Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS! THE MUSICAL: PART IV: THE TRILOGY: PART II: THE NEXT NEXT NEXT GENERATION! SUS-SUS-SUS-SUSSUDIO!

(DAVID, walks out onto an empty stage, with a large broom, sweeping it up after what seems to have been a long night.)

DAVID/ME
(Mumbling to self as he sweeps, completely out of rhythm, not singing)
There's, no business, like show business, like no business, I know-ow-ow-ow.

He looks around, and sees the theater empty, no one around. He starts twirling his broom using his fingertips in circles.

ME
(Singing slightly more rhythmically, into broom like it's a microphone)
Like no business, I know.

He twirls his broom again, this time tapping the end onto the stage which immediately turns into a cane, and his clothes, magically turn into a classic suit-and-tie

ME
(In tune to "It's a Wonderful Time for Oscar")
It's a horrible week for tel-evision
Tel-e-vision, what will suck!

(Stop songs)

ME
You didn't think I wasn't gonna do this did you?
(The theme from "The Facts of Life" starts, starts singing again)
You skip the good, you watch the bad
You Hulu the rest and then you had
It's premiere week! TV premiere week.

(Music continues, but singing has stopped)
For those who don't know what we're doing, we have a bit of a tradition here, where every Premiere we-eh,

(Music stops, finger quotes)
"Celebrate" sorta, the shows of Premiere Week, with a Musical production about them.

(Music continues)
Premiere Week, of course the first week of the year, when all the new shows start debuting on the major networks. This year, is no different. So, "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews" is proud to bring you.

(Music stops, drumroll, huge billboard behind Me appears with dancers revealing the Billboard with the name, "Premiere Week Sucks! The Musical Part IV: The Trilogy Part II: The Next Next Next Generation, Sus-Sus-Sus-Sussudio!". It is abundantely obvious that it's last year's billboard with a few extra words and numbers change with white paper and marker covering over the rest of it.)

"Premiere Week Sucks!: The Musical Part IV: The Trilogy Part II: The Next Next Next Generation Sus-Sus-Sus-Sussudio!"

(Audience, which has suddenly appeared out of thin air, applauded and cheers)

Hit it.

("My Opinion-ation (Theme from "Blossom)" starts playing, singing)
Don't know about the future, that's anybody's guess
But how exactly was it, did that Jane get pregnant.
I heard what she is claiming, but I don't think it was immaculate.
And in my opinion-ation, Pretty sure Jane's telling a lie.

(Music switches to "Thank You for Being a Friend (Theme to "The Golden Girls")")

(Talking)
Matthew Perry, this is for you!
(Singing)
Thank you for being a "Friend."
Glad to see you back on TV again
On something new
Well it's "Odd Couple", so it's old, and I guess it's new.
And I loved your last show "Go On"
I love "Mr. Sunshine" and "Studio 60..." too.
But you will see, those shows were really just for me
And everyone else will just say
Thank you for being a "Friend."

(Music switches to "Save Me (Theme from "Smallville", tries singing but struggles)
I- I want you to saaaa--aave me
From- This, so, you won't- Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop the music.

(Music stops)

What the hell was that?!

(Off camera STAGE DIRECTOR yells from behind the camera.)

What was it, the theme from "Smallville"? That's what that was? That wasn't a theme song, that was a Bono-wannabe screeching! Jesus! No wonder we couldn't write anything with that. No give me something else, something you can actually sing and dance too. No, not "Spider-Man". Alright, if it has to be a WB one, than at least do the one with the good theme song. Yes, that's a good theme song! The show sucks but- I grew up during Lilith Fair, we're playing that one, I like it!

(After a delay music reluctantly comes on again; Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" aka "'Dawson's Creek' Theme")
Do-do, do, do-do, do
Do-do, do, do-do, do
Do-do, do do-do, do
They had one baby, he was a kid when they were gone
Victims of the "Gotham" night
Every pain he would stress
Every moment of unrest
Until he be became the Prince of Darkness
Oh, but not what, "Gotham" is about.
I don't want to watch
All this boring origin
I want to watch him be Batman now
Not this depressing shit that I could've skipped through.
I don't want to watch
ten years to the most boring
part of the Batman tale, sorry?
Do-do-do, do-do-do...

(Music switches to Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help from Our Friends" (Theme song from "The Wonder Years"))
What do you do, now that "...Mother"'s gone too.
There's hardly anything good to watch on TV
So you hope and you try, and you write a new show
And hope it's as good as the first could be
Oh baby,
"How I Met Your Dad"
It didn't even make the schedule
"How I Met Your Dad"
Might not even be a replacement in Summer
"How I Met Your Dad"
I was looking forward to it too
Booo-hoo-hoo, hoo
Ba-hoo, hoo.

(Music switches to "ABC-DEF-GHI Song" from "Sesame Street")

Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
That's what you might as well call "A to Z".
Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
You'd think Millioti'd got a better show to me.
It seems like any sitcoms that I have ever seen
Oh, yes I saw the pilot, it was just OK for me.
Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
Sadly "A to Z", is one of the better shows you'll see.

(Outburst soon stops music!)
Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!
(Pause)
I've grown to accustomed to her "Selfie"

(Frederic Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face/The Ending" from "My Fair Lady" plays briefly, singing)
She almost seems familiar
Like I'm accustomed to the tale
That she points and clicks and zooms
Her likes, her fails
The plot, it's doom
to seem familiar to me now
(Not singing)
So familiar

(Awkward pause goes to music changes to "The Patty Duke Show")
Meet Andre and his family
And their nice big house, in the 'burbs of L.A.
But he used to come from the streets of Compton
And that part of himself, seems to have gone away.
They're now just "Black-ish"
They're just "Black-ish", not really white
One weird strange conundrum
He's living with every day.

(Music changes to "Movin' On Up (Theme from "The Jeffersons)" Talking)
Oh, and the big show doesn't go on yet.

(Gospel choir begins walking out on stage, and David stands on an elevated pedestal.)

Oh, that man, Stephen, has hit the big time!
(Singing)
Oh, he's moving on up!

CHOIR
Movin' on up

ME
To the CBS eye
To that legendary timeslot, in late night
Oh, he's movin' on up!

CHOIR
Movin on up!

ME
To the CBS eye
He's earned his giant slice of the pie
No more basic cable
No more "The Daily Show..."
He's got to contend with Fallon
But no character he has to will
He's got a whole lot to live up to
Letterman's old shoes to fill
He's got time to prepare,
Colbert will be ready
And no Stewart to support him here
He's movin' on up!

CHOIR
Movin' on up

ME
To the CBS eye
He'll tell the Report, Good-bye!
Movin' on up!

CHOIR
Movin' on up!

ME
To the CBS eye
It's the next generation of Late Ni-iiiiiiiiiight!

(Music stops. David has returned to his old clothes, and the broom, which had first turned into a cane and then a microphone, is not back to a broom.)

ME
(Sweeping up as he head exits stage right, humming to self)
There's no business, like show business...

(He keeps humming the tune, but words are spoken loud enough to decipher as he quietly exits, leaving the stage dark and empty again.)



To view past years blogs on "Premiere Week Sucks!" go to the links below:
TV PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS: THE MUSICAL!...
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/09/tv-premiere-week-sucks-musical-and.html

PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS! THE MUSICAL II: THE SEQUEL!!!!!!!!
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/09/premiere-week-sucks-musical-ii-sequel_18.html

PREMIERE WEEK SUCKS: THE MUSICAL III: THE TRILOGY!!!!!!!!
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/10/premiere-week-sucks-musical-iii-trilogy.html

Saturday, September 27, 2014

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #4: SITCOM WRAP-UP and INTRO TO DRAMA SERIES



SMILE! You're on "Candid Camera"! Alright, you're not on camera, don't worry. Can't take a joke some of you; it's not like you were doing  anything, you we're wait- Hey wait a minute, what-the-hell we're you guy's doing? If I find a cell phone on in here, it better be turned to Hulu or Netflix or something, folks. There's no taking personal calls in this class, you better be watching television! There's plenty of shitty television I can make you all watch instead of what I'm teaching. I'm not against using "Flava of Love" as a punishment device, just so you know.

