Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) (PG-13)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
I was going to write this review as really vague and not include a SPOILERS warning, but then I decided I couldn't. It's still going to be vague and I really won't try to spoil anything; but you have been warned.

It's been an interesting journey for the "Star Wars" franchise. After it was announced that Lucas was selling the rights to Disney, with the intentions of making more movies, the internet exploded. Skepticism, loyalty, outrage, excitement—you name it, I'm sure we all read blogs about it. Needless to say, people were waiting for this.
George Lucas stepped back (thank the Lord) and "Star Trek" renovator J. J. Abrams (the lens flare is strong with this one) came in to fill the lack for the first of a new trilogy of "Star Wars" flicks. What immediately occurred was the obsessive secrecy around the film. Take a look at Twitter and tumblr and you'll find that no one...no one...wants the new "Star Wars" spoiled for them.
With this consideration for how secretive the filming was and how the film has generated so much attention I find it kind of silly actually because nothing in the movie is remotely shocking.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is an easy success, relying on pleasing fans by making the safest of safe movies and not really doing anything. It could be condensed to a "good guys are fighting bad guys and we want the good guys to win" because it lacks all the innovation of the first movies.
Like him or not, George Lucas created a universe by not having to explain every last detail of the world the audience was introduced to in "A New Hope". In "The Force Awakens", there has been so much discussion on this world, that it feels compressed and small. This, and the fact that every character can magically get where they're going in a matter of seconds, makes the film feel very intimate and much less...cosmic.
"The Force Awakens" introduces us to many new characters, the origins of whom are kept very secretive and will not be named here. There's a girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a man named Finn (John Boyega) and then another Darth Vader like character with an ominous voice and a great deal of power that they call Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Other fun characters who serve no larger narrative purpose pop up and sing songs or dance for the camera, but essentially, nothing is terribly new.
"The Force Awakens" attempts to push all shocks and gasps from the original trilogy into one movie and by doing so, the audience really isn't given that much time to react or even be surprised. This is a movie that reveals many "plot twists" in its first forty minutes that Lucas took two and a half movies to do. Everything that needs explaining becomes quickly explained and I found myself not really shocked or surprised by anything...then again, this is a movie that is just set up for the next two. There is nothing particularly unique about it, nor should there be...it's just the foundation for the next two films.
The acting here is adorable and fun (Ridley and Boyega are exciting new faces), even if the script gives clunky and harsh lines that feel out of place. Abrams is a fan of "Star Wars" and as such, probably makes the best movie anyone could have in his position, I don't envy him that.
"The Force Awakens" is a whole lot of fun. It's entertaining, funny, thrilling, and has just enough action. It's just a perfect blockbuster and its immediate success is proof of this. Unfortunately, I'm very skeptical of how the next two movies are going to pan out, seeing as the franchise is shifting hands with each movie so a different director will make each film.
There's not a whole lot to say about the movie without spoiling it besides: good heroine, okay villain, nice robot, fun flying, cool fighting, and nice ending. It's a very good movie; but considering the scrutiny it is going to go under for being a "Star Wars" movie, I'm disappointed that the movie wasn't more surprising. If you've seen "A New Hope", you won't be surprised. I am faulting the script writers (among whom is Lawrence Kasdan, who is usually brilliant) and the production team for not trying something just a little more original. "The Force Awakens" implies, even in its title, of new life, fresh air, and exciting chances...what we got was a remake. A really, really good remake; but still, it's nothing to lose your mind about.
I think subsequent movies will stray farther because there is enough unique story in the film to make it worth while to stick around. I'm sure you won't be disappointed to see it. My advice: watch "The Force Awakens" in theaters if not for the film itself (which really doesn't disappoint on entertainment value or female leads), but for the experience of including yourself in the newest iteration of what will most certainly be one of the biggest franchises of our lifetimes.









