Anyway, we have a lot of movies to review this week, including a lot of big ones, and honestly, there's quite a few that I didn't even get to writing a review. So real quick.... I saw two Astaire Rogers films, but I didn't get a chance to review "The Gay Divorcee", it's another of their typical films, 3 1/2 STARS. I saw a French film called "La Repetition", a lesser work by Catherine Corsini, about the relationship between two women who reconnect years after they separated after college, eh, I wouldn't recommend it, 2 1/2 STARS. I also saw, "Outbreak" the nineties Wolfgang Peterson drama with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo among others fighting a constantly-spreading disease. It's kinda like "Contagion", but with a ridiculous Michael Bay action movie in the middle and monkeys. (It was the mid-nineties, everybody associated monkeys with AIDS. I know,...-) It's dreadful, 1 STAR, only. It might've been entertaining then, barely, but now it's just stupid.
Okay, Happy Memorial Day Everyone, let's get to this weeks MOVIE REVIEWS! Including Oscar-winning and nominated films, "Big Hero 6", "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies", and "Beyond the Lights" and our first review of a 2015 feature, finally, "The Humbling" among numerous others, including another unique "The Hunger Games" review from me, so let's get to it folks!
BIG HERO 6 (2014) Director: Don Hall & Chris Williams
I can definitely see in "Big Hero 6", some care and thought went into this project. There's some great animation as well, but somewhere along the way, too much got in. I can see this movie years from now being looked upon as an overlooked film in the Disney/Pixar canon, a cult movie if you will, where it will be appreciated by some but mostly ignored in the mainstream consciousness. It's kind of a shame, 'cause you can see thinking behind it, the parallels. The story is about two brothers in a future city of San Fransokyo? (Oh, they're just screwing with us with the Disney/Pixar Universe Theories people aren't they?) The brothers are geniuses in technology, Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is the older one who's working with Dr. Callaghan (James Cromwell) one of the premiere experts in modern robotics. Tadashi's younger brother Hiro (Ryan Potter) is even more of a genius, but is much more self-evolved and not as interested in much else. Tadashi's working on a robot that's designed to be a universal health care provider, Baymax (Scott Adsit), while Tadashi creates robots to hustle in underground bot-fighting rings. (Insert your own "Real Steel" reference) When Hiro does get a look at the university however, he realizes quickly how much he truly wants to go and works on the invention of microbots, little tiny robots that connect to each other through thought, and can become literally anything as needed. It gets him into the university but after Tadashi's is killed in a fire that also destroys the microbots that he becomes a recluse and loner again, shilling his friends, his studies and his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph). It's then that Baymax, the last remaining echo of Tadashi begins to try to help him, as a single microbot seems to be wanting to go in a particular direction, like it's controlled, despite the fire, presumably having destroyed them all and the thought control panel. There's a few clear suspects that the bad guy can end up being, and that's a small part of the problem of the film, it's actually overwritten. Everything is so clearly laid out that we're usually a few steps ahead of the formula and conventions of the story. It also essentially devolves into a superhero film after Hiro begins reprogramming the gentle Baymax into a more destructive force, under the guise of helping him get over his grief, but he also ends up designing superhero outfits for his friends as they have to head out to the bad guy's secluded island to find out his plans. I wish it didn't go into the superhero motif, including the post-credit cameo by somebody who you could probably guess but for these purposes I won't name, the story alone of Tadashi using Baymax not only as a connection to his brother but also for his own desires is pretty strong, the combination of how they use their engineering skills is very well-done. I wish there was a lot more of that. I can respect "Big Hero 6", but in hindsight, it feels like a missed opportunity from something really special if they decided to keep it far more simpler than it became. Did we even a villain subplot in this film? I don't know, the character was so much more interesting; it might not have been Disney, but maybe this film could've been played straighter and more realistic and not just go into fantasy because it's animated. Or at least this comic book-like fantasy. Still, weak for Pixar is still leagues better than most so it's an easy recommendation, but this could've been more gripping than it was.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014) Director: Peter Jackson
(Shrugs) I'm as shocked as anybody that I'm actually technically giving a positive review to "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies". Me, the one who's literally hated, and has pretty much given a negative review to pretty much everything Peter Jackson's done, except for barely recommending "Heavenly Creatures" and in all honesty, I'm barely recommending this one. It's possible that I just found myself more tolerant of it than anything else, I'd hardly consider it the most dramatic or interesting of his films. I wouldn't say it's technically better than "...The Return of the King", which at minimum has the eventual build-up tensions and thrills that the other two "Lord of the Rings" movies slogging towards, and hell, part of why I'm recommending it really is that it we finally got the conclusion of the intense cliffhanger after the last film, as the Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) which, while I didn't recommend, it did end intensely and Smaug is a pretty vicious and somewhat frightening villain. Maybe it's partly because it's a shorter film in the series, not counting credits it's at 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is slightly more tolerable. Oddly the movie is actually messier and more confusing than any of them before, but it entertained me, enough. "...The Battle of the Five Armies" is the title of only one of the last chapters in Tolkien's "The Hobbit", and it's a bit crazy. Everybody's coming from seemingly all sides, converging on the battlefield. After the destruction of Laketown, Thorin (Richard Armitage) decides to go back on his word about giving the Smaug's treasure to the survivors, and this upsets Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who turns against him, by taking, and important stone, who's name I'm forgetting, the MaGuffin gem, as part of his share, and offers it in trade, in order to stop the inevitable battle. I'm not-, (Scoffs) I'm not equipped enough to recall or remember all the names in this story or what they are, but what was somewhat interesting and why I kinda enjoyed the film was the battle strategies and fights. The maneuvering, the effects were memorable, Bilbo using the invisibility ring (I'm sure there's more powers involved in it, but that's mostly all I can really tell that it does) to go through the battle to other lines to warn and protect others and whatnot, fighting with Gandolf (Ian McKellan) about it. Freeman's performance I found quite entertaining, he's become more sure of himself yet, he's still kinda looking at everyone else as though he's outside of what's happening, it's some funny, sly work to me. Honestly, I kinda found myself just sorta laughing at some of the ridiculousness of this. Jackson did direct, "Dead Alive" didn't he, a splatter comedy horror that was basically about as over-the-top as that can be, right? Well, I never saw that film, but I suspect he mostly made up for the lack of story in this film by essentially going into that same bag of tricks and making the film as over-the-top as possible. Oddly, I'm not usually a fan of that horror-comedy subgenre technique, but it kinda worked on me here. I mean, that battle sequence on the frozen lake which is quickly dissipating from the weapons and fighters just breaking the ice into islands they fight on, was emotional to me and an unpredictable battle sequence; I don't remember seeing something like that before. I think it's a mess, I hardly would say I enjoyed or that it's even the best technical film in the series, but I'd rather be entertained by this than to slog through the other movies, which only have minimal highpoints stuck between the more frustrating plotholes and boring meanderings of Tolkien. There's still some of that too, but this time, there was enough less of it comparatively, so more of the-, I won't say overly entertaining stuff, but it was enough for me to recommend this time. Who knew?
BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014) Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
(Banging my head with a copy of "Beyond the Lights" DVD box, multiple times) Ow. (Me rubbing the side of my forehead after it hit a corner spot a little too well.) The reason, I was bangin my head-, ah, ouch, that really hurt. The reason I was banging my head while watching "Beyond the Lights" was because so much of this movie reminded me about, pretty much everything I hate about the music industry. Especially if you're someone from my generation and mindset, who grew was a teenager in the late nineties and early 2000s, basically having to experience music at that time when-, well, frankly I quit. Seriously, there was so little good that it took forever to search for it and pop music was overloaded with boy bands and what were then called "Teen divas" for reasons I will never understand or accept, and even rock'n'roll was littered with this horrid rock meets rap crud that only Rage Against the Machine was any good at, and they broke up leaving us Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, ugh. No, I wasn't a rap fan either, although Eminem certainly challenged a lot of what I thought of that genre, but after the great Lilith Fair singer-songwriter era that happened post-grunge to suddenly go from Alanis Morissette scratching nails down people's backs so hard you could feel it, to Britney Spears telling her boyfriend to hit her again as a sign of their love, frankly I couldn't deal with it. I stopped writing sub-Dylan folk lyrics and basically gave up on pop music altogether and any hope I had left I gave up on after "American Idol" basically flat out showed us the "process" of how they "manufactured" these pop stars. It's almost a sick joke now to see the pop charts and see how every song has three guest rappers on it and how manipulated everything is, and how often the great music (or sometimes the shitty but better than anything else today music) is sampled by everyone now into horrid, shallow, club/dance beats. Anyway, it's within this world that "Beyond the Lights" exists, the kids who've grown up the-eh, I don't know, I don't remember anyone's name now, but you all probably know the name's I'm talking about. Some of this shit drove me insane and this movie highlights so many of it's worst aspects.... So, why am I recommending it? Well, it criticizes much of it's worst aspects. It's also got a compelling enough story and characters. Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is one of these pop stars that's on the rise. Her first album hasn't even debuted yet and already she has an award for being on some rapper's single, Kid Culprit (Richard Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) and it's a typical dumb rap song that objectifies women that you wouldn't think would ever win an award, but whatever. At the hotel after, Noni tries to kill herself, as her mother, Macy (Minnie Driver) comes in, but the police officer escorting her, Kaz (Nate Parker) saves her. For some reason, this becomes a story. Seriously, this could've been kept completely quiet, but...- anyway, they're in spin mode. I'll spare some of the more ridiculous details, including one scene that reminded me of that unfortunate time when Fred Durst joined Christina Aguilera's VMA performance, and then talking about how he did that hoping he'd get laid from her, (God there's so many things wrong with sent-, god my music generation sucked!) and just talk about the broad outlines, in that basically, Noni hires Kaz soon become lovers. He's still an officer and he already has plans to start running for office, as his father, Captain Nicol (Danny Glover) is some kind of community leader, but this newfound publicity and rumored romance with a pop star, who's first album has yet to come out btw, is getting caught up in the publicity. Noni's at war with both herself, her image, and her agent/mother, who has spent years cultivating her talent and image and is basically running her life. She's definitely doing it lovingly, the mother is not an evil character, but perhaps bullheaded and misguided. She's been a single parent most of Noni's life and there's an opening scene where she goes to a closed beauty shop, desperate to give Noni a decent look before she performs Nina Simone's "Blackbird" at a school talent show, as she just doesn't know quite how to deal properly with a black girl's hair. That song comes up a few times and Noni is secretly a songwriter herself and Kaz encourages her to sing her own lyrics, and to her mother's credit, she tries to force the label to hold off on the album in order to get her to record the song. There's a lot more layers here, to the characters, not necessarily the situation. This is a good filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood; she's made some great films in the past like "The Secret Life of Bees" and "Love & Basketball", in particular, another strong adult romance about people who are in the entertainment world and are uniquely talented. She's also a strong African-American female director, there aren't enough of them around. The movie earned Diane Warren her 7th career Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, one that's not congeal to the plot, interestingly enough, it's just a closing song and no, not the song Noni's been writing; that's a curious choice as well. I am a bit of a Diane Warren apologist admittedly but her song "Grateful", I've heard both better and worst from her, so I was a bit surprised that got nominated, but there's definitely stuff here, despite some glaring problems with the film, and it's the acting and directing that pull this film together really. Mbatha-Raw was also in "Belle" recently in a very different role, she's quickly showing her amazing range and potential. Driver's always good, there's good all around the cast. It's a bit of a put-upon plot, which actually too much plot going on, but the characters and performances are so strong it holds it together enough.
THE HUMBLING (2015) Director: Barry Levinson
Well, we'll get the obvious thing out of the way first, "The Humbling" clearly suffers firstly from the fact that "Birdman..." came out last year. It particularly doesn't help that the opening sequence involves our lead character, a legendary actor, Simon Axler (Al Pacino) trying to get into the theater after locking himself outside, in time for his cue onstage. So, the movie's behind the eight ball already, but honestly, if you took that out of it, "The Humbling" is still, pretty much just a mess. And you know, I don't really get Barry Levinson lately. He's a good director, "Good Morning, Vietnam" is in my Canon of Film, and "Rain Man" is one of my personal favorite movies, I actually just saw "Bugsy" fairly recently that was a really good film too. I guess in hindsight there have been clues over the years that he has this fascination with satirizing Hollywood. The best of these films by a mile is "Wag the Dog", but this is the same guy who directed "Diner" and "The Natural", and produced, "Homicide: Life on the Streets" even "Sphere", I usually think of him as somebody who has range in subject matter and interests, but lately even in those projects that you would think there wouldn't be this behind-the-scenes deconstructing of Hollywood going on, he seems to be going after it. "Man of the Year", about a comedian who runs for President, or "What Just Happened" which is really a sharp satire of Hollywood, even "The Bay", which was a horror film from him, that I don't think I recommended, but that was one of the few films that actually found a new and unique approach to the found footage movie by telling the story through the perspective of a news reporter looking back on the footage that was taken and she was apart of, even in found footage horror, he's looking at the behind the scenes footage. I don't know why this has become his motif lately, and it's just become more and more cynical it seems. And this is the worst of the bunch too. The movie begins with Simon playing Jacques in "As You Like It" and he's practicing his "All the World's a Stage" monologue and then onstage he accidentally falls off of it. Admitting that he's losing a sense of reality between the real world and the world of the stage, he admits himself into an asylum for thirty days. When he gets out and back home, he talks to a psychiatrist (Dylan Baker) over Skype and the details are...-, um...-, hmm.... Eh, let's see if-, no, that's not really right either. Um, hmm. Well, I mentioned the "All the world's a stage speech...", well, that, and this quixotic script is based on a Philip Roth novel and co-written by Buck Henry of all people, it's intended to be difficult to determine whether or not the events that occur are in his mind, or are actually happening, even he claims, he doesn't even know and isn't sure he can tell. So, these events mainly are based around Pegeen (Greta Gerwig) the lesbian daughter of two of his oldest theater friends, Carol (Dianne Wiest) and Asa (Dan Hedaya), who suddenly knocks on his door, claiming...