Saturday, April 26, 2014

Only God Forgives Ryan Gosling for doing this movie

What an edgy poster!
Only God Forgives (2013) reunites Ryan Gosling with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. A movie poster like the one above highlights the “edgy” violence that peppers the film. The actual viewing experience might leave its audience feeling beat up. The striking visuals and moments of understated brilliance are weighed down by a slow pace, an anti-hero that may or may not be on Ambien in every scene, and an ending that will most likely leave you befuddled, or at least leave you on your own to decide what the meaning of it all is.
The movie takes place in Thailand, where two expatriate brothers, one of which is Julian, played by Gosling, and the other of which is a pyschotic with an interest in under-aged girls. This combination results in the brother being found with  a dead underage prostitute in a hotel room. Rather than arresting him,  the police’s Lieutenant Chang, who, according to Wikipedia, acts as “The Angel of Vengeance,”  allows the father of the slain girl to do what he wants to Gosling’s brother in the hotel room. But the father takes things too far, and kills the brother. However, Chang does not care about Billy’s death; instead, Chang cuts off the father’s forearm for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute.
Although the film at this point is bathed in both red neon light and blood, we only see the aftermath of each attack. The visuals are gruesome yet beautiful. Bathing the film in red neon light is a bit on the nose, but it fit not only the subject matter but the seediness of the setting. You can feel the tawdriness of the city enveloping the main characters.
Gosling, who owns a Muy Thai boxing club (which we learn later is a front for a drug smuggling operation), soon learns about his brother’s murder, and seeks out the girl’s father. Just as you think this film will become a art-house Death Wish, we find Gosling actually listening to the explanation. I liked that we don’t actually hear that explanation; instead we see the father gesturing and talking, and we see Gosling’s reaction, if you can call it that. Gosling stares straight ahead, stoic and seemingly unmoved. He decides to do nothing to the father.
So as not to confuse Julian with someone of high moral ground, or “the good son,” or even someone who shuns violence,  we are shown various things that make us believe that Julian ultimately lacks moral convictions. He is not an anti-hero, he is a non-hero, a weak person who passively accepts things he can change. He is not above seeking out prostitutes himself: he pays a regular named Mai to put on a show for him while he remains at a distance, tied up to a chair. He seems to be almost asleep throughout the movie, with occasional explosions of rage or violence that only sometimes seem to have a reason behind them.  He can beat someone up at a club for no reason, drag him across the floor by his teeth. Yet when confronting Lt. Chang, who is ultimately responsible for his brother’s death, he is strangely impotent, and quite easily beaten in hand to hand combat.
Julian’s mother, Crystal, bursts onto the scene, and we get all that we need to know about why Julian and his brother’s mental and emotional problems by the way Crystal treats the receptionist at the front desk of the hotel. This scene is brilliant, but at times the role as written by Refn may have been a bit too much. Crystal is very willing to act where Julian has been passive, and she stirs up the pot by taking vengeance against her son’s killers. This moves the plot and action along, but perhaps too much of an incestuous vibe is played up for my taste. She compares the penis sizes of her sons when at a dinner with Julian, who is pretending that Mai is his girlfriend. She sees right through the ruse, delivering judgment upon Mai and Julian with scorn in a way that only a spiteful mother could. I’m not sure we need the incestuous overtones thrown in.
Regardless, up until this point, the look of the film, the performances, and the script measured up to the expectations I had for the film (I was not a huge fan of Drive, a film for the most part has erased itself from my memory). The way Refn used violence in the film was effective and even though graphic, understated. But there’s a scene where it started to go south a bit for me. Lt. Chang is nearly executed by gunmen in an outdoor restaurant. Chang tracks down the man who hired the gunmen, whose name is Byron, who himself was hired by Crystal to kill Chang. Lt. Chang drive skewers through Byron’s hands, legs, eye, and ear in a drawn out scene that would seem more at home in Reservoir Dogs than in this film. It seemed to want to shock the audience with how realistic it was. It felt very out of place in a film where we often feel like we are in a dream state, or like Julian, seemingly overdosing on Ambien.
Throughout the film, Julian has had visions of Chang, and it seems like we are destined for a great showdown when Chang and Julian finally confront each other in the boxing gym. But expectations and hopes are quickly dashed, as Chang easily defeats Julian in hand to hand combat, in the same way that a human swats away a fly. I thought the way this scene was handled was interesting and different, but it contributes to the unraveling of the film. I’m not sure what it really was supposed to mean or signify. Julian clearly is not a hero or a villain or even much of a presence or force in the film. That is clear. What isn’t clear is why this story was told in the first place. I don’t feel I was ever given a reason to care why Julian was such a non-entity. Perhaps if Chang had more of a personality himself, that might have provided some insight. But although a force to be reckoned, dealing out punishment to all those who come his way, Chang is too reserved and mysterious himself to be an effective counterpart to Julian. (Crystal is the most understandable and interesting character in the film, but the film isn’t really about her, except for the fact that that in a sense she created Julian’s personality by being such a forceful personality herself).
Although there are a great many things worthy to praise in this film, there wasn’t enough insight into Julian or Chang to feel one way or another about how it ended.  It really didn’t end in a traditional sense either, with another vision of Julian’s ending the film. Chang sings karaoke in a bar in front of other policemen as the credits roll. Although it seems unclear, I took this to mean he is the last man left standing, even though Julian’s last vision breaks from reality and the gritty setting of urban Thailand and ends in a field surrounded by trees.
Refn is extremely talented in an unconventional way. But he still has a long way to go before he can get me to care about what happens in his films as much as I can enjoy the technical skills on display. He knows how to write in a restrained way, by showing rather than telling. But he needs to show a bit more, give his characters some emotional weight, for his films to feel like they are more artsy exercises in pretentiousness.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What's On NETFLIX Now?: EXPIRING SOON (updated)

