September Summary

The links to this month's reviews, broken apart by genre and...well, you know the rest.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Jack the Giant Slayer
Top Gun

Best: "Trance"
Worst: "Top Gun"...sorry Tom Cruise

Millennium Actress
Spirited Away

Best: "Spirited Away"
Worst: "Millennium Actress"

La Jetée
Scorpio Rising
Sans Soleil

Best: "La Jetée"
Worst: "Sans Solei"

A Woman Is a Woman
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
All Quiet on the Western Front
Do the Right Thing
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
Lord of the Flies
Modern Times
The Seventh Seal
The Wicker Man

Best: "Modern Times" and "The Seventh Seal"
Worst: "Aguirre, the Wrath of God"....unequally boring

Before Sunset
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Pride & Prejudice
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Best: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"'s stunning
Worst: "Disconnect"

Laurence Anyways

Best: "Amour"
Worst: "Laurence Anyways"...this movie has some spectacular moments; but it doesn't save it entirely


Best! I didn't know where to put this movie because it's not comedy or could be both—oh well. It's pretty insane and spectacular.

The Wicker Man (1973) (R)

A revered cult classic that didn't demand a remake with Nicholas Cage, "The Wicker Man" is mentioned the most when referring to horror movies that have lost their charm. This movie's time has past, true, but the impact of the film is still present and impossible to avoid.
Receiving a letter addressed to him personally, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) sets off for Summerisle to search for a missing girl.
The opening shots of the movie include Howie descending onto a lake of the small Scottish village in his airplane....everyone watches. Neighbors peers out of windows and people stop their work to take a quick look at the newcomer. You get the idea that there are no secrets on this island and that everyone knows everything.
Once on the water, Howie leans out the window of his plane and asks for the dingy...but is refused the vessel. The island is private property and the residents have a hard time comprehending any sort of law enforcement.
Eventually, they row the boat over to him and the camera makes sure to note the eye painted onto the side of the dingy—adding to the already eerie feeling of being watched.
Sergeant Howie has one picture of the girl—Rowan Morrison—that was mailed to him with the letter. This letter seems to be sent anonymously and tells the sergeant of the missing girl. When Howie present the photo to the native islanders, they shake their head and tell him that they've never seen her.
Everyone shuts out Howie at first...but when presented with evidence, the men cave and tell Howie where to to find Rowan's mother...sort of. They say they know a Mrs. Morrison but there's no one named Rowan that lives on Summerisle.
Mrs. Morrison knows of no child named Rowan and dismisses the sergeant.
Now committed to the oddity of the island and becoming obsessed with finding Rowan, Sergeant Howie is one man against many.
His mind convinces him that he's being duped and he is very displeased with that.
Sergeant Howie is a very religious man, in every sense of the word. A devout Christian, Howie holds himself to a very high moral code...but the island tests him at every opportunity.
The island is populated with "heathens". These men and women are pantheistic and worship the gods of the sun and sea. This is horrifying to Howie, who on several occasions, resorts to screaming at the villagers because of their beliefs.
Not the most eloquent man, surrounded by people lost completely to their own thoughts and beliefs, Howie struggles to make his voice heard.
"The Wicker Man" succeeds in its obscurity and oddity. The story itself, if you were to look at it on paper, might seem ridiculous...particularly when it comes to the ending scenes. But Anthony Shaffer, the screenwriter, gives equal percentages to madness and logic.
As Howie, Woodward seems to base his character off of Rex Harrison. He's classy and sophisticated...but rigid.
This movie's impact might not be readily seen...but take a closer look at films like "The Matrix" and even "Hot Fuzz"—"The Wicker Man" influences much more than its own genre.
Obviously a large part of the film deals with belief and religion; but a smaller part reveals some heavy-handed Freudian moments...which are very intentional in this film.
Robin Hardy, the director, seemed to not want to maximize the "scare effect" of "The Wicker Man". Instead, he lets the film unsettle you, like the island does to Howie.
It could have been more frightening...the use of songs and music is distracting and unnecessary.
I can see why some people wanted to remake this film...but they probably shouldn't have.
"The Wicker Man" is strangely fascinating.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Rush (2013) (R)

"Rush" tells the true story of two Formula One drivers: James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The entire film is dedicated to their rivalry and competition, though it's unclear exactly who we are supposed to be cheering for.
Ron Howard's newest venture takes him into territory that seems unfamiliar to him; and, much like some of the cars in "Rush", he stalls at the beginning.
For the first act of the movie, we center around James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his playboy habits. Always ready for the next easy woman, James snorts, drinks, and sleeps his way to being a celebrity. He tells one of the women that he's with the reason for the sexual attraction to drivers. It's not the rugged good looks or the ferocious sexual, it's the fact that these men risk their lives everyday for their job—that, and they're easier to find than Alaskan crab fishers.
The movie begins in 1976, expectedly on the racetrack. We are told in voiced narration that this will be the story of rivals. Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is not well remembered for his racing, but for something that happened to him on the day we open the film to.
But, too bad, because now we go back to 6 years earlier and have to work our way up to that race.
James Hunt saunters into a hospital and seduces a woman with his obvious charm and lack of a shirt. This is the man whose tale is half the movie. He's a ruthless driver and a great man behind the wheel—when he's not behind the wheel...well, that's another story altogether.
Perhaps it's all a show for James, because we see that nerves eventually get to him. Before each race, in a traditional fashion, he vomits.
With his arm around the current model of woman, he makes the statement that men love women; but more than women, men love tires. It's just a stupid line from a stupid moment that doesn't mean anything. For if this were true, the movie wouldn't play out like it does.
It cements the fact that "Rush" has an incredibly weak beginning. It's dreadfully stereotypical and not that pleasant to watch.
But then, the film changes gears (I could use these car puns forever, so just let me indulge) and we shift into something else: the life of Niki Lauda.
True, he isn't missing completely for the first part of the movie; but we get the feeling that James is our hero and Niki, our villain. The first race the pair competes in seals the fact that they will be nemeses. James's cockiness and his lack of character angers the taunting and being likened to a rat doesn't help. Niki responds to the jibes with a one-finger salute. These two really don't know how to make first impressions.
I see Niki as someone who is socially awkward and blunt. He says what's on his mind, not thinking about how it will come across to someone else.
After the first thirty minutes or so, "Rush" felt staged and predictable...a glorious disaster that would mar Ron Howard's career forever. But give the film time, it picks up speed.
For as the movie raced on (is this getting to be too much?), I felt myself caring more about the characters and actually engaging in what was first thought to be an ignorant bio-drama. "Rush" is based on a true story, but lacked that feeling at first. Once it finds its footing, it does recover lost ground quite nicely.
Niki and James swear that they are both the best at their sport. Their hubris at stake, they seem to go to any lengths to ensure their superiority.
These are the two men: the cool, calculated one and the hot-headed ladies' man.
Ron Howard seems determined to present "Rush" in a race car fashion. The cinematography jumps and zooms with intensity. The sound of engines starting fills the speakers and we get many shots of the inside workings of a car.
But it's impossible to escape the fact that these film makers had no idea had to begin their movie. For everything that starts us off, disappears...mostly noticeably the narration. The voiced-over narration provided by both Hemsworth and Brühl vanishes after the first third...which is fine, because it was distracting. It's brought back at the end, but the time without it was much happier.
It's an immature script by Peter Morgan, who flounders at's odd to think that this man wrote both "Frost/Nixon" and "The Queen". Perhaps he excels at writing political bio-pics instead of sports movies.
I was ready to write this film off completely...but then came the second act.
If the first half was dire and full of cliches, the second half was just the right amount of emotional and gritty to make me care.
The last parts of the film are really fantastic.
So how does someone judge something like this? In it's good moments, it's fantastic; but in it's bad, it flails.
Race scenes are filmed with such energy that it's impossible not to feel something.
The movie is not fully developed and leaves some questions unanswered.
Though the film is action based, it's also dependent on good performances. Although I hated the character, Chris Hemsworth does a respectable job as James Hunt and the physical resemblance is pretty solid.
But Daniel Brühl steals the spotlight in every scene he's in. Niki can be a cruel and flawed man, and you get the impression that Brühl fully invested himself into the role. He ceases to be an actor and convinces the audience that he is Niki Lauda. Perhaps it's Hemsworth own big name that hurt him here...I kept thinking "It's odd that Thor would drive a car."
For what it is, "Rush" is better than I thought it would be. It caters to Howard's touch with relationships and there is a surprisingly good performance from Alexandra Maria Lara, who I had never heard of until this film.
I appreciated that "Rush" was true to language. People speak their native tongue...I like a crowd-pleasing movie that's not afraid to use a lot of subtitles.
The last notes of the movie are strong, but not good enough to make me forget the beginning.
"Rush" is good, but not great.
I did feel like driving recklessly on the way home, but resisted...and I'm proud of that.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

