Friday, September 30, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "BABETTE'S FEAST"

BABETTE’S FEAST (1987)

Director: Gabriel Axel
Screenplay: Gabriel Axel based on the short story by Isak Dinesen

 

As one watches "Babette's Feast," is doesn't seem completely clear at first at to what exactly is the point the film is trying to make. Is it an argument against self-denial as a way of appeasing God? I don’t think so. Is it in favor of cultural awareness and openness to the outside world? Maybe a little, but maybe not. Is it about the power of art and the inner workings of the artist’s sole? I lean towards the latter, but it’s a little of all these things, but most of all, “Babette’s Feast,” is an absolutely beautiful film. 

I’m not saying "beautiful"  in terms of lighting, by the way (Although it is lit well); when I talk of the beauty of this movie, I talk about it the same way I would discuss an epic love poem or a truly moving novel that has no wrong choice of words, no clich├ęs, nothing but pure perfection. The original short story was written by Isak Dinesen, which was the pen name of Karen Blixen, who's life was the inspiration for Sydney Pollack's great film "Out of Africa." That's a good film itself, but this film from the great Danish director Gabriel Axel, is probably the best adaptation of her work. 

Winner of the Foreign Language Oscar, “Babette’s Feast,” takes place off the coast of Denmark in a place called Sutland, where followers of a strict Lutheran minister who founded his own church and segregated his constituents to the area. Years after his death, the townspeople still treat his words, sermons and his memory as thought he were still alive. He preached self-denial as the way towards salvation, and the area has become so remote, even by 1800s standards, that only a few outsiders of the world have ever been around. 

In the beginning of the film, we get to see two of those outsiders, one is a well-known music coach, Achille (Jean-Philippe LaFont), and the other, I'll get to in a second. The town’s led by the two daughters of the minister, Martine and Filippa (Birgitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer). One rainy night, a strikingly tall woman arrives on their doorstep with a note of recommendation from an old Achielle. Babette’s (Stephane Audran) family has gotten caught in the middle of the French Civil War. She’s lost her son and husband, and has escaped from France. She asks to be the servant of the two sisters, and does it graciously and without pay. 

Years later, Babette finds out that she won 10,000 Francs in a lottery that she had a friend continually renew for her. She then asks the sisters to prepare the dinner for their father’s 100th birthday celebration. At first, they think it’s something for her to do until she leaves and heads off back to France, a goodbye gesture as you will, until some of the, exotic and unusual ingredients come in. Fearing such goods, and their father’s devotion to self-denial, the sisters convince the towspeople not to discuss the food that she serves, and prey that any possible witchcraft effects are minor.

An unexpected guest, a General, Lorens (Jarl Kulle) the other visitor that we met years earlier, has come to visit for the occasion at the best of his aunt, (Bibi Andersson) one of the oldest of the followers, is unaware of agreed-upon procedure, and leads to some intriguing conversations exchanges during the dinner, which incorporates, basically the second half of the movie. 

The feast of course is spectacular; any legitimate shortlist of the best food films, will have "Babette's Feast" on it and incredibly high. The back of the cover of the DVD copy I have, inexplicably gives away Babette’s past as a famous French chef, I guess it's not the worst reveal to know ahead of time for us, but of course the townspeople don’t know that. It probably didn’t matter though, because up until the feast, they wouldn’t have any idea exactly what that meant. Except for the general who spent some time in Paris, and other places, and despite enjoying himself and the food immensely, wonders how someone could serve such extravagant courses that he knew of only one other person that made them, and how everyone could say nothing about it. 

It used to be said that artists were mediums for God, and that the works that they created weren't their own perspective but of God’s visions. (Back then, people had little interest in one’s own personal visions.) I think about that when I see “Babette’s Feast.” Especially at the end where there’s one more revelation for the sisters to learn about Babette. 

If it’s true that an artist is never poor, I wonder if that means that they’ve been touched by God? 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #10: "IN A BETTER WORLD," "FAIR GAME" "EXPORTING RAYMOND" AND MORE!

Well, a new week and a new set of movie reviews. I hope you'll excuse me for having only 9 films instead of my customary 10. I've spent much of this week focused on TV as Premiere week comes to an end. I try not to review TV shows, first of all, there's too many of them, secondly, I usually think it takes more than one or two episodes for a show to fully gel and recognize what it is and how good or bad it is. I mean, it took "Night Court," 3 years before it got good, and most shows don't get that opportunity. (Although I must say, "2 Broke Girls", has a lot of potential and is very funny so far.) Also, I'd like to give a note to Reed Hastings and everybody out there over at Netflix/Qwickster: Please stop doing stupid shit, so I can stop writing blogs about you; it's really getting to be annoying to have write about you guys every week because of something stupid you did. I really don't enjoy it! Thank you. Okay, enough with this week's announcements, on to the reviews!

IN A BETTER WORLD (2010) Director: Susanne Bier
5 STARS
I was bullied when I was in school. Not all the time, but enough. I won't name any names, but to this day, I am convinced that with some of those bullies, the only thing that would've gotten them to stop would be me finally killing them. I'm sure that statement will shock some people. I hope I am wrong, and I am in no way condoning any such action, but in my mind, that was the only course of action that I could see that would've been successful. I think history has shown that with some people, the only response to their violent actions is a greater violent action, usually their destruction. I think Susanne Bier thinks the same way, and I also believe she thinks that if we did live "In a Better World," that wouldn't be case. Bier's film won last year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and even before then, Hollywood had taken notice of her. They recently remade her film "Brothers," she was previously nominated for an Oscar for her film "After the Wedding," and she directed the underrated, "Things We Lost in the Fire," with Halle Berry. I think this is her best film yet. The film takes place in both her home country of Denmark, and in an unnamed warlord-led country in Africa, where Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) works as a doctor at a local village, where a local leader is slicing up pregnant women for sport. At home in Denmark, his son Elias (Markus Redgaard) is being bullied at school. A new kid from London, Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) helps him out one day. Christian is a good kid, but is filled with anger since his mother's death after a long illness and he doesn't understand it when his father (Ulrich Thomsen) isn't as angry or as sad as he is. Elias's mother, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) is separated from Anton and at home with Elias, she can't understand what has gotten into Elias with some of his recent behavior. Anton tries to teach kids that being aggresive and demanding isn't the answer, but Christian doesn't seem to agree, and after an incident with a local mechanic and his kid, Christian finds it necessary to seek justice by making a bomb. Elias is reluctant but impressionable. He knows what Christian is doing is wrong, but he doesn't see a right way either, and his parents are literally and figuratively too distant to fully understand or listen to his problems. "In a Better World," isn't an easy watch, but it's a powerful film that analyzes the nature, causes and effects that bullying and violence can have on people, and often that sometimes reveals people's true nature, good and bad, and just how difficult it is to try to make the world a better place at home and in general. Bier is often criticized for how she seems to combine the third world with the more middle and upper class domesticity, and that in her worlds, they are often too conveniently parallel, but I think what she's actually doing is showing how the nature of man struggles to adjust and adapts to the world around him. "In a Better World," violence wouldn't be an answer, but unfortunately, sometimes it is.

