Here's the latest edition of my "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!" Starting with Two Oscar-nominated feature, "War Witch" and "Chasing Ice"!
WAR WITCH (2012) Director: Kim Nguyen
"War Witch" or "Rebelle" as it's also commonly known as, earned an Oscar nomination for Canada in the Best Foreign Language film category, and while I'm recommending it, I think it was a little bit overrated as a movie. It's certainly good and powerful, I just came out of it a little more than detached than I think others were. Shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which many of us still think of as Zaire, young Komona (1st-time actress Rachel Mwanza) is a 12-year old girl in a never-named sub-Sahara country in Africa. She's kidnapped by enemy rebels, where she's force to kill her parents. Then, she becomes enshrined among the rebel group. There's battles, conflicts, violence, and even some more,- I was gonna say happy or happier moments, but let's just say, less-strentuous moments of joy-like feelings. Soon, the great leader, Great Tiger (Mzinga Mwinga) considers Komona a great witch, and soon, she is on the lookout to predict where and when government soldiers might be. She also, now a witch, is worried that her parents were never given a proper burial, which is bad luck. All this, while also getting raped and impregnated by the groups leader, and is ostracized for having not been married before getting pregnant. She and her close friend Magician (Serge Kanyinda) then make many attempts to escape the rebels and tribe, some successful, others not, and even afterward, the position they're in is hardly a considerable improvement. I think what's ultimately troubling me about "War Witch" is that, at its core, this film doesn't seem believable. Not, in the sense that none of what's happening in the film is possible, in fact it probably is based on someone's story, but the film doesn't feel like an actual place and time to me, it feels like a bunch of discombobulated parts of things thrown together. I mention that there's never a specific country named, There's some mention of the coltan trade, which is generally associated with the Congo region I learn, but that's not made clear at all. I think if you took out the war aspects and the story was just about an adolescent girl who's in a desperate and troubling situation, the story itself, could've taken place, anywhere randomly in the world essentially, and that's sort of troubling to me. There's something generic about this film that undermines much of the emotional impact that the film was going for. Mwanza's a natural actress and many members of the cast like her, are untrained and were quite good. This is the first film I've seen from writer/director Kim Nguyen, and he's certainly ambitious with this piece. I'm recommending it, but not as strongly as a lot of others have. There's a lot of stuff that's good, but I never really bought that everything in the film really had cohesion together, so it's a mixed review, but a respectable one.
CHASING ICE (2012) Director: Jeff Orlowski
In some ways, it's good that a film like "Chasing Ice" exists, in that it chronicles a guy who's doing something unprecendent, essential and spectacular. On the other hand, I'd rather see more of his films than this documentary. James Balog, struggled with what exactly he wanted to do early, but soon, after working for National Geographic, he started an incredibly dangerous and ambitious project to start filming in the Arctic and photographic and videorecording ice as it's reshaping and melting away our coastlines. It's like a view from the 50-yard line of those pictures and images we saw in "An Inconvenient Truth" of the world changing. Hell, Balog was probably the one who took those images. He had to design and create, through much trial and errors cameras that cna continually record and withstand the cool, and run continuously with occasional checkups from his numerous helpers and Balog himself. He wals up so much treacherous land that his knee is giving out, and it doesn't heal correctly after surgery. Yet, some of the images he gets are spectacular. Glacier melting, at the moment of their destruction, turning into avalanches into the water. Proof that coastlines are shrinking and turning quickly. Sometimes months after returning to a location, they can't even find it when comparing pictures, not because they're lost, but the landscape is now completely unrecognizable. The film's an interesting look at Balog, although I personally find the images he produces and videos more outstanding that this 75-minute documentary. I'd personally just watch a documentary on the ice he photographs, what little is left of it. "Chasing Ice" earned an Oscar nomination, not Best Documentary, but for Best Original Song, for J. Ralph's "Before My Time" which plays over the end credits and is sung by Scarlet Johansson in that beautiful raspy female-Tom Waits thing she does, but the song is unusually forgettable; I suspect it was nominated because of Johansson's participation. Still, "Chasing Ice" is a good documentary in what's a banner year for the medium. It's just not a great one, but definitely recommending it, because you gotta the ways that Balog's goes about getting these images, as well the timelapse photos themselves and the videos he gets of these literally Earth-shattering events that- you know this misguided belief out there by the uneducated, perputrated by the corporations that global warming is either or something that isn't worth concerning about, or in the faraway future,- I mean, here's footage of continents falling into the ocean, chunk by chunk and piece by piece, happening yesterday. It's hard to ignore or forget once you've seen it, and frankly, it's amazing that we are able to see it at all, thank to James Balog.
