October Summary

Okay, so there weren't as many movies this month...I'll be better about that. I won't break apart into genres because it would be pointless. Here are the links to this month's reviews and a quick 'best' and 'worst' among them.

All That Jazz
Five Easy Pieces
Gone Girl
Hotel Rwanda
Say Anything...
Singin' in the Rain
The Big Parade
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Wild Bunch

Best: "All That Jazz" and "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh". One is nostalgia for me and the other is gloriously horrifying and theatrical.
Worst: "Eraserhead" and "The Wild Bunch"...both good in their own rights; but both too bizarre for me to enjoy.

Pride (2014) (R)

As one might expect from the title, "Pride" is a movie that flies its banner very high. It doesn't seek to address the "gay agenda" and yet it can't help itself and it does so, encompassing as much as possible. It's a movie that serves as a piece of history, social commentary, and dramedy all wrapped up into one nearly perfect viewing experience.
"Pride" exceeds at almost everything it tries to do—the only criticism that comes to mind is its hyperbolic tendencies and its fairly manipulative feeling story telling. Psh, semantics, every movie does that.
Opening in the 80s, during the time of the miner strikes in the UK, "Pride" doesn't give much time to set things up before plunging us head first into its story which is really quite simple: a company of gay and lesbian folks decide that it is time to stand up for other people and they choose the ultra-conservative miner strike yokels as the source of their attention. Just by the trailer you can see that they will be met with a large amount of animosity, not to mention physical aggression. Ah, but this movie is meant to build you up, not tear you down. It's to remind you that things get better daily for the LGBT community without having the guts to actually say that events in history never really were this seamless. Still, it's an uplifting movie with a fanfare tendency and by the end of it all I was a hot mess of tears and laughter. It's very moving above all of its minor faults.
Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is an activist at heart. He loves a good march and it's in the very first scene and even in the first few seconds of the movie that we see an idea birth in his head: he wants to help the miners. So he collects a bunch of buckets and goes to the gay pride march and hands the buckets out to his chums who all collectively roll their eyes at him, but don't argue with his zeal. Soon they have 200 quid and now Mark wants to start making this something permanent. He feels somehow connected to the miners: they were both bullied by police, both the subject of aggression, both denied rights, etc.
But here's the problem: there's no reciprocity. The LGSM (lesbians and gays support the miners) doesn't get that much support because why would someone reach out to another party who almost inevitably going to spit in their face? But maybe it is Mark's determination or naiveté, either way, he pushes on, incredibly determined.
Along the way, Joe (George MacKay) gets picked up. This boy is not even out of the closet and yet it's all he wants to do to be a part of something bigger. He just so happens to fall into Mark's hands at the right time and is recruited to help the miners too. He doesn't mind and it gets him out of the house, but he continues to lie to his parents about where he's going and who is going to be there. The LGBT community strikes him as something foreign, bizarre, and loads of fun.
Joe immediately befriends Steph (Faye Marsay) who shows him the ropes of the system...kind of. The LGSM uses a gay bookstore run by Gethin (Andrew Scott) and his wild partner Jonathan (Dominic West) to hold their meetings and many personal complexities result there after.
After all the build up, the team realizes that they have to reach out to a mining community in order to give them money but every time they try to, they get shut down solely on prejudices alone. Until fate places them in the Welsh town of Onllwyn.
Some of the local patrons of the town are familiar faces to the screen: Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and each one is more perfect for their role than the last one. But there is a problem: the bad guys of the movie are too conniving. They lurk behind closed windows and think of nothing but the demise of the LGBT community. I'm not saying that animosity did not exist, I just don't think it was quite so Disney.
Then there's the support, which is also find fault with because I don't think years of prejudice can be wiped away with a simple shrug of the shoulders...but oh, well, the movie moves on.
For a very simple plot about a very complicated matter, "Pride" never makes itself feel too dumb or too smart for its audience. It's an incredible crowd-pleasing movie and within it are two magnificent performances.
Although both George MacKay ad Ben Schnetzer give brilliant turns, it's Andrew Scott who takes your breath away. In a very under-appreciated role, the "Sherlock" actor gives his all and really nails a role with lots and lots of complexity. Scott here rivals his malicious "Sherlock" role with a a layered look at someone who was hurting and trying to live a facade—unsure, happy at times, but wary. I can't emphasize enough how good he is in the movie. The other performance that stood out to me was Bill Nighy for obvious reasons when you see the movie.
But "Pride" never lets you take a breath as it races from scene to the next. It plays out as a two-hour joy ride. It's not quite sentimental enough to be Oscar bait, but I'm sure that this movie will sweep up its fair share of awards when that seasons rolls by.
"Pride" is proud, "Pride" is fun", "Pride" is good.