Score: ★★★

Twelve Monkeys (1995) (R)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
I like Terry Gilliam. That being said, I really haven't seen that much of what he's done; but I like what I've seen. "Brazil" is incredible and "Monty Python" is always delightful. But I think with one of the quintessential sci-fi movies of the late twentieth century, "Twelve Monkeys", I can't help but be a little disappointed.
This is probably because even for all Gilliam's inventiveness, the movie will never compare to the original short film it was based on. "La Jetée" tells the same story, but it does it in such a way that is spellbinding and simply magical. Yet the short film is only half an hour long. Gilliam and screenwriters Chris Marker and David and Janet Peoples stretch the short film out far beyond its limits and in doing this, the audience can start to see the cracks.
Now I realize that I'm one of the only people who thinks this way; but I can't help but believe that "Brazil" is Giliam at the height of his powers and here, he seems like he is struggling. 
Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a prisoner on whom scientific experiments are conducted. James is sent through time in order to find the cause of a deadly virus that would eventually wipe out 5 million people before the population on Earth moved underground.
So...it's pretty much exactly what happens in "La Jetée". As with the short French film, James keeps having dreams of a memory or a hallucination from his childhood in which he witnesses an act of violence. As the movie moves along, things are complicated when he starts to meet people from his dream. 
One of these people is a psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) who befriends James as he is put in a mental institution during the times of flux that he spends between time periods. This isn't an exact science, it's lightning in a bottle and a prayer.
So James becomes catapulted throughout time like a confused, drugged version of Doctor Who and in each iteration, the set pieces get more elaborate. As is Gilliam's tendency, everything reeks of a huge budgets. His mind seems to be the Petri dish for steampunk fantasies about big government. As with his previous movies, Big Brother is always staring down the shoulder of James as he tries to unravel his past/present/future. The dates become blurred and even the viewer has a hard time understanding everything that is going on. James seems to do things with no motivation and unfortunately, this is not Bruce Willis at his best.
Brad Pitt enters as the crazy son of a genius scientist (Christopher Plummer) and does the whole "I'm locked in an asylum, please help, I'm actually charming" thing quite well. All that said, he's nothing special and the movies gives him too much leeway for a character that is, in essence, just a large distraction for entertainment value (insert comment on what movies are at their core here, madness ensues). 
Still, the movie is enjoyable, even with all its bizarre camera angles and distracting soundtrack. It's really nothing compared to its predecessor. The invention of "La Jetée" was how it was filmed, shot almost entirely in still frame photographs; yet Gilliam seems to want to make something just as inventive, and he fails. There is a stylistic stark difference in the two that proves that all movies that you assume are inaccessible are actually inaccessible. Somethings just weren't made to be messed with.






Score: ★★½  

Patton (1970)
















There's something about "Patton" that hearkens back to the old age of golden classic, epic cinema. It's nothing terribly unique, maybe just Franklin J. Schaffner's style in crafting the war movie. Of maybe it's Francis Ford Coppola's screenplay which introduced a new presence to film that would forever change it. Whatever it is, there's definitely something going on, and it's this undefinable 'good-ness' that both makes it understandable why the movie won 7 Oscars and also why it's a movie that has not stayed in the canon.
"Patton" is probably the least seen war movie, even for all its accolades, most likely because this is not an actual war movie. For the movie's length, the amount of time eaten up by defining the main character and grounding his bizarre antics far outweighs any time spent on the battlefield. War scenes are far and few between, this is not a shock and awe movie like "Apocalypse Now" or "Saving Private Ryan". It does nothing to entice its viewer with mindless action, but then again, this was given at a time when the popular audience did not demand action of this level.
Instead, "Patton" concerns only its main character, played brilliantly by George C. Scott. The film places the general in the middle of a battle and lets his own insecurities and hubrises. His first scene is probably the most iconic when he stands proudly in front of the American flag and the film ogles each of his medal and his posture/demeanor before the gruff voice speaks. It's a commanding voice and not one easily forgotten.
This is probably why the film has been lost from the film rhetoric, because Patton is not exactly a likable figure and he's not quite evil enough (or even close) to be a credible antihero. Instead, like Lawrence, he exists only to be studied as the vehicle for war who seems riddled with contradictions. Yet this is not "Lawrence of Arabia" because Patton does not demand such a level of complexity or of epic scope.
The movie begins as the action heats us from the German army in WWII. Patton, as he lets the viewer know in the middle of the movie, feels inspired or even prophetically purposed by God to be in the army so that he can smite his enemies. We soon get the understanding that Patton has no interest in actually obeying orders, he'd rather just do his own thing. This can be seen when he has not yet received the rank of three-star general...he doesn't really care, he goes ahead and decorates himself with the rank. He has balls, but does he have heart?
What Coppola's screenplay does so well is outline these contradictions in such a way that you feel you are watching a complex man and not a poorly written movie. Patton's aversion and disrespect for the powers that reside over him is coupled with his ironic clinging to the structure of the army itself. The soldiers he commands are never anything less exemplary, because this might be a reflection on him. Yet this adheres to the concept of a power structure so here, the film slyly suggests that Patton may be the biggest hypocrite of all.
One scene sees him shouting about his lack of political savvy to a person, yet what has he been doing if nothing but politics? War strategies and White House discussions could be seen as paralleling each other. Then again, maybe I'm trying to make something out of nothing.
What the film lacks in chutzpah, it makes up for largely due to Scott's performance and Schaffner's direction. It can feel dry, but only in the best possible way.
"Patton" is at times a rough movie, rugged terrain, explosive battles, course dialogue; but beneath it all I think the movie questions what truly makes a good leader. Is it someone who is educated? Fierce? Emotional? Caring? What we are left with is the ability to make our own decision and somehow I came out of the movie respecting Patton but never wanting to ever talk to him. The film's protagonist is rather repulsive in his own ways, yet nothing if not deeply, morbidly fascinating.
"Patton" is a highwire of a film. It's natural, combustive, and intelligent.









