Thursday, March 26, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA"

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

Director: David Lean
Screenplay: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson based on the writings of T.E. Lawrence



You know something funny? I actually don’t really know that much about T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole). Seriously, I honestly never even bothered looking up the accuracy of the film. I’ve seen “Lawrence of Arabia” six or seven times over the years, but I actually don’t even really understand all the intricacies of what’s happening in the film or the historical events that they’re based on, nor the history really. It’s not that I’m not interested, I am, but oddly I realize now that, that wasn’t exuberantly important in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Yes, Lawrence is a legendary and complex character, but the movie uses his life and events from it to express ideas. Filmmaking ideas. 

There’s a reason why the British Academy Award for Best Director was once named after David Lean, and the secret of his films, they are epics most of them, but normally not in the way we think. They’re not big in the stories actually, they’re big in the ideas. The building of a single bridge only to then destroy it in a marvelous explosion in “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, or even in something small like “Brief Encounter”, the idea of two strangers sharing a private, secret moment in time before never seeing each other again, a lifetime of what could’ve been.  Take his best and most celebrated work, “Lawrence of Arabia,” the essence of the film is not just in it’s flamboyant title character, but in images and emotions. Actually more the images. When I think of this movie, I don’t think about the story of this renegade flamboyant soldier T.E. Lawrence, I think about him in Arab clothing, walking along the train, those long, long landscapes shots of just, sand, with two mean on camels walking across it, the epic rows of Arab soldiers running as they bombard a train that Lawrence has just dynamited, there’s dozens of shots like these.This film was shot on a 70mm widescreen, most movies toady are 35mm. Imagine this huge screen big enough to put many amounts of images onto a screen, but instead we get a landscape view of an endless sand desert, and nothing but that for minutes on end, and then a single solitary image. A dot, barely-visible dot right in the middle of the screen that slowly is getting closer and closer and closer…. Trust me, it takes a creative mind to consider such thoughts, but secondly it takes an audience viewing the film correctly, and by correctly I mean on the big screen, in a theatre, on a widescreen. No pan-and-scan for television, in fact don’t even watch it if you’re screen isn’t at least 27inches. (I’ve done it, you don’t know what you’re truly missing; I’d argue that no movie needs to be seen on a big screen more than “Lawrence of Arabia”) Probably bigger than that even that. On the list of things a filmgoer’s should experience in a lifetime, watching “L.O.A.,” on a big screen in a theater in probably in the top 5, next to watching “2001,” on a big screen, viewing the entire collection of Charlie Chaplin shorts, at least one viewing of “Un Chien Andolou,” one viewing any Steven Speilberg action movie on a big screen, preferably “Jaws,” or “Raiders…” and one viewing of “Ishtar.”(Ok, I made the last one up.)

That’s not to say that their isn’t historical accuracy either. T.E. Lawrence was a poet/warrior, this unique British soldier who helped Arabs drive the Turks out of Saudi Arabia and then he himself would become a god-like creature to some as he stayed in Arabia for years afterwards. An American newspaper writer would make him a hero by telling his story across the world, and Lawrence was more than willing to fulfill the role as a hero, although what role and how big a role he played is subjective even in the films beginning where he’s being honored posthumously and he’s referred to an great hero and then in the next sentence, is referred to as the biggest showman since P.T. Barnum. That man is probably correct on both. (And although it’s never noted, although heavily alluded to that Lawrence was homosexual, keep in mind this film takes place in the 1910s, and if you notice, there’s no women in the entire 4 hour movie.)

As you may have also figured, there isn’t as traditional a structured plot in “Lawrence…”, as most biopic shouldn’t, and in this case, they really shouldn’t, cause most of the film is based on the emotions we get from the shots, not the story. Even the glorious battle sequences have this strange feeling that they aren’t filmed for violence but filmed solely for the pleasure of the eye. It’s a pure directorial achievement that ironically just happens to be arguably the greatest  insight into the ways of the  tribal nomadic culture in the Middle East still works.  In my younger days, I once wrote that if Bush had seen this movie, he would have done a lot of things differently, and hopefully nothing at all, it’s unfortunate that to some extent, I still feel I can say that sometimes without any sense of irony. Nowadays however, I’m not interested in the political lessons. “Lawrence of Arabia” has twice been named on AFI’s Top Ten Films of all-time list, one year reaching number 5, and strangely, I think  more people simply admire this film from afar, they admit it’s greatness, they don’t really see or understand the joy in the film, just how amazing and how unique a cinematic experience this is. This film should be revived in theaters every ten years cause as great as a widescreen is on TV this should be viewed in its proper format. It’s had trouble over the years doing that. It’s been cut from its original length numerous times for re-released and one the point the entire second part of the film’s image was reversed for some reason, and of course, television screenings don’t do this film justice. Plus there’s a general dismay towards these grandiose classic Hollywood epics. In some cases I can understand; I actually think Lean’s next film, “Doctor Zhivago” doesn’t hold up at all and is frankly a complete bore, but you gotta also realize that when it’s done right, great epics take great big ideas of the mind and of the camera. Few films reveal this more than “Lawrence of Arabia”. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

WHY AREN'T MORE SITCOMS LIKE "CHEERS"?



You know, this has been bothering the hell out of me when it comes to the modern-day sitcom. Actually, let's specify slightly more, the modern-day, 3-camera sitcom in particular. You know the standard I use to compare a sitcom to other shows? It's not "Seinfeld", it's not "All in the Family", it's not even "M*A*S*H" or anything like that, it's "Cheers". Yeah, "Cheers", and you know why I use "Cheers", 'cause A. I grew up with it, but also because it felt so real. Not that it wasn't artificial, it was clearly a set and whatnot, and you rarely get set-ups and jokes as funny as "Cheers", ever, but "Cheers" was so rich in character and setting. It actually gets deeper the more you watch it. All the characters are distinct and occasionally quirky, but it was placed in a reality where, it actually seemed reasonable that I could go to the bar down and have it be like "Cheers", hell, I know places like it, I know people like Sam and Diane and Rebecca and even a few Norm and Cliff. (Oh, hell, I'm Cliff to be honest; I was voted most likely to blow a big lead on "Jeopardy!".) That's the thing though with the really great sitcoms, you never once felt like this wasn't a real place. WKRP felt like a real radio station, "Welcome Back, Kotter", felt believably like a real high school, "Family Ties" felt like a real house and that a real family lived in it, hell, "M*A*S*H", looked like the fucking Korean war. It's not aesthetic thing though, it's also an acting choice. All these sitcoms, there's this sense, there's this hyper-awareness that this is a sitcom. Or even worst yet, "Oh, it's just a sitcom, so it's to do (Insert whatever stupid thing "2 Broke Girl$" has done lately here) Hell, I don't even think "Married... with Children" do this much winking at the camera or being self-awareness. People seem to think that's because it's a three-camera sitcom and that the old-style of audience laughter or god-forbid a laugh track takes you out of the reality. Well, what, do all those guest actors on "30 Rock" in unexpected places not take you out it? Or Ron Howard's voiceover over everything. Or actually, everybody's voiceover over everything, what-the-hell is with all the voiceover narration in sitcom's now? I get it, it works sometimes, and it kinda goes with the single-camera format set-up byyyyyyyyyyy- Quick trivia question folks, which single-camera sitcom started that trend. You have 15 seconds?

A) Arrested Development
B) Scrubs
C) Dave's World

If you guessed A., you're wrong, "Scrubs" came out first. If you guessed B, "Scrubs", you're wrong too. If you guessed C., and you actually remembered "Dave's World", then you would've remembered that it was a 3-CAMERA SITCOM!

No, Answer, D) "The Wonder Years", they started that. And you know what, hardly a single-camera or three-camera sitcom has come around and felt more believable and realistic that "The Wonder Years".

You know, that's the other thing that this has brought on, the first-person perspective. Yeah, I know, history of literature, first you learn third person than you learn first person, and there's been versions of that, over the years, from Doogie Howser with a computer to "Blossom" with her video diary to "The Office", "Parks and Recreation", "Veep", "Modern Family", "The Comeback".... with their pseudo variations on mockumentaries, but still, it's kinda ruining the sitcom. Really, For every "How I Met Your Mother", there's a "Manhattan Love Story", where frankly the only reason you have this voiceover is to have this single-person perspective. Actually, it's not even the voiceover, most of television nowadays really, basically amounts to all of these single-vision sitcoms, like "30 Rock", "Girls", "The Mindy Project", all these shows that are basically following the "Seinfeld" idea where we get somebody funny and have them create a show and what we're getting now is the world from their perspective. Even something like "Family Guy" is essentially that, the world from their perspective. And there's nothing wrong with that per se, but it's leading to these more stylized shows that don't have the longevity and classicalness that something like "Cheers" had. It's not like "Cheers" was formed in a committee, but Glen and Les Charles, two Mormon brothers from my hometown of Henderson, Nevada, and frankly that fact amazes me; they created a show about a bar and focused around an alcoholic former pitcher in Boston, Massachusetts. That doesn't seem much like their viewpoint, and yes they worked on and borrowed the style of other shows like "Taxi", but still,... Anyway, it's because we're now looking for this distinctive single-visions and first person perspectives however, what we're ending up with is this more stylized form of humor. Where we're seeing a show mainly from a single character's perspective, and not much else. This allows for things like aberrations and stopping your essay in the middle to give the readers a pointless multiple choice question that doesn't have the right answer just to yell at them, despite the fact that the real answer probably isn't correct either and that TV shows have been experimenting with voiceover and first person format years long before even "The Wonder Years", but don't we have enough of this? I think we do.

More importantly, why does seem like the only thing a sitcom writer can do now? Their own singular vision and perspective? They can't create something a universe or a world that isn't just the way they see it? Did everybody just wake up one day and go, "We would rather come up with their own kind of "Seinfeld"? This is where modern-day sitcoms really start losing me, especially network ones. Because it's either somebody singular vision, which has a better chance of success than other shows, but it's still pushing it somewhat, or it's the other extreme, everybody trying to recreate, "Friends". Yeah, Tina Fey nailed this one, I am so sick of seeing the same actors and actresses in bad sitcom after bad sitcom, because they happen to be young and good-looking. No wonder networks are getting rid of pilot seasons, but you know, when they do try to create a sitcom, why is it that they are so insistent on these young good-looking actors? Many of which, probably weren't alive when sitcoms were primarily where ugly people went to act. Alright that's mean, but seriously though, "Friends" was the exception to that rule, and even then, that show kinda had a base of reality to it. Yeah, it did. The original concept of that show was that it was about how in your early twenties, you were surrounded by your friends after you leave home and that becomes your family support while you struggle to find your place in the world. (That, and it was the first show that didn't have a star main character and each cast member was an equal part of the cast, so two things that were truly unique to that show at the time) All these other shows, well, they're not really knock-offs of it, but they're still more influenced by having this idea of this single unique vision of a show and trying to, I guess they'd call expand the horizons of a sitcom from something that wasn't just, a couple rooms across the hall an a coffee shop, but you know, how many people, places and things do you really go/do? Not that many. That's what you're surrounded by. That's why so many of the best TV shows have focused on some way about the behind the scenes of television. "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "30 Rock", "Murphy Brown", "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", etc., they're writing what they know, but also creating a world around their characters, not showing their character's perspectives on everything everyone, including themselves. The best shows know that, and like "Cheers" they also know that the more stronger characters a show has in them, and surrounding their show, the better the series is and that it can actually survive even after say, a major character leaves the series. Lena Dunham drops dead tomorrow, there's no "Girls" coming back, and I huge fan of that show so I hope it doesn't happen, but still, that show's nothing without her.

Why isn't that, we need single-camera sitcoms in order to create that world too? We never needed that before. I never watched "Cheers" because it was funny, I watched it 'cause it was good, and it could've been a drama if they wanted it too, it was that strong a show. It was that based in a reality that it could be like that. Most of the great shows were like that, "Family Ties" had a studio audience that never cheapened the show or made it less believable. That show seemed like a believable family. Where did this stigma come from that shows had to be fun and over-the-top if they're gonna be 3-camera? "Friends", alright "Will & Grace" but again, that was an exception, not the rule, and the exception worked and was what made to show the distinctiveness between those characters and archetypes.

This is the problem, not enough people look closely enough at shows anymore to see why they work or why they don't. People think sitcoms with 3-cameras need to be big and full of caricaturish over-the-top characters then they think that's what they need and now, nobody wants to do that show because nobody will believe it. Or if you want reality, do mockumentary to let the audience know this is how it's really happening, but if you're a particular distinctive vision, do single camera, and maybe have a voiceover of some kind, so you can do anything at it'll all workout okay. That's seems to be the idea, with the only real exceptions, for some being CBS shows like "Mike & Molly" and....- well, everything else is Chuck Lorre really, but at least worked on those "Roseanne"-like shows that understood that establishing a first base in reality can be done with a 3-camera sitcom and then you can even expand and extend beyond that if you want.

Anyway, this is why more people need to study "Cheers" and not "Seinfeld" to really look at just how powerful a sitcom can be. "Cheers", "Roseanne", "The Wonder Years", all those great sitcoms, see what really makes them stand out and why those shows will still be powerful years after all these shows will practically be forgotten. Shows that are representatives of the creative mind and that alone are cool and all, some of them are even great, but they're still basically limited to the talent and mindset of the creative mind behind them. No matter the tricks one possesses, that's all we're really getting, and because people see Tina Fey or whoever's vision work so well they're convinced now that they must also create in that image. The best thing to really do is to seek out shows that aren't just predicated on that single solitary vision however and could still work. Sure, there's places for a Seinfeld-like mind or Tina Fey or Lena Dunham or Seth MacFarland or whoever, on the television dial, but look at the level of the person creating those things. You think anybody's gonna put Elizabeth Meriwether on that list in the future. (She created "New Girl", and 2-1 you didn't know that.) Doesn't matter whether it's a sack of losers in a bar or survivalists circumnavigated a world of zombies, drama or comedy, the more believable a base a series is, the more interested we will be in it, and the stronger that show will become. If anything, it's actually more important in comedy; comedy works best in a real world and skewers it in some way. not necessary because it's important to satirize reality, but because the best comedy is always based in tragedy.

