Saturday, October 25, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #97: "JOE", "UNDER THE SKIN", "THE DOUBLE", "IT FELT LIKE LOVE", "CITIZEN KOCH", "BICYCLING WITH MOLIERE", "AFTERNOON OF A FAUN: TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ", "TIM'S VERMEER", "DIANA", "A TOUCH OF SIN", and MORE!

(Sigh) Well, it's been a long, rough week. I had a couple days there where I didn't have internet access, which happened when I was in the middle of writing my reviews. This was troubling for me, 'cause I didn't want to spend too much time, while this delay was going on watching more films, 'cause then I'd have to write more and have more work to do later, but I didn't have too much else to do then, unfortunately. But I was gonna be late anyway... when I finally got it back, I published a Canon of Film post right away, that I luckily did have enough notice and time to prepare right away in case that were to happen, and then somehow I still lost a day, and had to play catch up, and had to still watch more movies while doing that. Oh, and again, I don't have my Netflix for the time being, which is just, one more piece of frustration for me. It's nearly November, and there's still too many films I haven't seen from last year. Ugh! I hate disappointing you readers this way, but, what's the saying, we make plans, and God laughs, or something like that?

There's been a lot of weird shit happening too, lately. The incidents in Ottawa and yesterday in New York, and ISIS, in general. I mean, I get both sides on that but, we're damned if we do nothing and we're damned if we do something, but that's par for the course in the Middle East. And then in the film world, we had some tragic losses. I was closely following the sad saga of Misty Upham's tragic passing. She was one of the best actresses around. If you looked at a normal picture of her, and then saw her work in "Frozen River", you wouldn't think it was the same person, one of the overlooked great performances of our time, one of many she's gave us. I'll be following closely the details of the investigation into her death. Elizabeth Pena's passing was also a shocking and sudden blow as well. She was 55, but I swore I thought she was at least ten years younger still. Jan Hooks as well, she never got the credit she deserved, rough time in Hollywood.

Well, that was an overall depressing way to open this blog, but that's what's going. Oh, don't forget to follow me both on Twitter and on the blog's FB page, where I've started posting clips and explanations of each day's "RANDOM OBSCURE REFERENCE" on our Twitter, in case some of them are a little too obscure for you to catch. Hope you guys enjoy that little twitter treat. Anyway, it's time for our blog's other random-based tradition, our 'RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS"!


JOE (2014) Director: David Gordon Green

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I've been hearing a lot about "Joe" in recent months, and I must admit to being somewhat intrigued and excited about it. It's the latest film by David Gordon Green, one of my favorite filmmakers when he isn't making "Your Highness" (Which I unfortunately saw) or "The Sitter" (Which, I haven't yet), and here, he's returning to his southern gothic roots with this adaptation of the Larry Brown novel. I also heard Nicholas Cage, who I often consider to be the best actor in Hollywood (An opinion I'm often derided by from people who only look at the quality of his films and don't study the nuances of his craft.) And yet, after watching the film, I noticed something wasn't grabbing me and wasn't quite right; this didn't have the same emotional pull as films like "All the Real Girls" or "Undertow". Those slice of life, moments he used to meander on, seemed more like teases of the films I usually remember thinking about when Green's at his best, and not really apart of a greater whole, and I think that's one of the problems ultimately with "Joe". Cage plays the title character Joe, and it's a good but not great performance by him, as an ex-convict who most of the town regards as being relatively good-hearted. He's a foreman for a group of workers who's job is to poison the trees on a land, so that they can die faster, and the owners can then plant new trees and roots to help them grow. Joe gets approached by a teenager, Gary (Tye Sheridan, the little kid in Jeff Nichols's "Mud", the other great southern gothic filmmaker of today.) asks for a job. He's unusually adult and impressive, and he gets hired and trusted. His looking on at his drunk old man, Wade (Gary Poulter) and protecting his Mother (Brenda Isaacs Booth, her character's never given a name) and sister Dorothy (Anna Niemtschk) from him; they currently seem to move to town to town, to condemned house to condemned house, as the father switches barely between drunken asshole and asshole trying to get drunk most of the time. The movie is paced, but it actually does move fast, but it never seems to go anywhere. Between visits to a brothel and a local craps game, Joe is injured after being attacked by a local drunk, Willie-Russel (Ronnie Gene Blevins) who shows off the scar on his face, which he insists on telling us about getting after going through a windshield at four in the morning, and that he don't give a fuck. Their isn't much else to his character, but apparently, he had a recent incident with Joe, and that made him go after him. Even the subplots involving the brothel and the other characters, seem to get dismissed quite quickly, even the temporary moving in of Connie (Adrienne Mishler), who's hiding out at Joe's place, while her abusive ex-boyfriend's back in town, doesn't ever seem to go anywhere. Things get perpetually worst and worst for Gary, and it becomes more and more inevitably that Joe will have to intervene, and be some kind of role model for Gary, or really, more like a hero or martyr for the boy. There's inner conflict in him, as he's trying desperately to get away from his inner demons, but he knows eventually, whether he gets involved or not, bad things are gonna happen, so he might as well do what's needed. When you think back, it all seems too convenient, contrived, and there's no real extra levels to any of the evil characters, in fact, they're bordering on the line between cliche and caricature, when you get right down to it. In fact, only Joe and Cage's performance really gives us anything nearing a substantial character, and even then, we realize that a decent sizeable chunk of his work, is underwritten (Which actually makes his performance better, realizing what he needs to do to get this character out of him. To paraphrase Martin Sheen, sometimes the higher a monkey climbs, the more he shows his ass. I'm through it twice now, and frankly the more it's showing it's ass, and since the bar is set so high now for Green, "Joe" gets more underwhelming as it goes on, and heads towards an inevitable violent conclusion. I'm torn on the film, but I get the sense that there's less there than there should be. Maybe that's the material's fault more than the actual filmmaking, but still, I can only judge what I got in front of me, and despite some very specific great work involved, it's got more faults that positives; I can't quite recommend "Joe".


UNDER THE SKIN (2014) Director: Jonathan Glazer

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I almost wonder if revealing anything about "Under the Skin", is in a way, giving away too much, but then again, I can explain point-by-point everything that happens, and you would still not take away what the film is. The story is rather irrelevant frankly. I can tell you that Scarlet Johansson, in a stunning performance, plays the lead role. (No characters in the film are ever given names) She is a stunning creature, who is apparently some kind of foreign being. Where exactly is she from? It's probably just better if you see the imagery and what happens to the men she picks up, and willingly enter this out-of-the-way building, and what exactly happens that's inside to them. Some have wondered if there's some metaphorical level to it; I don't think it, I actually think the scenes are very literal. Stylized, yes, but, the contrast is what's so important, that I'm not sure anything symbolic is essential to them. They seem and feel more prudent to exist as they are actually happening experiences. Why would those scenes be any less unreal, than the one terrifying scene at a beach, which involves a vicious murder, and that's the least disturbing part of that sequence. There's no explanation for her actions there, there's very little for anything else, but we get enough to understand the story of this striking alien-like creature and the experiences she has. As you can see, I've chosen the former, to give and reveal as little as humanly possible. Other critics have chosen to give or reveal much more. There's no right or wrong way to talk about the film, as long as you understand, more important is the way the film is done. It was directed Jonathan Glazer, his first feature in a decade, since "Birth", with Nicole Kidman, that I somehow missed; I did see his debut feature "Sexy Beast", which I actually hated, 'cause it didn't go anywhere, despite the heavily-praised Oscar-nominated performance by Ben Kingsley, I typically just felt that the whole film was his character being introduced in order to be killed off, and not much else. (I even predicted the how the heist worked in that film) "Under the Skin" apparently took heavy literary licenses with the original novel source material, (I would've probably guessed that had I not been informed) and the movie was actually made, almost secretly. Hidden cameras were often used to try and coax unsuspecting people in Scarlet Johansson's van, who's under a what's clearly a black wig to us, but could easily be enough to hide out when people aren't suspecting that she's around. There's a couple somewhat major characters, a motorcycle rider, who knows something, he picked up a laid-out prostitute in the beginning of the film, and later, a male character trying to befriend her. Other than that, there's been comparisons to Kubrick, Lynch, Antonioni, Carruth, Roeg, Matt Zoller Seitz's review on rogerebert.com actually has about 13 directors or filmmakers mentioned in it. I could list a few other names as well, but where Glazer's may have looked for inspiration to those names, I think the directing, is all his own. The close-ups on Scarlet's face, and following shots of the motorcycle, the amazing use of sound design and visuals, the drastic contrasts between the city of Glasgow and the surrounding mountain, to the bare, almost Matrix-y world that only Scarlet and maybe the motorcycle guy know the clue for. "Under the Skin" is a hypnotic and engrossing film about how hypnotic and engrossing it is, and that's what makes it really special.


THE DOUBLE (2014) Director: Richard Ayoade

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I don't do this that often, but every once in a while, I'll be inundated with multiple films at once, and I'll occasionally for whatever reason, forget a film that I had seen that week, and therefore forget to review it. I did that with Richard Ayoade's latest "The Double". I attribute this to it not being a film I wanted to properly remember, as well as the fact that I had said and discussed much of what I wanted to say on the subject of doubles and dobblegangers that week. This one is based on Dosteyevsky's novella, and takes place in a future where it's relatively routine to see people committing suicide because their lives are so despondent and hopeless. It's a really dreary and dark world, and I'll give the film credit for creating this future universe that I myself had never seen, but I wouldn't really want to live here. Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a very lowly, overworked and overly devoted employee of a company run by Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn). He's usually forgettable, the guard continuously doesn't recognize him, and has to convince everybody constantly that he actually works there. He's got a deep crush on his co-worker and neighbor Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) but he's unable to do anything. This is around the time, he realizes that James (Eisenberg, in a dual role) comes into the picture. He's cocky, arrogant, got swagger, and the ear of Mr. Papadopoulos, and well as his daughter Melanie (Yasmin Paige) as nearly every other girl around he wants. He promises a deal to Simon more like him, but mostly he just takes the work he does, says it was him doing it, and spirals deeper and deeper into anonymity than he already was, and further and further down this Kafkaesque hole of existence he has. Eisenberg is one of the better actors around and he's incredible here. That said, the film was more or less continuous dreadful. I think it was supposed to be a dark comedy, but it more or less just came off dark and nothing else. There's no joy, there's no anything in this world for Simon other than, getting shit constantly piled on him, and he's without the tools to negotiate what he wants out of it, meanwhile we see his double, be everything good and bad that he isn't, and eventually, what a surprise, he's taking over his life. I only kinda gave "Enemy" a positive review, with much of these same trepidations I have here with this film. It seems like there's only a few different ways to really deal with the concept the doubles, as some kind of allegory of taking over one's life, and that's not even done in an intriguing or fun way anymore. There's little entertainment and a lot of frustration. This is Ayoade's second feature as a director after his debut "Submarine", which also was also a film who's positive recommendations I found baffling. Looking back on my negative review of that film, also with a something incapable delusional lead character, based on a novel, and he more sprung from the Holden Caulfield type than Simon is here, and my final line of that review was, "I didn't like the kid, so I didn't like the movie." Well, I liked Simon, and so that made "The Double", more annoying the more he fails. At least with the Craig Roberts character in "Submarine" his failures seems justified like karma coming back at him. This world lacks karma, as well as anything else in the supernatural, including hope, except for of course, the dobbleganger, and apparently, only they even realize they look alike. Even with a movie nightmare, you still want to the experience to be enjoyable enough that you want to remain in the dream. I didn't want to experience this nightmare, so I'm not gonna recommend this film.