FAIR GAME (2010) Director: Doug Liman
4 1/2 STARS
The Bush Administration lied about their justifications for going to war with Iraq. This is an indisputable truth. I can say that with complete certainty now. I did say it then too, but I didn't have proof. Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) did. He had been to the nuclear plants in Niger, where Bush claimed the Iraqi government was attempting to attain yellowcake uranium, and he knew that there's no way they could've or would've produced it and sold it to Iraq. He wrote an op-ed article saying and explaining as much, and for that he became Public Enemy #1 in the Scooter Libby's office (David Andrews) then, the V.P.'s Chief of Staff, and sent out a public relations propaganda machine, making any and all attempts to discredit Joe Wilson, and in doing so, they publically outed his wife Valerie Plame's (Naomi Watts) cover as a covert CIA agent, breaking about a dozen national security laws in doing so, as well as ending her career. And worse than that, put many people's lives in danger by having to call off many of her operations, including one that investigated Iraqi physicists which clearly determined that they hadn't been making any nuclear weapons or even tried to since the First Gulf War. It's hard to remember exactly all of these details as our 24-hour news cycle not only gives us a short memory, but also a skewered perspective on the events. Wilson was called a Communist and anti-American, and was asked whether he went on a vacation on his wife's dime, since his wife's boss wrote a recommendation to use Wilson to investigate the uranium. Like anybody's ever gone to a nuclear plant in West Africa for vacation, ever. This is a surprisingly fascinating and intellectual thriller. I'm a little surprised that Doug Liman pulled this off. He's best known for directing the first Jason Bourne movie, "The Bourne Identity," as well as the action-comedy-romance "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," a movie more infamous for the off-screen chemistry of it;s cast than anything else. Their isn't as much action in this film, even the scenes where Valerie goes off to missions to places like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to convince a son of a business owner, who donated to a charity... who has ties with Al Qaeda, are surprisingly low-key, and give the impression that espionage is a surprisingly straight-forward profession. There's strong acting here by Penn and Watts, not surprisingly as their lives and their marriage begin to strain. This is the second film I've seen based on he Valerie Plame story, the original being "Nothing But the Truth," which was a fictionalized account, about a reporter protecting a source. That film was very good as well, and more dramatic, but it was also filled with a Hollywood storyline and plot, including a twist at the end. This movie, based on Wilson and Plame's books, feels like what actually happened.

EXPORTING RAYMOND (2011) Director: Phillip Rosenthal
4 STARS
It's one of the lesser-known subsects of the television world, the adapting of TV shows from one country, and making new versions in another. It works both ways, many shows in America are adapted from British TV shows, including "All in the Family," "Three's Company," and probably most famously, "The Office". Overseas, you might be surprised to find that the show that's been the biggest hit is "The Nanny." All over Europe, South America, Asia, "The Nanny," has been adapted in dozens of countries. "Everybody Loves Raymond," producer Phil Rosenthal, after finishing up the series got a call from Russia, who's interested in developing a Russian version of the series. You'd probably think that of all American shows, that "...Raymond," would be one of the most universal, but as Rosenthal finds out, it actually gets a little lost in translation. "Exporting Raymond," follows Rosenthal, as he travels to Russia to help make "Everybody Loves Kostya", and it's one of the more entertaining and fun documentaries you're going to find. It's hard to forget that the wall came down only a quarter-century ago, and Russian TV is still learning how to do certain things. They think Raymond is a little too affeminate compared to the more macho vodka-drinking Russian males. The costume designer who's always dressed like she stepped off a runway at fashion week, can't understand why the clothes can't be more stylish and hip, even when Debra character has been cleaning the house all day, and apparently the shows that work best in Russia are ones with more outlandish characters and behaviors ("Married...with Children," for example is a huge hit in Russia) and they seem confused by the more banal comedy of Raymond, where an entire episode can center around who's going to move a suitcase. From debates with the heads of TV over such details as having a studio audience that's actually in the studio, to trying to get an actor they like out of his theatre contract with the Moscow Theatre, (The one where Stanislavsky, basically invented method acting) "Exporting Raymond," gives us a very rare perspective on not just how a TV show gets put together, also the behind-the-scenes tension, difficult, and ironically, comedy involved in taking something distinctly and making it universal.
BEHIND THE BURLY Q (2010) Director: Leslie Zemeckis
2 STARS
"Behind the Burly Q," is oddly boring. Well, it's not exactly boring. It's hard to be boring when the whole movie is mostly a bunch of naked women, but something about this movie just doesn't seem to transcend its subject. The movie is about the era of burlesque, that post-vaudeville, pre-television form of entertainment that while it was actually structured as a satirical variety show with comedians, novelty acts, musical numbers, singers, and anything else they could find, the era is remember for the seductive burlesque strippers. The movie interviews many of the surviving former dancers, and they have a lot of stories to tell. They mostly seemed to interview anybody and everybody that had anything to do or even remembers the burlesque era. Some of you might be alarmed to see Alan Alda being among the interviewees, but those who've followed much of his career will know that his father Robert Alda was a comedian in burlesque showss for decades. (He guest-starred with his son occasionally on "M*A*S*H".) The problem with the movie is that the movie seems to just be a bunch of interviews, with some old photos and in some cases, some very rare footage of these girls performing, and not much else, as they go through a rather long and elaborate list of famous names in burlesque, many are alive, some are dead. A few of the names like Gypsy Rose Lee or Tempest Storm you'll recognize. Well, maybe not, actually. It's possible that recognizing some of these names is a side-effect of living in Vegas too long, where we have museums dedicated to this kind of entertainment. Nothing wrong with that, and normally I highly recommend it, but Leslie Zemeckis's film (Yes, she's Robert's wife), is a nice little love poem to a bygone era, but the movie is a bunch of talking heads, that yes, often have some interesting stories to tell, but a good documentary should have a little more than just a bunch of people telling stories, even if they do occasionally involve Jack Kennedy and the phrase, "I'm only 14"! 
MENACE II SOCIETY (1993) Directors: The Hughes Brothers

5 STARS

"Menace II Society," is forever linked two other films that masterpieces that came out before it, Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," and John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood". Three films that came out in a 5-year span, each of them great, each about a young inner-city African-American youth, and each directed by a young African-American director, or in "Menace..."'s case, two. Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes grew up in an L.A., and begin their film with images of the Watts Riot in the '60s. That's when I paused the movie and went on wikipedia for a second, and reflected that Paul Mooney is right when he says I have to know my history. Caine (Tyrin Turner) narrates his story, beginning with a trip to a convenient store to get a soda that ends with him being an accessory to a double-murder. Caine is a smart young kid, who doesn't have a chance in life. His father (Samuel L. Jackson) is a local drug kingpin, who often killed people. His mother (Khandi Alexander) was a heroin addict that he knocked up. By the time Caine is in high school, both his parents are long dead of their own lifestyle, and he's a smalltime drug dealer that lives with his grandparents, whose only apparent parenting method is to preach religion. Caine tunes it out. By the movies end, he has killed a few people, been shot on two separate occasions, detained by police for the original robbery cause of his fingerprints, but because his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate) stole the video camera footage, they can't hold him, (O-Dog shows that footage to everybody except the police), and gotten a girl pregnant from a one-night stand. He cares deeply for Ronnie (Jada Pinkett), the ex-wife of Purnell (Glenn Plummer), a pseudo-mentor/father figure to Caine, who's currently in prison. Of the three films, "Menace II Society," is the most tragic. In the other films, the protagonists are more observers of the world, and are looking and at times, finding ways to get out. Caine, can't see any way out of Watts. Had he had any other opportunity or option, possibly anything that could've shown him a way out.... The Hughes Brothers were given a video camera when they were 12, and began making movies soon after. This was their first, their best, and most important feature film. They got out, and they observe that others in their neighborhood, weren't so lucky.
PRETTY IN PINK (1986) Director: Howard Deutch

