Thursday, January 31, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF"




When I originally wrote this Canon of Film entry, I started with a long diatribe explaining my laziness, about how I hadn’t watched as many films as I had planned, and how I had wanted to write on another movie or two, instead of writing on “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Well, coincidence of coincidences, I’m posting this Canon of Film entry, while in the middle of another run of laziness on my part. I haven’t exactly been lazy. I’ve been writing constantly, on my blog, and personally, and coming up with new ideas, but I haven’t been watching as many movies lately, and nothing that I’ve thought about writing on, has really sparked enough interest in me to actually write on, despite my self-imposed deadlines, and frankly, I just feel lazy. Does this mean I’m writing a canon entry on “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” out of just an unwillingness to scour through the video store or the library and rent something that I know is good and force myself to sit through it a couple times, or pick a random subject off of imdb.com, or deadline or variety and just make write myself a page or two on it? Yes, it does, but why should I do any of those things anyway? Isn’t the point of “Ferris Bueller’s…” is that I shouldn’t be doing that? Or to put it as he would, “Life moves pretty fast, sometimes if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I think that’s why this film has continually stayed popular for so many years, because it can be watched without thinking about it too much, and can be thoroughly enjoyed, but if you sit back and watch it, and look around it in for a while, you’ll realize there’s a subtle sophistication involved in the movie that makes it a lot more than just a high school fantasy film. Like how Cameron’s (Alan Ruck) father’s car is place on a pedestal next to his father’s house, or how Ferris (Matthew Broderick) observes his way of manipulating the school system as not just trying to beat the system, but as more along the lines of something that’s part of a greater whole in life. Ferris is actually quite like Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption,” easily able to wander the streets of Chicago like Robbins does the jailhouse yard without a care in the world, because he realizes a greater truth than just whether or not one goes to school on a particular day. The adults have long since lost their idealization of this, so naturally they’re too simple-minded to matter, except for comic relief.  Of all the John Hughes film about high school, this one seems the least realistic. I can’t think of anybody from my high school past that fits the Ferris Bueller archetype who didn’t either OD or become too druggedd out to function in this world. Maybe on that level it fails, but for obvious reasons, maybe it’s good that the character isn’t particularly realistic. The Cameron and Sloane (Mia Sara) characters are believable, and do actually strike a raw nerve, particularly Ruck’s Cameron, as a kid who plays second fiddle to his father’s classic car, which of course Ferris talks him into stealing. He’s always sick, and seems to be more in need out a good night out than anybody in the world, yet is a good friend to Ferris and vice-versa. Ferris gives him a day out to do anything and everything, something I surely didn’t do enough of in school. Film Critic/Columnist Richard Roeper, who’s known for listing this film as one of his all-time favorite, noted that a hidden subtext of the movie is that it’s a “Suicide-Prevention Film”. To some extent, he’s right. It also works as a decent Chicago travelogue, but Roeper's right, that part get overlooked by a lot of people, that Ferris isn’t a prototype of what high school kids wish they were; he’s actually the friend all high school kids wish they had, and that’s a character archetype that is fairly unique to “Ferris Bueller…”   

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

THE END OF "30 ROCK", SOME FINAL THOUGHTS: "JUST TAPE 'THE BIG BANG THEORY' FOR ONCE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!"---Tina Fey




The end of an era, is fastly approaching, and there's a very real, very sad possibility that few people are gonna watch it. I will be watching it. Not on the computer, but I'll be watching it live. "30 Rock"'s season finale is this Thursday. Despite setting records at Award show, and being a critical darling, the series has never been a popular show in the ratings. In fact, a little-realized fact that few people remember is that, the show actually did worse in the ratings it's first season, than Aaron Sorkin's brilliant "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", which was the two shows NBC aired that year, about the behind-the-scenes of an "SNL"-type talk show. "30 Rock" stayed on the air, because it was cheaper to produce, and got more Awards, including it's first of three Best Comedy Series Emmys that here as well. One year, 2009, it got an unheard of 22 Emmy Nominations, destroying any other comedy series record you could come up with. (The old record was 17 nominations, set by "30 Rock," the year before)

I've spent the last hour trying to explain the greatness of "30 Rock", and the genius of Tina Fey, both of which, are undeniable facts, and yet, I can't quite find the correct words to describe either of them. In many ways, you do need to know about culture and the world of television, just to even understand some of "30 Rock", and it's absurd character, and the way they behave, but since "30 Rock" is Fey's brainchild, it must be understood that the show is really a mosaic of her mind, and thought. Symbolic representations of people that she confronts and deals with, not just in real life, but also in the world at large. The entertainment world at large in particular. Here's a woman, in Tina Fey and/or Liz Lemon, who has studied comedy intensely. Female comedy in particular, and everything else that deals with that, and who seems to be constantly searching for her ideal role model still. That's a P.O.V. I see with man females in almost art forms, but it's especially true in comedy, and television comedy in particular, everybody has this need, to find a role model to identify with, and in many ways emulate. This is why such artists like Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, and especially Mary Tyler Moore, are held in such regard. Actually, I take that back, it's not so much the actresses, but the parts they're playing. Mary Richards is an icon. Lucy Ricardo, is an icon. June Cleaver, Roseanne Arnold, Murphy Brown. Some are better than other; some represent the past, and whether we've been in America, and why women, started rebelling against some of those stereotypes, creating new archetypes for women. It's more profound with women, but it happens with everybody. Jack Donaghy idolizes the GE founder that Rip Torn played, as well as Ronald Reagan, and some of these other pro-business ideologues, as a means towards success. The point behind the comedy in "30 Rock", is that, now there's more prevalent icons for young women, and everybody else to choose from, and never has their been, so many different people, idolizes, so many other different people, and every major character, is symbolic of who they idolize. Liz, now feeling herself a successful, albeit troubled role model in her own right, tries to deal with these contradicting people, and that's where the humor comes in. Liz is clearly a representative, of progress, while trying to live up to who came before. Perhaps the ultimate example of such a conundrum. She wants, success, career, family, and gets continually frustrated by her mostly failed attempts to get it. She also, understands the importance of rebelling against those old cliches of womanhood, but still is susceptible to them. Not so much the activities themselves, but the pressures that are inherited in her, internal and external. Jack is the talentless man in the artistic industry, who see his job as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Look at a shallow character like Suri, played by Katrina Bowden, whose looks get her through the world, and make everything disturbingly simple for her. Her idols, probably are, Barbie, or some supermodel who no one remembers. Or Tracy's wife, played by Sherri Shepherd, at over-the-top outlandish character that, she gets her own reality show, simply for being herself, and being married to a celebrity, which is actually, incidental. Tracy Jordan himself played by Tracy Morgan, is a loud, obnoxious character, who's stand-up act personality has made him a star, while Jane Krakowski's so self-obsessed with herself, and being the star that she thinks she is, she eventually marries one of her female impersonators. All these characters represent a kaleidoscope of television and cultural idols. Except for Kenneth, who represents, the hapless television lover/viewer, who loves and appreciates all of television. That's the real vision of Tina Fey's work, the absurdity in the real world, that's inspired by the world that television invented. This, on top of being a woman, in a man's world, with a female sense of humor.

This conflict is a core of "30 Rock", which has been, funny as hell, it really does, first it takes a side, on every issue, which is far more critical for every genre that people realize, it explores it to the fullest degree, and then  the thing is, that it does everything. It simple to describe the dynamics of "30 Rock", but it's hard to describe the comedy, because it insists on taking a bit from everything. It's strangely classical in it's structure, but the dialogue the characters have is free-spirited and outlandish. There never seems to be any room for subtlety or hidden agendas, and characters are so crass that they simply blurt out what they're thinking. This comes from an improv background. The show itself, isn't improvised, but that method of saying what's on your mind, and saying yes, to every bizarre idea that comes out of your head, that's improv training, specifically Second City-style improv, where Fey started. This style is really what's revolutionary about the show, it's insistance on absurdity, even at the strangest of moments. It's a culmination of devouring so many pop culture influences from movies and TV, that, even the most ridiculous of statements, can seem logical in the world of "30 Rock".

But now, it's ending. Thursday night, is "30 Rock"'s final episode. It's barely getting promoted, it's part of a season that's got fewer episodes than ever before, and when Tina Fey won her SAG Awards yesterday, she pleaded in her speech for people to please, just tape "The Big Bang Theory", this one time! Honestly, as much as I do love "30 Rock", I've more of it, on my computer than I have on TV. Unfortunate and ironic, a show that so loves and is about television, finds it's audience mainly on the internet, and that's been the case since the beginning too. It's another irony, that such a great show, is rarely seen on TV. Fey has become a major cultural icon herself, but she's done as much for her Sarah Palin role on "SNL", as for this part. She's written in her book "Bossypants" about how she intended "30 Rock", to be a critics and awards darling, she wanted to create "Home Improvement", and get the biggest ratings on TV. Unfortunately, Tina Fey is too special, and too unique and too smart for mass broad appeal. I can explain, how her show is basically a retread of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", and how she's borrowing from classic influences and newer influences of comedy all I want, but basically, they see the show, and it's single-camera look, (Which Fey never wanted) and the rapid-fire absurd dialogue and characters, seem so far from such classic shows, that most people dismiss it, and can barely grasp it. An TV insider show, that seems to have less to do about making television than any other show that was about that. The show comes up with such great moments and lines, that it's hard to pick favorites, but to celebrate, the end of this magnificent sitcom, I think my favorite quote, was when Carrie Fisher guessed starred, as the old-time "Laugh-In",-style comic writer, and Liz goes to her apartment and which is like, the worst possible place anyone can live, and when she tells Jack about her adventures, he turns back with the warning, "Never go with a hippie to a second location." Well, that's a favorite moment of mine, there's dozens of others.

Think back to your favorite moments this week, as we celebrate, and cry at the end of "30 Rock", one of the greatest TV shows, of our lifetime, and because, dammit, somebody has to, so dance like nobody's watching!

Friday, January 25, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #54: "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD", "FRANKENWEENIE", "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN", "PARANORMAN", "5 BROKEN CAMERAS", "RED HOOK SUMMER", "TOAST", and MORE!

Hey Everyone! Since the Oscar-nominations were announced, everybody, like me, who watches most of the films on DVD, have started pushing up their Netflix queue, all the films that got nominated, and are available to watch, and this week, is no exception. In fact, we can call this week's blog, our Special Oscars Review Blog, as I'm reviewing 5 films that received Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nominee. So preparing has begun, and Seth MacFarland is already half-drunk.

Now, as to the blog itself, I mentioned awhile back that I might be willing to make some changes to the blog. Some of it's in design, others maybe in structure, or maybe even the regularity of my posts. Change things up a bit. I flirted with doing some of that, but, for me change can be hard, and besides that, I didn't like anything enough to make any changes right now. But, I also wanted to ask some of you, what you would like to see on my blog! Just in general. Do you want to change a color or something? Have more pictures, that's an idea I've been considering. Any particular subject you guys would like for me to talk about. I have to keep a quota and regular updates, and sometimes it can be hard coming up with new subjects to write about. I mean, I can't discuss everything, and I'm not gonna go, plotline by plotline, discussing every little nuance of some TV show plotlines, especially if it's a show I don't know, but some general ideas on what you might like for me to discuss, would be very much appreciated. We've past 25,000 hit mark, we're averaging almost 100 hits/day, and that's because of you the readers, and I really do, just want to write stuff that you guys would like to read. So let me know sometime.