Okay, this is a light day, we're going to have a brief Introduction to Drama, but we're gonna finish comedy for now. Now, how many of you actually did your homework? Good, good. What did you guy's compare? "Veep" to "Parks and Recreation", that's two shows still on the air, but okay, I would've tried comparing it to an older show. Perhaps "Murphy Brown" or "Ally McBeal" maybe. Um, yes, what did you do? "Glee", with what? "Welcome Back, Kotter," that's actually not bad. There could've been some better ones, the Us. against Them, outcast/misfist concept isn't as strong with that show as it is for "Glee", per se, but you still got a lot of good parallels. Who did "Modern Family"? Alright, what did you come up with? "Soap"? Uh, that's not bad. A lot of family sitcoms could've worked there, but I'm glad you picked an extensive family one. You're right, there aren't a whole lot of-eh, extended family multi-narrative sitcoms from the past. Actually you know what would've been good? "Friends". Seems weird, but that was the trick to the show, that it was a family sitcom, it's just that, the family was your friends, so that actually could've worked out well. Anybody struggle with "The Big Bang Theory", (Raises hand) I did! That was so much harder than I thought it would be. What did you compare it to? "Friends", kinda, yeah. What did you have, "A Different World"! Really? How did you get that one? Whitley and Dwayne kinda like Penny and Leonard? I don't think so; you're really stretching it there, if that's the best you came up with. Yeah, they're students in the college, that's a different dynamic completely than scientists that work and teach in the college. There was never a date rape episode of "The Big Bang Theory", I think you're way off on that one. What did you have? "Newhart", I thought about "Newhart" but, it didn't quite work- What did you have? "Taxi", I thought about. You? "Family Matters"? You know, stop laughing actually, I think he's closer than you think he is. You know why this was harder, it took me awhile, but then I figured it out why. Okay, the original idea premise of the show, seems simple, somebody comes into a new world and they soon effect each other, but in every other version of that plot, Penny would've been the star, and everybody else would've been the supporting actors. Mary Richards, goes to get a job, and soon, she's one of the gang at WJM-TV, But it's still Mary, who's the main star. Not Lou, or Phyllis or Ted or somebody like that. They're not observing this new girl obsessed with her, you know? And that's the distinction with "The Big Bang Theory", it wasn't about the new character who comes in. That's why "Newhart", doesn't work, it's about the normal guy, surrounded by the bunch of crazies, "The Big Bang Theory" it's a bunch of crazies, in this case, intelligent crazies, focusing in on the way the new neighbor effects their world. That's why "Family Matters" is actually kinda close, because- well, they didn't do it on purpose originally, but Urkel comes in and effects the lives of everyone else, but essentially the show, for awhile anyway let's say, was still about the Winslows having to deal with Urkel, and not from Steve Urkel's perspective. So if you ever run into somebody who hates "The Big Bang Theory", tell them to think of another show that had that dynamic, seriously, 'cause I couldn't think of too many. That was much harder than I thought it would be for that show, but once you realize it, it's like "Whoa, that is different!", like the Tommy Chong character from "That '70s Show

Okay, I think you guys have gotten a very basic understanding of how to watch and read sitcoms properly, but we will probably revisit it before your tests. (Oh, we're having tests) Meantime, we're gonna move onto drama series now. And the truth of the matter is that TV dramas and TV sitcoms aren't really that different, per se. Comedy/tragedy, like those masks, they're basically two sides of the same coin.  There's some obvious differences, most drama are an hour, most sitcoms are thirty minutes, you rarely get a laugh in a drama series, although sometimes a drama series, can in fact, be pretty damn funny. That said, unlike sitcoms, which have always been somewhat continuous in their storylines, that, actually more of a newer phenomenon in drama series, at least Primetime ones, we'll get to soap operas a little later. When we're the beginning of television, some of the first reality big drama series were what we would think of now as anthology series. This was even before "The Twilight Zone", there were shows like "Studio One", "The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse", "Playhouse 90" even the much-maligned "Hallmark Hall of Fame", actually started that way, and what most of those shows actually shot live at some point in the earliest days of television. These were essentially an extension of radio plays, when things like the Mercury Theater would adapt famous plays and movies and other stories, and adapt them to the radio, and then, when television came along, they would turn these into what we would call teleplays, and they were popular, and relatively easy to put on the air at the time. And, while like I said soap operas, also transition from radio, as well as sitcom, serial drama series, also did as well at that time, cliffhanger-type stories.

Eventually though, more traditional continuous drama series would also pepper the landscape and essentially take over today, that said, though eh-, well, let's compare with sitcoms, 'cause essentially, you can narrow down 99% of sitcoms into basically one or two different basic concepts, the family sitcom and the workplace sitcom. You can take any sitcom and essentially it'll fall into either one or both of those structures/parameters. Look at the "Sex and the City", change the city of New York to a house in Miami, and the cosmopolitans to cheesecake, and it's "The Golden Girls". 4 old women, talking about each other's sex lives, so they don't live in the same, still a family sitcom. Even when sitcoms have more elements to them than simply family or workplace, we tend to think of them in those terms, most of the successful ones anyone. That doesn't mean it couldn't of sci-fi, fantasy or mystery, or even soap opera like aspects to them, but we still think of them like that, but there is a giant tendency to separate dramas into these subgroups, family dramas and workplace dramas, but we also found ourselves separating them even further into subgenres. doctor shows, cop dramas, lawyer shows, detective shows with private eyes- in fact, ever since nearly the beginning of television, over 18 hours a week, at a minimum in Primetime has been devoted to some section of the law. And honestly, I'm not even sure that counts the first big continuous drama series subgenre, the westerns, many of which, were based around law themselves.

Westerns were the really first one, and there were lots of westerns, and many different styles of westerns from wholesome family shows like "The Rifleman" or "Bonanza", to comedic ones like "Maverick", to your more classic sheriff and small town ones like what was the longest-running primetime series until "The Simpsons" passed it a few years back, "Gunsmoke". For the most part, this genre fell off, but shows got replaced by all the other ones we know, and most of these shows, have a certain pattern and rhythm that we're familiar with, and those are referred to as procedurals. We usually associate these mostly with detective or cop series, but essentially any drama that's not solely limited to the continuous serial nature of their nature as being the main point of entry, follow some form of a traditional rigid structure. For a long time, somebody dying on a doctor show was considered taboo. You know "Marcus Welby,M.D." never loss a patient that sort of thing, but that evolved in "M*A*S*H", or "St. Elsewhere" or "ER", you go to work, you're a doctor, there's patients you have to treat some you save, some die, etc. There's usually a b-plotline melodrama in their as well. Lawyer shows are even more predictable, there's a case, usually a new one each week, sometimes a few take long, and then we see the case and usually "Perry Mason" will figure out who actually did it, (He didn't once, that was weird) or nowadays, it's not too unusual for them to lose the case. Cop shows, investigate the crime, witness, maybe something a little sketchy by police standards to find a clue, often a reveal at the end of who did it. These continue today, primarily on the network shows, but don't be fooled, just because it "Law & Order: SVU" and "CSI..." one episode to usually solve it's case, and at least a whole season for "Homeland", "True Detective" or "The Killing" to solve theirs (Or did they ever solve the case in "Twin Peaks"?) doesn't mean they're not procedurals. You simply can't have a solve the case plot, or try a defendant, without following the structure of how to do that somehow. Even most family sitcoms, you've got your basic melodrama of the episode, usually it's relieved by the end.... This is when show started involving into more classical serial structures, first with primetime soaps, which actually originated with "Peyton Place" back in '64, and that was a big show for the time, and there were shows in between, but it didn't become more prevalent and relevant until, the Primetime soaps, like "Dallas" and "Dynasty", which were taking some of the things that daytime soaps were for, but moving them into primetime and taking the serial structure a little more seriously, the real key into modern day drama series, is when we started taking the procedurals and then adding the serialized continuous story arc.

This is where, in the late '70s and especially in the early '80s, with "Hill Street Blues". Now, "Hill Street Blues" wasn't the first how to combine a traditional procedural episode arc, with a long-form character arcs and development, probably something like "The Fugitive", probably gets the most credit, but "Hill Street Blues" is definitely where all the modern drama series can really be traced back to most.  It was a cop show, but it wasn't necessarily about, catching the bad guy or finding the next criminal, it really was the longterm story arcs and characters that we we're following, and reveals about the characters in certain cases, that was a big shift too, surprise reveals, (Subtlety revealed, which was also unusual) In fact, since "Hill Street Blues" won their first Emmy, back in '81, only one procedural drama has won the Best Drama Series, and that was the one year "Law & Order" won, everything else since, pretty much, so 1 in 33 years. So they seem like they've taken over, until you look at the ratings, and it's "Sunday Night Football", "NCIS", "NCIS: Los Angeles", "CSI: Crime Scenes Investigators", "Person of Interest"... right at the top. This is why "Hill Street Blues" gets the standard-bearer, 'cause there was the "Dallas" and "Dynasty"'s catching on at the time, but there were still "The Rockford Files", and "Kojak", and "Quincy, M.E."'s on, "Lou Grant"'s kinda of another tricky tweener one too at the time, although I tend to lean that one twoards procedural, but "Hill Street Blues", really pushed aside the necessity of the procedural, in a procedural universe, but then advanced it towards this more complex, character-driven, serialized story arc, which really peppers what we now think as a premiere drama series in the spotlight.