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013) Director: J.J. Abrams
Well, I'll say this, I did like "Star Trek Into Darkness" more than the previous film, but not by much. It was enough to recommend it, for the people who will enjoy certain parts of it, but I question whether or not those people actually like "Star Trek", at all. I'm not what anyone would consider a trekkie, but I am a fan of the franchise, but J.J. Abrams bastardization of it recently, is merely a pale imitation. He knows the words, essentially, but he doesn't know the music really, and besides that, he's playing jazz with it, or at least he things he is; he's really just making a lot of noise. The movie begins with Kirk (Chris Pine) violating about every statute of the Prime Directive to save Spock (Zachary Quinto) from getting swallowed from a volcano. Spock tells on him, for good reason, and his stripped of his command from the Enterprise. Then, the Starfleet Academy is soon the victim of a terrorist attack by a former Starfleet member named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who imdb.com, gives away his actual character's identity, I won't.), who then smartly attacks the meeting room where every Captain of #1 in the Federation is present to discuss what to do with the attack. This propels Kirk, back in charge just as suddenly as he had lost command, as they now must go into Klingon space to destroy Harrison who's hiding out in a deserted area of a lesser-populated Klingon planet, so as not to draw much attention from the Klingons either. Also on board, 62 secret missiles that Starfleet had been working on, which of course, are not what they seem, and even cause Scotty (Simon Pegg, arguably the film's best performance) to hand in his resignation after the secretiveness of their existance/arrival on the mission. I've seen a lot of people explaining why "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a great film, while frankly, I'm not sure I even should recommend it. It's this bizarre combination of trying to bend over backwards to be faithful to the original franchise, while trying his damnedest to make it new and more emphasis on action, quick-cutting and special effects driven. Those are two problems right there. First of all, if you're gonna make it so different, why bother trying to perfectly fit in to the original franchise, like a lost piece of Star Trek scripture that only recently got discovered near the Dead Sea or something. The best sequence in the movie, and it is a good sequence, especially for those familiar with the franchise, and his one great idea, would've been ten times better, had he actually had the balls to go with the cheat ending that would've pissed off 99% of trekkies, for obvious reasons, but instead, he has to find a way out of it. I won't give it away, but it would've involved, the possible death of one of the two main characters, and if he'd gone through with it, yes there would've been pissed off fans, but it would've at least given us an actual point of view on this series, as oppose to simple homage. Why did they decide to simply revisit the original crew and franchise, and just make it different. I said before, if you're gonna tackle "Star Trek", and bring something new to it, why not go three or four years into the future, past Picard, and come up with an entirely crew and franchise, and problems and species, and really have fun with it and try to figure out what this crew would Starfleet be dealing then? The possibilities would be endless and you wouldn't have to worry about being so committed to staying true to the original, just already have the history in there. Even with the attempts at staying true to the franchise's origins, there's things that make no sense. I mean, we get it, Kirk is reckless and shoots from the gut, but I don't buy that he was this frickin' reckless? He's not Han Solo for Christ's sake. (This Kirk's always in a bar too come to think of it.) And at another point, Spock, who's relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is on the ropes by the way, another addition to the storyline I have a hard time buying, he does something when he's captatining the Enterprise at one point, that is completely illogical. Not the scenes at the end where he's back on Earth in a murderous rage chasing after Harrison; it's the callback to the most famous cameo in the previous film, which I didn't think made much sense to have there either, but he brings that character back into the plot for some exposition; I don't know how he was even able to do that by the way, but more importantly, there's no scenario or reason why Spock would do that. I'm really torn on "Star Trek Into Darkness", for what it is, I am recommending it, but the more I think about it, despite recommending it, I can't fathom a reason for why it exists.
SHADOW DANCER (2013) Director: James Marsh
In this post-9/11 world, there's a tendency to think of terrorists as these disenfranchised angry jihadist and infidels, who go off and leave their families to be trained in some camp somewhere. In "Shadow Dancer", the terrorist is taken by police, after she helped abandon an IRA terrorist plot, is taken into police custody, and is soon back home, caring after her two kids. This was Northern Ireland in 1993, and Collette (Andrea Riseborough), who's been a devoted IRA member since a tragic incident as a teenager. Now a single mother of two, is going to work undercover for MI-5, and be an informant on her brothers Gerry and Connor (Aiden Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson), both active IRA operative. The MI-5 agent is Mac (Clive Owen), and the IRA is in distress and disagreement with themselves as they're heading towards peace talks. However, the conflict within the IRA is mirror by the conflict by MI-5, as Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson) also has an informant on the inside, and is willing to see Collette asw collateral damage to protect her project. While Mac's working behind the scenes to get Collette safe and sound, while continue to be an informant, it becomes clear to the IRA head that there's an informant, and everyone in the McVeigh family is a suspect to Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot), the IRA's head of security. "Shadow Dancer" was directed by James Marsh, who's a very skilled director, he's alternating between good thrillers lately like this film, as well as the second film in the "Red Riding Trilogy", and between really good documents, including "Project Nim", and his Oscar-winning "Man on Wire", and what he really does well here is give us a sense of the time and place, moreso than the actual story itself, which is rather traditional actually, and honestly didn't grasp that to well, but the sense of place, as well as the performances by Riseborough and Owen are what's really what's worth the watch here. The film was written by Tom Bradby, and it's based on his novel, and he worked as a reporter in Belfast in the early '90s, this very violent and frightening time, where you could be setting dinner, and suddenly there's a firefight on the street, and you're the ones about to throw the next grenade. I admire "Shadow Dancer", but was underwhelmed overall, as this isn't really a new story, just a new setting, and generally expect better out of the director, so a mild recommendation, since this was probably the best film they could've made of this story, under the budget constraints. The film got a few Bifa nominations, which is the British equivalent of the Independent Spirit Awards, and I think the possibility exists that more could've been done here and made certain parts of the story more elaborate and explicit, but still, definitely worth seeing though. There's a lot of talent involves here, it'd just spread a little more unevenly then it probably could've been.