Score: ★★★½

Eraserhead (1977)

What the hell? Seriously: what. the. hell!
There is a Thornton Wilder play called The Skin of Our Teeth and I beg you to go look it up because it is inexplicably weird. There are set pieces that randomly fly off stage, dialogue that makes absolutely no sense, and talking dinosaurs. So yeah, it's pretty freakin' weird. It doesn't have anything on this movie.
"Eraserhead" is a cult classic from bizarre director David Lynch and it serves as his debut feature film. But the amount of time eaten up by the viewer sitting and just wondering, wondering what it all means, is overwhelming even considering the film's meager hour and a half running time. This film makes no sense.
So let's line up the oddities for you: worms, infestation, theaters inside radiators, a bed that turns into a milk bath, disfiguration, deformed babies, aliens (for all intents and purposes), cooked chickens that hemorrhage, random laughing spells, itchy knees, and the need for the absurd. If that sounds like your kind of movie, then pop "Eraserhead" in and be blown away. If not, steer far, far away from this film. It's so interesting to think that the next film Lynch would make would be "The Elephant Man" which seems downright comical next to this movie. Make no mistake, this movie is deadly serious and it deserves to be taken as just that.
In many ways I found myself comparing "Eraserhead" to the works of David Cronenberg, just on principle of physical transformation alone. But the two hardly have anything in common besides the unexplained, though the likening helped me wrap my mind around the movie a little better.
There will be no in-depth plot synopsis because for all its complexities, the movie does not have a plot. Instead, it seems like a collection of ideas and random vignettes of what might be creepy, because the film's end result turns it into a horror flick, and I'm not sure if that was the point or not.
"Eraserhead" begins in the stars and we are led to believe (or at least I was) that our main character is some alteration of alien life, though he appears human enough.
Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is a man with a beehive for a head, not just in the hairdo sense. He constantly hears sounds that overpower all others and he seems intent to simply lay on his bed and stare into his radiator. The amount of time that he appears on screen versus the amount of dialogue that he has is striking. He rarely ever speaks and when he does it always seem curious to hear his voice: it sounds perfectly normal.
Then there's Mary (Charlotte Stewart) who is Henry's love interest. One of the movie's first scenes involves her inviting Henry over for dinner with her family which turns into a stereotypically bizarre experience. It is so beyond itself that it does not even register as cinema, it sort of feels like a collection of hyperbolic cliches, and maybe that's the point of it all; but I doubt it.
The dinner scene is iconically crazy and it serves as the first scene that really sets the stage for what's to come. Mary's mother, after making a pass at Henry, tells him that there is a child and once the love birds are married they can pick it up from the hospital. Mary tells Henry that they aren't even sure if the baby is human.
So they get married, off screen, and then we see them reduced to another odd take on a "given system". Their married life is really bizarre, given that their baby is completely alien like.
When you are in Lynch's movie, you are in Lynch's world, as are his characters. They never once ask questions for the absurd things they see or the grotesque imagery that jumps up. They never doubt its validity; but for as many times as the movie rewinds, throws random crap into scenes, and remains unexplained, we can't help but feel that there is something missing from this movie.
That being said, it is outrageously original—you will never see a movie like this one. I doubt if there is anything that comes close to the experience of watching 'Eraserhead" and for that, the movie is almost hypnotic.
"Eraserhead" is engrossing and gross. It's boring and unusual and for all its peculiarities, it dives right back down to the pit from which it was trying to escape: forgettable.
Yes, there are moments that you will never be able to wipe from your mind, but all its details will never stay with you, not after one watch. "Eraserhead" seems to be smart and it seems to not care that it doesn't make sense...but I do.
Still, wow.