-, oh boy, um,- she claims a lot of things, basically, they start eventually being together. (Dear Lesbians, send your letters of complaint to Barry Levinson, et. al. c/o Ambi Pictures and Hammerton Productions.... California, 90rest of zip code) Anyway, she's some kind of pathological liar, sociopath, con artist, it's doesn't matter, it's some crazy-ass thing that's a partial side-effect of casting Greta Gerwig in the role, 'cause you want the lead female to straddle that line between "Oh, she crazy," and "Batshit, holy fuck crazy", also known as the "Parker Posey is-your-lead actress-in-an-underwritten-Indy film role" syndrome. Her parents tell him this, his psychiatrist worries about this with him, then the ex-girlfriend comes around, Louise (Kyra Sedgwick) and talks about how she's crazy and that she's still in love with her despite the lying and apparent cheating and now fucking men, and women, she still screws around on Simon. (Seriously, Lesbians, you really should write a letter on this one.) And keep in mind, it's insinuated that it's unclear what or which of these incidents is real or not, because of Simon's inability to separate reality of the play and the real world, so.... (Shrugs) I got nothing. Oh, there's also a fellow inmate from the asylum who is now stalking Simon because she believes that he's agreed to be her hitman in order to kill her pedophile husband. It's this mess of things colliding and frankly, whether it's a tale told by an idiot or not, it doesn't really lead to much in the end. Pacino's good here, but that's about it. The movie gets worst the more I think about it to be honest. Yeah, the idea of an actor unsure what's real or not is interesting, but not unique and being inside his mind just makes everything confusing and not insightful. Again, I don't know why Levinson keeps pulling from this bag, I don't know what's left for him to explore in this world or why he keeps doing it to be honest, it's becoming repetitive and pointless. He directed the HBO biopic "You Don't Know Jack" with Pacino playing Dr. Jack Kevorkian and that was a good film and even then, a lot of the film was focused on the media aspects of that story. I wish he'd looked towards some kind of different material in the future, something's that not so cynical and so meta of Hollywood; it doesn't feel like it's as interesting a theme to him, as his recent filmography suggests, and that's probably why it so confuses me, especially after this film which is nothing but confusing. It doesn't have to be important or anything, hell, his Oscar is for a Ron Bass scripted film, he can take average material and make it stronger and these recent directions for his work just come off as perplexing more than inspiring. So, yeah, interesting film, but not a successful one, at all.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY -- PART 1 (2014) Director: Francis Lawrence
To catch everybody up, we're still in the midst of the fallout after the shocking and controversial ending to last "The Hunger Games" pay-per-view, and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon- eh, I mean, eh, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is on a vengeful streak. He's sent The Corporation Minis- eh, the Capital's Peacekeepers into District 12, and annihilated most of what and has sworn to destroy anyone in the WWE Univ-, eh, citizens of Panem, who even references or mentions the name Stone Cold Steve-, um, The Mockinjay, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). This is after she took out the Hunger Games electronic dome and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles) surprised everyone by turning face-, I mean, joining with Shane & Stephanie Allia- um, sorry, um (Checking IMDB.com) President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her Rebel Alliance, who are currently housing Katniss in their secret underground facility that Snow is unable to find, but despite all his attempts, he still feels their presence, and Sting- I mean, Katniss still makes her presence known by coming down from the rafters- or-eh, cutting more promos- I mean, propos-, (Wait they're called propos, they really are called propos in this Universe? [Struggling to loosen fingers so as not make a fist.]) showing not only that she is alive, but that the alliance is stronger than ever and leading and inspiring more rebellious to fight The Capital and take back the title from-, I mean, end the plutocracy and turns Panem into a Democracy again. However, he has captured Katniss's best friend and tag team partner Lex Luger,- um, her fiance and fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and in must see interviews with Jim Ross,- eh, I mean, Tony Schiavone-, I mean-eh, ah, what's-his-name, eh, (Scaning IMDB.com) the sleezy play-by-play announcer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), he is now calling for a stop to the ongoing WCW invasion-, I mean eh, Civil War. Katniss is reluctant to be the face of the revolution, but finally relents under the promise of keeping alive Peeta, rescuing him and all the other tributes from the brainwashing of President Snow- I mean um-, oh, no, that's actually right, as she doesn't quite believe yet that Peeta has turned heel and joined the Corporati-D'OH! uh, as Katniss believes that the Capitol is coercing and forcing Peeta to turn against her, and he may possibly be swerving-, I mean fooling the Capitol themselves in order to give messages to Katniss and the Rebel Alliance. With the help from her mentor and trainer, Captain Lou Albano-, I mean, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and her close friend Mick Foley-AGH!, (Rubs eyes above nose, holding back frustration) Sorry, her close friend and veteran Tribute Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) as well as fellow former Capitol member-turned-Alliance Rebel, Effie Trinket (Miss Elizabeth. No-, I mean, Elizabeth Banks, sorry) and technical advisor Beetee (Jeffrey Wright, ye-es, that's actually right, and Wright) and others, this intricate dangerous game of chess and chicken, that's turning evermore deadly on both sides as "The Hunger Games" move towards revolution or eternal damnation- I mean-, oh actually that fits anyway. The sides are being taken, but tensions are high and who knows exactly who is trustworthy? So far, this is the best of "The Hunger Games" movies and the most different and the three have essentially gotten better as they have correctly chosen not to simply be the exploitative gimmick- I mean conceit, of the post-apocalyptic contest that's a most twisted future world of "The Lottery" to really analyze the physical personal effects of living in this universe as well as the war and battles of the world. It's still essentially a fight very eerily similar to "The Hunger Games" but the battle is no longer inside this faux construction, and now after the Montreal Screwjob-, I mean, Katniss's arrow's de-electrifying the Games, the Games are now, to the streets, in the Districts and while Katniss is a freedom fighter, she has to deal with the hard fact that she's more powerful as a symbol in this war than as a soldier. It's well-made, well-acted and it's continually growing in intensity over each film and this one even looks different than the others. It's still lagging in places, but the fact that it keeps finding interesting ways to top itself is both impressive and increase anticipation for us to tune in for next week's "Monday Night Raw"-, I mean-eh, to see the next movie in the series.
Okay, seriously, am I the only one who (BLEEP)ing sees this! Seriously, all three of my reviews of "The Hunger Games" films I have clearly mentioned the (BLEEP)ing obvious parallels between "The Hunger Games" and Professional Wrestling, the last film, I even wrote the review in the form of a Pre-Wrestlemania Main Event promo package, and nobody, anywhere has said anything! I can't find a review that brings this up nobody commented on that review-, am I the only one who's noticed this! Am I crazy; and I delusional!? I mean, I know stories come from anywhere and pro wrestling, like any story-based art form has borrowed from numerous forms of literature and numerous other influences to set up their storylines including films motifs and story arches, and no I can't prove decisively that it's going the other way around, but holy (BLEEP)ing, hell, this movie has the least obvious pro wrestling parallels and I still easily made about fifteen or twenty parallels,- Do I have to devote a whole blog to this before anybody realizes just how (BLEEP)ed up this is? Cause I will if I have too but-, oh- don't you dare cut my mike off! This has to be said, "The Hunger Games" is blatantly stealing from Pro Wrest- (Mike cuts off, I'm talking but can't be heard, as Security comes a takes me forcibly struggles to take me away, dragging me out of the ring and up the rampway as I exit screaming incoherently like a maniac.)