3 STARS

Somehow I missed "Pretty in Pink," in the John Hughes catalog originally growing up, and I can see why I missed it. I am recommending it, but it isn't one of his most his best screenplays. (It also hurts that he didn't direct it.) It relies a little too heavily on the conflict of rich kids vs. poor kids for plot development, but on the same token, this movie has a surprising amount of good acting that makes up for a lot of it. The eternal teenage girl, Molly Ringwald plays Andie. She works at a local record store, which is currently her household's only income, and she spends her time trying to keep her father (Harry Dean Stanton) from drinking, and making her clothes, which she gets made fun of at school. (Frankly, the clothes do look a little old maid-ish.) Her friend Ducky (Jon Cryer) has been in love with her for years. It's unrequited, and he doesn't do himself any favors by hanging onto her like a leach, and being generally strange. Andie eventually starts to fall for Blane (Andrew McCarthy), one of those rich kids who make fun of her. Their only other activities seem to involve, parties, drugs, sex, and overall doucheness, with Blane's friend Steff (James Spader) being a combination of all of the above. It kinda strange that this movie has such strong actors, 'cause it's actually more of a typical story of rich kids vs. poor kids. I just saw "The Outsiders," a few weeks ago, and movie also had a similar theme, (and also good acting) and here, I kinda thing that compared to Hughes better teenage films like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," or "The Breakfast Club," there really isn't anything being said or told here, other than just a regular generic story about teenagers with a made-up conflict in the middle. His other films had a point of view, and and times, some real insight. Comparatively, this film is better than most of it's copies, but for John Hughes, it's a film or lesser importance. 
WYATT EARP (1994) Director: Lawrence Kasdan

1 1/2 STARS

I confess to not knowing a whole helluva lot about Wyatt Earp, based on some of the myths, legends and facts that have come across my way about him, his life seemd to be far more interesting than this. Lawrence Kasdan's epic biopic, "Wyatt Earp," spans his entire life, and I guess includes myths, legeneds and facts about him, but this movie is so overwrought, overlong, badly paced, and badly casted, that I just couldn't particularly care. It doesn't help that the movie came out shortly after "Tombstone," which is a better movie, that covers much of the same material. It begins with Wyatt and his brothers, living in Missouri, where he learns about the importance of family over everything else from his father (Gene Hackman). The movie then seems to forget that Wyatt had all those brothers for most of the film. Kevin Costner's portrayal as Wyatt Earp, might be his worst performance ever. For the first hour of the movie especially, he just seems to be wandering around, amazed that he's playing Wyatt Earp. Costner and Kasden had worked together previously on the western "Silverado." (Costner also played the dead body in Kasdan's "The Big Chill".) Their's an interesting performance by Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday, who becomes Earp partner-in-crime, and law enforcement, but it stills lacks the memorableness of Kilmer's earlier portrayal. Earp, lived until the 20th Century, and was probably the last of the Wild West heroes to die, and for that, and everything else that he saw, he was probably one of the last credible witnesses to the taming of the West. That seems to be mostly what he does in this film though, witness. He might often be involved in the actions, be even as he's killing, he never seems to be apart of the action, Costner almost seems to be outside of his own role here. Kasdan, is quite a filmmaker, beginning with the screenplay for "The Bodyguard," which for a decade and a half was considered the best script unfilmed script in Hollywood, he got hired to write "Raiders of the Lost Arc," and the two Star Wars sequels before directing his own films, which include some great work as, "Body Heat," "The Big Chill," and "The Accidental Tourist". He hasn't made a movie in a while however, and "Wyatt Earp," was just one of a long line of less-than-stellar films that came after, but the downfall was probably that this one was the most ambitious of those films.
SOUL MEN (2008) Director: Malcolm D. Lee

1 1/2 STARS

"Soul Men," became known for marking the final filmed performance of the great comedian Bernie Mac, as well as the last acting performance of Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer, Isaac Hayes. Mac's career was just beginning to shine, one of "The Kings of Comedy," his movie career includes strong performances in films as varied as the "Oceans Eleven" films, to "Bad Santa," and even  a few leading performances, including "Mr. 3000," and "Guess Who," as well as his own TV series, "The Bernie Mac Show," which earned him 2 Emmy nominations for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, the only African-American to be nominated in the category in nearly a quarter-century. (To all those who would've guess since Bill Cosby, [Me included], nope, '88, Tim Reid for "Frank's Place," is the last one before Mac). Mac plays Floyd Henderson, who along with Lloyd Hines (Samuel L. Jackson) were "The Real Deal," the back-up singer for Markus Hooks (John Legend) until Hooks went solo. Shortly after a brief career as a duo, they broke up. Now, nearing middle age, Hooks unexpectedly dies. They didn't particularly like them but at the funeral concert, they're invited to perform. Floyd, who's been forced into retirement from his successful car businesses from his kids, and his hip, has to convince Lloyd, who's become a convict, to reunite and drive cross country for the show, playing a few set-up gigs along the way. Hijinks ensue, they always do. Some are funny, some are tragic, and much of it involves 30-year arguments and grudges that are just now getting hashed out. There's nothing particularly new in the film, it's actually basically a remake of "The Blues Brothers," and that's not inherently a bad thing. The performances are strong, but the movie is hardly ever as funny as it thinks it is, and that's a problem. The music is good, but it's not really good enough to salvage the project, even when they get a new lead singer (Sharon Leal), who is also a link to their past. Instead of a blooper real at the end, there's a montage of some stand-up and interview footage Mac did during the movie for the extras between takes. I never think of Bernie Mac as having come up unhappy, the way I would think of comics like Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks for instance. Mac seems to be happy, and having a good time, very grateful of where his career and life had taken him. The shame is that he really could've done so much more.
OUR VERY OWN (2005) Director: Cameron Watson

2 1/2 STARS

"Our Very Own," earned Allison Janney an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Supporting actress, and she is good as the wife of an alcoholic jobless husband (Keith Carradine), who's quickly spending the family out of their house, but the movie doesn't focus too much on them. Instead, it's lead is their teenage son Clancy (Jason Ritter). It's 1978, Shelbyville, Tennessee, and you might have guessed Shelbyville, but it still looks like 1955 there. He's one of a bunch of friends, who have little to do in Shelbyville other than get into minor trouble, (At one point, they toiletpaper, one of the friend's own house), and occasionally explore sex. Their's one kid who's a constant dick and calls the groups a bunch of names for affeminate, includeing that 6-letter F-word, I'd rather not say, but frankly, even his character is too underwritten for me to care about what happens to him. The group begins working on a musical tribute to Sandra Locke, the famous hometown girl, who rumor has it... is going to return home for the annual horse show. Whether or not she arrives, I won't reveal, but on whole, there's a few interesting potential stories here in this slice-of-life, but the movie just keeps drifting between them, and it never really focuses on anything long enough. I can see why Allison Janney got a nomination, other than being one of the best actress alive, her and Carradine's scenes, are the most interesting and dramatic, that's probably because their the best actors around, and they know how to steal a movie, especially from a bunch of kids. Also, for some strange reason, Mary Badham, who played Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird," is in this film, it's the only one she's done in 40 years. Good to see her again I guess, but why now, and why this film? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NETFLIX/QWIKSTER SEPARATION REVEALS COMPANY(S) REAL PROBLEM AND IT'S MORE DISTURBING THAN EVEN WE THOUGHT

Well, if you haven't heard the latest news about Netflix's new plan, their blog is posted below:

http://blog.netflix.com/2011/09/explanation-and-some-reflections.html

and it's a rather intriguing and apologetic blog by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Among many things, it expresses some regret about the reaction of many of its members over the recent price hike, but the more important news is that Netflix is now two different companies. Netflix, starting next month, will now only provide Streaming movie content to its viewers, while a new company named Qwikster, will provide the more traditional DVDs-by-mail service. This separation of companies will coincide with their price separation, where there's a different price for the DVDs-by-mail service and the streaming movie service. As many of you know, I've posted a couple different blogs complaining about certain Netflix practices in the past few months, and I'm presuming many of you have already figure that I probably have something to say in response to this, and I do. In fact, I posted what I wanted to say directly to Netflix on this blog, clearly pointing out the actual problem with the company, and I had every intention of posting my comment on this blog. However, I was one of 27,000 people who thought of commenting on their blog, and despite many attempts to try and find the exact comments I posted I wasn't able to find it immediately enough, so I gave up sorting through all those comments; I'm not 100% sure my computer can take it. (If anybody feels like sorting through the comments on the blog to find my exact comment, be my guest, I'd be grateful, but I do not encourage anybody to do so.) Most of the comments, as you may imagine contains such notes as, "I've cancelled my subscription," or "Why the separation, but the price hike is still the same?", to even a few that rather appreciate the decision. Is the pricehike a bad business decision? It's not one that I am personally in favor of, but it'd still be cheaper if I got the same amount of product from Blockbuster and/or Redbox over the same month, so that's actually not a concern. I've already made my dislike and critiques of streaming movies public in an earlier blog:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/08/streaming-movies-sucks-why-everyone-who.html

It's clear though that Netflix is trying to be a major player in the "Streaming". If I may quote exactly from their blog:

"For the past five years, my greatest fear has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly."