Score: ★★½

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

"Singin' in the Rain" is celluloid's biggest musical. ever. Perhaps what makes it so universally loved is the fact that it mocks and celebrates the very establishment that it appears on while providing a gaudy and hugely entertaining musical on top of its commentary. You'd think it's almost too good to be true; and it's almost good enough that I'm convinced; but not quite.
The movie begins at the turn of cinematic history: the introduction of the talkie. Silent movie stars Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are supposedly the Bragelina couple of their day. They are fawned over, the masses love them, they seem so perfect together, etc. The sad truth of the matter is that Don cannot stand Lina anymore than you can stand nails on a chalkboard. Lina is a self-important stuck up starlet who can't let anyone other than herself hog the spotlight. A child of the tabloids, Lina has someone convinced herself of the love between Don and her that everyone assumes to be true.
And this uncomfortable flashy lifestyle works for everyone. There has never been a bigger success story than Don and Lina. But two things happen that make this pristine world start to crumble in around Don and Lina: "The Jazz Singer" debuts as the first talkie picture and Don meets a girl who couldn't care less about the movies...the latter here is actually the more important to the plot.
While escaping his violent fan base, Don jumps into a car and frightens the driver, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). She claims that she will call the police and when she tries to, the policeman is more interested in the movie star than the frightened woman with accusations of molestation. But things calm down soon enough and Kathy starts to speak her mind about film. She doesn't think it's all that and a bag of popcorn: you've seen one movie, you've seen 'em all. But the stage, now that's a different story, Kathy herself is an actress who thinks the theater is the more noble of the professions. Don and Kathy separate on angry notes, him more so than her.
But they are bound to meet again.
At a party for the release of their new movie, Lina and Don are present and so is Kathy...as a cake dancer. Don pokes fun at her and a pie ends up in Lina's face.
All this time Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) is trying to think about his future. He is Don's long time best friend and now that talkies are taking over cinema, he might be out of a job—he plays music on set to get Don and Lina in the right moods.
Ah, but the talkies have taken over and soon Don's studio decides that they will go with the flow as well. It's conform or sink, not a hard decision to make.
There is one large problem though, Lina's voice is as annoying as you can possibly imagine. Her nasal tone and rough sound make her not the ideal candidate for a talking movie. Better seen and never heard.
But the studio pushes ahead anyway and it has to come down to Don, Cosmo, and Kathy to try to save the picture from complete disaster or risk losing all of their careers.
"Singin' in the Rain" has a gigantic reputation that precedes it. From the cultural references that are still made to the high place it holds in critical opinion (it continues to land on Sight & Sound's best movies list), there is no escaping this movie when you're talking about musicals.
I think the reason that it is so acceptable to like the film is because it is both entertaining and smart. The amount of self-referential barbs that it throws are always a delight to see; and yet, it is missing the snark and bite of a Bob Fosse picture. It tries so very hard to be the edgiest it can be, and that's just not edgy enough.
It's a musical of spectacle as well, inspired by "The Red Shoes", there is the obligatory scene of mindless, hypnotic dancing. In "The Red Shoes", it served a purpose and here is serves none at all. To be fair, it's not as big as an offender as "An American in Paris" is, but it does run a close second.
"Singin' in the Rain" is fun, very fun, and wickedly clever. It moves at a fast pace and never leaves you rolling your eyes. Time hasn't treated the film terribly well and some of the 50s overacting is almost too sweet to digest.
All-in-all, it's easy to see why this movie is classic; but it's also easy to see why it's melodramatic and showy.

Score: ★★★½

The Wild Bunch (1969) (R)

Sam Peckinpah is one the most curious figures in cinema. From "Straw Dogs" to "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" the man's style seems at once both too much to be ignored and too much to taken seriously. He is violent, sexually and physically, and his statements are both dry and entertaining. Sam Peckinpah is full of contradictions, and his wild editing technique is quite recognizable (a recurring image of different falling in slow motion from a balcony is shown in this movie...one of the many odd moments). Quick edits juxtapose next to violence next to nature shots—it becomes a kaleidoscope of confusion and it provides its audience with the feeling that they are missing something...don't worry, that's just Peckinpah's style. You'll find it in every one of his movies.
As compared with the director's best work: "Straw Dogs", "The Wild Bunch" is relatively tame...but then again, it is perhaps his most showily violent...ah, so many things to say.
The movie begins with a classy and dusty scene in which several soldiers ride into town. They are being watched by a rag-tag-looking group of men on roof tops..men with lots of guns who are trigger happy.
The soldiers shuffle into a bank and then we realize that they're not noble men. These guys are criminals robbing a bank and there's a bounty on their heads. The criminals are lead by a man named Pike Bishop (William Holden) who used to ride with the leader of the bounty hunters, Deke Thorton (Robert Ryan). What twisted webs we weave.
After the bank robbery there is a glorious shootout that lasts for nearly ten minutes, or at least what feels like that. The criminals run out, losing a few men and the bounty hunters don't kill Pike or his secondhand man Dutch (Ernest Borgnine).
Peckinpah proves his ruthlessness here by showing much more blood than what audiences were used to at the time. Remember that this is the same year that "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" came out...now compare the two pictures and see which is more violent.
The movie does have that stylized western feeling that so many movies of this era do. It would be several years until the arrival of Clint Eastwood that we would get a re-imagining...but more on that in other posts.
"The Wild Bunch" is mainly a movie about the one crowd trying to evade the others. Certainly there is no clear "good guy" in the movie, though we are supposed to cheer for the titular group more; but keep in mind that there is no honor amongst thieves.
It's not a plot heavy movie, nor does it deserve to be. The question is: how did they make this film two and a half hours long? The answer is simple: pointless rabbit trails. We get side stories about some of the minor characters in the wild bunch and then we have scenes that take too long. One scene in particular involves bathing in wine vats and a steam room and besides one clumsy piece of character development, it really does not add anything to the movie.
Continuing on, "The Wild Bunch" is stunning to look at. It has been preserved remarkably well considering how "Butch Cassidy" looks now.
Sam Peckinpah also co-wrote the script for the movie; but his odd style is what sinks it for me. I don't think the man has made a great movie, they are all too full of themselves to be tangible to me.
There's a lot to be said about Sam Peckinpah but not much to say about the movie itself. It feel genuine in moments and also like a magic trick in others. There are grudges and insane characters, but either not enough or too much.
It needs to walk the tightrope and at some moments it does, but for most of the movie it just falls over.
That being said, this is the most accessible of Peckinpah's movies, so if you're going to work your way into the director, start here.

