer in the beginning, which, I guess is good casting, but that little casting choice seems to have almost no impact on anything else, other than to see her, leave a rehearsal for an outdoor stadium performance that's presumably later that night or soonafter, to travel across California to be at Hershey's deathbed. And then that's never brought up again; I guess she quit that career, or was just too successful? I don't know, it's a quick and easy way to shove that horrible song into the mix. (Okay, the song's not horrible, horrible either, but it's still pretty bad.) That said, there are positives of the film. I don't think the relationship is so well-built that I totally buy that they'd do all this for each other, but it's not a bad relationship. The acting makes up for some of the more episodic nature of the story, I guess....

Anyway, so "'Beaches' for 2015" or 2016, or 2017, now I guess, what does that mean? Well, for starters, "Miss You Already" is a better movie. It has the flashback device, and it has the contrast in backgrounds best friends, the high-class fashionista Brit, Milly (Collette) and the awkward young American hanger-on, Jess (Barrymore) and we know that Collette's character will be dying soon, breast cancer, at first, and that's only the beginning..., Jess, is-, alone and in the middle of giving birth...-, okay, that's not from "Beaches". It also improves from the film, by not being about the whole friendship, although they do cover that, enough to inform us, not enough to beat us over the head with it; we don't get explained how and why they're friends, we're just shown that they're friends, that's probably the biggest distinction. Also, the whole movie is about this period in their lives, where Milly is struggling with dying, and Jess is struggling to have a kid, and it treats both scenarios, fairly believably, and not in a way that makes either of them seem that saintly or anything. Collette, in particular shines. She was a groupie, who turned her roadie husband into a career as a music publicist, with several kids, but once cancer hits, which is a little better than having her be the performer, and it helps explain some of her more traumatic actions later, and how she starts to reject her life and husband, Kit (Dominic Cooper) as the disease changes her, especially after her mastectomy and she starts having an affair. Jess, on the other hand, is also successful, but not as much. She married an oil rig worker, Jago (Paddy Considine) and she's got to go through treatments to become more fertile, and other than that, she's nearly lost all her sex drive. Things come ahead, during an impromptu road trip to Haworth, I believe, because the two have a "Wuthering Heights" fascination and when the friendship begins to deteriorate at exactly the time that both of them probably need each other the most, it feels earned.

I guess I don't want to overdo this, 'cause I'd hardly call this a great film, but it's still pretty good for what it is. I can understand the "Beaches" comparison, but that's a simplification, but then again, so was "Beaches", and I'm not claiming "Miss You Already" has any greater depth, but it has more than that film, and it has enough for me to recommend. It's directed by Catherine Hardwicke, which is a bit of an interesting choice, she's most known for directing material based around teenage girls, "Twilight" most notably, so while some have an ire towards.her, I say she made "Thirteen" so I can always forgive her. And while, no, she hasn't made too much that good, or even remotely good since, with "Miss You Already", it's nice to see her making something with adults as the center, and doing that pretty well. She can get believable friendships, down better than most, something that a lot of people can't do, and since that's the center of the movie, I'm gonna buy it. Our generation's "Beaches" is better than "Beaches"'s generation.