And really, when it comes to tragedy, what's sadder than having so much struggle in your life that you would like to get away, to a bar where everybody knows your name?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #105: "GONE GIRL", "FORCE MAJEURE", "JODOROWSKY'S DUNE", "HATESHIP LOVESHIP", "BORGMAN", "ELSA & FRED", "CESAR CHAVEZ", "NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET", "CAPITAL", "1" and MORE!

Alright, hopefully, in the near future some of these reviews and a few other will be posted on Watch This Space Film Magazine's website, at www.watchthisspacefilmmagazine.com, as well as possibly some other appropriate commentary posts commentary posts. I'm looking forward to that, and once it's more established, I'll add an official link onto this front page.

In the meantime, whew. Eh, I will be busy in the few weeks working on this blog, I'm still catching on all the things I had to push off for the Oscars, and now the Emmys are getting into the news. If you haven't heard their latest ruling, "Shameless", "Glee" and "Jane the Virgin" won their appeals to be in the Comedy Series categories, still no word on "Orange is the New Black" or any of the other shows challenging the new rulings, so we're keeping that updated.

I'm also gonna make an effort to try and watch more series on streaming sites if I can. I actually did the first season of Tina Fey's new series, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix, and it's unbelievably funny, I was addicted instantly, couldn't wait to watch the next episode, just a really funny, really great show. Love Ellie Kemper, loved her on "The Office" love her more now. Incredibly funny series,- like, I have been so annoyed at sitcoms lately,that basically I watched "The Big Bang Theory" and nothing else lately, especially on Network, especially after "Parks and Recreation" went off the air, (In fact, one of my future posts will be some of the things that make these bad sitcoms bad in a little bit) but, aaah, I can breathe, I can laugh, there's so much fun in that show. It's definitely still Tina Fey, easily the most fun, best new thing I've seen in a long while.

Anything, that's enough from me. Onto this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


GONE GIRL (2014) Director: David Fincher

✰✰✰✰1/2



I guess I'm not particularly amazed that "Gone Girl" is so heavily discussed and that there is some debates on the interpretations and motives of the characters, particularly one character, but, I don't know, this felt more like such a classic thriller to me that somehow it seems that some are just taking this movie too seriously. The "Gone Girl", of the title- boy that's awkward. The missing gi- woman, is Amy Elliott (Oscar-nominee Rosamund Pike). She's a housewife in Missouri who's somewhat of a celebrity because her parents, Rand and Marybeth (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) wrote a series of children's books loosely based on her called "Amazing Amy", which as she described almost were, like, child-shaming in inspiration, like everything the real Amy couldn't or wouldn't do, Amazing Amy excelled at. She became a magazine writer and married another writer, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and after both of them loss jobs, Nick then moved them to Missouri after his mother got sick. He's now a professor who co-owns a local bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), where he is hanging out when he goes home to find his home ransacked and his wife missing, on their anniversary coincidentally. Now, I'm gonna discuss the editing of this film from Kirk Baxter, 'cause, the movie cuts back and forth between numerous time periods, there's some flashing back, there's some flash forwards and multiple points of view, a voiceover narrator, cutbacks to what we learn is a diary that Amy has written that has some suspiciously damning material in it,...- there's a lot going on, and how it's told to us, and the order it is told to us is just as important as what's happening, and while I'm trying to give anything away, the way this film is edited is really the key to it's suspect. I suspect that the novel adapted by it's screenwriter Gillian Flynn, also has a similar disjointed structure. Trying to narrow the main stories, first is the investigation, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) which continues to indicate Nick and possibly even his sister somehow in a coverup. There's the flashbacks to the marriage before Amy disappeared, starting with their whirlwind romance and through the troubled marriage. Another thread follows Nick through the media coverage of the event, led by a Nancy Grace-like reporter, Sharon Schreiber (Sela Ward) who's over-obsessing over every little piece of video, cell phone photo from a groupie, new piece of information that comes up from the police, witnesses, Amy's best friend/nieghbor, Noelle (Casey Wilson) and Nick's struggles to both prove his innocence with the police and the press, making him look for consul from a high-profile lawyer, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry, surprisingly really good here) who in one sense is really a press agent/media consultant and on the other is looking into Amy's past, including tumultuous relationships she's had in the past with suspicious boyfriends, one in high school boyfriend, Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) and one as an adult, Tommy (Scoot McNairy). There's a lot of balls in the air, but the way these fall, inevitably is what the movie is about and how these characters really have to manipulate people, each other, and the media to their advantages. I think, in hindsight, it's a little over-the-top and there's a little too much going on. There's a few threads that don't get picked up or explored more and then others that really turn this thriller almost into a dark comedy. It's almost too dark a look at the media, but it's rather strong overall. I was entertained and genuinely wasn't sure where this film would go. It's a good mystery-thriller, with some strong performances carrying the film.


FORCE MAJEURE (2014) Director: Ruben Ostlund

✰✰✰✰✰




I truly believe that until you're actually in a situation, you really don't know how you're gonna react. I know there's this great sense of assurance that people have about such things, but I've never found that to be true. The timing, the exact moment, the exact situation at play, are you completely sure? The only way to test that is to actually be in it, without any preparation or foreknowledge and then maybe one can be certain of their own instincts, and even then, the next time it happens, it might be different, 'cause now you have the knowledge of having gone through it once before. I know it sounds like I'm speaking in circles right now, but consider the situation in "Force Majeure", this was Sweden's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar category and it made the shortlist at one point but I can understand why there were some people upset when it didn't getting nominated. Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) are taking their two kids, Harry and Vera (Vincent Wettergren and Clara Wettergren) to the French Alps for a week-long skiing vacation. At first, everything seems fine. There's photos, there's some skiing, there's the whole family sharing the bed in their matching pajamas. Then, on the second day, in one of many striking scenes, there's an avalanche that descends upon them while having breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the lodge. It's sudden and unexpected, and while the avalanche scares everybody it blankets them in white smoke. It seems everyone's alright, but at that moment, that flight or fight response kicked in, and one of the parents grabbed for the kids, while the other one bolted and ran off the deck. Worst yet, when confronted with this accusation, he denies it, This isn't a film about perspective btw, we see exactly what happened. Was this a simple difference in the flight-or-fight instinct or there something more going on. When they have a double date later with Mats and Charlotte (Kristopher Hivju and Karin Myrenberg), the story gets retold and the facade they had been putting up for the kids and everybody else is shot down. The other couple snickers as they worry about how they'll need therapy, and they're not necessarily wrong, and they also end up going through their own issues in this psychological debate. The story is through the guise of this troubled couple, but the movie is really about this look between our hopeful desires and our instincts and whether or not we're actually in control of either of them. This isn't the only scenario in the movie, the avalanche is only the catalyst of it. I'll speak about a couple others, both happen late in the film, one involves their kids. They see a parent who's normally in emotional control, stoically to a fault in charge of their emotions and suddenly, in the middle of the night, they see that parent on the floor bursting in tears. Watch exactly what their two children do when they're woken up and see the situation. The other happens on the last day, as all four of them are skiing and while there's no avalanche the sky if snow-fogged and you can barely see what's in front of you (And we can barely) see. All four of them go down the mountain, only three do we find at the bottom. What happened, what do you do now? If something happened, you can't know if you don't go up, but if you go up, do you bring the other two with you, and if you do find them, are you going to find your way back? I won't reveal what happens, but the movie is constantly looking at the ways we react to the differing stimuli and how we react to other's reactions, and each of these change us. Force Majeure is originally French for a superior force, that's usually a reference to an act of God, but I think the movie that sometimes it's the force within us. This is really a great film, makes you think and makes you truly wonder about, other such nightmare scenarios, exactly how would your fight or flight or if you would act correctly or not. It's a thought I have a lot on my own so this is a bit in my wheelhouse but this is really a thoughtful and observant new look at it.


JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2014) Director: Frank Pavich

✰✰✰✰✰



First thing's first, I don't know Frank Herbert's "Dune"; I'm planning to see the David Lynch film, very shortly, but I haven't at this time seen it, but I've now seen "Jodorowsky's Dune". I've seen some of Jodorowsky's films though. (You can find my Canon of Film review of my own website, which you can look up afterwards under my name.)  I had heard about this abandoned project before and thought this film might be a new twist on the other great documentaries about filmmaking, like "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse", "Burden of Dreams" or "Lost in La Mancha", but only, told in flashback about how great this movie could've been. Essentially it is, but this could've easily just been boring, like talking heads referring back to the moment that wasn't, but you get more and more entranced as the film goes on and more pieces of the puzzle come together and our brought this project. And then Salvador Dali got involved and I just blurted out loud, "No fucking way!" That's because this isn't about that; the movie is really about Jodorowsky's vision and passion and how and why he was able to convince and acquire so many people to devote themselves to this project. Jodorowsky had made some successful films, pretty much out of the main stream including "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain", and "Dune" is one of those legendary great pieces of science fiction, and here's one of those few eccentric great directors, willing to go all out for it. I can listen to Jodorowsky read the phone book, he is just a full-of-life interesting figure; he doesn't get the credit he really deserves, and he brings this incredible cast of actors and artists of all kinds from Pink Floyd to H.R Giger to Dan O'Bannon to all these other artists, who get together in Paris and create this incredible storyboard book that was sent everywhere in Hollywood, documenting every single shot of what "Dune" could've or should've been. It was out-of-this-world and ahead of it's time, technologically, thematically, and cinematically. There's supposedly two known original copies of Jodorowsky's "Dune", but it floated around Hollywood and the people who worked on the project would take the ideas and inventions of Jodorowsky and begin adapting them to other projects when they ran out of money. The visual effects would win some of the people Oscars, for "Alien", the shots would be stolen from everybody to George Lucas to Spielberg to James Cameron; to Moebius who worked on the project and would reinvent comic book artistry with the images. Jodorowsky imagines one day that somebody might be able to take this book and turn it into an animated feature, so somebody could eventually film his recognized vision in it's fullest, but it's clear that his vision has it's imprints all over Hollywood sci-fi and numerous other areas of the art world for decades now. (I'd like to see Katsuhiro Otomo take a shot at Jodorowsky's "Dune" myself) There's this amazing passion that you get in Jodorowsky's work, that whatever the fuck it is, (And that's usually the reaction to his films, "whatever the fuck that was") but all so over the top outrageous, but lovingly so, with passion, and yes, it's over-the-top and maybe unrealistic and Matt Zoller Seitz's review on rogerebert.com calls him a bit of a charlatan at times, bringing all these people in on something that maybe was over-ambitious and just impossible to actually make at the time, but you know what, all great filmmakers are charlatans in that way. You have to be; you have to be so passionate that you fool yourself into believing your vision to even get people on board with something like this, that's the only way a film like this can ever get made, or even get this far into being made, Director Frank Pavish, really shows us exactly how that was possible. If you look at this on paper, there's something I like to call "fantasy filmmaking", where we hypothesize who's the ideal people you'd want on a film project. Who's script, who's the director, who's playing the role, etc. etc., I think it's fantasy football for cinema nerds like us sometimes, and usually I only like to think about things like that as though they were plausible, and this movie could've just been that, This "hey, here's this guy and this guy...," but because it kinda happened for real...- and it's not that it happened, it's the way. The inspiration, the idea, this is, ironically how films, should get made, with this kind of passion and devotion to an image an idea, a reinvention even, 'cause he does from the original novel and that's some amazing artistic creativity. "Jodorowsky's Dune", is the kind of movie that shows the kind of people who get into film and more importantly who should be getting into film. This is one of the best documentaries of the year so far. Few films have made me so pleasantly and euphorically happy to see, especially from a perspective of making a movie, this can easily be in that "Hearts of Darkness...", "Burden of Dreams" stratosphere of these kind of documentaries.


HATESHIP LOVESHIP (2014) Director: Liza Johnson

✰✰✰1/2



I'm not completely positive I understand all of "Hateship Loveship"; there's definitely a tragic slice-of-life aspect to this character study and for that aspect, I think I like the film enough to recommend it. Plus it was slightly,- I wouldn't say unpredictable but it definitely went into a different direction than I thought it would. This was based on a short story by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Munro and I get a sense that this might've worked better in that format than it does as a feature; there's definitely something Raymond Carver about the film. Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig, strong in a rare dramatic performance, and along with this and "The Skeleton Twins", she had a really good year) is a longtime healthcare worker who has spent most of her adult life going from job to job taking care of the elderly, until calling 911 when she's the one who discovers that they've passed on. This time though, she's hired on as a nanny for Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) the granddaughter of Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte) and Iowa man who's taken care of her granddaughter after his daughter was killed in a car accident when her husband and Sabitha's father Ken (Guy Pearce) was drunk behind the wheel. He's visiting when Johanna starts working and she begins to develop a small crush on him. Wiig's character here, is a bit tricky to describe. She's very unworldly and quiet. Mousy almost. There's a scene where she tries to use the computer in the library and is impressed when she's asked what she wants her password to be. She's had very little that's her own, and most of her life has been spent in quiet desperation taking care of others, except no really, 'cause she's never really thought deeply enough to be desperate for anything, or had much to really care about herself. When Sabitha and her friend Edith (Sami Gayle) play a joke on her by sending her emails they claim are from Ken, she begins to get inspired. She takes a lot of money out of the bank, and travels to his place. At first they're unsure what to make of the situation. He actually kinda has a girlfriend Chloe (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who's just as screwed up a junkie that he is. It's not that Johanna isn't completely unaware that Ken is certainly not Prince Charming and is definitely flawed, but she's not quite aware of how to handle it, until she handles it,and to both their credit, they decide to stick it out. They have more in common then it seems these two wayward souls that have been dismissed or ignored by society. I think the movie's more hit-and-miss than some, but I think there's enough here to recommend. It's a bit of a strange relationship and that dynamic is intriguing, one character who's so unknowing that when she does take a chance on an emotion that it's a leap of faith, and the character who's been through too much in life that he's struggling to rid himself of emotions as much as possible and only until that's challenge by someone who actually knows how to care about him does he begin the long struggle to better himself. I think there's a lack of drama that this film misses however. Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is barely onscreen enough to have an impact for instance, and I think the resolution with the daughter feels unnatural and forced at the end, and there's some other interesting choices with the grandfather too that also feel slighted. I think that's the idea of the tone of the film, but I don't know, I think some material could've been stretched a bit more, but even still, "Hateship Loveship" works as a unconventional love story.