Score: ★★½

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) (G)

I may be the slightest bit biased about this movie because it was such a staple of my childhood. "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is by far the Disney movie that I saw the most and the one that brings back the most memories for me. But aside from the major nostalgia that it gives me, "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is perhaps the most whimsical and enjoyable of the Disney movies made between the period of "the classics" and the more modern powerhouses like "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King". It bridges the gap between the written work, childhood imagination, and the film itself.
"Winnie the Pooh" begins with a narrator (Sebastian Cabot) telling us about a boy named Christopher Robin and his many toys which he played with. In his imagination, he and his fluffy friends would go to the Hundred Acre Wood and there, like the title suggests, they would have many adventures.
First of all there's Winnie the Pooh himself, iconically voiced by Sterling Holloway, whose time is consumed by thinking of and searching for food. Of all the Disney "heroes" he is by far the most curious because he at first only seems concerned with food and it is said of him that he is a bear "with very little brain". A large simpleton, Winnie the Pooh later shows us his heroic capacity for friendship; but for most of the movie he is nothing if not definitive of the word "bumbling".
As Pooh meanders from one story to the next, he often traipses on others' hospitality, most notably Rabbit (Junius Matthews). One story sees Pooh eating all of Rabbit's food and then getting stuck in the doorway.
So yes, again we see that "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" may not be the most stellar piece of plot twisting; but it is almost too sweet for words. It precedes works like "Toy Story" and makes use of catchy songs and adult language (here meaning jargon) to entertain its older audience. Owl (Hal Smith) in particular is one who likes to ramble on and on, fitting the word "glockenspiel" into the movie.
Then there's Piglet (John Fiedler), the stuttering and shy heart of the picture, the reserved half to Pooh's naive confidence. But if you remember this movie or if you had a child, you know who the favorite character was...he's striped and bounces on his tail. Tigger (Paul Winchell) is the oddball at the core of the movie's humor a "flouncy pouncy fun fun fun fun fun" zany little ball of energy. For me, Tiger sent me jumping on all the couches in my house thinking about how fun it would be to have a spring as a tail.
Eeyore (Ralph Wright) is the pessimist of the movie, the one who always thinks that it looks like it's going to rain. He's made of sawdust and is always losing his tail. He is the mopey antithesis to Kanga and Roo, a mother-son duo who also add a level of complexity to the movie.
There are no adults in "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and yet there is the thought of recapturing childhood whimsy. It appeals to a large crowd and its appeal is completely merited.
Some moments steal from, and improve upon things already seen in Disney movies. The heffalumps and woozles song rings true of "Pink Elephants on Parade" from "Dumbo". Yet if anything, this is the movie that gets swept under the rug when you talk about the magic of Disney. But don't underestimate the power of this movie. In cultural influence alone, the book paired with the movie, made the name "Winnie the Pooh" known in every household. Not only that, but every character is so well-defined that most of them can be seen in some form even in everyday conversation.
"The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is a glorious and nostalgic journey for me, but it is also a clever and self-referential animated classic. It is filled with wonder.

Score: ★★★★

Say Anything... (1989) (PG-13)

Cameron Crowe, who wrote "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", had his finger to the pulse of the upper adolescent audience. "Say Anything..." resonated with this demographic as well as the critics and placed itself in cinematic history for its sly script and its lovey-dovey scenes.
A teen romance that perhaps deal more honestly with how "little things" make big differences in a relationship, "Say Anything..." is about a low-brow guy with no clear future pursuing the girl of his dreams who is a socialite for all intents and purpose...and then the boat sinks—oh wait, wrong movie. Yes, there is nothing startling original about "Say Anything..." nor should there be, because romance is something so universal as to be included in every sub-genre imaginable.
The movie opens to Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) pining over Diane Court (Ione Skye). Lloyd is your average Joe while Diane is the queen of the brains. The valedictorian, Diane gives a speech at graduation which seems to fly over everyone's head: she is scared about her future. This girl, the one who has everything lined up for her, is frightened about all the possibilities of her future. Still, the movie doesn't dwell on this little aspect too long before plowing on into the cute nothingness of a romance.
Lloyd, still obsessed with Diane even though they really haven't gone on an official date, calls her up and leaves his name and number with her dad, played by John Mahoney.
Diane and her father have an interesting relationship. They seem to be perfect together; but he seems to be living vicariously through her. Her scholarships that roll in and his lack of genuine accomplishment buts an odd tint on their otherwise ideal bond.
So Lloyd drives into the picture and he is completely different than anything Diane has ever come across. She goes to a party with him and people bombard her with questions like "Why are you with Lloyd Dobler?" and she responds once with "because he made me laugh".
Ah, so adorable.
Anyways, the two of them hit it off really well and then they start to see more and more of each other...a love blooms between them. As the two grow closer and Lloyd's future is as hazy as Diane's is clear, Diane's father starts to grow more and more hostile about Lloyd. He starts to pressure her to remove herself from Lloyd's life and Diane starts to agree with him; but will true love win out?
"Say Anything..." is not a particularly powerful movie because it doesn't have a lot of complexity to it. It is a fluff piece about a nice and cute couple....so what makes it special?
What makes "Say Anything..." better than most romantic pieces is its performances and its likability. We don't just have cookie-cutter characters who say and think the right things at the right times. Lloyd and Diane are challenging and true characters, ones who don't always act like "they should".
But in the end of it all, it's a slight piece and one that doesn't stick with you as much as individual aspects of it does: like John Cusack standing in a yard with a stereo over his head or the advice he receives from his bro-friends.
Neither haunting nor complex, "Say Anything..." also proves that family issues play a larger role in romance than just the two parties involved. It's not an individual romance, it has to encompass other people too.
"Say Anything..." made a star out of John Cusack and it remains his best work. He's fantastic as the kick-boxing, sensationally romantic teen who only wants to spend his life with Diane. As the larger prude, Diane also gives Ione Skye a great role to embody.
You watch "Say Anything..." for senseless escapism and a fairy tale romance...it is quite good at both.