GIMME THE LOOT (2013) Director: Adam Leon
In the age of people like Banksy and Shepard Fairey are major names said at Sotheby's auction houses, I'm a little surprise that there's still people out there who use graffiti simply for tagging, or bombing as it's often called in "Gimme the Loot". The film's director Adam Leon won the prestigious Someone to Watch Independent Spirit Award last year, and he definitely has an interesting New Wave style that's very attractive. The simple tale revolves around Sofia and Malcolm (Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson) a couple taggers in the Bronx, who recently got their work screwed over by taggers from Queens, who painted over their work with a Giant replica of the famous Mets Apple in Shea Stadium. For those who don't know about the apple, in Shea Stadium, or now as it's called, CitiField, there's a giant apple with a Mets logo on it, that pops out of it's hiding place everytime the Mets hit a home run, and it's big thing there. (As a Phillies fan, I'm very familiar with that stupid friggin' apple...-) Anyway, they decide that to get back at the Queens taggers, who lauded their work on some public access show about graffiti, which appparently exists, they decide that their gonna find a way to tag the actual giant apple in Shea Stadium. This involves lots of intricacy, and $500 dollars to bribe a security guard they know to let them into the stadium. They try selling some pot and Sofia tries collecting money from people who owe her. Malcolm gets caught up with a rich white girl named Ginny (Zoe Lescaze) who's parents are in Nantucket that weekend. They have a tender moment that's lingered on as he delivers pot to her. He also notices the thousands of dollars of jewelry and keys just left there, and spends half the movie trying to figure out a way back into the house. Also, he left his shoes there after making out with Ginny. Sofia's more bullheaded and foul-mouthed, and certainly not someone who out looking for a man or sex, and the fact that those two hang out so much certainly leads to their fair share of jokes and rumors. There's a kind a "Bicycle Thief" feel to the film, as the two kids go around New York all weekend trying to get money running into other characters, running into more trouble than it's worth. It's a fairly thin plot and story, but you do get enough of the neighborhood sense and feel, and these characters are played incredibly well by Washington and Hickson, these are two very good young actors with few credits so far, this is Hickson's feature-film debut actually. I'm definitely interested in seeing what Leon makes in the future and with a budget and a more elaborate story. It's a minor film, but it's a good one. A good first film from a young talented director, not much more than that, but it's interesting, well-made and different enough to recommend.
AMERICAN MARY (2013) Director: Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
Sometimes after a week of watching about a dozen or so films, it can be hard to even remember some of the movies I've watched, but I have a hard time believing anybody's gonna forget "American Mary" so soon. It's a bloody, gory, over-the-top, sick and twisted tale about the underground world of extreme body dismorphia and God helped me, I liked it. If you don't know what body dismorphia is...- well, I don't know to how to finish that sentence, but it's a great setting for, what I guess is essentially a horror film, although for an American film, this one's a lot more influenced by the Asia Extreme movement than most horrors and slashers. Mary is Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a med student studying to be a surgeon who has a Hungarian grandmother she talks to on the phone occasionally, and loads of debt and lots of talent. She has a teacher, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren) who's abusive, mentally, and eventually sexually towards her, as he roofies her during one of those parties that professors always through and students attend in films, that I've never seen occur in real life. Unluckily for him, she had just taken a job as a surgeon for some disreputable people, led by Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo), who torture people, by sometimes dismembering and reattaching there body parts. She gets a reputation pretty quickly and is soon seeked out by Beatrice (Tristan Risk) a stripper who's had several surgeries to look and sound exactly like Betty Boop. This is only the second-feature film this actress Tristan, has been in, and I've never heard of the first one, but I'll be damned, she looks and sounds like Betty Boop, and it's disturbing, especially with that weird voice of hers. Anyway, she gets Mary her first client a fashion designer named Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) who's dream is to be a doll. (I'm wondering how long I should pause before I can explain that in more detail, and let you guys think about it first) And by doll, I mean, anatomically, wanting her breasts reduced, her nipples removed, and as much of her vagina as physically possible gone, in order to look like a naked Barbie doll. Oh, this is just the beginning. Twins who wanted to switch each other's arms, heart-shaped nipples, stumps for hands, actual angel wings, the more sick and disturbing, you want, you go to "Bloody Mary", for those who simply can't express themselves and appearance through tattoos and piercings alone. (BTW, "Bloody Mary" should've been the title of the film.) The movie basically becomes a collage of dysmophia after that, and she does occasionally kill a random old professor to get even at the people who set her on this highly-profitable but unconventional surgical practice. This is the second feature film from Directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, after their cult hit "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" which I haven't seen it, but after "American Mary", I can understand the nickname they've gotten in horror circles now, "The Twisted Sisters". If you're already predetermined to liking your horror with a side of shock and occasional vomiting, "American Mary" is an entertaining bloody and disgusting film, and I had fun with it. If you're gonna do it, you better really go for it. Obsession with looks is already a great subject for horror, if anybody's seen "Dumplings", either the short version in "Three... Extremes" or the entire feature, you know the many ways this subject can be used, and these sisters don't back away from it, and to some extent, it's really refreshing. Just don't expect me to participate or seek out any experts in this sort of practice anytime soon.