It's now become abundantly clear what the problem with Netflix actually is, and it's a bigger problem than I thought it was, and even worse, they don't realize the problem yet. Is it a stupid idea to separate the company like this? Of course it is, it's unbelievably stupid, and I'll get to exactly why it is in a sec, but it actually underlines Netflix's real problem; one that is an essential part of the basic business knowledge and logic. They don't know what their product actually is?

They're under the impression that the product they're selling is the way they get movies to people. Originally, they thought it was the DVD-by-mail service that they originated, and now they think the product is the streaming of the product. That's not the product! The product, is the movies themselves. Let me make this somewhat more understandable, we don't just stream anything online randomly, we make a choice what to stream. Same with DVDs, they're not all blank, and we don't just buy the machine and put them in for the action of putting them in, it's what actually is on the DVD that we're watching. This is one of reasons I'm critical of streaming, people act like because the format is different and that one is going to outdo the other, when in reality, it doesn't matter how you watch the film, it's the movies themselves that you're selling. Imagine, Netflix is an actual video store, bricks and mortar et. all., which is really what it is, a video store, it just happens to be online instead of next to your local supermarket. This is somewhat personal for me 'cause my family used to run a video store. Anybody who's lived in the Las Vegas area long enough, will probably remember "Video Tyme," that was my family's video store chain, and when we were coming up, the two main formats for watching movies, were VHS and BETA, and every video store, I knew, ours and our competitors had copies of both until finally BETA became extinct, and while I have more doubts than most who believe DVD is going to die out to streaming, the thing was, it didn't really matter. Either way, you were watching a movie, that you obviously must have wanted to see because they borrowed it from the store. What Netflix has just done, essentially, is have one store, where all they sell are VHS, and on the other side of town, they have a second store, where all they sell are BETA. If any other company, started selling their product like that it would be looked upon in the business community as though whoever's running their company doesn't know what they're doing, (and they would be right). Can you imagine, if at Smith's, they only sold Coca-Cola products in 12-packs, and at Albertson's they only sold 2-liters? Everybody would think Coca-Cola was going insane! Tt's the same coke, but they're selling it two different ways in two different places, and probably losing certain customers who might prefer one or the other, but its more convenient to go to another store. So here's two problems, one the separating of the company like this, is just plain stupid, but it happened because they don't understand what their product actually is. They also don't know what actually distinguishes them in the marketplace. Is DVD by mail actually more convenient? Not really. It takes a day by mail to get a movie, (And longer if there's a Sunday or a holiday). I could probably get a movie at Blockbuster or Redbox, be back home in fifteen minutes at most, and watch the movie, if I all wanted to do right then was watch a movie. Is Netflix cheaper? It is for someone like me who watches about 40 movies a month and thinks that's not enough, it might be too much for other customers who might only rent two movies a month. The one thing that actually distinguishes Netflix, and which is coincidently the one thing that I believe DVD will always have over streaming is that Netflix has an unlimited selection of DVDs to choose from. It doesn't have every single DVD that's available, and I've about certains titles they don't have, but it has basically has everything short of "Song of the South," which will probably never be re-released on any format. Those that prefer the DVD-by-mail for this reason, enjoy the the fact that they can watch almost any film they choose. I have films from six different continents on my Netflix queue. That doesn't mean that I don't like streaming, it just doesn't have all the films I want, currently and it's not always a viable format for me. I'll stream a movie occasionally, when there's a movie I would like to see, and when streaming is a viable option, and at this moment, I'm going to have both a Netflix account and a Qwikster account. But, this company, or companies now, they need an intervention. This is Business 101, know what you're selling. They don't know that right now. Maybe they did at one point, but it's clear now that they don't. Sure, Reed Hastings isn't wrong about wanting to jump into the future instead of trying to save the past, but his own actions have made that point moot. Motion pictures have been in nickelodeon machines, in halls with a screen and a piano player, in theatres with sound, in Black-and-White, in Color, on widescreens, on television, VHS, HBO, Pay-per-View, On Demand, DVD, Blu-Ray, and now streaming online, and that's just a few formats that I named. I will guarantee that streaming is not the last format we will see movies in my lifetime, but whatever that next generation format is, it's still not a product. The product is movies, and what an amazing product they are. Netflix should treat them with more respect

Saturday, September 24, 2011

TV PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS: THE MUSICAL! and OTHER THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT PRIMETIME TELEVISION LANDSCAPE

I've been thinking about what I am going to say about this premiere week on basic television, the time of year where most of the season's new shows as well as the season premiere of most shows are aired. It's a hotly awaited time for TV viewers and critics all across the nation, and I think there is only one truly appropriate way to discuss such a think as Premiere week. And that is of course, through a song.

(Opening of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" begins)
So, accompanied by the CBS Orchestra (Not Really, but go with it) and the Pissed-Off TV Viewers of America, I present, my song about Primetime Premiere Week. Everybody ready?

(Song stops)
It's, the most, disappointing time, of the year.
(Song starts again)
It's right after the Emmys, all the commercial we've seen
Expectation are raise, for the upcoming year.
Then we sit through this crap, and wonder who's the bastard
That actually put this S*** on the air!
It's the most disappointing time, of the year.

(What the hell is this crap?!)
(What happened to Charlie Sheen?)
(Where's my Matlock!)

There's X-factors, broke girls, and Ashton Kutcher?
(What the fuck! This guy can't f***ing act.)
Followed by Remakes of shows that sucked to begin with
Oh, how creative, a new cop show, that's what we need?
Cause not enough shows use only initials you see?
(NCIS, CSI, SVU, GLEE, put on something you can spell at least!)
It's a really suckyass time of the year!

We've got funny comics, that you've never heard of?
(What did Whitney Cummings kill Sarah Silverman or something)
(Who's Sarah Silverman)
We got new actors on TV shows that used to be good
But now they're all stupid and the end should be near
But no, there's one full last season of crap to endure!
(This singer can't rhyme s***)
(Well, it's better than this crap on TV!)
It's a really disappointing time, of the year.

(What so new about "The New Girl)
("New Girl," I thought it was "Good Girl"! Does it suck like that one?)
No, no, that's Zooey Deschanel she's funny?
(Song stops)
(REALLY!)
Well, the show sucks, but so does everything else.
(You got that part right!)
(Song continues)

There's mothers we'll never ever meet
(What, I've been waiting five years, what do you mean we'll never meet her!)
And there's vampires and witches and supernatural beings
(Is that what that Glee show is?)
(No singing) No, but that's even worse.
There's PANAM stewardesses and girls who kick ass
(How about kicking the writer's ass, maybe write something good?)
And the weird guy on "Big Bang," who's a genius douchebag
(This is what they put on TV nowaday)
No, this is the good stuff on television. You don't even want to see this crap!