Score: ★★★

The Big Parade (1925)

One of the first war movies and also one of the first popular movies ever, "The Big Parade" proves that sentimentality and cliches have been hanging around since people started making films; and they are powerful weapons. A war movie made just a few years after the first World War, "The Big Parade" is as much celebrating the valor of the men as it is gently shaking its head at the complexity of the subject without making any real commentary. It's a very safe work, but a very emotional one too.
The movie begins right as the reach of WWI reaches America. A difference in the classes is shown by three men: Bull, Slim, and James. Slim (Karl Dane) is the lowest on this social ladder. He's a tobacco-spitting-fight-ready construction worker who eagerly signs up for the war because he's itching for action. Then there's Bull (Tom O'Brien) who was a bartender and manages to enter into the war and quickly ascend to a commanding officer position. Lastly, we have James (John Gilbert) who is the socialite of the group. He has a mother who is worried senseless about the war and she tries to convince her son that he should have no place alongside other soldiers. Ah, but there's love in the picture.
Justyn (Claire Adams) the girl next door has been the object of attraction for James' eye for a long time. He and she have been practically engaged for years, though neither of them seem terribly serious about it. Upon hearing of the war, Justyn cozies up to James' side and asks him—pretty please—if he'll enlist because that means he'll get to wear a uniform and the ladies love those.
Not solely because of his love interest, James enlists and is sent off to the war.
But we don't see war for a long time in this movie. It's at least an hour into the movie before we even get a hit of it. For almost hitting three hours, "The Big Parade" also firmly solidifies the base for many Hollywood epics that would follow it, right down to some of the eye-rolling moments.
"The Big Parade" is too cute for its own good. It doesn't know when to be serious and when to throw humor in. Much of the war effort is viewed as a carnival for the first half of the movie—a brilliant and shining example of patriotism at its finest. The men fart and shower and do manly things and women are only objects to fall to their whims.
"The Big Parade" gives us a magnificent snapshot of sexism in early movies, while still grounding strong female characters. These two opposing forces can make for some uncomfortable scenes, particularly one where three soldiers molest a local French girl while she strongly objects. They get a punch in the face for their efforts, but not after the girl has already fallen for one of them.
James is the lucky man who falls for the French girl and she for him. The two have a lot of fun on screen together breaking language barriers while still remaining true to the silent era of acting. It's amazing what director King Vidor is able to do with the simple scenarios...then again, I would argue that he does too much because the movie is far too long for its own good.
The script plays out like it was written as a comedy and then someone realized that war actually had to be included in the film.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the war scenes are the best of the movie. They do have moments of head-scratching humor included; but for the most part they are well-executed and tightly constructed around suspense.
"The Big Parade" is a tribute to the power of melodrama. As James, Slim, and Bull get moved to the front lines, James has to say goodbye to his French girlfriend, Melisande (Renée Adorée). Now there is a conflict of interest where love is concerned; but thankfully "The Big Parade" manages to tip-toe around a lot of stereotypes that others would have fallen into.
It's a movie with a very emotional ending and the last few scenes remain some of the most romantic ever created. It's glorious and faulted.