MACBETH (2015) Director: Justin Kurzel

★★★



Well, it's not like anybody can make a bad "MacBeth". I mean, I'm sure it's possible and somebody will point me towards one, butt yeah, as long as you're somewhat in the genesis of the main emotional plotpoints of the story, you'll make a good one. Hell, in the BBC miniseries "ShakespeaRe-Told", they did a pretty decent 50 minute version set in a Michelin-star restaurant kitchen with James McAvoy playing the lead as the restaurant's chef/owner. My favorite version, also a recent television version, was the one with Patrick Stewart in the lead and that one had a modern-day twist to it as well. Now, how about this version? It's-, it's okay. Is there anything bad about it, eh, not really. I can nitpick here and there, like missing some of the more famous dialogue passages, or really, subduing or eliminating much of the magical and ghostly elements by replacing them, with more focus on the battle. In fact, it seems like this entire movie is played on the battlefield half the time. That's not a bad choice or even a bad interpretation, but it's so damn gloomy. I mean, yeah, "MacBeth" isn't exactly one of Shakespeare's comedies, but there's comic relief moments, and it's about a guy going insane over because of his guilt and hubris, there should be some enjoyment of that, right? Well, I guess you don't need it. It's an interesting version of "MacBeth", Michael Fassbender's pretty good here in the lead, David Thewlis as Duncan gets a moment or too, and I liked Marion Cotillard's Lady MacBeth, but yeah, the story elements that I think make the story the most intriguing seem to give way here to the atmosphere of bloody rusted debris from the battlefield. It's not a bad interpretation, but I think it's just a narrow one. I felt their weren't too many layers here. I kinda felt the same way about Director Justin Kurzel's previous film, his debut, "The Snowtown Murders", which was a dark, based-on-a-true-story Australian outback thriller, that had some pretty good Shakespearean moments, and it was told well, it was also, just dreary dark, and left me more cold and detached than I think others felt for the film. That's not necessarily a negative, but it does make me wonder why he decided to take on "MacBeth" when perhaps "Hamlet" or "King Lear" would've been a more appropriate choice for adaptation. Oh well, it's still "MacBeth", I'm still recommending it. is this the greatest filmed version of "MacBeth", (Shrugs) I don't know; I saw it and have barely thoughts about it since, which to me, makes a disappointment. I mean, hell, I've even thought about Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" more than once after watching it. Just once, but still. That said, it's "MacBeth", you can't really go too wrong.


INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS (2015) Director: Stig Bjorkman

★★★★1/2



So, I might, dive into this subject, at some point in the near future, I'm not 100% sure if I will or not, depending, just how much I feel like throwing my career up 'til now away, but-eh, he brought up something in regards to the Oscar nominations, and that was the three men, who have suffered, to one degree or effect to another, public and personal backlash in their careers and personas, because of some incidents in their past. The three people are Casey Affleck, Mel Gibson, both of who received Oscar nominations despite this pass, and  the third, Nate Parker, who, didn't, despite his film being an early Oscar frontrunner and contender. I haven't seen any of their films yet, so I can't completely complain, but consider these three people, as well as their place in the industry, who their friends are, their race, possibly, our tolerance for understanding and/or forgiveness, or maybe the Academy, to some degree, justified position, of not judging their personal lives or characters as a human being, but their works as filmmakers instead. (Shrugs)

Like I said, I may flush my career down the toilet for that, and the fact that I still defend Lena Dunham, because she still has not done a damn thing wrong, (And yes, I agree with her statement on abortion, I wish I had one too, and you should too, and no, I don't care about that she's destigmatizing it, if anything it should've been de-stigmatized decades ago, and I don't care on this one, cause the "pro-lifers" are just anti-women people, and always have been; look it up;, and you're realize just how full of bullshit anybody is who tells you it's about the rights/life of the child. And if you don't agree with me, go fuck yourselves, preferably in the same bed your sibling is trying to sleep in. [middle finger]) and clearly do it willingly if so inclined, as you see, but it's within that context, that I saw "Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words", and, you know, whatever punishment in the media or within the industry, or even criminally those three above suffered, I have to admit that, compared to how we used to treat some of Hollywood's most scandalous people, we are probably just as hypocritical, but at least, our standards are raised compared to the crimes of others in the past for those who we may shun or judge.

Yes, it's amazing to think of this in hindsight, but there was a time when Ed Sullivan, would take a call-in poll, to determine whether or not it was now okay, to have/invite Ingrid Bergman on the show as a guest. For those who don't know your Hollywood history, you might think she was a Jane Fonda of her time or something, but no, all she did was have a kid with another man, while she was married. 1950, when she went to Italy to make "Stromboli," and she fell in love with the director, Roberto Rossellini. She left her husband, and her daughter Pia, for him. For this, she was basically blacklisted in America, she didn't return for like a decade, and in Hollywood. BTW, it should be noted that, during this blacklist, she won her second Oscar. Cary Grant picked it up for her at the Awards. Like, I said, they'll ban her, but they'll give her an Oscar anyway, 2nd or 3, she won in her career. I don't think people realize today, just how good an actress she was; she doesn't get mentioned much among the all-time greats, but she was. She also kept a lot of letters and notes, documenting her entire life. The movie, with the help of her family, daughter Pia, I mentioned earlier, but also her twin girls, Ingrid and Isabella, and yes, Isabella Rossellini, are apart of this documentary, as well some other relatives, and the conceit is that other than the interview and the footage and pictures of Ingrid, much of which dates to when she when very young. (She had a rough childhood, lost her mother and father very young), and there's a couple other people interviewed, Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver most notably, both of whom worked with Ingrid in their lifetime. Probably the most amazing thing is that the narration of Ingrid's words, is done, by Alicia Vikander, almost convincing me that Ingrid had recorded most of these words before she passed. You know, I never noticed it before, but absolutely, Alicia Vikander is probably the closest this generation's getting to an Ingrid Bergman. And I'll concede some bias here, Ingrid Bergman probably ranks as one of my all-time favorite actresses, and one of the absolute best their ever was, and anybody who's an old Hollywood buff, especially one who's seen "Casablanca" and "Gaslight" more times than I can count, well, as Manohla Dargis put it in her review, this movie is "cinematic catnip." It is, and you should watch it anyway. It's a portrait of ones of the best, that frankly we do need to remember is one of the bests of all-time. She was this beautiful, tall, surprisingly tall, especially for the time, and was one of the most natural and instinctively brilliant actresses of all-time. and this film is a great, loving document of her.