IT FELT LIKE LOVE (2014) Director: Eliza Hittman

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Teenagers, from my experience are either having less sex than they claim, exactly as much as they claim, or more sex than they claim, and no matter how hard you try, their is absolutely no accurate system in which to tell which person is which. (I never claimed to have sex in high school, and never did, and I bet money that there's way more people who thought I had sex then there is that thought otherwise.) That said, the insinuation and allusions to sex from everyone, is everywhere, if you're looking for it. I remember once, walking through the lunchroom after kissing somebody, suddenly, I won't go into more details on that, but I watch everybody get up when the bell, I lost count, but there must have been about ten or twelve couple, making out goodbye as they head off to their next classes, and somehow I hadn't really noticed all of that before. I also had a friend who had way more sex than she claimed she had, and she had a lot. In "It Felt Like Love",  Chiara (Giovanni Salimeni), and it's not that she's having a lot of sex, although she is, most of it casual although she prefers to have a boyfriend, but she's much more experienced and natural with it than her best friend Lila (Gina Piersanti), who this film is about. We don't see much of Lila's homelife, although her father (Kevin Anthony Ryan) seems believable as an out-of-the-loop single father who can see her daughter's on a downward spiral, but doesn't have too many skills or abilities to deal with her correctly or at all. (Or, he might be smart enough to know that whatever move he makes will inevitably backfire, so he's letting it play out.)  Lila's not unattractive, but she's plain and hasn't fully developed yet, while Chiara is basically a teenage bikini model (and she usually is in a bikini). She hears about an older guy who works at a bowling alley, Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) who will supposedly have sex with anyone or anything, and she pursues him. One of her ways of trying to get laid along with parties and deception. She goes and starts hanging out at some basement pad where Sammy and a couple friends of his hang out, and volunteers to humiliate herself for them, sexually. Why don't get, an answer or an explanation for her behavior, other than she does it, and we don't hide from it. Hittman's most constant image is Lila's face, and she sticks with her no matter what she's doing, whether doing a dance routine to for school to letting herself get smacked with a ping pong paddle, after talking about how she's considering porn as a career option. (My best friend (NAME DELETED) always used to talk about becoming a stripper when she grew up when we were in school.) If there's something unusual about Lila it's that, the pressure is really mostly within her, not from peer's per se. Chiara gets it, and actually offers sound realistic advice at times to Lila, but she's not always interested in hearing it. Plus, it's hard to not feel out-of-the-loop when your friend asks her to check if her vagina is swollen or irritated in some way. I related a lot surprisingly to Lila, perhaps that says more about me than the film. It's not perfect, I never once bought her character as a dancer in any way, even for a routine. That said, I found myself appreciating "It Felt Like Love" the more I thought about it. It's daring, bold, and makes us look at situations we probably would rather not know happen, but shows us exactly how they could occur, and what would make people have such a decision. The title is peculiar the more I think about it too....


CITIZEN KOCH
(2014) Directors: Carl Deal & Tia Lessin

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Being as knowledgeable and politically aware and astute as I am, I wasn't looking forward to watching "Citizen Koch", fearing mostly me getting frustrated with facts and knowledge that frankly, I already knew too much about. And, a lot of times, I was. Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that reversed McCain-Feingold, made for an unlimited amount of money to be donated to campaigns, the formation of the racists, (That's the more accurate description of the Tea Party so that's why I call them.) and the Republican midterm elections that gerrymandered states lead by Republican governors and statehouse like Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker worked as a puppet for the Koch Brothers to eliminate collective bargaining and unions. They even show him, near the beginning point of his time in office, taking a meeting with one of his largest donors, (Not a Koch brother, but a woman) as they talk about the plans to strip the Unions of their right of collective bargaining, which he inevitably did. (In hindsight, how and why did they even get a camera there in the statehouse to record what they actually did?) Then, they showed me a guy I never heard of named Buddy Roemer. He's a former Governor and Congressman from Louisiana, and he ran for President in 2012. Why didn't I, or many others hear about him? Cause he was against PACs, SuperPACs, and Citizens United, and wasn't allowed to get into the debates, despite reaching the 2% threshold (which was originally upped from 1%) because he didn't raise enough money in 90 days. That's the core behind Citizens United, or as he puts it, "Money is a weapon, and the rich are going into battle, and they got the most weapons." Wisconsin became the top battleground for this, as annoyed citizens and congressmen signed up for a recall election, which he notably won, with only 53% of the vote. (He had won the Governship with 58% less than two years earlier.) On the phone a radio DJ pretended to be David Koch, Walker's biggest contributor, acting and sounding like he was essentially a giddy drone working for him. On the ground, the movie documents both sides of the unrest in Wisconsin, as well as the drama on and disconnect on the ground. Longtime anti-government and even many pro-union Republicans became more and more disillusioned with Republicans, in both Washington, and across the country post "Citizens United", and the outright legalized corruption it allows. Roemer after finally giving up, deep into the Presidential primaries, quietly announced that he resigned from the Party, becoming and Independent, disgusted with the ways both parties were pawns to corporate powers. "Citizen Koch", does go outside the exclusive California resort where the Koch Brothers go along with numerous high-profile Republican politicians and other businessmen, to plan out their upcoming years and what to do. The film was originally schedule to get an airing on PBS, but David Koch, had donated over $20,000,000 to PBS, apparently the one government program he approves of, and suddenly the documentary had to make it's way to theaters. It's not the inside scoop on the Koch's promised by the name, but then again, you can watch that on Rachel Maddow. Which is not something the ultra right-wing voters in Wisconsin seem interested in doing, as they seem to believe, as one guy puts it, being interview outside of a pro-Walker rally led by obscure right-wing country acts and MC'd by the guy who played Benny on "Home Improvement", proving once again why conservatism can't have a Jon Stewart equal on their side, that he won't believe the so-called "liberal media", only Fox News. It's clear that the far-right that's taken over the GOP is clearly run by the wealthy, and the special interests, are essentially their's and their's alone, but the more they can believe they're also others interests, they'll do anything to make sure the voters think it. If that means, disenfranchising the Unions, so that they can't send money to their potential candidate or to let they're voice heard in the campaigns, as well as the ability to pay employees as little as possible by getting rid of unions. Like I said, most of this, will not, or should not be new information, but "Citizen Koch", does document a quickly-forgotten time period in recent America. Walker did win recall, but he's up again for reelection again though, in a very close election coming up, and Obama and the Democrats, not only won the Presidency easily and the Senate, Obama won Wisconsin, even with one of the state's Congressmen on the GOP ticket. Occasionally, they show a sign of Ripon, Wisconsin, which reads "Birthplace of the Republican Party", and it seems like the town is now a battleground for the inevitable end of it.


BICYCLING WITH MOLIERE (2014) Director: Philippe Le Guay

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I wish I had read more Moliere before going into this film; I've obviously heard of "The Misanthrope" before, and in fact, have often been described as one at times. I was gonna read over it, but couldn't find a really great copy online, so as I'm reading this, I'm watching a Youtube performance of it by-, eh, the Greenwood Community Theater a local theater in Greenwood, South Carolina, which is,- where the hell is that? It's kinda equidistant, between Greenville, Columbia and Augusta, GA. Yeah, take the 25 from between Augusta and Greenville and you'll go right past it, it looks like. (Well, I was watching that, but I skipped too far ahead, so I started watching a Carpetbagger's Theater Production, which is actually much better shot and more eloquently performed, sorry Greenwood Community Theater, but you weren't bad either, it's as much a film production on Youtube thing.) Well, it's a decent enough performance actually; probably be better in French but I'm not that picky. Anyway, "Bicycling with Moliere" isn't so much about the play, although there's clear parallels, but it's really two actors, Serge (Fabrice Luchini) an older actor's who's retired early, but is still clearly capable and exceptionally talented, too talented Gauthier (Lambert Wilson) believes to simply be retired. Gauthier works on a disheartening TV show and he wants to do something more artistic and theatrical, and tries mightily to convince Serge to do Moliere's "The Misanthrope" with him. The best parts of the movie, are the rehearsal that he eventually convinces Serge to participate in, under the condition that they both learn Alsace and Celimaine, as both really want to play Alsace, but they'll agree to switch roles weekly, if they still go through with it. They're not off book, but the way they read, argue about the interpretations, the readings, the tones, these are the reasons why I love actors. How they interpret and read roles; they're process, it's fascinating. How a constant phone ringing can annoy everything, or how the rehearsals turn into a tennis match of actor vs. actor, and then a chess match once a real estate investor Francesca (Maya Sansa) comes into the frame and they both seem to be trying to get her. There's a few other weird subplots, and the movie, overall kinda starts falling from there; I know what Director Phillippe Le Guay is doing, but I found myself disappointed at the end. It's much darker and more mature than his last film, "The Women on the 6th Floor", which was a real mindless but enjoyable fluff essentially and this one's a little better, a little more serious, and dark. Realistic possibly. It's not bad, but it kinda leaves the behind-the-scenes world and instead moves itself into more melodrama between the actors. It's tone is a bit too erratic, it feels like it wants to be a few different kinds of movies, and they're all kinda fighting each other. Still, for the positive parts of the film, "Bicycling with Moliere" is still utterly fascinating.


AFTERNOON OF A FAUN: TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ (2014) Director: Nancy Buriski

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Tanaquil "Tanny" Le Clercq was probably the biggest and most transcendent ballerina of her time, but like many dancers her time was short, unfortunately for her, it wasn't because of age or wisdom or a lack of a skill or talent or anything, even marriage to the great George Balantine, her old professor who Tanny was a muse for. She was also a muse for Jerome Robbins. the title "Afternoon of a Faun" comes from the Nijinsky ballet that Robbins and Debussy put on in New York with Tanny originated. In "Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq", we get interviews, from some of those still around who remembered her brief dancing career, we even get some audio recordings of her, but most of the film is old footage, mostly black and white, of Tanaquil's work. Dance is, such a weird art form; there's a great deleted scene in "Dogma" where Salma Hayak's character talks about dance, "the way God designed dance, it's the only creative act which results in no tangible product. Unlike paintings, poems, movies or most other art forms, when the dance is over, there's nothing to show for it - nothing to save and enjoy... or sell." So this amazing footage is the real prize. Le Clercq, during a tour of Europe was suddenly struck ill with polio, and became paralyzed for the rest of her life. She'd go on to teach occasionally, but this is best as a preservation as we might be able to get of her work. Dance, more than any other art film, needs, another art film, film, to help it survive. "Afternoon of a Faun", is a tranquil and beautiful look of one of the best dancers of the last century, one who's name will now be remembered more vividly than most of the others, since we now have that documentation. She was unusually tall and long-legged for a ballerina, thin and graceful, able to do things most wouldn't at the time, us being used to the more short and stocky but flexible types likes Moira Shearer, and you can tell why we're the people in the film, and the legendary choreographers of the time remained so enthralled with her. "Afternoon of a Faun..." is a great documentation of a great dancer.


TIM'S VERMEER (2013) Director: Teller

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(CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARNING: As with most films show at least partially in the Las Vegas Valley, there's a distinct chance that I may know one or two people, first-hand, second, or otherwise involved with the production.)