Alright, this was a late day, for me, so we're gonna make it a short day for you. But you're gonna get some extra HOMEWORK: 1st, Identify your favorite drama series, and analyze whether it's more of a serialized continuous story arc or a procedural story arc, and obviously many shows are both, so think about how much each show is. Determine whether it's a workplace drama, a family drama, or some other genre it is, and if it mixes genres, be specific, and I want you to think about, especially if it isn't a procedural, think about the episode structure, 'cause they do have, very similar episode structure, even a long-form serialized series, have beginnings, middles and ends for each episode, and if it's done well it should be a complete one, each time. Just because it's a season or a series-long story arc, that doesn't mean, the episodes aren't themselves complete whole tales, you just have to figure out how to make those episodes compelling on their own. And finally, I want you to take a comedy series, which favorite one of yours you want, and think about how it could change and become a drama series. What kind would it be, would it have to be changed so much, how easily or how difficult would that be, all those things to turn a particular comedy series into a drama. I know somebody just tried doing that with "The Big Bang Theory", try a little than they do, but I want you guys to consider it. Howard Hawks used to say if all else fails do a drama.

All right folks, that's all for today. Good night, and good luck.

If you missed a class, please catch up at the links below:
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

Monday, September 22, 2014

MOVIE REVIEWS #95: "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET", "THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN", "LONE SURVIVOR", "NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. I", "NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. II", "FILTH", "ALAN PARTRIDGE", "G.B.F.", "THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY", "WADJDA", "NARCO CULTURA", "PANDORA'S PROMISE" and MORE!

Sorry for the delays folks for this week's reviews, but we've had a lot more going on here than normal behind the scenes and frankly I've just been busier than normal. That's fine though, getting through a lot of movies as well, and I hope you enjoy that interview I did with Adi Abdurab, I want to thank him again for that. I was very glad to have that opportunity and hopefully we'll be friends for awhile. I tend to try to avoid doing interviews at times, 'cause it's a lot of work and preparation and while I technically am a member of the press, I don't have a whole lot of journalism training and expertise, so interviews are always a little tricky for me, so I hope you all enjoyed that. If you want me to try to interview more people, I could use the experience and I might try to pursue that avenue more often, but for now, we're back to the norm for the blog, and that starts with this latest edition of our RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS, so let's get right to them, starting with the Oscar-nominated films, "The Wolf of Wall Street", "The Broken Circle Breakdown" and "Lone Survivor"!


THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) Director: Martin Scorsese

¶¶¶¶¶



I don't remember the exact source or study, but sometime after housing bubble burst in 2008, and The Great Recession started had started, somebody figured it out that people act get addicted to earning excessive amount of money. Seriously, the Wall Street bankers and stock brokers who were screwing over the country left and right through deregulation as well as outright illegal and shady activity, when they would suddenly get an eight-figure bonus for downsizing or pump and dump a stock to the tune of millions, and buy these mansions and yachts, and whatever other champagne wishes they desired, that their was a chemical reaction in the brain, a release of endorphin of some sort, secretes in the addiction center of the mind, and it's like, I don't know how much, but it's a certain number of times more powerful of a secretion than cocaine produces, and it dilutes the mind into wanting to do anything other than make these incredible amounts of money. I thought about that, rather briefly during Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", very briefly, in was in those rare moments of the three-hour film where there wasn't any debauchery going on. It seems like you could almost freeze-frame the moment it happens at some points while watching the film, it happened so rarely, you can almost pinpoint it. The movie is a Faustian tale filled with- no, overlflowing with sex, nudity, drugs, violence, money, outlandishly expensive items and lifestyles and just full-on unabashed sick-to-your-stomach excess and overindulgence, to the point of make Sodom, Gomorrah and Las Vegas, blush and step away in amazement, shock, and repulsion, and I'm almost certain that it's the best film of the year. Titled from his autobiography, after a notorious article about him, the film tells about Jordan Belfort (Oscar-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor Long Island kid, who went to work on Wall Street with a Jersey wife Teresa (Cristin Miliotti) and gets taught the art of the con very quickly by his new boss and icon Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a memorable cameo, one of many in this film) unfortunately right as Black Friday hit in '87, but he goes back through Long Island penny stocks and scams and he soon starts to simply build his own empire, with a group of ragtags with nicknames that the hoods of Scorsese's "Mean Streets" would've thought we're dopey.  Belfort is power-hunger and corrupt and enjoying every minute of it. He quickly becomes addicted to drugs, alcohol, women, sex, and inevitably the lifestyle of the uber-wealthy, which is much different but there's a better chance of getting rarer Quaaludes. He upgrades his wife, with a former beer commercial model, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) his life, by continually growing and expanding his empire multiple times over. To describe the exact actions in the movie, would be trivial 'cause it's so episodic, like most of Scorsese's best, (And this film's style has many glaring similarities to "Goodfellas" and "Casino", only exponentially taken to the nth degree.) but also because it would deprive us of Belfort's narration of his excesses, adventures, and misdeeds. He inevitably gets 18 months after turning in most everybody who worked for him after a D.A. agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) a former stockbroker himself gets on the case, and both men know it's only a matter of time. How much now, and when to get out, and even then, just as Belfort starts a new career as an informercial pitchman, does everything hit the fan. We are sickened and despised by these people, and yet, when their riches are so vast, enough that millions of dollars can literally be taped to people, that you have to laugh at this-, yes, comedy, almost so we don't scream with anger. Belfort is actually the consciousness of the group, even when his howling pep speeches builds up his cult-like team of buyers and sellers, filled with greasy hair and last night's blue chip prostitute perfume, all over the phone banks, and then hum a war cry like at a college football game. His most trusted and erratic employee, Donnie Azoff (Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill) is a buck-teeth, overweight, overconfident slob of a man, who quit his job to work for Belfort after seeing his paycheck. He married his cousin, he's never around her or her kids, he masturbates, everywhere, and fights with whoever he can when and causes mayhem wherever he goes. He's a disgusting visual representation of all the worst aspects of Jordan Belfort, which he can hide on his yacht, or escape through the yacht's helicopter pad in case he's too wasted to drive home. The lengths they go in the movie are just so unbelievable that you almost have to believe it couldn't be made up. Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winter, the creator of "Boardwalk Empire" pull no punches, at least I hope they didn't; I'm not sure what else would be left if they did, although the film was famously reported to be cut from a four-hour running time to just three by Thelma Schoonmaker for release. The filmmaking is as abundant and excessive and the content and it far exceeds almost any other level of debauchery that could be put onto film, it seems to be here. This is balls-to-the-wall and every other piece of furniture filmmaking, that only a Martin Scorsese could handle much less accomplish. "The Wolf of Wall Street", maybe the most succesful gangster Scorsese's ever made a film about.


THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (2013) Director: Felix van Groeningan

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I've seen quite a few European films recently for some reason, about the sudden strains on relationships after they have a kid. The relationships and themselves. The Oscar-nominated film from Belgium, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" is the latest and possibly the saddest, because of it's most personal nature. The title and look of the movie, is uniquely American. The title comes from the famous hymn "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", which is sang in the beginning of the film by Didier (Johan Heldenbergh, who co-wrote the original play with Mieke Dobbels and originated the role on the stage) a former punk rocker who turned into a bluegrass musician. The movie starts as a romance between him, and a young tattoo artist Elise (Verle Baetens). When he refuses to get a tattoo, she steals his pick-up truck to get the top painted and to arrive in a USA flag bikini, showcasing all her tattoos. Soon, she's pregnant, and at first, he's frustrated at the news, but soon enough, he's moving in, and redesigning the house in order to make it more accommodating, even adding a veranda, sorta. Elise even joins the bluegrass band and they sing as a duet; he even proposes to her on stage like Johnny Cash did with June Carter, having gotten over such early arguments as whether or not Elvis Presley or Bill Monroe was the greatest artist. If songs are like tattoos, Elise's tattoos are like all represent a different part of her life, often getting more to cover up old boyfriends, or to put in a new one. This sweet romance, is constantly undercut by the startling images of their daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) suffering through cancer treatment. The film constantly jumps back and forth through time, so we're always constantly catching up a bit. There's also plenty of music and performances as they get quite a bit of work touring as a bluegrass act, often singing almost all the songs in English while speaking Flemish otherwise, they seem to know both really well, often their daughter comes with them. There's emotional scenes as well, and I'm- (Pause, deep breath)  I'm struggling to determine whether to discuss or reveal some of the events in the film. I'm struggling frankly to keep my eyes from getting teary just talking about them, frankly, as I rewatch what I can of the film while writing this review. The movie takes places over years, and we're often bookend with images of Bush's Presidency, including 9/11. Elise and Johan are somewhat different religiously and when the topic of death comes up, they struggle to figure out how to discuss it to they're young daughter who has a good chance of not making it, even with the possibility and availability of stem cell research. It's after Bush's veto of Stem cells in '06, that Johan, finally starts to lose it, both at home, and onstage, as the couple struggle to survive their grief. "But that's America", Elise tries to point out, but they've so enraptured and engulfed themselves in the romanticism of Americana,- at one point, Elise even changes her name to Alabama, insisting that at this point in her life that's what she wants to be called, having felt like a different person and part of life of hers, entitles her to a new name to represent herself. "The Broken Circle Breakdown" is not an easy watch, but it's a powerful one. It's disjointed and jumping narrative does get confusing but emotionally, it runs such a gauntlet that you really need to not only break up the sad with the happy, but also the sad with the memories and moments of joy and love. And have other moments broken up with some of their music and performances. "The Broken Circle Breakdown" is a truly emotionally powerful film, about love, lost, grief, pain, and the disturbing ups and downs that sometimes truly encapsulate a relationship. When they get married, there's a bad Elvis impersonator, who chooses to cough and choke slightly when reading the vows, getting to the sickness and health part. It's a joke, and they all laugh, even as their love and passion remains stronger than ever. We don't always truly think or understand the kind of ways that life may test that declaration out. And even if you did, I doubt any couple thinks about that, when they're kissing so lovingly on the top of you pickup truck. Nor should they really. Or anybody for that matter.