Alright, that's all the blog news and reports for today. On to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012) Director: Benh Zeitlin

4 1/2 STARS

Few mainstream have such a keen sense of place as Benh Zeitlin's debut feature film, "Beasts of the Southern Wild", a film who's four recent Oscar nominations, all in major categories including Best Picture, didn't surprise a lot of insiders who've been praising the film since last Sundance. The movie was made in Louisiana, by Court 13, as it said in the credit, and starred many locals in the area, known as The Bathtub, which is, what can charitably be called, an island in southern Louisiana, that's on the wrong side of levees and got hit badly with Hurricane Katrina, and is surviving so barely by the skin of its teeth, that the talk is as much about melting glacier in Antarctica, for fear that the water rise, might sink The Bathtub. In this world, we meet Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) a six-year old girl who lives with her dad Wink (Dwight Henry), in a trailer that requires a flamethrower and a frozen helmet to turn on the stove. Hushpuppy is young, and ambitious, but Wink, like most of the people of The Bathtub, don't want to leave the area, and are determined to save it, even as a second storm is heading to the area. Hushpappy lives in a world of magic realism, and giant animals are just as likely to pass as voodoo witches. From a couple days, Wink is missing, and is clearly sick. He comes home with a hospital bandage on his arm, and for much of the movie, Hushpuppy is alone, wandering through town, and trying to consider when to start eating her pets, if Wink doesn't come, who provides the food, through whatever means necessary, including noodling catfish. After the storm, much of the town, is sunk, and in one amazing sequence, what's left of the town, is floating, as Wink and a few other relatives, make a ballsy attempt to blow up the levee to get the waterlevel to sink, as though much of The Bathtub would still be intact. In flashbacks, and exposition, we hear about Hushpuppy's mother, and how she left The Bathtub when she was young. The only thing she has of hers, is an old Michael Jordan jersey, that she covets. I think if you wanted to be critical, the movie has plot and character issues, but the real strength of this film, is the incredible world that the movie creates. This can easily be compared to, something like, "Days of Heaven" the Terrence Malick, or the early southern gothic films of David Gordon Green, and a few people compared the film and Quvenzhane's performance to Mary Badham's in "To Kill a Mockingbird," and there is some Robert Mulligan, to this film, and this sense of place, is what's amazing and some of the shots-, I'm always impressed with films with animals in them, 'cause there's nothing trickier than getting animals to do what you want, on film, but the whole movie, is really just an amazing combination of pure willpower, and community, and a little magic. The friend of mine who watched the movie with me, kept talking about, how this was a tough place to live, The Bathtub, and how he wouldn't want to be there. I amazed to find that, when looking this up, the "The Bathtub" doesn't actually exist, 'cause I wouldn't been convinced it did. I wish I didn't know that, because I think I prefer the idea of "The Bathtub", existing. No, it wouldn't be the ideal place to live. Hard work, below poverty level, having to fish and hunt animals all the time, but, I bet I would enjoy it, if I was born there. It's a little piece of nature, still struggling to survive in this civilized world, where beasts still roam free, and an amazing little girl named Hushpuppy lives.

FRANKENWEENIE (2012) Director: Tim Burton

2 1/2 STARS

I'd long heard about, but of course, hadn't seen Tim Burton's famous original short film "Frankenweenie," which launched his early career. I found a copy on youtube.com, but it's in Italian, but it doesn't seem that different from this animated remake that he's done. I've always been a little apprehensive about Tim Burton, especially when he's creating his own material. There's no denying his visual brilliance, I always think he's better when he's adapting other work, or has a good story to begin with like with "Ed Wood" or "Sweeney Todd...", his best films. This is his third foray into feature-film animation, however and yes, shame on me, it's the first of his animated films I've seen. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is somewhere on my Netflix, I swear, I just ignored it as a kid, because personally I always hated Halloween, and here it was invading Christmas, so I've always apprehensive about viewing it, despite many friends who find it beloved. I think I skipped "Corpse Bride", because I didn't see "The Nightmare...", and like I said, I've always been a little skeptical when Burton comes up with his own ideas. This version of "Frankenweenie", starts out well enough, but then I kinda ran into my same criticisms and problems of Burton, he's so caught up in visuals, that I think he overlooks a lot of the story, in this case, I don't know if this story should've been expanded to a full-length feature. Like the original, it's shot in gorgeous black-and-white, and it's especially great to look at with this claymation animation version. It starts pretty much the same, with young Victor (Charlie Tahan) showing another of his home movies with his beloved dark Sparky. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara) are concerned that he's a bit too much of a loner, and spends all his time making movies, and hanging with his dog. This leads to him, trying out sports, and when he hits a home run, Sparky runs after the ball, and gets run over and killed. You get, one sad Victor, but a new science teacher, Mr. Rzykurski (Martin Landau) teaches a strange science that explains how electricity could work to reanimate the dead. You notice, that you never see a movie about reanimating the dead, where nothing bad happens afterwards? Just an observation. Anyway, he digs up Sparky from the pet cemetary, and soon, he secretly patches Sparky together, and brings him back to life, but he can't keep this secret too long, and a couple kids, particularly one named Edgar (Atticus Shaffer) wants to have Victor's ability to reanimate to help him out, and meanwhile, as other things start coming back from the dead and causing, Victor has to figure out a way to save everybody else. Honestly, I was a little disappointed in "Frankenweenie". Visually stunning, but just turned to typical Frankenstein movie, and didn't really add enough to the original story, for me, to say that it was worth doing. It's a bit of a tough call, but it started well, and then, went downhill, and since it went downhill, that's where my recommendation goes, down. Tim Burton fans will naturally love it, but I wasn't that impressed; I can't really recommend it.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN  (2012) Director: Rupert Sanders

1 1/2 STARS

Let me say this about "Snow White and the Huntsman", as a film buff, cinephile, filmmaker, critic, etc., I will sit through a lot of crap. I will force my way through, some of the worse movies, ever, just to improve my film viewing knowledge. I rarely, walk out an a movie. The last time I did that, was three or four years ago, when after an hour and ten minutes or so, of "Jesus Christ Superstar", that I turned the DVD off, and returned the movie to the library, 'cause I was physically unable to sit through another second of that film. With "Snow White and the Huntsman", I came damn close, to stopping the DVD player, and returning, not-even halfway through. I didn't, but it was the closest I've ever been to doing so, in years. This was ironically the second feature I've seen this year, based off of "Snow White", after the beautifully lavish "Mirror, Mirror", which I thoroughly enjoyed, as a fun piece of wondrous escapism, the way a fairy tale, usually should be, and no two movies could possibly be any different from each other than these two. (Although ironically, both of them got Oscar nomination in the Costume Design category this year.) The story, is rather familiar, Snow White (Kristen Stewart, really being, badly typecasted [Seriously folks, watch movies of hers other than "Twilight"!])  is sent to the dungeon, after her stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron, way over-the-top) murders the King, and sends the Kingdom into ruin, and begins a process of killing local virgins for the blood, to make her beauty last eternally. (If you want to see a good movie, about somebody who actually did that, go find Julie Delpy's film "The Countess".) The Huntsman, who doesn't kill Snow White, as ordered is played by Chris Hemsworth, who's fairly forgettable, but eventually plays a big role, when Prince William (Sam Clafin) begins an attack on the Kingdom. There two lands have a long history. "Snow White..." is dreary, dark and dull, and just bad, for most of the whole film, but especially. The movie is the first feature directed by Rupert Sanders, I don't know how he got a job directing a major Hollywood production like; he has the smallest of resumes on imdb.com, although he's been announced to direct a retelling of "Van Helsing", which is a strange enough idea to begin, as well as an announced rumored, sequel, to this movie. A sequel to "Snow White...", why? But my big problem is that he has no idea how to direct actors. If anybody seen Charlize Theron in her best work, knows that, she's being given bad instructions here, because how he picked, some of the early takes of her, for this film, is just disturbing. He basically gave Kristen Stewart the instructions of be like Bella as well. The movie does look amazing though, and especially late in the movie, there are some really good special effects I must say. There's some amazing ones, during the final battle scenes, where the Queen, who's also a witch, is using her power to turn people into this, black glass-type creature, and it's quite amazing to look at, outside of the rest of the film. The dwarfs are played by some recognizable actors like Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone and Toby  Jones, which is interesting, although, it seems unnecessary to, not only to take a job away from actors who are dwarfs or little people, or whatever the PC vernacular is, but the Dwarfs aren't even that distinguishable in this film, other than the fact that they're recognizable actors. The other issue, and I had this a bit with "Mirror Mirror" as well, was from a creative perspective, I always think The Queen is a very shallow-driven character, that I always figure, there should be more to her actions, then simply, power and beauty, and I always thought that's the flaw of "Snow White..." but this movie does less, to give her any kind of emotional want, other than that, and I think that's another problem with this film. I said, I came really close to leaving, and maybe I should've.

PARANORMAN (2012) Director: Chris Butler and Sam Fell

5 STARS




As disappointed as I was with "Frankenweenie," I was pleasantly surprised with "ParaNorman". Both films jumped near the top of my Netflix list after they recieved Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, both films deal with the supernatural, and the dead, and after I had seen "Frankenweenie", I wasn't expecting anything out of "ParaNorman", only to find a truly interesting story, that I hadn't seen in animation before, and afterwards when I thought about it, I was amazed I hadn't seen this story before in animation; it a story that fits so naturally into the form. The movie takes place in one of those Massachusetts towns that using it's history of burning witches to be an out-of-the-way tourist destination. Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a weird little kid who insists that he keeps seeing dead people everywhere, and hates that his dead grandma (Elaine Stritch) keeps talking to him. This upsets his parents Perry and Sandra (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann), who want him to just be normal, but it's no use. He sees numerous dead people as he walks to school, where he gets made fun of and beat up, by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who's twice Norman's size, but about 1/3 of the intelligence he should have. Norman is a medium, and he actually reminded me of some of the stories John Edward (Of "Crossing Over..." fame, not the former Senator) about how he wasn't able to control the people who contacted him from beyond and how he'd work at a videostore, and you'd get "Basic Instinct," and your Grandfather. His wishing it would go away, also reminded me over Matt Damon's character in Clint Eastwood's underrated film "Hereafter". He has one reluctant friend, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) who's also at the bottom of the school pecking order, but Norman would rather be alone, hard enough to do, dealing with the living, damn-near impossible when the dead won't leave you alone. He soon has run-ins with an ostracized member of his family, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), who's been secretly following Norman, and knows that his gift can help prevent the town by being attacked by zombies, summoned by the spirit of a witch that the town killed, exactly 300 years ago. The town was planning a tricentennial of the event, including a school play where Norman freaked out at, seeing more dead people. His attempts to stop, however don't work, and soon, the town is filled with zombies, and is being ravaged by Aggie (Jodelle Ferland) the witch who put a curse on the conspirators to her murder. There's also a good subplot involving Norman's self-involved sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) who's trying to impress Neil's physically fit older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) while trying to go find which cemetary Norman has run off too. I particularly love, how inventive the animation of this film is, in creating this second world, inside Norman's mind, with the regular real world animation, and it was quite spectacular at moments, particularly when the two worlds would combine. I was genuinely surprised and awed at "ParaNorman".There's some twists on the traditional zombie movies aspects of this film, and outside of the plotpoints, there are some really interesting characters in the film. If there wasn't a story about having to save the town from a curse and zombies, and all that, genre stuff, I would've probably been very interested, in just a story about Norman, having to deal with being a child medium; this is an unusually complicated and enriching kid character, for a live action or an animated film, actually. It brings you in, with the genre and the animation, on top of the character very rich, and it surprised me. Big recommendation for "ParaNorman", a far more interesting film, than I thought it was going to be, very impressive, and lots of credit to the writer and co-director Chris Butler, it's his first feature-length animated film, worked in the art department for a few films prior to this, very much looking forward to his next film.