Being in Las Vegas, Penn & Teller are such apart of the fabric of the town, that it seems like everybody has some connection to them, and knows them intimately. I've seen Penn Jillette sporadically around town, and I even know a few people who've worked for them over the years. That said, believe it or not, I'm not surprised that they've suddenly made a foray into documentary filmmaking. Penn Jillette's been a narrator and voice artist on the side for years, and he produced the documentary, "The Aristocrats" a few years back, one of his many side projects, and actually, Teller in recent years, has become quite the theater director and playwright; even directing a very well-regarded theatrical production of "MacBeth" a few years back, one of his numerous side projects as well. (It's strange how similar and how distinctly different they are.) It's actually quite interesting just how much they actually do, separately, outside of Penn & Teller, and I bring that up, because Teller's feature directorial debut, is also about a side project. Tim Jenison, a close friend of theirs is practically a technological savant. His company, NewTek has produced some of the most important and innovative technologies over the last 30 years, including creating things like TriCaster which enhanced filmmakers abilities to use graphics, and basically reinvented the TV production studio by merging everything into one computer. He's even won two technical Emmys for his company's accomplishments, and that's only a fraction of what they do, but working in the graphic arts, he's fascinated by art himself, particular Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer by many is considered one of, if not, the greatest artist of all-time. His "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was not only an inspiration for other forms of literature, including a novel that adapted into a pretty good film, That said, his paintings along with others represented a new evolution in painting that almost looked photographic in nature, too realistic to be believed. A few hypothesized that, with the advent of fiberoptics at the time period, that Vermeer, possibly used something like a camera obscura to make his paintings. Many have hypothesized how exactly he was able to paint with light essentially in many of his photographs, and while many art experts shutter to think about such a possibility, under some determinate that lenses is somehow cheating, Tim Jenison decided to see, if he could replicate the conditions in which Vermeer painted, including a similar building, and learning how to make paint just like back in Vermeer's time period, and even replicating in it's entirely one of his paintings. Tim is not a trained painter by any means, but he's shown how using lens and optics, he's able to replicate photographs exactly, even impressing well-known established painters with the unusual technique. He learns dutch, travels to Holland, even gets a look inside Buckingham Palace at the painting he's recreating. His work's more impressive in person. Even among the time the time period, Vermeer's work is mysterious. There seems to be no outlines in his paintings the way even most optic painters painted, there's little to no background for Vermeer; it appears he had no formal training under anybody, something particularly unusual, making his work seem more amazing when you look at it. You'd think the movie would be a little more elaborate than it is, it's actually quite bare and short, barely clocking in at 79 minutes, not the sustenance of flash you'd think to expect out of Penn & Teller, but then again, they always were about, letting us look behind the curtain, and deconstructing everything from a simple magic trick, to whatever, including a Vermeer, and the actual process and work involved in creating the work, and especially the work involved in replicating it centuries later, have to not only learn old technology, but to try and re-discover new technology that perhaps Vermeer might've used. The process is always intriguing, and the results, amazing. I've always had a fascination with paintings and art; I don't know how many damn trees I've seen Bob Ross paint, but you don't really get the technical expertise involved from watching a half-hour of an expert doing it, here's not only an analysis of his art, it's an exceptional look into the technical process of how art is created, and surprisingly, it makes Vermeer's original work seem more special now that we've learned, through Tim Jenison, exactly how he might have actually been able to create the images he did. One more reminder for all of us that sometimes the smoke and mirrors are indeed the art.


DIANA (2013) Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

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It's hard for people who are growing up now to fully understand how a certain generation, that I am apart of, feel about Princess Diana. (Naomi Watts) It's hard to explain now, but- this is a horrible comparison, but we treated her like Paris Hilton, but not, like for a few years but forever, and not because she was ever doing anything over-the-top or ridiculous or crazy or flashing or having a sex tape or anything really stupid, we kinda just grew up with her. She was living the fantasy, nineteen or so, years old, marrying the future kind of England, it was a literal fantasy come-true and we were simply, obsessed with her, She was young, spunky, but class, grace, elegance. I am, basically the last generation of my generation who remember distinctly where they were when she passed, and it was an event. I remember it very well in fact, we have gotten home from McDonald's my Aunt Patty was freaking out about the accident, and Dodi Fiad (Cas Avner) we heard had been killed, along with the driver, and I think there was a passenger who survived the crash, I'm not sure, and the paparazzi were chasing her down through the tunnel, and the news was breaking from there, and it wasn't clear how injured she was. It was a few hours later, and I was in my grandmother's room, who was at work I believe, 'cause my ancient TV kept burning itself out, so I was in her room, and turned on, this old little black and white television, that had good picture, but needed ten minutes of snow before it could actually come up with a visual image, and I didn't see the report, I heard it; it was still snow, when they cut into "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper", and said she had passed, and I went out and informed everybody else when that happened, and they then switched channels and we were in a state of mourning for, like a week. So, when the subject is Diana, we're bringing into the movie a lot more than most. I thought I had a relatively good base knowledge about her, but I must admit that I had really kinda forgotten about the Hasnat Khan affair she had, late in life. It was sorta pushed aside at the end, and the pictures with Fiad had come out, and there were all these rumors about her being pregnant, and here, we get a small glimpse of the person Diana, who we all kinda knew, but through this lens of the paparazzi."Diana" is by no means a perfect movie, The film was directed by German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, he's most famous for the film "Downfall" about Adolf Hitler's last days in the bunker. The real issue he's keeps coming to, and the reason why Diana isn't a great subject for film in general, is that is that it really does come down to, the bombardment of the media upon her life, and that's really the main consistent thing throughout, and no matter how you try, once you get into that web, as Hasnat kept finding out, you couldn't get out. We see her, surprising brash and able to use and manipulate the press in certain ways, but it's basically the same argument and story over and over again. It's an interesting little slice of insight in Diana, like the notorious photos on the boat with Fiad that were quite scandalous, they insinuate here that she planned those photos as a jealousy ploy, that's something surprisingly childlike about her that's interesting (Speaking of children, William and Harry were mysteriously absent from the film), but I'm still kinda giving the movie a pass, partially because of how ingrained the mythology of Princess Di has become in my life, but also because, I'm not sure how much better they could've done this film. Stephen Frears did "The Queen" about the events behind the scenes after the crash, but really getting inside Diana, and the private lives, especially this post-divorce period, the single girl intrigue with her, that's fascinating. Plus, Naomi Watts was actually very good in the film, there's enough here to recommend.


A TOUCH OF SIN (2013) Director: Zhangke Jia

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This is the first film I've seen from the controversial Chinese director Jia Zhangke, and I already know I'm gonna need a second look at it before I'm through. Catching people offguard by getting the film approved by the Chinese board for theatrical release in the country, barely, "A Touch of Sin",  won the Screenplay Award at Cannes, and it requires quite an patient and observant eye, and probably more knowledge of the intricacies of Chinese geography and culture than I have, to fully contemplate it.  The film is based on four distinct true stories that occurred in China recently, each involving sudden explosions of violence, each about the disenfranchisement of the Chinese worker, and each taking place in a different distinct part of China, andalthough there is a degree of interconnection between the stories, it's probably best to think of them as separate so that they're easier to follow. (This isn't a "Pulp Fiction"-type film that gives us a new heading to obviously informs us of a change in the story, we often have to figure it out for ourselves.) The first tale is in Northern China where a respected worker Dahai (Wu Jiang) is frustrated with the owners and village chief of the town, 'cause of they're corruption and deals, and the way they've slowly started gaining material wealth, and turning their backs on their workers after promises of raises and deals. One of them, arrives in his own private plane to an audience of the workers and even a drum band. Dahai tries to get to Beijing to file a complaint, something that used to simply be a letter, that suddenly he wasn't able to send, and nobody, including his co-workers and family seem willing to be as outraged as he is. The second story takes place in a growing southwestern town where Zhou San (Baoqiang Wang) arrives on his motorcycle. He's already killed people that we know of, and he's home with his family, none of whom are particularly happy to see him, and his menacing presence puts a shadow over everything as seemingly no one's sure exactly what he will do next, all this, while the shadow of one of the largest hydroelectric project is starting to undertake the town and change not socio-cultural and environmental ecosystems of the area. Bored with the celebrations of New Years and the fights at the gambling halls, he wishes to leave again and travel to Burma of all places, where there's more Frontier-like adventure and violence around. While the reasoning beyond his voyage is unusual, it's not uncommon for Chinese workers to often travel great distances, to find suitable work. If anybody's seen the documentary "Last Train Home", you'll know about the constant travel that entails, and there's lots of talk about where everyone's from as they all seem to travel farther and farther away from home for work, literally and metaphorically. They also briefly focus on a train accident that killed dozens that was covered up by the Chinese government after the tracks and scheduling failed. The Third story involves Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao)  a drifter who gets a job working as a receptionist at a massage parlor, until a customer starts insisting she be bought by him; she seems to somehow be protected with the image of snakes like Eve. (There's animalistic references throughout the film) The next, involves Xiao Hui (Lanshon Luo) who's a disenfranchised factory worker quits his job shortly after injuring himself, and finds himself working as a waiter in an upscale brothel that seems run more like a Vegas hotel, complete with suits, detailed instruction and even a floorshow with the girls coming out in unison in costumer, and then to another job, that gets and gets more and more disenfranchised from job-to-job, at one, he says the best workers can win trips to the main offices in Taiwan, where the foreman is from. The film is about the current situations in China, the way the Communist ideals are now in direct conflict with the continued influence of the west capitalist culture, and the personal effects it's having on the people. These are stories about people losing their identity and then resorting and falling into acts of violence as the only means of self-expression, and angry outbursts. I've seen it twice now, and the more I watch it, the greater it effects me, and the more I learn about the current state of China, in practice and mind. It shows a country in flux, trying to contemplate finding places for the old with the new, and focuses on those few people who can't seem to be able to navigate this new modern China. "A Touch of Sin" is incredibly insightful, and at times unnerving. It's a challenge to get through, but the more you dive into and digest it, the better it gets. It might take multiple viewings, even for the most astute viewer but it's worth it. It's a little too much mosaic than it probably should be, and at times, certain stories work better than others, at driving their point home, but there's so much he's saying here, with every scene and shot, that's it's easy to understand why some ideas get convoluted or lost in translation, even in the translation for one Chinese language to another, and how feelings and emotions, seem more and more counter to the ever-busting world of modern consumerism.


RIO BRAVO (1959) Director: Howard Hawks

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Purportedly, conceived as a rebuttal to Fred Zinneman's "High Noon", Howard Hawks's "Rio Bravo", is noted for setting an archetype that's been repeated or alluded to from directors as wide-ranging from Martin Scorsese to John Carpenter to Quentin Tarantino. Even Howard Hawks himself, made a remake of this film, seven years later with "El Dorado". The story is pretty basic, but allows itself to be told calmly, but briskly. The first four minutes, famous doesn't include a single word of dialogue as a drunkard, named Dude (Dean Martin) walks into a bar, and helps arrest a brother,  Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) of a famous outlaw. The outlaw Nathan Burdette (Claude Akins) is determined to bust his brother out of prison, and the Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) has the help of the drunkard, Dude, a Sheriff Deputy named Stumpy (Walter Brennan) an aggressive old man, who walks with a limp, and a new-in-town young gunfighter named Colorado (Ricky Nelson), who he borrows from another old gun-toting hand, Pat Wheeler (Ward Bond).  A local performer, Feathers (Angie Dickinson). She's around for some cute scenes involving both comedy and romance; it wouldn't be a Howard Hawks films without a little bit of screwball in there. This is the man who famously said, "When all else fails, make a drama." (He did that with his earlier collaboration with John Wayne, "Red River".) Basically, the job is to protect the prison and keep out Wheeler and his gang. most of the time, they're working on tying to outsmart them and guard the prison while they try to rally together the best that they can to prepare for an inevitable battle. Sometimes they break for a song. I mean, you do have a Rock'n'roll Hall of Famer and one of the best crooners of all-time there, you might as well use them. I've probably giving this film a slightly lower ranking than most for their initial viewings, and that's not fair from me, but I've always had a somewhat of  a Hawks critic over the years despite my great admiration for his best films like "Only Angels Have Wings", "The Big Sleep", Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", or "His Girl Friday," the latter of which I've posted a Canon of  Film entry on in the past. It's not so much plot or story he's after (Hell, half the time, there's barely any of either in his films) but the constant pursuit of something interesting on the screen, whether that's an argument, a gunfight, an explosion of dynamite, a musical number, or a comic misunderstanding involving lingerie. "Rio Bravo" has a little bit of all that, and yet, it's core chess match between the ragtag, put-together lawmen having to outsmart and outgun the group of outlaws, is continuously entertaining throughout. I don't know if I rank "Rio Bravo" as high as some, but it's easy to see why it's become so influential over the years.


VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) Director: Mark Robson

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Yeah, some 5 STARS ratings need explanation, and some speak for themselves. I recognize what "Valley of the Dolls" is, and just how ridiculous it was, the failed attempt to adapt the Jacqueline Susann exploitative tell-all into a film, but I thoroughly had fun and enjoyed the absolute ridiculousness of it. Actually, I found some of it quite sincere and believable. I actually thought Patty Duke's performance was pretty good, even though this film notoriously poisoned her as a box office and film talent. (There's a misconception that she doesn't act much anymore, but actually, she's worked pretty regularly since, mostly in television). Yeah, it's a bit "All About Eve", in the "Showgirls" vein, predictable, crass and classless at times, and clearly, Mark Robson, who was a relatively talented director, with two Oscar nominations for "Peyton Place" and "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness", but he wasn't really a good director of actors, and you can see how he overlooked certain things, like, believable reactions to the dolls, which for those who don't know, are what the film calls prescription pills that the three leads inevitably start taking, and the despair and tragedy that befalls them when they take them. Or that it might not have been a good idea to have Patty Duke perform a number with that ridiculous necklace on. The movie warns us about how similarities to actual people is coincidental, right at the beginning, (Meaning of course, they're clearly based on the lives of real people in Hollywood) Anne Welles (Barbara Perkins) takes a snowbound train from New England to New York, where she gets a job for a theater publicist. Her first job is to get Helen Lawson (Susan Heyward, who was famously originally cast by Judy Garland, who left production after the role was too similar) to sign papers. The famous Broadway star, doesn't sign them, and then fires Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) who's performing the lights out on her number in the show, which Lawson gets cut. Neely quits and goes with her publicist Mel (Martin Milner) as they start her own show, which leads her to Hollywood. Jennifer North (Tate, in what's probably unfortunately her most well-known role) is a buxom beauty who's not the talent that Nelly is, but is able to get parts because of her look, which she keeps in perfect shape at the behest of her mother. When her husband, lounge singer Tony Polar (Tony Scotti) gets ill, she takes up doing art films in France, which are, as Nelly refers to them, nudies. Anne, gets discovered and inadvertently becomes a fresh faced girl for a popular brand new perfume in a series of commercials. Lee Grant shows up, sporadically for a word or two, not much else. I think why "Valley of the Dolls" works so well as camp is that, there actually is a heartbreaking real life tale in the middle of it somewhere, and as it struggles to work on that level, is falters everywhere else, as they tried to get more conceptual instead of seeking out what it would actually be like to be addicted to pills, or be swallowed up by Hollywood. It feels simultaneously like an older picture, with musical numbers and sets, montages, and yet, it tries to break taboos of the time, and probably unwisely, the film was set in modern time, as oppose to the novel being set in the '40s-'50s. I'm sure you've all heard the Pauline Kael quote, a million times before, but if there ever really was great trash, this almost assuredly has to be it. They're still parodying the film, Theater-a-Go-Go had a hit off-broadway show, on two coasts, just doing the film straight up, but with exemplified campiness. Famously Russ Meyer did "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" just a few years later, which I had seen previously actually, and after seeing the original, while "Beyond..." is a good movie, I almost wonder why they bothered; it pretty much is it's own self-parody. I will say this, I actually think the acting overall is pretty good, and that directing and screenplay, and probably source material is where the film mainly failed, much moreso than the performances themselves. Whatever the reason, however, the movie remains compulsively watchable, at it's best and at it's worst.


THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) Director: Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack

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"The Most Dangerous Game" was the popular 63 minute quickie feature that Ernest B. Schoedsack co-directed, before with Joel McCrea and Fay Wray, before they teamed up for "King Kong" a year later. Schoedsack doesn't get a lot of credit as an innovative director because he work in this B-movie type of monster films and stuff like that, but they Schoedsack & Cooper were actually documentarians and traveled to some of the most exotic locals, often being the first to shoot films there, and they to that perspective to places like a jungle for "King Kong", or here, the characters, are shipwrecked on an obscure island. Bob (McCrea) is a big game hunter, who's ship was sank by the island's inhabitant Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Only Bob and the appropriately named Eve (Wray) made it to the island, where they inevitable have to play Count Zaroff's evil little game of hide and seek essentially, in order to get off, or become part of his collection. (This isn't the hardest clue as to what happens in the film btw) It isn't the the more complex film, but it's decent popcorn fare. The movie is rather light, and entertaining and not much more. Even the Criterion Collection booklet, was more like a pamphlet and that's being generous. It's a nice film to watch, although it's importance is more as a connective thread to other works than as a film, but for an hour, it's not bad. It would've probably been on a Saturday afternoon double-bill to send the kids to to kill time at the the time, and for that it works well enough, and that's all it really needs.


JAI VEERU: FRIENDS FOREVER (2009) Director: Puneet Sira

2 1/2 STARS



In my quest to swallow up whatever strands of Bollywood and other pieces of Indian cinema I seem to happen to stumble on, I got to "Jai Veeru: Friends Forever". Not released theatrically in America, the title is the name of the two main characters, Jai (Fardeen Khan) and Veeru (Kunam Khemu) who meet in the beginning. Jai is a con-man between Bangkok and India, the kind who's basic move is to turn into whatever the person wants him to be, this leads to numerous almost caricature moments with Jai trying and failing to get a pretty woman to like him, one too many really, especially in the beginning. Veeru, is an undercover cop, who Jai befriends, not knowing his true identity or motive, until it's revealed during a deal gone bad, and later, Veeru has to arrest Jai and take each other across two countries, while they renew their love-hate friendship, and while bad guys try and capture Jai for themselves before he turns them in. It's relatively harmless but predictable fun. There's a few good Bollywood numbers and songs, that feel more like music videos than anything else, but other than that, this film was fairly generic. It didn't really earn the friendship in the beginning, to justify a shock or betrayal or the long-lasting and trusting nature of the friendship. This actually feels a little too much like two different movies actually, with the glitzy hotels in the beginning and then the more "Midnight Run" action-comedy stuff in the second part. I much preferred the latter, and the movie did get more interesting when it started finding that tone, but at that it was also on plot autopilot. I don't know, if Bollywood is about the uplifting emotions after watching the film, I kinda mostly felt let down after watching "Jai Veeru...", so I'm gonna ultimately give it a negative review. There's nothing against it, but you gotta really buy into these films and have the emotional attachment you need to completely get sold on them, as they try to put a little bit of everything in these movies, and when you don't completely buy into it, it becomes a bummer.





Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE"

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Screenplay: Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz




One of my favorite directors to analyze is Krzysztof Kieslowski. His name in America doesn't always get mentioned among the Bergman, Fellini, Tarkovsky, or other great literary poets of film, but he is one of the most natural artistic filmmakers ever. His works are usually character-driven, and often deal with much simpler stories, at least character-wise, but his films are never boring, and in fact, within these simple tales lies very complex ideas on how luck, chance, fate, coincidence, and destiny seem to affect our lives. His most famous works include “The Decalogue,” a 10-part series of 1 hour films originally made for Polish television that found it’s way to theaters where each section deals with the 10 Commandments, in quite unusual ways. (It’s often unclear just what Commandments match with each film.) And his most famous works, the Three Colors trilogy, “Blue,” “White,” and “Red.” The titles represent the colors on the French Flag which represent liberty, equality, and fraternity respectively, and shows us how liberty can be found inward for a woman after her husband and son are killed, and equality in a man returning to Poland post-communist reign and becoming an entrepreneur, and “Red,” his last film, gave him his only Oscar nomination, involves a woman who runs over a judge’s dog, nurse’s him back to health, to find the judge as someone who spends his days listening on the radio to the phone calls of others, as his radio has crossed signals. I've written Canon of Film entries for each of the Three Colors Trilogy, and eventually I'll post one on "The Decalogue", but both of those are not only for the advance class, they're relatively ungainly to go through, especially if you don't have a prior base of Kieslowski to use as a guide. People should be introduced to him though so I usually recommend people get their first taste of Kieslowski by watching “The Double Life of Veronique,” but don't get that confused with it being a weaker film of his, it's not; it's just as amazing a film he’s ever done.  

Weronika (Irene Jacob), is a Polish choir singer in Krakow, who was taught to look at the world upside down and has always had a nagging feeling that she isn’t alone in the world; she can’t explain it though. She's visiting Krakow getting discovered and preparing for a major performance, but on a day out, she thinks she sees something, or maybe she didn’t see it, or maybe she doesn’t know what she saw, but she sees somebody who looks just like her going onto a bus and snapping photographs. We don’t know if the other girl saw her, or for that matter what might have happened if they met each other. There's been a lot of use of dobblegangers in film recently, and there's a rich history of them being used all through literature, but the way they're approach here, is unluck any other.  Eventually, we meet the other girl, a French music teacher named Veronique, who was taught to look at the world real close, and who, like her counterpart, has lived life with the same feeling that she isn’t alone in the world. There lives don’t cross sort-of-speak, but are parallel, even if they aren’t aware of it. This movie isn’t about any kind of science or fantasy or the how of it, but about how spirit and souls can seem inherently connected, the metaphysics perhaps. Movements, like placing a ring to your eyes, to put down eyebrow hair, or the twist of a string around a finger. When I was young, whenever I’d hear someone yell my name, when nobody did, I was told it was a guardian angel warning me. This movie feels like that, it protects us, but invites us to new unique possibilities and worlds. “They both had dark hair and brownish-green eyes… one of them burned her hand on a stove. A few days later…” pontificates Veronique's eventual boyfriend Alexandre (Phillippe Voter); I’ll leave it to you to find out the rest of the line.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "PEEPING TOM"

PEEPING TOM (1960)

Director: Michael Powell
Screenplay: Leo Marks based on his story



Michael Powell is arguably the greatest British Director to ever live, famous for such masterful films as “The Red Shoes,” “Black Narcissus,” and “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” but after he made “Peeping Tom,” his career, for all intensive purposes was over. The movie opened and closed in a week, got horrific reviews from pretty much every British journalist, and was practically forced to leave the country in order to find any work at all, and he didn’t find much. Coming out the same year as Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” which solidified its director’s status, this film which may even be somewhat creepier, destroyed the man behind it. Now, the film is considered a classic, but it was controversial, at least among the film industry because of its implication that a filmmaker would want to kill its audience (And maybe moreso that the audience was a willing witness).