LONE SURVIVOR (2013) Director: Peter Berg

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Jokes about the title giving away the ending aside, war, I once mentioned how ironically war, or at least most every war movie ever made is about survival, 'cause if everyone dies, there's nobody there to tell the story, so somebody needs to survive. (The only exception I've ever noted with that rule was "Grave of the Fireflies".) "Lone Survivor," is based off of the autobiography of Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), the only survivor from Seal Team 10, after Operation Red Wings, a disastrous Naval operation in Afghanistan, which was an attempt to capture a major Taliban leader. Instead, they get dropped outside a major Taliban base, caught in the middle of their war with the other Afghans, and half their equipment, including the radio communication don't work, and that makes them unable to contact their commander, Erik Kristensen (Eric Bana). They try to work on a plan and strategy, but they get caught between the villages, and when they're discovered, there's an intense scene between the four soldiers, Marcus, Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny (Emile Hirsch) and Ax (Ben Foster) about what to do about the grandfather and grandson that discovers them. They can't kill them, 'cause it's not the plan, and the ethics and publicity would be bad, but if they leave, they'll inform the Taliban of their position, and they're not sure they can get away fast enough. They can't tie them up and leave them their to die either, and that's one of many catch-22's that they continually run into. The movie is sorta perplexing. In one way it examines the real perplexity and absurdities of the war and shows just how unprepared for Afghanistan the soldiers were, but on the other hand, it admires the soldiers. The opening of the film shows an extended sequence of the training of the Navy Seals and the com padre and closeness aspects of the group, it looks and feels like an, albeit brutal and intense one, but like a U.S. Military commercial. However, when Marcus is saved, barely by local Afghans, and hid in his village where he pulls and cuts out of his skin, the shrapnel out of his leg. There's some powerful scenes and then there's some relatively contrived-feeling scenes. The tone just never feels as correct as it should, and that's something Peter Berg's struggled with occasionally as a director. Maybe it's the shaky cam approach but the military is something Berg seems to care about and admire greatly, and this conflict is really somewhat struggling with the film. If anybody's seen the "What the Flick" clip about the film, they go over into a very thoughtful discussion over this strange two-sided nature of the film's perspective. That said, it's definitely craft well enough to worth a viewing, so I'm recommending, but I did find myself struggling to find out what exactly the movie's saying about the war, about war itself, about survival, about the military....


NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. I (2014) Director: Lars von Trier

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NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. II (2014) Director: Lars von Trier

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For the purposes of brevity, I'm gonna review both "Nymphomaniac Vol. I" and "Nymphomaniac Vol. 2" at the same time, not simply because I happened to watch them both together at around the same time, but also because I thought the two films, despite my one star difference seem so similar in tone and essentially tell a complete story, that honestly I have a very time being convinced that they're so separate from each other that watching them separately improves the film. That's not to say that Lars von Trier's latest in what's been dubbed his "Depression Trilogy" along with "Antichrist" and "Melancholia" isn't impressive, it is. It fascinated me almost every step of the way, and both volumes of "Nymphomaniac" also seemed to really deal with the psychosis of sex addiction, or nymphomania, or whatever the difference is. Twisted me, probably found parts of the film erotic and any found much of it arousing, probably not his intent, but you don't have that much sex unless you were having some fun doing it. Even Von Tiers seems to be having fun with the film at times. The whole two parts of the film are basically told in flashback, as Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is found beaten and bruised in the middle of the street by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard, who's casting is an inside joke here, as Skarsgard's first feature was "Anita: Swedish Nymphet" a more softcore look at nymphomania, and he played a doctor who had an idea for a cure that would maybe only work in one of those movies on Showtime after dark) an asexual intellectual who's engulfed himself in knowledge of the benign, such as the life science and history, which conveniently allows him to consider Joe's story of her sexual escapades,with more of a Newtonian curiosity. Yet, she also uses what few objects there are in the room to tell her story, which is strange when you think about it. The movie is fairly episodic, starting from her youth as Young Joe (Stacy Martin, from teenager onto the arbitrary time she suddenly turns into Charlotte Gainsbourg) is fascinated by her vagina from a very early age, and after the fairly uneventfully event of losing her virginity to Jerome (Shia Labouef) she, also with her instigator friend, who she calls B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) begin some rather dangerous, games and experiments into sex and fucking, and often. She runs into Jerome periodically through these escapades. They even have a child together at one point, although calling anybody the love of their life for a nymphomaniac is a bit tough, and I wouldn't apply it to Jerome but it's the closest thing she's got. The first movie ends with Joe thinking she may be in love, but having lost the ability to feel, there. This causes her and Jerome to suggest other methods, and she starts going to see K (Jamie Bell) who gives her satisfaction through pain and humiliation, changing her name to Fido, which he puts on all her new toys, which he whips and beats her with to an orgasmic satisfaction, eventually choosing this slave's life over her life and child's. She even, after many failed attempts, finds a decent job she's good at, being a cronie for a loan shark (Willem Defoe) as she uses her sexual experience to torture and torment her victims  until they pay, she even has empathy for the most vile of perversions these men may have. She even begins training a new girl P (Mia Goth). This is where the movie, seems to lose itself a bit for me and it diverts into a strangely traditional narrative, and the ending is wrong! I know some people have praised it, but a character does something that, frankly, is against his nature, and the movie didn't need it. It was arbitrary, I think it probably is offensive to a certain group of people, but I thought that was incredibly dumb, and not the way, even if Von Trier's was hellbent on going with, it could come from a different perspective and angle. That said, I never picked up on it until now, but there's always something novel-like in Von Trier's stories, always separated by chapter, and always episodic and his leads are always descending into their own Faustian pits, and it helps with a film like this, to really separate these emotional points through these periods and sequences. It enriches the film that would otherwise not be as deep. It's not, something like "Shame" that really dives into the disease, or whatever it is Joe's got, it's more of an sexually journey into the inferno, and for what it is, I admire it, I even enjoyed the ride. I think it's more limiting in it's appeal than it seems; on repeating viewings I have a hard time imagining it holding up as well, but Von Trier's gone for everything with these two films, and mostly he succeeds. Good performances all around, although I think Stacy Martin's work in "...Vol. I" is stand out. Both parts of "Nymphomaniac" are worth recommending, "...Part I" is much more interesting, but you do need to watch both, and I'd say together or as close to together as you can, this is really one story.


FILTH (2014) Director: Jon S. Baird

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All across the film spectrum, there's been a very common kind of reveal that annoys the shit out of me, and it's a bad trend, for numerous reasons, and "Filth" has one of those reveals. I'm not gonna give it away, but I've seen this reveal about a character, in some many different film, different kinds of films now- I might end writing an article about it actually. Occasionally it might work, "Dog Day Afternoon" did it well, "The Paperboy" recently had an interesting way of doing it, but when it's done poorly, and for no reason, and essentially, which an assumption that it's a very negative twist, ah-. Let's just move on, "Filth", is somewhat accurately title; for awhile, it felt a bit like Danny Boyle's "Bad Lieutenant: Glasgow", (and I really shouldn't insult Boyle like that by comparing him to this film, but it is based on a novel from Irvine Welsh, who did "Trainspotting".) but eventually "Filth" just continued to devolve into a senseless...-, actually it didn't exactly start off evolved or volved to begin with, of any kind really. The main characteWho really isn't worth helping, and nor is this film really worth watching. I'll concede that in a better movie, I might be praising Jamese more, r is Bruce (James McAvoy) (Eyeroll at the name Bruce), a cop who's looking for a promotion to detective inspector and a group of ruffians have beaten to death a Japanese student. Bruce figures that this promotion will mostly be easy, as he most likely has to help sabotage the other candidate's chances, mainly Lennox (Jamie Bell) and Gus (Gary Lewis). In the meantime, he's sleeping around with some of their wives, forces a teenage prostitute to give him a blowjob, does numerous amounts of drugs, and about anything else sickening you can think of. All this this btw, under a truly deluded effort to get his wife back. We see his wife, Carole (Shauna McDonald) occasionally, speaking to us, in her own, Monroe-esque femme fatale sort of world, which she seems to be in as much control over as it appears for awhile that Bruce acts like he's in control of his. He believes to be the only competent cop of the bunch and this plays into his disillusionment when he finally realizes the inevitable. He does try, and fail to save one guy from dying after he collapse in the street. The guy's wife, Mary (Joanne Froggatt) tries to befriend and help him out for his efforts, seemingly the only truly angelic character in the film, and the only one truly interested in helping out Bruce. In a better film, I'd probably be praising James McAvoy's performance here; I must admit, I used to have trouble understanding why he kept getting cast in so many things rather quickly, (Or as Richard Roeper once said about him, "He's apparently more interesting to casting directors than he is to me.) but I've come around on him and can really see the kind of range he actually has in this film, but this movie just was so much with no purpose to it, that it really soured anything that was remotely good. It's a heavily stylized bad cop film, and not much more.