STEVE MCQUEEN: THE MAN & LE MANS (2015) Director: Gabriel Clarke & John McKenna

★★★★



What few movies, either regular or documentaries I've seen about auto racing to some extent, seem to, to one degree or another, center around a particular objective feeling. That feeling is hard to explain, entirely, but essentially it's whatever the feeling it is that drivers have when they're racing at those high speeds. I'm sure there's some kind of medical terms other than "freedom" that's used to describe it, but from what I can tell, that's where drivers are, free, and this feeling, whatever it is...-, I've never driven a race car or been in an automobile at the speeds they drive at, so I don't honestly know, but it's basically that feeling that drivers seem to thrive on and seek out. It's often compared to a drug, and yeah that sounds right. Also, something that's been considered difficult is the ability to translate that feeling into film. Sports movies have been around, since the beginning of film, and for pretty much every sport you can think of as well, there's at least a few good or even great movies that showcase each sport. Baseball, there's tons, "Bull Durham", "A League of Their Own", "The Pride of the Yankees", "Major League", okay that last one's iffy, but still,... Eh, football, not as many, but you got a good list,"Remember the Titans", "Friday Night Lights", "North Dallas Forty", "The Longest Yard",..., basketball's got "Hoosiers", hockey's even got "Slap Shot" and "Miracle" among others, boxing, there's plenty, more than you'd think that don't have "Rocky" in the title. Even track has "Chariots of Fire", etc. Yet, somehow, auto racing, I guess there's a few good movies in the genre, "Rush" recently that's a great one. John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix", that's pretty good. After that, I don't know, "Days of Thunder", I guess. "Stroker Ace", eh. Eh, most of the "Herbie" movies. Yeah, auto racing as a sport, hasn't had the best luck, which you wouldn't think would be the case. Car chases are usually great in movies, and auto racing is one long car chase, but somehow it doesn't really translate on film.