(CURTAINS OPENS ON "KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS" EPISODE)
(Oh God!)
(Why would you do that?)
(I'm gonna puke)
It's the most they can come up with
It's the best they can do
It's the worst possible s*** that anyone's ever thought of
Is there anything worth watching on this stupid thing anymore?

(Long silence)

I guess that's a no.

It's, the, most, disappointing time,
Of the YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(What's all this crap!)
(Where's the clicker)
(Why is this good girl such a P****)
(What do you mean they cancelled "Monk")
(Bring back "Friends")
(Bring back "The West Wing")
(God, this is worse than "Lost!")
(I can't understand this show?)
(This is supposed to be funny; I haven't laughed once!)
(When are they gonna cancel "The Middle!")
(Where's my "Arrested Development" DVDs?)
(Oh, for Christ's sake, I'm just gonna watch cable!)
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!
(Song ends)

Okay, thank you, thank you. Hope you liked it. Okay, not all of it was bad, (The premiere week wasn't all bad, not the song wasn't all bad. Song wasn't my best, I'll admit it.) but this is a general sense I get watching premiere week on TV. Most TV shows have fairly lousy pilot episodes, and then they're based mostly on the ratings instead of quality whether or not a show is gonna stay on for the rest of the season, or sometimes for a second episode, and a season premiere will usually be a big clue as to whether a show is still at the top of its game (Which for some shows, isn't much to begin with) or whether a show will start to go downhill for whatever reason(s). It's even more of a tenseful week for TV than Sweeps week. There is one thing that I"m finding odd about television lately. I was thinking about it when reading Tina Fey's book "Bossypants," recently, and she had some critical about many TV producers and networks and the kind of shows they've been producing. She was talking about how many of the TV shows she'd seen on TV and also about how her show, "30 Rock," a three-time Emmy Winner for Best Comedy Series, was never a ratings hit. She stumbled on a couple points that kind of intrigue me, one involved TV producers continually looking for shows with young, good-looking actors and actresses, thinking that they're going to find the next "Friends," not realizing that you can go through every successful show ever made, and no other show has an entire cast of young, attractive-looking people in them. As fas as I can remember she's right about this. I worry about that with TV dramas half the time, casting a bunch of good-looking people. It doesn't really work, outside of "Friends," which Fey argues rather convincingly in the exception. Sure, there's occasionally show with a well-known good-looking character, but not an entire main cast. Quick, other than John Travolta, name the cast of "Welcome Back Kotter"? Gabe Kaplan, that's one, who played his wife? Come back to it, who played Horseshack? Oh, Ron Palillo, somebody got it. Who played Epstein? It's on the tip of your tongue isn't it? Okay, maybe that's too old of a show. Name "The Golden Girls"! You got all them, didn't ya? Hey, I love Bea Arthur, but she wasn't a looker at any age. Go ahead, you name a show with a bunch of good-looking actors, I'll find a regular actor/actress that isn't exactly centerfold material.

That was the first point she made, was one that I hadn't been thinking about. She mentioned that her intention with "30 Rock," was to try to make the most popular show on TV, and not the cute cult little Indy show that nobody watches but wins all the awards. We wanted to be "Home Improvement." "Home Improvement"? I hadn't even thought about that show in years, yet, that was about the most popular show you could find on television in the '90s. Don't believe me, go check the People's Choice Awards. The series has more wins than any other show won the Favorite Series Award four times in a row, and Tim Allen won the Favorite Male TV Actor, an unprecedented eight years in a row; he won for every year the show was on. Actually, there's something else weird happening on basic TV. It seems many of the networks have basically chosen to air only programming that instead of trying to be the best show on TV, or th emost popular, they only air television that's devoted to a specific demographic. To some extent, this has always been the case. I always used to think of the Friday Night Lineup having nothing but "Family-friendly" sitcoms on the old ABC, TGIF lineup, which traced all the way back to the early '70s with shows like "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "Room 222". My recollections of the lineup include "Full House," "Family Matters," "Boy Meets World," "Perfect Strangers," and if that wasn't bad enough, "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." (Well, actually "Boy Meets World," kinda got better as it went along.) Frankly their wasn't anything else on TV Friday nights is what the lineup so popular, and frankly by most studies, nobody watched TV Friday nights. But I don't think this really started until FOX came into the picture. People might not remember when FOX first went on the air, but before, there used to only be three channels, ABC, NBC and CBS. FOX, lucky to be a fourth major network, was willing to put almost anything on the air, and the common joke was that they did. "Married with...Children," being the first show, which because they had nothing to lose, stayed on the air despite bad ratings until one viewer complained about the content in season three, and then the show became a major hit. It's a show that showed and spoke to a very specific audience, which for lack of a better term, I'm going to refer to as Lower Class audience. FOX, along with other shows that also leaned towards a lower-class as well as a more urban African-American audience like "Martin," "The Simpson," "Herman's Head," "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," and "Living Single," many of them good shows, filled out a more niche market that most networks weren't trying to get. (I'd should also add "The Arsenio Hall Show," which, while syndicated, often aired on FOX affiliated stations, successfully gained a late night audience without stealing an ratings or audience from "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," the then reigning, and often, lone winner of that timeslot.) Slowly though, more networks started adjusting their programming towards very specific audiences. CBS for awhile, stuck to a more family-friendly based lineup of drama series and sitcoms, except for "Murphy Brown". ABC, kinda following on the footsteps of "Married...with Children," aired "Roseanne," "Grace Under Fire," the aforementioned "Home Improvement," and a few other shows based around working lower-class union families. But, now there's entire major networks that seem to be devoted to finding an audience of 12-year old stupid girls. Yeah, CW, I'm thinking about you, which formed after combining the two failed networks UPN and WB a few years both of which also aimed for younger audiences, and why not? Technically, teenagers have the most disposable income of any group in the country right now. They've long since taken over the Hollywood movie industry, and now they've taken over a basic TV channel. That's not to say that their opinions aren't valid, but I can't remember the last time I thought about looking to one for advice on what to watch on TV. Other networks have retained certain standards they've set as a unique brand for their network. CBS is the only network that is insistent on keeping alive the 3-camera sitcom, headlined by their Monday Night lineup of "Two and a Half Men," "Mike and Molly," and "How I Met Your Mother" (The latter, while being a three-camera sitcom, does take an unconventional non-studio audience approach to it.)  NBC, has reality TV, bad ones at that, Law & Order, or some other cop show varient, and the Thursday Night Lineup, long-been the standard of quality on the network, is now filled with critical, award-winning sitcoms, that aren't that popular. That's another thing, these shows aren't exactly popular to begin with. Those teenage girls that rule CW, they may be a large enough subsect to make shows in their little subsect popular and strong, but take "Gossip Girl," for instance, probably the biggest show in that sphere for the last few years, and it's a good week if that show ever breaks the top 100 in the Neilsen Ratings. Granted their are more channels, cable especially, which I don't particularly mind if they aim for specific audiences. I don't want ESPN to go after, I don't Home & Garden TV's audience or something stupid like that. I get that, you have to pay for it, some of it should be specialized. In a sense, I don't even particularly mind that we're at a point where if the ratings are good in a certain important age group or demographic that those shows can be considered hits. Except, I don't think a lot of these shows are trying to be "Home Improvement." That's a weird thing to say, that's probably what makes "30 Rock," such a great show, that while it does get a core audience, it's not trying or aiming for it. They're trying to make the most popular show on TV, and do it the best way they know how. Frankly, I wish more shows would try to be "30 Rock," but what's the problem with making the best show they can, or the most popular one they can? Why aren't we suddenly just aiming for a specific audience so much. Filling every show with things we think the audience seems to like. CSI-type closeup on inner organs or good-looking early 20-somethings, or I don't know, what's big now, musicals about high school that make "Saved By the Bell," seem like a show about realism? I know a good show when I see one, and the intended audience of that show doesn't particularly matter much to me. What audience was "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," aiming for? I don't know. Working single women in their 30s, I doubt it. Or any of those great shows, seemed to just want to make really good shows, and hopefully people watched them, trusting that the audience if the show connects with the people making it, then the audience will eventually connect with and come around to it. That's how it used to be, but now, if you don't appeal to at least a certain core audience, it's not really worth it, and frankly, it's basically dumb luck if a show happens to be big like "Two and a Half Men," is now or "CSI," "NCIS," "Seinfeld," "Cheers," or "Home Improvement," used to be. One of the recent Super Bowls, currently holds the record for the most watched broadcast on American TV. It probably got about less than half the entire American Television audience. The old record holder is the last episode of "M*A*S*H", which held the record for almost thirty years, but when that record was set, over 60% of Americans were watching it. I doubt anybody could tell you what were the key demographics of that show are.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "25TH HOUR"