ALAN PARTRIDGE (2014) Director: Declan Lowney

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I'll still in the process of familiarizing myself with the Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) bible. I haven't seen "Knowing Me, Knowing You", although I have seen "I'm Alan Partridge", so I wasn't 100% on the character, but I have an idea of him. Steve Coogan's been living with the character for years, a popular and critical hit on British television. He was once a "popular" TV host in his day, but has now resorted to mainly being the afternoon DJ and some out-of-the-radio station in Norfolk, where his brand of cheesy humor is moderately appreciated during the rush hour, despite the radio ratings falling quickly. This is when a corporation takes over and suddenly, after being fired, Alan's co-worker Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) an aging widowed disc jockey gets fired, and holds the radio station and all it's employees hostage, while he remains on the air, listing all his grievances. It's the perfect moment and time for Alan Partridge to finally get himself back in the spotlight as the standoff last for days, and he becomes the go-between with the police and Pat. There's a decent amount of comedy here, and the things they talk about with the decline and fall of FM radio is interesting, like pre-approved songs, or corporations buying up all the stations, that stuff had some impact to me, but most of the time, I felt partly that I was missing something, but also that they were really struggling a bit too much to bring back Alan Partridge when he probably should be put asleep by Coogan at this point. I like the idea of revisiting old characters years later to see what they're doing, but this didn't feel like, either the right forum, or the right medium. It's a cute enough idea, true, but overall, I think I liked Alan Partridge enough knowing that somewhere in Norfolk, England, he was still telling his silly lame jokes, that aren't really that lame, over the airwaves; I don't think I needed another adventure for him.



G.B.F. (2014) Director: Darren Stein




Did this film have to be a parody of every bad high school and high school movie cliche in order to tell it's story? Forget that it's not even sharp satire, like "Saved!" for instance, and it's plain shallow and a little offensive at worst, but couldn't this subject have been taken even remotely seriously, or realistically? Even "21 Jump Street" lived in a modern high school world, where both Sheldon and Anderson Cooper were equally respected and admired. When one character complains that the way gays are treated makes it feel like 2008, I was half-thinking "Wait, is this modern-day then?" Although, when the multiple groups were fighting over competing proms depending on who gets/is allowed in, I did think the quip about it being High School "Game of Thrones" was actually rather astute. "G.B.F." stands for "Gay Best Friend", which is the new high end fashion accessory to the important high school cliques top mean girls to have, apparently. What is laughingly considered the "only problem" with that in this movie is that, at- whatever the hell this high school was called, there were not "out" teenage gays. Now, that is, technically a problem, but Brent (Paul Iacono) plans on changing that. He's a young Christian Soriano without the talent or substance, who in any normal world would just be assumed gay by everyone around him (Which he is) and sooner or later, he'd just be treated as a best friend who happens to be gay, the way Rickie Vasquez was on "My So-Called Life". (Back in '94! Ninety-fucking-four, I name a modern and realistically comparable reference to with this material, '94!) His idea is to come out, so that he can, essentially be an accessory to one of the three main cliq bitches, Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse) your more typical, rich spoiled, Alicia Silverstone-who-wishes-she-was-Molly Ringwald type, who's big secret is that secretly, she's really smart and good at science, the Jennifer Hudson lookalike Caprice (Xosha Roquemore) who's the head of the minorities and is the lead drama and art student, and the ditzy Mormon 'Shley (Amanda Bowen) who's unawaredly more progressive than she even realizes, feeling okay about gays as long as their willing to be saved by Joseph Smith, and for awhile, even has a gay boyfriend, 'Topher (Taylor Frey) until she dumps him for being too intolerant of homosexuals. However, a gay activists club, led by Soledad (Joanna 'Jojo" Levesque) uses a dating ap, to search for the nearest homosexual and stumbles upon our hero, Brent's nerdy and shy homosexual friend Tanner (Michael J. Willet). He doesn't want to be a G.B.F. but since now, he's been outed, he can actually use the protection that the three divas provide, so while he friendship is fractured with Brent, who's now still in the closet, and no longer has the fame he wants be being the school's first openly homosexual student, Tanner begins at least trying with the new makeover. The film does take a few interesting directions, but ultimately, it just seems so shallow and conceited and unrealistic, especially when, people could actually be involved in trivialities and problems like this, this sarcastic parody tone just feels wrong. This could've been a far more interesting film about the real pressures of high school, and the real struggles of sexuality that that entails. I had close friends in high school, still do, who are gay although since they were my friends, they were usually lesbians, or BBF, Bisexual best friends, (Way too many bisexual friends it seemed) and nearly everything in between, and I just have a trying time trying to figure out what exactly about "G.B.F." really cares or knows about the struggle. Maybe Xavier Dolan will make a better film about it someday, or someone like that, but for now, for now, "GBF" is DOA, or MIA, or SOS, MIC, KEY, or MOUSE or some other acronym, except for LOL.


THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2013) Director: Ben Stiller

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James Thurber's short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", created one of the most iconic of western characters, and one of the most impossible to adapt to film (This film, actually had been in development for over 20 years, and passed through several actors, directors, producers, and rewrites). A completely literal adaptation, you can throw out the window before you even big, just not possible, but the sense of Walter Mitty can be achieved, if done well. The best of these is "From A to Z-Z-Z-Z", the great Oscar-nominated Chuck Jones directed Looney Tunes short, starring one of the more lesser known Looney Tunes characters, Ralph Phillips, the pudgy little boy in class who's always daydreaming. (He only showed up as a kid in a couple cartoons, but they're worth looking up.) This Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) works in the photo archive department at Life Magazine, which is about to close down and send out it's final issue, as a new management group led by the bearded prick, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott and his beard.) who's turning the magazine into a mainly online presence only. (The real Life Magazine went out of business at the beginning of the century, being relegated to a Parade Magazine-like presence in Sunday papers, before finally folding from that around '07, the choice of magazine is mostly chosen symbolically. (And again, 20+ years in pre-production hell) Walter Mitty's life, isn't much. He can't even fill out interesting stuff on his eHarmony account, despite the persistent help from an unusually helpful Customer Service worker, Todd (Patton Oswalt). He gets a crush on a new fellow co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a single mom who's also got an eHarmony account, but he's a little too shy to go up to her. In his mind, he's a lot smoother and more adventurous and suave, and like Mitty, he zones out, and daydreams the ways he really wished he'd behaved in these scenarios. You'd think this would make the stuff of good film, but since the action is all in his head, transferring that inner action visually into a more traditional movie plot is tricky, unless he's being forced to take action, and that's where the threats of firing, and the missing photograph that's supposedly the penultimate perfect photo for the end of the magazine comes in. It's taken from the magazine most famous and hard-to-find photographer Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn, in a good cameo), but unfortunately, it wasn't on his latest roll of film, and Walter can't find it, so he must now track him down. This leads to a real life journey to Greenland, then Iceland, and then ultimately to the Himalayan section of Afghanistan, (Which to my surprise, the Himalayas actually do go into Afghanistan barely. Greenland however, is not a country, it is a territory of Denmark, although Nuuk is the capital [I watched way too "...Carmen San Diego" growing up, I know]) in order to find out where the photograph actually is, although on the way, what he really discovers is himself and life and real adventure, and all the most cliched ways you can tell this story in a way that is distinctly not Walter Mitty. I'm a bit torn on this one. The movie looks special, but the more you dissect the film, the less it seems to really work. Stiller's always a competent director, but an erratic one, sometimes giving us something special like "Tropic Thunder" but he's also responsible for "The Cable Guy" and "Reality Bites", neither film is which, and this one is somewhere in the middle. He's much better at straight comedy than giving us something more depthful and his attempts at trying to say something more profound have often faltered, and this one, does seem to be heading in the fall trajectory. I'm giving some points for difficulty admittedly, I wouldn't even know where to begin to pull of Walter Mitty, and I have a great affection for this character; I'm a daydreamer myself, I'm certainly influenced by Walter Mitty...-, it's a bit of hit-and-miss and there's some definite issues with the film. I guess I won't stop anybody from wanting to make up their own minds on it, but after much deliberation and going back and forth, I can't quite recommend it. I recognize just how bad this could've been, but I also realize, this film could've done a lot more to make it better, and it just didn't do that.


WADJDA (2013) Director: Haifaa Al Mansour

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Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of "Wadjda" is that it exists at all. I'm sure there's others who will, and have read or found more into it, some have even been offended by it's characterizations of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi people. It's the first feature film from a female Saudi Arabian filmmaker, and it's story is incredibly simple. It tells about a young girl, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) a smart and headstrong twelve-year-old in Saudi Arabia. She goes to a girl's school, where she's constantly told to dress in her entire burka outfit (They're immediately removed when inside by everyone, including the teachers, all female [In fact, every adult female had a job], and the women in general in the film, seemed to viewed as independent, strong-willed, and often decisive decision-makers for the men in their lives), or for wearing the wrong shoes, and other very Madeline-like activities by her teacher Ms. Hussa (Ahd). Wadjda's mother, (Reem Abdullah) is trying to get her husband and Wadjda's father (Sultan Al Assaf) to stay with the family. They are married, but there's continued intense pressure from his mother to marry the girl she's picked out for him, because Mother can't/hasn't bore a son. We see a rather strange scene- Well, perhaps strange to someone in the Western world like me, where Wadjda and her mother go dress shopping at a very typical mall, dressed in their traditional oppressive garments, but she's debating about buying a rather exuberant dress, that thins out her natural curves in the chest and waist area, so the father might come back to her. The interesting contrast of a modern world, existing, essentially behind the doors. Outside, the world is more complex. Wadjda's friend Abdullah (Abdullahrahman Al Gohani) takes her scarf and rides off on his new bike, Wadjda becomes determined to get her own, something that's basically discouraged in the country (It's not completely illegal, as of 2013, women are allowed now under certain conditions, but that is still a new law). Women can't drive cars, although drivers are often hired and they drive the women around time. Wadjda starts trying to earn money for the bank, through some enterprising ways. She starts making and selling bracelets for instance, and she even puts a bike on hold at a store for her, a nice expensive one too. She finds out about a Qu'ran contest in school, which she has to recite correctly. Women, like men, are often taught just to recite the Qu'ran, and to memorize and read it and there's numerous contests where reciting it is competitive. (There's even a version of "American Idol" where competitors just read passages from the Qu'ran in one country.) She gets a video game to help her study, an intensely studies and practices, determined to win the prize money for the bike. There's no surprises here where the story goes, but that's okay. "Wadjda" only needs a simple tale at it's center to showcase and tell us others at the edges, commenting on the society, and in some cases comments of the critics of the society. We don't get too many open doors into the world of Saudi Arabia in general, I've heard that there aren't movie theaters there yet, although television's showing more of the realism of Saudi life in recent years. The diretor Haifaa Al Mansour is from there, but studied mostly overseas as an adult, now lives in Bahrain with a diplomat husband, but for the first time out, this is really well-done and skillfully made tale. At it's core, it's about the people, trying to live their lives, however complex they might be; it just happens to be in a world that has for centuries made that more difficult for some, even as a modern world strives to make it easier and simpler for all. Behind those doors, life happens; the good news is, based on this film, it's contents and it's existence, it seems to that it's starting to happen on the outside of them as well. A girl riding a bike is a pretty giant leap there.


NARCO CULTURA (2013) Director: Shaul Schwartz

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I can't recall too many documentaries that I've seen with so many dead bodies in them, unless they were about the Holocaust or the Killing Fields or something like. And I mean, like dead an hour ago-type dead. "Narco Cultura", is a look at two sides of the war on drugs in and around the Mexican border. One side is the incredible violence that overloads morgues and police as they can't even get around to investigating some of the murders 'cause they happen so often in places like Juarez, Mexico, the most violent city in Mexico, right across from El Paso, Texas, the safest city in America, by the same research. It's a bit amazing in some ways how the violence hasn't bleed more into America, but then again, while drugs cross the border to us, guns and cash cross the border into Mexico supplying the means to the war, everything but the army essentially. Strangely, the movie doesn't focus more on the actual drug war, but on one of the more peculiar yet predictable side effects, the narcocorrido culture that's come out of it. I call it predictable, 'cause like it's musical uncle hip hop, back when it turned a corner from infancy to young adult, it also started to focus, display and in some cases celebrate the thrills of the drug culture. In those days, the drug was crack, as oppose to regular cocaine, but they still celebrate the idols of the trade. "Scarface" t-shirts and posters would constantly sellout for instance, and moguls used to talk about how the movie was inspiration for them to build their hip hop empire. (I always wondered if they ever got to the ending) Narco Cultura is illegal on many of the Mexican radio stations, but it's still spread around and incredibly popular. One musician Edgar Quintero who produces, records and writes much of Narco Cultura music, often gets requests for song by supposed figures in the real drug and crime world, and he rights songs about them by learning about them. The music, the dominant but not the only art form partaken in exploiting the fantasy of the culture, is a strange combination of melodic mariachi, country blues, even polka elements like accordions but with lyrics straight out of rap and hip hop, It's incredibly good music, and we hear it and see it performed, often with prop machine guns and other images of narco cultura, and in front of sold out crowds, dancing and grinding and singing along to the lyrics. We see young girls in middle school talking about how they'd want to married to a Narco and live that extravagant life. "Narco Cultura", is a strong documentary that shows us that even if the drug war and trade were to stop now, that the legacy and inspiration of the movement will continue on, not only in the next generation but in this one. The Narco Cultura have so much influence over such a vast amount of people. It's a complicated construct, the two sides of the world, the murderous war and battle, and the freewheelin' rich and exuberant life that the drug leaders live, and how it truly effects the culture, whether it's real life for some, fantasy ideal for others. From the morgues of today to the pop charts of tomorrow.


PANDORA'S PROMISE (2013) Director Robert Stone

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I noticed two things during this propaganda film on the greatness of nuclear energy that the former hardcore Greenpeace environmentalist experts they kept interviewing, were constantly shocked and surprised by the new information that they'd find out about Chernobyl or Three-Mile Island or any other notable facts apparently about nuclear energy, which you'd think they'd know about since they were supposedly on the front lines in the war against nuclear energy, and also B, they rarely if ever go into detail about how nuclear energy is a safer and better alternative to both fossil fuels and the other forms of alternative energy. They give statistics occasionally, and go over things with a geiger counter, and the fact is, they're not particularly wrong. I'm not anti-nuclear energy (I'm not pro-nuclear energy either, don't be confused it's problematic, but it certainly has proven it's usefulness over time) but I know that 99.9% percent of the time, it's actually relatively safe and in many ways very clean compared to other sources like coal for instance. Now it is difficult for them to explain, why it's safer in real detail, occasionally that talk about it, but they don't exactly bother explaining or educating the public on the reasons or the lingo that they claim, no one will understand. They might not be wrong, it takes intelligent people to understand it, but not trying to make the country smarter cannot possibly be the correct approach to this. "Pandora's Promise", is a documentary that started off promising, but just made me madder and madder as I continued to watch. It's not just that it's one-sided, it's that the one side is to say that the environmentalists are simply wrong all the time, at least on nuclear energy, and it halfways defends nuclear energy, and frankly, even then, it's a lot of half-truths, mixed in with the real ones. It admits that under the worst of circumstances, nuclear energy isn't great. One of the experts heads to Fukishima Daichi, the power plant in Japan that melted down after the tsunami a few years back, and as he gets out of his protective radiation suit, he's asked by the director, Robert Stone repeatedly whether he's still pro-nuclear, he says to not ask him right now, until he assesses the damage himself. There is damage, less than some claim, more than they say there actually is. As I got more and more frustrated with how half-ass and tainted the film is, and frankly at times, while it accused many on the left, for not looking at the scientific data and trusting it, the way that the left usually shoves it down the throats when climate change, they're simplest data isn't right either. It claims nuclear energy has to exist because all the other alternative sources don't produce enough energy, that's a lie. They especially called out solar and wind power- I'm in Nevada, we have a long history of nuclear activity here, and now we're the leader in solar energy across the country, all the hotels are switching to solar energy, every new major building is solar energy- they actually said that if the sun's not out, you don't get energy, that is such bullshit, I don't even know where to begin. The amount of energy from the most minor of sunlight encaptured by solars panels is astounding. They're right that, the solar panels they're not the safest things to make, that part is true, but they're just BSing some of it. Almost all the energy sources have many positives, a few negatives, including and especially nuclear. One of the worst negatives is nuclear waste, and they tried to send that here once upon a time. Nuclear waste, is what's produced when nuclear energy's discharge, and it's not the safest thing. France is now trying to recycle it, but the big problem is that a good part of it isn't and it also hazardous, toxic and it doesn't complete degrade over time, so we're stuck with it for now, and at the time, people were trying to figure out where to put it. They talk for a minute, late in the movie about Yucca Mountain, which I live about 100 miles from, it's a dormant volcano outside Vegas (Yes, not a ridge, it's a volcano, granted dormant, but it's a volcano) where this toxic nuclear material that doesn't disintegrate would have to be kept for literally thousands of years, inside Yucca Mountain, that was the plan, it was 20+ years in the making this plan, to send this stuff, over 70% of it, would come from the other side of the Mississippi, in huge trucks, supposedly in specially-designed barrels that were guaranteed not to break (That they couldn't design) and that's in case one of these trucks ever crashed, but- anyway, there's about 50 things wrong with the plan, but it wasn't politics that stopped the project as the movie claimed. In fact, after multiple vetoes from President Clinton, it was signed into law by President George W. Bush, which was when Nevada's then-governor, a Republican Governor named Kenny Guinn, did something that hadn't been done since the Civil War. He vetoed the president's bill, swearing to stop all trucks containing the nuclear waste from entering the state. That didn't stop the bill btw, but it started court proceedings which Gov. Guinn knew he wasn't gonna win, and he shouldn't have; even the most progressive defender of state's rights would've laughed the case out of court, but it bought time, and what happened was that the law was eventually voided after the scientists who determined Yucca Mountain's safety for the storage, we found out, had deliberately doctored and lied about their findings and results, and were arrested for perjury, that's what stopped Yucca Mountain, the scientists who were lying about how safe nuclear waste was. (The court case was inevitably thrown out as well, without a ruling) I point this out to show how the film, skims over important details and facts, and why I have to give it such a low rating, especially when there are so many powerful reasons for nuclear energy, it makes the movie feel more disheartening and ingenuous. And It is, sometimes a little too blatantly. (I also can't stand more anything being smarter than the movie I'm watching) I also have no idea why the movie chose "Pandora's Promise" as the title. I know the story of Pandora, but I don't know what the hell that has to do with anything.