Score: ★★★½

Carol (2015) (R)


















A lot of times, "Carol" feels like it's trying to replace drama from the golden age of Hollywood. The set design is elegant, the costumes are pressed, the makeup is effortlessly beautiful and I can't help but wonder how much Cate Blanchett's feet must hurt in all the heels that she wears. The movie is combating a history of heteronormative storytelling with a lesbian couple at its center. But in doing this, several problems arise and the space for great drama is created.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works at a department store in the 1950s and one day a rich, older lady named Carol (Blanchett) walks in and Therese is struck by her. She is beautiful, classy, a little neurotic, and poised. It's not hard to see that Therese is somewhat in awe of this lady.
And then, by happy coincidence, this woman leaves her gloves and Therese returns them as any good person would and a friendship is formed between them, a friendship that will eventually turn into romance.
"Carol" is not a great work of screenwriting or intricate plot details. It makes the correct assumption that we will be more interested in the characters themselves instead of what they're doing. The plot, in this respect, is fairly thin. Not much happens besides the establishment of this time period as hostile towards gay and lesbian couples.
But maybe "Carol" shouldn't be about its plot details, but rather, see it as rewriting romance with the firm argument that everyone should be able to experience love with another person. It's not as political as all that, but its ending makes it very clear that this is a romance, and not a drama.
As Therese begins to become more curious about Carol and the titular character starts to face marital problems with her husband that is converging in an inevitable divorce, the two women take a road trip together to clear their minds.
A great deal of the movie is set-up. We watch Therese in her job, at her apartment, dealing with her boyfriend, getting hit on by his friends, drinking at a bar with friends, eating, etc. etc. It almost begins to feel monotonous but Rooney Mara is a very watchable actress and it never feels too tiresome to the point of boredom.
Because the plot is so relatively thin, the performances have to be great and they are for the most part. There is the assumption that in a movie like this, there will be more crying, more screaming, and more drama; but the emotional level is kept at a pretty low grade, allowing for us to see characters in dignity, rather than a state of perpetual anxiety. This also allows the romance to be all the more intimate and ravishing. Consider a scene in which the ladies apply perfume, Therese places her head in Carol's neck to smell the perfume and they linger just a little longer than they should before turning away from each other and blushing. It's this kind of saccharine intimacy that makes "Carol" succeed.
What doesn't work is some of its more clunky dialogue; but that is forgiven considering Blanchett and Mara's acting.
"Carol" is much less about its titular character and much more about Therese's life. It almost plays like a biopic at times, tracking the doings of Therese as she balances personal life with her career. The movie shifts focus near the end onto Carol only to bring it back to Therese for the ending, which seems appropriate.
And while the last scene may not have the emotional power of other queer films, it does prove "Carol" to be something worth seeing and worth noting, if only for its presence among other works.