25TH HOUR (2002)

Director: Spike Lee
Screenplay: David Benioff based on his novel “The 25th Hour”


When Spike Lee’s “25th Hour,” came out in 2002, it was ignored by most every award show, and made only a handful of top 10 lists. It was on my top ten list of that year, and I thought it was one of Lee’s absolute best;  I often called it his most underrated film. It’s a funny thing about movies, sometimes a film needs a certain amount of time to pass before people truly recognize its greatness, and time for those who were ahead of the curve to gloat a bit. 

Suddenly, at the end of the decade, the film found it’s way on a lot of critic's Best of the Decade lists, including A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Roger Ebert’s. I think now is the time to rank Hour,” not as an overlooked masterpiece, but as an absolute essential in the Spike Lee canon, on par with “Do the Right Thing,” and “Malcolm X”. Lee is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. I once wrote about Lee, describing how he and his work are typically described as controversial and how it’s actually inaccurate to refer to him that way. He often presents controversial subject matter in his films, and he doesn’t hide it from the audience, but if anything, he presents his subjects realistically and empathically. In fact, when I think of his films, it’s interesting how his filmmaking skill is simultaneously classic, yet with signature touches that are so subtle, most people don’t fully realize them. 

The famous double dolly  shot he uses to make his characters seem to float above everyone else, the way he draws us in with idle conversation between side characters, as the action, or sometimes lack of action continues elsewhere, and then moving back and following his main characters through both their journeys through life and through their mind. I’ve even sat through bad films of his like “Miracle at St. Anna,” and “Girl 6,” with utter fascination, wondering what he’s going to show us next, and how exactly will he show us. 

Lee's filmsa aren't about being controversial, they're about people, which is what makes “25 Hour,” so great, it’s about the people in it. Specifically Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), a drug dealer who’s been caught, clearly somebody ratted him out, and he has one day left to get his affairs in order before he spends the next seven years in prison. His girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) is widely suspected to be the one who turned him in, especially by one Russian mobster friend (Football star Tony Siragusa), but in the meantime, he's got loose ends to tie up.

He’s meeting his friends from high school later on that night. One’s a teacher at his former prep school, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who’s run into an ethical dilemma with an extremely precocious student, Mary (Anna Paquin). His other friend is a Wall Street trader straight out of the Gordon Gekko playbook appropriately named Frank (Barry Pepper). He drinks Red Bull like its water, and he steadfastly refuses to leave his apartment which is located directly above Ground Zero. 

Lee altered from the original David Benioff novel and with this film, he became the first major American filmmaker to set a movie in New York City after 9/11. His famous opening sequence showing the two lights where the towers once stood is etched into my memory. The film’s other famous sequence is the famous fuck monologue, where Monty’s in his father James’s (Brian Cox) bar, an old Irish fireman who’s still recovering from those who were lost, and in the bathroom mirror Monty tells literally everybody in New York to go fuck themselves, before finally turning onto himself. 

There’s an illusion of a happy ending, his father telling his son that they could just keep going instead driving him to jail, and start a new life. Many misperceive this as the actual ending, not realizing that the bridge they take leads them to Sing-Sing, but even if it wasn’t, the point of truth is that like New York City and America, 9/11 changed everything forever, Monty’s life as he knows it, is also changed forever, and in his case, it's essentially over. There’s no telling what seven years in jail will do to him, but he won’t be the same person when he gets out, and the world he knew of friends and family will also not be the same. This sense of dread that will forever follow Montgomery Brogan is what the film is ultimately about. The fact that Lee would even dare, much less succeed at comparing and contracting this dread with a directly post 9/11 world, is what makes Lee a master filmmaker.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION #9: "SOURCE CODE," "PAUL," "NO STRINGS ATTACHED," AND MORE!


I'm starting to catch up on films from this year it seems, with three of my reviews being from this year, 4 from last year, and the rest are from this century. I really probably shouldn't brag about that, but this was a fairly mediocre week of filmviewing. That doesn't mean the reviews are mediocre though, the reviews are of my typical top-notch quality. Also though, after you finish my reviews, I invite people to check out a blog by Diana Eden, she's a renowned costume designer who's worked in Hollywood for over 30 years, and for and with many fascinating people, including the legendary Bob Mackie, and even if you're not that interested in Costume Designing, she's got many great stories to tell about her career. I've read all her blogs, and she's wonderfully fascinating, and has a lot of good insights into the inner working of the entertainment world. So her blog link is right below here:
Check it out, You will be entertained and informed. And now, the Reviews!
SOURCE CODE (2011) Director: Duncan Jones
4 STARS
"Source Code," kept me fascinated from the first minute, and kept me intrigued for the rest of the film, as similar to it's main character, it's constantly attempting to figure out exactly what, when, where, and what are the rules to this universe he's found himself in. It's the second feature-length film directed by Duncan Jones, he made the film "Moon," with Sam Rockwell a couple years ago and both films have similarities in how they challenged our essential understanding of body, mind, time and soul. I think if I enjoy "Source Code," slightly more, it's probably because it's in a familiar Hollywood structure. The film centers on a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhall), who suddenly awakes to find himself part of a strange procedure where he's been placed in a machine that brings him to a specific moment in time, in this case, a train that's about to blow up in exactly eight minutes, his job is to find out who's going to blow it up, and stop him. Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright play his mysterious commanders who he can only talk to through a video screen. As he tries to find the bomber, he's also trying to figure out what and how he became involved in this project. A couple weeks ago, he was in Afghanistan. He gets greeted on the train by Christina (Michelle Monagan) who is some kind of friend to the person who's identity he takes once in the eight minutes. This movie plays with some quantum physics theory that only the characters on "The Big Bang Theory," might understand, but basically, he is experiencing the same eight minutes constantly, until he finally can get it right. Yes, there's some "Groundhog Day," in this, but the movie seems to know exactly what to borrow from and how to use it in an interesting and new way. Gyllenhaal is surprisingly good here, as is Monaghan, who has kind of a tricky part here; she has to constantly being in the same moment, while Gyllenhaal has to continually evolve, change and make many alterations to the same moment. This was probably tougher to shoot than it looks. It has a few more ideas than the typical Hollywood action film, but I came away, appreciating how it was simply good.  