Score: ★★★

All That Jazz (1979) (R)

Bob Fosse is a director whose relationship with theater seems strained at best. Growing up in the light of vaudeville, some of Fosse's more famous works come from his satire of the theater. His most famous example, and the best known for almost dethroning "The Godfather", "Cabaret" is pretty ruthless; but if anything, it pales in comparison with "All That Jazz".
Fosse grew older between the two pictures and it seems like his opinion of Hollywood got worse if anything. "All That Jazz" is a testament to not only the ingenuity of Fosse; but also to the fact that a blinding piece of one-sided propaganda can be so entertaining as to nearly make you go insane.
"What's the matter? Don't you like musical comedy?"
Joe Gideon (Roy Schneider) is a film and theater director and choreographer. He can do it all: sing, dance, and act—the lethal trifecta. Born, like Fosse (much of the movie seems somewhat biographical), in vaudeville, Gideon grows up to rule Broadway. His is the name on everyone's lips, the insider to outsiders and vice versa; but fame comes with a price and Joe takes the toll out on his body. He is riddled with afflictions that range from his lungs to his heart and all the important organs in between. Never one for commitment, we often see and hear about Joe cheating on his ex-wife and girlfriends of the time. The one woman that he does have a steady relationship with is his daughter, Michelle (Erzsebet Folsi). The two of them share a very intimate father-daughter moment while rehearsing for Joe's newest theater venture—it's shot in a dance studio while Joe tries to choreograph a dance for a number that he doesn't want in the show. The scene itself proves why Fosse's movie is almost beyond critique. It's a cliche scene in concept but when given to Fosse, he turns it into something that most of us have never seen before and will never see again.
This vein runs true for most of the movie's length: the ordinary, tried and true, becomes a colorful range of visual emotions and motifs played out for our entertainment.
At its core, the movie is much more about the struggle of an artist believing that he's lost his touch more than anything else; but, like the theater that both Joe and Fosse have a love-hate relationship with, the show must go an and it must be entertaining.
Amidst the hectic editing and the dance numbers and the sexual bravado of the piece (a specific number is one of the more seductive and intrinsically sexual scenes that come to mind) we have scenes between Joe and a woman in white known as Angelique (Jessica Lange, perfect as ever). Angelique will ask Joe questions about his life...hard hitting questions. Sometimes he tries to dodge them and sometimes he'll be genuine.
So for "All That Jazz" we have two main modes of narrative: the honest moments between Joe and his quasi-counselor and then the theater itself.
As far as hope for young people goes, this piece would probably shatter many dreams. It's not the glorified theater that we see in "Fame" or even the elitist altruism of a wacky piece like "Tootsie"—"All That Jazz" is brutal: it is incredibly rare for you to make it on Broadway and if you do, you'll more than likely be forgotten quickly or whiz by the prime of your life only to be replaced by someone younger and more talented.
But perhaps there is hope for the average person wanting to glean some truth from the mire of "All That Jazz"—Fosse seems to be saying that most of the pressure is self-inflicted and most of the heartaches and physical sickness is also a result of self-doubt.
Maybe I got too deep there.
"All That Jazz" blends its editing with its story, particularly its sound editing. One scene that is crucial to the movie will play over and over and over behind the words and actions of another scene. It's a kaleidoscope of imagination of colorful wizardry. If there was any doubt of Fosse's talent, this is the movie to prove otherwise.
The movie bleeds heavily...it bleeds confetti and tears.
"All That Jazz" manages to encompass not only a critique of Hollywood, but also a character study, a musical, and a fall from grace. It gives the most interesting ending to a movie that I've recently seen. It's just the right amount of crazy, just the right amount of flashy, and has more than enough guts to give two pictures credibility.
The movie is all about the jazz and all about the madness underneath. It's glorious, inventive, and hysterical. I will be returning to this one again...after my breath returns.

Score: ★★★★

Five Easy Pieces (1970) (R)