BORGMAN (2014) Director: Alex van Warmerdam

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I'm sure there's some kind of strange religious parable that I'm just missing here, but after realizing that the movie was just gonna to be one fucked up thing happening after another, without much explanation or recognition even, I kinda tuned out and just let the movie happen. I suspect that's the best way to approach the material in "Borgman" as well. This was The Netherlands' submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year and it begins with a bible quote, "And they descended upon Earth to strengthen their ranks, but the rest of the movie seems to be a literal assault on suburbia, particularly for those who choose not to heed Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet). When we meet Borgman, he lives underground. Like literally, there's earth and ground above him, and has somehow managed to build a living situation where underneath it until hunters fall into his hiding spot. Somehow he escapes. He then knocks on the door of a neighbor, Richard (Jeroen Percev asking for a bath and the neighbor beats the crap out of him on his front lawn. Why is he beat up? (Shrugs) He mentions knowing his wife Marina (Hadewych Minis) who eventually decides to hide him in the house behind her husband's back. Other than that, it's hard to say what the film is. Seriously, I could literally say what happens and I still wouldn't be able to make it sound like it makes logical sense, but basically, one person after another gets killed by Borgman and what I believe was about six other Borgman followers, at least it should have been six at one point when they go through the woods during a late scene which had to been a "The Seventh Seal" reference. "Borgman"'s fascinating because of this surrealistic element, but I don't think this would hold up on multiple viewings. Even if you do find some kind of interpretation of the material, it basically falls into a strange pattern where suburban stuff happens and then someone's killed and the more stuff happens. It's taking some shots and it's well-made and definitely worth watching to judge for yourself but it's hard to draw that line between the events of the movie are supposed to be aimless and whether or not it the movie is actually aimless.


ELSA & FRED (2014) Director: Michael Radford

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I don't know what happened to Michael Radford, who I normally think of as a great and special director, and it's not like "Elsa & Fred" is awful or bad, but it's such an average film. This guy's told special films about the power of poetry like "Il Postino" and tackled Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", even "Dancing at the Blue Iguana", has there ever been a more intoxicating and luscious film about strippers than that one? And here we get, "Elsa & Fred" (Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer) two old people living out their last days at a couple small apartments that's conveniently located for both their children and for any caregivers the children hire to look out over them. This is actually a remake of a Spanish film, and it does feel like a movie that would've been more interesting and newer ten years ago. Fred is moving in at the behest of his daughter Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden) and has hired a caregiver, Laverne (Erika Alexander). The events that eventually leads to the inevitable romance is Elsa crashing her car into Lydia's husband's (Scott Bakula) car and insurances are exchanged sorta and money changes hands but it gets the two in the room for the long on-again, off-again rom-com cliched plot. Fred's an old curmudgeon, a former musician who's mostly uninterested in people after his wife's passing while Elsa's a little more wishful and free-spirited. Her biggest wish is to reenact the Trevi Fountain scene in "La Dolce Vita" just like Anita Ekberg. (I've had that wish too once in a while, but still I would've shot a little higher on the fantasy foreplay scenarios but alright.) There's good performances all around, including some nice supporting work from Chris Noth and George Segal among others, but it's so boring. We know essentially every beat of this going in, and I've never seen the original either. There's a few of these aging romances going on among independent films lately, they don't always work. It seems nice and touching on first glance, but you still need more than just the gimmick of the characters being old. It's uninspiring, it's un-interesting, you only get, a glimpse or two what maybe with more inspiration could've been something good, but I've seen these actors in so many amazing roles and films over the years, I don't know they're wasting time with this one. I especially don't know what Radford is either; this film is so uninspired; made without passion or interest. How do you get people like James Brolin and Wendell Pierce and everybody else in this movie in a room together give them absolutely nothing interesting to do? "Elsa & Fred" just fails the Gene Siskel test of would you rather see these actors sitting at a table talking over lunch/dinner or see them in this movie; it's just that simple and it's sad that it's that simple. What a missed opportunity.


CESAR CHAVEZ (2014) Director: Diego Luna

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Cesar Chavez is definitely a hero of mine and I always recognized how important it was to tell his story, but at the same time, I also always recognized exactly how difficult that could be to tell his story. It never really comes across even in the history books. If maybe the Catholic Church would call him the Patron Saint of Farmworkers maybe more would understand, but then again, now you've made him a saint, and saints aren't typically entertaining film characters. I recognized these with "Cesar Chavez" this new biopic about him, and for awhile it didn't bother me that it was a straight-up hero-worship film of Chavez (Michael Pena, very good). He was born in Yuma, Arizona of Mexican immigrants who worked as migrant farm workers. After he co-founded the NFWA, he began organizing the migrant workers into a Union and began promoting boycotts and really forcing the growers' hands. When they started to sell more of their grapes and wine overseas, he traveled to Europe to get the products banned there. He's usually looked upon as somewhat of a Martin Luther King for the Latino Community, but his priorities weren't as based in race as they were in class. His goal was to make sure the poor had a say. We can use more people like Cesar Chavez out there now. I'm not sure how those hunger strikes would work or not nowadays of his, but, he was media savvy, although the growers and the police were against the workers. There's some good performances here, especially from Pena but Rosario Dawson is good as strong as Dolores Huerta, his fellow Union organizer, America Ferrara played his wife, she was quite. The family sequences were very erratic though and there really weren't too many nuances with any of the villains, not enough to make them anything more than villains. This is the second directed by Diego Luna, the great Mexican actor, his first film "Abel" got a lot of Ariel Award nominations, which is the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars, but "Cesar Chavez" is a noble effort but not much more, ultimately. It was entertaining for what it was for awhile, but I eventually just got too bored by it. There's a good film there somewhere, but it lost it's way, and just became a generic, forgettable biopic.


NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET (2013) Director: Raul Ruiz

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The great Chilean director Raul Ruiz's last feature before his passing was "Night Across the Street" and unfortunately this is only the second feature film of his I've seen, the other being his previous film, the 4 1/2 hours "Mysteries of Lisbon", his previous film, so I'm in a strange position where I'm not quite sure I have a grasp or sense of what he was all about or if I have only a sense of how good how he was nearing the end of life. Both films are mosaics of images that work when you take them as you experience them, not-so-much as plot-based stories that you follow but as a random of sequence of events and experiences. Moments in time. "Night Across the Street" seems almost built to be Ruiz's last film. It's plot is simple, John Giono (Christian Vadim) is going back over his life, experiences, flashbacks, memories, even fantasies as he believes, either literally or figuratively, a stranger is coming to kill him. Hell, I'm not even positive that's the whole plot come to think of it, perhaps the parts in the beginning were also parts of his recalling, like going to see a movie in a cinema for the first time, questioning why one would go to a movie if one doesn't know what it's about. I like one of the last scenes, where he's and a couple other characters are ghosts having fun at a seance by messing with their friends. There's some other conversations from youth, from adulthood, some seem like they're hypersurreal like from a movie, but apparently the film was based on short stories by Hernan del Solar; I'm sure they're mostly inspiration as oppose to adaptation though. "Night Across the Street" is fitting end to a film career and legacy. I just hope that I'm getting as good a sense of him as I can with these last two films of his. I get a feeling that there's more that I'm missing.


CAPITAL  (2013) Director; Costa-Gravas

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Somewhere in between, "Margin Call," "Arbitrage" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" is Costa-Gravas's version of that story, this one's called "Capital" and while it's a little more international in it's scope and ambition, but it didn't feel like it had a real insider perspective on the world like those other films do. Costa-Gravas is a legendary Greek filmmaker who's most known for his great political thrillers "Z", and "Missing", although there's more variety on his resume than one would think, That said, when I looked back on the film, and it's certainly confusing and convoluted, but I also realized that this film, could've taken place anywhere in any industry really. Maybe it would've been better to do something, in this case, maybe a historical piece like Claude Berri's "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring" which are two films that are just as relevant to the financial crises. Well, the movie is centered in Paris and the CEO of Pheonix Bank has dropped dead on the golf course. Marc (Gad Elmaleh) is eventually placed in charge as CEO, as the other higher-ups figure he's young and possibly easy to manipulate. Marc recognizes this too though, fully aware that their underestimating him. Honestly, that's basically all you really need to know about 'Capital", Marc is a greedy entrepreneurial newly-high-positioned CEO of a bank, and everything else that he does happens is basically a long out-maneuvering chess game, only taking place in the lap of luxury. The wife who's more interested in how much more money he's making than the job itself, the mistresses and affais, the hedgefund owners, the stockholders, it's basically another story of Wall Street excess gone amuck. And it's not really an entertaining one either. Like Elmaleh's performance, it's cooly trying to be outside the world while also being inside it, and because of that, very little is of interest to us. We know we're watching bad people do bad things and that's about it; that's the only real point that Gravas is making. Oddly, it makes the movie surprisingly dull. In a way, it's so generic that's a weird word to use, but this literally could be anywhere any place and what makes some of these other recent features of the world so special is that they are looking for thoroughly and deeper and unfortunately, that's where "Capital" completely fails.



1 (2013) Director: Paul Crowder

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I guess it's fair to say that I have an interest in Formula-1. (Shrugs) In theory at least. It's not a sport I follow or even know that much about personally, but it's basically consider the world's premiere international open-wheeled racing league? I guess it's a league or an organization of some kind. I know about NASCAR, and I know about IndyCar or the IRL, a little bit more and I'm aware that there's this other league called Formula-1, and they have numerous minor racing leagues below them, Formula-2, Formula-3, etc. I know they're the highest level of that, and the most expensive; that teams have to build their own cars, and I know a few of the races like the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. And I know some of the history from other recent movies, like the documentary "Senna" and Ron Howard's "Rush" made my Ten Best List the year it came out. So I'm intrigued, I do like racing, and I guess, "1", is sort of a tutorial "Formula-1 History for Dummies" version, but honestly, what that really means more or less is, a history of, death. Death by driving. I don't think there's any long-lasting racing league that didn't deal with death, especially in the early days, but there is something legendary about Formula-1's history. Racers, died, maybe 3-4 times a year, multiple ones a month and on the same tracks, survival was practically what won. It gets into some of those nuances, how each automotive brand had their own competition within the racers' competition and while it was an international sports organization, it wasn't well-run. It thrived on it's image of the renegade, and the safety of the races and tracks were secondary to everything else. In fact, part of the appeal was the risking of the lives, and the danger and the constant threats of death. It's an interesting history, but I would've thought other aspects could've been more interesting. Like getting inside the upper levels or Formula-1 and those real discussions of how the organization was run (or wasn't) in the beginning. The movie ends with discussion with Ayrton Senna's fatal crash in '94, which is the last time a racer died during a Formula-1 race. He's hardly the last one to die racing anywhere, I knew people who went to the infamous abandoned 2011 IZOD Indycar World Championship IRL race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car crash considered the most violent many have ever seen, on a track that was not built or adjusted accurately for IndyCar racing and frankly they shouldn't have been racing at. Even under the greatest and most ideal circumstances though, and I'm sure Formula-1, maybe more than some of the other racing leagues is as safe and as safety-prioritized as possible and takes the most effort to make sure these truly amazing athletes stay alive as anybody, maybe moreso, but this is high-speed open-wheel, auto racing, and I couldn't help but think, "Well, they're due." Hopefully I'm wrong, the current Formula-1 season is underway right now, but the best you can hope for is that, anything and everything they can do or even think about doing to make sure it doesn't happen again, they're doing. So, I don't know, I wasn't particularly crazy about "1". I think there were other angles to pursue regarding the early years of Formula-1, so, I don't know, if you're really interesting I guess it's worth a watch, but I wouldn't be shocked if there were better and more in-depth of learning about the history of a sport such as this. I might seek one or two out but I really can't recommend "1" as a film.

Note: The film debuted on the internet in 2013 in America, but didn't theatrically get released 'til 2014.


SONG OF THE SOUTH (1947) Directors: Wilfred Jackson and Harve Foster

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Before anybody asks, I won't get into how exactly I got ahold of a copy of "Song of the South". It's well-known that this film, as I like to joke is somewhere buried under the Disney vault and hasn't been released in America in any manner since the mid-eighties. Scarce VHS copies of the film go for as much as $50 on Ebay, sometimes more. This film is also strangely one of Disney's most beloved works. One of the first films to believably combine live-action and animation, it's very much enriched in the tapestry of Disney. Space Mountain, I learned is apparently inspired by this film. "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da", the Oscar-winning song is from this movie. The Uncle Remus (James Baskett, who was given a special Oscar for his performance) character would've at the time been regarded as sort of an American version of Aesop's Fables and the tales of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear would've been as well at the time of the film's release as say, the Tortoise and the Hare remains now. It's always been a fascination for me, because my family has these references, but I was born just outside of them. From them, they're sorta disregarded like ancient stories like say, "The Velveteen Rabbit" or something like that, while all I ever really heard about was this strange Disney film that seemed to promote slavery and has since been banned. Well, the movie doesn't promote slavery, in fact it actually takes place during Reconstruction, and in all honesty, nothing much happens. Little Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is struggling with his father's recent departure, and he's told some stories by Uncle Remus that are these animated fables that most of us,- well, most of us back then were familiar with.(Shrugs) I guess I can understand not telling about the tar-baby to kids these day, although ironically most of us would actually just think that that meant a baby was made of tar. Anyway, it's nice to have finally seen "Song of the South", to know exactly what we were missing, but it's still mostly a film that's of a historical note than it is a seminal essential viewing.