The movie follows a man named Mark Lewis (Karl Boehm) who carries his camera around like an extension of his body, as he claims to be filming a documentary when not taking cheesecake photographs at the local sleaze book store, or working as a focus puller at a major film studio. (A focus puller is also known as the 1st Assistant Camera or 1st AC, and his job is to be the lens guys for the camera, including adjusting the focus of the lens while the shot is going on [and usually they're doing that, without seeing the image that's inside the camera]; it's actually one of the most difficult jobs on a film set and requires very extensive and intimate knowledge of cameras, often more than a cinematographer even.) But, Mark’s camera is also his weapon of choice, having refashioned his tripod as a weapon that enables him to kill the people he photographs, and then makes them watch their expressions as they see what their fear looks like. One victim, Vivian (Moira Shearer, who starred in Powell’s “The Red Shoes”) is killed after getting up to his apartment under the impression that he was photographing her dancing.

He’s a son of a famous research psychologist who studied the effects of fear by bugging his entire house an photographing every moment of his kid’s life he can imagine, up to and including the moments where he continual scares his son so as to document his findings. It’s like that behaviorist that took a baby and put him in a room with a white mouse, and would then slam a hammer every time the mouse came near the kid, so the now the kid, as a grownup, has an irrational fear of white mice and doesn’t know why (That’s an actual study I just listed by the way). Now, Mark, when not looking through the window of his neighbor’s apartment he spends his days watching his old childhood films, as well as his own experiences on how to truly capture fear on camera. The movie opens on a street where we eventually see the point of view of his camera as he notices a plainly dressed prostitute on the street-corner, which we continuously follow behind her, until she becomes his first unsuspecting victim. Meanwhile, his young neighbor Helen (Anna Massey) seems to have taken a fascination with him, and forced her way into his life, even at one point, allowing her to take his camera and store it for a night out, which he eventually regrets. Even after kissing her after one date, his immediate reaction is to kiss his camera when she’s not looking. Austrian actor Karl Boehm, was not the initial choice for the role of Mark, but that disconcerting accent of his that could easily be confused for Peter Lorre if your eyes were closed, gives his character an added sense of fear, fright and danger. Martin Scorsese, a great admirer and historian of Powell’s has claimed that “Peeping Tom,” and Fellini’s “8 ½” are the two films that totally exhibit the inner workings of a filmmaker. Hmm, I think “8 ½” is a little closer but this movie does, capture a filmmaker’s subversive nature. Nowadays, the implications made from the hyperbole and outrage over the film seem distant to the film itself. Powell’s films were usually more epic and luxurious in appeal, and you do get that sense that he’s a great filmmaker who’s playing with a different filmmaker’s tools and themes at times. Perhaps the shock that it was Powell who made “Peeping Tom” is what shook everyone at the time. Today, it seems to foreshadow the more voyeuristic sides of our nature, the one that would say, helps us appeal to the more questionable aspects of reality television. Without those symbolic implications though, “Peeping Tom” remains this creepy profile of a tortured villainous murderer, that’s got an air, like many serial killers, for the artistic, in both life, his crimes, and inevitably his death. "Peeping Tom", is the ultimate look deep inside the most depraved thoughts and desires of the filmmaking, and possibly the film viewer as well. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

REDBOX INSTANT SHUTDOWN: THE STATE OF STREAMING, AND THE NEW BATTLE FOR THE STREAMING MARKET IN LIGHT OF REDBOX'S FAILURE TO INFILTRATE AND STREAMING LANDSCAPE.



On one of my more infamous early blogs, I talked about how Streaming was essentially just a temporary fad, and wasn't gonna to ultimately succeed as the main source of viewing movies, over a hardware source, like DVDs. That blog is at the link below:


In fact, I've talked about streaming movies several times since then, and many are surprised that I've stuck to that declaration that ultimately streaming will not win out, despite the rampant popularity of it, as well as the constant and continuously growing use of it. Well, frankly, I'm still sticking by it, 'cause I've always seen it from the long distance perspective, and last week, was the first big news about the downfall of streaming supremacy. Not that I ever used it, but I just deleted Redbox Instant Video from my Roku, as it no longer exists. Redbox in collusion with Verizon had started a Streaming Video option as an offset of their Redbox machines, which succeeded as some major video stores chains failed to compete with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (Which was mostly their mismanagement for their inability to compete and survive, not the rampant popularity of streaming as some believe [Cough, Blockbuster, cough]). Redbox machines will still be running regularly, but this failure is noteworthy, they were attempting to position themselves as one of the major players in the Streaming market, and now they're failure signifies that it's not simply a move to streaming that gonna inevitably be where the future of home viewing lies. 

I've been saying this for years, and I am tooting my own horn here, because inevitably, streaming is gonna end up the way video stores ended up, two or three big players competing with each other, and then a bunch of other unimportant players trying to hold their ground, and failing miserably. Ultimately, it will never completely take over because there's just no way that a single streaming outlet or site is gonna get every studio, production, distribution, etc. company together in the same room and be able to strike a deal over how to handle and divide the money earned through streaming, that will simply never happen, no matter how badly some will try. That's why Netflix has deals with certain studios and Hulu has the Criterion collection, and so and so and so and so, and frankly, buying subscriptions, permanent or temporary to all of those sites, is just not realistic and it just won't happen. That's the only way that streaming could ultimately work, and let me put it this way, that would be the equivalent, of getting every museum in the world, to be convinced to put all the art they have on display into the Louvre, and no where else, and that's the only place anybody could go to look at art in the world. Like I said, it wouldn't work.

So, what's happened with the Redbox streaming failure is that, ultimately, the battle lines have now been drawn and Netflix and Hulu are essentially now Coke and Pepsi, and Amazon is Dr. Pepper, and Crackle is RC or something, and MGo is Tab or whatever, and Youtube is still, the stuff that didn't make it on "America's Funniest Home Videos" twenty years ago. (Is that still on btw? Does anybody know? [Shrugs]) Streaming is now a market, the way DVDs are now a market, and their gonna be battling over everything in order to get the streaming consumers, us, to subscribe. This is the format in which ultimately streaming will survive, not as the main source per se, but as, a source, of home viewing that will predominantly be controlled by one or two major sites or companies, and they'll ultimately be competing with each other for pretty much everything now. it's still, pretty much gonna cost an arm and a leg, to get everything, that's the bad news. And they're not gonna replace DVDs, Blu-Rays, or whatever the next generation of that is. They may, like Netflix, be a major player in that game too, but it's not the end.

Redbox Instant, didn't survive, couldn't compete. They weren't good at advertising their product, their streaming service didn't have enough titles, yada, yada, yada. I mean, they place themselves, first, not as an online presence, but as a vending machine presence. Which btw, that's not a new or novel idea either, it just finally found it's time. The President of Redbox was the inventor of the Video Droid. Never heard of it? How about Videomat? they didn't last long, but they were vending machines for VHS's back in the '80s, believe it or not, this idea much's older than most people realized. They suffered some of the same problems, limited selection, people can take their product easily, (Although with the advancements of debit and credit card technologies, there's easier to catch and get the money from them if they do now.) but, big issues, VHSs were big and bulky, and having them drop down to a vending machine, wasn't the safest thing for them, and video stores were a better, more adequate way of showing a wider selection. The machines were also, more expensive to keep up and restock, and ultimately, video store chains ultimately won that battle out dramatically. With DVDs, a more suitable technology for them, and the advancements of vending machine technology, and a sudden dropping of video stores and the rise of streaming popularity, they were able to fill a void that had primarily been ignored. It seems trivial and natural that they could swing their way towards streaming as an option, but considered Netflix, which started as an online presence, or Hulu, which was created by three of the major networks who had long already been experimenting with streaming services, and had a major online presence themselves, they had multiple distinct advantages. Even Amazon, was always an online presence. Picture an online universe, those three are huge brick and mortar operations, they have many stores and have established themselves within this community, and have relationships with the studios and distributors that supply the product they sell. Now, look at Redbox. Or does anybody get Target streaming or something else? No, no you probably don't. They're not huge, they're what they are in the real world, they're little machines, outside of 7-11s and McDonald's. A limited selection compared to the big store chains, an upstart that took 20 years to catch a break, and well, look what happened when they tried to zero in on their business. 

They got their little niche for now, maybe they'll figure out how to expand and get after that market that people who still miss video stores, (Moi) would want, but maybe not. Something will probably compete with them in the future, might be something like a UV codes store, but I hope not; I'm not really big on those things picking up steam. Anyway, streaming is still not perfect, and full of problems, and better for certain things than others, but it will be a part, of the future of home viewing, and that part at the top is now in a constant battle for supremacy. Steaming is now officially the limited space that I foresaw it to be. It's not the game changer, it's not the future, totally, just the soft drink aisle, next to the juices, the spirits, the beers, the milks, and all the other ways we quench our thirsts, even water's got a huge section of competitors now.  Streaming's here, DVD rentals' here, DVD purchases, On Demand, aisle five, next to the TV Guides, and HBOGo. Movie theaters, in the back, where the best seats still are. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #5: DRAMA SERIES STRUCTURE



Book 'em Dano. No, Dano here? Alright, the rest of you, take your notebooks out, there are eight million drama series in television landscape, and we're gonna go over all of them. I'm kidding, that's from "Naked City", which was one of the first TV shows, to be adapted from a movie. It's also a classic procedural drama series.

Now, before we move onto structure, apparently a lot of people, have found it difficult understanding, what exactly a drama series is. I know, the Academy has run amuck with this, and has got to start getting a great hold on a better definition or two or three, and people seem to think that many shows nowadays lie somewhere in the middle between comedy and drama, but that's not how we're describing drama series here. Now, if you remember last class, we talked about how 99% of sitcoms essentially can be described as either workplace or family sitcoms? Okay, and then I talked about two words that describe most drama series, what were they? Who wrote it down? It was continuous, or serialized, drama series, which means, the focus is on a continuous storyline, sorta like a soap opera, or the other was procedural drama series. Okay, now I talked about this, but I didn't quite specify the other aspects of a drama series. Now, what I didn't properly is define the characteristics of a drama series, compared to a comedy. So we're gonna do that, 'cause apparently this is confusing because, while comedy could be all-encompassing, like action-comedy, or sci-fi comedy, even in television, there's a few like "Futurama" or something, or "Spaced" which combine genres with comedy, sitcoms are still, based around that idea of workplace or family, in some manner, often in both manners. Dramas are all over the map.