“Aguirre, the Wrath of God” is just one giant misstep of a fable. A movie about man’s greedy nature and the tenderness of the psyche, this film doesn’t stop as it lulls the viewer to sleep.
Seriously, it’s quite a snooze fest.
Set in the 16th century, the movie concerns the quest for El Dorado. Pizarro and his men set out to find the legendary city of gold but get sidetracked by extreme mud.
The climate change is killing the men’s slaves, so they can’t live in semi-opulence anymore. The women don’t get toted around in their little mini-thrones and the men have to forgo horseback riding for a little bit.
Pizarro splits the men up to better the opportunity for finding the gold...oh, and spreading the word of Jesus.
Honestly, the men are so selfish and cruel that it’s a wonder that they call themselves Christians...but maybe that’s the point of the movie.
Anyway, we are told that only the diary of a monk has survived this misguided conquest and we are being told the story written in his journal.
One group of men set out on the river, making large rafts of wood. The man in charge is named Don Pedro de Ursua and his second in command is Aguirre (hey, that’s part of the title...maybe he’ll be important!). We soon realize that Aguirre is just a power hunger psychopath with a lust for gold...lovely.
A few mutinies and several REM cycles later and the movie still hasn’t ended.
To be fair, it’s not a long movie...clocking in at a little over a hour and a half. It’s not a great task to watch, but the experimental/new age feel that oozes from the film is ripe for sleeping. I cannot stress this enough...the movie. is. boring.
The men are superstitious and wary of the Indians, who pick them off ninja-style. They think that making a black man run in front of them will scare off the Indians...maybe they’re right.
The mutiny leads to a new form of society, which is two parts glorified dictatorship and one part extreme anarchy.
And then....we sped the rest of our time on a river. Aguirre’s madness grows and my patience was tested.
This movie is made by Werner Herzog, the director who made the remake of “Nosferatu” and the similarities between the two works are remarkable: the need for pain of some kind, the moodiness, and the confounded boredom of the piece.
"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" was uncomfortable because of the level of animal cruelty in it. You can tell that Herzog just wanted his movie's really unnecessary.
Every country is pompous enough to think that everyone speaks their language. Americans are the worst of this, but it’s a little odd hearing Spanish men speaking German...nothing wrong with it, just odd.
Why is this movie classic? I will never know. 
My best advice is just to stay clear of it, you can find everything in this movie elsewhere. Plus, I think you’ll find it much more entertaining to dust the house or productive and avoid this movie.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) (R)

The evolution of what we now know to be "the modern western" started back in the years of the spaghetti westerns. Films like Leone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" helped define the western and John Wayne's film cementing that fact. Then we have a slight change with Clint Eastwood's directorial works like "Unforgiven" which tells a story in a straightforward fashion—no fancy tricks are needed here.
But there is a drastic change from "Unforgiven" which was made in 1992, to the movies made in 2007. A resurgence in the interests of years past and stories of the west, led 2007 to see "There Will Be Blood", "No Country for Old Men", and (the most overlooked) "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". But it becomes apparent when looking at these films that "modern westerns" are not westerns at all...just dramas of a different setting. The Coens realized this and when they returned with "True Grit" it sealed the fact that the western of the 20th century is something that is gone forever.
Good bio-dramas never idolize...they celebrate and appreciate; but they never glorify. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is no exception to portrays both its main characters with a fairness and a justice that is rarely seen—for that, and a number of other facts, it is a great movie.
We begin in 1881 when Jesse James's fame was at its peak and his career was near its end. Our narrator tells us of Jesse James (played by Brad Pitt): he was a man of physical flaws...he was missing part of a finger and he had gun shot wounds that left scars. A condition of the eyes made him blink more than normal, though this never affected his social skills. He was a charmer, someone who could make the room seem warmer and make sounds grow louder. Jesse James had a huge following and one of the people who fawned after him was a young man named Robert Ford.
Robert, or Bob (Casey Affleck) is a boy under the spell of an celebrity. He wished to have grand adventures with Jesse James and has idolized the man ever since he was old enough to read. Saving newspaper clippings and comics about the famous bandit, Bob turns himself into a super-fan.
But Bob's idea of Jesse James and the actual man differ. Jesse's brother, Frank (Sam Shepard) is not so eccentric as counterpart.
Bob approaches the James brothers and offers his services as a criminal but is turned down by Frank, the stickler.
From here on out we see the mind of two men, constantly whirling and turning. It's not that they are archenemies, in fact, they are anything but opponents. Yet the film lets emotions churn and turn into malice and hatred and fear...the character development is stunning.
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is curious because the viewer knows how the movie will "end" at the beginning, just by the title. Keep in mind that writer/director Andrew Dominik uses this title ironically—it has a different meaning than you might assume. Dominik is a genius when it comes to this movie...even though there will be no surprises, he creates great tension and suspense. 
Brad Pitt may have the more iconic role and the famous baddie, but it's Casey Affleck who shines in this film. He's mesmerizing to watch...his performance is a brilliant look into a man's head.
The film looks great, as it should...the cinematography is provided by ten-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins. 
Everything that should be present, is here—the portrayal of another time, the ensemble cast, the music, and the thought behind the film. It's smarter than you might assume. 
The question arises: what is cowardice? The film never condemns any of the actions of its characters. Instead, it lets the viewer make up their own mind about the men and women...very effective and clever.
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a long movie...there's no escaping that fact. But unlike some of its contemporaries (namely "There Will Be Blood"), you can barely tell. It's completely engrossing and hypnotic and deserving of so much more praise than it got.
This film makes me happy that the western is gone; because if these are the movies that replace, I'm not sad to see it go. 
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is, simply put, a fantastic movie.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Laurence Anyways (2012) (Not Rated)