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (2013) Director: Bob Byington
Somebody up there must really hate me for allowing this film to be made just for me to watch it. Okay, maybe that was a little too harsh, but "Somebody Up There Likes Me", is one of those movies that shows all the cutesy-little ways that quirky little independent films can go really, really wrong. A "comic fable," according to Netflix's description, which is code for "We don't know how the fuck else to describe it either", is based around two guys who work in a restaurant, Sal and Max. (Nick Offerman and Keith Poulson) Both men keep getting married and divorced, sometimes they get rich, usually after some idiot relative of there's dies and leaves them an inheritance, (I call them idiots, 'cause apparently they chose to leave these two their inheritance, so either they're stupid or really don't care what happens after they die.) Max sleepwalks his way through life, barely even being awake during couples' therapy sessions with his 2nd wife Lyla (Jess Walker) who has an affair on him with Max, after they've gotten rich and Sal has been set up with his poolhouse on their extensive property. This is fine for both, 'cause Max has been having an affair with a bubbly and precocious babysitter Clarissa (Stephanie Hunt), the kinda girl who asks for a boob job when she hears someone is thinking of giving away money. (She's also the kind who doesn't need one, but asks anyway, just to confuse the men she's seducing.) Not that Max is hard to seduce, but he's so deadpan and half-assed about existing in life that it doesn't really matter. His son, Lyle barely even talks until he's an adult (Jonathan Togo, as an adult). It seems like he didn't learn to talk until he was 15 or something, at least, when he knocks up Clarissa's who's now married to Max. Every so often, someone dies, unusually young, even though nobody ever exactly ages in this film. I think it's a style choice to do that, although, why exactly that's done, I couldn't tell you, so every other scene seems to take place at a cemetary near to a giant tombstone that we have a hard time believing that these people are able to afford, or are sure of how to go about buying a tombstone. Several tombstones actually. This movie's running joke is that people live life and then die, and these are about the most uninteresting of lives in the history of film. Nick Offerman's kinda okay, doing a bit of a twist on his character from "Parks and Recreation", and his real-life wife Megan Mullally makes a cameo as a therapist who couldn't be more distracted and barely there in her therapy sessions if she was doing a crossword puzzle during them. That's the problem with the film, the movie's distracted from it's own movie. There's some cutesy animation sequences that show the passage of time every five years, probably added because nobody would get that any other way, as everything looks and seems like it could've happened in the same week if we didn't know better. I kept thinking about Robert McKee's declaration in "Adaptation.", as portrayed by Brian Cox, about how you can't have a protagonist without desire, and how it doesn't work. This whole movie had no desire. None of the characters had any desire. It's almost an insult to call them characters. Maybe the writer/director Bob Byington, was going for some kind of third-rate Wes Anderson here, but there was no joy, no laughter, not one joke was funny by the way- Ugh. You know what, I don't want to talk about this film anymore, let's just move on. Next. Next movie. Next movie....
PAUL WILLIAMS STILL ALIVE (2012) Director: Stephen Kessler
It is a surprising truth to many that most people these days don't know the name Paul Williams, yet unbeknownst to them, they probably know all of his work. If nothing else, they might remember him as Little Enos in "Smokey and the Bandit", but he had a much more higher profile back in the '60s and '70s. Known for his diminutive stature, he began his career as an actor, getting parts at age 24 that were written for ten-year-olds. He's instead went on to having one of the biggest songwriting careers ever. "We Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays" for the Carpenters, "An Old Fashioned Love Song" for Three Dog Night, a solo hit "Waking Up Alone", "You and Me Against the World" for Helen Reddy, not to mention the music for "Bugsy Malone", and numerous songs on David Bowie's "Hunky Dory" album. He was nominated for five Oscars, winning one with Barbra Streisand for writing the lyrics to "Evergreen", the theme song from "A Star is Born", and of course, maybe most famously, he wrote for Kermit the Frog, the classic "Rainbow Connection" that opens "The Muppet Movie". (Another film he has a small role in, no pun intended) He was also on television everywhere. Carson, "Match Game", "Circus of the Stars", guest hosting for Merv Griffith, guest acting gigs on dozens of TV shows. He was also a alcohol and drug abuser for most of his career, and soon, he seemed to fall off the face of the Earth, or at least the spotlight. Director Stephen Kessler was a huge fan of his growing up, and was shocked to find out one day that Paul Williams, was indeed, still alive. He's alive and well, and barely recognizable from his coked-up TV appearances days, but seemingly in much better shape than anyone would've imagined. "Paul Williams: Still Alive" isn't so much about his journey as it is about Kessler's fascination with him. He honestly didn't know that he was still alive, and I'll be honest frankly, if somebody challenged me to a game of "Alive or Dead" on that one, I'm not 100% I would've known the answer. Kessler seems to just start following Williams around for years as they start out rather standoffish with each other and unsure of where the film is going or even what it's about. William's is unusually knowledgeable about film and knows how to duck the camera and play to it or against it at all times. When his laryngitus is screwing up his vocal during a performance, he brings the lights down so Kessler won't be able to record him. They go to celebrity golf tournaments and they start touring the world. Even going to parts of The Philippines for a tour in parts of the country that are specifically on America's "Do Not Visit" lists for it's an Al Qaeda refuge, terrifying Kessler, although Williams, who's had way wilder nights in The Philippines than anything Al Qaeda could think up, doesn't seem disuaded, other than the amount of money he's being paid. Kessler's sometimes too intrusive, as what he really wants is for Williams to revisit those past TV clips and such, but now an counselor for recovering addicts himself, he just isn't interested in tredging up his past, and Williams is surprisingly sharp at spotting those manipulative questions Kessler tries to ask, about his supposed lost of fame. (And to Kessler's credit, he's smart enough to put them in the film those moments.) Williams has clearly become more at peace and seems more embarassed by those drug-fueled TV appearances and isn't interested in worrying about or relieving the past. He lived through the fame, something many didn't even think he did, and he's at a better place in his life than most people are during these kinds of documentaries. If anything, Kessler probably picked the worst possible moment in time to do a documentary on Paul Williams, but that struggle to connect with his hero is a surprisingly fun and entertaining film. Also, I might add, Williams himself recorded a song "Still Alive", for the film, and he's writing and singing great songs. (He should've gotten the Oscar nomination that "Chasing Ice" got for Best Song, sorry J. Ralph) Williams is also the ASCAP (Songwriters and Compuser's Union), protecting the rights of songwriters everywhere. He's definitely still alive, maybe moreso than ever.