PAUL (2011) Director: Greg Mottola
1 1/2 STARS
I have a question here, if this movie was simply a story about two guys who pick up a third, who just happens to have a bunch of people trying to find him, would the movie be any different if the Seth Rogen hitchhiker-type character, wasn't an alien, just a guy that a few people were pissed at? I'm not completely sure it would. "Paul," has many of the ingredients I would want in a wonderful little sci-fi comedy, but something was amiss, and it missed badly at that. The movie was written and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; this is the team that created the cult hit comedy "Shaun of the Dead," (On my Netflix, still unseen by me) and one of my favorite recent comedies, the cop-film parody film, "Hot Fuzz," and Director Greg Mottola, who did the great Judd Apatow production "Superbad," as well as one of my favorite movies in recent years, the teenage romance-comedy "Adventureland." The movie begins with a pair of comic book writers (Pegg and Frost) who decide to travel America hitting all the major alien sightings spot, starting with ComicCon of course. The scenes at the beginning where they're surrounded by fellow space nerds and other such beloved comic book characters and afficiandos is the funniest scenes in the film. At a stop near Area 51, they pick up a little alien, Paul (Seth Rogen). Rogen actually acted this part and using a motion-capture technique, he was later animated to the alien character. Obviously different sections of the U.S. government are after them, the lead agent is played by Jason Bateman, and eventually a few characters will be after Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), mostly for picking up a one-eyed trailor park runner (Kristen Wiig), who Paul, cures of both blindness, and of her beliefs in Evolution. There's more than a few references and gags related to other sci-fi films, most notably "E.T.," although, there's an obligatory cameo appearance by Sigourney Weaver. If there's an alien in a film, you can almost bet, Sigourney Weaver, will be there now. Frankly, the biggest complaint I have is that this movie isn't that funny, and frankly I was just surprised. It's seems like they didn't have enough confidence in the story itself, so they just went ahead and made the kind of movie that they were trying to parody, and in the process, they lost the comedy. There's barely any need even to have everybody after him, except for one conversation about, something involving DNA extraction and/or brain surgery, I don't even remember now, but for a comedy with an alien at the center that's a smartass stoner type, this movie made me wish I had some of "Alf," to rewatch. I'm not sure how all this talent can make something so bad, but lets just hope this is an aberration and not the norm.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED (2011) Director: Ivan Reitman
3 STARS
Over twenty years ago, "When Harry Met Sally..." asked whether or not a man and a woman can be friends or would the sexual tension eventually get in the way. That film said no, although based on, well, my entire life, apparently they can. Now there's seems to be a new question where now the question is whether or not a man and a women can have sex occasionally without ending up in a romantic relationship. Two romantic-comedies that came out literally months apart, actually address this question, one called "No Strings Attached," the other being "Friends with Benefits." I'll review the latter, when I see it. (Oddly enough, these kind of strange Hollywood parallels aren't as unusual as you'd think, btw.) in "NSA", the two friends are Emma and Adam (Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher) who meet first at Camp when their teens, and then they run into each other at a frat party years later. Emma invites Adam to "some stupid thing," (her words which should've probably been more specific), and then they keep running, coincidently and periodically, until finally, Adam, who's a P.A. on a TV show that's obviously based off of "Glee," freaks out after finding out his father is dating his ex-girlfriend, and starts calling every girl in his phone. He wakes, in doing a walk of shame in Emma's apartment, who she shares with a few people. Emma is a very headstrong doctor, who's naturally independent and  typically scares off possible relationships before they start. The film was directed by one of the best comedy directors around, Ivan Reitman, ("Ghostbusters," "Dave," "Stripes") but this movie is surprisingly low-key. In fact, certain notes of this film actually touched on realism. I think a lot of these, "sex buddy," relationships probably kinda begin and proceed the way they do in this film. I couldn't help notice the script has a female writer in Elizabeth Meriweather.  Looking her up, she's now the producer/creator of the TV show "New Girl". Something tells me she's got more interested things to say down the line; I was somewhat caught off guard by this film's casual insight. Portman, just won the Oscar for "Black Swan," and this is not the most difficult part for her, but she's good, and Kutcher, is surprisingly good here as well. I think his natural talents are better behind the camera still, but you can see him, really working on getting the nuances of this characters right and believable. It's a marginal recommendation, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

FOR COLORED GIRLS (2010) Director: Tyler Perry

2 1/2 STARS

Well, I've give Tyler Perry some points here for trying. I'm not a fan of Perry, who recently has named the biggest money-earner in Hollywood, yes, Hollywood, and he's basically created a mini-entertainment Empire in Atlanta in recent years, but I've mostly been baffled by his popularity. His characters are often more like caricatures, and often his stories rely too on faith as a storytelling device, which really is the worst device you could use to tell a story, believably. But apparently he strikes a cord with audiences. Audiences, he doesn't usually screen his films for critics. He did screen this one though, and this isn't his typical film either. In fact he adapted it from the famous  Ntozake Shange play "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf," which is a very ambitious play to even try to adapt. That play, doesn't have a narrative, and it involves multiple African-American women, who are only named after a color, telling many varied and different tales of some of there experiences. Probably, a similar, more familiar example to what he's working with here, would be "The Vagina Monologues," which also has a similar structure. Here, Perry gets about as good a collection of actors you can find, and at times, the movie shines, but Perry's just a little faithful to the poetic monologue structure of the play, inserting many of them in between regular bits of conversation as he tries to bring all these character into some form of a relationship structure between them. I don't know how anybody could've adapted this play onto the screen successfully, so I'm certainly impressed that Tyler Perry gave it a try, but he might have just been a little too faithful to it. I won't stop anybody from watching this though, for the parts that are good, and there are a good number of them, and there's one particular scenes, involving multiple characters witnessing a very inhumane vile act that is just devastating. It might be the best scene Perry's ever directed.

MADE IN DAGENHAM (2010) Director: Nigel Cole

3 1/2 STARS

"Made in Dagenham," recieved 4 BAFTA Awards nominations last years (British Equivalent of Oscars), including a Supporting Actress nomination for Miranda Richardson. Frankly, I'm a little surprised at these nominations, Richardson's role is good but basically amounts to an elevated cameo, but the movie a nice little feel-good, based-on-a-true-story tale. It's about the 1968 strike involving the all-female seat-cushion sewers who worked at the Ford Dagenham, England plant. Ford at this time was having union trouble all throughout the world, and this strike, which consisted of a little over a couple hundred people. They were declassified from skilled laborers to unskilled, and the eventual strike would be the first step in required Equal pay laws in England. The strikers are lead by Rita O'Grady, (Sally Hawkins) who's eventually takes over as the Shop Stewart, and Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) who's their boss. This movie is one of many films from Britian in recent years that takes a very light and flighty approach to some looks at recent minor (or sometimes) historical moments, that I don't quite know what to make. Director Nigel Cole, previously made one of the "Calendar Girls," and there's also been "Kinky Boots," a few years back. They're like Richard Curtis meets "Norma Rae," type stories, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that, but there also isn't a lot particularly interesting about them either. This movie has good performances by Hawkins and Hoskins, as well as Richard Schiff and that's realy what holds the film together, and it does shed some light on a lesser-known part of modern history. We never did pass the ERA, did we?