"Laurence Anyways" concludes Xavier Dolan's unofficial trilogy of life and love. His first venture, the dazzling debut "I Killed My Mother" combines Dolan's own adolescence with a staggering maturity. His next film, "Heartbeats" was stunning to look at and very emotional, if misguided in certain parts.
This film seems to take another step back—it would seem that Dolan is trying to convince his critics that he is capable of doing more.
Dolan has said in interviews that the idea for "Laurence Anyways" came from a story that he heard while working on "I Killed My Mother". A friend of a friend was struggling with her boyfriend's gender crisis...she wanted to stay with him while he transitioned from man to woman. How do you deal with that? Apparently, this was Dolan's answer to that question.
"Laurence Anyways" begins in 1989 and centers around a highschool literature professor named Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud). He is in a relationship with Fred (Suzanne Clément) who is wanting to make it the slow film industry. The two of them have a curiously great relationship—making lists for everything brings them humor. 
But something is weighing down on Laurence. He describes it as holding his breath—he tried to hold it as long as he can but now he has to open his mouth and let the air into his lungs...he wants to be a woman.
When he drops that bombshell on Fred, the result is expectedly dramatic. She flits between highs and lows of emotion—flirting with both staying with Laurence and leaving him.
There are so many questions that need to be asked: why? when? how?
Rarely humorous at all, the film is deep and dark and long. When you think back to "Heartbeats" this Dolan film is nearly twice as long as its predecessor. But the main question is: does it merit its screen time? I think the answer is a quiet "yes"; because to be fair, the film overstays its welcome and draws out its story.
We journey with Laurence from 1989 through 1999—this decade of life is bookmarked with pop and classic songs, as is Dolan's want. But what differs here from the director's other film is his eclectic and experimental choice of songs. They disconnect the viewer from the story and don't add anything on...kind of pointless, actually.
The film time jumps around with relish, voice overs from different decades mark the soundtrack as Laurence and his friends and family deal with his transition. The drama is great because the subject matter creates genuine, raw emotions; but Dolan seems unsure of how to steer his film. He goes so many directions at once that it becomes dizzying...they all come back together at the end though.
As usual, the film is stunning to look at; but less hypnotic than the previous two movies. 
Suzanne Clément does a magnificent job as a woman love-striken with a man who wants to change his gender. Her face asks all the right questions.
Melvil Poupaud is also quite courageous for choosing this role. He looks scared while trying to be brave, hurt while pretending to be unaffected, and selfish while thinking he's selfless.
In the end, I think that Dolan bit off more than he could chew. 
"Laurence Anyways" is depressing in a dismal way...the emotions become so strained that they flatline.
It's overlong and over-thought; but it does give way to some amazing scenes.
If it was half its length, it could have been great.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

"All Quiet on the Western Front" is one of the first Best Picture winners and is still revered today as one of the best war movies that's been made. It might seem outdated to look at a film like this after viewing Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"; but "All Quiet on the Western Front" holds some surprisingly powerful action scenes.
Based on the book of the same name by German author Erich Maria Remarque, the film takes some of its cues from a previous Best Picture winner—"Wings".
As per expected, the film is more heavy handed than the book, and even more cheerful.
Both works concern a young group of German boys who, upon encouragement, decided to join the military and fight for their country.
The movie has a teacher essentially guilting all the boys into fighting. The teachers tells his students that fighting for your country is one of the best things you can do in your life. We get the feeling that the man is resentful for never having the opportunity to fight.
Keep in mind that the war the film is concerned with is WWI.
Our main character is the boyish and happy Paul (Lew Ayres) who eventually gives into peer pressure and joins the forces.
Comparing the novel to the movie, one finds a shocking amount of similarities...but where the two differ is important to note.
Paul and his friends and heckled by a cruel corporal named Himmelstoss (John Wray). To get back at him, the boys plays pranks on the man. In the book, it was matter-of-fact—an eye for an eye. But in the movie these scenes are hyped up with slapstick overacting and much fake laughing. It's the keen difference between solemn and trying too hard.
The movie more so than the book, "All Quiet on the Western Front" delves into the dehumanization of war. Men turn into machines as they kill and get killed. Ethics and morals get thrown out of the window as the war rages on.
The book is much more subtle with this—it implies animalistic tendencies and violent images are paired with cheerful thoughts or vice versa.
The movie is filmed in low-quality black and white with low-quality sound (look at the year, what else would you be expecting?). Film restoration has treated the movie well...when you look at other films like "Cavalcade" it's odd to see which ones are remembered and which are lost from common thought.
To be fair, it's naive to expect anything but the typical—the overacting, the fake tears, the distracting score. It's just how movies were made back then...this isn't to say that all movies aren't stereotypical, but come on...
After the cheerful bantering with Himmelstoss, Paul gets to see what the front lines are like. This is where the film excels. The war scenes are really good and so influential. Almost every war film that came after this one owes something to "All Quiet on the Western Front". Kubrick used similar scenes in "Paths of Glory" and Spielberg quotes the film in both "Saving Private Ryan" and "War Horse". There are very few war films that are devoid of the thought behind "All Quiet on the Western Front"; because very few war films are "pro-war"...they are rarely celebratory.
Kubrick hated war as exemplified in "Full Metal Jacket" and Oliver Stone did too—you can see that in "Platoon"...Malick proposed that war was the rape of nature in "The Thin Red Line" and the list goes on.
When you think about it, what films don't blast (pun intended) the act of war? "The Hurt Locker" doesn't and I would argue that "Saving Private Ryan" doesn't either. Still, it's harder to argue that films are "pro-war" than "anti-war".
I'm rambling...
The point being that most contemporary war films owe their underlying thought to "All Quiet on the Western Front".
If nothing else for its influence, the film is amazing.
If you're looking for entertaining, engaging, and riveting....well, maybe you should look elsewhere.
It's been improved upon; but "All Quiet on the Western Front" is still a solid movie.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) (R)

Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a great movie—pure and simple. The movie's story telling is so slight that it forces the viewer to engage. Wow, that's already confusing and contradictory...
Let's try that again—"Martha Mary May Marlene" lets enough time pass in each scene and keeps information from the doing so, Durkin proves himself as a great story teller.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the film knows that its audience will put things less become more.
I'm pretty sure what I was trying to say was somewhere in the previous sentences, but I'm not going back to try to make it clearer—onward and upward!
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is deceivingly dark, it's not until the last act of the movie that you realize this. Perhaps this sly way of cheating the audience comes from the glorious script, which Durkin also wrote. He allows simple sentences to carry so much weight. The context of the viewer and the characters differ—what they see as normal, we find disturbing.
Durkin's film begins in what looks like an Amish community. The men work outside—hammering, splitting wood, and plowing fields—while the women stay inside, take care of the children, and wash the laundry. When supper time comes, the men eat first; silent and with gusto. After they're finished, the women sip on watery soup.
Then everyone goes to sleep, free-for-all. Human beings make piles of sleeping bodies anywhere there's a soft spot in the tiny house. They dream on the ground, sofa, bed...wherever.
One woman slips out of the house in the early hours of the morning. She steps into the woods and takes off running.
This is Martha, Marcy May, or Marlene. She is our central character in a tale of convoluted memories.
Martha (Elizabeth Olson in a star-making role) calls her sister once she is out of the woods. Lucy (Sarah Paulson) is shocked by the phone call; it's been two years since she's last heard from her sister.
Martha ends up at Lucy's house, but no one can imagine the secrets that Martha brings with her.
We spiral back into Martha's past to see the events leading up to her stay at her sister's house. With each memory, we gain a little more knowledge and with that, the film takes a small, nasty turn.
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" looks great. It's filmed much like the typical indie movie which can get tedious but works very well for this picture. You get the feeling that you are watching real people and not actors, which is a rare feat to accomplish.
I don't want to talk too much about the plot, because it's much more enjoyable to let the film surprise you. I'll just say this—it's gloriously, maddeningly stifling.
The film is incendiary. I was screaming at the movie, wanting something to happen...all in good time. Durkin makes his viewer wait, and wait, and wait. When it feels like it's been too long—bam, there it is...the thing you were waiting for.
You crave for an emotional release and for tears...they come, but be patient.
On a side note that has nothing to do with the rest of this review: this movie somehow reminded me of "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and I don't know why.
Elizabeth Olson is brilliant as Martha, she has just the right amount of screws loose.
It's a movie that would be easy to over-dramatize; but Durkin played all his cards right.
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is stunning.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Prisoners (2013) (R)