ALL OR NOTHING (2002) Director: Mike Leigh

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Going back through Mike Leigh's filmography, I've finally come around to "All or Nothing", and it's a powerful look, at, well, at this particularly lower-class group of families. That's, all, in a way. It's not something deeper or more meaningful than that, but the lives of quiet desperation in a South London housing project. It's hard to describe the movie much more than that and to just say, "Trust me guys, this is a very good film." but, I'll give it a shot here. While there's a few main families, I think the main focus is own the Bassett's Phil and Penny (Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville). Phil is a taxi driver while Penny works at a supermarket. Both of them deal with the public but Phil is the one who's probably more effected by the encounters, witnessing all aspects of life going on in his backseats. Phil and Penny have been together for 20 years, and have two kids, They're daughter Rachel (Allison Garland) cleans houses, with little prospects more than that. They're son Rory (James Corden) an overweight teenage luff that mostly lounges on the couch. During the days, Phil tries to gather money between paydays, often from his family. Penny is a little more active. She has her kareoke friends Maureen (Ruth Steen) a single mother to a teenage daughter Donna (Helen Coker) who's pregnant from an abusive boyfriend and Carol (Marion Bailey) whose daughter's in a relationship Samantha (Sally Hawkins) is a rebellious teenage flirt, who spends some of her day teasing another local kid who she knows is in love with him, but isn't really mature enough to deal with it. Most of the movie, is slice of life, very typical of Mike Leigh, who has this beautiful approach to filmmaking where he gets some regulars in his troupe together and spends months shooting improvisations based on his bare idea and then takes that footage to create the script. The movie turns when something major happens late that I won't describe here, but what's importance is learning and observing these characters before and after the incident. Just learning the characters and their lives at all, the way it observes them. It's quite a beautiful and emotional feature. One of my favorite sequences involves Phil's speech at the end, his explosion is after a long time of reflection and being and seeming aloof. It's emotional, powerful and exactly what this character would say and how he would express it. There's so many moments like that of simple observation of what we think are just simple people that are far more than that. "All or Nothing" is sorta the forgotten Mike Leigh film, it came in between "Topsy-Turvy" and "Vera Drake", two of his more revered and powerful recent films, even the Academy avoided this one, but it's hardly a bad film at all. It's just as amazing, well-acted and poetically beautiful as all his others.


MEET THE FOKKENS (2012) Directors: Gabrielle Provaas & Rob Schroder

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I'm probably being a little meaner on this film than most others, and I guess this really depends on how truly interesting you find the Fokkens to be. Oddly enough, I didn't find myself caring much. "Meet the Fokkens" introduces us to Martine and Louise Fokken, identical 69-year-old twins who have spent most of their lives as prostitutes. Legally, they're Dutch and live in Amsterdam. Martine still works as a prostitute but Louise has retired 'cause of illness, sighting that she can no longer put one foot over the other. I guess Martine enjoys it, she seems like it, as do the few clients we see her entertain but she also does it because she doesn't quite make enough on her pension alone to survive. They're relatively jovial and outlandish, somewhat garish in their appearance. They have led interesting lives, often sad lives and after awhile we hear some of their early, which wasn't that great or pretty. We're not quite sure how they ended up choosing prostitution as an escape, but- I don't know, after watching the movie, I think they're interesting gals but not much more. I just don't know if that's enough for a movie. If was a documentary short I probably would recommend it, but just a couple interesting prostitutes that'd be fun to hang out with at a bar to hear stories about their lives-, well, being in Vegas, I've done that a few times, but still, "Meet the Fokkens" just doesn't quite feel full as a documentary.


SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS (2012) Directors: Annie Howell & Lisa Robinson

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"Small, Beautifully Moving Parts", kinda has the randomness of a journey to a family that something like "Five Easy Pieces" had, but with a more pronounced subtext of modern technology instead of music. Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) is an expert in electronics. Able to fix any computer that gets peed on, or dissect any new-fangled gizmo and gadget, almost instantly. Her boyfriend Leon (Andre Holland) is more interested in the fact that she's pregnant, while she's fascinated by the mechanics of the pregnancy test. Her sister Emily (Sarah Rafferty) throws her a bachelorette party and it's full of friends and family, most of them mothers themselves, and her father Henry (Richard Hoag), but she wasn't brought up with her mother, who left the family years earlier and they have in fact barely talked. Usually she's at least known where she was but now she's gone "Off the grid", and now that she's pregnant and fairly incapable with human beings, so much so that she basically interviews them with a camera whenever she comes around, fascinated, she figures it's time now to go see, what if anything her mother can tell her. Other than a pit stop in Vegas to meet a friend for a bit, she then begins to goes deep into a desert, away from people, and more importantly away from working electronics and GPS. It reminded strangely of how the further out, Robert Dupea went from his life and back to his rich, cultured family, more and more music would be heard and present, the more into the world he became. Here, another different kind of otherside of the world comes as she finally reaches closer and closer to her mother, Marjorie (Mary Beth Pell). "Small, Beautifully Moving Parts" is a reference to the little parts of all machines that essentially make them run, and how when they don't whole things collapse. I might've made that last part up, but it's a beautifully little independent film, filled with good performance, beautiful direction from the team of Annie Howell & Lisa Robinson, you don't see too many female duo directing teams out there, and it's a great little tale about a girl who can fix anything, struggle with things that can't be fixed so simply. I enjoyed "Small, Beautifully Moving Parts", immensely.



Monday, March 16, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "ANNIE HALL"

ANNIE HALL (1977)

Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman



“I would never join a club that would want me as a member.”
                                                            ----Groucho Marx

At the beginning of movie, Alvy Singer tells us that joke saying that it describe his life in terms of relationships; by the end of "Annie Hall", Woody Allen's greatest achievement, we agree with him. Of course, Alvy Singer, like all Allen characters is basically a slight variation of Woody Allen himself. He's a divorced New York-based stand-up comic who used to work in television who might be a little eccentric. Every time I rewatch the film, I start to analyze my love life and begin to feel that, maybe I have the same problems as Alvy/Woody. I'm about as likely to break up with a perfectly fine individual over the 2nd Gun Theory of the Kennedy assassination as he is. I talk about Bergman and Fellini as though everybody knows automatically who they are, and get frustrated and contemptuous when people don't know what they're talking about. There's a great scene in a movie theater where a guy behind Allen is loudly talkingabout Fellini and when he switches to Marshall McLuhan, Allen has had enough and produces Marshall McLuhan from behind a wall to argue with the guy. "Don't you wish you could do this in real life?" (Yes, yes we do.)
           
Anyway, as Woody Allen did in that scene, I got distracted. He gets distracted in many of his films, and in Annie Hall, he can chase after runaway lobsters and hit on a cute lounge singer who dresses in a pant suit and tie to a tennis match right on cue. There could be a bug as big as a Buick in the bathroom, and he could talk about how etymology is a fast-growing field. Annie (Oscar-winner Diane Keaton, playing a role loosely based on her [Keaton's , the only person in the film who can keep up with him, knows this means that he doesn’t want to move in, and besides, she could always check the subtitles to see what he really means to say.
           
If I’m making this film seem like a disjointed analog of thoughts and moments, well it actually kind is. This was originally a murder mystery comedy, with the Annie Hall character and relationship being a subplot, but in the editing room, all that was thrown away and somehow they found a 95-minute romantic comedy that won the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as two Oscars for Allen, and his only one for Directing. (The film didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for Editing.) The murder mystery plot would be reworked by Allen years later and turn into "Manhattan Murder Mystery". It's actually easy to see that the movie is mostly this disjointed cobbling together of thoughts and ideas but it's so quick and funny most people simply overlook it. Maybe it's because a relationship when looking back, especially a failed one, is mostly an episodic quagmire of scenes, or maybe it's so good that, it doesn't matter that it looks feels and really kinda was just thrown together. It breaks the 4th wall, it has an animation sequence, Woody invades his own childhood flashback and kids are talking like adults in them, this was pure anarchy on screen, even as Mel Brooks was creating the best comedic films of the era, "Annie Hall" when you look at it, is pure abandonment. People are confused, for some reason now, why it beat out "Star Wars" for Best Picture, and earned Allen two of his four Oscars, including his only win for Directing, every romantic-comedy in film and television since, owes a debt to "Annie Hall".

On the other hand, despite all this, you'll notice that the movie is little action, and mostly just people talking. Taking about life, talking about sex, talking during sex… For Woody Allen, he can’t be happy unless he can talk about how depressing everything in life is, no matter how happy he is. He knows he can complain more when the happiness ends. To have your life undone is one thing, to consciously know you’re the undoing it, and know one has the ability to stop, but the unwillingness, is another. Maybe it is abandonment but it's also pure mental masturbation, and we get in our own way sometimes.  Oh well. La-de-da, la-de-da.

“Don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love.”
                                                                             ----Woody Allen

Friday, March 13, 2015

EMMYS SNEAK IN RULE CHANGES, and THEY'RE MOSTLY GOOD. Some thoughts on the newly-defined TELEVISION LANDSCAPE!



Some of you readers, who have been paying particular attention to this blog over the last couple will not that I have discussed, even before it was a point of commentaries and editorials of most entertainment news sources that the confusion and maneuvering of the Primetime Emmys and the practice of placing television shows in particular categories should be reformed. How often have I made this point?

Here's my article about what the definition of a miniseries is/should be:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-long-form-tv-shows-if-its-canceled.html

Here's my Mixed Bag Blog that included a section involving the Golden Globes decision to alter the Miniseries Category to "Limited Series":
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/08/mixed-bag-blog-9-james-corden-named.html

Here's my letter to the Television Academy where I insisted they make guidelines in order to stop TV shows from being able to randomly switch categories at will:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/03/dear-television-academy-tell-us-what.html

Here's my post...-, well, you kinda get the idea at this point; this has been a subject I've discussed in one way, shape or form for awhile. I do it, because, while I think it's difficult to say that the Emmys are the be-all and end-all of television prestige, they are in essence an authority in how we distinguish television shows and series. They are representative of the entire television landscape and a way that we define that landscape is based partly on the way the Academy defines that landscape. So it disturbed me when shows the Academy was really, more letting the shows define themselves instead of taking control and defining the landscape itself. So when, right in the middle of the Oscars was going on, and nobody was paying attention except me and a few people at Gold Derby when this happened, but the Emmys finally got their act together and did what I've been telling them to do. Have them be in charge of defining exactly what category a show should be put into, plus a few other category rules and awards were changes, as per usual with these shows. Plus they also expanded their round of voting, as well as an the amount of voters per round as well, that's something that might come more into effect later, but let's take a look at the award they made.

First off, the 30-Minute vs. One-Hour rule. Basically, they're drawing a line, in that, if a show is 30 minutes long, then it's in the Comedy Series categories, and if it's an hour long, than it's in the drama series categories. I know some have complained about this, as the length of show shouldn't be the determining factor between what the genre, but it's not technically. What they did, ironically, what I said they should do, create a panel that, if a show really wants/feels like they belong in a different category then the one their placed into because of their time-length, then they can appeal to this nine-person committee selected upon from industry leaders appointed by the Academy Chairman and the Board of Governors. If the show can convince a 2/3 vote to allow a show to switch categories, then the show can officially enter in the other genre.

For those wondering, only once has an hour-long show won the Best Comedy Series Emmy, and that was "Ally McBeal" back in '99, I believe, maybe 2000, so there's precedent for it to win, but it is rare and these dramedy shows that fit somewhere in between, they have a decision to make. And we haven't seen a show yet that we know of, has filed an appeal to the body, so we're keeping a close eye on this. That said, since there's a few shows with precedents like "Orange is the New Black" and "Shameless" that have been able to jump or choose a genre against their natural time fit before, they will likely, if they choose to appeal probably get grandfathered, I suspect anyway. That's the only part of this that's up in the air and who knows how controversial or not some of these choices, both by which shows choose to appeal and what the appeals would end up being we'll have to dissect, especially in the next few months, but I gotta be honest, this is such an improvement that I am not bothered at all. What we needed was what we got, a system put in place where the Academy has top control over it's award show, alright there's flaws in the 30-minutes, 60-hour divide concept, but it wrote in an out, it didn't make it too easy for shows to switch but it made it possible and it made a show have to prove it's case that it is something outside of either the simple comedy or drama that it's labeled; I'm greatly in favor of this. Who knows how it'll play out, but that's gonna make this Emmy season interesting. It's already intriguing and it's only March right now.

And let's get to the other controversy, the Drama Series vs. Miniseries ruling. Well, first of all, there's no Miniseries anymore, they've eliminated that and brought back the delineation, "Limited Series", which used to be what they were called, but strangely those traditional miniseries that we tend to think about with that delineation, they aren't around anymore and have been by these series that are these one-year-long anthologies. Now, besides that, the big key here is that they defined "Limited Series" more clearly. They define a "Limited Series" as: "programs of two or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes that tell a complete, non-recurring story, and do not have an ongoing storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons.So, basically, "True Blood", "American Horror Story", those shows are Limited Series now, "Luther" and "Downton Abbey" is in the Drama Series category now/permanently, no last season "The Big C" or "Treme" finally miniseries anymore, although producers may petition, just like for Drama and Comedy Series. This could also hopefully eliminate "The Starter Wife" or "Political Animals" scenarios where canceled series would then submit as miniseries, that's happened the last couple years as well, hypothetically anyway. Although, what happens when a show starts as a miniseries but then the next season becomes a regular series, like a "Downton Abbey" did? Eh, we'll see, but overall good rule. Stops shows from submitting where, they probably shouldn't, leaves it open for some wiggle room and interpretations.

There's an interesting new re-definition of Guest Actor/Actress awards, where, in order to be considered a Guest Actor, you must have appeared in less than half of the episodes of that season's shows. You see, usually a Guest Actor, was just that, a guest, somebody who shows up for maybe as little as one episode, maybe two or three and have an impact but wouldn't be heard from again. However, a few shows really started blurring the line a bit. For instance, last year a character who appeared in, most every episode of the season and was essentially a regular would be nominated for Guest Actor/Actress, in fact three of last year's winners in Guest Acting were in over half the shows' episodes they were in. It's hard to tell exactly when this practice started but I'd say "Dexter" was probably the show that started this. For a while there, each season would have a new guest actor/actress who would be in the show for the entire season, but that season only. They wouldn't be continuing on in the series as a regular, and their storylines would essentially be over, so, it's hard to call someone a regular on the series since they were only on that season, so those actors would submit in the Guest Actor/Actress categories instead. Of course, there are example of people on a show for one season and then being submitted as a regular though. Robert Downey Jr. on "Ally McBeal" or Joe Pantoliano for "The Sopranos" comes to mind for instance, and to make it even more confusing, Margo Martindale won a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for "Justified" despite only being in about half of that season; you could easily argue that she might've been better suited in the Guest Actress category, especially since her character was only in that one season. So, the rule has been change to an actor or actress requiring to be in less than half the episodes of that season's series in order to be eligible. If they are in more than half the episodes, then they are a regular, even if it is only for that season.