MEGAMIND (2010) Director: Tom McGrath

2 1/2 STARS

I never thought I'd see an animated feature film that uses so many AC/DC and Guns 'n' Roses songs in it. (Well, at least one that didn't have "Heavy Metal" in the title) Dreamworks' film "Megamind," starts with a parody of the Superman origin story, as it tells the story of how Megamind (Will Ferrell), became the villainous lifelong arch-enemy of Metro Man (Brad Pitt), the protector of Metro City, which Megamind calls Metrocity. Unexpectedly, during one of Megamind's latest ill-fated plans, Megamind accidentally kills Metro Man, leaving him without a nemesis to battle, and his life, surprisingly unfulfilling. You ever wonder what would happen if Lex Luthor or the Joker would've actually succeed in thier plans? Apparently, they'd be so disappointed at the lack of an opponent, that he decides to form a new superhero to battle against. He decides on Hal (Jonah Hill) the lowly cameraman who's in love with the town's Lois Lane, Reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey). After Metro Man's defeat, Roxanne soon begins dating Bernard, the local gallery owner of the Metro Man Musuem, unaware that it's actually Megamind in disguise. "Megamind," does suffer from having come out shortly after the Pixar animated, "Despicable Me," which also involves a story of a master criminal type that eventually changes his worldview, although that film certainly uses different storytelling methods, it is a better movie. But my main problem with "Megamind," was that it kind trounches along very slowly at times. After the initial battle sequence, the movie doesn't get off the ground, for almost an hour, and frankly, this wasn't leaning in the right direction to begin with. I think there's some interesting material to use and satirize here, especially considering the explosion of Superhero films from Hollywood in recent years, but it really just doesn't get off the ground until late, almost like it took it's protagonist's dilemma a little too existensially. While the animation is good, and the final battle sequence is quite exciting, the film is ultimately a very forgettable entry in the Dreamworks canon.

THE SWITCH (2010) Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

1 STAR

This movie begins with an obviously rash decision by one character, (well, if you include a subsequent party, two bad decisions) a drunken act by another, and then an idiot plot for the rest of the film. I would normally start a film review like this off by saying something like "Poor Jennifer Aniston..." and begin talking about her amazing comic abilities in other films, and how underrated she is as an actress, possibly bringing up her amazing Indy film work, but on top of starring in this, she's also a producer, and it's made by her production company, so obviously, she must have thought this pet project was better than it actually was. The movie begins seven years ago, where Kassie (Aniston) decides it's time to have a kid, and chose a sperm donor. She reveals this information to her longtime guyfriend Wally (Jason Bateman, wow! Two bad films with him this week, just as I'm finally coming around on "Arrested Development", too) who's offended that she didn't even bother to ask him if he wanted to donate, but is also still madly in love with her, long after their brief romantic fling subsided. At Kassie's party to celebrate her insemination, (Yeah, you read that right) Wally gets drunk, and does something he would greatly regret if he could remember it. If you can't quite figure out what it is he does by now, think of the film's title, and think of what would be the absolute worse thing somebody could do at that moment, and odds are, you've got it. After losing touch for seven years, Kassie moves back into town with her quirky son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), and Kassie starts to take an interest in her newly-single sperm donor, Roland (Patrick Wilson), just around the time when obvious character similarites begin to show between Wally and Sebastian. Suddenly, Wally's drunken memory slowly returns to him. Wally should probably tell Kassie what happened, but he doesn't, at least, not right away, he waits 'til, right around the most embarrassing and inconvenient time possible. Not only is this film not funny, it's fairly disturbing, and it's completely cliche-ridden. Even Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, playing the main character's friends-they-tell-everything-to, can't save this piece of crap.



THE EDUKATORS (2005) Director: Hans Weingartner
4 STARS
I've seen a few films that are similar to "The Edukators," but this one's pretty good, albeit, slightly long. The movie takes place, where much student anticapitalist protests seem to take place, Berlin, and follow three students, Jan, Jule and Peter (Daniel Bruhl, Julia Jentsch, and Stipe Erceq), who've started calling themselves "The Edukators," and have begun protesting the system by peacefully breaking in to rich people's home, and creatively reorganizing their things in such a manner, intending to make some kind of political point. They don't steal anything, they're just aware that they're on the front lines of the upcoming socialist revolution. ([Slight chuckle and smile]Aren't we all? [head shrug]) During one of these break-ins, the house's owner Hardenberg, comes home, (Burghart Klaussner) and without many options, they kidnap him. They finally take him to some out-of-the-way cabin for about a week, where the three kids and Hardenburg, get into some deep philosophical debates and life reflections, while the kid keep him at gunpoint, but with a weeks-worth of food, trying to figure out what to do with him, and whether or not any attempts at Stockholm Syndrome by him is an act or not. This is the first film I've seen by director Hans Weingartner, and I'm still trying out if the sound in my headphones when I watched it on Netflix.com at the library was off, or is it was intentionally kinda coming in and out, and a little jumpy, but either way, it was bothersome. The actors, especially Klaussner, who's on of Germany's premiere actors, as the hippie-turned-industrialist banker they kidnap, is especially good here. If his performance isn't believable, then the film wouldn't work at all. It basically hinges on his supporting performance here. It's not a particularly new story, or the best version of it, but it's still quite a good one.
CAUTIVA (AKA CAPTIVE) (2006) Director: Gaston Biraben

4 STARS

I generally like to think of myself as being very knowledgeable about history, but the unfortunate fact is that I don't know as much as I wish I did, especially about other countries. "Cautiva," or "Captive," is a film from Argentina that shows a very real situation that's occurred down there in recent years, that's a direct result of it's recent dictatorial past. The film is centered around an amazing performance by young Barbara Lombardo, as a 15-year old student named Christina, who lives with her well-to-do, and seemingly innocuous family, until a blood test reveals that she is in fact, not Christina, but Sofia Lombardi, a young daughter of Communist activists, and both of her real parents, suddenly disappeared after her birth. She's forced to move in with a grandmother that she doesn't know. She has no idea how or why this happened, and while her parents have hired the best lawyer they can, she slowly begins to dig deeper into her birth parents' past, trying to find any clues regarding what exactly happened to her, and to them, and it becomes clear that people only seem to know very minor details of the events, and a lot of suspicious coincidences are involved. This is one of those rare times I implore people to watch a movie just to learn something. I didn't know something like this was/could happen in fairly recent time (The movie, creatively parallels some of the events with a famous World Cup Soccer game), and it seems like many of the people who were there, didn't even know what was going on in the room next door. That's seems to be a similar pattern of commands in dictator regimes, where one person would have a specific job, and they're attention to that job is so intense that they don't notice anything, or anyone else happening. The old expressions, where if it's benefits oneself not to something, they will make sure to be the last to know it. This is a very memorable and powerful film, that's apart of recent history, that we're still working on correcting the wrongs on. 

LONELY HEARTS (2007) Director: Todd Robinson
3 STARS
The "Lonely Hearts Killers," were the Bonnie and Clyde of the 1940s. They killed at least a dozen people, using a scam that isn't that uncommon. It involves placing an ad in, what was then called the Lonely Hearts section of the personal ads, bored ladies, mostly older spinster types who are still looking for love and are desperate enough to let into their life a man who's a skilled romantic letter-writer, until he comes in and steals all their money. The conman here is Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto), and his scam works well until he runs into Martha Beck (Salma Hayek), who scams him right into bed, and out of his money. The movie is narrated by Charles (James Gandolfini), a detective along with Elmer (John Travolta), his recently widowed partner, begin searching for the two, after the  suicide of one of their victims. They work through P.O. Boxes across the country, and use fake names, I.D.'s and stolen cars, and are very hard to catch, even after they murder they begin murdering their victims, something Ray isn't immediately comfortable with, but is as much a turn-on for Martha as sex is. This movie is slightly erratic in it's storytelling, and some of the casting is strange here. Salma Hayek, in particular, who I typically love, seems like an odd casting choice here, and there's underused Laura Dern as a fellow-cop that Elmer has an occasional thing with, I'm not quite sure why her character was needed here. The movie's written and directed by Todd Robinson, it's not the most impressive debut, but as you're watching, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the film and the crime spree, and that's why I'm barely recommending it, despite some of it's flaws, and because Jared Leto, is surprisingly good here as a con man. He doesn't act, too often, but here, in "Chapter 27," and a few other films, 'Requiem for a Dream," he seems to always go above and beyond in his work when acting. I should really stop being surprised when he gives a good performance, but he acts so rarely, it's almost a surprise to even see him, must less doing something well.