"Prisoners" is a movie that could have lost its way near the beginning. This film has many scenes, many characters, and much dialogue—in essence, a great many places to mess up. But director Denis Villeneuve handles the movie so deftly and with such class that it left me asking: why have I never heard of this man? The Canadian film maker has made several critically acclaimed films, but they have all slipped beneath my radar...then he made this film. "Prisoners" is the kind of movie that introduces a director to the popular world and to America.
The story is simple: on a cold Thanksgiving afternoon, two girls are playing—then they vanish. Two families were spending the holiday together and when the eating was done, their daughters went off to play. Where did they go?
In this way, "Prisoners" resembles many other movies before it such as "Mystic River" or "The Silence of the Lambs"; but let me be clear: this is its own movie.
It becomes a race against the clock as the families scramble to find their children. The police are brought in, but minds have already begun to fracture under the stress. The abduction is only the first step in a long and twisted plot. 
We delve into the minds of the fathers and mothers: Keller and Grace Dover (played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and the incredible Viola Davis) as they deal with the disappearance of their girls.
The beginning of the film establishes the harmony, the peace—and then disrupts it. Thanksgiving is such a family oriented holiday; it's the most perfectly twisted setting for this film.
The aura of the film is tangible—rainy, snowy, gloomy—and it sucks you into its world.
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes assigned to the case and is determined to find the two girls and bring them back to their families safely.
As time wears on, Keller Dover becomes more and more impatient. As his impatience rises, so does his irrationality and temper. A growingly unstable force, he decides to take matters into his own hands; blurring ethical and moral lines and he does.
The film is sleek and looks great—it introduces new characters with no expected cliches and so stylishly that you don't realize how many people you have to keep track's very impressive in that way. A simple shot of a man's back that slowly zooms in, Hitchcock style, gives way to Detective Loki. Then we have radio noise, signaling a life, which ends up introducing two more characters.
"Prisoners" may begin too soon. We don't have any time to empathize with the girls...but as the movie played out I realized that it wasn't about the girls—it's about their families.
The cinematography is incredibly simple, but radically effective. "Prisoners" is filmed with wide angles and steady zooms, affirming its reality. It could have gone David Fincher, certainly it has the possibility. But Fincher would have gone crazy with this film (I still would have probably liked it) while Denis Villeneuve shows excellent restraint.
Keller is a Christian man; he recites the Lord's Prayer before he shoots deer, he keeps crucifixes around, and he prays regularly. But this is the man that we are supposed to dislike the most, and I have no problem in doing so. Some might think the film is too harsh—not so, it's actually quite subtle in its character establishment.
So let's be honest: I really hated Hugh Jackman in this movie. That being said, I think he was the best actor for the role. His sheer size is intimidating: he's a big guy. Now add Jackman's screamy tendencies to a character that is mad with desperation for his lost daughter and you've got a pretty good psychopath. It's a role that is good but (rightfully so) will most likely go unloved at the Oscars. Though it had its critics, Jackman is twice as good in "Les Misérables".
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Paul Dano—who seems to take a page out of Stanley Tucci and Sean Penn's book for his role...he's quite good—and Melissa Leo, comfortable and great as ever on screen.
But as far as the acting goes, it's completely stolen by Jake Gyllenhaal. As Detective Loki, he is astonishingly good. I wouldn't be surprised to see him getting awards for this movie, he deserves it.
Boiling it down, there is nothing original about this movie. It's been told before in many ways. But Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski breathe new life into a story like this.
It's suspenseful and frightening in all the right places. "Prisoners" is not afraid of making the viewer wait, it gives scenes more power in doing so.
"Prisoners" is not a perfect movie, but its look and Gyllenhaal's performance make it just short of terrific.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Scorpio Rising (1964)

Praised as one of the masterpieces of underground cinema, "Scorpio Rising" is ahead of its contemporaries, simply in its story telling ability. Kenneth Anger's bizarre film deals heavily with bikers, leather, sexual violence, and music—it doesn't sound too good when you put it like that, but don't let that dissuade you.
The movie begins with a man assembling a motorcycle. He is very kind to his bike and treats it lovingly as he sets it up. We are given a barrage of images as different bikers strap on their leather in a very sexual charged lighting. To be fair, the film is so fast and so random that it leaves you thinking, "Did I really see that?" In this way, it's easy to see how films like this inspired the movies of the later decades—namely David Fincher's "Fight Club".
We focus on one biker, named Scorpio, who seems to think that he's Jesus Christ. The film explores a damaged mind as his night of violence and havoc changes him (in the viewer's eyes) from Jesus to Hitler. He's delusional, perverted, and addicted to adrenaline.
The drug trance-like nature that the film is shot accentuated all of its themes.
Being an underground film, one would expect to see certain things—the random edits, the bad acting (thankfully not present), the odd combination of homoeroticism and violence, and all characteristics not present in budgeted films.
The film makers associated with the underground were mostly gay, broke, and high. And let me tell you: most of the movies from this sub-genre are crap! The movies are so drugged up and nonsensical that it's not enjoyable to watch at all.
"Scorpio Rising" is an exception, a notable one. The entire film is dialogue free, relying on pop and rock songs from different decades to provide a soundtrack for the film. There's Elvis, Ray Charles, and Martha & the Vandellas. It's great music, which is impossible not to like. It's almost like cheating—okay, it is cheating...but I'm okay with that.
Slow to begin, the film takes a nasty turn as it throws unexpected sexual and violent images at the viewer, though quickly, as previous mentioned. Kenneth Anger seems like he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he started filming, which is a feeling that most of these films lack.
The images speed up, motorcycles burn rubber, and Scorpio changes into a villain.
The film isn't a social commentary, nor does it chastise the works of its main character—"Scorpio Rising" is sheer and utter madness.
It's the predecessor to Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" and any of Scorsese's movies. The music is mainly what the film is remembered for, it was one of the first movies to try such a technique—all music, no dialogue. At this, the film is incredibly successful.
Although the film does tell a story, it's a weak one—one that comes apart near the end. "Scorpio Rising" can be boring, tedious, and the same time it can also be fascinating, entertaining, and goofy.
It's one of the better underground films, but I still stick with my thoughts: it's better just to avoid this genre altogether