Now, it's that, conundrum, that I think  is what drove, no pun intended, Steve McQueen to go out and make "Le Mans". Now, first Steve McQueen, is, the epitome of cool. He was, big, broad-shoulders, rugger, the man's man...-, okay I'm gonna confess, I'm never understood the fascination with Steve McQueen. Sorry, maybe I had to live through it, but unlike how I felt about Ingrid Bergman in the documentary about her, McQueen, I've always thought was a good actor, one that, I think fades into the background in my mind, more than most think he does, and he's definitely an interesting character in film history, but still; I never did quite understand why he's become such a cultural icon. But like, Paul Newman, McQueen was also a competitive race car driver, and a damn good one. He lead a team that finished 2nd at Sebring, and his dream and goal was to make a feature film devoted to Le Mans. Le Mans, is an infamous 24 hour race is the oldest and still one of the deadliest races in the world, and one of the most famous. Every year, the pilgrimage to Paris, is made by the best drivers in the world and the biggest auto racing fans. It's still one of the premiere events in the racing world. And McQueen wanted to capture it on film. He didn't have a script, or any real idea other than to make and capture, Le Mans on film. John Sturgess was on board to direct, who made "The Great Escape" with McQueen, but this was McQueen's project. He was the executive producer, and he went over-budget and overshot. The documentary, which details much of McQueen's life, including interviews with his first wife and family, and others who were on the disastrous set, portray a picture of a man determined to tilt at the windmill of the image and ideas of what it means to be racing, only, one who didn't quite understand how to make a movie out of it. He has some great ideas, and much of the behind-the-scenes footage, over a million feet of film that was only recently found, is quite amazing. They were very ahead of their time on how to shoot many of these scenes and able to capture speed as well as the actual spectacle of Le Mans. I haven't seen the movie myself, although I think I started watching it once, and remember being impressed by the footage of the race itself and the driving scenes, and then, when it got to the story, I was bored and turned it off, which, yeah sounds right. The set was a nightmare, one driver, Billy Piper, lost his foot in one accident, (Don't worry, he's still alive, and still racing.) However, the project pretty much is regarded as a nightmare. Sturgess quit and another director was brought in to finally finish the project, relenting to McQueen. He himself was reckless as a filmmaker, and as a notorious ladies' man. He got in one car accident, that almost killed his co-star, he would've been killed by the Manson Family, but on the way to the party, he found a girl and went off with her. It's hard not to think of this movie in comparison to "Winning..." the Paul Newman documentary that was more about racing; I think that film was probably more accurately depicted the feeling of racing that McQueen was trying to conceive, but that's part of the point, he wasn't able to achieve it, and it haunted him. McQueen died young, at age 50, because of a rare cancer caused by asbestos poisoning, which was caused by the racing suits he wore. This movie, probably has more in common with "Hearts of Darkness..." or "Burden of Dreams", or other movies about making movies on the most arduous of sets and situations. It doesn't compare to those levels, but overall, it's still quite a fascinating documentary.



THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ (2015) Director: Guillaume Nicloux

★★



I've been trying to figure out what the hell to make out of "The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq" for a few days now, and honestly, after thinking it through, looking through some of the other reviews of the movie, eh, this feels, basically like a bad in-joke, that's not that funny when you really think about it, even if you know what they hell's going on. Okay, Michel Houellebecq, yeah, I had to look him up, sorry I'm not as filled-in on the modern literary world as I probably should be; he's a famous and somewhat controversial French author. I'm not gonna get too deep into everything about him, other than to say that he plays himself in this film. Why? Well, in 2011, he went AWOL for a brief period of time. He's never explained what that absence was all about, but there's some evidence to indicate he was abducted or kidnapped during that time. This movie, depicts/is about, a supposed-, it's weird. I-eh, I'm trying to figure out how to explain this, it made to look like a documentary, sorta, of course it's not. I guess it's supposed to be realism, for comedic absurdity, but-, I don't know. Like I said, this is a really inside joke. Like, Houellebecq was missing during that time, so he's playing himself and everyone's a non-actor and the script is improvised, but we're portraying it as though it's the actual kidnapping and what happened during that time he went missing..., yeah, I-, I guess the only thing that comes to mind, I can kinda compare this film to was the Andy Kaufman-esque pseudo documentary from Casey Affleck, "I'm Still Here", where Joaquin Phoenix did that whole, beard and rapper gimmick thing, for like a year. That was, I guess an interesting film concept at least, but here's the thing, that was an elaborate prank on the world; I have no idea whether or not Houellebecq was actually kidnapped or whatever he was doing during that time, we knew damn-well, the shit that Phoenix was doing, he was in-character on Letterman and making Vegas "concert" dates, promoting his album. It was an elaborate rouse on the public, and more than that, it actually had a point, sorta. It was a pseudo-commentary on fame and the self-destruction narratives of the famous thereof, more or less. It was a performance art piece, and whether it made any sense, I can appreciate it on that level. There's not much to appreciate here. It's sorta like if Jay and Silent Bob went up to the Joey Lauren Adams's character in the View Askewniverse and they reminded her about the party where she had sex on the pool table with someone, and then they said, "Hey, let's make a movie, about that time you had sex on the pool table at that guy's party in high school," and she said, "Okay, sure", so they recreate the party and with a bunch of people they can find, and at some point, she has sex on the pool table in front of everyone again. I don't know why I went there for the example, but that's how obtuse this is. It's a pseudo-imagined, recreation of a moment, that might have happened that only a few people are even going to understand what the hell their talking about. And he kinda bonds with the bad guys. One of them's an MMA fighter, he shows him his matches. He talks them into getting him a prostitute at one point, that was weird. And there's a lot of talk about lighter for cigarettes. And even if it wasn't this esoteric, I'm still not sure I'd like this movie. I guess it's funny that they don't know that much about his writing, and I guess the filmmaking approach is interesting. I don't know much about director Guillaume Nicleaux; this is the first movie I've seen from him, based on some of the trailers for his other movies, it seems like this film is an anomaly. He's working with Gerard Depardieu a lot at the moment. (Sighs) I'm trying to give this movie the benefit of the doubt, it is so bizarre and unique that I kinda want to recommend it, but it's not particularly strange enough to recommend, and frankly it's not that interesting even content-wise. This isn't unique ground, there's plenty of interesting fun movies about kidnappings out there, even ones that try to subvert the Stockholm syndrome cliches. It's not enough of an anecdote of an in-joke to make a movie out of, much less one this, winking fourth wall-like. Even if you really like Houellebecq, I can't imagine why anybody would be interested in this film.