SAWDUST AND TINSEL (1953) Director: Ingmar Bergman

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Not given a U.S. theatrical release until three years later in '56, after the international success of "Smiles of a Summer Night", "Sawdust and Tinsel" is often regarded as Ingmar Bergman's best film right before his worldwide fame exploded with "Smiles...", "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries"  and in truth, I have some trouble with this one myself. I tend to find myself preferring later Bergman as I get older, and in "Sawdust and Tinsel", there's a bit of a sense, that it feels less complete to me compared to others of his. I watched it a few times before writing this to be sure in fact, and don't get me wrong, it's more than worth a few viewings, it's still an amazing piece of work, from an amazing filmmaker, but I also get the sense that he deals with many of the underlying themes better in other films. It's the turn on the 19th Century Sweden and a circus is coming into town, greeted with both cheers and derision from the local town. (That's a really Swedish theme, but actor, for many years was never considered a glamorous or acceptable position in the country, and circus performers are slightly below actors.) They're led by Albert (Ake Groenberg), who's not a very successful ringmaster. His crew is loyal, although they're so broke, they had to leave many of their costumes behind as they set up the Big Top for the next city, which happens to be near where Albert's ex-wife Agda (Annika Tredow) lives. Before visiting her, we see a rather Felliniesque opening sequence, told in flashback about a clown who's humiliated in front of soldiers, that's filled with strange uses of battlefield sounds, and grosteque laughter. Albert's now married to the circus's horseback rider Alma (Gudrun Brost), while he's also in love with his mistress Anne (Harriet Andersson), but is enraged with jealousy when Frans (Hasse Eckman) makes a move on her. She swears loyalty, but despite that, his jealousy reigns through as his life's work of the circus continued to decay around him. I think the problem with "Sawdust..." is that it's a lot of good scenes, but they don't necessarily come to together and make a movie. There's a few really good comebacks, particularly to the end, and how the showdown between Frans and Albert, repeats back to the flashback story about the clown and the soldiers. That said, I had a hard time thinking of "Sawdust and Tinsel" as one of Bergman's better films. It felt a bit like he was still experimenting and hadn't really found his true voice yet, but that said, there's a lot to see in the film, and we can get a good glimpse and the ideas that would pepper his films in the future more in this one, from the violently experimental like "Persona" to the more classical Bergman like "The Seventh Seal". "Sawdust..." hints at us the genius, but it's not fully formed here yet.


SWING TIME (1936) Director: George Stevens

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I do love musicals and dancing performances, but admittedly, that's more of a late-in-life realization, so I've still doing some catch-up, and embarassingly, I must admit that, A. not only am I finally getting around to "Swing Time", but B., this is my first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie. It happens to be a good one. I've always been more of a Gene Kelly guy dance-wise, and frankly, it's hard for me to actually watch the whole screen when watching them dance, I'm always looking at their feet, especially Ginger Rogers, backwards and in high heels as the saying has always gone. The film has great dancing and great music, standards now, we'd hardly recognize was music until now, like "Start All Over Again", and the Oscar Winning Best Song, "The Way You Look Tonight", which Astaire sings while playing the piano. That's something that we don't really think about much, but back then, performers did everything, whatever was needed at the time, singer, dancer, actor, musician, whatever. It's almost surprising to find out an actor can do anything else nowadays, but it was expected back then. Rogers wasn't the only girl who dance with Fred Astaire, but she was also a great serious actress as well (And both of them show their comedic talents are surprisingly strong here, despite otherwise minor comedic material for them to work with, they work with it well. Astaire is Lucky Garnett, a dancer who returns to his hometown and tries to get married, but arrives late, and promises to head to New York to make money gambling. He is a gambler, but through a series of contrivances to ridiculous to say out loud, he ends up running into Rogers, a dance instructor who now has to teach Lucky to dance. They are in love, but both are engaged to another essentially, and that's the main story thread that shoots through the movie, as an excuse for the dance sequences. Number like Astaire's homage to Bill Robinson his idol, "Bojangles in Harlem", (The only time Astaire wore blackface) exist outside the story, but what's surprising is how seriously to the story some of the other numbers are like the "Never Gonna Dance" sequence, where they're lives and choices indicate not only the sadness for each other that they'll be separated, but also that they'll never dance together again, or possibly forever. It's both a sad and yet beautiful sequence. "Swing Time" probably needs a couple more viewings for me to fully appreciate it, but it is special, and I find myself seeing an elegance to the film's simplicity, as it lets us appreciate the dancing even more.


SID AND NANCY (1986) Director: Alex Cox

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I've never really known what to make of Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman). There's constant debate about whether or not he was actually talented as the bass player for The Sex Pistols for instance. After seeing Alex Cox's masterpiece "Sid and Nancy", I think I get a clearer picture of the doomed kid, and he was a kid. Only 21 when he died of a heroin overdose while out on bail for his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen's (Chloe Webb) murder. He was a punk who seemed to stumble into being a punk rocker. Told by Malcolm McLaren, (David Hayman) the creator and agent of the band constantly about how big a star he was, the image of the band, and the movement, and how he almost seemed to struggle with that kind of pressure and image. That's not to say he wasn't a fuck-up naturally. He was a heroin addict, he drank, he spat beer on stage to the audience, he was barely capable of playing the bass, even by punk rock standards.... He was in love with Nancy, an American girl from the Jewish suburbs of Philadelphia who had become a groupie and a junkie. She found her way to England, on top of the punk rock scene, and nothing matters much to both of them more than each other. Yet, she's a firecracker, and after The Sex Pistols break up shortly after they barely began, she tries to make Sid rise in his potential. She dutifully schedules concerts for him with his bands, and they make several failed half-attempts to clean up. When Nancy finds Sid, strung out at home, when he's supposed to be practicing, she freaks out and beats him up, "You said we were gonna stay clean 'til the show!... And you didn't save any for me!" It's self-afflicting abuse, the anger they have towards themselves and life for making them this way. Sid was a victim of circumstance, and one who wasn't truly capable of handling, even the allusion of fame and success that they had. That doesn't mean his fate would've been that different. Although Nancy's might've. Inevitably, the Romeo & Juliet of punk, would end up like they did, one stabbed to death, the other dying of an overdose. We see the image of Nancy and Sid, Nancy so stoned out of her mind, she insists Sid insert the knife into her, and both of them too strung out to do anything other than let her bleed to death. The movie was directed by Alex Cox, then known only for "Repo Man", before becoming one of the more mysterious renegade directors of film. It's probably a romance by his standards, and it is, but it's really about the journey two lovers take, through their worst addictions and demons that both brought them together, and simultaneously took their lives. It's both hard-to-watch and beautiful in its own way, a tragic romance of two people who would've ended up doomed separately, probably, but least for awhile, they ended up doomed together.

BTW, it's not something I always care or pay attention about, but it took me a long time to find a photo for this review, that I was sure was from the movie, and not an actual picture of Sid and Nancy.


Friday, September 19, 2014

SPECIAL EDITION: "BURKA AVENGER" INTERVIEW! A DISCUSSION WITH ADI ABDURAB, THE HEAD OF WRITING FOR "BURKA AVENGER", PAKISTAN'S BIGGEST SUPERHERO.



