October Summary















October, here we go:

ACTION/ADVENTURE:
Apocalypse Now
Apocalypto


Best: "Apocalypse Now"
Worst: "Apocalypto"



DOCUMENTARY:
Blackfish
Fahrenheit 9/11
Happy
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
Pina
Roger & Me
Shoah
Side by Side


Best: "Blackfish" and "Fahrenheit 9/11"
Worst: "Happy"



DRAMA:
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
Billy Elliot
Gravity
Jackie Brown
Much Ado About Nothing
Rushmore
sex, lies, and videotape
The Bling Ring
The Celebration
The Passion of the Christ
The Piano
The Reader
The White Ribbon
War Witch
Zodiac


Best: "Jackie Brown", "The White Ribbon", "War Witch", "sex, lies, and videotape", and "The Celebration"
Worst: "The Piano"



CLASSIC:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Guys and Dolls
Land Without Bread
Nanook of the North
North by Northwest
Once Upon a Time in America
Sabotage
The 39 Steps
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Zero for Conduct


Best: "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Worst: "Guys and Dolls"



COMEDY:
Burn After Reading
Young Frankenstein


Best: "Burn After Reading"
Worst:.....



FOREIGN:
2 or 3 Things I Know About Her
Pierrot le Fou


Best: "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her"
Worst: "Pierrot le Fou"



HORROR:
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Rosemary's Baby
The Evil Dead


Best: "The Evil Dead:
Worst: "A Nightmare on Elm Street"



KIDS:
Pocahontas


Worst!



SCIENCE FICTION:
Gattaca


Best!



???:
Slacker


Worst!


Once again, one more month....life goes on.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (R)
















Wes Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" remains one of the most highly revered horror films of all time. Possibly because of its original premise and memorable killings, this film has safely landed in all sorts of 'top 10 horror movie' lists around. With good reason, the film is very entertaining and, at moments, genuinely thrilling.
Yet the overwhelming thought in my mind goes something like this: "Blah-blah-blah-blah-SCARY MOMENT blah-blah-blah-blah". The only good parts of the film are the suspense sequences and those are spaced apart between ridiculous dialogue and irrational characters.
I would like to see a movie where teenagers are not stupid...I made this comment in my review on "The Evil Dead". But compared to Wes Craven's dream infused horror staple, Sam Raimi's characters look like geniuses. In "The Evil Dead" they stood by the windows and went looking in the dark woods at night for things that go 'bump'. In "Nightmare" the teens go looking for creepy sounding voices that call their name, don't bother to bring back-up, don't follow good advice, and find every which way to blunder their way to the movie's next scare.
In the moments that are not frightening, we get parents who don't listen to their kids, boyfriends who don't listen to their girlfriends, and no body who listens to Nancy.
The movie's opening, which is marred by the big-block credits that distract from the terror, sets us right down in the middle of a nightmare. Tina (Amanda Wyss) is in hell...at least, that's how I see it. She's in the kingdom of Freddy Krueger, a man with a fiery past. This horror baddie has a glove with knife-like devices attached to each fingertip...like that chick from that X-men movie. He lives in a steam-punk world with boiling pipes and sooty floors. Tina is there in her dreams and Freddy is chasing her down corridor after corridor. Finally, when she is cornered, he sneaks up behind her and—bam!—she wakes up. Once awakened, she finds that she has four holes in her nightie the roughly the shape of a tiger's paw.....or the hand of a mystery man with knives for nails; but no matter, we happily cut the next scene instead of exploring what happened when you wake up with gaping holes in the front of your PJs.
Tina goes to school with Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Nancy's boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp...yes that's right). The three share stories of nightmares and dreams. In the end, Tina is quite sure that she doesn't want to go to sleep again.
The movie makes a narrative shift from Tina to Nancy. Nancy starts to figure out what's going on. She delves into the past of Freddy Krueger to find out why he is haunting the teens' dreams.
I hate the idea of this movie because it states the the smartest teen out of a group of dumb teens is the one that is going to survive. Teens aren't, by nature, stupid creatures...but this film implies so. I would like to see a horror movie that had a villain so good that he could kill everyone, and the most wily and survival oriented teen would survive.
Instead, Freddy picks off the teens like he was lion and they were a sick and/or baby zebra...Sigourney Weaver narrates if you were wondering.
Nancy's mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley) is a real piece of work. She starts becoming an alcoholic in the last half hour of the film. I don't know where that came from, but they seemed to need a reason to create a setting for the unsatisfying finale.
You can't deny that "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is original, because it is. What you can do is criticize the way the movie handles its two-deminsional characters with cheesy dialogue.
What you watch the movie for is the killings, because they are so darn enjoyable to see.
Who can forget a bathtub sequence or a Johnny-nom-nom-noming bed?
After all is said and done, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is not the smartest horror film or the scariest, but it is entertaining the whole way through.






Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Zero for Conduct (1933)




















If "Lord of the Flies" had turned into a dark broadway musical that saw such great success it was transposed into a tv show and that tv show was so successful for a spin-off and that show was so good that it was parodied in fan fiction, when that fan fiction turned into a novel and that novel became a film, you would have "Zero for Conduct". I say all this because the connection between "Zero for Conduct" and "Lord of the Flies" feels very strong, but in the 'based-on-the-novel-based-on-the-fan-fiction-based-on-the-spin-off-show-based-on-the-show-based-on-the-musical-based-on-the-movie-based-on-the-novel' kind of way. 
Vacation time is over and boys are sent back to school, where they live as prisoners under the tyrannical rule of mean adults. 
If you could argue that any movie was gender specific, it would be this one. Boys will be boys, they break things, they goof off; but the men at the school have one very important rule: no fun allowed!
A new teacher comes and tries to lighten the mood by drawing cartoons while doing handstands, he is tsked rather severely. 
The movie begins with two friends on the way back to school via the train. "Zero for Conduct" director  Jean Vigo seems to be mocking silent movies in this scene, because the humor that springs forth from the boys' interactions is due to mockery.
Vigo, who would die incredibly young, has a very keen eye and his humor is undeniable.
A group of boys, tired of being repressed and punished decide to stage a coup. The result is a very interesting and altogether entertaining piece of cinema.
"Zero for Conduct" is very short, but Vigo manages to pack one scene right after the other rapidly...it's alarming how much actually happens in the film.
From random scenes where the schoolboys chase down a lady to jokes about midgets, "Zero for Conduct" is most definitely not PC and delightfully offensive.
Parts of the film feel like genuine drama bits and others are so outrageous that it can't be anything but a precursor to Mel Brooks' films. 
From a pillow fight that leads to a war-like march that would later be brought back to severity by films like "The Lord of the Rings" (take your pick of which one) and "Braveheart" and from the incredibly short, whinny schoolmaster to the pirate-like vengeance that the boys display, "Zero for Conduct" may surprise you with its colorfulness and its laughs.
It's not a perfect film but when dishes and pots rained down on a crowd of real people and marionettes, I was reminded of Andrew Lloyd Weber's song "Masquerade" from "The Phantom of the Opera"—and it is funny (in more than one way) how Vigo's short career and life has influenced so much.
But all that aside, "Zero for Conduct" is delightful in its own way.






Score: 3 out of 4 stars

sex, lies, and videotape (1989) (R)
















Though its title might imply a gritty, smutty film that rose from the underground and wowed very few critics, Steven Soderbergh's feature film debut is fully-developed, fully-realized, and nothing short of a staggering masterpiece.
The movie, like so many before and after, paints a horrible picture of suburbia while still finding time to show the exquisite beauty of life.
"sex, lies, and videotape" concerns a married couple, Ann and John (Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher). They have struggles like every other duo. The movie's opening drops us in on a therapy session with Ann and her shrink. She thinks about garbage...in the way she thinks about starving kids in Africa. Her mind wanders and frets about situations that she has little to no control over. What that says about her, I'm still not sure. What is certain is that she doesn't want her husband touching her anymore. The intimacy of the newlywed's marriage has become nonexistent. They are no longer physical...you should expect a sexual frankness to the film when you watch it.
Before I continue, let me say this...though a large part of the film is about sex and most conversations end up being about sex, "sex, lies, and videotape" is a very unsexy movie. No nudity appears and although most of the reviews I came across called the film "incredibly erotic"...I find that "sex, lies, and videotape" strays as far from eroticism as possible. It's a movie about knowledge and intelligence—the impact we have on others. It's a mature decision that's demanded in the end, Soderbergh is making a point about the stereotypes we form...so if his brand of intimacy is erotic, then yes, the movie is very sexy.
Anyway...Ann confesses that she doesn't like the way John is treating her. For instance, he's invited an old friend of his to come up to spend a few nights. He never asked if it was okay to have a houseguest, he just went ahead and invited. She would have obliged her husband, but it would have been nice to have been asked.
The whole time Ann is in therapy, spilling her soul, we see her husband cheating on her with her sister. This man is the jerk of all jerks. An immature, sexually motivated freak, John fits nicely into the slot known as "typical male".
The sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) is the anti-John. She will not be put in her place and is using John for pleasure as much as he is her. She holds all the cards in the relationship, a fact that John is not quite aware of. 
Things are set in motion by the arrival of Graham (James Spader delivering a stunning performance). This man seems to ooze confidence and charm. He is soft-spoken, but doesn't sugarcoat his opinions.  
His bluntness and odd attraction make Ann's world start spinning.
You expect the sexual dialogue when going into "sex, lies, and videotape"...it's inevitable. What you don't expect is the power of the film altogether.
Soderbergh take four actors and evokes from them the strongest performances, blending them with his moody setting. He makes a tangible movie, what that is so fierce and unforgiving that it's actually breathtaking.
Ten years later, "American Beauty" would be made; but Soderbergh's script is even more subtle that Ball's.
It reminds us that sex isn't everything, and that people are more important than actions. The characters feel as real as any movie I've seen, I truly believed in them...perhaps because I think these kind of people actually exist.
The actions of the characters are blind errors of lost children in a world of darkness...they don't know what they're doing. Each one of them is flawed, and they impact each other.
"sex, lies, and videotape" would inspire"Crash" and from that, "Disconnect". The movies get better as you trace them back through time...but that isn't always the case.
Cliff Martinez's score is so good, one of the best ever made...simple and painful.
The acting is superb, virtually flawless. It's this movie that would smash into both Sundance and Cannes and blow the competition out of the water. It's amazing that the only Oscar nomination that "sex, lies, and videotape" garnered was for its screenplay.
In a year that brought forth some of the most loved films including "Born on the Fourth of July", "Do the Right Thing", and "My Left Foot"...it's very easy to forget Soderbergh's film. But this one has stood the test of time better than any film I've seen. It's still viciously true and grounded in reality.
"sex, lies, and videotape" takes you into its world, an absorbing film if there ever was one.






Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Land Without Bread (1933)



















Luis Buñuel made this documentary about Las Hurdes, an impoverished land in Spain. He uses an unsympathetic touch as he looks at the camera's victims. They are dying of malaria, riddled with starvation, and over populated. Occasionally, a river will run through the middle of the town and all the inhabitants will make the most of it. Though the water is filthy and unsanitary, they drink it and bathe in it. Some of the children soak pieces of bread in it, because they are unaccustomed to the food (hence the name of the project).
For a film that took two months to research and shoot, "Land Without Bread" is remarkably short, like many other Buñuel pieces. Coming from a surrealist, this movie seems odd. But keep in mind that everything the man made didn't have to have his own philosophy in it. With "Un Chien Andalou" Buñuel proved that he was willing to show anything...and to such ghastly effect he does. The same determination is present in "Land Without Bread" but this time it has a naturalistic feeling.The camera watching a man in fever shakes and a child dying in the middle of the street—she hasn't moved in three days. A mule is attacked by bees and a goat missteps and tumbles off a cliff.
Perhaps Buñuel is making a point that nature is undoubtedly cruel and filled with unpleasantness. Or maybe "Land Without Bread" is a film that is just what its face value implies—a humanitarian work.Unlike "Nanook of the North" which proved that humans can thrive anywhere they choose, "Land Without Bread" seems man as a victim to circumstance, unable to do better.
Entire families will sleep in one room...beds are luxuries that many cannot afford.
The influence of the film is not necessary obvious...but looking at the unflinching and unemotional way the camera watches dying people on the street brings back memories to Monty Python skits...most notably "bring out your dead".
Could this be the beginning of the radical documentary?...I'm hesitant to say so.
In the end, this incredibly short work feels slightly like propaganda; but considering the pains the film makers had to go through to bring the film to screen, I think it's justified in being that.




Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4 

The Evil Dead (1991) (R)




















So, let's talk about the rating. Sam Raimi's cult darling "The Evil Dead" has no real rating...and by that, I mean that somewhere in the ether there is an accurate rating, but I can't find it. On imdb.com the film is listed as "NC-17" which made me pause and say "what?". On rottentomatoes.com, the film is "R" and on Netflix it's "NR"...so who knows? I can say this though, based on what I have seen, I will keep the "R" rating, because I think that's what the film deserves...okay, now we can really talk.
Let's bunch all of our friends into a car, go to the creepy woods on a road only big enough for one car, barely make it across a bridge, find a creepy book about summoning demons, and play a tape of some guy reading said book...that sounds like a load of a fun and completely logical.
Without bad decision lined up after bad decision, we wouldn't have one of the most colorful and violent horror gems in film.
"The Evil Dead" begins with a group of friends driving out in the boonies to a rundown cabin to spend a vacation there. This doesn't seem like an average group of teenagers because there is no running water and air conditioning...but pshaw to amenities.
Ashely (Bruce Doesn't-Respond-Well-To-Stress Campbell) and his girlfriend are looking forward to some alone time...too bad there are three other people there. The five friends seem nice enough, though their semi-leader is a complete jerk.
The woods are creepy from the first moment. Sam Raimi doesn't stop to let the setting...um...set. He plows right into horror after horror, aided by the cinematography and the eerie music. Funnily enough, the movie's beginning is moody enough to land itself in a Werner Herzog movie...but it's not even close to being as boring.
When the friends make it to the dilapidated building, there is an ominous swing hitting the cabin again and again. After the door is opened, the swing stops...ooooooooh.
This should have been the first clue, but to be fair, it's not that disturbing when you take it out of context. The real first clues should have been a weird spasm moment that one of the girls has when she's sketching (and by that I mean drawing, of course, and not being sketchy) or the wind-like moans of "join us" that come from outside the windows.
I'm a baby when it comes to scares...I don't do well with the idea of people creeping on my house. So if I thought there was a hoard of demons hiding out in the bushes, you wouldn't find me looking out the windows. No sir, I would be in my bed, hiding under three sheets and a comforter with two extra pillows as back up. These kids however, seem to have an insatiable curiosity for what might kill them, so they go to every window possible...dumb teenagers.
The ghosts of the surrounding terrain have been woken up by the excessive fog machines. They come to stalk the house and kill the kids.
"The Evil Dead" is shot two ways—as an observer and through the eyes of the ghosts. The camera rapidly hovers over the forest floor and rushes this way and that, looking into the house at the unsuspecting children...it's really effective.
The first half of the movie is terrifying, and then it all goes south; but in the best possible way.
The second half is a cheesy, corny gore-fest...and probably the reason that the rating is disputed.
Ash (Bruce Face-Gets-Covered-In-Blood Campbell) is the only sensible one of his five friends..."sensible" here meaning "most contemplative". If he hurried into rash decisions like the rest of his companions... it wouldn't be good.
"The Evil Dead" is a spook story—there's something in the woods. It's not about demons or survival, it's only goal is to scare and to entertain...and on both counts it succeeded greatly.
A low-budget heroic tale of the underdog, Sam Raimi launched his name into stardom with this picture...too bad he had to ruin it with films like "Spider-Man 3" and "Oz the Great and Powerful".
I would wager that the film was a big as it was because of Bruce Always-Backs-Up-In-The-Wrong-Places Campbell. He's so worried and freaked out that it would lead to an infamous scene in a sequel that involves maniacal laughing.
The film is pretty out-there, but you really have to admire that fact. I really liked "The Evil Dead" even though it did scare the heck out of me.
This film will never die.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Guys and Dolls (1955)




















Joseph L. Mankiewicz's big screen monstrosity "Guys and Dolls" is one of the largest musicals of spectacle that you've ever seen. It relies on its big names, large numbers, and sexual innuendos to try to make the viewer forget that it is inherently full of errors.
To be fair, musicals aren't exactly the most natural feeling genre of film. Who actually breaks out in song in the middle of the street? It's films like "West Wide Story" that attempt to make singing and dancing macho and 'gansta'...but fail in doing so. While it's not a bad movie, it's hard to take street thugs in tight pants who snap their fingers when dancing seriously.
Then there's films like "An American in Paris" that is just about the spectacle...it has huge numbers that span long, long minutes. "Guys and Dolls" is part serious and part spectacle. It tells the story of the cool, the suave and the suckers. 
The movie begins with a long intro that shows us the streets in New York. The people seem happy, they are well-dressed and smiling for the opening number.
The talk of the town is Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) and his floating crap game. Everyone wants in on the illegal activity, even though a certain Lt. Brannigan (Robert Keith) is breathing down all of their necks. They are not novices at being criminals so they aren't too hassled by the idea of Brannigan being on their tale.
But there's a problem: Detroit wants to have his crap game at a place that is demanding $1,000. He is completely broke. In an effort to get the big head of lettuce, he tries to con the money out of Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando). Sky is no fool either, but the betting gets out of hand. Detroit tells him that if he can take a doll of Detroit's choosing to Havana, then he'll give him a thousand bucks...if not, then Sky's out the money.
Mr. Masterson is always up for a little gambling, but he may be in over his head with this one. Detroit chooses Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) as the broad in question. Sarah is seeking to win lost souls to Jesus, so naturally she's the prude who can't have any fun. Also naturally, the film has her as the only character getting completely drunk, going against her morals, and lying to a whole roomful of people...but don't worry because the film sees her sin as "the right thing to do".
Sacrilegious and corny to a fault, "Guys and Dolls" just isn't enjoyable at all.
I think everyone knows that musicals aren't exactly the most manly movies available...but even "Guys and Dolls" realizes this. It has a moment when the men singing point to the camera and imply that if you're a guy and you're watching the movie, you're watching because your wife if making you...so good job, happy wife happy life.
This is the kind of movie that should make feminists angry because women are the only ones that pay for their mistakes and the sins of the men. The men get off scot-free. Why? Because their men...duh, now get back in the kitchen.
There are so many odd moments in the film that I think mean something more—but maybe I"m over-analyzing because I was bored out of my mind. For instance, there's a moment where, during a conversation, Frank Sinatra steps on a scale...he weighs approximately 130 pounds. But then he takes off his jacket and he drops ten pounds, he shakes his head and sighs—then steps off. Is this where we get beauty image from or is old Franky upset because he's so darn skinny? I don't understand.
Then, we have two musical numbers by a company of ladies. In one, they are dressed up like cats and they tell the men all they have to do is pet them and get them a warm bowl of milk. In the other number they are in gaudy dresses topped off with ridiculous jewels. They say that their men bought them all this booty, but then they wanted the other kind of booty...and they ain't gettin' none. During the course of the song they strip off all of the beautiful clothes and then hover over them in covetous fashion. Eventually all the women pile up the goodies and take off with them, turning to the audience and saying, "Well, wouldn't you?"
It's offensive enough as a musical number, but the costumes come back at the end. It implies that all women are materialistic pigs.
But underneath all the chauvinistic themes and the bad singing on the part of Marlon Brando, "Guys and Dolls" is just a boring musical. It's too long, too dumb, and too bland.
If you want to watch a fun movie that makes backhanded comments about gold-digging and chauvinism, watch "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"...it's twice as fun.





Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Rushmore (1998) (R)
















Wes Anderson is the quintessential hipsters' director. An indie darling whose success is surprising, Anderson's works lay right on the cusp of "main-stream"; but a large people have still not heard of his films. Take "Rushmore" for example, it's Anderson's sophomore feature film; yet it disappeared into oblivion. Anderson's more known works include "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox".
But "Rushmore" is deserving of more than a quick glance because it reflects a stance on adolescence that Anderson seems hesitant to make in his other films.
"Rushmore" is a film about adults and children and the middle ground between the two.
Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman in a breakout role) is a fifteen-year-old with a desire to do more. While he excels at extra curricular activities, his academic work is suffering. Yes, he's formed the fencing club, the drama departments, and is the VP of the stamp and coin collector's guild; but he's failing all of his subjects. Max attends his dream school, Rushmore, and it's his obsession. He enjoys the campus and throws himself into every outlet available. 
The school principal Dr. Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) tells Max that he's on sudden death...if he fails one more class he will be kicked out of Rushmore. At the risk of having his hopes crushed, Max tries to devote himself to academia, but gets sidetracked by a teacher named Mrs. Cross (Olivia Williams). Max immediately becomes bewitched by the British beauty and devotes himself to winning over her heart.
First of all, I really hate teacher-student romances. They're always creepy and end up making me evil on the inside. I read a book a long time ago and I've tried to find out the name but can't—it's about a young highschool student who falls in love with his biology teacher and there's something about butterflies. She rejects him at the end, so I guess I spoiled that book if you ever find...but please let me know what it was called.
"Rushmore" somehow avoids the creepy factor of student-teacher love, mainly because Mrs. Cross is a very rational person who knows things will never work out.
Then there's Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a rich father of twins who takes a liking to Max.
Max is mature beyond his years, he doesn't really get along with anybody and his personality is a wee bit explosive.
He is a tortured playwright in the throws of love.
Wes Anderson's style is immediately recognizable, though "Rushmore" seems like his most naturalistic piece. It's a bizarre movie that never turns the way you expect it to. The film feels like it could end three or four times, yet Anderson keeps coming back with more.
It's a delightful movie about innocence, childishness, and obsession. There has to be an emotional venting in "Rushmore" for both Mr. Blume and Max...Mr. Cross is a catalyst that brings one to adult pranks and the other to immature levels.
Max grows old and Mr. Blume grows young.
Everything is delivered in the Anderson-dry tone. Jason Schwartzman is really great as Max, it's a role that he fits into quite nicely and he would become an Anderson regular.
This movie has many influences, most prominently on Xavier Dolan's work.
It's joyous, surprisingly dark, and human.
In the end, "Rushmore" tells us that it's okay to be a kid and enjoy our younger years.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Slacker (1991) (R)















"Slacker" is an odd picture from beginning director Richard Linklater. It attempts to encompass Austin, Texas in one day and one night; but everyone can see that it bit off more than it can chew.
The movie begins with a young man (played by Linklater) getting in a taxi at the bus station. He starts rambling to his taxi driver about a dream that he had on the bus. He's not sure if there are multiple universes that depend on decisions that we make...for instance, somewhere in some universe he's still at the bus station probably going home with a cute girl.
After long minutes of his yammering, he gets out of the taxi and starts walking. He hasn't gone far before he sees a woman get his by a car...there is a comic indifference to how people who come across the woman's body react. One woman, in perfect jock form, is jogging and doesn't stop her aerobic exercise. She jogs in place, telling people not to touch the body and that somebody has already called the police.
"Slacker" feels like narrative hot-potato, one that I thought would have made a full circle but doesn't. From the man who was in the taxi, the camera switches to the boy who hit the woman. He sits in his room, burns a few photos and starts to make a recording before the police knock on his door and take him away.
Most of the switch-overs occur on the street. Bystanders will draw the camera to themselves and then we have a change in the story. There is no plot, no protagonist, and no antagonist.
It's a more radical interpretation of a movie like Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing".
So if you have nothing to go with, how do you make a movie out of that? I don't know, but Linklater somehow did.
Yet his movie is remarkably boring at times.
There is only so much that you can do with long shots and random chatting. It worked in Linklater's later projects like "Before Sunrise"; but here it seems like an unnecessary plot device.
That being said, if you took that out, you'd be left with no film whatsoever. So maybe, that's why the movie is called "Slacker"...it refers the the defiant stance that Linklater takes against the mainstream films of the age.
It's very reminiscent of avant-garde films like "Blonde Cobra"...but with more plot.
"Slacker" is a frustrating work, because you want it to go somewhere and it doesn't.
Perhaps we are supposed to glean the meaning of the film from conversations that occur throughout the movie...but I doubt it. Most everyone in the film seems completely stoned and talks in a baked-Woody-Allen fashion. It's enjoyable for the first half, and then it gets tedious. If "Slacker" was trying to show the culture and diversity of Austin, Texas then it failed. If it was trying to show the lower middler class, high white kids' conversations then it was a smashing success.
The movie is slightly racist and an off-shoot of films like "Easy Rider". Slow it down, take it easy...talk—this is what "Slacker" is about.
The film could be a commentary about these kids, it could be a comedy of relations, or it could be something else altogether.
But in the end, I didn't care what "Slacker" was about...because it bored me. I was lost as the audience and was just waiting for the movie to end.
Richard Linklater seems to have made a movie about nothing—I appreciate whatever it was that he was trying to accomplish—but I find "Slacker" far from being a success.





Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Blackfish (2013) (PG-13)



















It would be terribly easy to condense "Blackfish" down into one statement: Seaworld is bad, orcas are good. If that's too specific, you could take it a step further: captivity is bad, orcas are good. But to look at such a film as this and just come away with a good vs bad idea in your head—I think you've missed the point of the film.
"Blackfish" tells the story or a killer whale named Tilikum. The movie opens with the 9-1-1 calls and inquiries about the death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
We go back to the early years of capturing and imprisoning killer whales and then work our way up to 2010 where the inevitable and tragic death will occur. The journey from the 1970s back to the 21st century is very bumpy and I would say that this is one of the most jarring movies that a child could see.
In the 70s, off the north-western coast of the United States, killer whales were hunted. There were ships and spotter airplanes and huge nets...these people meant business.
The hunters would throw bombs in the water to scare the orcas away and herd them towards cliffs where they could be captured. The mothers and babies were separated from the males—then the hunters had their pick of the young orcas. One of the men recalls his participation, he seems haunted by the memories of the other whales watching them take the baby. The dead orcas caught in the net were slit open, filled with rocks, and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The man states that it was the worst thing that he's ever done.
Eventually, the hunters were banned from the waters off of Washington, so they headed to Iceland and continued hunting. They caught a young male orca who was huge for his age—they named him Tilikum.
Tilikum's first taste of captivity came at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. Everyone interviewed from this establishment agree that the orcas were mistreated. They were kept in a 20x30 foot box for most of their life. Orcas are a matriarchal species and Tilikum was not received by the other two orcas at Sealand of the Pacific, who were both females. They raked him with their teeth and beat him—the trainers knew this was happening, but they couldn't do anything about it. They were inexperienced and often starved the orcas as punishment.
Then, on February 20, 1991, the first incident occurred. Twenty-year-old Keltie Byrne was walking the perimeter of the tank during a show and slipped. Her legs slipped into the water—and here's where the stories differ. The Sealand representatives told the public that Keltie fell into the pool and then all three orcas attacked her; but eyewitnesses claim that Tilikum grabbed her boot, pulled her in, and drowned her.
This is where "Blackfish" shows its true colors—it's about captivity and animal treatment, but it is also about a conspiracy. The movie lines up evidence to show that Sealand, and later Seaworld Orlando, were falsifying statements and bending the truth to their whim to make it look like killer whales were perfectly happy in captivity.
Mothers would be separated from their babies, the orcas would kill each other, and trainer attacks were far from uncommon.
The archival footage is one of the many reasons you should watch "Blackfish"...it's stunning. There are numerous instances where orcas have attacked trainers—one man was crushed when a whale leaped on top of him at a show. One of the former trainers for Seaworld interviewed says that the attacked man was only held together by the wet suit he was wearing.
But it all leads up to the death of Dawn Brancheau—here are where the questions arise. Should trainers be allowed to be in the water with an unpredictable predator? Should orcas even be kept in captivity?
The audience sees many things—whales attacking each other in front of Seaworld patrons and show mishaps that are deadlier than they look.
"Blackfish" is not a one-sided movie, there are still trainers that think that the whales are better off in captivity. Whether or not you buy the coverups and the conspiracy; the facts are undeniable.
Orcas live a small percentage as long in captivity as they do in the wild, and the floppy male dorsal fin is an anomaly never observed in the wild. Whether this reflects poorly on the captivity or not—the capture of the creatures is enough to give "Blackfish" the power it needs.
Beneath all the interviews and lies, there is footage of a killer whale repeatedly dragging a trainer down to the bottom of the pool by his foot. It's this moment that is the most powerful film making I've seen in a long time.
"Blackfish" is a call-to-arms, a documentary that demands change; but more than that, it is a well-executed and evocative film.
It's not a 'good vs bad' film, it is celebrating the mystique of the orcas and warning those who think that killer whales are their best friend. Free Willy indeed.






Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Sabotage (1936)




















"Sabotage" reminds us of Hitchcock's melancholy tendencies and his fierce skill as a director. It's one of his more mature works, surprisingly coming near the beginning of his career. There is no need for odd romance moments, the ones that are seen on screen are purposely fake and full of lies. Conflicting emotions, insanity, death, and madness—these  are featured in "Sabotage" which is truly one of Hitchcock's finest works.
The movie begins with a definition of the word sabotage...according to the movie it means an act of destruction or violence intended to do harm or cause a riotous reaction. Then the movie begins with a blackout. London's power fails at night and chaos starts to ensue. Choosing to shoot in moonlit like alleyways and street corners, "Sabotage" feels very much like Fritz Lang's "M". You can feel the community as a whole in the beginning scene and that is what rings true of "M". That, and the fact, that there is an act of sabotage. Instead of child-killing, someone has destroyed a piece of equipment with sand. We see the man in the darkened alleys and unlike "M", we are allowed to see his face.
He stalks off into the night.
We then cut to Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sidney) standing outside a movie theater. She works there with her husband and her younger brother. The people are demanding a refund since the power has failed. The cinema provides a service, one that failed half-way through. She struggles with the growing throng of moody people.
The man who we know by the music and the shadows to be the villain walks into the back of the theater where there is an apartment. He washes his hands in the sink and the sand get whisked away. Then he climbs into bed and pretends to be sleeping. He is the husband of Mrs. Verdoc.
"Sabotage" is ahead of its contemporaries by miles because of who the hero is and who the villain is. Hitchcock likes to use suave men as his protagonists, but here we have a unsuspecting housewife. She is the  man's ideal woman—she cuts the food, massages the feet, and caters diner to her husband's whims.
What "Sabotage" is implying is that your loved one could be a criminal without you knowing about it. I was reminded of a bizarre story I heard on the radio where a woman found out that her boyfriend was planning on cooking and eating her. Reality shows are devoted to the idea of marrying someone who turns out to be a serial killer—"Sabotage" really showcases this paranoia well...and it's only the 30s.
Every housewife better look out because your husband could be evil...possibly one of the scariest and most provocative messages that could have been projected at the time of the movie's release.
The police aren't a stupid force in "Sabotage", which is a relief. They are ahead of the bad guys for most of the film, but they just need to catch them in the act.
Knowledge passes quickly, but there is no context...thus the characters don't know how to react. Context slowly comes and then the suspense appears. You can see how "Sabotage" influenced the modern suspense movie, it has a great sense of time. It wouldn't be the only film that Hitchcock would showcase his storytelling abilities while watching the clock..."Rope" is another supreme example.
The fade-ins seem to have prompted the same treatment in "The Shining"...there is always a darker message in the underlying image.
But more than slight influences on modern movies, "Sabotage" proves that it predated the modern horror film by decades. The lone female survivor is a common character in suspense and horror movies for a long time. "Alien" seems like a pristine example of this. But it was done first in "Sabotage"...not to the extent of the movies that would follow it, but still, you have to applaud their ingenuity.
"Sabotage" has a sense of loss that I haven't seen in a lot of other Hitchcock movies, and that is the real reason that it is a great film.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Young Frankenstein (1974)















As a spoof of old horror movies and, more specifically, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, Mel Brooks and co-writer/star Gene Wilder created one of the most successful and beloved comedies of the last century.
"Young Frankenstein" concerns the neurosurgeon grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein. The grandson, Frederick (Gene Wilder) , has entered into his profession to put a rest to all the rumors and stories of his ancestor. This Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Frank-en-shteen) is eager to make a name for himself, instead of being weighed down under all the gossip.
When Baron von Frankenstein's will is discovered, Frederick is sent back to Transylvania to confront the ghosts of the past, and the life therein.
On his trip he meets Igor (Marty Feldman), the grandson of the other Igor...the one that the Baron would have known. Frederick leaves behind his fiancee Elizabeth (Mel Brooks regular Madeline Kahn), but meets Inga (Teri Garr) who will be his new lab assistant.
The estate that comes to Frederick is the typical setting for a spook story—a mammoth castle-like structure that oozes smoke and cobwebs.
But all this describing doesn't truly do the picture justice because it's missing Brooks' zaniness and quirk.
Take for instance a scene that involves Igor driving Inga and Frederick back to the Frankenstein castle: from euphemistic puns to grammar jokes all ending in a comment about breasts and the reaction of horses to a name.
There is barely a minute that passes by that Brooks and Wilder don't throw in as much as possible...you see something new at every viewing.
The castle is ruled by Frau Blücher (cue the horses), who is a similar character to Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock's "Rebecca". She is an odd woman with a dirty secret...but you'll have to wait to find out what it is.
The film's influence shouldn't be questioned...most every comedy since owes something to "Young Frankenstein". Aerosmith has claimed that their song "Walk This Way" stemmed from a gag pulling in the movie.
Frederick is launched into a tailspin as he confronts the knowledge of his grandfather's work...it slowly becomes an obsession, and a hilarious one at that.
The physical stunts are always funny, but Brooks has such eccentric characters that it's impossible not to chuckle at the film. Look at Inspector Kemp (played by the heavily accented Kenneth Mars). He has a fake arm that is very reminiscent to Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove improvisations.
Perhaps the funniest scene which contains an interesting take on the song "Puttin' on the Ritz" almost didn't make it into the movie. Brooks and Wilder fought about the sequence and eventually Wilder won...it wouldn't be the same without it.
The adult humor and side-puns make it evident that the film is Brooks' handiwork. He has a style that is pretty recognizable.
Gene Wilder is over-the-top and Marty Feldman is just plain funny—I found that the actor I appreciated the most was Teri Garr whose fake German accent and naiveté make her one of the funniest parts of "Young Frankenstein".
It's interesting because this is the middle ground for many films...it  evolved from pictures like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and the original "Nosferatu"; but from here came films like "The Elephant Man" and even "Schindler's List". I'm perhaps making the film more iconic than it is, but I see similarities.
Filmed in black-and-white, not only is "Young Frankenstein" funny; but it also shows the daring of the director and team of film makers. The movie looks great and visual cues are used to make people look larger, smaller, thinner, fatter, etc. Here you can see the influence on Jackson and "The Lord of the Rings" franchise.
But all that aside, it's a fantastic movie.
"Young Frankenstein" is dark, fun, madness.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Happy (2011) (Not Rated)


















Roko Belic, in his documentary "Happy", tries to accompany his viewer through a voyage to the inner self to discover the secret to happiness. Using science and personal testimonies, we are led to believe a paraphrasing of one of the Beatles' song: "I don't care too much for money...money can't buy me [happiness]".
The movie begins with Marci Shimoff, the narrator, asking the question: 'what is happiness'. Flashes of billboards and magazines rolls across the screen and it's evident from the start that the target audience of "Happy" is America. Why are Americans consistently not as happy as other countries? Shouldn't we be at the apex of happiness? We seem to have everything lined up for us...so why not?
Newspapers and periodicals have sentences like secrets to a happy marriage and become happier written on the cover—enticing the reader to buy their product.
We have all heard before that money and fame is not the key to happiness. You can have a big home, a nice car, a trophy wife/husband, and still be unhappy.
"Happy" states that %50 of our happiness is dependent on our genetics. We have a zone of happiness that we tend to stay in, no matter if our external circumstances are great or poor. Surprisingly, only %10 of our happiness is dependent on what happens to us in our life. Our jobs, our bank accounts, our relationships—the things that our society emphasizes only generate a tenth of our happiness.
"Happy", smartly, doesn't try to solely focus on America...it travels from Louisiana to Japan to Bhutan to Okinawa and back.
So...what makes people happy? Well, I'll let you see the film and figure that out.
Because it is about happiness, we do spend a great deal of time focusing on bad things. Do traumatic events influence a person's happiness? The film doesn't think so.
Take the story of a woman who was run over by a truck...she's happier now than she's ever been.
Instead of just being an educational movie, "Happy" takes time for humor and emotion. Some scenes are funny and well-edited like the annual gorilla run. People dressing up as gorillas will chase a person dressed as a banana down roads.
Other moments bring the tears like a speaker addressing a middle school, asking them why they are mean to each other.
Happiness is such a popular subject that it's almost impossible to have not already heard all the evidence that "Happy" exhibits. But the film presents it in such a way that it feels fresh.
From physical exercise to meditation to karoshi, "Happy" is a short, sweet, and endearing work.
For such a huge topic, Belic manages to make his film feel intimate and personal...which is rare.
"Happy" is a hidden gem.







Score: 3 stars out of 4

The Piano (1993) (R)















"The Piano" is a remarkably well-made piece of cinema that ends up feeling hollow. Its characters are flat, the romance is unbelievable, and the movie drags on for too long. I heard an interview with Mark Kermode where he referenced "The Piano"...he claims that it's one of the most boring movies ever made. On this, I do not agree..because I've seen "Old Dogs", "The Astronaut Farmer", and "Man of Steel".
What "The Piano" lacks is a little maturity. It introduces characters too quickly and expects that we care about them.
The movie begins with a voice over narration of Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter). Ada is a mute, Scottish woman with a child. She tells us that no one has ever heard her voice. They how, as they viewer, are we hearing her voice? This is bad decision #1 and it's the first thing we see/hear.
Poor Ada, she's been married to a man that she's never met. So she being packed up and shipped away to this new lover...it's not a great first impression when you're treating like a load of luggage.
The necessary companion of Ada is Flora (Anna Paquin), her daughter. Flora can translate Ada's sign language for the men and women in the hire of the new man, Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neil). Alisdair's home is a little community of tribal people, maids, and the occasional male. Seriously, there are two male characters and the others just fade into the background. Apparently director Jane Campion didn't think that her audience was equipped enough to handle more than two white men...it's racist and insulting.
Ada is a terrific piano player, it's an outlet for her. She plays the piano and doesn't feel mute anymore...it gives her a voice—like "The King's Speech"....well, maybe that's a bad example.
Ada tells us that she'll miss her piano when she moves to meet her new man; but in the next scene we see her on a boat with her freakin' piano. So not only is a mute woman talking to us because Campion—also at fault for the script—thinks that we need a voice for a voiceless character, but she is lying to us. The men bring Ada and Flora and the piano to shore, dump them there, and set off for another city.
Mother and daughter are left on the beach for a night as they wait for prince charming and his slew of tribal people to rescue them.
Alisdair shows up the next day and they bring the two back through the jungle-ish terrain to his house in the middle of the woods. But he doesn't have enough men to bring the piano too, so it gets left on the beach for seagulls to poop on.
Alisdair is really tallying up the wrong kind of points—treat a woman like luggage and then poop on her piano. Of course, it's not Alisdair that's pooping on the piano it's.....you know what? I'm going to leave the scatological comments behind (oops, there I go again).
Ada is really miffed, not only because her piano is getting...um...rained on; but also because Alisdair is a shut-off man who thinks he can sweep her off her feet. She becomes purposely grouchy and it isn't helping married life.
She meets hunky....wait, what does he do? I don't know how to describe this guy, so from now on, I'll refer to him as El Fortissimo. El Fortissimo (Harvey Keitel) is kind of a perv; but don't worry because he has a heart of gold.
El Fortissimo decides to let Ada play his piano...and I mean that in more than one way.
Anyways the whole affair (see what I did there?) is so convoluted and dry that I really didn't care.
Campion's style is undeniable and "The Piano" looks and sounds fantastic. It has great performances, but it was just missing a huge chunk of plausibility.
As much as I wanted to like "The Piano", I didn't.
It played out adagio and I wanted it to be prestissimo.





Score: 2 out of 4 stars

Nanook of the North (1922)





















One of the first documentaries ever made, "Nanook of the North" was not a film project, nor did it have anything to do with film at first. It took a while before Robert J. Flaherty, the director, decided that the Eskimo people should have their story told in a movie. When he made the first movie, the negative caught fire and burned...some copies remained, but Flaherty deemed them unfit. He returned to the north with more cameras and equipment to document one family's struggled through the year. The result is a stunning and remarkable achievement.
Nanook, "The Bear", is the hunter of the family. He is an agile predator, and the only thing on his mind is survival. 
The family lives between meals, living as far north as they do, presents one of the most dangerous environments known to man. They starves for months and then feast on seals, fish, or walruses. 
Possibly the most incredible footage that Flaherty captures involves the hunt of a walrus. A man sneaks up on the huge creatures on the beach. When the animals spot him and run to the ocean, he harpoons one of them and it becomes a tug-of-war between a two ton beast and three men.
This scene exemplifies everything about the movie—harsh, brutal, surviving...the list could go on. The men need food, but the walrus wants to live. "Nanook of the North" makes you feel like Freud peering into the Id of humanity.
Once the beast is overcome, the men can't even wait until they devour the creature. The cut it up and start eating it fresh from the ocean.
Other scenes prove the peoples' ingenuity. Nanook and his family roam from place to place daily to gather food, they have to construct an igloo at night. It takes the family a little under an hour to bring the structure to completion. The cracks are sealed up, but they aren't done yet. A hole is carved from the igloo and replaced with a piece of ice...a makeshift window. Another block of ice is used to reflect the sun into the window so the family can see when the sun has risen.
"Nanook of the North" is not a film that hasn't seen its fair share of controversy. One scene has Nanook interacting with 'white men'. They show him a phonograph and he seems puzzled by the machine. He picks up a record and bites it with his teeth, testing the material out. It turns out that this scene may have been staged.
From the beginning of film, film makers were cutting corner and forging scenes to get a powerful and emotional response from their viewers...and you know what? It works with this film.
Though it may be untruthful, Flaherty assumes that there were Eskimos who didn't know what this piece of technology was and would have treated it just as he has Nanook do. So it is truthful and a lie at the same time.
In the end, some of the footage speaks for itself like the hunting of a seal. The beast remains out of sight for the entire struggle, the camera is blinded by the ice that the seal is under. The only thing connecting Nanook and his prey is a thin rope.
This family is a unit, they have to get along and survive or face the icy alternatives.
Dog fights break out at the scent of seal blood, shoes have to be bitten before being worn, and fishing is performed with ivory and sticks...the bareness of the landscape brings forth the essence of life.
It's a great movie, though it has been outdated.
It should be seen if only for the tenacity of the family.





Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

















"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" owes a lot of its success to "Bonnie and Clyde"...it tries to recapture the magic, to entertain, and to make a masterpiece—I would hesitate to say that it failed on all three counts. This isn't to say that the movie isn't enjoyable, because it is; but it is so blown up and comical that it failed to make me actually care about the main characters. In this explosion of dry wit and big names, the movie actually becomes boring.
The movie is handled stylishly by director George Roy Hill, who chooses to shoot nostalgically. He drains some of the film of its color until it looks like a late 19th century photograph or an early 20th century silent film. But this isn't all of the time—no, he does this for the beginning scene (which is quite good) and then lets the color return to the screen. Yet, with all this thought of the past, it's amazing that a song like "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" sneaks in there. I don't know what is going on with the music of this film, but apparently some people do because the film won two Oscars in the music category.
What do you need to know about the film before you go into it? There's two men: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...they're criminal et voila! There's the movie.
Instead of "Bonnie and Clyde" which somehow remained manically entertaining and challenging, this film is a blockbuster that seeks to draw in the biggest crowd.
The coy dialogue that is more of verbal sparring between Cassidy and the Kid is ahead of its time and unnecessary...it's better seen in a movie like Soderbergh's "Ocean's 11".
Robert Redford and Paul Newman seem like the dream team when it comes to star power and they are both equally enjoyable in their roles. My problem is that the movie wasn't captivating enough to remind me that both these stars have made better films: Newman was in "Cool Hand Luke" two years prior to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundace Kid" and Redford would go on to direct "Ordinary People".
As much as I wanted to like the film, I found that I really couldn't because not much happens in it. There are two train robberies and a really, really long chase scene...that's it. The scenes that could have been interesting like traveling to Bolivia or the actual heists themselves are played out in montage sequences. We are deprived of the meat of the movie.
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" implies many, many things that it does't follow through with. There are hints of a  devilish menage a trois, and if not that, at least one man wanting another's girl. But then, this is just dropped and forgotten about in those montage sequences.
You can see the film's influence in movies like Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven"; but in the end, what does "Butch Cassidy and the Sundace Kid" do? I'm not really sure.
The movie starts out saying most of what follows is true. I like this beginning, it knows its own campiness.
But then it tries to hard to be something that it's not. "Die Hard" is deliciously entertaining, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundace Kid" just seems confused.






Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Billy Elliot (2000) (R)
















There are so many movies about boys trying to break out from overbearing fathers. It's become a staple in dramas to the point where it's even mocked...take a scene from "30 Rock" for example. In the middle of the weirdest therapy session you've ever seen—and one of the funniest—a character screams out in a racist impression to their sort-of-father: "I only act out because I need your love". This line exemplifies the views people have on the subject of son-father relationships in dramas such as "Billy Elliot".
The tensions are usually exacerbated in situations where the mother is not present (check), being a "man" is a big part of the son's upbringing (check), and any other stressful situations to add onto the straining communication (check). We see it in "My Left Foot" a little and even more in "Good Will Hunting" (on a side note, I'm apparently the only one who doesn't think that "Hunting" is that good); but I think "Billy Elliot" handles it the best of any film I've seen because it doesn't loose its characters. Sons are still sons and fathers are still fathers, they don't become hyperboles of themselves. Love is mixed in with the gruff mumbles and the backhands, it can't be separated.
Billy Elliot (a young Jamie Bell) is an eleven year-old boy growing up in Durham in 1984. The mines are being closed and riots are breaking out in protest. Billy is sent to school and for recreational activity, he gets to box...because that's what boys do.
One day, the gym has to be shared with a ballet school, and Billy's interest is piqued. There's something about dancing that he loves...but we never really see that.
It wasn't intentional that the movie I saw before seeing this one was "Pina"...but it does leave a high watermark for any other "dance movie". "Pina" is obsession with dance, the heartbeat of artists—"Billy Elliot" is about family.
Needless to say, I would have liked to know more about why Billy was drawn to ballet, other than the freeing feeling he gets from it.
Billy meets the ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters in an Oscar nominated role) who is the perfect character for the movie. She's reminiscent of other mentors from other movies; but completely her own person. She doesn't try to pressure Billy into dancing, but when he makes it clear that he wants to dance...she demands he commit to it.
Billy is ashamed of dancing because it's not what his father wants him to do...so in that sense "Billy Elliot" is a coming of age story. It's about being an individual and making your own decisions...and it's too fluffy for its own good.
It's sentimental to a fault and it's full of awkward moments; but in the end, it is emotionally fulfilling.
Stephen Daldry's visual style is impeccably beautiful and full of class—it aids the film greatly. "Billy Elliot" is very easy to like.
Some parts of the movie bite off more than they can chew...the idea of every male dancer being gay is brought up and the film tries to handle homosexuality in its own way—it fails. I would have liked it better if there had been a smarter script that implied things instead of spelling them out.
The end scene is all sorts of ridiculous, but it's effective in its own way.
I think that, in the end, the movie is a great success because it tells a story, makes a connection, and leaves the viewer pleased—what more do you want?







Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Pina (2011) (PG)




















A documentary which removes the interviewer and the interviewee from the film, "Pina" allows only dancing figures, voice overs, a few close friends, and Pina herself to speak. 
Wim Wenders' "Pina" is a love ballad for the choreography of Pina Bausch, whose work was a mixture of beautiful, bizarre, and visually arresting moves. Wenders obviously realized the impact on the eyes that Bausch's dances had, so he takes it another step further. Using stunning imagery and jaw-dropping cinematography, Wenders is able to suck the viewer into the odd place of Bausch's mind.
There is no narrative, there is no structure besides the choreography...doing this was the best decision that Wenders could have possibly made.
A naturalistic observer, the earth takes a large part in Pina's dances. Water, wind, soil, sand—they are all used terribly effectively. 
Pina herself died shortly before the movie started filming, thus everything had to change. Instead of being an homage to Pina's dances, the film is an homage to Pina
Those interview are never allowed to speak while facing the camera, their face is seen and their voice is heard. These are the dancers, those whose life Pina helped mold into what it is now.
Some of the daces are striking and frightening. Take her interpretation of The Rite of Spring, which is, at best, disjointed.
But then, there are pieces like Café Müller which transcend their medium. Café Müller requires all the dancers to travel around the stage with their eyes closed. It's this kind of routine where Bausch's influence is really seen...I can recall a trailer for the newest season of "American Horror Story" that is similar in many ways.
Bausch was never cruel with her dance studio Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, she allowed those from all ages to join. Her studio wasn't about technique, though that was still a huge part of it. Instead, it was all about the feeling.
One man says that she wanted him to create the moon...and he does. He stands on an escalator and waves his arms around, drawing waves and circle in the air. He maintains his place for a long time by walking backwards on the escalator, then he lets himself drift off—like the moon fading from the sky.
Other dances by Bausch are sexually aggressive, but most of them have something to do with nature. 
At times, "Pina" seems like a puff away from being the perfect movie to watch while stoned—like when a dancer with a leaf blower is chasing around the leaves in a part...or when a woman recounts a dance where she had to fall in love with a hippopotamus. It's easy to brush off these moments as insignificant.
But there is much to analyze in "Pina"...instead of themes and metaphors, we have to analyze the dances. There are deathly scenes that remind us of our mortality...when a woman shovels soil onto another woman. Other dances remind us how important visual beauty is to us...men and women line up and pull back their hair, show their teeth, turn to the side, and stand up straight. But you could also view the dance as a commentary on aging, for the film interweaves young and old dancers in its editing.
Most every dancer claims that at one time they did not understand Pina or her dancers...but there's something more important here—loosing yourself to the dance.
These dancers trust Pina, wherever they think she may be now, and let themselves go, It's liberating to watch.
In filming the way that Wenders has, he has stripped bare the pretentiousness and the awkwardness, leaving the core of the film in tact. For "Pina" is a movie that is about dance, by filming the dance as it was meant to be seen, Wenders reveals the artist's soul.






Score: 4 out of 4 stars

The 39 Steps (1935)



















Just at the beginning of his career and fame, Alfred Hitchcock made a movie very similar to one of his other classics "North by Northwest". Whether it was dissatisfaction with how "The 39 Steps" turned out or just wanting to relieve the story of a man falsely accused of murder on the run from the police, Hitchcock's two movies have a striking amount of similarities.
"The 39 Steps" doesn't hesitate before kick-starting the plot. Within five minutes of the movie's opening, there are gunshots, government spies, secrets, false identities, and a heavy amount of intrigue.
The crime genre belongs to Hitchcock, he helped turn it into what it is today.
Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is attending a music hall where odd variety acts seem to abound. There is a man who memorizes 50 new facts a day, he is a trivia master and the audience will try to fool him with trick questions and impossible inquiries. But as the crowd yells their questions louder and louder a minor riot starts to break out...and then a gun is fired. People run for the door and Richard is trapped next to a young woman. This mysterious woman who refers to herself as "Miss Smith", asks to be taken home with Hannay. When asked why she says simply because she wants to.
Here as with "North by Northwest" is the story of a man who is just trying to clear his name...that's what he tells himself. I hypothesize that both protagonists from Hitchcock's two films are wanting something more out of life...they want to live a little more; and by "live" I mean "have adventure".
Both Thornhill and Hannay are really smooth characters, they don't panic and always have some sort of exit strategy. It's easy to see where Captain Jack Sparrow has his roots—characters like these.
So Miss Smith tells Hannay about the 39 steps...but what they are, she doesn't say. She says that she's going to Scotland to meet a person (cue espionage themed music). In a somewhat Bond-feeling move, she says to beware a man with a knuckle missing on his pinky finger.
Then, during the night, Miss Smith stumbles into Hannay's room with a paper clutched in her hand. She falls onto the bed with a knife sticking out of her back.
Hannay knows that he will be blamed for the murder, or maybe he's concerned about himself, so he trades clothes with the milkman and sneaks out of his apartment.
Now, he's on the run.
He hops on a train, like Thornhill from "North by Northwest" and decides to figure out the mystery of the 39 steps himself.
Billed as a comedy and repeated as a beloved stage play, there is nothing incredibly funny about "The 39 Steps". It's important to note that the circumstances are given their proper respect and in this way, it's a little more lighthearted than the typical crime movie. But then again, everything was a little cheerier in the mid 30s.
I can see how this would be a good play for the stage, yet even while watching the movie I was wincing at the imagined over-exaggerated acting that stage actors and directors have a propensity to do just to weasel a laugh from the audience. So in that respect, I don't think I want to see the stage play.
The woman of the film is unusual because she's not fooled by fast words and fancy language. In fact, it takes a lot for her not to despise Harray...ah, romance.
Yes, it begins the stereotypes and yes, it is a big disaster waiting to happen. But with all that in mind, "The 39 Steps" is remarkably entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.







Score: 3 out of 4 stars

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)


















"Who's Afriad of Virginia Woolf?" concerns the after dinner party that you never want to go to. Its host and hostess have no problem letting their guests see the strife in the marriage and they frequently scream at each other. In between the hundreds of glasses of alcohol that the foursome consume, there is time for surprising sexual innuendoes and many sideways glances.
The movie is about Martha and George (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and their incredibly twisted marriage. What starts out as a little abnormal turns into a freak-show...this couple is probably insane.
After a late night of partying, they invite Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) over because Martha's father (who just happens to be George's boss) thinks the two couples should get to know each other better. As cynical and intelligent as George is, Martha is equal his mental strength and twice as loud. She is a cruel woman, one who wants, and usually gets things done her way. But of the two of them, George is the crueler one, he bides his time and waits for just the right time to maximize the pain of the things he says.
It's late in the night, already the next morning, and while the couple is getting ready for bed, Martha drops the bomb on George—guess who's coming to dinner?
Slightly miffed at not getting his sleep, George decides that the best way to tolerate the evening is to get smashed and get everyone else roaring drunk too. After the first few drinks, the tongues begin to loosen and soon things that normally wouldn't be said with company present are being said many times over.
Nick is very uncomfortable by this couple's tendency to release intimate details to the ears of him and his wife. Honey, on the other hand, couldn't be happier throwing down brandy after brandy...it won't be too long before the brandy starts throwing back.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is really, really good. It's a mixture of madness and empathy, manipulation and some strange cousin of love. You'll never have more fun watching crazier characters.
This is the movie, which was based off the stage play, that Aaron Sorkin has heralded as his inspiration and when you see the film a lightbulb turns on. The script is very Sorkin-esque and has many rapid fire questions answered with questions.
But the movie belongs to the actors who prove that this is an ensemble work unlike any other. Taylor and Burton famously made this movie during a period of romance between the two of them; but the disdain of the characters is so real it leaves the viewer with many questions about their relationship. Elizabeth Taylor would win Best Actress and the drunken Sandy Dennis would get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar; but it's a shame that Richard Burton didn't win for this movie. He's the heart and twisted soul of the picture. He's acerbic and sarcastic little digs are something that makes the movie. Insults pile upon threats and soon everyone is screaming and crying and doing things that no sober person would.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is the movie that would lead to "Blue Velvet" and "American Beauty" and other movies about the fractured life of a "typical" household.
There is so much going on here that it would be impossible to correctly give the film its due. It inspired hundreds of films to come after it.
From the edgy script to the wickedly perfect performances "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"is a stunning directorial debut from Mike Nichols.








Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

The White Ribbon (2009) (R)

















There's something deeply disturbing about Michael Haneke's film "The White Ribbon" that isn't evident in the first few seconds, minutes, or hour of the film. The movie opens to a narrator telling us that it all started with the Doctor and his horse. 
The Doctor's horse is trotting along when it trips over a wire that someone has lay across the road—the horse has to be put down and the Doctor is in need of medical attention...he's off his feet for a few weeks. What many see as a nasty prank, an equal number of others don't care about. The village just loves a good story, and the community of people becomes its own entity...one that is incredibly frightening.
Ironically, the movie that "The White Ribbon" is most like is M. Night Shyamalan's underrated "The Village". They both deal with secrecy, a cultish society, and sudden acts of personalized violence that effect the village as a whole. That being said, no snobby critic is going to liken the two movies because one is "fine art" and the other is "cheap trash"...but I have enough snob to spare—the movies are very similar.
Haneke is a master storyteller and here he shows his true genius. "Amour", which would come a few years later, is good; but it doesn't stand next to this movie. Filmed in a gloomy and crisp black and white, "The White Ribbon" is set in the early 20th century, pre-WWI. 
A small village in Germany is home to about two hundred farmers, a Baron, and his wife. It seems like the ideal life, everyone gets along. The idiosyncrasies of the villagers that have become stereotypical in films and novels are present, but Haneke finds a way to sidestep them rather nicely to make it feel like they're not present. All the neighbors know each other, they snoop without really snooping. This stereotype has become associated with modern-day suburbs..it's what gives films like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Wicker Man" their power.
Multiple stories are told concerning all mater of life in the village. Schoolteachers, nannies, pastors, stewards, and children—they are all vitally important characters in "The White Ribbon".
The first odd happening is the Doctor and his horse tumbling over the hidden wire. The second occurrence, which makes the villagers forget about the Doctor for a time, is the death of a woman. She falls through a rotten wood floor while working.
But the instances are far from being over—if anything, they are just beginning.
The atmosphere of "The White Ribbon" is so clear and so thick that it's impossible not to engage with the film. It's a boiling film, one that evokes such strong emotions. I hated character with murderous hatred, empathized with care, and was horrified by their acts.
The stifling way that Haneke shoots his films works best here. The long shots are dreadfully great, and the naturalistic feeling pulls you back in time.
"The White Ribbon" is a masterpiece. A work of sheer excellence and artistry.
Haneke lets your opinion change over time...you start out with a childish ignorance to the life of the villagers.
The women are kept in line and the children are beaten...the male figure is domineering in "The White Ribbon". Rightfully so, the emotions boil up from how some characters are treated.
Instead of just being a piece that could be entertaining, which it is, "The White Ribbon" sparks great questions. 
The ending may dissatisfy some, but I think the final minutes are what makes film so great. Could this story have been told in any other medium as powerfully as it is told in film?
Haneke proves with "The White Ribbon" what makes cinema a fine art.







Score: 4 out of 4 stars

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) (R)













The title is one problem—the moodiness is another. The moodiness, the film uses to its advantage and overcomes quite nicely...the title, not so much.
After a slew of incredibly successful modern westerns that includes "No Country for Old Men", "There Will Be Blood" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", it was a very years before the sub-genre was tried again and with "Ain't Them Bodies Saints", writer/director David Lowery really went big.
The movie begins with shattered edits that tell the story of a Bonnie and Clyde type couple. It's not completely clear what exactly they have done, but within six minutes of the film's opening, there is a shoot-out with the cops.
Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are completely in love, but it the typical crazy way. They fight, break up, and get back together. It's like each other is the other one's antidote to the incredibly deadly disease known as boredom.
Bob is taken away to prison with a sacrificial move that absolves Ruth of all guilt. She is with child and he does not want Ruth or his baby to have to face prison life. Again, it's unclear how long Bob is in for prison, but he is determined to see Ruth and his child again before he dies. He writes Rush daily and she reciprocates until she has her child, a girl named Sylvie. Her maternal love is so great that she cannot describe it to Bob, so she stops trying in her letters...that was four years ago.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" tells a story that is slight, but interesting nonetheless. It's a story concerning only five or six characters who rarely meet and when they do, it's rarely pleasant. There's a sheriff who is pining after Ruth, Ruth's father who would do anything to ensure the safety of his daughter, a friend of Bob's, and then the family themselves.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is unafraid to shoot entire scenes pitch black. The natural feeling of the film is only marred by the eccentric cinematography that I have so liberally referred to as "hipster" in previous reviews. It's true, this is an indie film, through and through. But that's not always a bad thing...yet after so many, they begin to feel stereotypical. I realize that the way the camera is used reflects budget decisions and independent film making, but then again "War Witch" had the same look and it didn't get as frustrating as this does.
Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are both great rising stars, they are fantastic in everything they are in and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is no exception.
The film is entirely dependent on the viewer liking the two main characters and empathizing with them,  and I was completely fine with this.
The film is moody, dark, and sweaty. Lowery doesn't like his stars looking like they have had showers, which is, again, fine for the feeling he's trying to evoke.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is quite a solid movie, but there's nothing that spectacular about it. It's not bad, it's pretty good; but it is missing a je nais se quoi.
And then there's the problem with the title. Rumor has it that the title refers to song lyrics that the director misheard...just thought that was interesting.






Score: 3 out of 4 stars