What's On NETFLIX Now?: EXPIRING SOON (updated): Last chance to catch these titles before they expire, at 11:59pm, on the dates below: April 23 Mirror Mirror (2012) April 24 The ...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Act of Killing: Killing Independent Aaron

Let me just cut straight to my opinion of this film: I hated it. I will make it my mission to see it destroyed, and all its critical acclaim go the way of The Birth of a Nation‘s.
The Act of Killing (2012)  is the fifth and final entry of my reviews of the 2013 Oscar Nominated Documentaries. Given all the rapturous acclaim for this film, I was expecting it to contend for my top pick up to this point: The SquareThe premise seemed insane and unbelievable, or as one IMDB reviewer put it, “it needs to be seen to be believed.” True, but that doesn’t make this a good film. The idea of allowing mass-murderers to re-enact their crimes seemed too surreal and interesting to fail, yet it does. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are producers for this film, and if either of them had tackled this subject matter, then it could have been the film I imagined it would be, or the film that critics think they saw. But Joshua Oppenheimer is a hack, offering the viewer nothing but indulgence and wallowing in other people’s depravity, and making us feel complicit in their crime. If that’s how the viewer should feel in watching this, then of course you have to question how Oppenheimer can sincerely believe “There’s no good guys, there’s no bad guys, there’s just people.” [1]
Oppenheimer must not have even watched his own film, and must be blinded by his “contact with Anwar (the centerpiece of the film and one of the murderers), with whom he’s grown close” [1] Either that or he’s a hipster, trying to maintain an ironic distance from the horrific implications of his film.
I unfortunately have to review this film, develop an opinion of it, and decipher the filmmaker’s intentions by seeking sources outside the film, because we are given virtually no context for what we see in the film. The film begins with a quote from Voltaire: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”. We then see what seems to be a structure for an abandoned amusement park that is in the shape of a giant fish. Cut to a waterfall where Anwar, the “conscience” of the film, and Herman, the grotesque pig of a man that is dressed in garish drag, are motioning as if they are sirens luring ships to the shore. They are surrounded by ornately costumed dancers. But there is no music, just a director shouting directions. We will come back to this scene towards the end of the film, but when the director shouts “Cut” you see the young dancers stretching to get their coats- they are uncomfortable and cold. The fantasy quickly gives way to reality. We then are given the only historical context to the film: “In 1965, the Indonesian Government was overthrown by the military. Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese. In less than a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million ‘communists’ were murdered. The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings. These men have been in power, and persecuted their opponents- ever since.” The film then goes on to give their film its current context, which is where they claim to do things that the film won’t end up doing: “When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did. To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever way they wished. The film follows that process, and documents its consequences.”
Not really, Oppenheimer. If you were to truly have documented the consequences of their actions, you would have at least partially stuck with your original intentions for the film, as chronicled in The Australian: “When the filmmaker tried to explore the truth about what happened in 1965 through the experiences of survivors in the plantation belt outside Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, he found: ‘They were too scared to say what had happened to them because the killers were living all around them.’ Police threatened the filmmakers with arrest, while plantation bosses and civic leaders regularly found ways to interrupt shooting. Eventually, the survivors asked Oppenheimer: ‘Why don’t you film the killers?’ Suddenly, ‘all the doors flew open.’ Whereas his original subjects had feared reprisals, the men who’d helped bathe Indonesia in blood were eager to talk about their achievements.” 
And we are treated to their boasting for 2 hours, while the victims and their suffering become an abstraction, and even a source of amusement. Herman, the fat pig of a paramilitary leader, enlists locals to help recreate scenes of terror and kidnapping in the streets. It’s a spectacle to everyone involved, with laughter and joy taken in the recreating of their own country men’s misery. “They burned our house down!” Herman says, mocking and mimicking the families of victims, while people in the street laugh and laugh. They calmly recount how they strangled “communists” using wire. Anwar tap dances on the same roof where he supposedly killed thousands. We meet a newspaperman, who occupied the same building that they killed people in, who claims to be ignorant of what was happening under their shared roof. The Pancasila paramilitary group to which they belonged still thrives, and essentially rules the streets. We see their rallies, which seem stuck in a time warp, as they rail against communists, and claim that the origin of the word “gangster” is “free man” over and over again. In case you thought they were just violent, we are treated to their leader playing golf and making disgusting comments about the female caddie’s genitalia. So we learn they are sexist too. Anwar, Herman, and others begin recreating interrogation scenes quite convincingly, but in a very movie-like exaggerated manner.