I've always been willing to discuss anything regarding the entertainment world on this blog, although I didn't particularly imagine that would include children's superhero cartoons, that originate in Pakistan. That said, I try not to pass up too many opportunities and when I had the chance to discuss "Burka Avenger", the groundbreaking and award-winning TV show with the show's Head of Writing Adi Abdurab, I took advantage. What him, and the rest of the crew on the show are doing, is quite amazing with the first 3-D animated superhero in Pakistan, "Burka Avenger". She (Yes, a female superhero) has become famous worldwide, as a symbolic answer as Abdurab puts it "to extremes of the world". A powerful message especially in a county where such extremes like the right to women having an education is still being fought. For this SPECIAL EDITION blogpost, I got the opportunity to take some time and talk with Adi Abdurab, about "Burka Avenger", his journey and role on the Peabody Award-winning program, and what the future might hold for the series. We talked through instant messaging on Facebook, we were acquainted with each other through a mutual friend, and the conversation below is corrected from the original for grammatical reasons, as well as to present the interview in a more smoother way, with only brief, irrelevant and/or uninteresting exchanges between us taken out from the original discussion.  


ME: I'll just start with an easy one, who is "Burka Avenger"? 

ADI ABDURAB: There is a simple answer and a slightly longer answer, which would you like first?


ME: Start with the simple than go to the long.

ADI ABDURAB: The simple answer is that Burka Avenger is Pakistan's first superhero. She is a girl who has no super powers, is a highly trained martial artist and the answer to the extremes of the world. The long version is that Burka Avenger is the answer to a bunch of questions. Can women be superheroes without the revealing clothes? What role has education battling extremes, can a message designed for a specific country spread across the globe and can all of this be presented in an easy to digest package for children in such a way that they influence their environment. "Burka Avenger" talks about issues that are not common in the mainstream environment, women's right to education, not becoming a runaway, child labor and freedom of choice in how we live our lives. And, as a former business student, I feel works as a case study on how a show can come up from nothing (from the last place you'd expect) and take the world by storm because it hit all the right touch points at the right time. Does that answer your question?

ME: Very much so. It also leads me into my next questions, what are your responsibilities on the show, and how did you get to work on it? In other words, how did you get from business student to "Burka Avenger"? 

ADI ADBURAB: I had my own insignificant little blog where I used to write jokes and create random comics. It was mostly hit and miss. I was an IT manager for about 6 years at the time. A friend of mine was in the animation business, at the time, we talked about working on something together and I wrote some stories for him. He liked the ideas, none of them made it to film unfortunately. He was called in for an interview at Unicorn Black Animation Studios (then called Mango Animation). He did no take the job, but when asked if he knew a writer, put my name in for recommendation. I was called in for an interview along with other writers and we were all given this outline on which were to fashion a story. The outline (in summary) was that there are these extremists who are going to threaten a girl's school. There must be kids, there must be side-kicks, funny little characters and menacing villains.


ME: Is that the one that became the first episode? 

ADI ADBURAB: Sadly no, my first draft was rejected because I introduced 20 characters in there and the production pipeline was not ready for that many assets. But they liked where I was going with it and hired me. Then after a few meeting with the other writers, we whittled down the story to what you saw on TV.


ME: Ah. Yeah, 20 characters in an animation cartoon, that can be a bit much. 

ADI ADBURAB: At the time, I just had ideas for stories; I didn't even know the technical aspects of writing a script. But, some reading and research, I picked up on all that and I nailed it by the 4th draft. After two episodes, they liked my work; the made me the head of writing. They tried out a few people for sound direction, then they trained me in heading up pre-production and here we are.


ME: Oh wow, you do a lot on the show. 

ADI ADBURAB: I'd like to look at it as doing everything I can.


ME: That's a great way of putting it. How many writers does the show have, and how many episodes have you written? 

ADI ADBURAB: The show has 1 other writer and one consultant. The other writer is primarily responsible for gags, you can look him up, he's famous on Facebook "Comics by Arsian", the consultant was a part-time writer, she used to fine tune some of our scripts, such as going overboard with comedy or action. She'd remind us that we're not making "Simpsons" or "Legend of Korra" (who was an inspiration for some of out characters), and helped steer us back...-


COMICS BY ARSIAN LINKS ARE BELOW:
http://www.comicsbyarslan.com/ (BLOG/HOMEPAGE)
https://www.facebook.com/comics.by.arslan (FACEBOOK PAGE)

ME: You've practically beaten me to my next question here; so since this is Pakistan's first superhero, does "Burka Avenger" have any superhero influences, and in Pakistan in general, just how popular are superheroes/heroines with the public, or is this a very new concept there? 

ADI ADBURAB: Yes, "Legend of Korra" had just come out when we started work and saw it as our benchmark of a strong female lead. We also looked at the darked themes of "Batman" to design some of our shots. Our head of animation, a huge Batman, TAS, and Justice League fan, used to watch their action sequences all day before coming up with a storyboard. It is a bunch of ideas assembled from similar shows. So super heroes in Pakistan aren't exactly a new thing. There is a Commander Safeguard, who is basically a mascot for a soap, but they created some very interesting animated shorts featuring the adventures of Commanders Safeguard. We also used to get cartoon regularly, so the audience had been well educated since the days of "Voltron", "Thundercats", "Silver Hawks", etc. We didn't have such an uphill battle with the idea of a superhero.

ME: Wow, "Voltron", that brings me back.

ADI ADBURAB: It does us all. The ones with the cars was ridiculous; I remember laughing about the gags they made on "Robot Chicken" about that "Voltron".


ME: I never liked the one with the cars either. I'll have to look up the "Robot Chicken" one through, I haven't seen that one yet. I've seen others, but not the "Voltron" one. 

ADI ADBURAB: Do check it out, you might like it.


(Adi sent me the link to the "Robot Chicken" "Voltron" parody, and I watched it as we continued talking; it was pretty funny. The link is below.)
http://www.adultswim.com/videos/robot-chicken/voltron-force-assemble

ME: Moving on, the show's creator is Haroon, a very famous pop star in Pakistan, how hands-on is he with the show and what's he like to work with? 

ADI ADBURAB: He is very hands on, sometimes, short of taking the computer from you and doing it himself, he does it all. Sometimes it presents a challenge to fully create, but at other times, it makes things easy. Having been a pop star, he had some great ideas for soundtrack and that still happens to be one of the show's highlights. He is a very understanding person; I've seen people storm off after huge fights, but he never made it personal. "Mixed feelings" is the most apt phrase to describe that relationship. Being Head of Writing, most of my job involves going back and forth between him almost all the time. 

ME: I see. Well, the music for the show, is very prevalent, it's also very catchy and iconic already, so it's definitely impressive. 

ADI ADBURAB: Yes, the music is definitely the highlight; it's lead into the launch of another Black Unicorn project called Taazi.com, a platform to hear music legally for free. It's picking up nicely in Pakistan. 

ME: Oh, very cool. You talked a bit about the education aspects; it's a core theme of the show. It's obviously very important for you and the show, why is that, and just how prevalent a message is that on Pakistani television, especially compared with other animated/children shows? 

ADI ADBURAB: There is a mentality common to the Southeast Asian Sub-Continent that still holds on to the notion that women are inferior being. This is limited to the underdeveloped areas of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. To counteract that, we that "Burka Avenger" would present an opportunity to influence these minds both directly and tangentially, and hopefully it will help the cause of making education available to everyone. Other shows speak of generic issues of empowering women, which is great, but we felt that, with this, we need a new approach and we realized that there is no greater asset to a nation than literacy. I hope that answers the question. I feel like I may have repeated myself a few times there. 

ME: You probably have, but it does bare repeating. Especially is Pakistan, just looking up the statistics on literacy, especially among women; it's a bit startling for a westerner, so it's a very big message you're sending out. 

ADI ADBURAB: It is heart-wrenching for us as well. 

ME: I can kinda imagine, but not quite. Just a couple more questions, how long does it take to produce an episode? 

ADI ADBURAB: It depends on a few things, such as number of assets, the locations and backlog. Sometimes it takes 3 weeks, sometimes 6. The quickest we have done an episode was 2 weeks, which was basically a recap episode. 

ME: You also mentioned wanting the show to spread across the globe, in a way it's done that already, but are there any prospects/chances that "Burka Avenger" will start airing on U.S. television soon? 

ADI ADBURAB: Yes, there are definite wheels in motion to bring the series stateside. Insh-Allah, we will solidify a plan and announce the big news,... soon. 

ME: Hmm. Very interesting. We will keep an eye out for that. 

ADI ADBURAB: I'll be sure to let you know as soon as something solidifies. 

ME: I'll be waiting. Well, that's all the questions I had, thank you very much for doing this with me.

ADI ADBURAB: Not a problem, I'm happy to talk about "Burka Avenger". 

ME: And congratulation, on the many awards and accommodations the show has received, especially the Peabody, big congratulations on that. 

ADI ADBURAB: Thank you very much, it was a surprise for us, as well as a humbling reminder that anything can happen to anyone. 

ME: Thanks again for granting me this time.