CORPO CELESTE (2012) Director: Alice Rohrwacher
There's a lot of good and interesting intentions in "Corpo Celeste," which translates from Italian to "Celestial Body", but it gets so bogged down in its own allegorical commentary, that you just tune out. Marta (Yle Vianello) is thirteen years old, and has been living in Switzerland most of her life, but now, her mother and sister are moving back to the Reggio Calabria section of Southern Italy, where she was born. Marta is then enrolled in catechism classes in which, well, if you've ever taken catechism of any kind, (I have) they don't really teach you an all-encompassing vision of Jesus Christ, or the Bible, and they end up going through many strange exercises and lessons, liking the class blindfolding themselves to learn what it was like for the blind man before Jesus restored his sight. Strangely, the family doesn't push marta to the church out of a strong religious ideology, but moreso out of a way to get Marta to make new friends, and associate herself with the community. This makes her even more at a loss religious-wise, right as adolescence begins reeping up on her, like getting her first period at an inappropriate time. She helps retrieve a giant cross for a priest, who seems like one of those priests that's been corrupted long ago, and has been, but when he breakdown his more intriguing depiction of Christ, Marta's surprised and somewhat inspired. The metaphors are pretty apparent, as the struggling with growing up match the struggles of the church to reach and expand it's audience, or as one parishioner points out, "The church is for old people and toddlers". It's got some interesting moments and a definite point of view from first time writer/director Alice Rohrwacher, but the film overall is so heavy-handed that it's just a little too easy to shut down during it, even as Marta begins building herself up, and rebeling and finally gaining a sense of herself and independence. It's an approach to a coming-of-age story, but it's also so downtrodden and slow, and the metahors and allegories are really just pushed a little too much; we only get very brief glimpses of Marta that seem to resemble her as a real teenager outside of this setting and in a more domesticated state, some more breaking up of this would've helped. So, I can't quite recommend it, in terms of entertainment value. It's got some interesting ideas, that I hope get more reigned in for Rohrwacher's next film, but for the time being, it's more of an chore to sit through than a joy.
IN THE FAMILY (2011) Director: Patrick Wang
Few films have kept me so intensely absorbed at the screen this year than "In the Family". It's an intensely personal film from first-time filmmaker Patrick Wang, who also stars in the film as Joey Williams, a contractor who cares for his son Chip (Sebastian Banes) along with his partner Cody Hines (Trevor St. John). The film takes place in Tennessee, and at first, it is a little strange to see an Asian man with a surprisingly thick southern drawl, but Wang's performance is something to observe. He doesn't always keep the camera on himself, often putting his back to it and letting others talk in what at first seems like strange moments. When he meets Cody, we see in hindsight that his girlfriend was pregnant at the time, and that she died suddenly after Chip's death and he went into the arms of Joey, the likeable carpenter working on his parent's remodeling. Cody soons dies suddenly from a car crash. He isn't allowed to see him at the hospital since he isn't technically family, but worse yet, after it's revealed that the only will Cody left leaves Chip to his sister, and was written almost a decade ago, a custody battle ensues, and he's prevented from seeing Chip suddenly. This storyline's been done to death, and that's unfortunate that it is, but a version of it is simply bound to come up gay films quite commonly, because it is still a common practice, and apart of the recent past in their history. (Another good one recently was "Any Day Now" starring Alan Cumming) but this film is different. Wang doesn't choose to focus in on the case, instead he focuses in on Joey. Living alone in that big house that his, eating a dinner that doesn't taste very good, yet always a kind of enthusiasm and joy in his voice when some of his friends bring him food and shoulders to cry on. Nobody seems to dispute his genuineness, even the lawyers who won't take his case on moral reasons, as well as some about the law itself. The way the movie ends as the case is finally brought to the deposition stage, is somewhat untraditional, and displays a false note, but it's a purposeful one, and it keeps the movie where it's strongest. It's not about the legal trickery involves in a custody dispute, or even about gay or straight and the rights thereof, but it's about Joey Williams, and when finally he speaks and says his peace, and we go through his history, he says a great deal, and we learn a lot more about him then by just studying him being kind and mannerly to other. It reminds me in hindsight, of that beautiful confession in the peep show Harry Dean Stanton has at the end of "Paris, Texas", another film that works not because of the paths of the film, but of our interest in the character. "In the Family" gives us a surprisingly fascinating portrayal of a very human character, one of the more believable I've seen in recent American film, and he also happens to be a nice guy, and it's impressive how it snuck up on you, and despite the manipulation of the script, it works despite of it, possibly because of it even. It's also an ideal about what it means to be apart of a family.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011) Directors: Barry Cook and Sarah Smith