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Disconnect (2013) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
In our age of instant communication, it's rare to see a movie like "Disconnect" which villain-izes the internet. It's a work that's hard to be mad at because I understand what it's trying to convey—that being said, it's also a film that doesn't portray any of its characters well.
We have three main story arcs—they cover a number of topics from cyber bullying to child pornography.
Before I get into the meat of the film, let me just say this: "Disconnect" is one of the most uncomfortable movies I've ever seen. For much of the film I was peering out through my fingers and the fabric of my shirt. It's awkward on a whole new level.
I see the film as having one protagonist—one character that really stands out among the throngs of other...his name is Ben Boyd. Though much of the screen time is eaten up with other people, watch him—it's his character that gives the film its weight.
We are deposited in several non-intertwining stories, which is courageous in its own way because you have to expect the audience to care. Heralded as "Crash" with the internet, "Disconnect" would be lucky to carry half the emotional impact that "Crash" did.
We have highschool—that baneful community where children go to get self-image problems—we have family, careers, fraud, sex, and high emotions.
There's a couple that has been cheated out of their money via the internet, a boy who is being manipulated by people he doesn't even know, and a woman who is trying to make a difference where a difference isn't needed.
The first story arc deals with the Dixons and the Boyds, whose lives will unintentionally brush up against each other. It's here where the movie talks about cyber bullying: a topic that is so tender and I think the film treated it crassly.
The second story arc centers is a reporter doing a story on underage and teen pornography performers. These scenes reflect the unfortunate truth about the web—sex is everywhere. It's handled well, though stereotypically.
The last story arc revolves around a couple who lose their money online. Yes, kids, you can lose your money online.
While the film doesn't come across as preachy and it's certainly very well-made, "Disconnect" left me with one big question: why?
The resolution isn't resolved, the characters are hollow, the film is one-sided, the drama is painful to watch—in essence, every aspect of the film is what makes it unsuccessful.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on the film—it wouldn't be the first time and won't be the last.
So let's look at what the film is trying to accomplish: if anything, it's simple stating that the internet is a place that should be treated with a little more respect and restraint. On that note: mission accomplished.
But did it take suicide, bullying, attempted murder, manipulation, stalking, and beatings to give us this thought? No, I would hope not...oh, wait....yes it did.
I really wanted to like this movie a lot, but it wrecked me. It's depressing, which could be a good thing. But it's depressing in all the wrong ways—while I don't often demand an optimistic side, one felt needed. The internet isn't this horrible place where bad guys go to creep on underage teens performing sex acts on the camera, which is what the film seems to imply. I'm not defending the web, but there is more to it than that.
No body has a happy ending in "Disconnect".
The cast is fairly well-rounded out, though I'm not going to name all of them because I'm feeling lazy. Let's just say this: the actors do a good job with what the film gives them.
By now you probably think I hated "Disconnect"; but not so. I see the movie it could have been, I see it's potential. It's a good idea and I think that more movies will be made like this.
But my problem is that it goes nowhere and I failed to engage with the characters. Difficult moments aren't given enough time and happy moments are given too much.
After watching the movie, I felt like shutting off my computer and going to hide in my room—which was probably the point of the film.
I realized that it's not about the characters—they are all relatively nice people—it's about the tool they use, i.e., the internet.
It's too easy to be sexual in front of a camera in your own home, too easy to be cruel to someone not sitting next to you, and too easy to take money from a faceless name.
It's a critique of something that we are going to be stuck with our whole lives, and I appreciate the thought.
In the end, they tried really hard; but "Disconnect" plays like a hot mess at times—overly emotional and contrived.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Brazil (1985) (R)

It's easy to see the similarities between George Orwell's classic 1984 and Terry Gilliam's movie "Brazil". For starters, the entire story seems copied from the dystopian novel: the leading man who becomes enamored with the a woman who seems too good to be true (though the woman of the film holds no real similarities to the woman of the book), his job, and the consequences of moving a little piece of "the machine"...I'll elaborate.
"Brazil" begins with an aerial shot and words appear on the screen—we are told that it's sometime in the 20th century. Then we zoom down to a society that makes absolutely no sense at first...give it time, patience is a virtue.
The movie is gloriously, nonsensically, borderline psychedelically weird. But unlike other movies which seem to apologize for their oddities (somehow, I feel like "Spirited Away" falls in this category; but I'm not sure why) Terry Gilliam makes sure that you know who's running this show. You are manipulated, thrown around, roughed up, and not given a second thought.
By the time the movie has made it half-way, you get to feeling that Gilliam made the movie for himself and if anyone else should enjoy it...well, that would be a plus.
It's completely mad...and I loved it.
Yes, the 1984 in the film is inescapable...but is it really copied?
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is stuck in 'the machine' of the society. He works in the government, in records.
I should say, that the opening scenes of the movie lead a fly to buzz into a type-writer-like-contraption and mess up one name...the dead insect turns Tuttle into Buttle—this is the mistake that shapes the rest of the movie. It's the first domino is a long, long string of colorful and bizarre tiles.
Because of what I will now refer to as The Fly in the Ointment Incident (I find myself very clever), Lowry has a mess on his hands that isn't evident all at once. His boss, Mr. Kurtzmann (Ian Holm), is a nervous man who is afraid that he will lose Sam to a promotion. It's being hinted by multiple people that Sam is going to be moved to Information Retrieval.
So The Fly in the Ointment Incident led a man to being wrongfully arrested and he is subsequently killed...oops. Mr. Kurtzmann is so paranoid about losing his job and Sam is always such a big help that it takes no coaxing for Sam to try to sort things out—which, of course, doesn't end well.
It's impossible to talk about "Brazil" without talking about the sets...I think this is the best art direction I have ever seen in a movie—perhaps challenged by "2001: A Space Odyssey". The buildings are tall and unapologetic, much like the film itself. The special effects are quite astonishing; but more than that, the world that Gilliam (who also wrote the screenplay) creates is so wildly creative.
He doesn't give the viewer a second to breathe as he thrusts them from one scene to the next, sparing no extra time for needless descriptions and details. The film is exhausting in its own way—if you were to try to categorize everything you saw, you'd be here for a while.
The minute details of the film is where is succeeds in drawing you into its twisted world.
I would pose the question: is this film science-fiction?
I would also answer: no.
Certainly the film is so close as to be cousins with sci-fi, but I find this more of a parody. It gets more and more outlandish as it plays out that it starts to make fun of itself.
I can see why "Brazil" could be off-putting—it's not everyone's cup of tea. But holy stun guns, Batman, this is quite a film.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Millennium Actress (2001) (PG)

As a former film studio is torn down and an era in cinema ends, two film makers are eager to interview the, now demolished, film studio's biggest star, an actress named Chiyoko Fujiwara. She was the shining light of the studio, they were kind to her and vice versa.
But after disappearing near the peak of her career, Chiyoko became a mysterious starlet of the past. Now, the visual destruction of the studio she was partnered with brings minds back to her. The two film makers are determined to gain an audience with the elusive actress. One of them informs her that he intends to bring her something should she chose to be interviewed. She obliges. When they arrive, the one man presents her with a box containing a key.
Then we spiral back into her memory. She takes the two film makers with her to the past: a world which is convoluted and complicated. Witches, wars, and lost loves abound in her memory.
Starting from when she got her first film offer, Chiyoko shows the two men her life played out through her film career and actual life.
There are two Chiyokos in "Millennium Actress", the real person and the characters she plays. Some people have fallen in love with both women—the flesh and bone, and the transformations of the script,
We see Chiyoko as a little girl, so do the film makers. They travel back in time and stand in the same rooms as the young actress. They make comments that are supposed to be funny, like: "I though this was supposed to be a documentary".
The audience is just as confused as the cameraman, who keeps getting thrown from one scene to another. It takes a while to get used to this movie.
Not only is it a trick of memory and time, some of the moments are purely fictional. Are we supposed to be watching a movie of a movie? Is this the biography parts?
I was never really sure.
A chance meeting with a wounded thief pierces Chiyoko's heart with Cupid's arrow. The thief wears a key around his neck, telling Chiyoko that is goes to the most important thing in the world.
Before she has an opportunity to learn what the most important thing in the world is, the man disappears, pursued by officers.
Chiyoko finds his key and becomes determined to return it back to him even if it's the last thing she ever does.
"Millennium Actress" is a very intimate picture, seeking to draw the audience into the mind of an aging star.
The conceit that so many associate with divas is not present in Chiyoko. She is gracious and even fragile.
The recent film "Salinger" proved that audiences love this kind of story—find the recluse and make a documentary about them. But this film is a story about the story: the process of bringing Chiyoko's life to the screen.
By the end of the film, you could argue that the footage the men capture will never be had some unknown effect on them.
In the course of the storytelling, the men's positions shift. They become are able to talk and interact with the memories of Chiyoko. They are no longer observers, they are influencers. I really didn't like this turn. It would have been fine if they stuck to being spectators...but that didn't happen.
This film feels slightly like "Cinema Paradiso", in the way that it could be viewed as a love letter to cinema...that and the 'lost love' aspect that the movie clings to desperately.
Using real events and real years, "Millennium Actress" feel vaguely realistic and plausible.
The anime drawing isn't perfect, but this is one such movie that could only exist in its original format. I doubt anyone could adapt it to live action...but hey, go ahead and try.
It's a sweet picture. Though nothing incredibly special.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Spirited Away (2001) (PG)