(Cut to commercial for Axe Body Spray)
WINTER SLEEP (2014) Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylon
Oh, good god this movie never fucking ended. Look, here's the thing, I-eh, I write screenplays as well as this blog, and I get it, that what Aaron Sorkin said is essentially true for all screenwriters about how we basically write scenes where people are talking in rooms. I get it, and frankly, I'm probably as guilty of that as anybody, that really is a preference in my style as well, and I know how contrite and-eh, talky that can be and not in a good way, and I normally am pretty tolerant of this approach to filmmaking more than others, but "Winter Sleep", pushed my last buttons on this. I know there's more than that, and for all-intensive purposes I probably am being mean here in giving a straight negative review to "Winter Sleep", the Palme D'Or winner at Cannes this year and the latest from the great Turkish Director, Nuri Bilge Ceylon, who did a film I did like a lot, although that film also tested my patience called "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia", that was also overly long and had people talking in rooms, or mostly in that movie, talking in a car, which I guess is technically, at least, the characters are physically going somewhere for two hours and fifty minutes. "Winter Sleep", is well over the three hour mark and you know,- I get what he's going for, but it was such a struggle! You know, I might've been able to pass this off if it was just me, but I also watched a four hour documentary called "At Berkeley" this week, that was also basically, people talking in rooms, and it was one of the most fascinating films I've seen this decade, so I don't think it was just the length, there's a painful amount of inaction in this movie. I mean, the joke I made was that the title was off by winter, but this- this was a struggle, even for me. The movie revolves mainly around Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) who's a former actor who now owns a quaint mountaintop hotel in a very mountain area of Anatolia called, Cappadocia. He and his assistant Hidayet (Aybert Pekcan) are driving down the road when a kid throws a rock that hits and break the car window. They catch the kid, Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan) gives chase and bring him home to his father Ismael (Nejat Isler), a man who's actually Aydin's tenant also, and has just taken his refrigerator and television earlier that day in lieu of rent payment. This nearly causes another fight at the time, but Ismael comes back later, trying to pay for the damage, although Aydin, who also writes apparently a popular local column for a magazine and discusses his unkempt place. This leads also to a couple conversations with his sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and he also insults his wife's Nihal (Melisa Sozen) in discussing her charitable endeavors. It's basically these conversations which are, essentially passive-aggressive, from Aydin although they're disguised, I guess as philosophical moralistic debate, that instigates other conversations and reactions and everything else, and that's- there's nothing wrong with that, but there's such a thing as overload, and this movie is just an onslaught on diatribes and monologues. Aydin, doesn't even project when he's discussing, or any of the characters really, half the time, he doesn't even get up from his computer desk, (Although it's rare when whoever he's talking to even stands up either.) I know what he's trying to do, but how much can you beat this into ya? Aydin is a shallow man who's under a false delusion that he's somehow above or better than those around him, I get it, his hotel is a mansion on a hill, or whatever. I really tried, but I know there's an acting and writing class in nuanced behavior here, but is there really enough here to recommend, just to say, it's a directorial choice, it's his aesthetic, and he's creating a character profile, if these are the character's interactions that, sometimes are powerful and have moments of shock, honestly and emotion but mostly are just as hollow as our main character, probably because they're all in some way reactions to our main characer catalyst? (Sigh) I don't know, somethings, they need to be earned and "Winter Sleep" simply thinks that we're just gonna automatically give it respect without needing to explain why it deserves it from us. I hate to do this, and I won't stop anybody from seeing it, but I can't recommend the film.
RIO 2 (2014) Director: Carlos Saldanha
I spent most of "Rio 2", trying to think of excuses to delay watching it. Any excuse. Like, "Oh, yeah need more soda, I'll get it!" or "Oh, I haven't been on the computer in five minutes, I better check my Facebook," or, "Oh, I forgot my soda, let me get it, (As I pass computer) oh, my computer, I haven't been on it in five minutes, let me go play Candy Crush and watch a Rap Critic video I haven't seen before." Looking up my old review of "Rio", I gave it a positive recommendation mostly because of how it reminded me of "Honeymoon in Vegas" of all movies, (Yeah, seriously, that was my basis for recommending that, look up my old review of it and see), and frankly I didn't even remember that until I re-read it. I didn't remember much of that film, and that's the real issue I have with all these Blue Sky movies, they're so vacant. They're vapor, really. They're not even overly bad necessarily, they're just so average, so unmemorable and thankfully so, 'cause you usually do want to forget you ever saw it. Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is now a father to third young birds with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) but now, his former owners from Minnesota, Linda and her now-husband Tulio (Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro) might have found more evidence of more Blue McCaws in the Amazon; Blu and Jewel thought they were the only ones so it's off to the Amazon they go, for some reason. Really, there's not actually a reason for them to go if you think about it. Also, Nigel (Jemaine Clement) the now-flightless actor is hellbent on revenge on Blu, and now he's got a poison frog sidekick that's secretly in love with him, Gabi (Kristen Chenoweth) who, reminded me of Harley Quinn in look and temperament believe it or not. There are numerous Blue McCaws and it turns out, Jewel's father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) is the leader of the bunch, and he's thankful for her return, and their kids, but is unimpressed with the pet that Blu is, as he still hangs on his fanny pack and GPS and can't really adjust to the settings of the jungle, more able to open a can of soda from a vending machine with his beak than a brazil nut.
In case you're wondering why the rating is suddenly in the middle of the review, well, the paragraph above was written while I was still watching the movie. I had to stop and do something other than keep watching it. Apparently Nigel was the secondary comic villain, I don't know why he was supposed to be funny, it seemed like he had an actual beef with Blu but, oh well. The main villain is a stereotypical logging company threatening to knock down the rainforest, represented by a villain named, Big Boss (Miguel Ferrer) who's unusually evil for this kind of work, without really an explanation. You know, this kind of movie just annoys me. It's borrowing, literally from everywhere like an ending of a soccer-like game between the mccaws and a rival neighboring red parrots, ending the same way the soccer scene in "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" ended, and the stories are all borrowing from other things, and the side character are just annoying and there to just pad out the film, usually with musical sequences. Lots of musical sequences. I guess there's something Fleischer Brothers about that, the way they chose not to focus on comedy or plot and story and really just want to bring an array of visuals to you, but none of these movies have had a impact at all on me. The one's I've seen, somehow Blue Sky films often skip my purview as they don't get most honors and respect either by critics, or withing the industry for me to even notice half the time, and from what I have seen, I'm gathering that that's a good thing.
GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE (2014) Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Describing any modern Godard film, as anything other than a collection of scenes is kinda impossible. He's not trying for narrative, he's trying to challenge the conventions of cinema. There's a scene for instance, involving a couple, a man and a woman, naked, talking about, nobel literature mostly, and other such things. The focus is on their bodies, not their faces, or their characters, if they even have them. The juxtaposition of their nudity and whatever they're talking about or mentioning is the scene. At one point, we see her talk about how he stabbed her once, while ascending the stairs. Then they cut to a dog hiding under a bed. Did the dog stab her? Then there's graphic sex scenes, followed closely graphic scenes of war. The conversation continues, or really the talking continues. Sometimes we hear what they're saying, sometimes we see them talking and nothing comes out. Sometimes there's subtitles for things that aren't said. The entire of Godard's work is a study and analysis of how exactly we look and take in cinema. Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure the naked girl in the scene ascending the stairs was even the one talking about being stabbed. In some ways it doesn't matter. Godard's "Goodbye to Language" is a collection of shots. Sometimes, it's not even a shot, just darkness. Images, a lack of images, he's throwing everything at you, including the screen. I was unable to see this in it's proper 3-D so I'm afraid I'm missing some stuff, although I'm not sure I want to see a dog shitting in 3-D, or a shower rape in 3-D. But he's clearly using every technique around, dutch angles, montage, color distortions,...; Godard is the pinnacle of his rebellious anti-cinema and at 83. I think his goal is mainly to confront and force the audience to notice, to see, to contemplate, like Bertoldt Brecht or somebody. It's not whatever's on the screen, it's the fact that you have an effect to whatever's on screen, that it effect you and becomes ingrained in your memory and shape and shift your psyche. I think the best determination anymore of whether a Godard film is any good or not is mostly based on whether or not you were able to be absorbed by the film. His most-recently accepted addition to the essential Godard canon his miniseries "L'Historie du Cinema", gets better the more you engulf yourself in it. "Goodbye to Language" I feel is very much the same way. At only 69 minutes, it's one of his shortest feature films, and the more I watch it, I'm sure the more I'll enjoy it. And the 3D probably helped as well, as, I think this is the real reason he's using it, other than just another piece of his cinematic exploration, was that 3D forces the viewer to be involved become apart of the film, engrossed out of necessity. The need to hear music and dialogue, interrupt each other and talk over each other. It's essential. Forceful really, it's the movie's screaming, coming out of the screen to the audience, saying "Look at me!" essentially. Of course, aren't we all?
THE BABADOOK (2014) Director: Jennifer Kent
"The Babadook" is about a single mother who's kid is impossible to take care of, above and beyond what that normally means. She loses sleep to the point where she literally can't and neither does her son, and soon enough, the stress involved begins to drive her crazy. I can relate.
I seriously could've stopped right there with this review; that would've been enough. That's not to say the movie's simple, quite the contrary, but that's the prevailing metaphor in Jennifer Kent's debut feature that premiered in America both online and in theaters on the same day. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a troubled mother of six-year-old Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who's quite a vicious kid. He's constantly getting kicked out of school for some pretty violent acts and we do indeed see some of his actions, but Amelia is unprepared or unwilling to have somebody watch him every minute, which is the recommendation of the school. His Aunt Claire (Hayley McElhinney) at one point, after he attacks his cousin Ruby (Chloe Hurn) she absolutely refuses eventually to have him over, unwilling to even be around him he's so vicious. Yet the story isn't completely the bad seed terror children, Amelia herself is losing her mind, and at certain points, it's hard to tell the difference between which character is the monster and that's the point. Samuel shows an old book called "The Babadook" to her mother and he claims that some creature is causing much of the contention and chaos and lives in the basement, but the mother is skeptical to believe until it's way too late, for her. She's unable to sleep and falling deeper and deeper into madness as the babadook's presence continues to grow and the worst and most frightening of repressed desires and thoughts come to the forefront. The film works best metaphorically, in fact, the fact that there is a monster is almost incidental and I like that. Essie Davis's performance was discuss by a few as being Oscar-worthy, I-eh, I can understand, but I have a little trouble going that far myself. "The Babadook" isn't about the scares, but the terror in one's mind, and that's what makes it effective. A simple, yet powerful tale, just like good horror films should be.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014) Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Above anything else, "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is a mood piece. Not a movie that attempts to jar you with the shocking content, and the content, especially for an Iranian film, could be considered shocking, but instead, a mood piece, that attempts to jar you from one emotion to another. It almost feels more like an album one could get high to than a vampire movie. Hell, we had one of those earlier this year with Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive". This movie also has, what I guess could be considered lovers, although they might be more kindred spirits. instead. The Girl (Sheila Vand) in the title is never given a name and is a vampire. She haunts the night in a long shrouded, liquid-like black outfit, acting more like a presence than a character, she's almost more ghostly than anything else, until a victim get mesmerized and then caught in her web. Arash (Arash Marandi) is probably the closest to a friend The Girl has, they at least share a few moments together. Arash works some odd jobs, including dealing drugs and it's mostly through him curiously enough that we meet some other strange character in this Iranian underworld, Bad City it's called. The film is shot black and white, probably both an homage to early Jarmusch and possibly also to Frank Miller's "Sin City", this is a more realistic universe oddly enough, but first-time director Ana Lily Amirpour did adapt this from her original graphic novel, it feels inspired. In fact, you can go scene to scene and see new pieces of inspiration, everything from James Dean to Madonna to David Lynch. There's an iconographic tone to the film, Amirpour calls it an Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western actually; I have no idea what that is, but I guess it's as good as any other description. To me, this feels like and is a movie that could be playing in the background competing for attention with the lava lamps, if you get my drift and that's a compliment. It's seductive, it's eerie, it's cool, it's contradictory, even hypocritical. It's supposed to take place in Iran, but it's actually shot in California and filled with ex-pats as the actors. Amirpour is of Iranian decent but is from England originally and grew up in California, so no wonder it's filled with so many disparaging images. I can't imagine who else could've made such a film, despite how much it evokes other films. I still think she's seeking out a more clear-cut direction with her voice, but this movie has a lot of ideas and tries to say, maybe too much. Or maybe there's too many different ways she's trying to say them. I don't know, something preventing me from fully embracing "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night", perhaps it's the fragmentation nature of the film. I guess it qualifies as a film that more interesting to talk about then to see, but it's almost like it's more interesting to listen to as well. In that way, it's like any other mood piece really, if you like the mood, than you'll like the film. I like the mood, so I like the film, I still would like to see her do more though.
TOP FIVE (2014) Director: Chris Rock
I've heard some talk about this movie being the funniest of the year, and it's, got it's fun-ny, mom-ents, eh... Honestly, I was fascinated by Chris Rock's "Top Five", but I didn't find myself laughing much, and I was okay with that. In fact, while there is a dark satire of Hollywood culture here throughout, the movie was about a major comedian, probably Rock loosely playing a variant of himself and maybe some other comics he's known over the years, trying not to be funny. Very adamant about not wanting to be funny, in fact. Rock's alterego is Andre Allen, and he's trying to promote his latest film, a period-drama about Haitian slave rebellion leader, Dutty Boukman, (Look him up) but mostly the press are talking about his upcoming wedding to Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) a Bravo celebrity who's wedding is national news and a national television event. She's one of those people who grew up taking Warren Beatty's words about Madonna not wanting to live off-camera a little too close to heart, although, just like Madonna, she's more observant, smarter and savvy than she seems at first glance. As he's ending the press tour, he's going around New York, making the rounds to his friends, family, old neighborhood, etc., and he's followed by Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) a New York Times journalist who he clearly doesn't want hanging around as their critic has given some particularly vicious reviews of his films. Granted, his films until now were Hammy the Bear, where he is completely hidden in a bearsuit playing a bear that talks and is a cop, I guess. He's made three of those films, and doesn't want to do anymore. Chelsea herself is an intriguing character. We see in her apartment briefly, living with her mother, and daughter, and another major point, like Andre, she's a recovering addict. I bring this up, because part of Andre's reluctance to go back into comedy is his fear that he won't be as funny anymore now that he's clean. She herself goes through a breakup during this day and night with her boyfriend Brad (Anders Holm) that involves the funniest scene in the movie that I will not spoil for you. At least she can be somewhat anonymous with her demons and pain, Andre needs absolutely brutal honesty in a celebrity culture that desires anything but. Clearly, Rock has clearly named Andre Allen after the director/actor of the film this movie most resembles, Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories", also a meandering Felliniesque journey of a major artist's struggle with fame and the expectations of the audience fighting with his own desires. Each time someone asks Andre about another Hammy movie you can almost see people telling Woody how much they love his movies, especially the early funny ones. Like I said, I didn't laugh much, but I genuinely don't think he was going for comedy, at least not more comedy than can naturally be in this film. No more than comedy that is simply just tragedy turned inside out. There's a lot good supporting performances here as well, JB Smooth in particular as Andre's closest confidant Silk, who gets him out of jams and protects him from others better than anyone else can. There's a lot of one-off cameos as well, the one with Tracy Morgan is nice to see, although you can't help thinking about how he's doing now. Chris Rock's shown an underrated talent as a director; I haven't seen "Head of State" yet, but I enjoyed his Eric Rohmer remake of "Chloe in the Afternoon", titled "I Think I Love My Wife" and his acting has just gotten better over the years as well. Yeah, he's playing a version of himself, but that's not a bad thing here, and it's not quite himself either; it's a good performance that's hidden-in-plain-sight. I don't know if it's his best performance but as a writer/director, it's his best and most personal film yet.