ALEX OF VENICE (2015) Director: Chris Messina

★★1/2



It did not help me that I happen to see this movie around the same time as I watched "The Meddler", not that those two movies are related or anything, but both seem to take place in this bright, modern-day Southern California world where everybody's a little related to the film industry and young adult women are rising up at their workplaces and have too little time to really place with their family. These two movies could've taken place side-by-side each other and nobody would've noticed. In fact, is the Grove in Venice? No, I don't think so. Anyway, "Alex of Venice" is also a lightweight little indy drama, that's has required me to ask a question: Is it a cliche now, that a spouse just leaves their partner because they need to go find themselves? Like, no real reason, at least none that are substantial that are given, just suddenly out of the blue, they leave? I guess it does happen, so I can't complain about it too much, but it does seem a bt of a common idea and theme. Checking out some reviews of the movie, they all seem to bring up, probably the best movie that used that idea, which was of course, "Kramer vs. Kramer". That movie's not that well-regarded anymore, I don't get why, it's actually a great film, a masterpiece I'd argue. I think people are mostly just upset that it beat "Apocalypse Now" for Best Picture, which, okay yeah, that's probably a better movie, but I've seen that film lately and it really holds up, and emotionally I can see why it might've won that year. Now granted, that was almost forty years ago, which sound wrong when you consider that Meryl Streep's still getting Oscar nominations but it wasn't a well-worn subject matter at the time. Nowadays, when I think of this movie-syndrome of sudden sullenness that overtakes somebody to want find themselves or whatever, I do kinda question it, as though, why couldn't they have thought of a real reason for the character to suddenly have their spouse leave them? Anyway, the Alex in "Alex of Venice", is Alex, (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) she's a young up-and-coming environmental lawyer. Her husband, George (Chris Messina, who also directing the film. Decides to up and leave one day, and suddenly, She's not too busy to take care of her ten-year-old son Dakota (Skylar Gaertner) but she is busy and needs help, and this is a modern household, her father is living with her. Roger (Don Johnson) is a former television actor, who's trying to struggle helping out around the house, with the fact that he's still acting, in the movie, he's being relegated to a supporting role in a local production of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard", you can read into that what you will, especially after it starts to seem like he begins to struggle with remember lines and several other things as the time goes by. She also gets some help from an out-of-town sister, Lily (Katie Nehra, one of the film's writers) who comes in and starts taking Dakota everywhere, well, everywhere except school it seems. Interesting there isn't really a period where, everything else collapses on Alex, she mostly just tries and struggles to keep everything juggles, more or less just annoyed that she's struggling with everything. Late for appearing in court against a big company, represented by Frank (Derek Luke) although they end up sleepng together eventually, annoyed by everything not working out. I guess that's more realistic, she was the breadwinner and whatnot, so it's kind of a natural direction, but for that to really compelling, it still has to seem like everything about her world is just collapsing around her, and you never get that feeling that, this husband leaving is really gonna change. The movie is mostly about how she's in denial over everything around her, but it still seems like if the worst happened, then she'll just turn it around the next day or something. There's nothing wrong with the film, it's slice-of-life, it actually shows the city of Venice well, which is probably why they put that in the title, 'cause other than that I can't really justify or figure out why.






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