Arguably the most acclaimed film to stem from creative mind Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, "Spirited Away" proved to critics and audiences that anime was a force to be reckoned with. Fantastical, larger than life, frightening, and visually stunning—"Spirited Away" is the animated equivalent to Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth".
The movie starts with Chihiro and her family moving. Perhaps moody from the move or anxious because of new beginnings, Chihiro sulks in the back seat as the car whizzes along. Thinking that he is taking a short cut, her father takes a back road that leads to an old tunnel. The path is decorated with odd looking statues.
Feeling adventurous, the mom and dad set out to explore the tunnel. Chihiro, on the other hand, would like nothing more than just to get back into the car and take off to their new house. But not listening to their daughter, her parents uncover an old meadow and what looks to be an abandoned amusement park.
This is spirit land, the place where Chihiro is given the name Sen by the witch Yubaba...that was random wasn't it?
Her parents have been transformed into animals and in an attempt to get them back, Chihiro will have to put aside her fears and have a Nike moment...just do it.
She enters into the world of fears and oddities. Not everything here is out of a nightmare, in fact, some of the spirits are quite cordial. But Chihiro will not be sidetracked, she has one thing on her mind: get mom and dad back.
Helpless in what seems like a make-believe world, she is helped by a mysterious, powerful boy named Haku. These two will have very many, bizarre adventures together.
"Spirited Away" has been heralded by many critics as the best animated movie ever. The bold ingenuity and fierce style are some of its appeals. The film caters to both children and adults in the way that the "Lord of the Rings" caters to both. Some of the images are very frightening, or just so bizarre as to be intimidating,
But then I got to thinking about the kid's movies that Disney put out—are these images any scarier than a character murdering his brother, the shooting of a mother, a witch hellbent on being beautiful, or a woman planning on skinning 101 dogs just because she can?
What differs is the oddity. Yes, lions talk and cats are wealthy...but no Disney magic can compare to "Spirited Away".
It's so visually different from any movie American audiences are used to, that it can be shocking.
The acceptance of the spirit world by Chihiro allows the audience to accept it. We just sit back and let the story unfold, it's a movie that's impossible to predict.
Rich with Japanese culture and realistic animation, "Spirited Away" becomes a movie that is about love. But not the crass love that so many Hollywood movies portray. It's childish, naive, and pure love. Love in its most innocent form.
Undoubtably genius and altogether moving, there is something about "Spirited Away" that strikes you. Unfortunately, it can strike you the wrong way.
I'm not convinced that this movie is the best animated film ever made, nor do I think that it is a masterpiece.
But it is enthralling, adventurous, and original.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) (PG-13)

Archaeology is back and better than ever when Indiana Jones returns to the screen in another outlandish, action-packed, and quirky adventure movie.
From the start of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", you can tell that director Steven Spielberg is trying to regain something that he lost. "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" may have been fun, but it just wasn't that great of a movie. It became too cartoonish and too silly to do anyone any I'm not going to mention that annoying woman.
So right off the bat, Spielberg is making references to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in order to bring life back into the series...and it worked.
The movie starts like the first one, except in 1912. Young Indiana (played by River Phoenix, the James Dean of his age) happens upon some men uncovering and stealing a relic that he believes should belong in a museum. So he takes it away from them...simple as that.
After a wild chase and some snakes later, he is cornered by the sheriff and is forced to return the relic, a golden cross of substantial value. This only strengthens his resolve to become an action hero—um, I mean, an archaeologist!
So now it's 1938 off the Portuguese coast and Indiana (Harrison Ford returning to his money making role) has tracked down the man who has the cross. He is going to take it back.
After that little run-in, it's back to the classroom where Spielberg essentially replicates the opening scenes from "Raiders of the Lost Ark"—some could find this annoying, I found it amusing. Dr. Indiana Jones is the well-liked professor who gets summoned by a man named Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) who tells him of the Holy Grail.
This is not Monty Python—Dr. Jones is told that he is needed to find the grail, which will bring eternal life. He refuses at first, but then learns that his father was on the project and has disappeared..great.
Now he has to track down his father (the delightful Sean Connery) and get to the Holy Grail before the Nazis do...yes, there are more Nazis in this one.
Like any good series, the third movie in the "Indiana Jones" series finds ways to make fun of itself. It's not serious, but it does add a layer of thin believability to the story. That is, for a plot that consists of the Holy Grail and Hitler. If you look at "The Temple of Doom" and the this film, you find yourself engaging a lot more.
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" is a movie about obsession, fathers, and religion. Like the first movie, "The Last Crusade" deals with a Christian relic of immense power. First it was the Ark of the Covenant and now it's the Holy Grail (the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper).
On the way to saving his father, Indiana meets Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), who is a thousand times better than the last token women.
Admit it, this series is cruel to women—they don't have enough parts and rarely play a realistic character.
I think that Elsa is the best of the movies: she's intelligent, witty, courageous (though not a superhero), and observant.
Indiana was obsessed with the golden cross, now his obsession is focused on getting his father back. But dad is more interested in getting the Holy Grail.
In the end, this isn't a philosophical movie...if you're tracking the obsessiveness (as I was), you'll be disappointed. Basically, if you're Indiana Jones, it's great to be you—if you're anyone else: too bad.
Like I said, don't over think it.
The stunt work, as in the first two, is great. The effects are fun and the action is exciting.
Breaking its own stereotypes, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" is the best of the series.
I'm not sure I will watch "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" because I'd like to remember the series going out on a high note.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Sans Soleil (1983)