Score: ★★★

Room (2015) (R)


















This review contains SPOILERS!
Seriously, I can't think of a way of talking about this movie without spoiling everything in it, you are so warned.
Room by Emma Donoghue is a book that means a great deal to me. It's one of my favorites and one that I frequently say "changed my life" not in some emotional sense, but in the aspect of writing. Donoghue's book is sensational in this regard, she manages to tell a story from the point of view of a five year old boy without being insincere or cheesy. It's also a book that seems impossible to turn into a movie.
"Room" is a movie that would be impossible to make outside of its indie setting. This is not a blockbuster film nor is it something destined for a popular audience. This is a critic's darling, film snob's film. The reason I say this is that you can find fault with the movie...but only with its premise and not with its execution. Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay) should be to blame if the movie is unsuccessful. But it's not, so she's off the hook.
The movie concerns two spaces: inside and outside of the titular space of "room". Jack (Jacob Tremblay) just turned five and his mother (Brie Larson) decides to bake him a cake for the occasion. They get all the ingredients and spend time whisking, stirring, baking, and then cleaning. Yet when it's time to dig in, Jack is upset because there are no candles like the TV people have.
I don't know how this scene would play out to those who hadn't read the book. For me, I knew the ending and thus, was not too surprised when everything panned out almost exactly like it did in the book. The translation from novel to movie here is quite stellar, but that's beside the point. This scene shows that something is off kilter. Questions would start to arise: Why are they living in such a small room? Why can't they get access to the outside world? etc.
For me, I knew the ending, but that didn't mean that somehow Donoghue and director Lenny Abrahamson (of indie fame) create a tightly focused quasi-thriller that had everyone sobbing on the edge of their seat. I know it sounds weird, but the movie's emotional are so visceral and its execution is so perfect that this seems like the only appropriate reaction.
It becomes clear that the mother soon has to explain to her son that they are not present on their own accord. She was kidnapped and has been held prisoner for years. Jack, on the other hand, was born into the system. He knows nothing besides Room, nothing other than these walls. He thinks the entire world is in that single shed.
But the mother (whose name is used, but appears in the credits as "Ma") cannot function within these conditions and so devises many schemes to escape.
What "Room" does so well is present a situation in which the only possible action seems like the one that will forever damn the characters. Jack will not be the same on the outside and the mother will have to live with the pressure of her new life and the fact that she risked her child. It's kind of a paradox that forms, in the sense that this single action of wishing to escape will not only change the narrative of the movie, but also the sense of emotion that was built up in the first half.
"Room" has to reinvent itself in the second half, wiping the slate clean and beginning again. Jack has to learn about simple things like showers and legos while the mother has to balance her private and increasingly public life with her new freedom.
"Room" is an intense punch to the gut. Its emotions are bare and stressful. I have never been in a theater where an audience responded to a move like this, it was almost unbelievable the reaction of the movie.
With that being said, there is nothing I can say that can prove enough that "Room" manages to pull off so many genres and elicit such powerful performances from two actors without letting the audience feel cheated. The confines of the spaces the movie takes place in never feel constricting from an entertainment point of view. Abrahamson manages to find different ways of looking at the same thing so that a small shed feels immense and a house in the suburbs can be suffocating. This is Jack's movie after all, and everything is smartly from his perspective.
This is a movie that hinges on the performance of Jack and Jacob Tremblay, as he has been being praised, is sensational. It feels like less of a performance and more of a genuine character that this young boy is. While Tremblay is staggering, he couldn't function without Brie Larson whose grief stricken and anxious performance always has nuance in it and doesn't feel like "the crying woman".
"Room's" accomplishments are too many to list. When I first heard about the movie I was so skeptical because the book seemed impossible to film...but now, consider me a believer.












Score: ★★★½

The Martian (2015) (PG-13)