For instance, this is how this came up, I asked a trivia question on FB about which Drama Series finale episode, was the highest rated, anybody gotta a quick guess? No, no, no- If you don't know, don't guess, 'cause you'll never get it unless you actually looked it up; it's "Magnum, P.I." the answer btw. And somebody yelled up, "That's not a drama series, that's an action series". Um, no, it's a drama series, yes it has some action in it and that action, is the base of it's drama, so drama series. BTW, about 100 people, after seeing that question, guessed "M*A*S*H", which isn't a drama series. It's a sitcom. I know, it's the one that pushed the line, and many episodes are dramatic, it's a dramedy, but here's the thing, comedy and sitcoms in particular, are a very particular structure, and it's not about making you laugh. It really isn't, It's the following of the tone and structures of comedy, as well as the taking a comedic approach to the material that makes it a comedy. If I told you a story about anti-semitism, and loansharking, and a runaway daughter, and love and a threaten of violent death, from a petrified old man who's slowly going crazy as he loses everything and everyone around him and is looking for revenge, and literally out for a pound of flesh, you wouldn't think, comedy. And if you saw the version of "The Merchant of Venice" with Pacino as Shylock, you really might not think comedy, 'cause they a different inflection on the material, but the actual play, it's a comedy. That's the real difference, so this is why "M*A*S*H" and a few other shows are comedies and not actually drama, no matter what the Academy let's them call themselves that. Now, back to "Magnum, P.I.", it's an hour long, which most dramas are, not all, but, it's also not skewing towards the comedy, it's taking it's material in a dramatic manner, although there's some comedy involved, and most importantly, it's a procedural, as opposed to the other kind, serialized or continuous drama series. It fits easily into procedural. In most episodes, Magnum, a private investigator has a new case he's investigating on, and by the end of most episodes, there's a conclusion to the case. It's a very traditional procedural. Even then, frankly, it wasn't particularly new. It also had long-term storylines as well, they were told, more at the corners of the screen however. Is Higgins the mysterious millionaire or whatever, and many shows, from the beginning of television, have a little bit of both. Lawyer shows, like "L.A. Law" or "The Practice" or "The Good Wife", they're great examples of doing both, a long-term storyline but essentially, most episodes, are procedurals. One or two cases they're going to court over, and struggling to win, and then there's other stories along the edges of the screen, about how the cases effect them, or not, or their own personal lives, outside the courtroom. They do both, but episode structure-wise, most episodes, procedural. Even "Dexter" essentially, each episode, he'd investigate somebody, tries to capture the guy then, usually he kills the guy when he finds the culprit. Reveal the murder at the end, kill the murderer at the end, not that much difference. Then, other shit would happen occasionally, through him often as a subset of his behavior during the procedural part. He got married, had a kid, etc. etc., kinda lost some of the procedural focus, although not really though, 'cause it still essentially was investigate, find then kill, just spread out over a season and not an episode, but good dramas do a little of both. Think, "The Fugitive", probably the earliest, or most famous of the early ones that do this; it seems like a serialized drama, with a continuous ongoing storyline, but look closely at it, most of the episodes, involve Dr. Richard Kimble, hiding from Police of course, investigating his wife's killer if he can, but he's usually in a new town or a new situation to hide, effect change in some way, and then leave. There's a formula to most of the episodes, a structure. First commercial, cold open, shocking event, second commercial, new revelation one event, third commercial then, Dr. House finally thinks he's right, but then talks to someone, and realizes he's wrong, and it's a new diagnosis, etc. etc.  Procedural dramas. "Star Trek" is a procedural drama. Each week, the cast and crew come across something new, then they investigate and deal with the something new, whether it Klingons or Tribbles, and then they solve the problem, and then, they're onto a new problem next week. Drama is conflict, that's what the real definition of drama is, but it's watching a show, and things constantly happening that makes the audience go, "Oh fuck!", instead, "Hahaha, uh-oh." That's your difference between drama and comedy, and all of the dramas series, they follow this formulas, and that's a good thing, 'cause when they drop the formula, and do something, slightly off, usually you remember it. The one case Perry Mason lost for instance. "Bonanza", not just a western, it's a drama series. "The X-Files", not a sci-fi show, drama series, they're both procedurals too. "The Twilight Zone", anthology shows are by definition procedurals, there's nothing else there except what happens that episode or nowadays, that season, "Dallas", now we're into, serialized shows. Even those shows have the same dramatic beats, per se, it's gets a little tricky when we start thinking of cable drama series, which don't need those, something interesting happen at this commercial here, points, but still, you'll notice the tonal pattern episode by episode if you study enough of them, but the real difference, the focus isn't a rigid pattern of actions like a procedural, it's focus is the long-form narrative story of the characters. These are the "Previously on..." shows. Those ones that begin with "Previously on..." and show a few clips usually, 'cause most everything, is connected, and their character arc that go over episodes, and it's as much a focus or the primary focus of the show, these characters and what they're doing. 

I hope that clears up, the procedural versus serialized show, and the drama series vs. comedy series debates; that second part, really shouldn't have been a debate, but oh well. Alright, now, episode structure of a drama series, and again, eh, cable dramas can break from this a little more easily especially premium cable like HBO and Showtime, channels, they're not burdened with commercials, so they have a free reign to stray more often, but essentially, eh, well, since I brought it up, let's take "House, M.D." as an example, a typical "House," starts with somebody we don't know, getting sick, unexpectedly. This is the cold open, every show has a version of this. The previously on... can be the cold open sometimes, sitcoms, open cold, like "Mad About You" had great cold opens for instance, usually before the opening credits and theme son, even with dramas, they've actually been opening before the theme, probably since "Dragnet," maybe earlier. Now usually, this case, the major plot/problem of the episode that needs to get resolved, is the main plot, now while most comedy series, usually have one, subplot an episodes, dramas probably have two, maybe three per episode on average; it you're a serialized show, it could be as many as five or six sometimes, like "Big Love", or "Dexter", often had way too many subplots going at once, during some of their more chaotic seasons and episodes, but usually there's two. Now, "House" is a good example, there's usually two major ones per episode, like one involving, his subordinates trying to help him solve the patient's case, sometimes arguing with each other, with House himself, doing the procedures they decide on, etc. Then, there's often a second subplot, that's more comical in nature. This usually in "House" involves Dr. House pissing off one of his bosses, or equals, and undermining them at every turn, while they try to get back at him somehow, or House tries to get back at them for underminding him. Think of like, the great disaster things that would happen in like "The Sopranos", like Paulie Walnuts and Christopher stuck in the cold forever or something like that, this is really classic Shakespearean structure, the foibles of the lower class in some way undermine the seriousness of the upper class, or the more relevant main plotline. With "House", usually by the first commercial, they've tried to resolve the main problem, and it doesn't work, and usually, this causes a bigger problem, and that goes to the 2nd commercial, while the other subplots also evolve. This is usually repeated one more time to make the main problem even worst, and then, inevitably, somehow the problem becomes resolved at the end, with the other subplots, either fluttering away, or sometimes, they might also be perpetuated to continue and inevitably become a later main plot. It's really not, that different than all the other writing structures, beginning, middle, end, and whatnot. Even in serialized dramas though, this format holds up. Think, eh, hmm, let's find a recent...- oh, "Breaking Bad", let's take the "Dead Freight" episode, that's a good example. A very serialized series, but in this episode, there's a main plot, involving Walter White, robbing a train. They find out about the train, they then plan the heist, and Walt uses his science knowledge and the skills he has, to steal the methylamine from the train, without anybody realizing it. Now, it does get resolved, this train robbert, which is the main focus, there are a couple subplots involved too, but the only real big difference is that, as an episode, it's one part, telling one side of a major whole story. So while, there's a resolution to the main story, of the episode, it simultaneously, sets up another problem, that has to be dealt with later, and we expect it to be discussed or mentioned in the next episodes somehow, sometimes it'll be the plot. You don't have to make it, entirely obvious or even set it up well, or at all, sometimes, but the main distinction with a serialized series is that the resolution, inevitably leads into the next episode, in some way, setting up the conceit of the long-form narrative of the series. The fact that this episode occurred inherently impacts the actions/results etc. of the next episodes, and so on and so forth continuously. That's a serialized series, and in this instance, a serialized drama.

HOMEWORK: And after last week's everybody having so much trouble, I'm a little reluctant, but here we go. Take a drama series, favorite of yours, you should know, by now, whether it's a procedural or a serialized drama, and I want you to single out a few favorite episodes, and look them up, rewatch, be careful, 'cause you might remember certain parts of the episode much more clearly than you would, the reason you recall it being a great episode, ("18th and Potomac" for instance of "The West Wing", I can barely remember anything that happens before the last 90 seconds of that episode) and we're gonna analyze these, what kind of show, procedural, or serialize, but we're doing it, with the episode, how are these episodes structured? Is this a typical episode structure for the series? If not, what makes it atypical? You know, break it down, really identify the parts of the episode, the structure, etc. And we are gonna do, the reverse game, take a series, and consider how it'd be, if it switch from a predominantly serialized show to a procedural or vice-versa, but do this exercise, in particular, with your favorite episodes you're picking. Consider how they would change. How much? How little? In what ways...? Could the episode work doing that? Could the show work doing that?

Okay folks, who loves ya baby? Well, not me, if I did, I would've let you out earlier. Alright, take care everyone, and don't hit the moose that's walking around outside.

In case you guys missed an earlier class:
CLASS #1
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/08/tv-viewing-101-class-1-syllabus-intro.html

CLASS #2
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/08/tv-viewing-101-class-2-sitcoms.html

CLASS #3
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/09/tv-viewing-101-class-3-sitcom-structure.html

CLASS #4
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/09/tv-viewing-101-class-4-sitcom-wrap-up.html




Wednesday, October 8, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #96: "ENEMY", "TWO LIVES", "LE WEEK-END", "7 BOXES", "REDWOOD HIGHWAY", "GO FOR SISTERS", "THE PUNK SINGER", "FIVE DANCES" and MORE!

Sorry, I'm late again for this, and no, I'm not trying to make it a habit, I just often have to finish things at a different pace than I prefer/planned. Anyway, not a whole lot was happening, and I'm including Premiere Week in that statement, until suddenly the pastor from "7th Heaven" turned out to be a pedophile yesterday. I'm not trying to be flippant about it, but this sorta shook everybody. What's really somewhat shocking was the reactions about it. Collins was immediately fired from a cameo appearance in "Ted 2", and even more noteworthy though, UP TV, pulled "7th Heaven" from it's schedule. I've heard of networks, firing a popular actor from a currently-running show if for some reason there offscreen behavior brought down the show's credibility, Sasha Mitchell's firing from "Step By Step" comes to mind, but canceling reruns; I guess it was inevitable but that's a new one. I definitely knew about Steven Collins's work, saw him in a few things, he was always good, although I never saw the show, don't really plan on catching up with it either, but I might; I remember it won the TV Guide Award for "Best Show You're Not Watching" once. Collins always came off to me, a little wittier and odd as himself  remember, but this...? And lord knows, with the numerous tales of the Hollywood underage sex rings going around, who knows where exactly this is heading for him and Hollywood. (And how did TMZ actually get ahold of this, come to think of it?) We're gonna be keeping an eye on this one.

BTW, if you follow me on Twitter (And if you're not, why?) , you'll notice I started a new regular feature I call Today's "RANDOM OBSCURE REFERENCE"! #RandomObscureReference. Each day I've been tweeting one Random Obscure Reference from some area of pop culture, film, television, history, something along those lines. I consider it a nice little fun thing to do, see if you can recall or know what I'm talking about or referencing. Or it's just something to look up if you don't know it. Hopefully it'll be a nice little thing to pass around. My Twitter is @DavidBaruffi_EV, and it's like is at the top side, along with the blog's FB page. I'll start putting those obscure references there soon too.

Oh, and if you're in the Vegas area and interested in Creative Writing of any kind, check out the Black Mountain Institute; their website is at the address below:

http://www.blackmountaininstitute.org/

They're associated with the UNLV Creative Writing program, and they're promoting and cultivating many writers and artists now, so if you're an inspiring writer of some kind in the area, they're a good place and group of people to check out, and become associated with. I know a few people working with them now, they're very talented and know their stuff.

Well, that's enough news for the day, let's get to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


ENEMY (2014) Director: Denis Villeneuve

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In his review of "Enemy" on rogerebert.com, Godfrey Cheshire makes an interesting observation about the use of doubles:


"...Stories of doubles, with their long pedigree in literature and cinema, inherently belong to the realm of the fantastical..."