Well, first things first, this should be called "Arthur Claus", not "Arthur Christmas"; I'm not quite sure why they made that decision, I guess in case people couldn't figure out that the theme of the film is Christmas, they made sure to put it in the title. I guess. Anyway, "Arthur Christmas" is another effort from the legendary Aardman Studios known most famously for Wallace & Gromit and other famous claymation pieces, but they've been spreading into CGI animation lately. They got an Oscar nomination last year for "The Pirates! Band of Misfits!" and I really enjoy they're first effort, "Flushed Away", but "Arthur Christmas" is just kinda forgettable. The story goes behind-the-scenes of the North Pole as we see all the NASA-level preparation and machines that go into having Santa Clause deliver all those millions and millions of presents. It's not much different than what we learned watching "The Santa Clause", but it's elaborate, and we also learn about how the job of Santa Clause has been passed from generation to generation, and Steve (Hugh Laurie) the current Santa's (Jim Broadbent) who runs the floor like Ed Harris in "Apollo 13" with thousands of elves at mission control, and on the modern sleigh, which bares a striking resemblance to the U.S.S. Enterprise. Arthur (James McCovoy) is Santa's other son, who mines the letters office, and is generally considered the family's black sheep. He tries hard and cares deeply about Christmas and making sure everyone gets the presents they need to, but is typical more in-the-way than he is helpful. It's a big year, and most project that Santa will be handing the reigns to Steve this year and retire like his father GrandSanta (Bill Nighy) after 60 years on the job, a job that's mostly run by high-tech special elves who are capable of breaking in unnoticed to the White House to deliver gifts. However, Santa decides to continue being Santa for another year, and Steve is upset at not getting the promotion. Meanwhile, Arthur finds that a little girl in England didn't get her gift, a new bike, perfectly wrapped by Bryony (Ashley Jenson) one of the elves in charge of giftwrapping. It somehow didn't make it's way onto the sleigh, and GrandSanta, with something to prove, decides to dust out the old sleigh and reindeer and try to help Arthur deliver the package. Granted, he probably could've used the GPS system as he has very little time, and finds himself on the wrong continent and going the wrong way, causing havoc most everywhere he goes, as the major nations worry about the potential UFO threat that seems very real, especially after they start attacking with tomatoes. "Arthur Christmas" has it's moments and it's possible that my standards are a little high, but when you're dealing with Christmas films, there's standards that everything's gonna be compared to. Frankly, I thought "Arthur Christmas" lacked in it's story, the film seemed more interested in focusing the locations and details and really the story was kind of a throwaway for most of the film. I get Christmas films don't have to be too complex, but you'd also think that considering the sheer mass of technology and the spaceship and everything, that there'd be backup systems in place for such an emergency as a present not delivered. (That did have a backup in case Christmas was cancelled like it was when there wasn't a pope for four years that one time, that was creative) I don't know, it's bright and shiny, and probably looked good in 3-D, but I just didn't think of "Arthur Christmas" as a particularly memorable film. There's not really too many really interesting characters, even Arthur's kinda forgettable. It always seems like an assembly line Christmas movie, and that's probably the worst kind. I'm on the fence, I certainly don't hate "Arthur Christmas", but-eh, I don't see a particular need to have watched it.
30 MINUTES OR LESS (2011) Director: Reuben Fleischer
I was looking forward to Director Reuben Fleischer's follow-up to "Zombieland", one of the funniest comedies I've seen in recent years (That film made my Ten Best List). Well, but that standard, "30 Minutes or Less" is a disappointment, but that said, for a mindless and pointless little comedy, I did enjoy it. Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) delivers pizza for a living, at one of those pizza places that promises delivery in 30 minutes or less, or it's free, so he gets a lot of call from way outside of town, and he generally hates his job. His best friend and roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari) a high school teacher, have just had a falling out over Chet's sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). Meanwhile, Travis and Dwayne (Nick Sworsman and Danny McBride) are frustrated with their father, The Major (Fred Ward) belittling them all the time for being complete losers. They are, but Dwayne has dreams of running a tanning salon/front for a prostitution ring, and The Major, has been spending away much of the money he won in a lottery years ago, so they hire a hitman, Chango (Michael Pena) through a stripper, Juicy (Biance Kajlich) to kill The Major, but they need to get $100,000 to pay the hitman. So, they decide, rather ingeniously, to strap a bomb to a random person's chest who doesn't know them or is able to recognize them, aka, the pizza delivery man, who will actually come to them, and force him to rob the bank, and delivery the money to the hitman, so that there not immediately implicated in any crime or fallout. -
Okay, I swore to God, I thought I finished writing this review, and I'm fairly certain I did in fact, however, for some reason, I lost it, as well as an entire review I wrote of another movie which I now have to start over. I'll start over on that other one, but frankly, I can't remember what else I had to write on "30 Minutes or Less", and while I recommending it, I don't think I want to struggle recalling it much longer, besides that, you've got the jist of it. It's a nice little comedy, not much thought require to watch it, just funny enough to recommend, although I won't begrudge anybody who doesn't see it, and-eh, that's about it. Not sure why I lost the rest, but anyway, I gotta remember the more important movie to review, so I'm just gonna do that now.
Oh, sorry about any expectations and extra thoughts you might've expected or wanted out of me regarding "30 Minutes of Less", to borrow from Tony Kornheiser on "Pardon the Interruption", I'll try to do better the next time.