That's a minor shift of clarification purposes, other changes were fairly minimal. The Series categories are now guaranteed seven nominations, that's a new change, but because there's more shows out there than before. Still, up until now, these were all basically things that Emmy fans/voters/watchers were in some respects or another calling for. The last change, really kinda came out of nowhere, although in hindsight it does seem like somebody could've or should've foreseen it. The Variety Series category, well just by it's title, has often been a bit of a Variety of different kinds of programs in the past. There's never really been a need to clarify much further, even when some of the aspects that were common once upon a time in variety shows like musical and dance performances were taken up by reality and reality-competition series. Yet, there's been a huge variety lately of sketch comedy series that have taken up on the air, something that, was always apart of sketch and even talk shows, but now, there's enough distinction between them to separate Variety Sketch and Variety Tale. Variety Talk will be presented on the main show, Variety Sketch movies to the Creative Arts Emmys, (Sorry "SNL") This does sorta make sense though, there's been a slew of many sketch comedy series lately like "Key & Peele", "Inside Amy Schumer", "Little Britain", I'm sure that last one's off the air now, but there's definitely more options for sketch comics than ever before, more viable ones at that too. Plus, more than that, the Late Night Talk Show carousal, well, we'll talk about the latest goings-on with that on a future blog, I promise, but there's so much talk about the Golden Age of Dramas, but we're definitely in the Golden Age of Late Night Talk, and how it's continually transforming the television landscape. So, in a way this makes some sense. Except for the part where it's still called "Variety" though. Seriously, if this genre is still called "Variety", the catch-all word for whatever didn't fit into the other categories, then they should just be Talk and Sketch, shouldn't they?

Eh, they'll figure it out next year. The television landscape is continuous and constantly fluid; I said something like that in one of those other blogposts. The Emmys job is to stay on top of it as much as possible. If they're gonna take that mantle of being the most prestigious of the television awards, and be the organization of peers that vote on the best in their industry, then, they definitely need to be the ones proclaim and sorting out this mess of the Primetime television landscape, and you know what, they're doing it now. Maybe not perfectly, but compared to how they weren't doing it before now, this is a great improvement. Kudos to the Primetime Emmys, at least, kudos so far. Let's see how well these rules work to see the full impact, but still, so far, so good.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"PARKS AND RECREATION": THE ONE MILLIONTH CANDLE IN THE WIND BURNS OUT: ONE LAST WORD ABOUT THE MOST INSPIRING SHOW ON TELEVISION!



It wasn't intended to be the show that it became. Pulled out from writers from "The Office", and borrowing it's style, "Parks and Recreation" was a mid-season replacement for NBC that was supposed to be a satire on local government. Leslie's last name, Knope, was supposed to be a symbolic reference to the kinds of luck she would have being the sole caring government employee who was out to do good, in a department and with a crew of co-workers and friends, who expected the worst and did little more, often seeing Leslie's hope and gleeful naivete of the ways of the world and of an ungrateful public were gonna continually smash all her attempts and dreams at making Pawnee, Indiana, much less the world, a better place. Something happened though. Something I suspect happens more often than we like to think, or admit occurs, especially with people who work in government. To me, while it was gradual, it happened with an episode in the show's second season, one of the more lesser-recalled episodes oddly called "Christmas Scandal". Up until then, everybody was more or less amused by Leslie's undaunted determination, and by "everyone", I mean the other characters in the show, but in the episode, she ends up becoming part of a scandal that renders her unable to perform her duties that day, and while she has to fight off Councilman Dexhart's accusations. That's when everybody's perceptions, completely turned on Leslie, and in doing so, for the show, and in many ways the audience, when they realized exactly how much she actually did in just one day. (And  how far she was willing to go to make sure she'd get back to her job or serving the people, literally bearing her ass on television to prove the Councilman was lying.) It's the episode where suddenly, everybody would become apart of Team Knope, including us the audience. We weren't laughing at her floundering around to reach her inevitable failures, we were cheering for her to succeed, in the face of overwhelming odds; even Ron knew secretly that without her the government could not stand and that without her, despite his incredible disgust and admonishment of government, that ultimately, a few episodes later when Ben Wyatt threatens to fire Leslie as a part of the slashing of the city's budget, Ron insisted that she stay on, asking for himself to be fired. Not that he wouldn't have rather have been working for the Parks department, ideologically it makes sense for him not to work for the government, but strangely, he was doing it to make sure someone, Leslie, not only should run the department, but that she basically is the only thing that works at all.

It was that episode that I realize that "Parks and Recreation" was going to be something special. It didn't get all of it's kinks out 'til Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast in the 3rd season, and Paul Schneider's city planner Mark Brandanawicz character was written out, (Originally a former Knope love interest who became Rashida Jones's Ann love interest, her first believer as a government worker/fighter who actually did care and was willing to do whatever it took to serve the public.) No longer, was Amy Poehler a Michael Scott of the local government that we saw struggle and truly believe that she was making a difference when in reality she really wasn't, instead her idealism won people over, and like all the great pieces of government legislation, she led the fight to eventually did make real change in America. This was the episode show where would start to transition from those seemingly small issues of a "Parks and Recreation" department, like, a giant hole in the ground, to inevitably becoming a show where the characters big dreams would start to seem, attainable. That's what I found myself enjoying about the show more and more over the years, and I couldn't help to then compare it to another show that got me those stirring feelings about the role of government and the struggles between the idealism of the government workers and frustration of bureaucracy that struggles to keep them in the way. Yep, I'm sure some of you know where I'm going with this comparison, but I always did see "Parks and Recreation" as the comedic flipside of "The West Wing". It takes in a modern-day Mayberry but it is local government and all the little pitfalls and quandaries, they're the groundlings to the great theater that is the federal government, and most of them are relatively content with that, at least in the beginning. Hell, Leslie is content with that, she would love to spend her days and nights fighting city government officials trying to organize concerts and harvest festivals and state fairs and fixing park swings. That why when we see the last episode and see that she became so much more, we're more proud.

That said, why was "Parks and Recreation", so, ignored? It's been one of the funniest and smartest shows on TV for years, Amy Poehler was a breakout "SNL" star when she followed this Tina Fey path to NBC Thursday nights, especially since, it really did sorta hit both the cynical and idealists sides of government work pretty hard on-the-nose? I'm sure the lack of interest in this mockumentary style is apart of the problem (Although why "Modern Family"'s never seems effected by it, I'm not sure) It's strange that sitcom-wise, I could seriously argue that NBC, over the last decade when they've clearly been at the bottom of the rating they have far outshined any other major network and most cable networks by a mile for comedy, in terms of quality especially, It garnered the same audiences that loved "30 Rock", and "The Office" that they were looking for, except not as much. In fact, in many ways, I'm happy the show was allowed to end, frankly. It's got numerous half-seasons and was on the brink of cancellation numerous times, despite an ever-growing fanbase and creating some really iconic characters. I associate myself more with Leslie Knope but it Nick Offerman's character of Ron Swanson that was the most famous character. Yet, the show never had the best Neilsen Rating, and frankly the Awards bizarrely overlooked the show constantly as well. Amy Poehler has been nominated for an Emmy every year for Best Actress but never wins (And she's the only performer on the show that gets nominated, nothing for Offerman, Rob Lowe, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt even?)  and the show only got nominated once for Best Comedy Series, bizarrely.

This brings up another question, 'cause as great as the show was, 'cause it is somewhat difficult to determine "Parks and Recreation"'s place in television history. It's an original story using "The Office" technique, the first one in America, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's groundbreaking as it was inevitable and unlike "The Office" where the whole show was predicated on this conceit that the film was a documentary that was being taped, that kinda became inconsequential at some point. While I loved the last season, I think we can all kinda count on one hand how many shows did that jump x amount of years into the future thing successfully, and this show, almost pulled it off completely perfectly, it still feels a bit like a stretch. It did allow for the absurd and surreal to go hand-in-hand with the mundane realities of government bureaucracy. It gave a human element to it, to all the characters, we really cared about them and when the show finally got a real grasp of where they wanted to go, the characters completely fit right in and grew with the show. The show's lucky they had enough time to do that. Rod Schneider's character fell off when they figured out they didn't have anywhere to go with him. Louis C.K. had a long story arc that spread through much of season two that easily could've gone on longer, believably. This show actually had longer than most shows nowadays to really get it's rhythm together and get it's cast right and it's characters right, much more than most shows that constantly were under threat of cancellation. The show was always on and off the air sporadically, even this finale season, was limited to twelve episodes over two months, like NBC just wanted to get rid of it, like they really had anything else?

It's a shame a "Parks and Recreation" doesn't get the recognition as this comedic version of "The West Wing", most of the time, I hear "Veep" getting that, but "Veep" is just pure cynicism. "Parks and Recreation" turned cynicism into idealism. That's a tough thing to do, and they did it through a character that went from the butt of the joke and then turned her into the coach that everybody around. Leslie and the show were inspirational; I think a lot of people miss that in the translation. This is one of those shows that's works more strongly when you consider the show in it's entirety, which is somewhat tricky 'cause it isn't that clear in the beginning couple seasons where it ends up going from the beginning. That's the thing, the show itself changed from cynical to idealistic. I don't think it was planned to do that, it just sorta happened that way, but while in many ways it's a strength, it does make it somewhat more difficult to follow if you just catch a random episode, something that wasn't as problematic with "30 Rock" or "The Office" the other two shows it will forever be paired with, and I do think those shows will hold up better. It's a shame though, 'cause it really should be placed on a higher pedestal than that. It was more than just "That other show" that NBC had with the critical acclaim and cult following that not enough people watched at the time.

Hell, I considered "Parks and Recreation" was arguably the best show on television for awhile there, when it wasn't on hiatus. It took chances, it created amazing characters; it led to some really special television moments. It was the little show with the ambition to be so much more, just like Leslie Knope, and just like Leslie, it continued to succeed even when it seemed more and more unlikely that it would. On top of being smart and funny,  She wasn't inspiring in a hit-you-over-the-head "Full House" way either. A strong female character who easily could've been Tracy Flick-annoying, and here she is, making you care, and make you cheer for her to make the world a better place, and frankly, we not only believe that she can, we're hoping she does and sometimes we feel like we're helping her do it. I know I embraced it; I know Washington really embraced it, both sides of the aisle..., I hope others will in the future.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #104: "CALVARY", "LOVE IS STRANGE", "LUCY", "THE INTERVIEW", "FURY", "THE TRIP TO ITALY", "MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN", "ON MY WAY", "ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER", "THE DEN", "THE FIFTH ESTATE", "ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES", "GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY" and MORE!

Sorry for the long delay folks. It's been a long Oscar hangover, and also lately, I've just been sick. Cold, eye infection, earache, I've just been icky and gross lately. That eye infection in particular, it's sorta clearing up, my eyes are still red actually, but it isn't as sensitive as it was earlier. I actually spent a good deal of last week, wearing sunglasses, everywhere, indoors, outdoors, day and night, it was really just too sensitive and that sucks for a movie critic by the way. Trying to watch a movie through sunglasses, yet trying to see how good or bad the lighting is, that fucking sucked! And I'll be honest, this week's batch of reviews for the most part have been very uh, uninspiring to write about. Yeah, sorry about that, but even the goof films mostly this week have left me cold, and that's just the day-to-day of a film viewer/critic. We see a lot and even when you're someone like me, believe it or not, I go out of my way to mostly only watch well-reviewed, essential or quality films, supposedly ones anyway, you run through a lot of duds. Well, not necessarily duds, but uninspiring, average films, which in some ways are worst than even horrible films, at least I can get the inspiration in order to beat the living shit out of them in print, here, a ton of eh-to-pretty goods really don't hold up completely. So, hopefully, I picked up enough through these reviews this week, but I'll tell ya, it's weeks like these that make you worry and think about getting out.

Anyway, it's been a crazy entertainment week. Leonard Nimoy's passing hit a lot of people, Oscar hangover is still being argued and discussed and very quietly the Emmys changed all their rules, and we're gonna spend some time going over that by the way later, 'cause those rule changing caught quite a few of us offguard (Not to mention my TV VIEWING 101 Class, right as I was about to write a post about how Sketch Variety Shows and Variety Talk Shows would come together, only to now suddenly be separated! [In my best Gilbert Gottfried] SON OF A BITCH!]) Anyway, we'll get to those.

I hope you guys are paying attention to the Muriel Awards, they've been going on the last couple weeks btw. Those are often way more interesting than the Oscars, you should look them up. Anyway, let's get to it, on to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


CALVARY (2014) Director: John Michael McDonaugh

✰✰✰✰



John Michael McDonaugh's second feature "Calvary" begins with a startling confession scene. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is informed by one of his parishioners that he will be killed in a week. The parishoner, who we don't see but Father James suspects, was raped by a priest, regular from the age of 7 until he was 13. Father James was not that priest, in fact he's relatively new to the institution. He was actually married before, and has a grown daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly). The rest of the movie, is essentially a look into the last week of Father James life, an episodic journey through the coastal Irish town that seems to be full of eccentric mysterious characters, almost like a subdued version of a Coen Brothers more than it does the work of one of the McDonaugh brothers. Events start happening around Father James. Someone slits his dog's throat, his church is set afire, not that those two things are even related to the death threat; they actually almost seem like a regular days work for a priest in this film. It's a hopeless town, not necessarily godless, but one that continually and constantly finds less and less comfort in the prospects of such a being. There's a battered wife he comforts, Veronica (Orla O'Rourke) who's married to the town's high-strung butcher, Chris O'Dowd, but is also sleeping with the Ivory Coast-born mechanic, Simon (Isaach de Bankole), so either one of them could've beaten her up, but nobody will say which. He sees a man on death row, Freddie (Domhall Gleeson, Brendan's son) and there's numerous episodic sequences that occur. Too many to go over as the priest tends to his flock, whether they want to tend to by him or not. "Calvary" is a reflective piece, it's full of that dry wit and sarcasm that the McDonaugh are famous for, but what's really special about "Calvary" is Gleeson's performance. He's was the star of John Michael McDonaugh's last film "The Guard" which he was great in, and he was amazing in Michael McDonaugh's "In Bruges" and he really is this perfect actor for this material. I mean, this is great acting work from him, and he's constantly under-appreciated as an actor, but here, he perfectly underplays and he perfectly loses it when he finally has to, and it's not that he's just a overly religious priest who doesn't see or know the reasoning or the logic and history, he's thoughtful and observant, the sins of others do weigh on him, there's this angelic humanist side to him, where he has lived enough to know and observe, but is just not capable of completely of truly doing anything to help no matter how much he tries or wants to. Like a priest does, he sits in and listens to the sins of others, and that's all and he's got all this years of knowledge, but trying to do more in this environment, it's a-a, Sisyphus-like struggle, and at this point, he's not even reactive when the boulder comes down the hill anymore. The performance outshines the movie itself; the films tends to drag a little too much for me, too many episodes, too many characters, but still, "Calvary" is a very good dark comedy about the sins of the church and how that leads to the sins of man and vice-versa, and how innocent priests can get caught in the middle.