"Five Easy Pieces" feels like it should have been directed by John Cassavetes...name drop, okay, yeah I know and that seems kind of snobby; but let me explain. Cassavetes made pieces of hyper-realism about everyday men and women—except his stories were nothing average. There was always something inside them that made them cosmic or shifted in their realism, showing that extraordinary tales can be told in the setting of suburban America. As such, "Five Easy Pieces" feels like Cassavetes, because we're all waiting for that important and undefinable "great-ness" to emerge from the story...but it never does.
"Five Easy Pieces" is a film about life and the hardships of wearing emotional protection. It's the sad story of never really being able to know yourself and struggling with identity—it's about being guarded to those around you and how that can influence your life...and it's about love.
Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson, very young and very good) works on oil rigs and seems to embody the everyday working man. He is in a relationship with a woman named Rayette (Karen Black) and the two seem quite volatile together. From moment one, we are not supposed to like Bobby because he never seems to care about anyone beyond himself.
From scene to scene, Bobby will range from being manipulative to bossy to adulterous to angry and back to manipulative. We rarely see a positive side to the character...but wait, there is something coming.
A "blue-collar" worker, it would seem that Bobby is running from a past that frightens him and also has a hold on him with a death grip. It becomes unavoidable that he meet with his family and so he finds his sister who tells him that their father is sick and dying.
Hearing this news, Bobby decides that the only thing he can do is pack his bags and go to see his father, unwillingly with Rayette in tow.
For us to reach this, the turning point of the movie, where the plot truly begins, it takes quite a while. We are given many scenes that seem to build Bobby up as a womanizing scumbag with no potential and no responsibility; but that is where "Five Easy Pieces" is clever.
Music plays a large to the movie since Bobby grew up in a family of extremely talented musicians and classical pieces were always around him growing up. As such, denying his "heritage" and ceasing to play the piano altogether, we get the feeling that Bobby is guarding himself from an emotional connection that is either too hard from him to bear or too frightening for him to face.
The first time we do see him connect with music is on the back of a moving truck while in traffic. It's one of the film's odder moments as Bobby gets so enraged with the bumper-to-bumper traffic that he leaps out of his car and climbs up on the back of the truck. There he uncovers the piano and doesn't even notice as he's playing, that the car is driving away with him on the back.
We only see him play once more, a very emotional moment that Bobby immediate disowns. He likes to keep his heart well off of his sleeve, bottled up inside him, never showing any weakness. But this makes Nicholson and the character of Bobby all the more magnificent because it's only near the end of the movie that changes begin to happen and we can truly see who both of them are. As Bobby, Nicholson brings the cocky attitude to the character and also the sensitivity that he needs.
Along their trip Bobby and Rayette pick up two women who complain about "the trash" in the world and the need to "be clean". Although it's clear that we are supposed to role our eyes at these women, there is something honorable in how they carry themselves: they are fully sure of their decisions. Bobby is immediately jealous of their mind-set; but it does seem to influence him later in the film.
For a movie that is tedious at times, "Five Easy Pieces" works much better as a sum of all its part and not the individualized moments. Never does it stretch itself too thin or become something that it's not.
The story is clear from the beginning, it never wavers. In this way "Five Easy Pieces" could be seen as too simple; but that's definitely not that case.
This film is a range of emotions, a musical scale, a dusty and dry drama, and a screaming melodrama. It's all the right things and all the ones that people who hate Cassavetes would find issue with...but it's all of these and more, much more.
"Five Easy Pieces" is so powerful because Nicholson is so good and because the story is so genuine.

Score: ★★★

Gone Girl (2014) (R)

David Fincher is known for incredible book-to-film adaptations. Pretty much everything the director has done has come from a novel first, with few notable exceptions. Naturally, it seems perfect to give Gillian Flynn's super-seller to this man first and see what he can do with this. Add the uncontrollable madness and the nasty twists and turns this mystery takes and Fincher then seems like the perfect director.
But "Gone Girl" isn't you mother's movie, or your father's. The theater I went to was packed with horrified grandparents who hadn't read the book. I did. I was prepared.
I was no great fan of Gillian Flynn's novel, in fact, I'd go so far as to say that I hated it with a passion. But the movie, also written by Flynn, takes the time to not take the time the book took for certain moments. It's very true to the book and runs perhaps just a little bit longer than necessary, even for such an intricate work as it is.
The movie begins with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) in a state of indifferent mopey-ness. He goes to his sister Margo for consolidation. Margo (Carrie Coon) is his twin sister and they jointly own a bar named The Bar and this morning they decide to start drinking hard liquor a little early.
For much of the first section of "Gone Girl", unlike the novel, the movie spins and whirls from perspective to perspective. We jump back and forth in time with fade outs, like we're dreaming each progressing scene. It's very hypnotic and beautiful to look at, as most of Fincher's works are, and makes for clearer entertainment than the book.
This morning that Nick walks out of his house on is the morning that will change his life forever. When he comes back home to talk to his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), he finds a few tables overturned and Amy missing. Not missing a beat, he calls the police and in waltzes Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) who quickly comb his house. There is what appears to be blood splatter in the kitchen and Boney is keen to make sure that forensics scours the house while Nick stays at his sister's.
Amy is missing and the Missouri community bands together to make sure that she will be found...but as the days pass and her body still doesn't show up, warm or cold, Nick starts to become more and more uncomfortable with the spotlight, particularly as the evidence starts to suggest that he may have had something to do with his wife's disappearance.
As far as a Fincher movie goes, this one is pretty tame. We don't really get the grit of "Fight Club" or even the universal "screw you" of "The Social Network"; and so that may be a bit of a disappointment. I will say this, knowing what happens or not knowing could make the difference between a good and a great movie for you. Having read the books, all the plot twists were no surprise to me.
Yet there is a break-neck speed that the events come to a boiling point and for this the first half of the movie is more enjoyable, though they don't compare to the last twenty minutes. Like the book, the last section of the movie is a nasty turn, a surprising and incredibly evil and lovely mind-scramble.
I feel like there is not much I can say about the plot without spoiling something, so let's talk about the movie instead.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose return as composers and their score is almost sheer perfection, it's eerie and very reminiscent of their work on "The Social Network", it's the uniting force of the movie.
What's curious are the names that pop up now and again. Reese Witherspoon is one of the producers and then we get both Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris who both seem very out of place in this dark movie. Tyler Perry, for his part, nails his small but pivotal role. Neil Patrick Harris on the other hand has a much more complex role and he doesn't seem to understand it quite right. There is so much evil to the book and the movie, to the point of overkill. The world is a horrible place, we get it...that doesn't mean that every person has to be evil or have a dark side.
I think my complaints about the book translate well to the movie; but the performances keep me from hating the movie. Ben Affleck wouldn't have been my first choice for Nick Dunne and I don't think he does as well as Pike; but it's a solid performance. If there are two people who make the movie they are Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit because every scene they are in shines and passes too quickly. I would have liked a whole movie with just them. Dickens in particular is the epicenter of the movie and the actor who can walk away with her head held very, very high.
"Gone Girl" is a mystery about a woman gone missing, but it's also about marriage and about the demons that come with any relationship. It's not exactly a date movie, but something in the way Fincher shoots it makes it so wonderfully fun to see situations crumble.
Sadly, "Gone Girl" pales in comparison with Fincher's previous recent works and it doesn't let us really connect with it. It's beautiful, complex, mysterious, and exciting; but never a masterpiece...it's far too calculated for that.
It's a movie well worth seeing if for only that first time; but I don't think that this movie will be remembered when awards season sweeps by, nor do I think it deserves to be. It took a crowd-pleasing book and turned it into a critic's movie...I'm unsure of how this will do; but it should be seen. Watch it, and don't spoil.