7 KHOOK MAAF (2011) Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
I'm been making a concerted effort to get more into Bollywood films lately, although with such a vast number of them in general, and since they are of an old-fashioned system structure, sometimes it can be difficult to sit through some of them, as they are too over-produced to please an audience of all tastes. Therefore, after hearing about this dark comedy, "7 Khoon Maaf", which I think translates very loosely from Hindi to "7 Killed Me", (Somebody correct me if I got that wrong) a black comedy about a woman whose seven husbands all died under mysterious circumstances, I was intrigued at what I was hoping was an anomaly. Instead, I just wished I had seen a regular Bollywood film. This was a discombobulated mess. At the beginning of a movie, Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) is found dead, and one of the detectives, seems to be telling the story in flashback, and I'm not even sure I got that right, but the rest of the film, is definitely Susanna going from bad marriage to bad marriage to bad marriage... and we hang around them for awhile, until we eventually find out how she ended up dead, from her own suicide. I once wrote/directed a short film loosely based on the Wife of Bath from "The Canterbury Tales", (Well, tried directing, it never got finished) and she was married five times and discussed all her husbands, so I actually have familiarity with this kind of stoy, and not that my unfinished work would've been some kind of masterpiece, but you have to keep it a little more entertaining than this. Here, I guess it's used to include as much of random stuff that they can, like musical numbers with actors dressed as Axl Rose, and different suspicious deaths, and romance, but the movie was simply very long and very boring for me to even care about any of the characters, including Susanna, or the guy retelling this story, Dr. Arun Kumar (Vivaan Shah) who was with her for all of these disastrous marriages. This is one of the first Bollywood movies I've seen that I truly hated, and I'm gonna just leave it at that, as I try to get those 2 1/2 strenuous, torturuous hours of watching it, blocked from my memory.
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (1993) Director: Fred Schepisi
The title "Six Degrees of Separation" comes from the theory that supposedly, everybody in the world is in fact connected to each other through six different people. Nowadays, this theory really only gets mentioned when playing the Kevin Bacon game, but the play by John Guare, which he adapted to the script for this feature film, was a major hit when it came out, on stage and on film, and while I'm recommending the film, barely, it's apparent why this story clearly works best and should remain on stage. The story is told mostly in flashback by Flan and Ouisa Kittredge (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing), who woke up one morning, heading to one of those notorious New York evenings that upper class Manhattanites art dealers like them are famous to going to, a little shaken, but with an incredible story to tell everyone about the night before. They're entertaining a South African friend, Geoffrey Miller (Ian McKellan) about to be late for their reservation, when an unexpected visitor arrives. This is Paul (Will Smith, in his first film role) a handsome young black man, who was just mugged and even stabbed, and has nowhere to turn. He's a friend of their kids at Harvard and spins a wheel of a tale and even cooks the Kittredge's dinner once he gets settled in for the night. He claims to be the illegitimate son of Sidney Poitier, who the Kittredge's of course adore, and they spend the night fascinated by this cultured young black man, who they're helping in his time of need. Needless to say, Paul is a con artist, and a good one, something the Kittredge's soon find out, as he's gone in the morning, oddly not taking any of the extravagant art work hanging around the apartment, like the two-sided Kandinsky. As time goes on, and more New York parties come and go, the story gets told all through town and at new intervals, new information about Paul starts to get known, and the story starts getting more and more parts added on as Paul starts conning more and more people, and eventually, the story gets more and more elaborated and through this incident, the Kittredge's start to take a second look at their own lives. Stockard Channing earned an Oscar nomination for the film; it's a role she originated on Broadway in fact, and she is incredibly good here. Will Smith seems to have more suited for this part than even his one on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", and we get a good, early performance by a young performer who we would soon realize was gonna be the biggest star in the world. The film is okay, it's flashback premise doesn't quite work too well on film. The movie was directed by Fred Schepisi, who's a good go-to director and has made some entertaining films, but I'm not sure he handled this material as well as he possibly could've but for what's good, like the dialogue and the acting, "Six Degrees of Separation" is worth watching, but it's nothing special though, and this material should probably best be seen on the stage.
I KILLED MY MOTHER (2010) Director: Xavier Dolan
Curiously, "I Killed My Mother" seemed to have gotten two different American premieres, three years apart, one three years ago, and another one recently. It's a debut film by young Xavier Dolan, only 20 when he made the autobiographical about what it was like to being brought up with an erratic and controlling mother, while being a gay teenager. Dolan, an actor by trade, plays a variation of himself, named Hubert Minel in this film, and the movie is a barrage of typical and very realistic scenes, somewhat loosely strung together, mostly between him and his overbearing single mother, Chantale Lemming (Anne Dorval), who's the kind of mother that an emotional, confused and hormone-driven teenage boy would be frustrated with. She's not necessarily as overbearing as he thinks, although she isn't above misdirecting and disappointing her son, when its for the greater good, like taking back a promise that he'd have his own apartment, after he had gone searching with his boyfriend Antonin (Francois Armaud), a boyfriend that he's kept hidden from his mother, as well as his sexuality. She's abrasive and dismissive and reacts strongly, writing his feelings in journals that show the undeveloped mind working as he tries to express his feeling but doesn't quite have the words to do it. The movie shows quite a lot of skill for the young phenom filmmaker, but basically the film is a variation of the same scene over and over again. The emotional upheaval is apparent, and even familiar at times, but it's not fully deserved either. As good as Dorval is in the role, the mother is more caricature than character, and that makes his outbursts, slightly more hollow to us, then they may be to him. I have no doubt on the movie's point of view, nor do I dispute the authenticity of the film's realism, but in the end, when you get right down to it, it's a talented filmmaker, making a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. (Oh, and not to give it away to anybody, but the title is misleading, intentionally so I believe, but misleading nonetheless) Xavier Dolan's really talented at certain things, maybe this film will be his "Who's That Knocking at My Door" in the future, and a lot of people think so; he's gotten acclaim and awards for other films since, but overall, "I Killed My Mother" is a talented first effort from a young filmmaker, that's still a little bit shallow and by a filmmaker who is still in need of finding himself to making a more fulfilling and complete picture. The good news is that he's telented enough that I'm sure he will find that out and soon too, if he hasn't already.
CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (2010) Director: Burr Steers
Ugh! (Rubbing top of my nose between my eyes) It's movies like "Charlie St. Cloud" that make film critics like myself, make way too many phone calls to the local suicide prevention hotline. It's soft and romantic in feel ad creepy and disturbing damn near everywhere else, and much of that is before a little kid gets killed very early in the film. The little kid is Sam (Charlie Tahan) the younger brother of Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) a local legend in this Northwest port town for his sailing ability, which landed him a scholarship at Stanford. His kid brother was a huge Boston Red Sox fan, until Charlie took him for a late-night ride in a car on a rainy night, and a drunk driver killed him and left Charlie in a coma. He was supposed to go meet some friends, but his mother Claire (Kim Basinger of all people) had to work a late shift at the hospital. After the coma, and being brought back to life by the ambulance driver Florio (Ray Liotta, in another unexpectedly strange bit of casting). When dead, he gained the ability to, eh,- well, either I bounce around the obvious reference, or I just say it, so,... he gained the ability to see dead people. He's sees many of them, but everyday at sunset for the last five years, he goes into the middle of the woods, and plays catch with Max, as practice for when he'll be a great ballplayer. By the way, he passed on the scholarship, and now works in the town's cemetary, and hasn't gone sailing since, for some reason. (You'd think he'd just stay away from driving at night or something, but oh well.) Now, he's in mourning for awhile, when he begins reconnecting with his main sailing rival in high school Tess (Amanda Crew) who's preparing to go on oneof those around-the-world solo sailing trips. You know the point when you get to a movie and go "If I can guess what the next twist in the movie is gonna be; I'm gonna throw something at the screen!"? Well, I didn't do that, 'cause my screen was a small but expensive TV, and what I threw was giant lamp, and now I need spackle to fix the hole in my wall, and a whole new lamp. "Charlie St. Cloud" is creepy and sad and thinks it's romantic and youthful, in that way the Disney Channel thinks it's romantic and youthful at times, even though it isn't. Zac Efron can be a talented young actor, like in "Me and Orson Welles" for instance, but he's badly miscast here; he's good looking , with and without a shirt, and he stares blankly and without emotion long enough to remind us how good-looking he is, but that's not really a movie; he's severely underreacting to everything around him, not that the story was any good to begin with, but treating it the right way is a part of acting, and even with the bad dialogue, and the even worst exposition dialogue, he wasn't able to overcome any of that. The film was directed by Burr Steers, a former actor-turned-director, who had a very good and memorable debut film in '02, "Igby Goes Down", but since then has fallen into the generic and ordinary, and frankly some would say I'm being nice with those adjectives; they're certainly too nice to describe this godawful movie. "Charlie St. Cloud", (oh and they do say his full name quite a bit in this film btw) is just the worse kind of manipulative crap intended to get an emotional response out of an audience, and the audience has to be the most uncultured pre-pubescents girls out there, who-. You know what, nevermind, except if you ever find one who may have enjoyed this, rent them a copy of "Ghost"; you'll be doing them a favor.
CHELSEA WALLS (2002) Director: Ethan Hawke
"Chelsea Walls" is really an experience more than a movie. If you're familiar with the Hotel Chelsea, in New York, you might get a perverse pleasure in seeing some of the inhabitants' lives in Ethan Hawke's film, this his feature film directorial debut. I personally felt the characters were more inspired than I was. Well, that's not completely true, some of them surely, have to be considered less than inspired. One of them couldn't even be bothered enough to have sex when a naked teenage hooker/groupie was straddling on top of him. Hell, he could be bothered to wake up for that. The halls of the Chelsea have housed many artists over the years, some of the ones you may have heard of include Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, R. Crumb, Arthur C. Clarke, Andy Warhol, and maybe most famously Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, the latter of whom was killed in the hotel. It's still a haven for artists for the cheap housings and the history and all that. The movie itself, well, it's a bit of a mess. At only 95 minutes, there barely enough time of consciousness to even bother keeping all 35 characters in place, much less in your mind. I recall Kris Kristofferson as a drunk novelist, barely able to spill out a novel from his bottle and two muses, his wife, played by Tuesday Weld, and his mistress, played by Natasha Richardson. Mark Ruffalo as a shy painter trying to get with a record exec's wife, Uma Thurman was tender. I remember Rosario Dawson fitting right in to this movie, as her and Mark Webber were poets and a couple struggling with paying the rent. Other than that, a lot of this was a hallucinogenic smorgabord of random scenes of artists and other irregulars in the Chelsea, without any real meaning, just slices of life, that probably happened in some form at the hotel dozens of times many years ago, and still happening. I'm actually somewhat amazed that this film was based on a play by the films screenwriter Nicole Burdette. Most of her credits are actually as an actress, including "The Sopranos", although she did co-write Rob Morrow's film on Tourette's Syndrome "Maze", although she hasn't worked much in years since. I can't imagine this film in the structure the way it is on a stage anywhere. It seems so random and disorganized in its current state, it's barely able to make a someone believeable film, it'd be weird staging this in front of an audience, unless there's a major shift in the structure of the film. I think a better approach to this material, wouldn't be to look at the Chelsea, now and all of its residents, but to a complete short film/story with different residents over different time period, show how really inspiration and important a landmark the Chelsea is, and maybe it could be somewhat more enjoyable instead of having this "check out any time you like, but you can never leave"-type experience. Hey, I like lost weekends as much as the next person, (at least I've been told I do, supposedly) but I'm not sure it's really a film, nor an experience that I have to have, or can experience better any other chemically-induced way.