LOVE IS STRANGE (2014) Director: Ira Sachs

✰✰✰✰1/2




It's hard to think about Ira Sachs's latest film, "Love is Strange" without thinking about the film that is clearly it's inspiration. When Director Leo McCarey won an Oscar for directing "Going My Way", he thanked the Academy, but said that he thought they gave him the Oscar for the wrong movie. The other film he was referring to is "Make Way for Tomorrow", one of the most saddest and most touching films you'll ever see. I'll probably add it to my Canon of Film list at some point, and it's about how an old couple who's unable to take care of themselves anymore has to be separated as they move in with their respected families, neither of which are really able to adequately have them suddenly inserted into their lives. "Love is Strange" is essentially a modern day version of that film, but that doesn't make it any less emotional or tragic. The movie begins with the wedding of Ben and George (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina); they've been together for 39 years, and finally they have a nice quiet little ceremony. Unfortunately, George, a music professor at a Catholic high school, loses his job because of his marriage. Ben is a painter by trade, but that doesn't pay the bills, so they have to sell their apartment as George looks for more sustainable work, and then, find an apartment that's good enough for them to afford. In the meantime, Ben moves in with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and his family. His wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), who's a novelist working on her next book. Ben is sharing a bunkbed with their teenage son Joey (Charles Tahan), and tries to both stay out of everyone's way, but find something for himself to do. He takes up painting again, finding space on the roof and Joey's friend Vlad (Eric Tabach) is willing to pose for him, but that causes some disruptions in the order of the house. George has it somewhat easier, crashing on the couch of two young friends of his Ted & Roberto (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) who are both cops, but are prone to have numerous guests come over as well as throw occasional parties. It's not that neither household doesn't want their new houseguests but it is one extra person they now have to work around. The rest of the families try to figure out some other scenario for them, but that idea can only logically go so far. I won't give away the complete series of episodic events, because it's not about the plotpoints themselves, it's about the two characters, who've spent their lives together, now having to spent their lives separately for a little while. Both in a situation that's uncomfortable for them and everyone else involved and neither one of them wants to be in and in reality, neither of them should be in the situation anyway. After they separate, there's two moments when we get to see them together again, one is when George, frustrated with another gathering at his friends' apartment, just goes to spend the night with Ben and they share a bunkbed together because they want to be able to just fall asleep in each others' arms again. The other comes when they go together to a concert and a drink at the bar. They're amazingly touching scenes. Ira Sachs has been quietly making some of the best and most observant independent films around the last few years. His last film "Keep the Lights On", showed a young sexually-charged relationship between two young men in the city. His film before that, a stylized satire called "Married Life" that took an ax to some of the 1950s convention of marriage. Both of those were great films, but I don't think they necessarily had the universality to stick with the audience. Sure, he's borrowing a well-used story, but you know, it just shows that the story's still relevant now and it still has impact, and it's still- it's not just realistic, this is probably the reality for certain people today, and that's the saddest part of this film. This sad, beautiful movie about love.


LUCY (2014) Director: Luc Besson

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I guess I shouldn't be asking for too much intelligent analysis of-, well, actual intelligence, from one of the leading directors of the Cinema du Look movement, but it bothers me when this tired old plot device- well, it's not even a tired plot device, it's just done poorly and without imagination and even without really understanding what can come about and what intelligence actually entails and these usually just use of myth of how we don't use most of our brain but give a character the ability to use all of their brain and they end up in an otherwise boring action thriller. I guess if they're gonna just go that route than "Lucy" is the best version of this so far, by a mile. For those who don't know their anthropology history, Lucy is the name of the infamous fossils founded in Ethiopia back in 1974 by French geologist Maurice Taleb, which was often considered a missing link in evolutionary studies as it confirmed it as an,- oh boy, spellcheck's gonna go crazy this one, an Australopithecus Afarensis, which has most of the characteristics of a chimpanzee, but the skeleton had a valgus knee, which means that the knee was bent in a way that can only be produced if the chimpanzee regularly walked around upright like a homo sapien does. It was also named about The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and is the most famous skeleton in the world despite the fact that it's importance in modern evolutionary theories, it still comes up in pop culture, and Lucy is an even a character in "Lucy". However the main film is based around another Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, in a movie-saving performance), who originally is some kind of- I don't know, she seems like a good girl who always ends up with the wrong guy, only this American is in Taipei for some reason, and her ex-boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbaek) handcuffs a briefcase to her and she goes into a bank to deliver the case to Korean bankers who kill most everybody, including Richard and then knock her unconscious so that they can surgical implant a drug into her to be a mole. The drug, begins leaking into her however and into her bloodstream, and suddenly she begins to become much more aware and able to acquire knowledge far more quickly. This is because the drug is a synthetic CPH4 which is what developed in pregnant women to essentially help a child be formed into the bones and flesh that we think of as a human. (That's very simplistic and not completely accurate, but I'll go with it)  Alright, I'll but that possibility, but it's rapidly going through her blood stream and when she gets to using 100% of her mind which is when she would probably die or go to whatever the next being of existence in. In the meantime, she's telekenetic, telepathic, apparently able to prescribe medication to her mindless roommate Caroline (Analeigh Tipton, in, basically a cameo) and able to destroy Korean mobsters in a single bound, but not smart enough to kill the main one, Mr. Jang (Mik-sik Choi) when she has him the first time, so he keep coming after her, while trying she tries to find the rest of the mules and their CPH4, with the help of an French officer, Pierre (Amr Waked) and reach the University where the world's expert brain knowledge use theorist, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is awaiting to study her, and following her exploits on the news at the same time. I won't give away the ending, but if you remember the episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "The Nth Degree" and what happens to Barclay when he accidentally becomes a supergenius, then you'll know what happens here essentially. (Oh, RIP Leonard Nimoy. Just happened and now that I'm mentioning "Star Trek"....) That said, "Lucy" didn't get on my nerves as much as I kinda wish it did. I'd like to bash it, but it was quick, just under 90 minutes, it was plausible enough if you don't think about it, and the movie really doesn't let you, and Scarlett Johansson gives an unbelievable performance. If this was a better movie, you could see this performance being brought up in Best Actress Oscar discussions. She had an amazing year btw with this and "Under the Skin", two great performances and ironically they're kinda the opposite sides of the same role essentially, somebody who is seeing this world and planet in a way that wasn't possible before and is using all of her abilities to understand and learn about the world around her as much as she can as quickly as she can before this time on Earth expires. I've always thought she was a great actress but the last couple films, she's shown just how talented and how much range she has. For her performance alone, "Lucy" is worth a recommendation, somebody else in this role the film really would not work at all.


THE INTERVIEW  (2014) Director: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

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Well, I know it won't be if, but when Amy Pascal lands on her feet, she at least thinks back on "The Interview" and realize that, it's not that the threats from North Korea and the hacking and the horrible easiness the hackers had at dismantling Sony Pictures Studio, but that it the sentiment was worth fighting for. There's no reason what-so-ever why we can't or shouldn't make fun of Kim Jun-Un (Randall Park) nor is there reason not to demonize him or even for that matter, simulate his death in fiction. I wish it would've occurred in a better movie than "The Interview", but it's always easier to take a shot at them after they're out of office or dead, or already well-ridiculed and demonized, it's a lot more difficult to demolish or destroy somebody in power, even one who's very much, an enemy of the country, but it should be done. Chaplin went after Hitler before anybody went after Hitler, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg should easily be able to go after Kim-Jong Un. Rogen, who co-directed and helped come up with the story, plays Aaron Rapaport, a journalistic producer of an entertainment interview show hosted by Dave Skylark (James Franco), who's of questionable intellect and seems to have the emotional and intellectual range of a twelve-year-old. He wants some more hard-hitting interviews than Rob Lowe coming out with his baldness, or Eminem coming out, period. Luckily for him, Kim Jung-Un is a fan of Dave Skylark and decides to grant him an interview and fly them into North Korea for the historic moment. The CIA, represented by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) decides to take advantage of the opportunity convince Aaron and Dave into killing Kim on the trip. A couple things happen, first Dave really connects with Kim, as they have a lot in common, like they're lack of appreciation from their fathers, and a love of Katy Perry. Meanwhile, Aaron falls in love with Kim's right-hand girl Sook (Diana Bang). Honestly, the problem is that it's not really that funny. Yes, it's well-known that Kim is somewhat known for his fascination with American entertainment, but I don't know if you can make a whole movie on that. The problem is that, Rogen and Franco are outsiders coming in, and even Chaplin knew that the best way to tell of the horrors of Hitler, wasn't to just show him, but to tell the story from within the country. I saw a documentary a while back called "Crossing the Line" about an American who actually defected to North Korea, and while, I think life for him is probably better than most, there's definitely stories to tell about some of the people who live under Kim Jung-Un's reign. I think this would've been a better approach to the material. As it is, it's a nice fantasy, but it isn't really a full feature. It doesn't satirize entertainment news enough, real news enough, North Korea with enough believable context (I'm sure there's an actual grocery store in North Korea, somewhere; I don't know whether they have grapefruit, but I'm positive they have a grocer somewhere) it's strangely too much and not far enough. And not really that funny either. I honestly don't remember laughing once at "The Interview". It'll be an interesting Hollywood footnote in the history books, but I don't think anybody's really gonna seek this film out in the future.


FURY (2014) Director: David Ayer

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For those interested in a really great movie called "Fury", they should look up Fritz Lang's 1936 film about a lynch mob and Spencer Tracy as a survivor of a lynch mob after being wrongly accused of murder. That film has nothing to do with David Ayer's WWII feature, "Fury" about a 5-man tank crew deep inside Germany as the war begins is heading towards a inevitable close but the fighting, death, brutality and the fog of war continues. The tank is led by Don Collier (Brad Pitt) a no-nonsense army veteran who's now encapsulated by war. There's other archetypes in the tank with him, a Bible scholar, named Bible (Shia Laboeouf) there's the Southern sociopathic mechanic they lovingly call "Coon-Ass", (Jon Bernthal) and a Mexican soldier Gordo (Michael Pena). They need to replace their latest gunner who got killed and somehow end up with Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who's only been in the Army for a couple months, and is a typist. If you're playing a game of archetypes from "Saving Private Ryan", this kid is clearly the 'fraid kid who unable to run around giving ammo to everybody else in the final fight sequence. Not a good guy to clean up the blood and guts or for firing the canon at the dead soldiers as everybody else understands that they can still jump up and kill you. "Fury" takes it's time and a very long time indeed at telling it's story. There's a lot of setup, including a stop  to eat at a German family's house and the passing of burning cities and hanging deserters and all the other signs of civilization that seemed lost the farther into Germany one got and the closer they headed towards ultimate victory. The title comes from the name of the tank, or at least which is written on the canon in white paint. The tank, during the last 45 minutes of the movies becomes a battleground itself as it breaks down just as an SS battalion is headed right towards them and ready to fight. Instead of giving themselves up, they hang back and begin plans to fight back, with no other logical choice other than to hang back and use the tank as a Trojan Horse, since, it couldn't do much else. The beginning of the movie tells us how German tanks outgunned and outmanned American tanks, I guess that was used a way to explain what the tanks general position in a battlefield is, but I found it more unnecessary in hindsight. "Fury" is well-crafted movie enough to recommend, but I struggle thinking it's a special one. David Ayer's wrote and directed "End of Watch" his previous film, which I actually think had a similar plotline oddly, the story of two cops who as partners become friends as well as comrades at arms who at this would inevitably lead them to their demise, but we got to really learn and appreciate and felt close to Gyllenhaal and Pena's characters in "End of Watch", they weren't cliches they were each distinctive people and characters. He doesn't have that kind of time in "Fury" and he's trying to shove that arch into the last few moments of the war, so there isn't that much at stake at the end, for us anyway. "Fury" is well-done technically, story wise it falters; I think that means it's worth a watch but it loses the impact as it goes on this downward trajectory storywise, but it's enough to recommend.


THE TRIP TO ITALY (2014) Director: Michael Winterbottom

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The latest sequel which talks about how sequels are never as good as the original, is Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip to Italy", it's the sequel to "The Trip", another one of those self-referential Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon collaborations, and unlike some of those sequels, this film's actually better than the original. I wasn't as high on "The Trip" as some others were, which focused on Coogan and Brydon, and their misadventures through the English countryside as they went from town-to-town and restaurant-to-restaurant, writing about their experiences for a Food & Wine-type magazine, despite neither of them being particular foodies. The first film was cut down from a TV series they made, "The Trip to Italy" feels a little more like a stand alone movie. Brydon is now the one inviting Coogan out on the pilgrimage and like the title says, they're touring Italy one town and restaurant at a time. A car with Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" album, which Brydon's new wife keeps in their car, as they go by boat and car throw Italy, and making Michael Caine impersonations along the way. Michael Caine, Al Pacino, numerous other impressions, and occasionally there's women involved as well. The dichotomy between the two characters is slightly different as their careers are in a way, switching at this moment. Brydon's get an audition and eventually a part in a Michael Mann film while Coogan's doing another TV show and while he is still a name isn't fully progressing his career. (A bit of fiction here, Coogan got an Oscar nomination just last year) Also Yolanda (Marta Barrio) at one point arrives again, back as the photographer for the magazine that Coogan slept with on the last trip, and his life has changed since that last encounter.Oddly, the small stories side-stories of the characters lives and plots are really only minimally interesting, especially compared to Brydon and Cooper exchanging Marlon Brando impersonations in Rome between courses. I think that's the secret to these "The Trip..." movies, is that, the events themselves are fairly little importance or even consequence, 'cause what they're really about are the exchanges and conversations between too good actor friends. Just hanging out, talking, debating, going after each other, outdoing each other, entertaining themselves with their conversations as much as they are whatever audience of local young women happen to be around. The location and the geography hardly matter, it's just something nice to look at and a new place for them to experience. Something else for them to go off on and that's enough. "The Trip to Italy" on that level is just fun and entertaining. I don't think it's much more but that's all it needs, and through in some good food and wine, occasional women, all background, even the places they go, like a petrified museum of Pompeii remains, just another audience to play to, even if they've been dead for a while. "The Trip to Italy" is a good movie, I just wish I was going on the trip instead of Coogan and Brydon, but that's more jealousy than a critique.


MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN (2014) Director: Rob Minkoff

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I was looking for to "Mr. Peabody & Sherman, especially being such a huge fan of them. I grew up on "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" which doesn't get enough credit as one of the greatest of all cartoon series in television history, and being such a history buff, I particularly enjoy Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) as he taught his son Sherman (Max Charles) into the Waybac machine in time, so that he can teach him history first hand. Of course, there was still a very sharp sartorial wit to Mr. Peabody & Sherman, that made them and all the Jay Ward series and these Ted Key characters. That wit, has somewhat been discarded, and instead, we get a story, albeit, an occasionally funny one that's mostly about the logistics of whether or not a dog can raise a young son. On his first day of school, Sherman gets in trouble after being antagonized by Penny (Ariel Winter, Burrell's castmate in "Modern Family") and this leads to Sherman biting Penny, and since Mr. Peabody is a dog, a social worker Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney) is determined to put Mr. Peabody under a microscope. One of the movies best emotional sequences shows Mr. Peabody go from orphaned unwanted dog genius to eventually adopting Sherman through a montage with the Grizfolk song "Way Back When". It's a great emotional sequence, but emotion was rarely a word I ever think about when thinking about "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", but I was willing to make the jump. Okay, so this is a father and son story, and frankly at the core of the desire of a father to teach a son is indeed love. But, then they take the easy way out. At a dinner party with Penny's parents, Paul and Patty (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann), in order to charm and convince them to drop the charges, Penny talks Sherman into showing her the Waybac machine, and now we're into a fairly typical time traveling rescue storyline and that's unfortunate. I know, I should've expected that, where Mr. Peabody & Sherman would have to rescue Patty and then themselves all through time, without of course, breaking any major time traveling portholes or any other theories so expertly placed in our mind from better time traveling films. It's fun to go see Da Vinci (Stanley Tucci) and King Tut (Zach Callison) and Mel Brooks as Sigmund Freud is, frankly a good idea for a comedy album, but while everything is done well, and I like the movie, it's just so underwhelming. I expected more, something sharper. Maybe that was expecting too much; I'm sure there's was probably plenty of discussion about whether or not young kids would even know who Mr. Peabody & Sherman, but you know, why do you have to make it for kids, just because it's animated? That's the problem when you often take a cartoon or a comic that in three or four panels is much more sartorial and more a sly commentary then a kid's cartoon, and they try expand it to something else, but sometimes you lose the essence. Plus, you're combining two different things anyway and neither audience would know the reason the other likes it to begin with anyway. I'm tempted to recommend it, but I would just seek out old "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle" episodes. Nothing against the film, but I kinda want to jump into a Waybac Machine and talk the filmmakers into doing the film a little differently.


ON MY WAY (2014) Director: Emmanuelle Bercot

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I've often talked about how the toughest films to write a review are the movies that are neither good nor bad. The movies in-between, that are instantly forgettable. The really bad films, and the really great movies, I don't have to think about, I just write them. Other films, I'm struggling just to barely remember anything about them, literally an hour later. Emmanuelle Bercot's "On My Way" is one of those films. Bercot is a French actress who's work I've admired, but she hasn't directed too many features; this third attempt, "On My Way", has a lot of ideas, but none of them are really fully developed. Catherine Deneuve plays Betty, a grandmother who owns a restaurant along the beach who has two events on the horizon. One is the marriage of her former lover is ending, and the other is a reunion of former beauty pageant contestants, which once upon a time she was, and this trip down memory lane becomes a real road trip and this leads into more episodic interludes, like Betty having a one-night stand at a bar, Betty reconnecting with her family, stuck travelling with her grandson for awhile,... it's got so many different things, that are in some way supposed to have this connecting feeling, but they're just ways too disparate. And, you don't just get a bad movie when that happens, what you get is a disinterested audience. That's sounds counter to the logic but what happens is that we're waiting for this road to go somewhere and then this road comes, and then this road comes in instead and then another road comes in, pretty soon you're forgetting everything and when everything's important than nothing's important and nothing's important when you're important when you're watching the movie, (SNORING SOUNDS). That's what happens, a bunch of little done okay, doesn't make an overall good movie, and "On My Way" is a bunch of little things done okay but it's aimless and directionless. Even with Catherine Deneuve, she's only as good as the film she's in, and this film is hardly one that we're gonna remember on her filmography anytime soon.


ANITA: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER  (2014) Director: Frieda Lee Mock

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I was pretty young when Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court Senate Confirmation Hearings were going on, but I remember that my mother was glued to the television. Those hearing we'ren't just on C-SPAN or PBS or even CNN, they were must see TV for a while. Although honestly, the most I really remember about the whole affair, was on that town hall Governor Bill Clinton did on MTV; the one with the most famous being if he inhaled, another question was, "Who did you believe, Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill?". He said Anita Hill.. "Anita: Speaking Truth to Power", a documentary title after her book, gives us just the barest of insight into this law Oklahoma Law Professor who was brought to testify in front of the Senate, because she felt obligated to inform the committees and justices about the way Clarence Thomas acted and treated her and the workplace environment in which she claimed he was sexually harassment while he was her boss at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I know, it sounds funny to even think that Justice Thomas ever worked as either of those places, but wasn't just a lawyer for Monsanto that the first President Bush picked out because he needed an African-American to replace Justice Marshall. When the report Anita filled out and sent to the commission leaked out, (And she was not the only one btw) she didn't want to be there and she was fairly berated by some of the more conservative members of the committee, force to repeat time and time again about Thomas's obsession with porn and the pubic hair on the diet coke, and all these other notorious things we found out through her stepping up. This was long before anybody really ever talked about sexual harassment at the workplace and when Senator Arlen Specter accused her of treacherous motives, she calmly responded by saying that she was asked to come there and did not look for the publicity. She didn't want to have to take a polygraph, which she passed. She didn't want to collect all the years of hate mail and death threats that we see she's collected over the years. She now teaches at Brandeis, having basically been harbored unable to work in Oklahoma without being a nuisance to the University. Recently she got a phone call from Thomas's wife, where she asked about why she lied. We hear that phone message in the beginning of the movie; she originally thought it was a prank and informed campus security and the FBI. It's startling to hear her and I can't help but think about how Bill Cosby's wife is still in denial after all the allegations have come his way and how she truly trusts that he's innocent and that they're all lying. I can't help but think that there's this sense of brainwashing involved, manipulation from predators like Cosby or Thomas when I hear things like that. That nothing they do can or ever would be anything but honorable and all those who say otherwise be damned. That great line in "American Beauty", never underestimate the power of denial, eh? I enjoyed seeing "Anita..." and it's appropriate that it's quite a short documentary on a very brave and powerful woman who frankly there isn't much too, other then the fact that she worked with someone who sexually harassed and then told the world. IMDB.com says 95 minutes, I think it's closer to 80 minutes, but that's enough to tell her story and I imagine more than she even feels their should be.


THE DEN (2014) Director: Zachary Donahue

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I'm not gonna say too much about this horror film and the direction it inevitably goes towards other than to say that it's very disturbing. I actually have heard about things like that, and I consider it, really disgusting, sick, the bottom-of-the-barrel, some of the things that-eh, ugh. Frankly, I don't have too many lines in particular of things that coarse me, but people who seek out the things that, without giving anything away, what "The Den" ends up being about, um, (Honestly, the people who seek it out disturbs me even more than the people who produce it to be frank) to me, we're approaching the lowest of the lows, and it sickened me to find that this was where we were going. That said, in that sense, the movie is effective, so I'm gonna recommend it even though, essentially this is another traditional horror movie, the kind where people have to be smart in some scenes and stupid in others, only this one takes place, from the images on a webcam. Melanie Papalia (Elizabeth Benton) gets hired to stay online, and talk with people and write and record her findings while strolling on webcam. Talking with her friends, finding new friends, seeing random penises or random stage murders and suicides by kids pulling pranks and way too much time at the art and makeup department at their film school's special effects room. (I've never been big on this,- this combination of real violence with the more over-the-top horror genre violence, as though to distinguish between the goofy and reality, but it does works effectively here.) Online, she believes she's witnessed a gruesome murder, and she has, but nobody believes her, and worst yet, the killer seems to be approaching and targeting her, and everybody around her. Naturally, everybody makes certain stupid decisions at certain precise moments that will lead to most or all of their deaths. I guess that's the as-expected department, but where it ends up going was indeed frightening on many levels, and it does effectively pay off at the end. "The Den" uses it gimmick, okay, it could've been better, and I would've liked to have seen it done without so much arching to the trepidations of the horror genre. I get tired of dumb people, you know. Smart people in a situation is a challenge, making them dumb and always making the worst decisions, it's such an easy cop out. But, other that that, here's something that's both innovative and horrifying, and surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I was surprised, not how I'd want to be, but that can good as well. There's a lot of movies this week that didn't effect at all, this one effected me and that's the ballgame.


THE FIFTH ESTATE (2013) Director: Bill Condon

✰✰1/2



Let me talk for a minute about, what it was like watching "The Fifth Estate". First of all, I would watch a little, then fall asleep. Wake up, have to go back, find my spot, pause the DVD, go do something else, come back later, watch a bit more, go back to doing what I was doing earlier, try to watch it again, fall asleep, again, ugh. This was a chore to get through, and it isn't even that it's particularly bad, it's just,- ugh. There's just something off about the movie. It's underwhelming. There's a few intriguing stylized images and stuff, but this creation myth is certainly not "The Social Network". Not that I'm comparing the two, but that's the obvious parallel. Last I checked, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is still is still in, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and he's currently challenging to the Swedish Supreme Court the sexual assault claims against him. To those who remember my review of "We Steal Secrets...", the Alex Gibney documentary on Assange, you'll know that I'm not a particular fan of Assange. I think I said, "It was never a problem with the message, just the messenger," when referring to WikiLeaks, and I still stand by that. Transparency, especially with governments and businesses should be expected to provide, but that said, let's face it, nothing gets done on C-SPAN, it just doesn't. I mean, just to take something out of the recent headlines, there's a reason why Obama didn't come out being completely pro-gay marriage until he was elected, sometimes some things need to be not told or hidden or only alluded to, until later instead of right away, and when he printed those Bradley Manning documents, he puts lives at risk. The movie shows the deaths of two Kenyan anti-government protesters who were killed by the government after WikiLeaks published reports of government corruption. The movie is mostly shown from the perspective of Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl), who was Assange's right-hand man originally, back when the hundreds of volunteers just turned out to be email addresses and names that were all Julian Assange, until he got big enough to actually get volunteers. The real problem with Assange was that, he was really interested in transparency at all costs, and didn't care about anything else, including what Daniel thought WikiLeaks was about, which was protecting whistleblowers so that they can indeed, blow the whistle on companies and governments. There's a difference between blowing a whistle and revealing a bunch of classified information though. Anyway, the mystery of Assange, born into a cult, world famous hacker, and apparent egotistical maniac,- honestly, we don't get nearly enough other than, sorta this aloof performance of a mysterious character from Cumberbatch- I gotta admit, I do have to eventually go watch "Sherlock", but I don't see what a lot of people apparently see in him, yet, as an actor. I don't know if he has enough to do here either. The interesting thing of course, is to get inside him and his motives and reasoning for his actions,- this story needs to be from his perspective, however deluded or rational it may be. He's the interesting character, and seeing that, we get a sense, and we know he's a liar and has properties that make other want to follow him into battle. And, just seeing a scene of him, dying his hair white, it isn't enough.


ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (2013) Director: Adam McKay

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first "Anchorman..." film, which successfully satirized local news while simultaneously looking back fondly at this past era where the news anchor was a legitimate celerbrity persona and a powerful force in media, even if it was just the local media. I wasn't particularly looking forward to a sequel and it's definitely nowhere near as good, but I enjoyed enough of it. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is now married to Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and was working in New York until he got fired and she got promoted. Now they're separated, she got their kid Walter (Judah Nelson) and he's suicidal and back in San Diego, when he gets a call from Freddy Shapp (Dylan Baker) to wrangle up together the old news team for a new 24 hour news network. He gets into trouble first by his big rival, Jack Lime (James Marsdan) as Burgundy's originally relegated to the graveyard 2:00am shift, but after him and his friends start manipulating the news to bring entertainment like, human interest stories about AMERICA!, with all caps and instead of discussing the major important headlines, bring live coverage of unimportant events like high-speed chases and whatnot. Basically, the joke is that Burgundy's legend continued when he insisted on accidentally inventing the infotainment news as his ratings would continue to grow and shoot up. This is much to the chagrin of his competition including his ex-wife and including his producer Linda Jackson (Meghan Goode) but then, for reasons that are not worth explaining, he becomes blind and reconnects with his family through him and his son's mutual love for a shark. You know I like Ron Burgundy character in general so I essentially like the movie, but I don't know if we needed to go with the cable news satire direction with it; it a nice revision of modern history, but I think we're still waiting for the modern-day "Broadcast News" to really take a shot at this. (Or just go back and watch "The Newsroom" I guess; that really was the best by a mile this decade.) Still, I guess I'm recommending it if you liked the first "Anchorman...", that's not a ringing endorsement but there was just enough funny sequences including a star-studded battle royal of all the major news sections and industries at the end that escalated pretty quickly that I rather enjoyed.


GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY (2013) Director: Daniel Algrant

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Some of you who may know my personal musical tastes, might be surprised that, for some reason, I seemed to completely miss Jeff Buckley when he was in his musical zenith. Honestly, I didn't start hearing about him until after his passing and his critically-acclaimed album, "Grace", the only album he completed in his lifetime, started showing up on numerous greatest album lists. I'm listening to it now on Youtube as I write this review, and while I've heard a few songs of his over the years sporadically, there's something ghostly about his music. It's moody, the voice is special, and definitely soulful, and there's an elegiac quality to his music. Oddly, his most famous song is his cover version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", arguably his version is the defining version of that song. (It was recently inducted into the National Recording Registry). As little as I know about Jeff Buckley, I actually know even less about his father, Tim Buckley. Tim was much more prolific quantity-wise, recording eight albums, although he never achieved much mainstream success, after his death at age 28 from a suspicious drug overdose, Tim Buckley's own popularity and music reputation grew over the years as his transitions from folk to jazz to avant-garde funk music was often honored. The place where these two young men's lives came together, is what "Greeting from Tim Buckley" explores. I had heard about this in rock'n'roll lore; I doubt there's much actual footage, but I'm sure some witnesses are still around. In 1991, Jeff (Penn Badgely) is invited to appear at a tribute concert in New York City devoted to his father's work. Jeff never had any real memory of Tim (Ben Rosenfeld, shown in flashbacks), his father left his mother before he was born and spent most of that time on the road. Jeff has also been considering a music career, but he's never played his father's work, and now he's introduced to numerous people who know and admire his father. The young son surrounded by people he doesn't know, in a place he's never been, and now he's stepping into the shoes of a father he never knew. He does make a couple connections, mostly with Allie (Imogen Poots), the one who took the strange shot at finding and inviting him to perform. There's music from both Buckleys in the film. Personally, I have no idea how accurate or fictional the events up to the concert which takes up enough to make us believe that his discovery could be profound, although it's not overly Earth-shattering that it seems unbelievable, which is right, it should be somewhere in-between. The rest of it, reality, legend, I don't care; if anything I hope it is the legend; it's better that way anyway. The film was directed by Daniel Algrant; it's his first directing filmwork of any kind in almost a decade, not counting a cameo appearance in Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience". His last film, a overlooked independent film with Al Pacino called "People I Know", that's worth looking up; it's one of Pacino's most interesting recent performance. This is only his third feature and he only does about one a decade, but he makes them count and their interesting. "Greetings from Tim Buckley"'s sole goal is not to recreate this unique moment in rock'n'roll history, but to simulate the emotions and feelings of the event that we put into it as we look back and think about the music of Tim Buckley and especially Jeff Buckley, two figures whose careers became more mythical and mysterious after they left us. This he accomplishes. I imagine the film might be more profound the more familiar I become with both of their music, but it makes me want to seek the music out.


SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (2001) Director: Roy Andersson

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It's not that Roy Andersson didn't work at all in those 25 years between his previous feature film and "Songs from the Second Floor", but still, that's a long drought and then to come out with one of the strangest and most intriguing films I or most anybody else had ever seen, it's almost as strange and bizarre as the film itself. Almost. "Songs from the Second Floor" isn't so much a film really, despite some characters and vignettes, as it is a surreal collection of dark sardonic vignettes. I guess the closest comparison would be something like Luis Bunuel's more absurdist films like "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" or "The Phantom of Liberty" but without the joy. Like the images of the traffic jam that people are just stuck in for days on end, or the out-of-work crucifix salesman scenes as his merchandise gets thrown out and start to wear out. The employee who's fired but hangs onto his boss's leg and feet mightily in desperation to keep his job as his boss walk along. The scene of the volunteer at the magic show who ends up getting sawed in half literally and then arrives home from the hospital to a frustrated family. The film is mostly shot, in one takes, these strange scenes, and usually a long take, like the camera is just staying still, observing the absurdity but completely unable to do anything. There's something that's both angelic and very Ozu or Jarmusch in the influence. It's easy to simply get caught up in the describing the film to simply describe the scenes one by one, but it's the way they're put together the very sardonic look at the world they inhabit. How the modern city is basically swallowing itself up. Yet it also seems to have one foot blasting the modern wills of the world while another knife slices deep into the old ways as well. There doesn't seem to be anything that let's up here, just a different comedic take on things than we had seen before and that's really the ballgame. Andersson did television work and shorts in those years between "Songs from the Second Floor" and his previous feature "Giliap", he apparently shot a lot of commercials. That's the industry that's about selling a dream and ideal that helps make your lives better, right? I have a distinct feeling that this movie must've been brewing in him for awhile, a shot at the companies that advertise the agents who do the advertising, and the people gullible enough to believe the hype of the corporations that some would willingly sacrifice themselves for them.


WOMEN IN LOVE (1970) Director: Ken Russell

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I'm not even gonna pretend I'm an expert on D.H. Lawrence, or his novel "Women in Love" that this Ken Russell film is based on, and frankly, I'm not sure what to even make of this film. I'm giving it 3 STARS, basically out of relevance, but it's this strange combination of philosophy and debauchery that doesn't make much sense or lead anywhere. There's a lot of sex and nudity, perhaps that's why Glenda Jackson won a surprise Best Actress Oscar for the film, although the most interesting nude scene, strange as it sounds, was actually a wrestling match between two male characters. I get the sense that, while it wasn't overly accurate to the novel storywise it did get the conceptual tone of the novel right. The script by the way, was adapted by Larry Kramer of all people, and he even produced the movie, so that explains the philosophical conversations, mostly about sex. The four main characters are Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates) they're the two guys, and Gudrun Brangwen (Jackson) and her sister Ursula (Jennie Linden) are the girls that guys are essentially trying to court. It's the '20s in Britain's Industrial Midland, although in hindsight, much of this movie seemed to exist in a world I might have seen in a 1920's version episode of "Videodrome" if they had such a thing around. The movie flips back and forth between these aberrational talks of sex and love and whether they exist or whether lust takes over, or whatever. I mean, honestly, it didn't make much sense to me. I guess I should've expected that a bit from Ken Russell, the director who brought us the great rock opera "Tommy" to the big screen; that's a movie about imagery over everything else, but that's contrast is what I think causes "Women in Love" to really kinda fail. The movie is really about the talking and the journeys of the mind and the challenging of the sexual morals and laws something very Henry Miller and Anais Nin really, but when they try to visualize this, it either stops the movie completely, or it just feels completely contradictory to the film, the story and the visual medium in some ways. I'm amazed it was actually so popular come to think of it. Russell is certainly and going out on a limb with this film, but it left me cold. I think that was the intent, but the further away from the film I get, the more the striking-ness of the images of the film fades, and you tear the flash away there isn't much really there.


DANGEROUS MOVES (1984) Director: Richard Dembo

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The first feature from Switzerland to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, "Dangerous Moves" was the debut feature from Richard Dembo, who's a bit of an odd character himself. He's only directed two other feature films since "Dangerous Moves"; he seems to work on a Malick-like pace, but his other films however, didn't get nearly the credit or acclaim as this one. And "Dangerous Moves" frankly, also seemed to split critics. Now, it's a little difficult to contemplate this if you don't know the history, but one of the key battlegrounds in the cold war, believe it or not, was chess. You gotta remember, before Big Blue, chess really was considered by many to be the ultimate determinate battle in knowledge, and the world of chess was mostly dominated by the Soviet Union. This is where our version of the story kinda starts with Bobby Fischer, before he started losing his mind, but within the Soviet Union, many of the world's grand master chess players were at odds with each other, as their worldwide fame led to many of them defecting to other countries and subsequently, some very competitive and notorious battles in the chess arena. The contest in this movie, taking place over a couple weeks (Which was typical, usually chess contests spread over time and use a best of # of games.) is between an older Soviet Communist Grand Master, Akiva Liebskind (Michel Piccoli) and his young former protege who defected to the West, Pavius Fromm (Alexandre Arbatt), and has become more capitalistic. A little better looking, more conniving and strategizing, trying to play mind games and even being paranoid that Akiva has bugged his room, which he hasn't. The battle in Geneva in highly watched and covered around the world, and it's close. Back and forth the games go as they continue on and the friendly rivalry becomes more intense. Oh, and for some reason, Leslie Caron and Liv Ullmann are in the movie as the wives of the players, and that's probably why the film won the Oscar that year. Looking at it now, I think you almost need a history of chess to even put this film in the correct context. It's entertaining and competitive, but it's more in the mindset, and strangely, while you wouldn't think the actual gameplaying of chess on a big screen would be interesting, a movie like "Searching for Bobby Fischer" shows that it can it in the right context. The movie actually feels more like the Broadway musical "Chess", which I know, that sounds made up but it isn't, and it's actually pretty good, but it also goes through the history of it's characters more thoroughly and really digs into why they decided to defect or didn't and where they stand now. (Fun fact: the song "One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head is actually from that musical, and that's the last time an original song from a soundtrack of a Broadway musical broke the Top 40) So, I don't know, I'm on the fence, but I was entertained enough during "Dangerous Moves" to recommend it.


TURN ME ON, DAMMIT! (2012) Director: Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

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Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a 15-year-old who's consume and obsessed with sex, both in the mind, and in her nether-regions vagina. She calls a phone sex line when no one's home, she fantasizes about both men and women, any one that happens to show her attention, really, or wishes would show her attention and it's literally seems like it's all day and night. The fact that this is a girl with these kind of thoughts is probably not something that should be groundbreaking, but what's surprising is that Alma is a real character. She's got a mother, (Henriette Streenstrup) who doesn't completely understand how to get to her daughter, and one she learns about her nymphomania tendencies, she really doesn't know how to handle her. She's got a main crush on a fellow student named Artur (Matias Myren). She sees him at a party and while no one's looking, he touches her thigh with his penis. At least, that's what we see and what she sees. She tells some of her friends, and nobody believes her. Frankly, because we've seen the prevalence and content of her fantasies, we can't ourselves be completely sure, even though she's adamant about it. This ostracizes her from the rest of the groups as Artur denies it. (Funny, reminds me of my high school friend who that constantly rubbed her breasts and vagina against me. She did it with a lot of people though, so I didn't catch on 'til years later that she was attracted to me. Actually I had four different friends like that and as far as I know now, only two were trying to hit on me. I wish I knew at the time. I had weird friends.) "Turn Me On, Dammit" is a cute little look at a sexually-obsessed teenage girl; it's kinda like one of those erotic journey European movies that "Seinfeld" would make fun of, but this one is quite good as almost a sharp does of pungent reality to it. It's one of those journey that starts in Norway but doesn't even get to Oslo. It's not necessarily a comedy, but it's definitely a dark rye look at high school and the sexual desires of someone that age, and one I haven't seen before. This is one of the more enjoyable films I've seen this week.


THE INCREDIBLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE (1995) Director: Maria Maggenti

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I'm always a little partial to an adversely quirky long title like that, so "The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love" already kinda has me smiling. The story is not particularly grandiose or even really incredible,- well, the ending is pretty incredible, and a little over-the-top. It was-, I was gonna say it takes place in a small town, but double-backing, I'm not sure it was actually, but anyway, the two main girls are Randy Dean (Laurel Holloman) and Evie Roy (Nicole Parker) and both are in high school. Randy is a mechanic at her Aunt Rebecca's (Kate Stafford) gas station. It's an eccentric household and Randy is definitely a female James Dean type. She's never had sex, but a local housewife Wendy (Maggie Moore) who she's having an affair with on the sly, which, is a little unrealistic. The not having sex part with her, not the affair between a 16-year-old and a married woman twenty years her elder, that's sadly more realistic. Evie (Nicole Ari Parker) is a young African-American Senior, who's family is rich as her mother, Evelyn (Stephanie Perry) is an successful professional and she's popular and college-bound. She's in the cool mean girls group essentially, although she just sees them as friends she's had for years. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend Hayjay (Andrew Wright) is your typical non-committal teenage boy who wants her when he doesn't have her, but is not sure he wants her when he does have her. They meet and talk after Evie's car needs a quick fix and stops by the shop. It's there that the seed of their love starts. Randy clearly knows she's a lesbian and is already ostracized because of it, but Evie is new to the experience, and frankly both are really unsure about their own hormonal feelings they have towards each other. Neither have been in any serious romance and neither are sure exactly how to handle it. Not to mention the baggages each of them has that, once they're more comfortable with each other, they're willing and worried for introducing. Evie's friends are predictably intolerant although the mother is more of a question mark. Evie's romance with Wendy will come up surely, but her family situation is already fairly weird with an Aunt who lives with her current girlfriend Vicky (Sabrina Artel) and her ex-girlfriend Lena (Toby Poser), and that's a normal day, and it can get out there. The best parts of the movie is the slow but rather innocuous and innocent ways this relationship grows. It's a story about first love and how that can consume the two people in it. The movie ends, in a bizarrely ridiculous scenario involving all the characters a chase and a motel room, that, I don't really know how that kinda came about but in the thrusts of passion I can kinda see how logic sorta got away from them, but that's minor. "...2 Girls in Love", is cute, harmless, sexy, and a surprisingly mature teenage love story. Not necessarily happily ever after, but happiness for the first time in their lives. It's touching and beautiful, a small story of two people that feels bigger than a hill of beans even if it isn't, it is to them. I enjoyed it, definitely a recommendation.


DEAD SNOW (2009) Director: Tommy Wirkola

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Eh, I watched "Dead Snow" at some point earlier this week as well. I-eh, eh, guess I enjoyed it. It's a little hard to remember, but I wrote down three stars and I recall it having a bunch of Nazi zombies coming up from the snow, so I thought it was enough to recommend. Just ridiculous enough for me to go with and interesting enough to recommend, but it didn't have a great impact on me. It's a Norwegian film, so I guess that explain the cabin in the woods in the snow that these group of young people go off to more than, say whenever it happens in most other horrors movies. I'm told this was intentionally comedic, and I kinda got that, but I gotta be honest, this Sam Raimi, over-the-top horror-comedy so-ridiculous-it's-funny kind of comedy, I've never really got that. I think probably the reason that I recommended "Dead Snow" is because it seemed enough like it was actually being taken seriously. The funny stuff was actually some of the conversations between the actors, often referencing other movies, trying to compare these events to others, that was interesting in a similar kind of "From Dusk 'til Dawn" kinda way, which I appreciated. The director Tommy Wirkola's debut feature was actually a Tarantino spoof called "Kill Bujlo" so I can kinda appreciate it on that level instead. So, eh, it's an interesting premise and an interesting little horror film. This is one of those films you're probably either prone to liking or not, if you are, then you'll enjoy it, for the rest, it's fine.