I do find it interesting that most of the African-American audiences at his movie is in line for a Madea film, and the one character who's genuinely interested in his Dutty Boukman film is a gay white guy. Not sure if there's anything to read into it, but, it's interesting.
THE LIBERATOR (2014) Director: Alberto Alvaro
(Sigh) I guess the standard I put on movies like "The Liberator" isn't completely fair, but basically, my thought is, is this historical epic more or less interesting that reading a history lesson or a biopic on the same material. That's a weird standard 'cause frankly, I'm not sure how many people really know about Simon Bolivar (Carlos Ramirez) or how he basically shaped the way South America is today, hell there's a whole country named after him, but, if just introducing people to somebody was a standard then, I-, well, I don't think the audience is or should be that dumb. Let me put it another way, if the first time you heard about Abraham Lincoln, was after watching "Lincoln", you better not be old enough to talk, at least in America. I would say pre-school, but he's on the penny and the 5-dollar bill, at some point you should've at least been taught his name and that he was important. That said, "The Liberator" is pretty forgettable. It's not bad for a sprawling historical Hollywood-style epic, the kind that basically seems to be getting made everywhere but Hollywood now, but it's not overly memorable either. This was Venezuela's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar and it made the Academy shortlist and it starts with him being noticed by Spanish nobility for his badminton prowess, and then it flashbacks and then it goes all over the map, metaphorically and figuratively. Half the time it's about some liberating of the people other times it's as much about his wife Maria (Maria Valverde) and their romance and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. That's the thing with these historical epics, it's probably better to focus in on certain or specific parts of his life instead of over-arching the entirety of it, and this movie tries to do the latter. There's nothing wrong with "El Libertador", it's a beautifully-made movie that's slow at times, but it's a sprawling epic and there's good performances, but do you really get encapsulated by it? Honestly, his wikipedia page of Bolivar is more interesting. So, there's not much I can really do here; it is what it is, and frankly I think there's plenty of good movies about Simon Bolivar yet to be made, or yet to be seen by me at least, I hope, but I don't think this is one of them.
KILL THE MESSENGER (2014) Director: Michael Cuesta
I've always had-, I guess you'd call it an obtuse reaction to Michael Cuesta's work. Something about it, every time I've seen one of his films has always been a little off somehow. His last feature, "Roadie" would've made my worst film's list the year it came out, and I wasn't as taken with "Twelve and Holding", which I found to be more simplistic than others did; I guess it worked on a metaphoric but I thought it was painstaking to force it's way through that. "Kill the Messenger" is certainly better than those film. It's also more important to watch. The movie follows Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), who was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News in the '90s and was the man who found out that the Nicaraguan Contra fighters in the '80s were funded by the CIA through cocaine funds, by selling it to dealers in major cities, starting of course in Watts. It begins with a Daniel Blandon (Yul Vazquez) a prosecution witness where more information about him on disclosure was given out and accidentally made public. On the witness stand in the case against Ricky Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams), one of the biggest and most successful of crack dealers in L.A., Daniel admits to being a CIA informant and begins to name names, starting with Norwin Menesis (Andy Garcia) currently a prisoner in Managua, but Gary gets in and he talks about how it worked. When the story gets printed, he's revered as a hero, despite CIA pressure, but soon enough the story systematically keeps getting killed and more and more Webb's work keeps getting more and more discredited as witness stories are changed and denied, despite accolades from the reporting community. The stories were inevitably verified of course, but at the time, nobody noticed, and Webb was basically a pariah in the media and never worked as a reporter again before his suspicious "suicide" in '04. The movie is, well, it's strangely formulaic but it's also oddly rushed and edited. There's a strange sequence with his son, Ian (Lucas Hedges) who's confronting him about a past infidelity, and it's- first of all, the whole relationship with his son is unnecessary and frankly, doesn't add much, (Yeah, this is one of those weird movies where it's better that arbitrary side characters, remain arbitrary, sorry wife, Sue [Rosemarie Dewitt, oh crap, and it's Rosemarie Dewitt, who's way too talented to keep getting way too many of these parts] and other kids [Matthew Lintz and Parker Douglas]) but worst than that, it's shot with a handheld camera technique that really doesn't work. It kinda works with the pacing of the rest of the movie, the more intense and frantic moments, but some of these later scenes needed pacing. And then when you really get down to the bareness of the script, there's a lot less there than a typical story of a reporter trying to report the truth at all costs, and then getting lambasted for doing so. I guess I'm recommending it, 'cause it is intense for much of the film and the story is worth noting. Renner's give a good performance as well, but I'm still on the fence of Cuesta, I like him when he does television, like directing and producing much of "Homeland", but I'm not sold that his work in film he improved much.
SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON (2014) Directors: Beth Aala and Mike Myers
I guess it's nice to see Mike Myers doing, anything right now. He's been conspicuously absent from the entertainment landscape lately other than his voice of Shrek, partly due to an unofficial blacklisting for being difficult to work with. And I guess Shep Gordon helped him out through some of those tough times and I guess he's a good choice for that. This documentary about somebody who is truly one of the most interesting people in Hollywood though, eh, it's a nice tribute. I don't know if it's a good documentary though. Gordon, first came to California, got beat up at his job as a parole officer on the first day for having long hair, and then after getting high, something that will be a continuous theme throughout his life, got beat up trying to save a girl from being raped, by the girl, who was pissed that she interrupted her sex. (He heard her screaming through the walls, and misinterpreted.) Long story short, the girl apologized the next day, and it was Janis Joplin. The guy she was fucking was Jimi Hendrix, and Shep had a shit-ton of weed. The next day practically, and after getting high with Jimi, Janis and Jim Morrison, who showed up later, and someafter the next day he had become Alice Cooper's manager. He also manages Anne Murray, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and eventually started the celebrity chef movement after beginning to manage every major chef he could, right as the Food Network kicked off, starting with Emeril Lagasse. Right now, he lives in Hawaii, and pretty much any major celebrity knows him and they can stay on his couch for a few weeks if needed, he'll cook you a nice meal everyday. He's had a couple marriages, including to a vegan chef, but now he's just a Hollywood legend, one of those iconic characters you hear about. It's an interesting life, definitely worth hearing about, but I don't know. I mostly watched "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon" mostly just thinking that Shep's life was more interesting than his movie about him was. It's not horrible or anything, but I don't think that's a good enough reason to recommend a film either.
KINK (2014) Director: Christina Voros
I am actually familiar with Kink.com. Uh-um (Annoyed sigh) yes, okay that way too, but I also have had a few twitter followers that have worked there from time to time. ([Shrugs] Hey, I'm glad they're following, I don't care who they are and I don't know how they find me, but I'm glad they did.) That said, I don't know exactly how much there is to learn about BDSM and bondage from the documentary. Hell, "Kink" has always been more of an open book than most other websites to begin with; they even have a BehindKink.com site that's always showed the behind the scenes footage and that site you don't even have to pay for, so I guess to some respects this documentary is a bit redundant but, I guess since it's a bit taboo and niche of a subject, I can overlook that. Those who want a complete overview of Kink can probably just check out their websites, so the movie isn't that either. It's partly a behind-the-scenes and a history of the site, with the creator of course, talking about how he bought the strangely non-descript but appropriately ominous San Francisco building that the majority of Kink shoots take place in known appropriately as "The Armory". I know sadomasochism is back en vogue with "Fifty Shades of Grey" right not, but Kink.com has existed since 1997 and has only grown in popularity, prestige and respect in and outside the porn industry. You can definitely argue there's some artistic merit to their work. We meet some of the people responsible for some of the sites, some of the performers naturally, and we see how some of the shoots are run, very much like any regular film set. Even directors, orchestrating the action, trying to get the right reactions and shots. During one of their gay men shoots, the director tries to show how to hit the guy harder, a the dom was actually being too cautious to the tied up man, and he was right. Kink's main appeal other then the content is that they want the-eh, "reactions" to be as authentic as possible. (Long awkward pause) The-o'se, kind of reactions. (I hope I'm not spoiling too many fantasies here, but most porn actresses are faking their orgasms) This is probably where the one intriguing concept of BDSM is brought up, the concept of "subspace," which I think some might not be aware of and frankly is difficult to describe here, but basically is the mental state of mind that a submissive is in, especially when he/she is into the euphoric zenith of a scene. (If you want to learn more I suggest you seek out literature on the bondage lifestyle and whatnot, from experts, they can explain it better.) Despite all this "Kink" is still mostly is another profile of the adult industry, and while it's probably a higher rung on the ladder of that industry than most, both in terms of it's quality of product, name recognition and quality of it's content and even artistic integrity, but it's still the group of lost souls and others artists that come together to make a movie. The modern pseudo porn family, a la "Boogie Nights", only with more rope, whips, sybians, floggers, rope, safewords, etc. etc. That's not a bad thing, it's oddly human and in some ways touching. One of the performers, Felony, has an emotional interview about being a mom in this line of work, a single mom of multiple kids and having half of her family disowning her because of this. There's some talk as well about the process of being open about being into a BDSM lifestyle too, that's actually starting to become a thing too so it's worth noting. There's enough here to tempt and intrigue, if you're interested. I don't know if it'll turn anybody who aren't inherently intrigued, but for those who are curious..., I guess, I'll recommend it.
AT BERKELEY (2013) Director: Frederick Wiseman
When I did my Top Ten of 2013 List, I didn't include a documentary in there for the first time since I've been doing this blog, and boy do I wish I got around to seeing "At Berkeley" before now, 'cause it definitely would've made it. Before "At Berkeley" is four hours long. Before you dismiss that however, I went to college for eight years. Hell, if I didn't have to eventually graduate with god knows how many credits and whatever my GPA ended up being, I'd probably still be there, taking whatever classes I could. Granted, while I have nothing against my amazing UNLV education, there does seem to be a different tone with the conversations and teachings feel like they come from a higher level at Berkeley then they did when I was in school, and I was utterly intrigued. I recognized Robert Reich, one of my economic idols, and he's giving one of his usual lectures I've heard before, but most of the colleagues I didn't know and that was okay. The movie was shot in 2010 during the battle with the state and board of regents and faculty over funding, which is shows an intriguing contrast between the students of today's Berkeley, who still fight for education and knowledge more than ever, the history of the university, sometimes represented by numerous members of the faculty, some of them who were on the battlelines with Mario Savio, and are still teaching and preaching, with the current economic climate and restrictions of they day as they struggle to remain the most prestigious public university in the country and have their students be able to afford their classes. There's other aspects to the university too, like a theatre production about living in the Facebook era that's one of the funniest and most observant satires of it I've seen. There's also the robotics and engineering departments, the medical schools, the more brainy boring teachers with the more philosophical ones. Differing styles of teaching from Robert Reich to the more traditional grab your copy of "Walden" and sit around a table classes while we analyze the text. The movie doesn't give us names or people or followers particular characters it's just an observer, listening in, it's apart of the protest, it's in the regents hall as they decide how to respond to the protests. It's in the medical lab, it's listening in on classes, it's absorbing the entire experience of Berkeley. Well, not even that actually, I doubt anybody takes all the classes and is in the faculty meetings or goes to all the football games or whatever, but it just documents everything that's happening "At Berkeley" at that moment and whether you like the movie will be as much, how much you're willing to tolerate or let the experience engross you. Or, to put it another way, you get as much out of the experience of college as you're willing to put into it.
WHAT RICHARD DID (2013) Director: Leonard Abrahamson
Much of the discussion of"What Richard Did" revolves around, well, what Richard does. I'll discuss it too, but it's important to know, more importantly than that is how well the beginning of the movie is at creating a realistic universe, along with some strong interesting characters that we do care about. Richard (Jack Reynor) is a prolific but rather typical high school kid, bit of a contentious side that intimidates others, but that's not necessarily his defining characteristic. It's summer so everybody's partying a bit much, but nothing out of the ordinary. He a star athlete on the rugby team but he's generally a cool guy to hang out with, he even has a girlfriend Lara (Roisin Murphy) and it's actually quite tender seeing them fall in love. Lara used to date another friend Conor (Sam Keely). At a party, Richard drinks a little too much as gets upset at Conor and eventually a brawl ensues. Richard, at one point, kicks Conor square in the head. The next day, he finds out that Conor died. He seems to be hurt, but he was alive when he and everyone else left. At first, he threatens everyone not to say anything, but eventually he's interrogated by the police as more and more, his actions set in to him and the less and less sure he is of what to do, or what is there to do. He confesses to his father in a teary scene, who suggests sending him somewhere else. He shows up at Conor's funeral, where his mother Eileen (Gabrielle Reidy) pleas for somebody to come forward, how at a party with dozens of people, only three have come forward voluntarily, just three have. "What Richard Did" is quite a realistic slice-of-life drama. It's director Leonard Abrahamson directed "Frank" last year, that movie with Michael Fassbender as the lead singer of a progressive rock band that wore a paper mache mask and these two movies couldn't be more different. This one's so well-acted it almost has a documentary feel to the performances, especially by Reynor. I guess it feels a little bit too much like a short story instead of a movie, especially since it's fairly short, under 90 minutes, but it taps into those aspects of the human condition, the fragility and the emotional, and the realization that a single decision can change your life forever, and it looks at that frightening line it's impossible for even the person responsible to tell whether or not his action leading to a death was either an accident or murder, and either way, and neither result is easy to live with.
THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky
I'm just gonna copy down my notes here on Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Holy Mountain":
A man, strips naked two kneeling women in some Buddhist-like jade colored room and shaves their heads.
Then there's a key behind several other doors and images.
There's a dead guy covered in ants and he still seems to be peeing.
There's a guy with no hands or legs and a bunch of naked tribal children, they throw rocks at a human male who's tied to a scarecrow-like cross. This is the first five minutes of the movie.
He gets down from the cross and screams, scaring the children.
He smokes a cigarettes with the armless, legless guy who starts licking his forehead before they embrace in laughter.
In town, there's a truckload of dead naked bloody bodies going down the streets.
Imp and Guy are on the street, and- Okay, I give up, I'm not gonna pretend I'm going to be able to follow any of this, it just gets weirder, stranger more surreal and more Jodorowsky from here folks. Did birds fly out of that dead guy's bullet wound?
Finally near the end, there's a speech that might explain the movie. "The cross was a mushroom and the mushroom was also the tree of good and evil. The philosophical stone of the Alchemist was, LSD. The book of the dead was a trip and the Apocalypse describe a mescaline experience. In these flasks are all the holy mountains, and in this beautiful young man, is eternity." Whatever the hell that means. If you're not familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky, surreal is a simplistic way of describing him. His masterpiece, "El Topo" is in my Canon of Film, and that one, had a story. I'm not sure it had a plot per se, but "The Holy Mountain" is really plotless, just one surreal amazing image after another, it's on overload. The most infamous scene, I didn't even mention, I guess I should warn anybody, it involves such things as anus cleansing and turning of fecal matter into gold. This is done by somebody named The Alchemist (Jodorowsky himself.) after he captures somebody known as The Thief (Horacio Salinas), who we've I guess been following up until now, although take those words with a grain of salt. He's then introduced to seven more fellow fighters/travelers that The Alchemist informs The Thief of, and we see each of their worlds and backstories. I'm sure this all means something, allegorical, religious, political, sociological, but I'll be damned if it can actually be explained or not and it doesn't really matter. The images are more important in Jodorowsky's world than what they mean, if they mean anything at all and it's the journey of these images bombarding our mind like one fucked up acid trip inside a kaleidoscopic lava lamp. Jodorowsky is his own genre, his own brand of surrealism, and it's really impossible to criticize or to defend. I guess I just found it a little more lulling and meandering than I did "El Topo", so why I'm knocking it 1/2 star, but I mean, talk about arbitrary, it's ridiculous to give a movie like this a rating. Just sit back, watch it, and whatever happens, happens. There's not much else you can do with Jodorowsky.
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1986) Director: Stephen Frears
Man, every time I review a Stephen Frears movie, I get more and more impressed and yet confused by him. "My Beautiful Laundrette" is probably regarded as his first major worldwide theatrical release, but before this feature, he had only done two theatrical features, "Gumshoe" and "The Hit", two films which came out 13 years apart. It's not like he wasn't working though, he directed several TV shows and movies between then, but still, both those movies were fairly well-acclaimed, both even got BAFTA nominations. Yet, "My Beautiful Laundrette", being his next film.... at the time, we didn't quite realize that this was one of those directors who really would become capable of, basically making anything afterwards. You never hear his name mentioned among the best directors alive, 'cause you just can't pin him down-, hell, it's hard finding a common motif in his work, much less even a genre. If I had to come up with a director who made a film about the travails of a young Pakistani squatter son of a journalist, and his downtrodden London ruffian friend/lover who used to be a fascist, and have it all centered around what, in America is more likely to be called a laundromat,- uh, well Frears wouldn't have been the last person I'd guess, 'cause his name wouldn't enter my mind at all. Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is the Pakistani son, who's Papa (Roshan Seth) is an aging drunk former journalist, who's relatively unreliable although he used to be somewhat respectable and his friend Johnny (Daniel Day Lewis) into the family business. Omar will work a little more legitimately, working in the parking garage before getting ownership of the broken-down and beaten up laundrette that he decides to make his mission to fix up and look nice, even if that means getting the funding to do that through some dubious people and ventures. Johnny, is used sporadically more as a brawler, working to collect money for Nasser from some of his tenants at his apartments and other businesses like that. The other interesting character is Tania (Rita Wolf), Nasser's daughter who's we meet as she flirts with Omar, even going outside to flash him through french door windows during a meeting. She's bored with her position or lack thereof in Nasser's world and seems willing to do anything to get out. It's a bit of an odd movie, it's not really based in a linear plot, all events do happen as they come. It's more about getting to know these character through their actions at this early stages in their life. They're all outsiders through their race, their class, their sex and/or sexual preferences, etc. and they're all essentially trying to figure out how to go about the world. What paths are best for them and what options are actually available. It's a family story, it's a British story, (Remember this is Margaret Thatcher era Britain, so this lower class isn't particularly well regarded at this time, hence Johnny noted brief flirtation with fascism.) and it's a character piece. "My Beautiful Laundrette" like Frears, seems to steadfastly refused to simply be categorized under traditional terms and narratives, and that's partly why it holds up so well.
SHALL WE DANCE (1937) Director: Mark Sandrich
I mentioned watching a couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films this batch around, I didn't have time to write a review of "The Gay Divorcee", but really, I don't need to. These movies are mostly the same, some ridiculous idiot plot contrivance is basically used as an excuse to get the characters together to dance and to fall in love, but mostly to dance. I still think "Swing Time" is the best of the bunch, maybe the only one you really need to see. but this one has actually a pretty funny story with it, along with some great songs by George and Ira Gershwin, like "Cheek to Cheek", "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", and the Oscar-nominated "You Can't Take That Away from Me", wow, that was the only one nominated! Those are classic songs, wow. Anyway, most of the movie takes place on a cruise ship as Fred Astaire is Petrov, the lead performer at the Russian ballet, who's actually not Russian, but pretends to be for the act, and he's in love with a famed tapdancer, Linda Keene (Ginger Rogers) even though, and this is a common theme in these movies btw, they haven't met yet, and of course, she has to be convinced that she's in love with him. She's supposed to be married soon to somebody else, but eventually, rumors start flying of their romance, and their marriage and unlike some of their other movies, this one's more of a satire on how to deal with the public perceptions of the story than anything else. Having to create new lies to make up for the last lie, or calling bluff on the lie for it to be true, and then reversing that truth, etc. etc. It's actually kinda funny. Of course the dancing scenes are what's really special, although I like the music a little bit more even. There's a great sequence with Fred Astaire dancing all up and down the ship's boiler room, while music is played by an all African-American band, that's a great solo dance scene that's strategically place so that the scene could probably be cut from screening in the South I imagine. Anyway, "Shall We Dance", is another very good Astaire/Rogers film. It's not much more, but that's fine, that's all you need, and the music is particularly special in it. That's more than enough for me.
MEXICAN SUNRISE (2012) Director: Roddy Stovall
This is maybe my shortest review ever. Saw "Mexican Sunrise," 'cause a friend was streaming it on Hulu. It was unbelievably terrible. Director couldn't direct, the sound was horrible, the two competing stories didn't really connect, there was a point where a character said to sit down, and the camera stayed in shot and lowered, for some reason, and Armand Assante was in it... for some reason. It was originally made in '07, but didn't hit theaters 'til five years later, for good reason. There's nothing good about it and-eh, there's nothing else to say, it was shit. Moving on.