Given very little context for what is happening, things become very confusing at times. When we are introduced to Anwar’s neighbor, who tells a story of how his relatives were killed, I didn’t know if that was part of the movie they were making or not. Some of the recreations have a nightmarish quality to them, that frankly felt like what a self-indulgent director would do given an unlimited budget. But we never get a sense of how the film they think they are making comes together, or how the “scenes” relate to the historical context we are not given.
We eventually also learn that the killings may have been a cover for the genocide of the Chinese population of Indonesia. When Herman runs for office, we learn that the populace can be bribed for their vote, and he who bribes the best will win the election. Herman loses, and we lose respect for the general populace of Indonesia for seemingly accepting and participating in the corruption that they are essentially victims of. We get to see the members of the paramilitary shake down business owners for protection money, so some sympathy may remain.
Everything I mentioned up to this point happens in the first half of the film. At the hour and 15 minute mark, we got antsy, wondering how much longer this indulgence in depravity could last. I have to admit that I stopped watching at that point, and watched the last 45 minutes just today, a week or so later. Despite several scenes highlighting the natural beauty of Indonesia, the whole country seems like a place to never visit. Oppenheimer treats the viewer to repeatedly observing the actions of people who are the opposite of self-aware at best, and the worst of humanity at worst, without challenging them in any way, shape, or form. I can imagine Herzog taking the same material, and giving it shape and form, and purpose. I can imagine the director of The Devil Came on Horseback or even The Square allowing these people to have their say, but placing their actions in the context of the misery and strife they create. With The Devil Came on Horseback, it was clear what the benefit of the film was. No one would have heard about the suffering in Darfur without it.
And to those who might say that I missed the point of this film, I would point them to Errol Morris’ own The Fog of War, which essentially is a long sustained interview with a “villain” who may have also been to some a mass murderer. The implications, context, and consequences of one man’s actions are clear, even if what we do about it is not. But we inherently as Americans should have wrestled with what we saw because we understood its context and significance. And for what it’s worth, we see a man genuinely wrestle with his conscience, in an understated but genuine way, quite the opposite of the showiness of Anwar’s coming to terms with his actions. So then what is the point of this film? What was the point of going on for 2 hours, letting these people take joy in recreating their own murderous crimes? What are we supposed to learn? What are we supposed to do?
I must quote the following from Jennifer Merin, who quotes her colleague, who also sums up my feelings about the film: “During a post-screening conversation I had with BBC Commissioning Editor Nick Fraser, he commented. ‘It’s as though a documentary filmmaker went down to Argentina, found some ex-Nazis and gave them some money to make a film about how much fun they’d had killing Jews during the Holocaust. Everyone would be horrified. But in this case, it’s about Indonesia. People don’t know as much about it, so they don’t take exception in the same way.’ Insightful and pithy, as always, Fraser’s take on the film and the general response to it just about sums up my own” (2).
But Oppenheimer has the nerve to say the message of his film is “there’s just people.” No, there are people who murder and get away with it, and boast and revel in it. But allowing them to revel in it, without ever really questioning them during the whole process, should leave Oppenheimer with a dirty feeling. Sorry, Oppenheimer, Anwar does not truly come to terms with his actions. A few minutes of hacking up phlegm, or wretching, or whatever he does, does not even begin to count as contrition. If Hitler had come to terms with his actions by getting a little sick, would that mean anything to anyone?
Even better than that, put Hitler in place of Anwar in the penultimate scene of the film. Remember the waterfall fantasy scene at the beginning of the movie? We return to that scene, this time to the tune of “Born Free” (there they go again with the whole “free man” thing) where Anwar is a god like figure, Herman is a grotesque drag queen, and beautiful dancers surround them. Insert two downtrodden dirty people who have wire around their neck, which should immediately for the viewer place these as two of Anwar’s victims. They remove the wire from their neck, and thank Anwar for “sending them to heaven.”
Grotesque. Indulgent. Complicit. Depraved.
Anyone watching this film should read the following, which calls into question the veracity of the claims of the participants in this film:
Also, read the few negative reviews I could find for other reasons to not praise this film:
So that leaves us with the Oscar Documentary Challenge, that I should have finished a month ago. The good news is that 20 Feet From Stardom is now on streaming! So you can decide for yourself on how to rank all five documentaries nominated by the Academy. For me, the order from best to worst would be:
1. The Square
2. 20 Feet from Stardom
3. Dirty Wars
4. Cutie and the Boxer
5. The Act of Killing
Methinks that Blackfish could have been a nomination. I will have to watch that soon.
My IMDB Rating of The Act of Killing: 1 out of 10
My Netflix Rating: 1 out of 5
1) APPLEBAUM, STEPHEN (13 April 2013) Indonesia’s killing fields revisited in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary. The Australian
2) MERIN, JENNIFER (2013) The Act of Killing- Movie Review- 2013.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Red Lights Review

Red Lights (2012) is a film by Rodrigo Cortés, one of the many Spanish directors on Netflix streaming who seem vaguely familiar, but you can’t quite place what they’ve done. Well, Cortés might be known for directing the Ryan Reynolds pic Buried (which once upon a time was on Netflix streaming), but in the Netflix universe he wrote the just OK Apartment 143which at some point Netflix seemed to be begging us to watch every time we logged on.
This is a Spanish production, shot mostly in Barcelona, with some shots in Toronto. It grossed over $4 million theatrically in Spain, and in the USA it managed to make….$52,644, or less than what many Americans make in a year. So this would make this pretty much a straight to video title, which begs the question, “Why is it straight to video?” or really, “What’s wrong with this movie?” The movie received mostly negative reviews, and many online reviewers don’t like it, but only knowing it from showing up on Netflix, I came to it with an open mind.
The tension between having an open mind and maintaining a healthy skepticism based in science drives the conflict in Red Lights. The beginning reminded me of such films as The Conjuringwith Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Matheson and the criminally underused Cillian Murphy as her assistant in research. They visit a home where there seems to be paranormal activity, which they quickly dismiss. Like The Conjuring, Weaver and Murphy investigate any phenomena reported to them. Unlike the couple in that movie, however, their research leads them to debunk so-called psychics, and expose them as frauds, when necessary. This is hardly groundbreaking material however, as I’m sure you could think of a couple of films without much effort that follow a similar format.
But even before the appearance of Robert DeNiro as a world-renowned psychic coming out of a long retirement to prove himself, there was something odd about this movie and the feeling it induced. I’m not sure whether this was a sign that indeed the movie was of the quality deserving such a limited release, or if there was something intentional about how the editing and timing of the opening scenes created an almost rushed atmosphere. There were some good lines throughout the movie, when most movies of this type seem content on cheap scares and expository dialogue. There is some of that to be sure, but the decent script, and the solid performances by Murphy and Weaver combine for a better than expected viewing experience. DeNiro isn’t as bad as he has been of late, while Toby Jones and Elizabeth Olson are fine, but the movie almost didn’t need them.
DeNiro’s psychic seems to be the real deal, and although we see the typical “struggle to still not believe” scenes from Weaver and Murphy, we actually bought into those scenes because all the characters felt like real people, or as much as they can in a film that isn’t a character study. We at least know them as well as we know Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, and at least no one has been telling me how great Weaver was in this film for the last three months.
But much to my delight, Red Lights is actually Murphy’s movie, and to say much else would be to act as a spoiler. Like many other films that depend so heavily on their ending, whether you like the film or not depends on whether or not you think the film earned the ending it put in place (or on how well you understand it). While we did have some questions about it, we were able to quickly look at a key scene, thanks to Netflix streaming’s excellent rewinding feature where you can see each frame. Doing so also revealed the possibility that we have to re-examine Dr. Matheson’s (Weaver’s) motives and nature as well. Whether or not you like the ending, or buy it, I can say that I don’t think it’s been done before in a movie of this type. I personally liked it, and made what otherwise might have been just a decent but cookie cutter film more memorable. Not a great film, but pretty damn good. All the haters should just relax and realize that this film didn’t cost them anything.
My Netflix rating: 4 out of 5 (3.5 if it were available)
My ImDB rating: 7 out of 10

Monday, March 31, 2014

Review of Movie 43: When Bad Things Happen to Good Actors

I still need to finish watching a handful of Oscar Nominated films before I can even make my Top 10 list for 2013 (I have yet to see 12 Years A Slavebut the Movie Gods showed me that I could watch the winner for the 2014 Razzie of the Year. The Movie Gods have it out for me.
Movie 43 has 13 directors, and 28 writers. Netflix tries to sell it as a “homage” to movies such as Kentucky Fried Movie. If that is true, then I am going to make The Diary of Anne Frank into a musical comedy where Anne is living in an attic with Jack Tripper and Janet Wood, and they have a landlord played by Don Knotts that thinks Jack is gay, call it Three’s Concentration Camp! and consider it an homage to Anne Frank and all holocaust literature. But as a badge of honor, all movie critics must watch crap, so here we go.
The premise of the movie is that Dennis Quaid is a washed up producer pitching bad stories to Greg Kinnear’s studio.
Scene 1: “The Catch” The first story features Kate Winslet going out with Hugh Jackman, who is a billionaire bachelor. We see a cover of a magazine Kate’s friend shows her that asks “Why is this man still single?” It turns out that after he takes his scarf off at dinner, he has a ball sac on his throat. That’s right, he has a neck scrotum! That old tired joke. I am ashamed to admit I laughed a bit at this, partly because I couldn’t fathom how Winslet and Jackman could have been talked into doing this. But I suppose if the sight of a hair falling off of said neck scrotum and into Jackman’s soon-to-be-eaten soup sets off your funny bone, than this is your vignette!
Scene 2: “Homeschooled” A deeply unfunny bit starring Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts as parents who homeschool their kid, in every way, including hazing, being the humiliating teacher who gets their name wrong, and giving their son their first awkward kiss and sexual advance by a male friend experience. If child abuse were hilarious, then this would have been a feature film concept a long time ago.
Scene 3: “The Proposition” Chris Pratt is about to propose to Anna Farris, who also has a question to ask him. They both decide to ask their question at the same time, but Anna Farris manages to blurt out first “Will you poop on me?” Of course, JB Smoove is there to give advice at a barbecue the next day on what to make it just the right experience. He urges him to not be a “2 squeeze, thank you please” kind of guy. I’ve probably already given this segment more time than it deserves, but it was so gross and stupid, I again laughed at one point out of a “I’m so embarrassed for Anna Farris’ career” sentiment.
Keep in mind that between each “scene” Quaid disgusts Kinnear, and after this pitch, Kinnear calls security, but Quaid forces him to listen to the rest at gunpoint.
Scene 4: “Veronica” Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone have a lover’s quarrel at the front counter of the grocery store, which is broadcasted on the intercom. They say ludricrous things like “I want to give you a hickey on your V____.” Strange, not funny.
Scene 5: “IBabe” This is a “parody” of an Ipod or Iphone commercial where people dancing around to music with their headphones on, except they are connected to a naked woman instead of an Apple product. What’s the joke?
Scene 6: “Super Hero Speed Dating” Remember all those times you thought how funny it would be if superheroes had to speed date? Yeah, neither do I. Justin Long is Robin, Jason Sudeikis is Batman, Uma Thurman is Lois Lane, and Bobby Cannavale is Superman. Lois is speed dating Robin, Batman tells Superman, Superman warns Robin to keep his distance. Kirsten Bell as Supergirl gets the Cyrano de Bergerac treatment from Batman and Robin. They all say and do things that don’t make you laugh.
Scene 7: “Machine Kids” The idea is that there are actually kids inside vending machines, ATMs, and copiers. Haha.
Scene 5B: “IBabe” The joke is that the “vagiport” of the Ibabe is where the vent of the Ibabe is, and also where the fan is that cuts off the penises and fingers of the young men that have purchased the Ibabe. Aasif Mandvi has done such great work on The Daily Show, as has Jack McBrayer on 30 Rock. Richard Gere and Kate Bosworth round out the cast. The commercial returns after the segment, saying “Don’t Fuck It” HIGH-Larious!
Scene 8: “Middle School Date” This might have been the least funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I would sooner laugh at Rosemary’s Baby than this. I am so embarassed for Chloe Moretz, but how could Patrick Warburton, aka David Puddy, not see how horribly unfunny this was? He’s not a 13 year old girl, he should have known better. It is followed by a brief parody of a Tampax commercial. This was directed by Elizabeth Banks.
Common is Kinnear’s boss, who is meeting with Seth MacFarlane, who has a couple of funny lines when Quaid and Kinnear come in. Kinnear is forced to buy Quaid’s movie. It makes me wonder if this was how this movie got made.
Scene 9: “Happy Birthday” Johnny Knoxville tries to patch things up with his friend Sean William Scott by giving him a leprechaun, who turns out to be a foul-mouthed Irish midget. I think. I would trade a pot of gold right now for a laugh.
Will Sasso joins Common, Kinnear, and Quaid in embarrassing themselves.
Scene 10: “Truth or Dare” Stephen Merchant goes on a date with Halle Berry. A Truth or Dare game quickly escalates into Merchant being dared to grab a man’s behind, Berry blows out the candles on a blind kid’s birthday cake, etc. etc. I say etc, because it quickly devolves into a montage. The funniest dare would be Berry forcing Merchant to listen to Snooki read Moby Dick. But at this point, all you can muster is a chuckle.
Scene 11: “Victory’s Glory” A parody of inspirational sports/civil rights movies (like Terrence Howard’s own Pride and Glory Road). The only funny segment in the movie. Fast forward to 1hr 11 minutes in to watch it.
The film is “over” at 1hr 17 minutes, yet Netflix shows the movie is 1 hour 34 min. The movie has the nerve to show outtakes during the closing credits, but has even more nerve to make you think the f’ing movie is over!
Scene 12: “Beezel” I don’t think in the history of film, has any movie watcher been less ready to laugh. Beezel is an animated cat that tries to come in between Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Banks. Beezel is Duhamel’s cat, and Banks later catches Beezel masturbating to pictures of Duhamel. Beezel chases after Banks, and sprays her. I could go on, but I think I’ve devoted enough of this blog, and enough of my life to this movie.
I hopefully have gone into enough detail to confirm for you that the Razzie is well-deserved. What’s astonishing is that after the Beezel segment, there are 8 minutes of actual credits.
I would wish ass cancer on everyone involved in this movie, but there are too many talented people in it to wish that. Maybe a bad case of diarrhea. Some of those involved would think that would be funny.
IMDB Rating: 1 out of 10 stars
Netflix Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's On NETFLIX Now?: EXPIRING SOON (updated)

What's On NETFLIX Now?: EXPIRING SOON (updated): Last chance to catch these titles before they expire, at 11:59pm, on the dates below: March 21 Louis C.K.: Chewed Up (2008) Merry Ch...

What's On NETFLIX Now?: New March Titles: Exiles' Return

What's On NETFLIX Now?: New March Titles: Exiles' Return: So many new and returning titles this month! Whether by accident or design, Netflix seems to be making up for some of the recent deletions f...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

YOLO! Fritz Lang Style

Fritz Lang obviously didn’t anticipate James Bond when naming this film. Inspired byJourneys in Classic Film, I decided to look for a much older film than what I’ve been watching. I used to watch TCM quite a lot, and if you can get past certain things, older films still have a lot to offer. Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) was already in my queue. Anticipating the YOLO youth culture motto/hashtag/annoying-phrase-to-say-after-doing something-idiotic by almost 75 years, Fritz Lang nonetheless is better known for directing the silent sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927) (a restored version is available on Netflix streaming). My personal favorite of his, however, is M (1931), a film that is still ahead of our time in how it deals with its subject matter. If I were to make my top 100 films list, it would be somewhere in the top half.
Although a pretty good film, You Only Live Once wouldn’t make it that list. The Netflix synopsis for this film calls it a “melodrama,” which in 1937 was also known as a “drama,” as this film was no more melodramatic than most films of that day. The film opens with a painfully dated scene, where the secretary (errr, executive assistant these days) to a public defender, Joan Graham (played by Sylvia Sidney), listens to an ethnic shopkeeper complain about how nothing is being done about the apples being taken from his fruitstand. Comedy is definitely not Lang’s strength, and we aren’t subjected to too much of this hilarity, as the melodrama gets going pretty quickly. Joan is in love with a three-time convict, Eddie Taylor (played by Henry Fonda), who is warned by the police chief that a fourth conviction will result in a life sentence. The D.A. has done Eddie (and Joan) a favor by landing him a job at Ajax Movers. Eddie faces discrimination and unfair treatment from the jerk of a boss, who treats him like dirt because of his past crimes. He ultimately fires Eddie over basically a minor incident. I’m glad to see that our society has changed, and that employers nowadays look beyond a person’s past…oh, wait, nevermind.
We wonder about Eddie’s next moves after losing his job, and we then see a bank robbery unfold before our eyes. This scene is the only one in the film that Lang definitely brought his own sensibilities to. The rest of the film could have been done by a lot of the directors of this time, but this bank robbery has an edge to it that creeps you out in the way that does. The menacing eyes, leering thru a tiny opening in the back of a car; hands grabbing gas masks; a crowd panicking as tear gas is thrown into the street. If you look up this film on Wikipedia, you will find that over 15 minutes were cut from the film due to its then “unprecedented realistic violence.” It’s a true shame that this happened, as you witness true greatness in the little that actually survived that cut here in the robbery scene. In some ways it reminded me of the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight, not necessarily for content, but in how it felt.
SPOILER ALERT: well, not quite yet, but coming soon. So of course Eddie somehow gets blamed for this bank robbery, and faces a life time conviction. Various things happen that if i describe them all, of course would defeat the purpose of viewing the movie. But I do have to mention how weird and dated the very end feels. Eddie and Joan are running from the law, and anticipating the corniness of Shining Throughare just inches from the Canadian border and safety. We know that Joan is already dead, and we gather from, as an IMDB reviewer says, the “syrupy” voice of the priest that Eddie shot during his escape speaking to Eddie from Heaven, that Eddie also dies. It’s not really an ending that works, but the theme of the film, that a justice system that is unfair, hostile, and corrupt is just a reflection of the society that created it, rings true.
Both Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney for the most part avoid the overacting and excessive emoting common to this era of film making, but I would expect none of that from a Fritz Lang film in any case. You’ll notice the weird camera angles that Lang is known for throughout the movie. Also look out for Margaret Hamilton, two years before her career defining role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
My IMDB rating for You Only Live Once: 7 out of 10
My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Arrested Development Season 4 Episodes 8 through 11

I would guess that I’ve made the same face that Portia de Rossi makes above while watching these latest episodes. They’ve been all strange, but in a very entertaining way. While not always laugh out loud funny, there are plenty of great jokes, and the overlapping plot lines are beginning to pay off. While I may not have been laughing all the time, I enjoyed the writing that went into developing these episodes, with the humor coming from building the characters and the situations. I don’t have much to say about each episode, but since I’ve started grading the others, I’ll continue:
Episode 8: Red Hairing (Featured Character: Lindsay Bluth)
Solid episode. I enjoyed the Cinco de Cuatro finale, and hope that Lindsay does follow through with becoming a politician. Grade: B+
Episode 9: Smashed (Featured Character: Tobias)
This was one of the oddest episodes so far, where I wasn’t sure what I was watching at times, but it worked. It didn’t exactly feel like an Arrested Development episode. Maria Bamford as Debrie Bardeaux will either annoy you or draw you in. I think the other star’s interactions with her make this the best Tobias episode yet. Still, I would have wanted more Buster and Maybe and George Michael instead. But again, it’s good while being strange. The Fantastic Four: The Musical makes the comic book nerd in me laugh as well.Grade: B+
Episode 10: Queen B (Featured Character: Lucille Bluth)
The only episode to feature Lucille as the main character. The exchange between Lucille and Lucille 2 (Liza Minelli) is great. Some of the puns aren’t bad either. I’ll never get tired of Lucille screaming with delight when Gene Parmesan, the P.I., “surprises” her. Jessica Walter consistently delivered the funniest performances of the first three seasons. No exception here. Grade: A
Episode 11: A New Attitude (Featured Character: Gob)
Well, when you have Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) and Gob both pretending to be gay with each other, but finding that they are truly “the same,” what else do you need? Perhaps a trip to the Gothic Castle (or would that be Gothic Asshole?) Grade: A-

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Square: Netflix Oscar Documentary Challenge Entry # 3

I feel a bit like a student who knew when their big assignment’s due date was, and kind of did a lot of work, but didn’t quite finish, and therefore won’t turn in the assignment at all, and then hopes the teacher doesn’t notice (as if teachers just forget these things). Maybe I was hoping to distract everyone with the Arrested Development posts. Did it work?
In an earlier post, I committed to watching all the Oscar nominated documentaries (4 out of the 5 are on streaming, with the 5th being one I’ve seen in the theater). I knew I was giving myself a March 2nd deadline, which seemed like plenty of time. It was plenty of time, but I couldn’t manage to find the time in my busy schedule (it’s almost like I have others thing to do besides watch movies!)
I’ve gotten so close, watching The Square (2013) last night. The only one I won’t finish in time for the Oscar ceremonies tonight is The Act of Killingwhich according to a friend, made him “lose faith in humanity, and I’m a community college teacher, so that’s saying a lot.” So that movie is a definite contender and will be something I review later on this week. After watching The Square, I’d have to say the competition is between those two movies.
I’ve been eager to watch this one for months now, ever since it drew attention for being distributed exclusively through Netflix. The movie starts where many others might have ended- with “revolutionaries” gathered in Tahrir Square, the most important and symbolic public space in Egypt, celebrating the removal of the corrupt despot Hosni Mubarak from the presidency. The music at this point is hopeful, the participants speak optimistically, and in broad terms about their success. Seeing that there was still an hour and a half left after this opening segment, I hoped that the tone wouldn’t remain constant, or else this movie would have been a long pat-on-the-back fluff piece saying how great everyone was in bringing about change.
Thankfully, the director Jehane Noujaim, stuck around for the aftermath, the part of most films that you have to fill in yourself by searching on Wikipedia or Google for the latest, or reading the postscripts at the end of the film before the final credits roll. We see change does not come so easy. The first ominous sign of what is to come is when the crowds disperse after the removal of Mubarak, at the request of the Egyptian army, who say they will never hurt Egyptians, but they can go home. The principal characters in the film (one of which is the star of the film The Kite Runnerrealize their mistake, with several of them independently verbalizing that they should have never left the square until a new constitution had been drafted. 
I was reminded of Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude while watching this film, as the same things continue to happen over and over again, this time not generation after generation, but leader after leader (or lack of leader). Not much has changed after six months of military rule, and whereas you are shown at the beginning sympathetic, idealistic, intelligent, and mostly secular Egyptians fighting for change (with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood joining the revolutionaries because it’s the right thing to do as a human, not as a Muslim), opportunistic members of the Muslim Brotherhood move in to the vacuum and begin co-opting the movement for a new Egypt. Anyone who has been brainwashed into believing that government and religion are actually separate in this country should see parallels between what the Muslim Brotherhood does and what the Christian Right has done in our country.
The consequences of this development of course are more drastic and deadly for Egyptians, and even if you are intimately familiar from watching or reading the news about Egypt for the last couple of years, you will see things you probably have not seen before, and get a close-up and graphic view of events that probably were censored by our media here in the United States. The film does bring up the fact that the USA and other nations actually supported indirectly the killing of Egyptians, but doesn’t dwell on that. The real strength of the film, besides having a ground view of history in the making, is that it lets those involved in the democracy movement tell their story. It doesn’t need voice-overs, or to bring in swelling music to make us feel something.
At the end, the optimism of the beginning of the film remains, while being tempered by the reality that bringing about true change requires persistence and dedication to your guiding principles and beliefs. One revolutionary bemoans the fact that they are not successful because they don’t know how to compromise. But on the other hand, that is exactly what makes them extraordinary and worth watching, and supporting in real life in any way we can.
So, after watching 4 out of the 5 entries, The Square is my pick for Best Documentary. IMDB rating: 9 out of 10. Netflix rating: 5 out of 5.
A not so distant, but not really that close either, runner-up would be 20 Feet from Stardom (available on DVD only)
A really distant third would be Dirty WarsBringing up the rear is the modest in its ambitions Cutie and the Boxer
Look for an updated ranking when I post about The Act of Killing later this week.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review of Arrested Development Season 4 Episodes 4-7