"Sans Soleil" which translates to "sunless", is more like a diary of a film maker than it is anything else. It could be viewed as a documentary and often is; but the movie is so personal, so private, and so intimate that it escapes all definitions.
The movie concerns a man (presumably the director, Chris Marker) and his journey around the world. His adventure is over and the film that he took of all the places he has been is developed. "Sans Soleil" plays as if he sends the film to a woman and she watches it while reading his diary.
The images of the film itself are paired with the rambling and sometimes philosophical thoughts that he wrote in his journal.
Dealing with memory, time, Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", anti-imagery, and culture—it's impossible to firmly grasp what "Sans Soleil" is trying to convey.
At first, I thought it was a love letter to humanity, trying to encapsulate an entire world through film. Our narrator, reading the diaries, remarks that normal people will always look right at the camera—even though this is a big 'no-no' in film school. With this in mind, Marker effectively captures truly human experiences and expressions. 
Then the film seemed like it was trying to showcase different cultures. Even though it's shot mainly in Japan, "Sans Soleil" has some moments that are filmed in Africa, Iceland, and Portugal. But what is this doing? Maybe this film is really about Japanese culture.
Yet here again, I am perplexed...the film seems more interested in commenting on commenting on commenting on commenting on Japan and life that it gets a little wearisome. 
My brain hurts.
Perhaps all the different techniques used and all the fancy language/deep statements are really just trying to evoke an emotional response rather than an analytical one.
Marker could be saying that you should just sit back and let the movie wash over you...this would be in check with the repetition of a phrase about emus living on the Isle of France.
As far as visuals go, "Sans Soleil" looks great...Marker's style is impossible to miss.
Marker's other famous film "La Jetée" seems to have no similarity with this movie. But both films have a photographic nature...though "Sans Soleil" is mostly moving images. Both films touch on large subjects, if only for fleeting moments: war, poverty, and time. There is even one moment in "Sans Soleil" where a jetty is mentioned. Coincidence? Purposeful? Meaningful? I cannot say.
"Sans Soleil" is not as plot driven as Marker's other film...relying more on its fancy words and beautiful images.
As the movie pushes forward, it gets even more complicated. We enter into debate the late-night television of Japan.
One scene stands out more than the rest: Marker loves cats and owls...he tells us this. And all animals are treated with respect in "Sans Soleil". We come to a scene where is giraffe is hunted down and shot. It's quite obvious that this is actually happening and no trick of the film. It's violent and bloody...what is Marker saying with this?
All-in-all, "Sans Soleil" is fascinating and open to much analysis. You could go through the movie with a pen and some paper and you'd be sure to find something of worth.
Yet the movie is so confusing and muddled that it is not that enjoyable to watch.
I can appreciate what Marker accomplished; but that doesn't mean that he made another masterpiece.
If you watch anything by Marker, watch ""La Jetée".

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Top Gun (1986) (PG)

"Top Gun" is a movie about being the best. Not being your best...being the best. Arguably Tony Scott's biggest hit, "Top Gun" is set in present day 'merica.
During the opening scene of "Top Gun" we are introduced to the setting of fighter pilots—"dogfighting" one character says, which brings back thoughts to WWI and the introduction to such a method of combat.
The opening sequence reveals quite a lot about our main character Maverick (Tom Cruise). Our boys are fighting a couple of MiGs—only two American planes are in the air, combating two of the enemies. After scaring off the enemy with such daring feats including flying upside down above the opposition's plane and flipping them off, Maverick's wingman has a nervous breakdown and is unable to land the plane. First of all, I didn't buy the nervous breakdown; but whatever...
Coaxing his wingman to the ground, Maverick is already an established character: flashy, talented, reckless, arrogant, but also loyal and ethical.
Maverick is paired with Radar Intercept Officer Goose (Anthony Edwards); and if you haven't figured it out by now, the movie deals heavily with cutesy nicknames the men give to each other. These two are given the opportunity to attend Top Gun, the Navy's top fighter plane school.
Already bursting with too much ego, Maverick meets a pretty girl (Kelly McGillis) who doesn't seem offended by a group of men screaming song lyrics at her for her attention.
"Top Gun" has a stereotypical hero: good-looking with Daddy issues and a screw-the-rulebook attitude.
Punctuated with 80s songs, there is nothing special about this movie. It was a commercial success when it was released, but time has been cruel to this movie.
Perhaps it's because it's set in the present day that "Top Gun" hurts itself...all the audience sees is how much Tom Cruise has aged.
Though the film implies that the bad guys are Russian, this isn't actually stated. They are cleverly left un-nationalized.
Perhaps the best known secret of "Top Gun" is how gay it is...Quentin Tarantino made sure of this in his role in the 1994 film "Sleep with Me". If you go into the movie thinking this, it's impossible to shake. The homoeroticism of the film is tangible, you can touch it (perhaps not the best use of words, huh?). If you don't believe me, I direct you to the scene in which one man yells out, "I want some butts!" He is, of course, referring to Maverick and Goose's butts. I digress...
The thought of being the best fades for a little as a romance takes over; a very awkward romance I might add. Besides everything in the film developing too quickly, I really didn't want to see Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis tongue kissing on every opportunity they got. Seriously, you don't have to use backlight for us to understand what's happening.
The dialogue is filled with sexuality...I felt like screaming, "That's what she said!" at the screen at every scene; but I restrained myself (and I'm proud of that, because it took a lot of self-control).
Pop hits, cheap romance, flashy's a popcorn movie.
But it's not altogether unenjoyable, it has its few moments.
The dogfights are what is famous besides the line "The need for speed"; yet these scenes don't even compare to the dogfights from "Wings" (1927).
It's ridiculous, unintentionally hilarious, and sometimes dull. I can see why a lot of people like it; but I wasn't a fan.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