Inherently belong? Considering my favorite film about dobblegangers is Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique," I'm not sure I entirely agree with that. I actually always preferred taking the idea of doubles in a much more literal and realistic sense, specifically because they're a fantastical element (Although not that fantastical, really), it's more interesting to me to place them in the reality of modern times, the way Charles Dickens once did with "The Prince and the Pauper". Has anybody ever read that and thought how fanciful or surreal, 'cause, while it is a fantasy, the best fantasies are about changing the world around you and me. That's not to say I'm against it used in a surreal manner like in Denis Villeneuve's "Enemy", but overall I tend to think it's a cop out. In fact, I know it's a cop out, 'cause I've used that one in my screenwriting myself before, and when I used it, it was an absolute cop out to get me out of a situation I didn't know hot to get out of naturally. (Needless to say, I never submit or send out that script anymore.) Based on the Jose Saramago novel, "The Double", "Enemy" was shot between Villeneuve's most famous films, the Oscar-nominated "Incendies", a great film and "Prisoners," a film I admired more than I liked, but it didn't get released until after "Prisoners" and originally debuted on the internet earlier this year. Taking place in Villeneuve's native Canada, Jake Gyllenhaal is incredibly good with the double role of Adam, a lowly and bored college history teacher, and Anthony, a moderately successful third tier local actor, who Adam sees in a movie one night, watched at the suggestion of a fellow colleague. he's startled to see his exact duplicate and begins trying to track him down. When he calls him, his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) answers the phone, and believes it's Anthony and he constantly gets confused for him as he's searching for him. He finally contacts Anthony and eventually they agree to meet, but his wife, who's convinced Anthony's possibly setting up some kind of rouse to hide his philandering, goes and see Adam for herself. After a brief discussion, we see her call Anthony's cell phone as Adam is walking away. Conveniently, he dips behind a wall before Anthony answers. That's not a hint to us of anything it turns out (Thank God) but just more things for Helen's mind to worry about. That's what the movie is ultimately about, this trouble with their identities, and how one can be assumed or another erased. Inevitably, they do seem to be able to switch lives, not because either one or them wants to; it's almost because it's destined or essential that they do, and Anthony does seem to be a philanderer when he ends up in bed with Adam's girlfriend Mary. (Melanie Laurent, who happens to look similar to Sarah Gadon) Overall though, there's better movies and better ways of going about this, and whatever you want to make of the ending shot-, well, if you can make anything out of it good luck, they give us a key, but they don't exactly open anything, let me put it that way. This was more of an experimental filmmaking exercise from Villeneuve who is better when he takes these ideas and struggles about identity and places them in more frightening realistic worlds. "Enemy" feels like a dream he had, the kind that would've only inspired his other works previously, and not literally tried to recreate it. I wouldn't say his experiment failed, but he didn't exactly succeed either. Eh, I'm back-and-forth on this one; I'll recommend it, so everybody else will make up their own minds. 


TWO LIVES (2014) Directors: Georg Maas and Judith Kaufmann

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Germany's Oscar submission into last year's Foreign Language film category has one major objective and then a more subtle smaller one. The major one is to be able to tell a new story about the actions of East Germany,- actually, it begins during WWII, but like much of Communist-controlled Germany at that time, paranoia and control were running roughshot through the Stasi government (If you haven't seen "The Lives of Others" you should probably do that now.) and we're still learning a lot of their actions and the repercussions of them. The other part, is to make a surprisingly intense thriller and complex personal drama, within this world of espionage. I'll try to start at the beginning. with a Nazi program called Lebensborn, that in the '30s was created in order to propagate more members of the Aryan race by matching members of the SS up with women with dominate features. Strangely, this actually often included members being with Norwegian girls, because of their Viking background, it was thought they were considered a perfect breed for them, and once German took Norway, they would impregnate the women, and then take their babies away and taken to orphanages in Germany. In the 1960s, some of the children of the Lebensborn tried to escape back to Norway once they found out about their identity, and headed north, usually by small boat, trying to reach Norway, or at least a free country like Denmark to inevitably make it to Norway and find their real families. The Stasi's tried to combat this, but we go into "Two Lives", in Norway, right as Berlin Wall and Communism is about fall, and Katrine (Juliane Kohler) is one of those lucky children who struggled up the North Sea, and made it to Norway and found her family and started a new life there, much to the joy of Ase (Liv Ullmann), her mother who like many of Norwegian women who participated in the program, they were heavily ostracized for it. Now that the end of the GDR is upcoming, these stories about Lebensborn are beginning to come out, and Katrine's called upon to tell her tale, one that's her and her mother have mostly kept private most of their lives. Even their family, only have scant pieces of knowledge of the events, but as the end of the reign comes closer, the Stasi struggle mightily to keep their stories quiet, for reasons I'm not gonna explain, even as the last days come closer, the more that gets revealed of the story, the more shocking it becomes and the deadly it could possibly be for them. "Two Lives" is a surprisingly strong story about a part of the recent past that we're only now beginning to know about and even understand. It's a complex film, and it requires paying attention to fully understand as the ways of the old world, still struggle to clean up the messes they created before making ways for the new. It's also really shows the struggles of identity within the German people over these many decades, particularly in East Germany, and everywhere else that the battlefields of World War II took place on, and those battles after the war as well. Very powerful film.


LE WEEK-END (2014) Director: Roger Michel

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I've seen other comparisons to "Le Week-End", although strangely the film I seemed to run through my head with Roger Michel's latest was John Huston's last film, "The Dead"; it almost felt like that film but in reverse for me. Or, maybe moreso like an afterwords to the events in that one. That movie, based on the James Joyce short story, began with a gathering at a party, and ended with a couple, and a revelation by Angelica Huston that alters what potentially both people in the marriage, perhaps see in each other and about themselves, but yet, leaves what will happen later open-ended. Michel reteams with "Venus" writer Hanif Kurieshi for "Le Week-End" and follows an aging couple, Nick and Meg Brewster (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) two academics who are spending a weekend in Paris to try and relive their honeymoon on their 30th anniversary. They go to the same hotel, and then to a better hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower, Nick's particularly grabby, hoping to get laid. They head through the streets, and back in the hotel room, where inevitably, they face real questions about their life.  Their kids are grown up and moved out and screwing up their lives on their own. Nick floats the idea of retiring early and then moving to Paris, but Meg, is strongly considering leaving Nick. She even says tells him at one point, but don't let that bluntness seem like this a new George and Martha, they have their moments, like dining and dashing out of restaurants and making out in the alley when they escape. The film has some feel reminiscent of "The Before Trilogy" but the main speech at the end, when they unexpectedly get invited to a book release party thrown by and for a former student and colleague Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) as well as a few other party influences, do we really get the sense of loss time approaching quickly, and the looking back on one's life that I really think makes "The Dead" the appropriate comparative film. This looking back on one's life, their own actions, and as a couple, recognizing the possible mistakes and errors while contemplating your next moves and what they could possibly be, the notion of being madly in love for someone for half your life only to realize that perhaps you don't really know them at all. It's a lot to pack into one weekend, even that last hurrah or new beginning that an anniversary trip to Paris may bring. Michel's been a bit erratic as a filmmaker, but when he makes a good movie, like "Venus" or "Changing Lanes", it's memorable, and usually centers on the struggles of people with separate problems being unable to get together. "Le Week-End", is essentially that narrow struggle, spread out over an entire marriage, just crammed into the weekend for contrivance and conceit, but there's weekends like that as well, everyone's had those. The Brewsters might have had a few before on those quiet campus weekend nights, and might have many more to come. Alone, together or apart.



7 BOXES (2014) Directors: Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schembori

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I'd have to double check to be completely sure, but I believe "7 Boxes" is the first feature film I've seen that comes from the country of Paraguay. So far, I'm impressed by the country's film production with this, the second feature film from the directing pair of Maneglia & Schembori; who are just as well-known in the country for their short films and television work. The movie is fairly simple on the surface, but it brings us into the world of the Asuncion street market, through the eyes mainly of Victor (Celso Franco) a teenage boy who makes money by transporting items on his giant wheelbarrow from one place to another. It's a lively and chaotic place, filled with vendors, pickpockets, police, even a Korean restaurant. It's also a hot and poor place, where everything is essentially currency, and the only thing worth more American dollars in 2005, is a cell phone, with a camera, some of them at the time, going in the thousands. Victor hasn't seen that much money, and for a kid who's fascinated by the TV, the offer of delivering seven boxes from a skeezy butcher to another location, is well worth the risk of possibly his life. What's in the boxes, I won't reveal, although, we later find out that A, the boxes don't have what even the bad guys wanted in there, and B. Victor wasn't supposed to deliver the boxes, and the messenger who has come to deliver, wants his payment, and now, the 7 boxes are the biggest MacGuffin in the film, as everybody's out looking and chasing for them. It begins to get convoluted once more people come in to the picture, and it starts to get difficult even figuring out who wants it and why, and no the mention the geography of the crowded market; the less you try to keep track, the better the film inevitably becomes. More kinetic and thrilling. I'm definitely recommending "7 Boxes" for it's thrilling moments, it's really great set-up, and the look and style of the film, as well as the look at this rare part of the world that we haven't seen much of before. I tend to think of Paraguay as a landlocked desert country in the middle of South America, not too much different than say the Bolivia that Butch and Sundance tried to escape too, but it's nice seeing this laws and ways of the old conflicting within the trappings of modern society and how technology really changes the world. It's a world where a cell phone is a currency that even the police tell the suspects to sell before they confiscate it, suddenly everything can be seen be everyone now on the nightly news, even the seedy underbelly of the Asuncion, Paraguay markets. 


REDWOOD HIGHWAY (2014) Director: Gary Lundgren

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I've seen a few films lately about elder people going on long journeys for one reason or another, Emilio Estevez's "The Way" comes to mind as a good one, but "Redwood Highway", which barely got a limited theatrical release earlier this year, is not one of them, despite some good intentions the film always felt contrived and could never really get out of that mode. It's a touchy area. You want the elder person, in this case an older mother Marie (Shirley Knight) who's beginning to suffer from the early signs of Alzheimer's, to not be too out-of-touch or place to be able to perform the heroic feat, which is an 80 mile trek on foot, across the state of Oregon on the "Redwood Highway", to eventually see the ocean and arrive in time for her granddaughter's wedding, but you don't want her too clear-headed and sharp, or else, even an aged person making that trek, would still be relatively conceivable and realistic. You have to really give her a few scenes of real danger, like walking around steep corners on a highway, where a driver might not be able to see her, or falling back and opening her head, after trying to swing a line for fish. Thankfully, when things get tough, she's got the kindness of strangers to rely upon, while somehow the police are unable to track her from the moment she left the rest home, she stayed at, and her son Michael (James Le Gros) had just visited her. I don't quite know the genesis of the story, it seems to be a complete work of fiction from Director/Co-Screenwriter Gary Lundgren; it's only his third feature film, in the last eighteen or so years. After his debut "Lithium" he primarily made shorts and directed episodes of the kids animal detective series "Critter Gritters", whatever-the-hell that was before making "Calvin Marshall" a few years back, and he seems inspired by these uplifting tales of accomplishment, and peppers his recent films with unusually nice enough people who help his protagonist along the way. They're not all nice, but when you thought back on "Redwood Highway", I had a hard time caring about Marie, or even any of the friends she ran into, including Tom Skerrit as a craft shop owner. Everbody and everything seemed like a cliche or a contrivance, and even at it's best, "Redwood Highway" is ultimately instantly forgettable. A somewhat misguided old woman on a misguided and unnecessary journey, even when she revisits past places she hasn't seen in years,- Shirley Knight really does help this film, thicken up the lack of real drama with a good performance here, but those moments were few and far between, and were not really enough to recommend the film.  


GO FOR SISTERS (2013) Director: John Sayles

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"Go for Sisters" feels like John Sayles took a page from the Coen Brothers' playbook and decided to do his own version of "True Grit". He set it in modern time, but it's essentially a similar enough tale, a young woman is in search of someone and needs to find an old cagey retired veteran, and a convenient and somewhat trustworthy friend to help her navigate difficult terrain of a wild west she's unfamiliar with. It's an interesting take on a classic story, a perfect kind of story we'd expect from Sayles, arguably the most independent of independent filmmakers. Always outside the Hollywood mainstream, Sayles' paced narratives and his willingness to drift into the lives and worlds of his characters instead of forcing a plot through make his movies somewhat hard to stomach for the mainstream audience. They're rarely full of quick cuts or kinetic energy, half the time, he strips so much back as a filmmaker, he practically strips a film of plot. The title refers to the two childhood friends, Bernice (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and Fontayne (Yolanda Ross) who's paths have re-crossed each other in adulthood, as Bernice is now Fontayne's parole officer. When they were kids they often would pass for sisters they were so close, but Fontayne got caught up in the drug world, and struggles to keep herself sober working middle-of-the-road jobs. It's a little "Angels with Dirty Faces", but Bernice is now in worried about her son Rodney, who's a suspect in a murder, and she hasn't seen or heard from him in months. All she knows is that he's gone down to Mexico and found out that he's involved in some kind of illegal smuggling operation, involving getting Chinese people, strangely enough, across the Mexican border to America. Bernice has more connections down there, and while Bernice has some training, she was never a cop, going straight to social worker out of night school, so they enlist an aging and blind ex-detective, Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos) to go with them and locate Bernice's son, if he's still alive. They go into Mexico disguised as an wedding band of all things (Olmos plays a mean guitar at one point) and into this unusual underworld they go, as Fontayne and Bernice begin reconnecting through the experiences. "Go for Sisters", like other investigatory films from Sayles, isn't so detailed about the investigation, (In hindsight, I have a hard time recalling exactly how they found out or were able to find out as much as they could, but the journey itself is the key to the film, and that's when it's most rewarding. As with all John Sayles, usually for the most educated of viewers, but worth the journey.


THE PUNK SINGER (2013) Director: Sini Anderson

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One of my closest friends, a musician named Melissa is, still in the Riot Grrrl movement. I think it's fair to say that about her, and don't think it's died down; in many ways it's still catching on. The masked girls of Pussy Riot, actually dawned their masks in honor of the subject of "The Punk Singer", the great Kathleen Hanna, who dawned a ski mask early in her career, as she had set a self-imposed media blackout and would only even appear on a friend's documentary, wearing a ski colored ski mask. She was a former poet and art student in the Olympia, Washington area, who formed her first band, "Bikini Kill", the leaders of the Riot Grrrl feminist movement, which spread across multiple art forms, most important, something called fanzines, (Which I'm a little surprised just now that my Microsoft Word, just took for an actual word on one shot) which are simply fan-made magazines that distributed personal material on anything, although they thrived in this feminist rock underground movement, and the term "Riot Grrrl" was never trademarked, so it can still be used for the movement, (Hence my argument that the movement is still continuing.) "The Punk Singer" takes a look an Kathleen, who, after her 2nd band, Le Tigre disbanded in '05, she suddenly dropped out of sight, once declaring that she had said everything she needed to. This from the most aggressive feminist the rock world had seen, seemed shocking at the time. A woman who openly talk about rape, abortion, (Her owns) her past as a stripper, and pretty much every topic under the moon, the girl who inspired Kurt Cobain (Who also came out of this movement, and not the Seattle-influenced Hesher rock movement most used to credit him with being apart) by spray-painting "Smells like Teen Spirit" on his wall. In "The Punk Singer" we finally get an answer as Hanna reveals that she's been seeking medical help for years, with a constant illness that spreads throughout her body. It was after six years that she was finally correctly diagnosed as having Lyme Disease, and is now in the late stages of it, where it's basically incurable. He most recent tour, which started after this documentary was complete, with her new band The Julie Ruin, named after the title/alter-ego of her classic solo album she did in the '90s between bands, ended prematurely as she wasn't physically able to continue, and had to go in for three months of physical therapy. "The Punk Singer" is an incredibly inspiring and Hanna reveals herself as this mature but rebellious girl who lives on the cutting edge of society, a true artist, one who expresses herself not just through her art, but through her life. In the beginning of the movie, we see a pre-Bikini Kill Hanna, in old video footage, doing a spoken word performance, a poem she screamed with two repeated phrases, "I'm never gonna shut", and "I'm gonna tell everyone", like a rebel call to all, mankind, that women will not be silence. At the end of the movie, a more mature Hanna, in her forties makes a more astute a quiet quote, that I distinctly remembered to write down: "...I just think there's this certain assumption that when a man tells the truth, it's the truth. And when, as a woman I go to tell the truth, I feel like I have to negotiate the way I'll be perceived. Like I feel like there's always the suspicion around a woman's truth, the idea that you're exaggerating. If I don't just sit there and be like, 'this, this, this, this, this,...", there's this whole fear that I'm gonna have finally fucking stepped up to the plate and told the truth, and someone's gonna say, 'Eh, I don't think so.'" Interesting, both of these quotes are in a context of sexual assault/abuse, including her own. Whatever it was to cause Kathleen Hanna to become this angry young woman, a personification of the next wave of feminist, thank god she's around. She's no where a shell of her former self; I'd bet she's just as likely to get in a fight with Courtney Love now than she was in the '90s, but to her now, to have to be limited in her abilities through illness is strange. For someone that rebellious to have not said anything for eight years.... That must've been painful; nothing worst than an artist unable to express her art.  


FIVE DANCES (2013) Director: Alan Brown

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There's a couple things I thought about after watching "Five Dances", the first was how much I really love modern dance and musical theater and yes, I'm even finding myself more and more appreciative of ballet over the years. And I love watching dance on film, and I did during "Five Dances", a movie that not only is about dancing, but stars dancers, not actors, dancers, practicing, performing their routines, struggling, suffering through their lives. Youth, homelessness, homosexuality, love, marriage, and of course, dance. And yet, I couldn't help but think of the great speech, in the deleted scene of "Dogma", involving Salma Hayek, talking about being a muse as how dance was the only art form in which the second you create it, it's gone. That's why movies like these should be made, because dance needs to be filmed in order to be preserved. That said, there's been some special movies about dance lately. Robert Altman's "The Company", one of his last films, also about the production of a show, "Pina" the great Robert Altman documentary. Compared to things like that, "Five Dances" feels even smaller and more miniscule. Clumsy even. The five dances that open each section of the film, are all in a rehearsal space, we never actually see the big production and show they're training to put on, really. It's not that the dancers, aren't actors, in fact, they really are. It only takes a few episodes of "So You Think You Can Dance", to understand that it's not always the most technically sound or skilled dancers that win the show or give the greatest performances; it's often the ones who make the biggest emotional connection to the material and the performance and the audience that people actually remember. And, it is a performance too, you just can't shoot the dancers in their spandex, practicing all day, it just looks like behind-the-scenes footage from "A Chorus Line" after awhile. It basically is "A Chorus Line" actually. Five dancers, performing dances, we see the problems with their homelife, little snippets here and there, and then more dancing, it's basically that, without the headshots basically. The farther away from "Five Dances" I got, the less I liked it. It's from director Alan Brown, who did "Private Romeo," a film I say recently that took "Romeo & Juliet" and placed in a male military school, and there's some sex scenes, both, straight and gay here, although he's probably more considered an LBGT director, whatever that is. I didn't care for "Private Romeo" much, and he uses a lot of the same disjointed storytelling techniques here, and it really takes the energy out of everything you're watching before, and it doesn't really make you care about the characters . There's better movies about modern dance, and as talented as these people are, I think I'd rather wait to see the finished product on stage next time. Maybe I'll film it then; legally, I'll ask permission; don't want that rumor started, but still, for "Five Dances", can't really recommend it.


TOP HAT (1935) Director: Mark Sandrich

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Trying to explain the idiot plot of "Top Hat" is beyond pointless. It's harder to explain why there's any plot at all in these Astaire & Rogers films. Last time, I reviewed, what I imagine is their very best film, "Swing Time". If that's their best and more important and essential film, a close second is probably "Top Hat". Basically, for reasons that are so impossible and ridiculous, Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) has confused Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) for her best friend's husband, and they inevitably have to go all through Venice, to figure out the misunderstanding. (And not like, real Venice either, just an elaborately staged movie Venice. The film got four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and it's main objective is to string together a plot and story enough to showcase Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Irving Berlin songs are the unique focus in this film, and "Cheek to Cheek" in particular is special. The best dance numbers involve Fred and Ginger, Ginger in riding boots not high heels, under a gazebo, as they argue with each other over whether they can be trusted. There's a few other great sequences, and some of the comedy in between is actually quite sharp and funny; it's always been a little sharper than people recall it to be, like one exchange where Astaire gets away with pretending to be Ginger's rider, and talking about how the horse was the sire of Man-o-War. Another great one involves a butler Bates (Eric Blore) getting arrested after an Italian cop pretends that he doesn't understand English, this after already spotting him disguised as a gondelier. There's a lot of mistaken identities, and disguising as others here in "Top Hat", and that's fun for them. This is second-tier screwball mostly, but "Top Hat" has enough great dancing sequences to make it an essential Astaire-Rogers film to watch, It's not the best of their combinations however, some of those incredible dance sequences, are more than worth a viewing, that's all these films are really for anyway.


REEFER MADNESS
(1936) Director: Louis Gasnier


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(Shrugs) I don't know; it's "Reefer Madness", how many stars are you supposed to give a movie like this? I don't know. Alternately titled "Tell Your Children", "Reefer Madness" is a famous propaganda movie that was made to inform people of the dangers of marihuana, misspelling intentional. It didn't exactly work much as a propaganda film, but as a cult classic, the kind you make fun, probably while you're under a few influences of funny things. Now, I'll be honest and say that despite my long hair, and my occasional wearing of Greatful Dead t-shirts, believe it or not, I've never smoked marijuana. Although I'm pretty sure I got high from watching an Ani DiFranco concert DVD once. I've also never taken any illegal or questionable substances, intentionally. I still have suspicions that my high school friend Falcon put something on a candy cane she gave me one after-school, impromptu Christmas get-together, but I haven't completely proven it, but I have very strong suspicions; she always tried to be a bit of a bad influence on me. Anyway, that said, let's- let's be clear, I'm in favor of legalization marijuana, but I always get irky and my friends that are always posting pot logos or bongs, or news announcements about marijuana curing cancer. Yes, it's got a lot of uses, it's not great for you though. I mean, no it won't kill you, but it does kill your brain cells, and it can be addictive, and usually by the wrong people, it impairs you, it is essentially a mild form of LSD, and despite some thought, it's not healthy for you. If you light it on fire, and put it in your mouth, it's not completely healthy, just a general rule there. I mean, do what you want, Now that said, "Reefer Madness" is pretty damn laughable. Basically, the kids are corrupting by marijuana, which goes hand-in-hand with criminals and jazz music at this time, and it can also lead to multiple kinds of murder, and other kinds of behavioral shifts and changes, some realistic and plausible, other are just preposterous. Although the jumping out of windows thing, that was a reason LSD became illegal, too many people hallucinating on skycrapers thinking they can fly, and nobody noticing they couldn't. Of course, the true effects of marijuana are somewhere in between, and it took a long time before people realized that a grumpy old school guidance counselor that looks like he came out of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" painting isn't the best person to be telling the youth of America about the perils of marijuana. (Or the perils of anything really, of course, thinking back to those D.A.R.E. cartoons I had to go through, with the junkie Trix Rabbit knockoff) It's an essential film to view for all cinephiles, a relic of an earlier, misguided and unknowing time. Some people thought it was worthy enough to make a musical out of it, eh, I don't know if I'd go that far, but alright, anything to make it more ridiculous I guess, should probably be a plus.