More Episodes Reviewed….
Episode 4: The B. Team (Featured character: Michael Bluth)
So far, Michael’s episodes have been the strongest. I am having an internal debate about that however, because I still question whether I feel that way because the two Michael episodes have felt the most familiar and in-line with the first three seasons. Inserting Ron Howard into the story itself (going beyond narration) again shows that Season 4 takes steps outside of boundaries Season 1-3 set up. With Chachi and the Fonz already I guess it’s not too much of a leap to take. The jokes (some of them inside jokes?) involving Imagine Entertainment and Ron have been some of the best in this new season so far. Isla Fisher plays a new love interest for Michael, and again Michael finds himself misunderstanding who he’s dating. It’s funny, but not an instant classic like Julia-Louis Dreyfus’ and Charlize Theron’s turns as Michael’s love interests. Overall, a solid episode, with some good cameos, both old and new (John Krasinki among them) Grade: B+
Episode 5: “A New Start” (Featured Character: Tobias)
This episode really builds from Episode 2 of this season, and rewards the viewer patient enough to sit through that episode that lacked a lot of laughs. There are some new classic Tobias moments, although again, they drew attention to a running joke that Tobias previously was oblivious too. It seems they’re intent on making the same transition the Simpsons made, where Homer’s buffoonery went from being accepted by everyone in the Simpson universe, and then having Frank Grimes call out how dumb Homer is. That episode of The Simpsons represented a shift that seemed awkward at first, but that episode is now easily in my top 10 for that show. I’m not sure that all the new-found awareness on the part of the characters in AD will result in the same way, but I can say that I did enjoy going through some of the same events in Episode 2, this time through Tobias’ eyes, a more enjoyable experience. Debris seemed too awkward in Ep. 2, but with this episode you start to get that character a bit more. I always enjoy Tobias’ misuse of words that cause confusion about his sexual identity. There is no shortage of those in this episode. I also always enjoy making fun of “To Catch a Predator”-style shows. Grade: B
Episode 6: “Double Crossers” (Featured Character: George, Sr.)
Although George Sr. is the featured character, this episode felt more like an ensemble piece. There is a scene (or two) where Michael and Gob meet again for the first time in years, without George Sr. in the mix. Part of the problem I have had with the George Sr. episodes is that they have spent a lot of time explaining the plot of the season. The scheme of building a wall on the border is a bit too complex and takes a bit too much time away from the comedy. The plot shares characteristics of the plot that drove the first three seasons- the Bluths building housing developments in Iraq. Yet it feels like they’re trying to fit in 3 seasons worth of this “plot” into this one season; and even more than that, just George Sr.’s episodes. But there are some funny moments, and the final gag of this episode was brilliantly set up, surprising you in a way that is not unlike many setups from earlier seasons. Also, the Episode 4 introduction of Isla Fisher’s character begged the question as to why Dallas Bryce Howard wasn’t cast in that role. This episode drolly addresses that question. Grade: B-
Episode 7: “Colony Collapse” (Featured Character: Gob)

“Now, you’ve….got some mice to scoop out of the sea.”- Gob
“And As It Is Such, So Also As Such Is It Unto You”- Religious TV Show Host
And so many other lines. Gob has always been my favorite, and so far his episode is my favorite. From the Entourage parody, to the Wedding Magic Trick, to the show “Pop a ROTC,” this episode didn’t disappoint. A lot of the laughs as always comes from Will Arnett’s delivery. The episode contained another element of self-awareness, but in staying true to Gob’s character, Gob never really gets a clue, or not as much as the other characters have. I would have featured Gob a little earlier in the season, but perhaps it’s better to be left wanting more than to get too much.
Grade: A-