Score: ★★★½

Hotel Rwanda (2004) (PG-13 )

"Hotel Rwanda" is a film about the culmination of a history unintended. The Tutsi and Hutu people of Rwanda were given their names by a group of Belgians who told them stories about how the Tutsis (the minority) ruled the Hutu people for many centuries. When the Belgians left they overturned the power and placed it into the Hutu people's hands. Now outraged that they had been "slaves" for so long, a rebellion starts to boil inside Rwanda, ready to ignite. It was unintentional, accidental, and deadly.
The movie tells the true life story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) a Hutu man who is the hotel manager of a posh establishment that caters to the elite and the white population. Paul is married to Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) who is a Tutsi. 
As the rebellion starts to become more and more violent and protests are staged, Paul doesn't firmly grasp the gravity of the situation and lets things get out of hand too quickly. He brushes aside the rumors that the Hutu militia is primed and ready to pull the trigger at the sound of a secret word. He doesn't seem to believe that they are either that organized or that willing to dispatch human lives.
For as much of the war is waged in the streets, an equal amount is waged in the pockets. There is a lot to say for those who have money or things that money can no longer buy. Alcohol becomes richer than gold and Paul uses some of the hotel's coffers to help him keep on his feet.
Finally, the rebellion is staged and the organized Hutu rebels descend upon the Tutsi people. Carnage ensues. People are butchered in the streets and bludgeoned to death on the side of the road. Corpses are left carelessly thrown around and some of the Tutsi women are kept in cages as whores for the Hutu men.
"Hotel Rwanda" does a remarkable thing in the way that it increases in energy and tension. The situation is unfamiliar for a Hollywood movie, yet some of the cliches manage to slip in here. I think it would have been better off if it never let you breathe, continuing to ramp up the suspense and tension until the last few scenes...but that's just my opinion.
There is a certain amount of predictability here in the way that we seem to know that Paul, our hero, will make it through unscathed. Yet director Terry George makes us wonder if this is really the case at moments in the film. We do doubt Paul's immortality several times...much of this is also due to Don Cheadle's wonderful performance.
As the Hutus storm the streets, the UN, led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) is forced to stand by and do nothing. They guard the hotel that Paul works at but their hands are politically tied...they are essentially just elaborate icons, nothing of substance.
This isn't to say that they wouldn't like to help, because Colonel Oliver is one of the film's unsung heroes who wants to do so much more but can't.
Racism sets in as the world watches Rwanda, not caring about how the natives are killing each other, and worrying more about the white people trapped inside the country.
Yet as the killing gets closer to the hotel's doorstep, the UN abandons Rwanda, leaving Paul to fend for himself while sheltering over a thousand refugees inside his hotel.
"Hotel Rwanda" manages to pull of a convincing thriller and make an intimate movie about family. It's because Paul and Sophie and their children are all so loving and cohesive that we feel for them...much of this is thanks to Sophie Okonedo.
Still as mercilessly brilliant as most of the film is, there are moments when it reminds us that it is not a perfect work. The tension drops, unnecessary character development occurs, curious little antics are adopted and then dropped for the sake of string pulling.
This isn't to say that what is left over from the movie is a mammoth picture, because that is the case. From the chaos to the location to the basic likability of the characters, "Hotel Rwanda" is an easy and smashing success.

Score: ★★★½