5 BROKEN CAMERAS (2012) Directors: Emad Burnatt and Guy Davidi

4 STARS

Despite what the general consensus, that this an excellent and overloaded year for documentaries, the little-seen "5 Broken Cameras," was probably the most surprising name to show up, when the movie got the Best Documentary Oscar nomination. The movie was shot by a Palestian farmer, Emad Burnett, and the title comes from the five cameras he used to record the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts over years in his town of Bil'in, where a separation barrier is being constructed by the Israelis. The cameras, broke, oftentimes more than once, as he shot footage of the conflict. A couple times, Israeli soldiers pushed the camera aside, a couple times, the camera was hit with a bullet, that could've potentially killed Emad. A few of his friends were in fact killed and beaten, and it's on camera. Much of the battles and conflicts and protests, and,-it really becomes this long chaotic portrayal this neverending conflict, so chaotic, that thinking back on the film, which has no narration other than some title cards about the time periods that the camera recorded, I have a hard time reconstructing the film, and maybe that's the point. There's a lot of dramatic images, sometimes it's contrasted with more banal and ordinary scenes, like Emad's wife, wishing he'd stop filmming and putting his life on the line. He got shot a couple times during filming, and was in a coma for apart of it. "5 Broken Cameras" is very on-the-ground, 1st person account of a microcosm moment, of this larger conflict, which, I don't know if you can fully diagram on film, and the movie doesn't try to. I don't know, if I had a personal connection to "5 Broken Cameras", after the movie was finished, emotionally, you do get swept up in the chaos. I don't know if there's enough there, for me personally, for an Oscar nomination, that the film got, other than from this, risk-your-life for film-type aspect, which is certainly appreciate, but it's an amazing,- the word that keeps coming to my mind is chaos. Everything seems chaotic. The situation, the reactions, the violence, it all feels like a small piece of the world, this farmer's piece of the world, that is so much bigger than the situation he's filming, that it's to grasp "5 Broken Cameras" for me. I might be missing stuff from being a little uneducated on some of the specific events I was watching, but it is a powerful documentary, but I don't know if it's really a digestible one, for me, but definitely worth recommending.

RED HOOK SUMMER (2012) Director: Spike Lee

3 1/2 STARS

Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer", started a little bit like "Crooklyn" in reverse. It's got that neighborhood feel of that film, as well as his best previous works like "Do the Right Thing", and for awhile I was wondering where he was going with this. The film slowly reveals itself to be a commentary on religion more than anything else, at least that's how I read this movie. Not so much, the hypocrisy or the recent scandals involving the church, although there's that too, but I think what he's really trying to get at, is this disconnect between the people who preach the Bible, and their complete inability to translate the lessons to the modern age. To some degree, he's criticizing the modern age to, for their lack of interest, but somehow the lessons themselves, do seem to reach the kids, just not by having them forced down your throat, or even using it at all. Red Hook is a section of Brooklyn, an area near the docks which is heavily African-America and has a way-above-average unemployment rate, but it's where Flik, (Jules Brown) is spending his summer vacation to be with his grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clark Peters), who runs the local congregation, and spends his days and nights preaching God on the streets, much to the chagrin, or most of the street. Flik, who's real name is Silas, lives in Atlanta where he goes to a private school, is a vegan, and holds up an Ipad 2 all day. Often he uses it to record. Enoch left Atlanta many years ago, for reasons that aren't known for most of the film, and are better left unsaid. This is the first time he's even met Flik, and probably the first time in years that he's even seen his daughter Colleen (De'adre Aziza) who drops him off. The way that he kept preaching and coming back to the Bible, reminded me of Caine's grandparents in the great Hughes Brothers film "Menace II Society", giving no parental guidance, other than the Bible, which had long become static in their ears. It's pretty much the same sort of forcefulness that Enoch uses. He claimed that when he was at his lowest point, he complains to Sister Sharon (Heather Alicia Simms) that the Bible was all he needed. When we learn something about him later, we wonder if he was being honest with himself with that statement, but at that time, we believe it. Flik does make a friend in Sister Sharon's daughter Chazz (Toni Lysaith) who's delightful, in this typical role of the spunky young girl who intrigues the quite guy, and helps them get into some, eh-, "trouble" to harsh a word, but yeah, trouble. There's a slimpse of Lee's character Mookie from "Do the Right Thing", late in the film. A more interesting movie might be a look at what he's doing now, but "Red Hook Summer" intrigued me, despite it's flaws, and yes, the flaws are problematic. Lee shot this film, guerrila-style and on an indy budget, like her first feature film "She's Gotta Have It", I'm gonna pretend "Red Hook Summer" is one of his better films, it's nowhere near that, but there's enough here, despite some of the issues with the plot that I can appreciate for what it does do well, and I do think he's making some interesting points about the role of religion in a modern world, and a young world at that. There's a scene early on, where a community group invites Flik to go swimming with them one day, but Bishop Enoch refuses to let Flik go, because they don't preach the Bible. There's no other mention of this group of kids, but they all go on to their place across the street, and it seems like fun, and it's disconnect, between the way the Church, and Bishop Enoch, see the world, and preach the Bible, as oppose to, the actual world, that probably takes more to-heart, the lessons of religion and the way to approach life, better that the church, and in a realistic and modern world. It's a little bit of a mild recommendation, but I liked how Lee approach this theme, and had it, kinda float in and out the the film.

TOAST (2011) Director: S.J. Clarkson

2 1/2 STARS

Originally airing as a TV movie in England, "Toast", is a light little film, based off of the memoirs of Nigel Slater, the world-renowned chef. Nigel's (played by Oscar Kennedy when young, by Freddie Highmore when older) mother (Victoria Hamilton) was possibly the world's worst cook. The only thing she could make was toast. She only bought vegetables out of a can, and then to cook them, she put the cans into the pot. Somehow I doubt that, she didn't know to open the cans, but apparently she didn't. This lack of food, other than toast for much of his life, led Nigel to try cooking and dream of great food. He tried teaching them to cook spaghetti, but his family couldn't appreciate it. After his Mum's death, his father hired a housekeeper, Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) who was an amazing cook, just as the time for Nigel to begin showing his skills were taken away. He appreciate her amazing food, but he realizes first-and-foremost, her superobjective of eventually marrying his Dad, and taking his Mum's place, which she does. He hardly accepts her, but he grows use to her, at least until he starts taking home economics classes in high school. He's the only boy in the class, but he begins making delicious meals, and Mrs. Potter becomes jealous as she's determined not to have Nigel take over the cooking duties in the house. She undermines him at every turn, and backhandedly dismisses his food, and refuses to give her away her secret to her lemon meringue pie, which she's shocked that he eventually figures out on his own. At first I was gonna recommend "Toast", barely, but I decided against it. There's nothing really wrong with the film, admittedly, but the movie just is a little to light and fluffy for me. There's some nice moments at the end, when Nigel gets into a restaurant kitchen and comes to terms with his homosexuality, but I saw the movie, I liked the movie, and then I instantly forgot this movie, pretty much. Nice story, probably better told in Slater's memoirs, but if you were to ask me, what changed, in me after seeing the film, the answer would be, nothing. It just didn't have much effect on me. There's no harm in watching it, I wouldn't discourage anybody from watching it, but there's no real need to see it either. It really properly titled not that I think about it. It's kinda like toast. Warm, crispy, buttery, wholesome, heartwarming food, but you wouldn't really make a meal out of it.

CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962) Director: Agnes Varda

3 STARS

At five o'clock, Cleo (Corrinne Marchand) gets her cards read by a tarot reader, in the only scene that's in color. The tarot reader seems suspicious to me, but Cleo is fearing a Doctor's call. She's had a test; she's waiting for results, and is afraid she has stomach cancer. "Cleo from 5 to 7", takes place, in the hour and a half, time frame from 5 to 6:30. (Not sure why it's then called "Cleo 5 to 7," but.... anyway.) It's the first film I've seen from the legendary New Wave director Agnes Varda, who if I'm totally honest, despite, what I like to think is a large vat of film knowledge, I don't think I had ever heard of her, until I saw the documentary "The Beaches of Agnes" about her last year, which she also made. She's spent much of her career in documentary format as oppose to many of her contemporaries like Truffaut and Godard, Cleo is the first  non-documentary feature of hers I've seen, and I think I should probably see more of her work before making much of a judgment. Cleo is a pop singer, with a few minor hits that you can find in an occasional jukebox. Whether she's a big star or not, seem up in the air. She seems to be able to walk through Paris, trying on hats, and eating at a diner, where her song is playing, but remain relatively undisturbed. She makes love to her Lover (Jose Luis de Villalonga), and talks with her composer Bob, the Pianist (Michael LeGrand, who did the film's music). There isn't as much plot in the film. Cleo seems to go from place to place, and person to person. When she meets her friend Dorothee (Dorothee Blank) she's posing nude for an art class. They hit the town briefly, and have a long sequence where they're just listening to the radio in the car. All the while, all signs point to Cleo, preparing herself for the bad diagnosis. It's under that prism, that everything seem to increase her awareness of the things around, like the woman in the diner, complaining about her song on the jukebox as noise, which she ignores. At the end, she runs into a French soldier Antoine (Antoine Boursellier) who's going of Algeria soon. I think the movie would work better for me on second and third viewings possibly, but my initial instinct is that the film, tends to work better when the concept and scenes are explained out then they do onscreen. In French parlance, the hours between 5 and 7, is supposedly the time when lovers meet. Wish I knew that in High School, I would've stayed after and gone to more dances and events if I knew, but for Cleo, it's a time for reflection, on the superficiality of her life, and of the world. I think the film might have been better had I read it as a book, and we get to consider Cleo's thought  more than just her actions. Still, I'm curious as to Agnes Varda's other films now, and I have a feeling that the more I dig into her films, my thoughts on this film might change, but in the meantime, I'm recommending, with trepidation. The trepidation of a film-viewer, who recognizes he's somewhat limited by his lack of familiarity with the director, to give an adequate analysis.

IF.... (1969) Director: Lindsay Anderson

4 STARS

"If...." is the second film I've seen by Director Lindsay Anderson, the first one I saw was a film called "This Sporting Life", which was really powerful kitchen sink drama about an abusive rugby player, and his reluctant wife. This film, is equally realistic and shocking, although in an entirely different way. "If...." takes place at an English boarding school, one of those ones with such rigid traditions, and where individuality is heavily frowned upon. There's the teachers, or headmasters, who are somewhat in charge, but don't have nearly the authority as the upper class of students, called in this film, the Whips. When new students come in, they're expected to learn the derogatory slang of the school, and some of them get taught it. This year, there's a group of crusaders, led by Mick (Malcolm McDowell), who clearly doesn't think like the rest of the students, who seem content to be mindless drones, who follow the rules brought about by the head Whips, like Rowntree (Robert Swann), who believes in corporal punishment and discipline for those he considers out-of-the-norm. This frustrates Mick, who slowly begins plotting his revenge, while also, breaking with some of the rules, like going out to see The Girl (Christine Noonan) who lives across the street in telescope range, and works at a diner, at has a sexual appetite that's as adventurous as Mick's rebelliousness. This is another movie that often switches from black and white scenes, to color scenes, rather surprisingly so. The movie, originally played as allegorical, now comes off as, a haunting predictor of some of the violence we've seen at schools in the recent past. "If...." still remains fascinating to this day however, and for that, it should be commended. It's also showcases a pre-"A Clockwork Orange" performance by Malcolm McDowell, which probably is a strong precursor to his Alex in that film. I also enjoy how the black & white, and color switching, gave the film both, a realistic emotion, that then, switched to a more dreamlike and surreal feeling, normally I wonder how/when something like that is useful or needed, I think it worked here. Controversial, but still quite powerful, and I'm really starting to get interested in Lindsay Anderson's work. He gets some and realistic performances in his films, that are really dark and brutal, and they're very intriguing to me, and I'd like to see more of them if I can.

THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (2002) Director: Aki Kaurismaki

3 1/2 STARS

I've been going through some of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki films lately, and his movies are instantly recognizable the minute your first see one. I loved his latest feature, "La Havre", and "The Man Without a Past", begins with a man, M (Marko Peltola) who gets off a train with a briefcase. He's in Helsinki, but that seems to matter very little to him, as he takes a seat on a park bench and falls asleep. The hoodlums come up, and one of them, knocks him in the back of the head, with a baseball bat. The rest continue to pummel him as they take everything in his briefcase and his wallet. He dies in the hospital. Then, he wakes up, and has no where he is, or who he is. "The Man Without a Past", goes through, one by one, all the strange problems that this conundrum brings up. He doesn't recognize anyone, and he claims his one friend, doesn't remember him. He tries to get help from the government, and social services, but they all need his name, and he can't give it. He finally rent a small shipping container, which strangely a lot of people rent from a landlord, and soon, he tries to begin growing into the community. "The Man Without a Past" was a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar back in 2002, and it's got the same wonderfully whimsical quirkiness that all of Kaurismaki's films have. The first of his films I saw was "Lights in the Dusk", and I didn't know to make of it. The more films of his I see, the more I can kinda grasp him. Seems like Wes Anderson might have been influenced a bit by him. His movies seem odd enough, and then there's usually a bunch of modern rock/pop music, showing up out of nowhere, often with a rock band playing. "The Man Without a Past," I think isn't up to par with "Le Havre," with was really touching on top of odd and quirky, but it's still quite good, and the more I watch Kaurismaki films, the more I enjoy them.

PAULINE AT THE BEACH (1983) Director: Eric Rohmer

4 STARS

"Pauline at the Beach" like many Rohmer films, begin near a beach, this one in the north of France where fashion designer Marion (Arielle Dombasle) is watching over her 15-year old cousin Pauline (Amanda Langlet) Like many 15-year old, they're confused but intrigue by the concept of love, and their quite skeptical, like I was in my early twenties about love. (Which explains a lot of my early screenplays) Like all Rohmer films, the talk is about love and sex, moreso than their is actual, love and sex, but "Pauline..." is life a comical farce, as seen through the confused eye of the fifteen-year-old, almost like an anthropologist. Okay, I'm gonna admit and checking a scorecard here to recall everything, but, let's start with Marion, who's currently divorcing a husband, who she claims she's never falling in love with, although she seems concerned about Pauline's lack of emotional connections moreso than her own, Marion's former boyfriend, Pierre, (Pascal Greggory) wants Marion to come back to her, while she is eyeing a fellow divorcee, Henri (Feodor Atkine) who's vacationing with his young daughter. Pauline, finds her own acquaintance in Sylvain (Simon de la Brosse) who's also skeptical about love, and isn't particularly fond of how the adults seem to be constantly playing angles with each other over love and affection. These five form of a bit of a group over this summer, where they talk and have sex, and occasionally hide the sex that they're having, usually poorly so. There's an occasional sixth member in Louisette (Rosette), who's sells candy on the beach while juggling, at least two boyfriends that we know about. The reason I would compare this to a farce is the way in which the pairing go down, and double up on themselves, and everybody's in a house, and they occasionally walk in on people  naked. You wouldn't necessarily think it's a farce by watching it however, but it is, instead of door-slamming and running around like a production of "Noises Off...", it's more of a, accidentally, walk into a room, sneak out quietly with a disturbed look on your face, go out, talk about, then, move back on to your sexual dilemmas. It's hard to double-back and remember the exact order of events, but it's pretty entertaining while watching it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT"


WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1989)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman based on the novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf



In a moment of reminiscence of mine, I decided to think back and try to remember some of my favorite films, well, cartoons actually, and decided to see how many I could remember and then identify using a imdb.com search. Not just the characters, but my favorite shorts. “What Opera Doc?”, and “Duck Amuck”, or “Ali Baba Bunny”, my personal favorite Looney Tunes.  In those few moments, I also found myself in the right mind to recall “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” a revolutionary film in its day, becoming the first film to believably combine animated characters and humans. And hand-drawn animation as well! (Animator Roger Williams won a special Academy Award for it.) But, what’s even more noteworthy is the combining of rival studios coming together for the film, and there was tension trying to make sure Mickey Mouse doesn’t get more screen than Bugs Bunny, not one second more. One of my favorite moments is the duo-piano act between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, and of course, neither of those two egos can come together without killing each other. And, one more thing I should mention is that, unlike today, there used to be a time where there’d be short cartoons shown before the feature presentation. That almost never happens anymore, although short films do get shown at film festivals in huge blocks. This movie starts out with what appears to be a cartoon short that you’d get before the movie, and the cartoon itself is one of funniest ones I’ve ever seen, than we realize that it’s not a cartoon, we are watching the making of a cartoon, and Roger has flubbed his lines after the refrigerator falls on his head. He sees birds, he’s supposed to see stars. The film itself is actually not too far off from a Philip Marlowe film noir, only the humans act as though they’ve been talking with cartoon rabbits their entire life. Which is just fine, you don’t really need to get too complex when you’re dealing with cartoons, and in saying that I’m distinguishing “cartoons” from animation here as in Bugs Bunny is a cartoon, while “Beauty and the Beast,” or any Miyazaki film would be animation. At the core of the movie, is a hidden-in-plain-sight great performance from Bob Hoskins. He plays Eddie Valient, and in many ways, the movie is practically a one-man show he’s giving. A hard-boiled P.I. who spends his days disgusted with toons since one of them killed his brother, and spends his working hours drinking and occasionally taking some quick jobs, investigating small-time adultery. He ends up working for Roger (Charles Fleischer), or behalf of R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) who suspects correctly that Roger’s wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner, with Amy Irving’s singing voice) is playing pattycake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the holder of Toontown, a magical place somewhere on the other side of a cave in 1940s L.A. where all the Toons live. When he gets killed, Roger, who has motive and no alibi for the night, is framed for his murder, and Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is on the search for him, and his own brand of rough justice, in a concoction called “The Dip”, that is the only thing that can reportedly kill a Toon. Roger hides out at Dolores’s (Joanna Cassidy) bar, who once upon a time had a fling with Eddie, back when he was the funny guy who got all the Toons off of crimes, and is seen in his Police Academy photo in clown makeup with his brother.  

 I also enjoyed this film as a kid, although I was shocked by the fact that humans were in my cartoon, but as an adult, I can fully appreciate watching Roger grab a human coat and have it float in the air, or watch Jessica Rabbit cast a shadow onto the ground, or Baby Herman smoking an actual cigar and then crying when he loses it. I also think about Mel Blanc with this film, one of the last times he did the voices for all the Looney Tunes characters he did. There’s a Warner Brothers store in Ceasar’s Palace, and whenever I’m there, I go to see a painting called “Speechless,” which was made in honor of Mel Blanc after he died in 1995, and just consider it for a moment, because it’s not just that he voiced all those great Looney Tunes characters, but how someone made fictional characters, fictional animal characters for that matter, and made them come alive. This isn’t just a goal in film, this is a goal in all art forms, and few ever achieve it so well or as often as he did. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, kinda gets overlooked now as a landmark film, maybe because animation didn’t really start getting taken as seriously as live action until recently, but it’s it achieve the highest marks in every art form it tackles. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"FIFTY SHADES OF F***ED UP GREY"! THE BOOK (YES I READ IT), AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF A LANDMARK PRECEDENT OF A MOVIE! (This blogpost has been rated NC-17)



I didn’t exactly plan on reading E.L. James’s bestseller,“Fifty Shades of Grey”, although I must confess that it’s popularity and subject matter stirred my interest, but typically, I try not to read a book, until after I see the movie. I know there’s a popular perception that it’s better to do that the other way around, but I disagree with that. I’ve occasionally made exceptions when a book is so popular , that it’s almost essential that I read it, but even then, I usually try to hold out. When my mother asked me to find her a copy, I was slightly surprised, and no, not for the reason you’re thinking of. Actually, it was because I didn’t think the subject matter would interest her; she’s always perceived bondage and D/S-type relationships as a psychological problem, instead of a lifestyle choice. I recalled this after screening, on her request, the film “Secretary”, which is personally one of my favorites, as well as a film that “Fifty Shades…” has clearly borrowed from heavily. (Even the character name of Grey, I suspect is as much an homage to “Secretary,” as it is, a symbolic name.) Personally, I thought Maggie Gyllenhaal should’ve won an Oscar for the film, and I still enjoy it, almost as a guilty pleasure, but my mother wasn’t as perceptive to the film, and was disappointed when she didn’t get better at the end. I’m not gonna pretend to be an expert on sexual relationships, of any kind; my sexual conquests would make a very short and uninteresting blogpost, but yeah, there’s a part of me that’s fascinated by the BDSM world; I guess you can call it a kink of mine.

Anyway, I put her on a bunch of library lists for the book, all of which were long, but she eventually got ahold of her own copy. She read it, as did I, and now she’s debating within herself about whether or not to read the sequels, as am I, although for different reasons, subject-matter wise. I’m hoping that Ana will eventually give Christian another chance, and my mom worries that she will. My thoughts on the book itself, eh, well, actually I wasn’t particularly fond of it, especially in the beginning, the writing is pretty lousy, and the character of Ana just isn’t realistic to me. I mean, she’s 22-years old, still communicates mainly through e-mail, about to work at a publishing house, after graduating college, is an expert on classic literature, especially British literature, but not only is she a virgin, not only, has she never had a boyfriend, or any real interest in sex until now, but she’s never even masturbated before? Look, I’m a shy, misanthropic loner, who doesn’t go out, doesn’t talk to people, and even when I do, I’m pretty thick-headed when it comes to the art of flirtation, much less anything more social than that, but fuck, I couldn’t even buy this character. I understand why she wrote her this way, from a storytelling standpoint, but I’d be hard-pressed to find someone like that in real life. As to Christian Grey, he’s slightly more believable, if for nothing else, than because he’s a bit of a cliché. The rich and powerful, chraming but quiet man, who’s got a secret life that involves constant trips to hardware stores to buy, rope. It’s not exactly a new fantasy, much less a new reality. Actually in many ways, the book blurs a line that’s somewhere between Harlequin Novel and porn film, although the way e-mails are constantly written and exchanged, and the “chance” unexpected meetings, reminded me actually of Jane Austen. It’s definitely got some similarities. The book is hardly a favorite, but at least it builds up from its very boring and cheesy beginnings. (I mean, there’s foreshadowing, and then there’s really foreshadowing. I mean, thank God Ana had ignored sex all her life, ‘cause I think some six-year old would’ve gotten some of the double-entendres that she didn’t.) None of that really matters, because the book is really about that indescribable feeling of being so transfixed with another person that you just want to fuck ‘em, right then and there. Yes, there’s a love aspect to this, but really it’s the sexual tensions, the restraint, if you pardon the pun, that involved in such extreme desires. The book works best when it’s considered from this emotional perspective.