"A Woman Is a Woman" is the follow-up piece to "Breathless" from French director Jean-Luc Godard. It's a movie where not much happens and we reflect on how un-complicated life would be if men could have babies.
Billed as a "musical-comedy", the film is very sporadic. Strictly speaking, it isn't a musical—we have a few songs that play in the background and there is some very mild caroling; but that's like saying "Goodfellas" was a musical. As for the comedy part...regrettably it isn't that either—just because it isn't funny.
Angela (Anna Karina) is a stripper with a free and sorrowful heart. She is a complicated character, one that could just be crazy. She confides in a friend that she hates humanity which is why she is willing to strip-tease—not the most ethical job, but it pays the bills.
Her boyfriend Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) is the anti-Angela. If she is a morose free-spirit then he is a happy pessimist...essentially they balance each other out.
Prone to temper tantrums and fits of not speaking to each other (they will pick books up and use the titles to insult each other), the couple seems like they survive according to their own time.
But then Angela gets the idea that she wants to have a baby—for what reason? We are never really told. Perhaps it's just a burst of maternal instincts; but anyway, the film goes on...
Émile isn't thrilled with the idea of having a child, he wants to get married before they have kids.
Angela, on the other hand, is determined to impregnate herself by the end of the night. She picks up a self-help knickknack, designed to prey on the unsuspecting, that tells her she is her most fertile on this day.
When Émile refuses to do the deed, she flees to a friend Albert (Jean-Paul Belmondo)...a man hopelessly in love with Angela. But he is struck by the oddity of her request and instead he goes out to dinner with Émile.
There is one moment in "A Woman Is a Woman" where Émile and Angela run around town and ask different men to have sex with Angela so she can have a baby...this is one of the better examples of how quirky the movie is.
The film is rarely heard of, uncommon to be referenced; and it's no wonder why. Godard's film is one of a kind, you can make allusions to several different films; but none would really do it justice.
On this quest to have a baby, we get to see the different shades of Angela...she's not a great woman. Pouty and eager to throw a fit, it seems odd to look at her and then see the movie title. Putting up with Angela is a hassle for both Émile and Albert, who love her equally.
The film isn't a love triangle, nor is a romance of any kind—"A Woman Is a Woman" is just a zany piece of film that reeks of self-importance.
It seems like Godard made the film, just 'cuz.
His self-aggrandizing is off-putting. Albert makes the comment that a meeting better be quick because "Breathless" is coming on television soon and he doesn't want to miss that.
Jean-Luc Godard surrounds himself with bright neon signs that point down to him and scream, "Look at me! I'm important!"
Characters will frequently break the forth wall and talk to the camera, sound is broken apart and fractured, the jump edits are back, and the film overstays its visit. It's not a long movie either, but some scenes are unnecessarily drawn out.
In the breaking of the forth wall, Émile says to the camera that he's not sure if the movie he's in is a comedy or a tragedy...but it is a masterpiece.
"A Woman Is a Woman" is more about the whinny characteristics of Angela than the inner strength of females—I'm not sure why I was expecting that.
Seriously, though, she's really annoying.
As the movie plays out, Angela's motives for wanting the baby are still leaves the viewer thinking that she wants a child as an accessory. There is one scene where the character discuss love; but children are never brought up, so draw your own conclusions from that.
It's a fun movie in its own passed the time; but unlike what Godard might is not a masterpiece.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Credited as one of the first documentaries, "Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages" is better known simply as "Häxan"...for what reason? Because it's easier to say.
The Swedish film is an example of the craze of movie making people got into once film was invented. Everyone who had a camera just assumed that they should make movies, and here is where I disagree with most people.
"Häxan" starts with pictures of witchy happenings, old paintings and etchings of superstitious activities from centuries ago. One picture shows a witch using an axe to make milk. Another shows witches healing a person who is sick in bed with their herbal supplements and other non-FDA commissioned brews.
The narrator explains that witchcraft is a pox on society that has plagued us for too long. We delve into the history of witchcraft, that is, the history of witches. For the practice of the so-called "black magic" isn't really ever seen. We get one side of the coin and that's it.
Taken back to the ancients, we are told what the universe was thought to be: It was thought that the Earth was a giant valley surrounded by large mountains and cut off by an iron bar in the sky; or that we lived in what is similar to a snow globe; though it didn't take long for the ancients to figure out that the Earth was round (the idea that everyone thought the Earth was flat for eons is an excellent myth).
What does this have to do with witchcraft, i.e. witches? I wish I could tell you, but this is really not explained.
Clumsily, we are forced towards the idea of witches; and with that, we usher in the actors and the film itself.
There were rituals that witches would participate in, like a blasphemous celebration on the Sabbath that included a Satanic butt-kissing (I'm seriously not making this up). New women were recruited for this ritual...the new arrivals were smeared with an evil potion that would cement the fact that they were now witches. This cream-de-Satan also allowed the witches to fly on broomsticks.
Satan is portrayed as a very sexual creature in "Häxan", ironically he is played by the director, Benjamin Christensen. Satan is seen typically—big goofy horns and tail. He is a comical being, always with his tongue hanging out. All of the supernatural demons and evil beings are conveyed as animals, reflecting the thought that witches could turn men into frogs, mice, dogs, etc.
In this time (the Middle Ages), holy judges and priests would roam from town to town to purge cities of their witches. We are shown one such witch starts with an overly-excited wife thinking that her husband's illness is the product of witchcraft. She confides this to a man who makes an off-hand comment, telling her that if her assumption is true, she'll be seeing a witch soon. The first person she sees is an old-seamstress and thus begins the witch doesn't end until all the women in the town are dead.
The seamstress, under torture, tells the holy judges and priests about the devilish celebration on the Sabbath. She thinks that Satan has impregnated her and she 'gives birth' to baseball mascots (keeping in with the animalistic themes). The celebration involves some actually disturbing images, Benjamin Christensen did have a keen sense of vision and style.
But the film really lacks something and I can't put my finger on just seems so stereotypical.
We get approximately a hour of witch things and then we come back to present day (the 1920s). Witchcraft has come and gone, women no longer get burned at the stake; but seers and fortune teller still abound, walking hand-in-hand with common day superstitions. These witches of the past must have just been crazy women, afflicted by mental disorders...this is what the film supposes at least.
In all honesty, the misogyny of the film is quite off-putting. Only once do we have a mention of a sorcerer, a male counterpart. Christensen's Satan is just obsessed with's a corruption of the story of the Virgin Mary—where we get the thought that only young, beautiful, virginal women can be possessed by the Devil. Women are creatures with weaker minds, susceptible to the hands of the least according to Christensen.
The film tells us that Satan enjoys younger women, he is a seducer...but mostly, he gets stuck with old hags (I don't understand it either).
I made the comment in my review of "Pride & Prejudice" on how sexual the film was, unexpectedly so. Though, I admit, these things only appear if you look for them. But "Häxan", on the other hand, has so many overt sexual themes that it's impossible not to notice...they are thrown at your face.
What is it about "Häxan" that makes it so annoying?...perhaps it's the contradiction of the narration and the images on the screen—this could be purposeful, but it's ignorant if it is.
The irony is heavy, perhaps the biggest irony is the fact that "Häxan" is not a true documentary.
The film makers assume too much.
My historical knowledge (which could be flawed) was waving red flags at the movie, particularly when it came to the burning of the witches. More witches were hanged than burned, and I'm suspicious of the statistics. I could be wouldn't be the first time.
Never once are we given a different opportunity to think about other witch legends—we are only told about the Sabbath celebrations and the witch hunts...nothing else.
Classic or not, "Häxan" is a goofy, clumsy attempt at a documentary that remains both offensive and stilted.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

La Jetée (1962)

A boy stands on a jetty and watches the planes take off and land. The wind is blowing and his memory keeps one image in his mind: a woman standing off to the side with the wind tossing her hair over her face. She seems...happy, calm.
But this day holds another memory: the boy knows that he saw a man die.
Was it real?
"La Jetée" is a film by Chris Marker, who proves that ingenuity can be found in every decade of film making. The film deals with time travel, memory, the future, the past, and the ramifications of war.
Starting out, "La Jetée" (French for "the jetty") feels like a documentary about a man's life. The entire film is portrayed with pictures. It's just photo after photo with a narrator's voice filling in the gaps.
The scope of the film is cleverly kept hidden from the viewer until the ending. With each passing photo, we learn a little more about the story—for this is a plot driven movie, backed up with romance.
World War III has broken out, the planet has been decimated, Paris lies in ruins. People now live underground in camps, hiding from the reality and death of the surface. Resources are exhausted and humanity is coming to an end.
The man is now a prisoner of sorts, perhaps a prisoner of war; but the film (rightly so) doesn't spell this out completely. "La Jetée" doesn't let its viewer get hung up on the details as is pushes forward in the story.
Driven to the edge by hunger and dread, a group of scientists start conducting experiments on the prisoners; but all of the subjects are either dying or going mad.
Then, while monitoring the dreams, they find the boy—now a man—who keeps the memory of the woman on the jetty inside his head.
He is selected for experimentation.
"La Jetée" is unbridled brilliance and a precursor to so many movies including (but not limited to) "Primer", "Looper", and even "Inception". Yet looking at these movies, one might assume that "La Jetée" is a science fiction movie. Not so. Instead, like the glorious "Upstream Color", the film transcends its own genre.
It become about a tender, forbidden romance. A romance that can't exist not because of family or legal law; but because of physics.
It's curious to see how Marker defines the hero as French and the "villains"—if they can be called that—German. The scientists that experiment on the prisoners are all German which would make sense because this was made less than twenty years after WWII and the common thought was that Germany could explode at any moment.
If "La Jetée" was made today, most likely the hero would be American and the scientists would be Middle Eastern. It's cruel and racist even, but does reflect the common thought.
But more than making a social commentary of different countries, the film is a work of sheer genius.
It never lost my interest and proves that a movie doesn't have to be a moving picture. The photos are shot in a dark black-and-white (a little less contrast than "Pi"); but they are all quite stunning on their own. "La Jetée" could be one long exhibit.
By the end of the film, I was so impressed that I forgot that it was less than thirty minutes long. Again, it shows that film making has no limits.
It's a picture that I wish I had made.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars