September Summary

Blade Runner

Worst. Sorry, I'm just not into this movie.

Food, Inc.

Best While it does use scare tactics, the movie is solid.

Brokeback Mountain
King of New York
My Own Private Idaho
The Artist
The Big Chill
The English Patient
The Last Emperor
The Last Seduction
The Rapture

Best: "Boyhood", "The English Patient" and "The Big Chill"
Worst: "King of New York"

The African Queen

Worst John Huston's movie is nothing short of insipid and boring.

The Hangover

Best "The Hangover" is hilarious and entertaining.

The Double Life of Véronique
Y tu mama también

Worst. Sorry, both of these films are too tedious and too inexplicably emotionally complicated to do anyone any good.

Don't Look Now
The Devil's Backbone

Best: "The Devil's Backbone"
Worst: "Halloween"'s so boring.

The Double Life of Véronique (1991) (R)

Krzysztof Kieślowski's first real splash of notoriety in American pop culture was with "The Double Life of Véronique". Before this he had "The Decalogue" but with his science-fiction-meets-realistic-romance-deja-vu movie,  he was treated with more respect and took home some awards at the Cannes Film Festival. The film itself was nominated for a Golden Globe and then forgotten unless you were a fan  of Kieślowski's body of work. "The Double Life of Véronique" also marks the beginning of the end of the director's career, which was cut short right after his trilogy of colors, his most famous works.
"The Double Life of Véronique" begins in the stars and ends in the mind. The opening shots are confusing and never explained, something that Kieślowski doesn't shy away from through out the entire length of his movie.
The only character here of importance is Véronique (Irène Jacob, later seen in "Three Colors: Red") or Weronika depending on where she is living. The film makes pains to state that these two women are not the same person living in some alternate universe, though I think that would be the best explanation to the whole problem here.
Weronika lives in Poland and Véronique is French. The two have a chance meeting on the streets in Poland when Véronique accidentally snaps a picture of Weronika. The Polish half of the story is more ethereal, more haunting, and certainly more entertaining.
When we switch over to France, demonstrating Jacob's multilingual abilities, the film takes a real dive and pedals its feet, struggling to know what to do with itself.
It's clear that there is some connection between the two women, but what that is, we don't really know. The majority of the film is focused on Véronique and her struggles with everyday life/romance. As cheesy as it sounds, the film (which could have been quite entertaining and masterful) is more interested in the lives of its characters than the plot device it so frustratingly and inexplicably throws at the viewer. Sure, the characters are more important than the plot; but they are never so important and so empathetic that I wanted to forget about the complexities that kept unwinding in front of my eyes.
If you want to see this done right, watch "Upstream Color".
Still there's a lot to say for how beautifully moody "The Double Life of Véronique" is. The cinematography can be spellbinding and is one of the larger reasons that the sins of the movie's forgetfulness can be forgiven.
I was ready to like the movie, so ready; and I was so disappointed.
"The Double Life of Véronique" does not go anywhere, and it doesn't even try to.
As the idea of the two women living the same but different lives becomes more evident to the viewer, we get a lot of imagery with glass. We see reflections, we look through glass, glass balls invert images, etc. etc. Okay, that's what?
Perhaps Kieślowski didn't want to explain everything to his viewer and if this is the case, then he deserves all the more to be hated. His trilogy managed to tip-toe the line between pretentious and moving; but here, we see it collapse and crumble.
Kieślowski is notorious for being an intelligent director, maybe too intelligent. His "Three Colors" trilogy was based off the colors and ideas associated with the French flag and "The Decalogue" was based off of the Ten Commandments. So what does "The Double Life of Véronique" mean? Frankly, with Kieślowski's other work, the intelligent ramblings were secondary to the watchability of the movie. Here, I think it is vice versa; but I just don't care to do the work involved. It's possible that the key to the puzzle is knowing what to look at the movie through; but after seeing double, you may not wish to go there.
"The Double Life of Véronique" is a visually stunning piece and filled to the brim with glorious music and pretentious scenes. I don't know what it is about Irène Jacob that makes her so irksome, but I think that most of the blame falls on her director. For a movie that could have been genuinely interesting, instead I view "The Double Life of Véronique" as one of the best evidences for why American audiences have a hatred for foreign cinema, it feels aloof and snooty.
Pish posh on that.

Score: ★★½

Boyhood (2014) (R)

There is so much to say about "Boyhood" and not enough space to say it. Rather than drone endlessly about the tortures and golden virtues of working with the same cast over twelve years, I think it would do the film more justice to talk about it as it is. Yes, we've all heard about how Richard Linklater waited and waited and waited, filming bits and pieces of his film over a decade; but that doesn't mean it will be good. Luckily for Linklater, he picked a topic that's hard to do that he has proven himself worthy of before: life.
Linklater's dialogue is almost immediately recognizable because it sounds like how you speak. He has a knack for picking up the speech of teenagers and grandparents—he knows how people think and then he translates that to his story.
With "Boyhood" we follow a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from first grade to college. A journey such as this I would expect would mean much more to parents than to those who haven't had any kids. At the theater I was at, there were mothers and fathers laughing and quietly commenting on little things that I wouldn't have picked up on...this isn't to say that "Boyhood" gives all of its audience some personal moment, because it does and quite often.
Still as much as the movie belongs to Mason, it belongs to his mother, played by Patricia Arquette as she has to raise her two kids. Mason's sister Samantha (Lorelei Linkater) is his older antithesis. She keeps Mason in check, taunts him mercilessly, gets more caught up with the material, and eventually seems to settle down into the very nonchalant adult we see her as when we exit the picture.
As a film, there is no climax to "Boyhood" because there is no strife and adversity, at least in the classical way of thinking about it. It's not a Hollywood movie made for popular audiences; but you should go see it anyway. Its plot is limited to vignettes through which we view the physical and emotional changes in Mason; but it burns together in a wonderful mosaic of time.
The film is clever for calling itself "Boyhood" because it would imply that it's all about Mason. Indeed his mom does share a lot of the screen time; but so does everyone else. We see friends, families, marriages, divorces, baptisms, all flows together into one movie.
The question is: what are we left with?
I think it would be fruitless to talk about the film in a plot context—what good would that do? We've all lived aspects of Mason's life and his mother's life and his sister's life. We share with each of their joys and each of their sorrows...this is why Linklater succeeds so greatly, because he is the first filmmaker to make a film that both does and does not define life. On one hand we have all the characters and dialogue screaming at us that life is important with its heartbreaks and its let downs and on the other hand it screams that we cannot know why this is. That's what we are left with: a shrug of the shoulders and a hopeful cross of the fingers.
Much of the movie is not just about the landmark moments that stick in your memory when you look back on your childhood, it's also about romance and the quest for love. Mason's mother and his father (played by Linklater favorite Ethan Hawke) don't get along but they make pains to tolerate each other for their children's sake. Separated and seeking new partners, we get to witness first-hand the trials of marrying a partner with children.
While taking classes to get a degree, Mason's mother falls in love with her professor (Marco Perella) who she then marries. They both have two kids apiece: a boy and a girl. When the families merge, it starts off really nicely until Mason's step-father takes a liking to the bottle. At first I was not okay with the development because it seems to only connect to those who have gone through a similar situation; but somehow it manages to skate around alcoholism as the main point and just target a moment in life when there is a crisis.
Later we get a breakdown for Mason's mother as she contemplates whether or not her life was worth it. What has she accomplished? Financial worries, romance troubles, and the struggle for completion all feature strongly here.
As we pass the years from 2002-2013 approximately, Linklater reaffirms his masterful status by subtly introducing us to technology and crazes that have remained in our mind. We see Mason and Samantha as the sixth Harry Potter book comes out. We notice how they began to play on game consoles from the Gameboy to the Wii. Eventually they all have iPhones, but it feels like just a brief moment in time. Seeing our visual history painted like this gives us major nostalgia waves..."Boyhood" is full of these moments.
For its intricacies, for its performances, and for its heart—which is certainly quite optimistic—I can think of nothing but praise for Richard Linklater.
"Boyhood" is not a fantasy ride of a movie. It's honest and genuine and filled with both tears and laughter. It's not a movie you go to see the plot, you go to see it because it elevates you. It makes you feel that life is somehow meaningful and it makes you cherish those moments when everything seems to dissolve and you are left breathless and quiet, soaking it all in, not knowing what cosmic gift you might be witnessing.
It's impression is very strong and altogether comforting. "Boyhood" is imperfect; but so is life.

Score: ★★★★

Tusk (2014) (R)

Kevin Smith is a curiosity and his newest movie is nothing less than the worst thing you've ever had to put yourself through for the sake of cinema. This isn't to say that it is the worst movie ever made, because that's certainly not true; nor does it even manage to compare with more recent monstrosities of the screen; but at least with "Tusk" we get validation that there is nothing quite some invincible as the uniqueness of the horror genre and the tenacity of an original mind.
This begs the question: Is "Tusk" horror? Is it comedy? Is it satire? Is it some sort of odd child, birthed from the combination of all of them?
The answer to these questions would firmly be: I have no freakin' clue. All I know is that there is a line that "Tusk" brings you to and then throws you over. If you're fine with that line—with the odd transformative and bizarre physical gore/comedy of the piece—then you'll love it. If you weren't expecting it, as I wasn't, you'll be blindsided by it and won't be able to recover.
"Tusk" begins with the line "based on actual events" which lends us to believe that there is some sort of credibility buried deep within the picture. Having finished the movie, I'm not so sure...well, scratch that, I'm positive that there is nothing remotely true within it.
The movie's plot begins with two podcasters at the peak of their game. Wallace (Justin Long) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) search the internet for the bizarre and the comical. One video that brings them particular pleasure is of a young teenage boy showing off his samurai skills and accidentally cutting one of his legs off. They are so intent on this video that Wallace decides to travel up to Canada to interview the boy for the podcast, coming back to describe it to Teddy...this is the whole premise of the podcast. Teddy is scared of flying so Wallace will scour the U.S. for bizarre stories and then come back to share with Teddy. The podcast is cheekily named "Not-See Party" for this reason.
Hugely successful, these two make their living off stories like the Kill Bill Kid so Wallace is quite eager to get up to Canada for the intervew. Unfortunately, when he gets there, the poor boy has killed himself and now Wallace is up the creek with no paddle, so to speak.
Ah, but fortune smiles down on a few. While using the bathroom in a bar in the middle of nowhere, Wallace finds an ad for a man seeking a roommate who will pull his share of chores. Not interested in room and board, Wallace is more interested in the stories that this curious character seems to have accumulated.
So he goes out to the middle of the middle of nowhere in the freezing temperature to meet with this mysterious man, named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Upon first arrival, we see Howard (not Mr. Howe) in a wheelchair. This is the only new technological device in a world of antiquated art. Then Howard starts to speak. He has so many stories, so many idioms. From his lips comes prose and poetry quoted from source after source. It is like listening to a talking library and Wallace (as well as the audience) is transfixed by this.
Yet if you have seen the trailer, you know what is coming and if you didn't...SPOILERS!
Wallace finds himself getting drowsier and soon passes out on the ground, right after hearing about Howard's bizarre fascination with the walrus, "God's noblest creature". Howard even has a large walrus baculum—that is, a penile bone—on the mantle.
These should have all been clues. These should have been the tips that sent me spiraling out, instead I was left waiting for the movie to make its next move and that move did not agree with me.
Wallace is left at the mercy of Howard, who seems to embody hysteria. The ranges of emotions that both Michael Parks and Justin Long have to cover are spectacular and they both do a sensational job. The movie makes a premise that could have been laughable genuinely frightening. Howard's obsession with walruses begins to show as he tells Justin that he has made a walrus suit out of flesh in a "Silence of the Lambs" fashion and now is planning on caging Wallace for the rest of his life.
There should have been so many signs, so many clues for me that this was going to be more than just a horror movie.
The result of the blend of genres which, I'll admit, isn't immediately obvious, is just pure oddity.
Kevin Smith seems to try to throw everything and that damn kitchen sink at his viewer...we are expected to just sit and listen and watch and be okay with this.
I have never come across a movie so intent on disturbing, so intent on amusing, and failing so miserably at both. Even Cronenberg movies would blanch at some of the stunts that this one pulls.
This isn't your mother's movie, nor is it your father' fact, I can't think of anyone besides the avid Kevin Smith fan who would appreciate this movie.
Wallace's girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriquez) and Teddy become determined to find him after he has been missing for a few days; but they may not be able to get to him in time.
"Tusk" is a giant misstep. It's a confusing, obliterating, and unclear work that expect you to tag along for its running time. It features strong performances, great ideas, and unfulfilled's a crying shame.
Still, this movie seems to be one of the ballsiest in recent memory...if that's worth anything.

Score: ★½

The Devil's Backbone (2001) (R)

Guillermo del Toro's vision of horror was often met with indifference before the director released his masterpiece: "The Devil's Backbone". Everything that makes fantasy great, everything that makes horror enjoyable, and everything that entails a cohesive and lovely drama are all found here. Though it is revered, I would argue that "The Devil's Backbone" often gets replaced by "Pan's Labyrinth" which reaffirmed everything first stated here. We have war, fantasy, children's dreams, and the thought that the worst horror villain of all is quite simply human...nothing more.
The movie begins with the question: what makes a ghost? Why does a person become trapped on Earth, or why does their essence? Is it a moment of pain? The recreation of emotion? A key feature for the success of "The Devil's Backbone" is that it never tries to answer that question and allows the viewer to make their own inferences.
We cut to a young boy being brought to school in the middle of a desert during the time of the Spanish Civil War. Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is the son of a man who is presumably dead from the war, though Carlos seems intent to believe that one day his father will return.
Carmen (Marisa Paredes) is the woman who heads up the orphanage/school and her complexity is not evident in the first scenes that we are allowed to view her. Her right hand man is Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi who also took the lead in del Toro's "Cronos") and she suggest that Casares try to befriend the little Carlos, who was not expecting an orphanage and desertion.
There is a bomb in the middle of the courtyard of the school. It was dropped by a plane and never went off, so it sits with its tail sticking into the air, disarmed. One of the boys claims that it is still working and he tells Carlos that if you put your ear to it, you can still hear it ticking.
The conflict isn't immediately evident and I like that. Guillermo del Toro doesn't have to make us crave a plot first thing, he lets the beautiful style become the first aspect noticed and then the plot follows. It is very measure, very evenly paced, and wonderfully executed...just on its timing alone, the film is a wonderful success—it is neither too slow nor too fast.
One of the other boys named Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) is the big man on campus. This boy is older and larger than all the others and seems to be the ringleader in the pranks they sometimes pull.
One of the first nights that he is present at the school, Carlos is woken up by the whispered sound of his name sighing through the halls. There is a legend that a ghost haunts the school, named "The One Who Sighs". 
Carlos is too new to be afraid of such an apparition, so he shakes it off and pretends not to notice; but this is a boy who is very observant. He sees reflections in glass, footprints made from water, and he hears the noises too.
When he finally thinks he has enough evidence, he goes to Dr. Casares, who scares Carlos into thinking that nothing is the matter. 
As this is going on, the war continues to rage outside the walls of the school and the claustrophobia of it all begins to bother the audience more than the characters. "The Devil's Backbone" makes you feel isolated, and yet transported. The film is marvelous for being set in essentially one location and never letting its limitations breed monotony.
The days continue to transpire and Carlos becomes more and more certain that a ghost is haunting the school, the question becomes what will happen with the supernatural and the tangible collide, particularly when the voices in the corridors whisper "Many will die."
"The Devil's Backbone" is one of the truest examples of atmospheric horror. It is very rare to find a jump scare in this movie, instead relying on the general feeling of it all to unnerve you. It's a pristine example of this kind of thriller as well.
Del Toro's eye is always fixated on the terrible beauty of the world and here he finds his best canvas to paint on.
"The Devil's Backbone" is chilling and uplifting, it's a sensational roller coaster of a ride that manages to balance each of its many zeniths in a coherent, cohesive, watchable, and intensely wonderful works.

Score: ★★★★

The Hangover (2009) (R)

"The Hangover" brought back the raunchy R-rated comedy to the praise of both critics and audiences alike. The film was so successful that it spawned two sequels (though both of them never reaching the high watermark that the original did) and arguably reignited star Bradley Cooper's career as well as launching Ken Jeong into the spotlight.
The premise is fairly simple: three friends wake up in Vegas the day after a bachelor party and they can't find the groom-to-be. Now they have to track down the man of the hour and get him back to his wedding; but they don't remember anything from the night before. So they have to piece together the clues, each more ludicrous than the next to help them stitch together their memory and (hopefully) get them back together with their missing buddy.
Doug (Justin Bartha) is the lucky man. He and his friends Phil (Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and his future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis) travel to Las Vegas to have one last night of wild partying before Doug gets balled-and-chained.
Each of the friends is their own peculiar shade of quirky. Phil is a teacher who cons his middle school students out of money so he can have more cash to spend in Vegas. He has a wife and kids, but always sings the woes of being married. Phil seems stuck in his college years, only wanting to party and live life wild.
Then there's Stu, a dentist in a relationship with Melissa (Rachael Harris) who is the quintessential hen-picking girlfriend. She doesn't let Stu do anything without calling her and asking her about it first. This is probably the reason that he lies to her and tells her that the crew is going to have the bachelor party in Napa Valley and not Sin City.
Lastly, we have Alan who is always the comedic relief of the movie. Unfortunately, the film doesn't nail down this character, just throwing everything and kitchen sink into the creation that is known as "Alan". There are so many sides to this one: he's possibly autistic, has no problem with nudity, is extremely conservative when it comes to language (though we only see this emerge well beyond the half-way mark of the movie), and he's apparently a math genius as well. One of the more delightful scenes of the movie is when Alan and company deliver a spoof of the movie "Rain Man".
Fast and sharp-witted, "The Hangover" could be a mystery if it played out differently, not using every spare second for another punch line. The format of the movie is similar to some classic tropes of thrillers and whatnot....the difference is the vulgarity and the, yes, intensely funny dialogue.
"The Hangover" is pretty faultless as far as laughs and entertainment is concerned. Even those who hated the movie can't deny that it passed the time quickly. This is partly because the movie moves so quickly. We blur scenes together until it appears like one long circus act. Of course, the problem with the semi-"Pulp Fiction" layout is that it might appear to be like vignettes following each other.
Yet the movie isn't about the intelligence or even the snobbery, it's an audience's film that critics just managed to like. The film isn't made to be a piece of high-brow cinema and it reminds us that, even though it is highly predictable and the ending may not be that satisfying, a large section of cinema is just made to entertain. If you're looking for a fun time, this is probably a safe bet.

Score: ★★★

The Last Seduction (1994) (R)

"The Last Seduction" gives us the neo-noir psychological thriller at its peak. While "Body Heat" did set the stage for this movie (and is probably the smarter of the two films) with John Dahl's piece we are given a little slime of femme fatale madness. It's lovely.
There has never been a colder bitch than Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino). There has never been a cinematic equivalent to this woman, who seems to have no morals, no standards; and yet obviously has a rule book that she must abide by, a book of her own writing no doubt. Bridget is unafraid to get her hands dirty, and she demands the respect of every man that she comes across.
Much of "The Last Seduction" is played out as a mockery of the fair sex versus the unfair sex, men versus women. Many cliches are still here like men being simple dimwits in comparison to a nice pair of breasts and a quick smile; yet it has never been more enjoyable to see a character be more ruthless with people than Bridget Gregory is.
The movie beings with Bridget's husband Clark (Bill Pullman) using his doctor's license to sell a load of pharmaceutical cocaine to a couple of thugs in return for almost a million dollars. When he comes home with the money—after giving Bridget a quick back hand for sassing him about his competency—he gets in the shower only to have the money taken from underneath his nose by none other than his adoring wifey.
Bridget skips town with the money and ends up in "cowpoke" country in New York, in a town called Beston. These a simple folks with huge prejudices and they don't want to readily welcome "city trash" like Bridget. But our leading lady does catch the eye of one of the local yokels, a man named Mike (Peter Berg). She playfully seduces him and then dumps him on the sidewalk the next day, much to his surprise because he thought they were going to start a genuine relationship.
Under the instruction of a lawyer, Bridget decides to wait in the local area and get a job, under a pseudonym, and demand a divorce from Clark so that she can be free with the money. Clark isn't keen on that idea and he tries to track Bridget down so that he can "talk" some sense into her.
For being the antagonist of the picture, Clark really isn't that bad, while his wife may far outshine him. An antihero through and through, Bridget changes her name to Wendy Kroy.
Things are going well until she realizes that Mike and her work together. He tails her around like a lost puppy-dog only wanting to talk about feelings and start a romance. She humors him sometimes and sometimes just kicks him to the curb.
But she will have to keep on her toes as Clark starts to narrow in on where she might be hiding and as secrets come tumbling out of the closet.
There's this odd sense of voyeuristic pleasure that you have to indulge in when you watch "The Last Seduction". It's about being cruel, it's about staying on top, and it's about being five steps ahead of your enemies.
Linda Fiorentino is spectacular here, and embodies the large character of Bridget so well that you are convinced of her every move and motive. While the plot of the movie is twisted enough and may have some holes under scrutiny, it's clear that a lot of thought was put into it.
What is exciting about how the script transcends the movie. Not only do we have an interesting plot, we have one that exists on its own. The plot within the plot is enticing enough to inspire works from Gillian Flynn and the genesis of the "clever" detective shows.
"The Last Seduction" is all around a smashing success. It is vile, detestable, sexy, nasty, and lovely. It's like a bouquet that Stephen King picked, fragrant and putrid in all the right places.

Score: ★★★½

My Own Private Idaho (1991) (R)

In my review of "Brokeback Mountain" I called it the "juggernaut of modern cinema" which i still consider to be the truth. But while the film is generally considered to be one of Oscar's biggest loses and the fans fight tooth and nail over it, skeptics of the film site another movie that brought around homosexuality long before Ang Lee did: Gus Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho".
Now if we're going to be picky here, "Philadelphia" should be mentioned as well, simply for existing around the same time period of "My Own Private Idaho"; yet Jonathan Demme's film lacks the chutzpah of both Van Sant's and Lee's.
Compared with its cowboy successor, "My Own Private Idaho" appears more like a surrealist work. Van Sant's style (as I've said before) is very chameleon-like, so here it blends into something in between "Paris, Texas" and "Easy Rider".
The movie begins with narcoleptic street walker Mike Waters (River Phoenix) standing in the middle of the road in Idaho. He ponders about how roads look like faces and then he passes out, falling into another one of his episodes.
Later on in the movie, he makes it to Seattle where he and fellow escort Scott (Keanu Reaves) are living off of the land so to speak. It might make the casual viewer wince, and certainly in the early 90s, this was not a time when gay prostitution was something being addressed in movies...another reason why Gus Van Sant's movie didn't do as well as Ang Lee's, the audience wasn't ready for it.
As hard as "Brokeback Mountain" is to watch, it is never as mentally challenging as "My Own Private Idaho" which ranges from simple drama to complex piece of surrealism. There are so many styles going on here and so many different techniques are used for each one that sometimes it feels like you're drowning in images and sounds...but surprisingly it works.
Scott and Mike are subject to the street lord, a Dickens-like character named Bob (William Richert). Bob has his own ideas of grandeur and the interactions between him and Scott remind us of nothing but Shakespeare. As quickly as the movie's filming can switch up, so can the script.
Drawing inspiration from "Cabaret", Andy Warhol, and the underground movement, Gus Van Sant manages to smooth out all of the uncomfortable corners on the previous genres and make his own.
This is where I pause and rant.
There is an unfortunate blight on the cinematic world known as Keanu Reaves. The man just isn't a good actor, he can't do it, and anyone who told him that he could should have kept their mouth shut. There's a difference between simply phoning it in and not being able to perform in the first place, sadly, Reaves falls into the latter. This wouldn't be such a big deal if he wasn't opposite River Phoenix in the movie, who is sensationally empathetic. Phoenix's performance is stunning and Reaves' is satisfactory.
Okay, done ranting.
As Mike and Scott travel around town, getting picked up by strangers and having sex in hotel rooms, we keep getting flashbacks of Mike's youth, images of his mother. He becomes determined to try to find her, somehow or another.
"My Own Private Idaho" is, when you look at it, plot-less. Two boys wander around, trying to find love and success. Yet when you look at it again, it's nothing if not a character piece. But this wouldn't strike you the first time because the film is very, very flashy.
It jumps and skips around, but in the end, nothing really happens besides character development. Van Sant is so tricky in this way, he lures his viewer in with flashes and bangs and then devastates us with his emotion.
The heart of the movie belongs to Mike.
Still, it's a cheery film with a positive message and it would have been more potent if it wasn't. "My Own Private Idaho" is about going through the trials of life, mainly heart break and at that it is nothing if not entertaining and original.

Score: ★★★½

Brokeback Mountain (2005) (R)

A cruel and unusual picture, "Brokeback Mountain" is also the juggernaut of modern cinema. For a movie that not everyone saw (in fact, some majorities boycotted the picture altogether, simply based on its source material) this film can strongly lay claim of being one of the more influential pieces of the 21st century cinematic history. I say "cruel and unusual" because the emotional impact of the film is not so sentimental that it makes you weep; but it does crawl inside you. It's almost stronger than anything else created. It's achingly beautiful, compressed, rife with jaw-dropping performances, and very aware of itself and its story. The lack of the tropes of a typical romance work in the film's favor, because it is a romance...but this also works against the audience. We build with the character, we feel what they feel, we are with them every step...when it's all over, the bitterness of history, the longing for self-hatred to be over—it's almost too much to take in.
Cheekily nicknamed "the gay cowboy" movie, "Brokeback Mountain" deserves a little more attention besides than just portraying something other than the heteronormative cliche. The first thing that strikes you about the picture—almost physically—is how beautiful it is. Set in Wyoming in the 1960s, the film manages to capture the grandeur of the American West with simple shots. The sky has never looked more majestic and the plains never so proud. John Ford's "The Searchers" is the only other movie that made the West look this great...and even that almost pales in comparison.
Two men shuffle into an office, looking for work. They are told that they have to go up to Brokeback Mountain and keep an eye on sheep for months on end. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is the more stoic of the two. He seems harder off on his luck and less wild than his partner, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Jack is a former rodeo rider who spends most of his time with Ennis chatting and trying to impress. There is a level of masculine bravado that occurs when these two are put together.
What is truly amazing is how the film never falls into stereotypes. It never over plays on its many, many cards. One wrong turn and the movie could have fallen flat on its face, but it never takes that turn. It humanizes its two leads, it lets them lets its audience breathe.
This can come across as a wee bit boring; but the film's visual attractiveness and the caliber of its performers are such that the story transcends into something deeply captivating.
I'm sure you all know what happens next...after a few weeks on the mountain together, struggling in routine and dealing with small problems, Jack and Ennis start to kindle a romance. They shrug it off for their own peace of mind, saying things like "I ain't queer" or "This is a one-shot deal". Clearly, both of them don't have a clue how to handle the situation.
Whether or not they are perfect examples of how to act in this situation, the society they live in is the largest factor in their movements here. "Oppression" hardly does it justice; but yet again, this a card that the film doesn't overplay.
But all good things must come to an end. Jack and Ennis separate after a few month on Brokeback Mountain and they each go their own ways. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams) and the two of them have two daughters together; but Jack is never far from his mind.
While out competing in rodeos, Jack meets a girl named Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and they have a boy together.
Since the movie covers such a large amount of time, "Brokeback Mountain" may seem a bit glib with how its stars age. Indeed, if there is a problem with the movie, it's how twenty years hardly seems to phase either Jack or Ennis besides a little facial hair and a fake stomach.
Four years after Brokeback Mountain, a postcard from Jack arrives in the mail and the two may have a chance to meet again.
Ang Lee is the current day's most curious director. His track record has no feasible coherence to it; yet he places his mark on each genre as he dances from one to the next. Martial arts, period pieces, superhero movies, family dramas,'s almost unfair that he got all the talent.
"Brokeback Mountain" wouldn't survive if it weren't for its two leads. Much praise goes to Heath Ledger who finds a way to make Ennis Del Mar a fully realized character. He is so silent that it makes his performance as The Joker all the more chilling; yet Ennis is a warm spot in the actor's career.
Here, I find myself more impressed with Jake Gyllenhaal, who masterfully portrays the conflict of the movie. He embodies the secrets and the horrors and you can see it on his face. Jack lives in a fantasy world, where hate doesn't exist, while Ennis is much more pragmatic and Ledger and Gyllenhaal really pull out all the stops.
"Brokeback Mountain" has seeped into popular culture to the point where it might be easy to make fun of it now. But the movie's audacity is beyond anything of its contemporaries, and not just for the "controversy" some may see in it.
The movie is gentle and hard, it is emotional and unsentimental, it's beautiful and horrible...all the things you would expect in a challenging drama.
By the end of it all, you may not be able to joke about it anymore. Ang Lee's piece is a landmark in American cinema, and the picture more certain of itself than anything else you will likely ever come across.
Simply put, it has all the right facets to make it great; but it has an intangible magic that makes it classic.

Score: ★★★★

The African Queen (1951)

John Huston's "The African Queen" is one of the more known pieces that features Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn...which is ironic because it is neither of their finest moments. Perhaps it's so well known—though I would argue rarely seen—because for being such quintessential stars of the silver screen, Bogey and Heppy only made this movie together.
The story is a story of nationalism and patriotism. It's in African at the beginning of WWI where Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister, Rose (Hepburn) are trying to convert the natives to Christianity. Just by the opening scene, which drags on for what seems like an eternity, the movie defines itself. We see Samuel and Rose trying to play five verses of a hymn to the native people, who scream out an unintelligible mess of noise which drowns out the piano.
Upon the arrival of Charlie Allnut (Bogey)—a weathered, tough steamboat captain—the natives ditch church to run outside and fight over the remains of Charlie's cigar. This brings around another point: for being apparently inseparable from cigars and scotch, Humphrey really doesn't smoke and drink that much in the movie. It has no forbearance on anything, but it's nice to know.
In the first few minutes, the arrival of the Germans gives us a good villain. You have to remember when this movie was made...the nationalistic and anti-German thoughts don't seem so out of place.
Anyways, the Germans storm into siblings' village and kidnap all the native Africans and then set fire to the houses. They forcibly enlist the men and women, leaving the couple behind in shell-shock. Samuel comes down with a fever and has a hysterical reaction to the loss of his congregation. He spirals down quickly and soon dies.
Thankfully, Charlie shows back up and takes Rose away, onto his boat, The African Queen. Now that they are on the river, Rose develops taste for blood, German blood. She decides that they should aim to take out one of the German's biggest warships to clear the way for the British.
Naturally, Charlie isn't keen on this idea, because it means risking both his neck and his boat; but Rose is a persuasive woman with definite feminine charm.
The two find themselves on a mission to take out the Germans single-handedly.
"The African Queen" is, unfortunately, quite a disaster. I'm sure at the time that it meant a great deal to all those involved; but in today's age, it doesn't stand up at all.
The last thirty minutes are the only parts of the movie that feel somewhat entertaining.
What is an interesting idea stretches on too long. We don't need to see two people argue on a boat and face every possible nature catastrophe to understand that they have had a hard time.
"The African Queen" also gives me more reason to pause at worshipping John Huston. He is clever and a strong director; but I have yet to see anything spectacular.
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are both tremendous actors, but here it just seems like we rely on their star power to tell the story for them, instead of the actual plot.
It's a short movie, a quick movie...or it should be. It has a small cast and such a slight plot that it could have shaved off half an hour easily.
What we are left with is just the legacy. "The African Queen" will continue to be well-known, if only for the wrong reasons. It's not a great movie, it's not even that enjoyable.
It is a snapshot of the cinematic world at a certain time in history and I think we can all be thankful that films got a lot better.

Score: ★★

King of New York (1990) (R)

Once again we are met with a movie whose rating is in question. I present this movie as rated "R" because I think that's what it deserves and that's what most other sources I've seen have it listed as.
Frank White (Christopher Walken) is a powerful man. He's not someone that you want to mess with. Probably the most ruthless man in all of New York his royal moniker as given to him in the title is properly deserved.
"King of New York" begins on the day that Frank gets out of prison, serving an unknown time. He simply says that he has spent "half his life" in jail, so we can deduce the rest. But there is something inside him that's been itching to get out, and it's not any of the creatures from "Alien".
His power is unquestionable and his minions follow his word without hesitation which is one of the problems that the movie has, simply because of its racial divide. Each mob boss has a crew of a different race. There are Hispanics, Italians, and African Americans. These henchmen serve each boss respectively and they don't mix well together. Frank has an almost entirely black ensemble and sometimes it feels as if the movie is treating them, self-referentially, like furniture.
One of the more prominent in Frank's group is Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), who is just as eccentric as his name might imply. Jimmy is the muscle and threat end of the operation and Frank holds him dearly to his chest.
There are other characters to this story too, there are many henchmen, many minions, many foes, many lovers; but what the film doesn't realize is that for appearing so important and self-aggrandizing, it really is about nothing.
Frank gets out of jail and rules the city and he has opposition. That much you could pretty much deduce from the title and that much is entirely what happens in "King of New York". Now, there is much to love about the movie. There are particular moments that shine and others that drag on too long; but all-in-all it's very well made and very enjoyable. The only pity is that the story is so hollow.
Christopher Walken does a nice job here and the music helps him. There is a certain poetry to this crime story; but it feels like it needed another half an hour that got cut in the editing room to pull it all together.
A group of cops versus Frank White. What a nice setup and what a nice way to give us moral conundrums. Everyday that Frank remains out of jail is another day that the police are trailing him, hoping to pick up the bodies. He kills as he moves along, leaving a trail of cadavers (all unattached and impossible to trace) behind him.
So the question becomes, what would you do to stop the unspeakable evil? Would you become the evil?
It's a question that many movies and many books have raised and sadly the answer here is somewhat childish. Sometimes hard things need to be done, sometimes bad things happen, sometimes "good" just isn't enough. There's a lot of complexity that lies underneath it all that you can dig through and I really appreciate that about the movie; and it's a question that cannot be answered, yet the movie tries to answer it.
Kill or be killed? Fight fire with fire? I'll let you decide what you think about it all.
Though "King of New York" is poetic and vast and somehow tragic, it never once feels complete and leaves you wondering what it all meant and why you wasted your time. It's not a bad movie, but it was too good in moments to merit the forgiveness of some plot holes.

Score: ★★½

Blade Runner (1982) (R)

Upon its initial release, "Blade Runner" was not a commercial success; but years have treated the movie kindly. It now holds a place as a sci-fi masterpiece and one of Ridley Scott's better pieces, holding to itself an entire cult following who will defend it to the death.
Yet there's a large problem with "Blade Runner" with the question: which version do I watch? Ridley Scott, in one of his more notorious moves, cut and recut the picture so many times that by the 21st century, there are four or five movies floating out there, all similar but different. The first version I saw was the director's cut, which probably wasn't the right idea. While much more moody than the original theatrical release, it doesn't wrap its story up and has a few loose ends lying out—purposefully. The director's cut was a very challenging work, though it didn't deserve to be.
Yet I recently say the original U.S. release and I noted how they differed, mostly in the voice-over-narration, so I will be reviewing the original release and not the director's cut.
The movie begins with an acknowledgment of artificial intelligence. These robots-type creations called replicants have grown so sophisticated that they have started to stage coups against the humans and thus, have to be exterminated, or retired. Now enter the Blade Runners, a group of officials whose sole job it is to track down the replicants and retire them.
Things aren't as easy as all that though and many tests have to be done, laborious questioning before one is certain if a person is a human or a replicant.
"Blade Runner's" first scene is one of these interrogations sequences.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a retired Blade Runner (seek your own irony in the way that's phrased) and is not looking to get back into the line of fire; but upon being threatened, he is forced to take back the reigns of robot-killer.
Four replicants have escaped and are on the run on Earth, trying to dodge the Blade Runners' notice and blend in with the crowd; but that's not so easy, particularly when you're dying. These replicants only have four years to live and they aren't too happy about that fact.
As he's out looking for replicants, Rick comes across a woman named Rachael (Sean Young) who is in the care of the replicant-making corporation head Tyrell (Joe Turkell). It turns out that Rachael is a replicant as well, but she is unaware of it. Rick doesn't feel the need to immediately retire her and she is in the hands of her maker, quite literally.
Instead his focus has to be shifted towards Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the leader of this band of renegade replicants, who seems out for as much chaos as possible on his way to furthering his own life expectancy.
It's not necessarily a battle against two forces because that would imply that "Blade Runner" had a structured narrative instead of some sort of mush that blends into an indescribable experience. Much like "Solaris" (perhaps the most revered of the sci-fi classics behind Kubrick's picture) "Blade Runner" has its own feel, its own language if you will. It's entirely existent within itself and so if you enjoy that immersiveness, you'll probably love "Blade Runner".
The problem lies with its emotional side, the side that makes you want to gape in wonder at this 2019 Earth. The odd score from Vangelis is both beautiful and distracting, not letting us fully understand what we're supposed to be feeling. We have to empathize and hate pretty much every character in the movie and by the end of it, who is the good guy and who is the bad guy? I certainly don't know.
"Blade Runner" is revolutionary and a great movie to look at, for me personally the noir tendencies the movie tries to grab are so out of place that they almost ruin the whole thing. Then again, it's not just this version because the director's cut also had issues.
It's a classic, but that doesn't necessarily make it good.

Score: ★★½

The Rapture (1991) (R)

Christian based movies are notoriously and almost unanimously bad. There isn't a single movie that is solely about the Christian walk that has yet to impress both critical and public audiences and rarely do they do either. So how odd for us to see "The Rapture" calmly sitting in the 90s, and not only is a Christian movie about the Christian faith, it's more than that....much, much more.
I was raised in a Christian church family. For eighteen years of my life, it was just life. My departure from religion has always felt very personal and something that I'd rather not expound upon at length when talking about movies—it's too random. Yet with "The Rapture", I find that finally I have a voice, a voice in a movie. While I still won't bore you with my details, "The Rapture" manages to deftly walk many, many lines between gentle satire, flat-out-mockery, sincere belief, and grievous doubt.
The thing that sets "The Rapture" apart from every other Christian movie out there is it's focus on doctrine. This is the only main stream movie that you will find the deep and tangled mess that is eschatology.
First things first....I'm the realest...sorry, I couldn't resist. Okay, first things first, "The Rapture" has theological issues. It presents to us a story that is set with the background of the book of Revelations. Being very familiar with the book itself, writer/director Michael Tolkin takes a few liberties with the actual fundamental interpretation of the scripture. The biggest example of this is references made to a pearl and a young boy who could presumably be the antichrist, though those thoughts fade.
Sharon (Mimi Rogers, handling a role that less able actresses would have ruined) works as a phone operator. She likes to have a good time and hedonism is not a far stretch for her. She and her male lover will go to bars and try to pick up other couples and swap partners with them for nights of sexual fantasy, They live in these sensuous cocoons and Sharon is not too content there. With the feeling that something greater is waiting for her, Sharon starts to overhear about "the end times" and Jesus. Bemused, she tries to engage in conversations with these Christians; but brings her own bias to the table. She has the questions that everyone has: if I'm a good person, why am I going to hell? It doesn't seem fair for a merciful God to send everyone to hell...etc. etc.
But Sharon's exploration has her stumble onto something else: belief. After a few days of consideration and a nightly vision of a something heavenly, Sharon becomes a devout believer and sets her heart onto saving everyone so that they may know the truth as well.
She attempts to save one of the men she had a relationship with, Randy (David Duchovny); but he isn't interested. Instead, she uses her job to witness to people; and soon she has uncovered a network of people who are Christian; but all with the same wary conclusion that the end times are upon us.
The rapture itself is a flagrant misinterpretation of the scriptures at worst and at best, it's stretching the limits of what is permissible in theology. The word "rapture" is never used in the Bible and the scriptures that the entire philosophy that is just taken for granted as truth are very few and the are up for different opinions.
With "The Rapture", Michael Tolkin uses the power of doubt to its utmost and severest extreme.
Having been immersed in this culture for so long I can testify that his portrayal of zealot Christians is not accentuated; but dead-on accurate. The consuming, burning desire to tell everyone about Jesus. The need to end and begin every conversation with God, the interconnected it brings you to with other members of the faith...yes, those are all true.
What Tolkin does that isn't okay is overplay the zealotry of belief. Rational Christians do exist, though I am starting to believe that their number is dwindling. He brings in the exotic, the mystical, and combines a magical-style to the commanding scripture. He does this so subtly that it works rather well. Alas, his antics seem to convey a crisis of his own faith.
The ending might surprise you and certainly closes a door in Tolkin's personal life that I doubt can ever be reopened. I sympathize much with Sharon, because her story is mine too.
"The Rapture" is heavy drama meeting fantasy meeting religion. It handles its delicate story so brashly that you have to respect it for even trying. Oh, and it's a good drama.

Score: ★★★

Unforgiven (1992) (R)

"Unforgiven" is the first of Clint Eastwood's big splashes at the Academy Awards, the second being "Million Dollar Baby". Whether it's unfortunate or not, it was just the way things rolled out for me that I saw "Million Dollar Baby" first and then "Unforgiven". While you do try to watch each movie with only the singular in mind, you can't help but compare to other movies...and in this case, I'm sorry, I though "Million Dollar Baby" was better.
But that was a long time ago and rewatching "Unforgiven" with other of Eastwood's movies in mind, I find the most similar movie is "High Plains Drifter" instead.
Nailing the final coffin in what we might term the "modern western", "Unforgiven" marks the end of a generation for at least another decade when the Coen brother and Paul Thomas Anderson revolutionized a new sub-genre. It's a nasty piece about justice and the feels that way at least.
What is perhaps the most curious aspect of "Unforgiven" is that it's a narratively very confusing movie for being shot so basically. I'm not being mean and it's actually a compliment, Eastwood is all about the bare necessities—he rarely indulges into the flashy or the melodramatic that you could easily accuse Scorsese of doing.
The movie opens with the acknowledgement of William Munny (Eastwood). He was a notorious criminal and a murderer, and he married a girl of high class—their marriage was not approved by his wife's parents. A few years later, in 1878, Munny's wife dies of smallpox and he is left with two children to care for.
Ah, 1880, in the town of Big Whisky, and whores. "Unforgiven" isn't as crass as "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" with how it treats its livestock; but there is some rash generalizations...yet humanization as well, unlike how its title might imply, it is quite forgivable. At a house of ill repute, a prostitute is slashed viciously across the face with a knife and almost killed before the man who is assaulting her is pulled off her.
Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is the sheriff in the town and he demands that the two responsible for the girl's abuse give the owner of the whore-house some of their horses as recompense for their actions. But to the other whores in the house, this is completely unacceptable. This isn't to say that they aren't blood-hungry; but maybe they are....
In a far off place in the mystical and beautiful American west, Munny is trying to raise hogs with his young children. He is approached by the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) who says that the other whores at this particular institute have rallied together a sum of $1000 and are preparing to pay it to the man or men who kill the two boys who cut up their metaphorical sister.
Little Bill isn't pleased to hear about the reward money as Munny decides that now might be a good time to bring out the guns and stirrups.
Munny fetches his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and the two try to catch up with the Schofield Kid and collect the reward.
But this is no country for old men, and times have changed quite a bit. After eleven years and seeing no action, William and Ned realize that they might be in too deep; but they won't be turning back, because they need the money.
They make an odd group, the three bounty hunters as they trek across the landscape.
The west looks quite nice and almost haunting in "Unforgiven", though it doesn't match John Ford's "The Searchers".
As they get closer to their money and Little Bill gets crazier (he runs into an old nemesis), we start to realize that this won't be as nicely straight forward that everyone thought it might be.
"Unforgiven" gets quite twisted and its hellish imagery increase near the end.
What it doesn't manage to do is to convince all of us, the viewers, that it is a horror movie. It should be a horror movie; but it's not. Instead, it's some kind of religious, moralistic, beyond reproach, justice piece and at that it is fascinating.'s just not enough to elevate it that final step like we saw in "High Plains Drifter", so while it should be viewed as its own movie, if you have a choice between the two, go for old school Eastwood.

Score: ★★★½

The English Patient (1996) (R)

Certainly one of the most hated of all the Best Picture Winners, "The English Patient" is the head-scratching tour de force that swept the Academy Awards and walked away with nine statues. The critical opinion of the piece was very high with it landing on many "best of the year" lists; but sadly for the movie, it flopped with the public audience. Seinfeld mocked it--"just die already"--and the general consensus now seems to be the same: snooze fest. Yet, I think that this is denying the viewer the privilege of witnessing one of the last great epics (if not the very last) and one of the most curiously romantic and poetic movies to date.
"The English Patient" begins as a plane flies over an African desert. It is shot down and burns. A man is pulled from the wreckage and taken to a hospital where his burns are so great that his death seems inevitable; but he still hangs on and claims amnesia. His nationality is questioned and eventually he is just deemed 'English patient'.
Now we have Hana (Juliette Binoche) a plucky nurse who seems to embody everything good with humanity. Sadly for her, she believes that she is cursed because everyone that she loves sees to die around her.
The war (WWII) is very much a back part of the movie, but a force that drives our characters' movements. Here again there are severely anti-war sentiments; but they are overwhelmed with the poetry of the movie.
Hana's path and that of the English patient's cross and she decides that instead of inflicting further pain and anguish upon the poor man, she will stay with him in an abandoned castle-like house and wait until his death and then catch up with the rest of her company.
As she sets up house, the estate breaths memories back into the man and we spiral back to see his past.
Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) is a cartographer and explorer with the Royal Geographical Society.  He studies archaeological finds in Africa and is doing his work when bombarded with constant interruptions, one of them being Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his wife Katharine (Kristen Scott Thomas).
Meditations on love, the glorious sunrise, and a couple of minutes later and we begin to realize that the Count is falling madly in love with Katharine, the love that is so toxic as to be called "truly romantic".
One of the aspects that "The English Patient" nails is the romance and the love. It is never some tender or some Hollywood fluff thing--there is genuine sorrow that walks with it, hand-in-hand. The good is inseparable from the bad and what we are left with is something that resists definition and remains complex throughout. It's a guttural reaction to something that has been pondered on for so long and while it may anticipate works like Malick's "To the Wonder" that came years later, it certainly stands alone as the most enduring and truthful interpretations of the subject.
Moving on...
The story is told in these two theaters: the one with Hana and the one with the Count. Most movies like this fumble the story-telling and result to cliches and the like to convey emotion, to give us a sense of time; but "The English Patient" is not the kind of movie to do this.
Anthony Minghella, adapting Michael Ondaatje's novel, gives us a form of poetry. Most of the success of these blistering moments of what some consider to be pretentiousness is due to John Seale's perfect cinematography.
The Count relives the best and worst moments in his life while Hana looks after him and is visited by a number of odd characters who include a robber played by Willem Dafoe and a bomb specialist (Naveen Andrews).
The acting is perfect, as is the score, the script, and the casting. Everything lines up so nicely that it almost becomes above reproach.
So what makes "The English Patient" so hated. Maybe it's because it is so challenging with its ideas of love, or maybe it's because of the running time (although the film doesn't match "Braveheart" or "Titanic" with how long it is). Whatever the reason, the public hates this movie; but that's okay.
It makes this one all the more special to me, because I not only consider it to be a great film, I consider it to be one of the greatest Best Picture winners ever.

Score: ★★★★

Food, Inc. (2008) (PG)

"Food, Inc." is the kind of movie that makes me never want to eat food again. Exposing the bureaucracy within the food industry and the mega-corporations that run them, this documentary tries to be as controversial as possible, and in many ways it succeeds.
You are what you eat says that age old idiom and maybe that's true, maybe not; but what we should know at least is if what we are going to eat is going to kill us. "Food, Inc." plays much like a love child for director Robert Kenner whose voice can be heard in many of the interviews. Consisting part of animations that are cheaply constructed to show how detrimental the food industry can be--not only to human life, but life in general--and partly of voice-over and interviews, the film tries its best to be as encompassing as possible within its 90 minute running time. Sadly, this isn't quite enough.
For you see "Food, Inc." is a conspiracy film, one that would have you believe that every major food corporation within America is trying to sell you the soul of the devil, and maybe that's right; but the film's biggest problem is that it never gives any evidence to the contrary.
Bravely going up huge company after major food supplier, the film decides to ask the question of ethics and they are always shot down by the companies that they are investigating. We are told, on numerous occasions, that these companies declined to be interviewed for the film; yet that simply isn't enough. It's obvious that the silence of the corporations gives Kenner a bigger platform to spew his bias, for that is what we're watching, though it is highly convincing bias. I find it hard to believe that the film didn't manage to drag up one employee from one company who had good things to say about what they were doing; but then again, what do I know?
The film begins with a question of freshness. How fresh is fresh and what will you do to get fresh?
Although the agrarian idea of the picture-perfect farmer standing next to his cattle with the sun setting in front of him is still used in retail today, the sad fact is that the quintessential farmer is all but extinct. The farmers that do survive, are working for the major suppliers in America.
What started out as innocuous enough grew into something quite deadly, most of America's food supply only comes from a few mega-structures in the food industry. This monopoly that people hold on meat and grain makes us realize that pretty much everything we ingest is coming from one of only a handful of places, and at what cost both fiscally and health-wise.
"Food, Inc." can be quite disturbing with the imagery it shows, whether its thousands of cow carcasses being butchered carelessly in their own manure or baby chicks being electrocuted in assembly-line form. Kenner is very clever here, we respect animals more than humans most of the time, therefore we will be more sympathetic to the plight of baby chicks (they are pretty cute, you have to admit) than we might be to starving children in Africa...ooh, touchy, but true.
Kenner doesn't stop there and here is where the film is its strongest because its where the film is the most emotional and powerful. As we see the terrible conditions that these animals are bred to die in, we can't help but sympathize just a little because the lack of conviction is so strong.
One of the most gut wrenching moments in the film shows a crippled cow being forced to walk on its mutilated legs towards the slaughter house so that it too can be consumed by the machine. It's very Orwellian, this movie.
Yet there is a level of too far that Kenner flirts with mighty heavily. He likes to let us know that he knows that we know.....nevermind.
"Food, Inc." doesn't stop with just the animals, and continues on the grains that we eat and how they are genetically mutated into being pesticide-resistant. The conglomerate machine that is the food industry has an enormous hold on the product of certain starches and vegetables, the one the film explores the most is the soy bean.
But there must be so much more information than just this. There has got to be thousands of sources that would expound upon different types of vegetables and different styles of mass productions. This movie could easily translate into a mini-series.
Still, at the end of it all, you have to wonder whether it was all worth it or not. What good did that really do? Certainly the film is a rally for local and home-grown vegetables and eating. It inspires us to be healthy; but inspiration and scare-tactics are two quite different vehicles. This movie tends to spend the majority of its running time in the latter.

Score: ★★★

The Big Chill (1983) (R)

Tragedy has always brought together family and old friends in movies and books. This is why we get "August: Osage County" and "Mystic River"; but the film that "The Big Chill" most resembles wasn't made for another decade—"The Ice Storm". This isn't to say that "The Big Chill" is as dreary and uncomfortable as Ang Lee's movie, but the resemblances are quite striking.
Punctuated with rock songs and filled with the best performances from one of the most magnificent casts assembled, "The Big Chill" is more a testament to Lawrence Kasdan's talent and diversity than it is to anything else. With his debut, "Body Heat", he gives us a wonderfully erotic thriller and mystery; but here it's clear that his work with Steven Spielberg had a profound influence on his work, though this is more realistic and more jarring than anything Spielberg would be comfortable doing.
While it is an optimistic film in the way it treats grief, "The Big Chill" never once oversteps its emotions or tries to make us believe something that's simply not there. It's power is understated, lying within the honest of its's quite stunning.
The movie opens to the knowledge of death. A man named Alex has committed suicide in his friend's bathtub. He was living at Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close) Cooper's house with his much younger girlfriend, Chloe (Meg Tilly).
The families and friends assemble to pay their condolences, each with more quirks and oddities than the next one.
"The Big Chill" manages to tip-toe all sorts of lines between what would turn-off its audience and what is actually quality cinema. It never tries too hard to feel what its characters are feeling, and it never gives melancholy a chance to breathe. Instead of a hyper-sensitive piece, we get one that states, simply and without shame that life moves on. There are weeping moments, moments that we can't help but laugh, and moments when all that could be said is said and silence is the only option. "The Big Chill" is the best film I've seen that deals with the grieving process so truthfully.
The characters are odd, all of them old friends. There's a movie star, a druggie, a house-wife who is not in love with her husband, a rag journalist, and a single woman who wants a baby. They are played respectively by Tom Berenger, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Jeff Goldblum, and Mary Kay Place.
This tightly connected group of friends were so close a few years ago but the years have separated them. They have made their own lives and each one of them longs for the youth of their former selves as they reunite in the most dismal of circumstances.
"The Big Chill" is set in Michigan, quite cleverly. It never once says this and lets us infer the time and place from the conversations, attire, and television. In this way, it anticipates "The Ice Storm" quite well.
Another thing "The Big Chill" manages to understand is the similarity between tragedy and comedy. There are some funny moments in the movie, most of which come with a bite and most of which don't remain suspended for too long before the film crashes down on the characters again with its drama. The script is a work of art, transcending itself and becoming tangible for the audience.
We've all had weekends like this one, where it almost seemed illogical to do anything; yet, regrettably, life must move on.
The performances here are quite astonishing, the best examples being Glenn Close and William Hurt, though this is a collaborative effort if nothing else. It feels like a play and the connection between the players is so intense that you are convinced of their close friendship.
If there's another movie like "The Big Chill", it probably doesn't manage to be quite so eloquent. This is a movie that you have to see because it makes you want to live.

Score: ★★★★

Don't Look Now (1973) (R)

Once again, I am amazed by how much I don't understand Nicolas Roeg. The director and writer has done some odd, cult films: "The Man Who Fell to Earth". He's also done some wondrous movies "Walkabout"; but his odd sense of narrative displacement is never coherent and with "Don't Look Now", that's pretty much necessary.
Reeling from the death of their daughter, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) Baxter are living in Venice now where John works as an preservationist. He helps restore buildings and the one he's working on right now doesn't seem to be going very well.
His wife has slipped into a depressive state, but one day while they're out having lunch, she runs into two peculiar ladies. One of them is blind and claims to have second sight—ironic because she's blind—and the other serves as the assistant. The blind woman tells Laura that she has communicated with the dead daughter. The daughter says that she is happy. Imagine Laura's surprise when she hears this—she is so overwhelmed by it all that she moves to the next room and passes out quickly.
Carted off the hospital, Laura awakens to be perfectly happy, content with the explanation of the paranormal. Her husband is not so easily convinced, but this is the turning point of the movie, when everything begins to shift and twist for the worse.
"Don't Look Now" is confusing, just on a narrative level. Roeg infuses so much imagery into the piece, from the blood stained photos to the water itself, hiding death underneath it, that it becomes almost unbearable and impossible to follow the film itself. This much is typical of the director; but unlike some of his other pieces, it doesn't belong here. "Don't Look Now" is a strict and tight thriller and Roeg's tendencies to wander are so out of place here.
Never once does he allow the story a chance to carry itself, instead relying on abstract and surreal methods to convey it. The weakness can be seen in the movie's "surprise" third act reveal, which gives us quick flashes and clips of the entire movie leading up to the ending, as if somehow, suddenly they all make sense. Instead, what we realize is that "Don't Look Now" has evolved from a thriller to just a goofy horror movie, one that is never scary and never truly explained.
The most famous aspect of the movie is Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's love making scene, which convinced the audiences of the time that the two were romantically intertwined. Instead of the plot, the film is notorious for its sex scene...isn't that wonderful?
Yes, the sex scene is quite something to watch; but it is no more daring that some modern directors of even some films being made contemporary with "Don't Look Now" like "A Clockwork Orange". Then again Roeg and Kubrick both have their curious little traits and I don't know which one is more upsetting.
The streets of Venice have a neo-noir that lends itself to the film. Alas, I wanted this to be something like "Body Heat"; but instead, it plays out more like "The Tourist" meets Andy Warhol.
There are genuinely effective moments in the movie, but the odd zoom-ins and the quick pans, the notice of a character's upset look—they all sink the movie to a place where it shouldn't be.
In the end, there is no real answer, there is no validity to the story; and unfortunately, there seems to be no point. You can argue that it all has some grand philosophical or religious connotations...that's fine, I just don't care enough to find them.

Score: ★★

Y tu mamá también (2001) (R)

Before becoming an Oscar winning director, known more for his special effects and science fiction/fantasy background, Alfonso Cuarón made the much revered and controversial "Y tu mama también" which recently got itself a place on the Criterion Collection. 
A road trip movie, a sexual experiment, a loss of innocence drama, adolescence—there's a lot going on in the movie, but I'm not sure it has enough substance to merit its story.
There are two friends, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) who are both dating girls right now. When their girlfriends leave for the summer, boredom ensues and although they are abusively jealous of their girlfriends cheating on them, they have no problem being the cheaters. They decide that they will go to a party and hook up, which doesn't work that well. Instead, they find themselves very much in the dog days of summer, wishing for the boredom to end.
Cuarón, who already co-wrote the script, is very keen on the idea of making sure that adolescence is sexualized. In a Fellini-esque fashion, it seems to be the all-consuming fire that blazes in the minds of our boys. They are always teasing each other about their penises, or mutually masturbating into a pool. The film's stance on sexuality is so laissez faire that you almost begin to question what the point of it all is, for it certainly must have a point for being so present.
For this reason alone, the actors deserve applause, because while not jarring like "Shame" or "In the Realm of the Senses" or even "Oldboy", these actors have to go through a lot and that much deserves recognition.
"Y tu mama también" doesn't have a whole lot of plot hanging around; but it does attempt to make us slightly interested in the vagrancies that we see.
At an important wedding, the dangerous duo meet one of Tenoch's cousin's wife, Luisa (Maribel Verdú). Both very interested in the bright future she has behind her, they try to seduce her by inviting her to the beach, a made-up vacation spot called "Heaven's Mouth". They cheap tricks don't work, but when Luisa finds out her husband has been cheating on her, she decides that a change is in order.
She breaks the monotony of the boys' life and asks to be taken to the beach, which is easier said than done when you're talking about a place that doesn't exists.
Determined on having a good time no matter what the costs, the boys decide to wing it and hope for the best. So off they go, sure to explore new things, wound each other, and become the most separate of friends.
"Y tu mama también" is very bleak underneath it all. It's not a nice picture to watch with your parents (just don't do it) and it certainly didn't edify me at all. It seems like the kind of movie that is attempting to say that it's okay to make mistakes when you're young because they're not really mistakes; but it could also be about living life to its fullest with no regrets.
Whatever the case, though it is a lot to choke down, Cuarón's movie is surprisingly heart warming, if a bit over-indulgent in its own peculiarities.
What bothers me about the movie is mostly a personal reaction to the story; but it could also be boiled down to a simple matter of taste. There is nothing wrong with this movie, it's perfectly acceptable and no glaring errors stand out. That being said, it's not a good movie either because it doesn't dare like it should. It doesn't soar like it could have and it certainly doesn't make you think.
In the end, I'm just wondering, what it was all about.

Score: ★★½

The Artist (2011) (PG-13)

If movies like "Forest Gump" and "Titanic" are the crowd-pleasing Best Picture winners, then "The Artist" is the opposite. No body went to see this movie on its release besides the critics and it remains one of the least profitable winners, other than something like "The Hurt Locker". Yet money isn't everything and it's not hard to see why "The Artist" would be a film that not many would go and see.
It's a movie that celebrates film itself, a movie about movies. It resembles other works like "A Star Is Born" or even "Sunset Blvd." to an extent; but it's much more about the silent impact on film and the shift to talking pictures than it is a critique on Hollywood.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is living the high life. It's 1927 and he's the hottest name and the biggest star in tinsel town. A narcissist and a spotlight hog, George plays to the crowd, his adoring public. At a red carpet event one night, trying to promote his new movie, George is attacked by a mob of screaming, excited fans. One of them is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who accidentally bumps into George and stops the evening's events quickly. George shakes it off and the two smile, the press asks for pictures of them together and Peppy hams it up for the camera.
The next day her picture covers the front of the newspaper with the question: Who's that girl? George doesn't think much of it, but his wife is very displeased with the sight of another woman, then again, we get the idea that his wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) isn't that pleased about anything.
Riding off the high of her new found fame, Peppy goes to George's film studio, Kinograph, to audition. Her moxie and bright smile quickly land her in with the dancers and she decides to work her way up the film ladder.
George and her meet again on a film set one day and he gives her friendly advice and prevents the studio head from yelling at her. 
She is indebted to him and her film career takes off, starting small and then building quickly. But then comes 1929 and the invention of talking pictures. George believes that talking movies will never catch on, that they're less of an artistic triumph. In this way George seems very reminiscent to Charlie Chaplin, who kept making silent movies long after their time had come.
The studio decides to fire George and replace him with new faces, one of them being Peppy Miller. Hell-bent on making his own movies still, George dips into his own pockets and funds his movie "Tears of Love" which he hopes will be a smashing success. Then the stock market crashes and George is left with the end of a dying era in his hands as Peppy Miller rides out in huge success, winning the people's hearts.
The climax of the movie is quite dark, considering how attractive and how perky it seems. "The Artist" is almost entirely silent, with only the fewest of few speaking moments. The one aspect of the movie that holds it all together is Ludovic Bource's score, which is somewhat in a class of its own because the music is constant in the movie.
Filled with big name actors that round out the supporting cast like John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Malcolm McDowell, "The Artist" never loses the sense of who its lead actor is. The movie belongs to Jean Dujardin.
Yet the silent feel of the movie, the silence literally, can sometimes be distracting, particularly for an action-prepped audience. This is why the film won Best Picture, because it stands out from all the rest. The film's emotion power is very real and many times can be almost overwhelming. The drama, the descent into depression, the old and the's kind of operatic.
"The Artist" is wonderful entertainment and gloriously inventive.

Score: ★★★½

Braveheart (1995) (R)

"Braveheart" is Mel Gibson's first real splash in the cinematic world as a director, the other notable times being "Apocalypto" and "The Passion of the Christ". With "Braveheart", Gibson managed to win over the critics' hearts while still convincing teenage boys that war is something undefinably noble. When you contrast this with "Gandhi" which won the Best Picture Oscar (as "Braveheart" did) in the previous decade, it's clear that the sense of the word "epic" had shifted from being about words to being about action.
The movie inaccurately chronicles the days of William Wallace (Gibson) as he tries to fight for freedom for Scotland from under the tyrannical and despotic rule of King Edward I or "Longshanks" as the Scots call him, played by Patrick McGoohan. Longshanks has this immense quest for power and during the movie's opening scenes, he marries his son off to a French princess, Isabelle (Sophie Marceau). Unfortunately for the king, it would seem that his son's tastes don't run in favor of the fair sex and now with a homosexual for a son, the disappointment runs thick. Using his keen strategy (for he is a smart man), the king decides that he will quell the uprisings as the spread across Scotland.
Wallace on the other hand, feels like he has no need for war (there are SPOILERS up ahead, you are warned). His father was killing in an uprising so he just wants to settle down and start a family, preferably with Muron (Catherine McCormack), the belle of the ball.
You see, after his father died, his uncle took care of him and raised him to speak French with a horrible accent and read and know, the basics.
After retuning home (in real life he was exiled) William tries to start up a conversation with the local ladies, Muron in particular. He decides he wants to court her and they secretly marry so that the English generals won't rape her...because that's what happens when Edward I is king.
William begins to feel a great yearning for his homeland of Scotland, but doesn't do anything about it because he's more concerned with his new wife than anything else. Then...the inevitable happens, the British kind out about the marriage and try to rape Muron, which eventually culminates with her death.
Grief stricken and red with anger, William and company throw the rules out the window and lay waste to the army. It's the quintessential "hey, look at me, I'm a badass" moment in film and Gibson does it so well. While the film has enormous historical problems and is very insensitive to pretty much any party you can offend, what does remain is the structure of a very solid war piece, even if it is more of a fairy tale than history (I made the same complaint about "Gladiator").
Anyways, now determined on freeing Scotland from the hands of the English because he finally sees how unfair everything is, William Wallace becomes a hero in the eyes of the people and a leader in the eyes of his men. He is larger than life and the film even tries to make comments on how big the stories get concerning William Wallace. His fellow men respect him because he is a warrior and the women (and audience) respect him because he's supposedly a poet as well.
What I don't like about "Braveheart" is how it manages to take all the elements of a good story and demolish them. It masquerades as fact even though it is entirely fictitious with only the barest resemblances to the truth, and it expects us to buy in to this notion of revenge (and it isn't the only offender) as the right and moral choice.
Certainly there can't be anything more disturbing than cheering for death, be it the bad guy or the good guy. Films like "No Man's Land" hammer this home; but films like "Braveheart" celebrate in the bloodshed and bathe themselves in it. That's what makes film dangerous...but moving on...
The battles are spectacular and also ridden with huge mistakes (now he has an axe, now he has a sword, which extras are laughing?, etc.) and for being a film that's somewhat responsible for the shift towards fantasy, "Braveheart' is a big heaping mess.
And yet James Horner's music is a tour de force and Mel himself doesn't do that bad of a job. The film looks great for all intent and purposes, though Randall Wallace (the writer) does brutalize Wallace and the costume designer does take large creative liberties with presenting an accurate time period.
All in all, this is a film that shouldn't work for all it has going against it. It shouldn't work because it's both full of hate and full of lies. It's offensive, vulgar, celebratory or violence, and—dammit —another reason that Mel Gibson should be respected as a credible force behind the camera. It's a flawed film, yet, but a film of sheer and immense power. It stretches the boundaries of what is permissible; but you cannot deny its entertainment value or that of its attempt at something deeper.
Still, up against Gibson's other work, it pales.

Score: ★★★