Now, the big question: Can this novel be adapted into a movie? The obvious short answer is of course, yes, anything can be adapted from book to film, and, it can possibly be done well. Now, before we get to how unlikely that can be, there’s some other curious questions that Hollywood has to ask itself. When you’re adapting, a major bestselling book, such as “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the audience comes in, with certain expectations. “Harry Potter…” or “The Da Vinci Code” are two good recent examples. Those books, really had to be nailed on the big screen, or else, the fans would’ve been pissed. (They were a little at “The Da Vinci Code,” although I thought the movie was better than the book, but still….) If you’re going to be deadly accurate with the adaptation, well, you’re looking at a potential problem called, the NC-17 rating. Now, it’s commonly known that movies are often cut to get R ratings or lower because of the MPAA, often for ridiculously stupid reasons, but even the book itself, has a “Mature Audiences”warning on it. The first problem is that, Hollywood doesn’t like R-rated films, because the family is more reluctant to go, which means, that their biggest blockbuster and moneymakers, are PG-13s usually. Forget that problem, they’re gonna have trouble getting an R, without seriously compromising the story and alienating the audience that most want to see it. (They’re gonna have enough trouble adapting the story to make it not seem like a porno too, but that’s gonna be a writer/director/editor problem, but structurally, there isn’t as much difference as you’d like to see if you’re trying to recreate it as art.)

An NC-17 rating is box office poison. Most chain movie theatres will flat out, not carry NC-17 movies, and if they get released at all, they’re only shown for short-runs in independent theatres, many of which aren’t exactly playing in Peoria. There are some who will pretend this is because of some moral obligations to promote family entertainment, or some crap like that, but really, it’s a box office issue. To many people, NC-17, is essentially the same as an X rating that, ironically, the rating was originally created to distinguish itself from. The last time Hollywood made a serious attempt at a nationally released and promoted NC-17 rated film was “Showgirls”, which bombed, badly. Granted, it was a bad movie, but it’s not like the audiences were flooding to the theatres to see “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” or “Henry and June”, either. This is what makes a possible movie of "Fifty Shades of Grey", so intriguing, 'cause this could be the first real opportunity for the NC-17 rating to get national mainstream acceptance. Universal Studios and Focus Features has bought the option and Screenwriter Kelly Marcel has promised an NC-17 rating to the press, before the studio reigned in that statement. No star or director has been attached, and the script isn't finished, although Krysten Ritter has repeatedly tweeted about her interest in playing Ana. If/when it ever does get made, it's going to be one of the most interesting theatrical releases in years, not just because of the box office, but because of the ratings, and when and where it will open, and just what kind of precedent this film can set. Can it be another "Showgirls", and damn the rating for another twenty years or, is the film gonna breakthrough, and possibly allow the NC-17 rating to actually be, the ratings that it was originally intended to be, or will the studio back out, or will the MPAA back down, and possibly loosen their stance on graphic sex, and give it an R rating, without cuts. (I think that option's, unlikely, since they're still giving R ratings, for excessive use of the f-word like in "Bully", last year) It's a few years down-the-road, for sure, but make no mistake about this, "Fifty Shades of Gray," is going to be a milestone film. It's certainly not the first film to deal with this subject matter, or even the first major one at that, ("9 1/2 Weeks", anyone?) but this film has the potential to break the standard that's been set for years, and become a precedent-making feature. What that precedent will be, is yet-to-be determined.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

POLL UPDATE: "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME"! HOPE YOU GUYS DIDN'T FORGET, 'CAUSE I STILL NEED MORE BALLOTS!




Hope you guys didn't think that I had forgotten about the poll, because I didn't, although it certainly seems a little like some of you guys might've. I can't blame you guys, with the last month being so busy with Awards season, but I haven't forgotten my quest to determine the "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME"!  I'm hoping that none of you guys have forgotten, because it has been awhile since my last update, and there wasn't a lot of entries, until I announce that I would be updating on a few of the FB groups I'm in. I'm one new ballot away from being, half-way to my goal of 100 participants. 49, official ballots have been collected, but it's still not enough. I see that this blog gets about 80/hits a day or so, but hardly anybody participates, and I don't know why? I hope you all do. Here are the latest ballots to come in:

DAVID COATS
1. Charmed
2. Breaking Bad
3. That Metal Show
4. Dexter
5. Scrubs
6. Kings ('09)
7. Headbangers Ball ('87)
8. Boss
9. Metalocalypse
10. Sons of Anarchy

INGE COATS
1. The Walkind Dead
2. True Blood
3. Dexter
4. The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.
5. Highlander
6. Castle ('09)
7. The Mentalist
8. Once Upon a Time
9. Bedlam ('11)
10. Hercules, the Legendary Journeys

JUSTIN COOK
1. American Idol
2. Mythbusters
3. House, M.D.
4. Justified
5. Sons of Anarchy
6. Spongebob Squarepants
7. The Big Bang Theory
8. The Wacky World of Tex Avery
9. Star Trek ('66)
10. Deadliest Warrior

ALYSON FLUTER
1. Freaks and Geeks
2. Firefly
3. Arrested Development
4. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
5. The Dick Van Dyke Show
6. Breaking Bad
7. The Carol Burnett Show ('67)
8. Friends ('94)
9. House, M.D.
10. Seinfeld

KAELEEN MARTIN
1. Bomb Girls
2. Grey's Anatomy
3. Lost Girl
4. True Blood
5. Dexter
6. Rizzoli & Isles
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
8. I Love Lucy
9. V ('09)
10. Girls

Well, while I am seriously disturbed by some of the votes that keep coming in for Joss Whedon shows, (Seriously, there's something wrong with you guys. Don't worry, I'm counting everything, but seriously, you're all seeing something that's not there, and you should get that checked) the biggest jump in the poll, went to "Sons of Anarchy," which jumped into the Top five with the votes that have come in, and is still waiting patiently behind about a dozen other shows on my Netflix. But other than that, not much change, especially at the top of the list, where "M*A*S*H", is still number one, followed closely by "Seinfled", "All in the Family" in third. 234 different shows have gotten at least one vote now, and there's been a little bit of everything chosen in this poll, and that was kinda the idea, so, so far, a success.

And now, to go to the refrain I've written in all the other POLL UPDATE blogs.

The purpose of this poll, is to create a "Sight & Sound"-type poll to determine the "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!" It's structured in the same way that "Sight & Sound"'s once-a-decade Movie Polls are taken, with the only difference being that everybody is allowed to submit their ballots.

There's two rules, and they're quite simple.

RULE #1: As long as it originally aired on TV, it's eligible for the poll, regardless of genre. That means, that pretty much anything is eligible. Dramas, sitcoms, talk shows, variety, reality, documentary, news magazines, soap operas, children's shows, animated, cable, broadcast, TV movies, miniseries,.... etc. As long as it originated on TV, it's eligible. (ie. "M*A*S*H" the original movie, is not eligible, because it was shown in movie theaters, but "M*A*S*H", the TV show, is eligible, because that aired on TV first.)

RULE #2: You must vote for 10, and ONLY 10 shows. No voting for more, no voting for less.

Those the rules. There's been a few calls on some tricky programs, for instance, I had to disqualify a vote for "Looney Tunes", because they originated in movie theaters, predating television, however I did determine that "The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show", is eligible, because even though it aired those old Looney Tunes cartoons, it was a separate and distinct television program in of itself. Anyway, the point being is to be a little bit careful of what you pick. Also, keep in mind that sometimes a title has been used for multiple TV shows, so try to be as specific as possible if you can. There's already votes for two different series called "Mission: Impossible," and two different series called "V". Most voters have ranked their shows 1-10, you don't have to, but I recommend it, because rankings do determine tiebreakers, but I'm not gonna force it. It's hard enough coming up with ten.

Well, that's it. I want to see more ballots coming in. Either post them in the COMMENT SECTION of this BLOG, or on the numerous FB links to this blog, or you can contact through FB or Twitter with your ballots. However you can get ahold of me, to submit your ballots, I strongly suggest doing it. Let's get those ballots guys!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #53: "DJANGO UNCHAINED", "PINA", "THE DARK KNIGHT RISES", "ARBITRAGE", "THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES", "DARK HORSE", "THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS", "PERFECT SENSE", "CRAIGSLIST JOE", "SEXTING (aka TEXTUALITY), and MORE!

Andy Baruffi was my Grandfather's brother, but I, like nearly everyone else around me, called him Uncle Andy. He's an amazing man, who lived a very big life. Born in Philadelphia, after college, he was a criminal investigator for the FBI. He also, was the head of the Las Vegas branch of the IRS, some of you who might be Howard Hughes buffs, might recognize the name, he was an investigator on his tax evasion charges. His name appears a few times in the book "Citizen Hughes", by Michael Drosnin. I also heard one family story, that he was apparently on an airplane to Washington, to arrest, then-Vice President Spiro Agnew of tax evasion, just at the moment that Agnew resigned as V.P. However, it was after his federal investigatory days that he unknowningly launched my career in cinema, when in 1981 he opened his first video store, Video Tyme. The chain was one of the first in America where videos could be rented and then returned, and he had about thirty franchise stored, across the country, mainly in the Las Vegas and the Pennsylvania area. My family, ran the tenth store, in Boulder City, NV. I lived much of my young life, in a video store. I still remember running around the store, grabbing a video, and putting it back into the return video slot, and doing it about ten or twelve times, after watching every cartoon video we must've had. I still have some cardboard cutouts and movie posters that we put up in those days.  I didn't get to know him as well as I wish I did. We lived on the opposite side of town, and our family's only got together for big events, which have been occurring more and more sporadically than ever. It was always a rare treat to visit him, and even though my mother would warn me not to expect anything, he always had a present for me when I visited. He finally sold "Video Tyme" to Blockbuster in '98, but he had been very shrewd with his money. He was the richest member of our family. I went to several weddings at ballrooms and country clubs as a kid, mostly of his children, most of whom are all grown-up with their own kids now. He saved a college fund for me, and my brother Robbie, which, I ended up using since he's autistic, and with that money, I got my film degree from UNLV. I don't know, if that's what he thought I'd do with the money, but I wouldn't be in the place I am today, without him, and for that, I am eternally grateful, and there's literally no one who I feel more indebted to than my Uncle Andy. Andy Baruffi passed away on January 3rd. He was 74 years old. This blogpost is dedicated to him.






Okay, I know the entertainment news has been a little Awards heavy this week. Oscar nods, Critics Choices, etc. The Golden Globes are tonight, I'll be drinking- I mean, I'll be watching them. In the meantime, let's get on to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS, including a SPECIAL REVIEW, of "Django Unchained"!

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) Director: Quentin Tarantino

5 STARS




For the first half of "Django Unchained", Tarantino proved he could make a Western. In the second half of the film, he proves that he can make a Tarantino film. I'm personally apprehensive towards "Django..." on one hand, it's clearly a masterful film, by a master filmmaker, but on the other hand, it doesn't have quite the insouciant feel of Tarantino's best work. With "... Basterds" for instance, his first foray into Tarantino-izing history, there was a gleefulness in which he was rewriting the history books, a joy, if you will, not just in watching the movie, but in making the movie. This movie, doesn't have some of those trademarks. No movie theatre, no importance on shoes, it's almost like Tarantino has grown up and decided to just make that spaghetti western, or in this case, a spaghetti, southern, I guess. Don't get me wrong, it's fun; it's a 5 STARS film, and it's a masterpiece, but comparatively, this felt like, a project for Tarantino, and not-so-much, an enjoyable movie to watch, by QT-standards of course. What the film has that I love, is wonderful acting and writing, a great creative tale, some daringness in its setting, and despite the fact, the movie's a little early in terms of, when exactly dynamite was invented, it has some cool things, being blown up! It's 1858, in the South, and Django, (Jamie Foxx) is a former runaway slave, who suddenly finds his freedom at the hands of a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He needs him to identify the Brittle Boys, Big John, Little Raj, andd Ellis, (M.C. Gainey, Cooper Huckabee, and Doc Duhame, respectively) who had tortured him long ago, after he and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was raised in Germany believe it or not, and speaks fluent German, tried to escape. They branded an R into Django, but now, he's free, and, they go to Big Daddy's (Don Johnson, and boy is it fun to see him in something cool again.) plantation, who's hired the Brittles as hands. After Django and Schultz, take them out, they strike up a deal to teach Django to be a bounty hunter, and after the snowfall, they'll go find Broomhilda, who they find out, was sold to Candieland, the harshest plantation in all the South, run by the eccentric and cruel Calvin Candie. (Leonardo DiCaprio, one of his best roles) Their objective, to buy Broomhilda, and grant her her freedom, so that Django and Hildy can go off up north together, and to do this, they come up with a scheme involving buying one of Candie's Mandingo fighters as a misdirection. What ends up happening, is a bloodbath; I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that, it's practically an inevitability, and, it should be. The ending is gratifying, but the performances are what's out-of-this-world. Jamie Foxx's role is in a deceptively difficult, and I already wrote his name in my Annual A.M.P.A.S. memo, but, and I don't want to hint at anything here, but there's an amazing performance, by Samuel L. Jackson; I'm not gonna give away his part, but it's a great comic performance, and I also want to give note to his make-up artist, I tried to look up her name, I couldn't find it, and I know how he cares about makeup, more than most actors; he does his own makeup half-the-time, and he's very skilled at it, and loves using hair and makeup to help define his characters, and boy, did they find the right makeup for this character. It's over-the-top, but it's perfectly over-the-top, and Jackson-, I swear, Jackson, Dicaprio and Waltz, if all three of those names got Supporting Actor Oscar nominations, I wouldn't be shocked; this may be, the best overall acting, ensemble, of all Tarantino's films, and that's saying something, and I know you can say that about any of his films, but these are some really good memorable characters, and some great performances here. The skill, and the talent levels are off the charts, even the songs are great, and Tarantino, uses original songs for the first time ever to tell this story, a good choice. I appreciate that Tarantino is trying to expand his horizons and challenge himself as a director, but this time, I think it took something away from my personal enjoyment of his work. Perhaps, he should do that remake of "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" that he was supposedly working on, earlier, and deal with stuff so serious as slavery. But, that's probably just me; I guess I admire "Django..." more than I appreciate it, granted, there's a helluva to admire.

PINA (2011) Director: Wim Wenders

5 STARS

In no art form, is it more essential that their art be preserved on film, than dance. On the same token, however, film has never been the best form in which to view dance. It can capture the performance, but rarely does it really capture the skill and the talent. Often it's from afar, and heavily choreographed, and rarely is it seen in it's most natural setting, on the stage, and film, can only capture that, so much. Musical numbers are staged, for film, while dance, has to be experienced live. The great Wim Wenders, one of my all-time favorite directors, was close friends with the great choreographer Pina Bausch, and had been planning a documentary about her for years, and she finally concented, but died shortly after filming began. The documentary "Pina," begins with a stage, and then, dirt is poured onto it, and soon, the production begins. They dancer all perform in the dirt, with the barest of clothing, using their entire bodies, expressions the kind of emotions writers like me, could only wish they can write. We also see her cafe performance, and we get something that we don't see in dance films, the physicality of the dances. The emotions of the performances. In between monologues, where the dancers give voiceovers of what it's like to work with Pina, and then, we see their work. It's unlike most dancing I've seen. It's not a technical, but an emotional, physical thrust, like the guy, who keeps trying to push the guy and girl into a traditional dance position, only to see her adjust it and jump into the guy's arms, and immediately drop her. And then again, and then, again.... I loss count at seven, and there wasn't a cut. The movie was shot in 3-D, Wenders first foray into it, although unfortunately, I only viewed the 2-D, performance, but, I must say that I was impressed, with just that. The movie earned an Oscar nomination last year for Best Documentary, and was also, German's entry for the Foreign Language film Oscar, and it made the shortlist in that category. The voters were not allowed to view the movie in 3-D, and while it doesn't hurt the film to see it in 2-D, most people have said the experience is better in the 3-D. The movie's getting a Criterion DVD release soon, and it's one of the best films from last year. This movie, if it doesn't encompass all of Pina Bausch's choreography, it certainly encompasses all of her essence, and it pretty much encompasses all of dance as well. Complicated high-level routines with sets and costumes, are mixed with the random, seemingly improvised performances, that can be done randomly on a train or a street, or in the water with a hippopotamus, even. It's an emotional journey like any other film, just told through dance. "Pina", is a rare filmmaking experience, and I can't wait to experience it again.

Note: "Pina" wasn't eligible for my OYL Awards as it wasn't seen until after the Awards, with the provision that because of it's Oscar nomination, that it would become eligible after-the-fact, as an unofficial nominee. After this blog is posted, the OYL Award blogs will be changed to reflect "Pina" having been considered as an "Unofficial Nominee" in several categories. No awards will change, but it's noted that had the film been seen before the date of the Awards, it would've been nominated.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) Director: Christopher Nolan

4 1/2 STARS

"The Dark Knight Rises", marks the first time I've not seen one of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies in the theatre, and I'm sure after the incident in Colorado, I'm not alone. Now that that's been addressed, lets get to the movie, which has one of the most unenviable tasks of having to follow up on one of the best and biggest films of the last decade. Biggest two films actually, and not-to-mention, one of the most iconic villain performances, ever. I think coming in, expecting greatness is a bad idea, but if you let it play out on it's own terms, "The Dark Knight Rises", is a good and fitting end, to an amazing trilogy. It's the weakest of the three, but being the weakest of these three, is nothing to be crying about. This movie begins eight years after "The Dark Knight" ends. Harvey Dent Day is a citywide holiday, and the streets are safer than ever, as Batman, accused of Harvey Dent's murder, has disappeared, while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, with rumors ranging on the Howard Hughes-grotestque, wildly throughout the city, as Wayne, hosts galas, charities and parties, at his home, but never attends them. His loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) is back, as is Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) the head of the applied science section of Wayne Enterprises. Wayne's first contact with the outside world, other than Alfred is with Selina (Anne Hathaway), who's an  catburglar, hired by Daggett (Ben Mendohlson) a member of the Wayne Enterprises board, who's determined to take over the company, and has hired a mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy), who's already faked a death of a nuclear scientist, and has control of a strikingly vicious army. Bane is one of the most intriguing of villains in the series, doesn't talk much, has a face covered with some kind of mask/artificial mouth, and is built like a tank otherwise. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has seen better days and regret over his decision to turn Dent into a symbolic hero. Another new woman, trying to enter Wayne's life is Miranda Watts (Marion Cotillard) who runs a project that'd put Wayne's worth at risk, but could potential become turn the entire city of Gothan on clean energy forever. Wayne, may not be Howard Hughes agoraphobic, but he's definitely out of shape. He's unkempt at first, walking with a cane, and a limp, and after eight years foregoing the Batman character, his sudden desire to reemerge occurs after one attempted crime, leads to Gordon, being shot, and taken down into the sewers where Bane's army has taken up symbolic residence, along with the rest of the Gotham underworld. Cillian Murphy returns briefly, swarmy as ever. After a surprise robbery of Wayne's net worth at the New York Stock Exchange, he must both, find, then combat Bane, and win back control of the board. Meanwhile, he's started getting the help from a fellow former-orphan, Blake, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who's become a cop, and a surprisingly reasonable one, who sees through Wayne's disguise. "The Dark Knight Rises", is aptly titled, because he starts out as down he can be, but surprisingly, the story is as much about Bruce Wayne's redemption, even more than Batman. There's good supporting actors all around, and there are some interesting ways in which these stories, come back around, and get back to the core beginning of Batman. A wise decision, since it would've been near-suicide to come up with another flamboyant villain, after the Joker. We get a few of the classic staples, but it comes at appropriately odd turns. If this is the end of the trilogy, it's a fitting end. It leaves openings, but if there's better way to end this, I couldn't think of it. Big recommendation.

ARBITRAGE (2012) Director: Nicholas Jarecki

3 1/2 STARS

No opinion of mine,  on an actor's abilities, has shifted greater over the years than on Richard Gere. I used to think of him, as one of those movie stars, who got the lead parts because of his looks, and his A-list stature, over his ability. It's an easy mistake to make after watching some of his more popular films like "Pretty Woman", "Primal Fear", even "An Officer and a Gentleman", but now, I realize just how talented he is, and I'm amazed at the range of roles he's played, especially lately. Who knew he had Billy Flynn in "Chicago" in him. Or how about "The Hoax", or "I'm Not There", or "The Hunting Party". Or "Bee Season". He's far more diverse and skilled than I would've ever imagined, and now, here's "Arbitrage", a skillfully executed film, centered around Gere's performance as a sub-prime lender, who's been scamming his customers for years. He needs to unload drastic amounts of his assets, which are losing money, in order to convince his shareholders that his doctored books are accurate. There's supposedly a lucrative deal in place with Mayfield (Graydon Carter), but he's been dragging his feet, and it's getting on Robert Miller's (Gere) last nerves. His wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) is busy with numerous charity works and gala events that they attend. They're daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) works at the company, and has started to notice inconsistencies. All this, while Miller is dealing with mistress Julie Cote (Laetita Caste), who suddenly dies in a car accident, he started. He manages to escape the scene, and got the help of Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of an old friend, but the dead mistress has caught the attention of Det. Bryer (Tim Roth), and he's starting to poke around, just as his daughter is poking around the financials. Miller, is clearly based somewhat on Bernie Madoff, who defrauded everybody, including his family who were his employees. "Arbitrage" was directed by Nicholas Jarecki, it's his first feature-length film and he wrote the screenplay, and it's a strong first effort. I think it's a little more of a technical exercise than it is a shocking expose, but still very skilled. Gere is considered to have a bit of an outside shot at getting a Best Actor Oscar nomination for "Arbitrage," it would probably be worthy, and if is does happen, and here's the bigger shock, it would be his first ever nomination. "Arbitrage" is a wonderful portrait of a fake, and yet, we kinda are curious what's going to happen to this man, and even after everything. It's been a little overrated by some critics, as film; I don't know if there's anything really new here, but it's strong storytelling, and for Gere's performance, it's definitely worth recommending.

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012) Director: Lauren Greenfield

5 STARS

I always did wonder what-the-hell that blue-glassed sore thumb on the Las Vegas Strip, behind the Monte Carlo, with the pink neon "ph" sign on top was. It apparently is a big deal to the people in this movie, they built it, as the centerpiece of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company that a couple years ago, was the biggest private real estate company in the world, and the Vegas property, was supposed to be the prized centerpiece of his time-share empire, which has over 28 locations currently. The man is David Seigel, who once claimed, and I believe him, that he singlehandedly helped George W. Bush get elected Presidency in 2000, and decision, that even before the end of the Presidency, he seemed to be at least faining regret. When asked how he did that, he said, he won't tell, 'cause it might not be legal. "The Queen of Versailles", sounds like a French biopic, but it's actually about the Seigel, who in 2008, began production on a building that including two tennis courts, a baseball field that doubles as a parking lot, and grand staircases that Scarlet O'Hara would envy. When one person asks his wife, during a tour of the half-finished project, if that large space is her room, she replies, "No, that's my closet." Yes, designed as a modern day reproduction of The Palace of Versailles, this was going to be the largest private home in America, at over 90,000 sq. ft. They already lived with their eight young kids in a house, that's larger than most zoos, but they're moving up. It was David Seigel Day once in Las Vegas, when the ph-Westgate opened. Seigel's previous memories of Vegas were of his Indiana middle-class parents who would go to Vegas so often to blow their winnings, that they were considered big shot whales by the casino owners. Inside the time share looks spectacular, although I don't know why you'd spend money to stay there, when there's dozens of hotels literally walking distance from the place, much cheaper, believe it or not, and almost all of them are casinos. (They never learn, some moron always tries to build a hotel, without a casino, on the strip every few years, or even away from the Strip. Most of them are vacant buildings now.) Their timing couldn't have been worse as the stock market crash of 2008, and the bank foreclosure, and bailouts, and selling too many timeshares that nobody could afford. "The Queen of Versailles", mostly showcases his wife Jackie, a former IBM engineer, who became a model, and later a Mrs. Florida winner, who later married David, and started having more kids, and spending money on everything. Her garage, could double as a bike shop, and they have more spare marble than Caesar's Palace. Even as it becomes aware, that they're losing money, when she goes to Wal-Mart to shop for Christmas, she buys three Operation games. It's impossible to describe all the excess, as they struggle to transition from riches to rags. They interview some people who work for them, like their Philippino nanny, who lives in a kid's playhouse, that they never used, and frankly I've loved to live there too. She sends most of her money away, while Jackie takes limos to McDonald's, and she can't figure out why the money from the bank bailouts didn't trickle down to us, "normal people". One on hand, it's disturbing that she thought of herself as normal, but it's another to realize that the money really didn't trickle-down to the Seigels. He never did find the funding to pay for the PH building in Vegas, and last I check, their house, which is still unfinished, is still on the market, at a price way below what they put into it already, and already decaying like Xanadu in "Citizen Kane". Jackie's selling off, anything she can at certain points to local swap meets and charities, where at of the people who go there, are form Westgate employees. We never did get to see this story on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", and it's not that unusual a story anymore. I was fascinated by the people, by the situation, and how so much changes for this family over two years. I'd like to see where they are five years from now. Did they ever get out, are they ahead. David always claimed he'd jokingly trade in Jackie when she turns 40, for two 20-year-olds. On the Westgate Resorts, wikipedia page, something not mentioned is a million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit against Seigel that he settled with a former employee. He does at one point, have all the Miss America contestants in his house; he's always been a sucker for the pageant world. (I wonder who kept those things on; even Atlantic City gave that up, and gave it to us. The sad part is, we didn't even ask for it. [Seriously, we wanted salt water taffy, they gave us the Miss America pageant instead. I don't know what Vegas traded for it, but we didn't miss it obviously]) "The Queen of Versailles" has been getting a lot of year-end Awards and nominations, and I can understand why; it's a fascinating film about what happens when you fall from grace, and just long and tough it is to do that, and to readjust. Seigel isn't covered in bills and paperwork, trying to find money that's not there. Jackie's disillusioned, and has started getting rid of everything she can, short of her breast implants, and she's probably do that if she could get money for them. I don't know what I would've done with that kind, but I know I wouldn't have built a house. Buy one, maybe, but most of it, I would've kept away most of the money, and stayed away from banks and Wall Street. The Seigels, are learning that lesson the hard way, and it still looks a helluva lot nice than my house, although, it's nice to see it covered in clothes and dogpoop now. Little sad about the nannies they had to let go, but still....

DARK HORSE (2012) Director: Todd Solondz

2 STARS

(Sigh) You know, I'm just about ready to give up on Todd Solondz. That's a tough thing to say about such an important and personal director, with such a unique vision, but it's getting harder and harder to even like him, much less, appreciate his work, film after film. He's made some great and special films like "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Happiness", and films like "Palindromes", are certainly important, and really do challenge us with new ideas and concepts, ways of telling a story in a different way, but I think I'm really done this time. It's a shame, 'cause "Dark Horse", starts out better than most of his films, and you think it's going to find something new in his work, but it turned into another one his films that really deflates his characters to the point, where, he doesn't allow you to care anymore. I wonder if he cares about his characters anymore? They use to be so interesting, and would go on such journeys, literal and figurative, and now he's just so stuck, in his own mind so much, that once he creates something, he must then immediately destroy it. "Dark Horse", begins at a wedding, where everybody's dancing, except for Abe (Jordan Bartha) and Miranda (Selma Blair). They're not together, but Abe believes that their lack of interest in dancing, might be a sign, and he asks for her number. She doesn't appear interested at first, but gives it to him anyway. Abe works at a dead-end job for his unemotional father Jackie (Christopher Walken, in one of those unexpected roles you occasionally see him in.) He lives at home with his father, and his overcompensating mom, Phyllis (Mia Farrow, in one of those unexpected roles, you,- well, you really never see her anymore actually) They occasionally try to talk to Abe, an overweight 30-something into getting back on his feet, and out there in the world. Often talking about a college education, which his brother Richard (Justin Bartha) got, and is now a success, despite the fact that Abe and Richard aren't close and never got along. He lives thirty miles away from Miranda, but decides to take action, and asks her out. The invitation surprises Miranda, who forgets that she said yes, but is happy to see him when he does arrive, and then, actually thinks about his sudden proposal, later in the night. Why is this pretty girl, so willing to consider being with Abe? She tells us that she has hepatitus, most likely from a previous sexual experience. The only other boyfriend of hers that we here about, is Mahmoud (Assif Mandvi), who's a fun guy, and still a close friend to Miranda. It's around here, where the story flies off the radar, and suddenly makes us reexamine everything we've seen until now. For instance, there's two scenes involving Abe, trying to return something to, well, on "Hulu.com", where I watched the movie, it was blocked up, but it's clear to anybody that it was a "Toys R Us". The first time, he's trying to return a toy, that after he opened it, it turned out to be scratched. Afterwards, he arrives, to return something else. This second time, may or may not have happened, or it took place in his mind. He occasionally has conversations with his mother in his mind, and fantasies about Marie (Donna Murphy), another fellow employee, who's boring at work, and damn-near Mrs. Robinson, at her spare time, apparently. It becomes hard to tell fantasy from reality by the end. Too hard, and not worth the trouble. Usually, in the midst of all of Solondz's work, he's trying to say something in his films, of a higher stature, but I don't think he's making any larger point here, and frankly if he thought he was, it was probably a bad idea to begin with. I thought about his last film, "Life During Wartime" was a sub-par film, but one of the film's strengths, was a tender relationship that two forty-fifty-something were trying to have, played by Allison Janney and Michael Lerner, while her teenage kid, disapproved, and tried to stop at every turn, after learning a truth about his real father. This movie had all the potential to be a film about a tender relationship, between outcasted and broken people, just trying to get through life, through all it's unexpected problems and heartships. It even sounds like a good film, as I write it, but unfortunately, "Dark Horse", is not that film.


THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS (2012) Director: Justin Kurzel

3 STARS

"The Snowtown Murders" quickly became one of most-watched films on Netflix watch instantly, which I found a little surprising personally. I actually barely put it on my Netflix, before I read that stat, and then quickly moved it up a bit. Nothing against the film itself, I just would've thought something lighter with more female nudity would've been the top, and not something with so much sadistic murdering and child-raping, but for what it is, "The Snowtown Murders" is quite a powerful true story about some of Australia's most notorious serial killers. The movie starts with Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) a 16-year old, who was sexually abused by his Mom's boyfriend, and by his older brother. At first, when his mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris) brings home John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), it seems like she's made a drastic upgrade, and you can argue that she has. He's a bit of a talker and drinker, like most of his buddies that he hangs with, who all feel like they're essentially yes men, to all of Daniel's thoughts and ideas. There's few police in the film, but they seem to know everybody's business, and everybody skeletons, and they talk, almost intellectually about what sort of punishments such people should have. Jamie starts to admire this guy, who, let's face it, despite everything, might actually be the best male role model around, and he can use a decent male role model. I always think of Australia as full of sun and light, even in the most violent of crime films that take place there, and there have been a few, especially by new filmmakers. "Animal Kingdom", for instance, and one of my recent favorites "The Square". This film, is about a vicious killer, and community that he seems to get us to slip into. He's a charismatic and sensible-seeming presence. Social and thoughtful, and yet, that masks the viciousness of a maniacal cult leader. "The Snowtown Murders", is as much about mood, as it is about the crime. Their no police investigations, but it's ironically the flows of life, living with a killer, that it's first-time director Justin Kurzel wants to show us. The situation, and the world in which a kid like Jamie, could rather easily, get caught up in such a world of torture. I don't think "The Snowtown Murders" is as good as some of the other recent crime thrillers that have come from Australia, but it is effective. It's a first film, so I'm thinking Justin Kurzel can only get better from here, and I think he could, so for that basis, it's worth recommending. One other thing I found interesting about the film though, was how often, the background noise was a television that was left on, and no one watching.

PERFECT SENSE (2012) Director: David Mackenzie

2 1/2 STARS

I guess you can set a movie anywhere, and essentially make a movie about anything. Yet, "Perfect Sense," seems odd, more like a filmmaking exercise than an actual movie. The movie takes place in a future where slowly but surely, everybody's loses one of their senses, one at a time, starting with an alarming number of people, sporadically located throughout the world, who suddenly have no sense of smell. One of these people, is a chef, Michael (Ewan McGregor), who meets Susan (Eva Green) a scientist, who's tryig to figure out what's going on. It strikes everybody, suddenly and randomly, causing drastic reactions, and an increase in attempts at controlling it. They know it's some kind of virus, that transports through the air, but that's about it. If you can guess the movie's genre from the description I just gave you, would you name it as "Erotic romance"? No, you wouldn't, but that's what this film really is. After meeting a relationship develops between Michael and Susan. They help each other update on the virus, and protect each other, but the rest of the time, they spend naked in bed, either having sex, or talking afterwards about the end of the world, that seems to be approaching. I've noticed that there's a lot of movies out there about some kind of apocalyptic scenario lately, that causes worldwide panic. Some of these are good, others are more, eh. This movie's comparison film, is the film "Blindness," which I think I was the only one who liked, but I that film, actually dealt with the subject of what would happen if you lost sight, and took it to a logical metaphorical place. Instead, "Perfect Sense," uses these, sudden losing of senses, to experiment with filmmaking. When they lose sound, we lose the sound, when everybody's eating everything, we use an orchestrated dolly shot of people eating themselves into a stupor in a five-star restaurant, etc. etc. And in between all this, there's a lot of scenes of Michael and Susan, enjoying each others company. "Perfect Sense," doesn't say anything new about these future apocalyptic scenarios, and mostly films like a filmmaking experiment, just to see what Director David MacKenzie can shoot. He directed a film I liked a few years ago called "Young Adam," also with MacGregor, which also had a lot of sex in it. That also had a provocative and interesting story, while "Perfect Sense," seems to have little story, and less points. Technically interesting, but not really a movie.

CRAIGSLIST JOE (2012) Director: Joseph Garner

1 1/2 STARS

This movie might have been more intriguing if I hadn't seen "We Live in Public" a little while ago. Or if, there was some kind of, I don't know, doubt over whether somebody would succeed at such an experiment as, having to survive on nothing but Craigslist for a month. The Joe of "Craigslist Joe", is Joseph Garner, the film's director, and he's gonna criss-cross the country on no money. It starts, in California, and he's doing odd jobs for food and shelter, and meeting new strange people everyone, from eccentric terminally-ill former actresses, to a dominatrix to eventually Craig himself, the man who, almost accidentally invented Craigslist. He talks with the people he meets, and there are some interesting popups, in Craigslist style-type, sprinkled throughout the film, showing their names, and the ads they posted. I don't post on craigslist too much myself. I did find an editor there. One guy, does, what, on very uninteresting, lonely nights I do, and that's occasionally sprawl through the personals. I also look for work; I got a job where I review movies for a film festival through a craigslist ad, and I still occasionally do that by the way. I know for instance, that Bobcat Goldthwait often finds his entire crew for the films he directs through craigslist. I think they show these things, just to give us an effect on what critical to our world craigslist has become, and can possibly become in the future. I don't think this is news though, and I hardly think this was a viable subject for a feature-film documentary. "Craigslist Joe", is marginally interesting at best, and maybe, five, maybe ten years ago maybe, this would've been an interesting documentary. Now it's old news.

SEXTING (aka TEXTUALITY) (2011) Director: Warren P. Sonada

0 STARS

Can anybody make a decent romantic-comedy anymore? Nice even a good one, just a decent one. Just one, where I don't know every single thing that's going to happen in the movie, after the 15 minute mark, how about that? Is this too much to ask? How about one, where two people, don't meet cute, and they just, meet, and get to know each other? Something, anything of substance, that says something about something! How about a movie with two characters, who's entire existence is believable, outside of the movie, like real people, or real-ish people, or even somebody I might like to want to be? I picked up "Sexting", which is only slightly better, than the movie's original title "Textuality", thinking, well, at least it's got an intriguing title. The movie, which wasn't released in theaters in America, or most anywhere else, and thank God, follows a financial player named Breslin (Jason Lewis), really, Breslin, who's a player that sleeps around with a bunch of women. One day, he accidentally hits Simone (Carly Pope) with his car. She's fine, and gets back up, and they become fast friends. Friends who text each other after having sex with someone. She has three friends, who she sleeps with on a rotating basis, that all know about each other, but she also has an affair with a sleazy married guy Clive (Eric McCormack), who she thinks she's in love with. In what universe, is this a believable and sane-behaviored real-world situation, and not a Jerry Springer episode? While she has these friends with benefits relationships with the three stooges, which I'm just gonna call them, and not bother looking up the actors' names, she doesn't realize that she's falling in love with Breslin, and that he, who's with a new girl every night, is falling for her? Anybody want to guess the rest of the movie, and I'll give you a missing piece, about her taking art classes that involve human models? Why is she taking that class? That's not rhetorical, I was asking, why is she taking that class? I think it was Whitney Cummings who when she isn't butchering the primetime lineup of two major networks, talks about how women relate to romantic-comedy, for there search for love, while men relate to porn, and search for love in the same way. That may or may not be true, but I think I'd recommend random porn over "Sexting" to both men and women. If you're wondering why men watch romantic-comedies, it's the same reason as women believe it or not, we like to imagine falling in love and meeting the perfect girl too. The problem is, I can damn near count the really good romantic-comedies in the last decade on, one hand, top, two hands, if I really think about it. "Sexting" is a perfect example of what's wrong with romantic-comedies.

HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994) Director: Peter Jackson

3 STARS

"Heavenly Creatures," was both Kate Winselt and Melanie Lynskey's first film roles, and earned Peter Jackson his first Oscar nomination, for the screenplay, is somewhat held up as a classic in lesbian cinema. I mentioned on some Facebook post last week I think, that I hadn't seen a Peter Jackson movie that I liked yet. Well, that's changed, as I am recommending "Heavenly Creatures," barely. The movie, is based on a true story and true writing of the two main characters, Pauline (Lynskey) and Juliet (Winslet), who meet as teenagers when Juliet's family, is relocated to Australia. Juliet is well-traveled, artistic, I don't want to dirty minded, but let's just say she's read "The Miller's Tale", and "Lady Chatterly's Lover", on top of all of the other classics. She also knows French better than her french teacher. She quickly befriend Pauline, who's more reserved, but and is definitely influenced by the insouciant Juliet. They go off in fantasy worlds, on their own, and those worlds are seen, as they are written in Pauline's journals. There's one scene where they run through the woods in their underwear, and kiss. Both their parents are worried about the two, and they've noticed their closeness, which is overly intense, by the end of the movie, these two can't be away from each other, and their blissful delusions leads them to murder. Well, you can clearly see the talents of both Winslet and Lynskey, Lynskey, might know her most nowadays as Rose on "Two and a Half Men," some might remember her from "Ever After," a few other performances, in supporting roles, she is generally one of the most and underrated actresses in Hollywood. (She has one of the most beautiful and sad pole dance scenes I've ever seen in Sam Mendes's underrated "Away We Go".) Winslet, of course is the superstar she is now, and an amazing actress. As to Jackson's work, it helps a little, but what struck me, some of his visual, and camera angles, was how he reminded me of Baz Luhrmann, the great Australian director, (Jackson's a native New Zealander, so I guess it makes sense) with the choices of how to show the fantasy sequences, and even in the some of the normal scenes, there's some unusual close-ups, like of a character's mouth that are strange, and some of the quick-cutting I think diluted the pace a bit. I think this film was a good script, and I think a decent idea, but it could've been a little darker believe it or not, than what it became. I'm recommending it with reservations; it might have been one first kinds of this story, but I don't if it really was the best.

HOPSCOTCH (1980) Director: Ronald Neame

4 1/2 STARS

"Hopscotch" is a fun movie about the CIA screwing over the wrong employee. You might be thinking, "The Bourne Identity", or something like that, but maybe you should be thinking "The War of the Roses," or even "The Pink Panther". Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) has been a CIA top guy in the field for years, spying and photographing the Russians forever. He's close friends with Yaskov (Herbert Lom), his Russian counterpart, who respect each other like two old men, who've been playing chess for years. He doesn't arrest him, after one case, and for that, the new boss Myerson (Ned Beatty), who's got the sense of humor of a brick and practicality of a two-sided knife, decides to send him to desk duty, he quits and runs off to Europe to stay at an old friend's, Isobel (Glenda Jackson). Not sure of quite what to do next, he knows that what he really needs to do, is get revenge on the agency, but he's too old and practical to attack with action, but he can toy with their seriousness, or at least Myerson's seriousness. He starts writing a book, revealing all their secrets. Not in hiding, he's letting them, and everybody know, sending copies of the novel, chapter by chapter, to all the world police agencies. He hits the road, using disguises and fake names, and keeps them off track. When they do seem to get a hold of him, it's by accident, someone happening to spot him at an airport in London or Washington or Toronto. Fake passports and disguises confusing everybody. At one point, he calls the CIA from Myerson's own house, only to have long left. Once in a while, they spy on Glenda, poorly, and she gives them nothing, and doesn't know anything. Kendig's replacement at the FBI, Cutter (Sam Waterston) gets the joke, but still wants to stop him before he goes to far, and gets a publishing deal. It's the first I've seen strangely by director Ronald Neame, and he seems to have been a good go-to director over the years, this was one of his last films, he's known for writing David Lean's films "Great Expectations" and "Brief Encounter", and some of his noteworthy directorial efforts include "The Odessa File," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", "The Poseiden Adventure", "Tunes of Glory" and "Gambit". He seems to vary wildly genre and style-wise, but I like "Hopscotch," mostly for the attitude of Miles Kendig. The sly, manipulative jokes he pulls, and how he enjoys the ironies and awareness of his work. He sees spying as an elaborate game of, We-try-something, You-stop-us, and so-on and so-forth, and not some national security threat. The ending doesn't really work, but I didn't particularly mind. "Hopscotch" is surprisingly fun and fresh, even today. Few movies are both comical and somewhat realistic about the spyworld or any policeworld, it's either usually either drama or satire, "Hopscotch" is somewhere in between. Plausible, and yet funny.

SMOKE SIGNALS (1998) Director: Chris Eyre

4 STARS

"Smoke Signals", when released, was considered the first feature film to be directed, written, produced and acted, by Native Americans. I'm not sure how true that is, but, since I can't think of any film that predates it, I'll take their word for it. The movie certainly feels like it was. The movie begin on the American bicentennial, which must certainly be an interest and thought-provoking date for all Native Americans, but in this case, their was a fire which killed many, but two young lives were saved. One was Thomas (Evan Adams), who is now, a squiggly little man, with glasses and very talkative. The other was Victor Joseph, who's an angry young man who's activities seem to be, being an angry young man at home, and occasionally on the basketball court. They were saved by the fire by Victor's father, Arnold (Gary Farmer), who was a tough, and abusive drunk, who years after, left the family and the reservation. Victor is still frustrated with him, when words comes of his death, in southern California. Thomas has the money to go on the trip, which Victor would rather do himself, but we're getting into road trip movie, as the head off the reservation. The core of the movie, are the conversations Victor and Thomas have on the bus. Often with each other, other times with other people, but Victor tries to discourage Thomas from that. Some of the passengers are cliched, others are interesting. I like the supposed former gymnast, Cathy (Cynthia Geary), who claimed that she would've been an alternate on the 1980 team, had the U.S. not boycotted the games. When they get to his new home, they meet his Arnold's wife Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal) who has a few different stories about Arnold, particularly after he quit drinking, and how he was trying to go back to the reservation. "Smoke Signals" doesn't tackle any new ground story-wise, but for a Native American film, which isn't exactly a term most are used to, it's quite a good one, and probably a special one. There's some talks about John Wayne, and other such symbolic diatribes, but at it core, the movie is really simply a tale of a two young men, going to a funeral of the person, who left as one person in their minds, only to learn about him after his passing. "Smoke Signals" still holds up rather well, and is surprisingly entertaining. Funny and dramatic at times, it's also benefitted by good actors like Beach. Director Chris Eyre's worked mostly in TV since the film, often for PBS documentaries like "Freedom Riders". "Smoke Signals" also has the occasional sounds throughout the movie, of the reservation local radio DJ, echoing throughout, and it's one of the most interesting DJs I've heard in a film in a while.

THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR (1962) Director: George Seaton

4 STARS

"The Counterfeit Traitor" was shot on location in Stockholm, Berlin, and Hamburg, to portray the actual locations and events. This is one of those movies made back then, that boasted about that by thanking the cities in the opening credits. I don't know if it was necessary, but it does help. The story's based on the true story of Eric Erickson (William Holden), who traveled the world, but after starting his oil and trade business in Stockholm, the New York born Erickson, became a Swedish citizen, who traded with both, the allies and the Nazis during the war. (Sweden remained, technically neutral throughout the war, although if anybody's gone through "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", series will attest, their was definitely political activity happening in the country, on both sides.) Because of this, he was placed on a blacklist by America, which would surely hurt business. On the morning where his picture's in the paper however, he gets an unexpected, mysterious visitor named Collins (Hugh Griffith) but whose code name is Dallas, despite him having nothing resembling Texas about him. He offers him a deal he can't refuse, which involves becoming chummy with the Nazis, and spying on them. He even convinces them to start building an important weapons manufacturer in Sweden, which would elude Nazi control, and he helps coordinate this with the Nazis. At the same time, he starts to really fall for one of his contacts, Frau Marianne Mollendorf (Lilli Palmer). He's already married, but since taking part in espionage, he's had to at least appear more sympathetic to the Nazi cause, even losing his best friend, a Jew, and eventually his wife. "The Counterfeit Traitor", is a  fairly good spy thriller, not a great one. Come to think of it, I'm not quite sure how it got so high on my library waitlist, but it did, and I'm happy I saw it. The film was directed by George Seaton, who I know best from his holiday masterpiece, "Miracle on 34th Street", but he wrote and/or directed a lot of good film, including "Airport", "The Song of Bernadette", "The Country Girl" and even helped write the Marx Brothers film "A Day at the Races". We're still rediscovering much of his work, but "The Counterfeit Traitor", is a pretty good rediscovery.