Ridley Scott's name seems inseparable with science fiction. This is the director that brought audiences the "Alien" franchise and "Blade Runner" (which I still think I'm the only person who doesn't like that movie). His name remains in the conversation because he has made masterpieces but in recent years he seemed to drop of the radar. I think "Prometheus" was sensational but I was one of few and so with "The Martian", Scott returns to science fiction with one of the most solid pieces of entertainment in recent years.
Somehow, there's a safety when you go into "The Martian" simply because you might know the premise or have read the book. There's the knowledge that we aren't about to see a horror movie. Instead, "The Martian" is a much more watchable and less bleak version of "Cast Away" because we watch our hero battle the odds in MacGyver-like fashion when everything goes to shit around him. And to be fair, the movie throws wrenches into his plans left and right and Scott is a clever enough director to allow his audience to feel less interested in how the protagonist deals with these situations and more interested in the character himself, which is exactly how it should be.
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is a botanist on a NASA mission to Mars when a storm hits and he is separated from the rest of his crew who are forced to take off and abort the mission. They think he's dead and back on Earth NASA big man Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is forced to announce to the public that Watney died.
But when Watney regains consciousness on Mars, he has to immediately go into survival mode to save his own skin, the result of which plays like many montages sequences of Matt Damon (who begins to narrate to the camera in a "video journal" fashion) fixing up the base and making cool new gadgets that help him survive. At one point, when faced with the inevitable starvation of waiting for the next ship to come to Mars, Watney looks right at the camera and says "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." This slightly humorous line sort of sums up the entire movie: Mark Watney sciencing the shit out of Mars.
Back on Earth NASA is met with controversies and press releases and so much stress I think I was getting ulcers just watching it. The realization that Mark might still be alive sends NASA into a frenzy, not knowing how to get access to Mark and not wanting to let him die out there, but also preserving some sort of company integrity while doing so. And through all this let me just say, God bless Jeff Daniels. The man is a great actor and here he is used very well. He becomes the shining star of the movie, excluding Damon's own performance.
That's essentially the whole movie, which goes on for two and a half hours, but don't worry, you don't feel tired or cheated by this. The plot keeps moving really quickly and there's really no boredom ever on the screen. The action is high, the drama is real, and all the performances are spot on...with one exception.
When it comes to a movie of this caliber, any weaker moments fester in my mind and I can't let it go and sometimes it ruins the whole movie for me. In this case, it's Donald Glover. The all-star cast is rounded out by Glover who comes in with a very crucial but very minor role. He is the cocky college kid who is also a genius (naturally) and he plays up the super-nerd card so much it's almost unbearable to watch. He sticks out like a sore thumb, particularly when paired against other actors who are nothing short of believable. Glover has no business being in the movie and his antics make him seem more like a SNL hyperbole than a legitimate actor.
That's really my only complaint, I wish I could have been a movie god and flicked Donald Glover right out of the film itself...I'm usually a fan, but not this time.
"The Martian" is an easy success and Scott proves that he can pull a lot of emotion out of a technologically sophisticated script. There are a lot of cliches, the largest one being "people explain science with ordinary kitchen table objects" but in this "The Martian" is hardly the only movie participating in this. The security is always there because people love happy endings, but the ride was worth it.
You should go see this movie.










Score: ★★★½

Steve Jobs (2015) (R)
















"Steve Jobs" is not a movie without a history. The movie's preliminary line-up looked nothing like the movie that is being shown now. It was a different production company, a different lead actor, and a different director. The movie passed hands when David Fincher left—and the prospect of a repetition of "The Social Network" excitement of having Fincher work with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin again was lost—and then lead star Christian Bale exited the project. The film floundered in limbo for a when Sony ditched the project until Universal picked it up and ran with it, gaining an all-star cast with flashy director (and one of my favorites) Danny Boyle at the helm.
I think the history is useful for the movie because it exemplifies two things: 1) Aaron Sorkin remains constant and 2) companies come and go. This possible betrayal of allegiances can be seen coating every frame of the film as the movie's protagonist fumbles with companies too cowardly to understand his 'heroic vision'.
"Steve Jobs" attempts to correct a lot of what "Jobs" did wrong. Ashton Kutcher may have tried to revitalize his career with the movie, but he failed to prove anything beyond what we knew: it was going to suck. With the newest, more colorful version of the story, Aaron Sorkin returns to what he does best, people walking down hallways. The "West Wing" feel of the movie is impossible to shake, especially considering the male-on-male emotional shouting that occurs in the movie's most climactic and frenziedly edited scene in which Steve Job argues with Apple CEO Sculley....but more on that later.
The movie's theater occurs not-so ironically in theaters. The film takes place over three distinct time periods, each at the unveiling of Jobs' newest innovation, two of which fall flat. There is the sense of anticipation as the movie moves theaters from 1984 to 1988 to 1998 and the audience's knowledge of Steve Jobs is expected. I cannot shake the fact that I'm writing this on a Mac and the implications thereof are not lost on me; but Sorkin throws many subtleties into the film as part of his homage to Walter Isaacson's book on which the movie is based. I've read Steve Jobs and I think I'm better off for it because the movie, much like parts of the book, is much less interested in Jobs as the technological and innovative figure that he was and more interested with him as a father to a child he may have never wanted.
Sorkin bumbles into this father and daughter theme with as much grace as "Interstellar" did, which is to say none. Both movies feature strong screenwriters being overly sentimental for no apparent reason and it makes for awkward viewing because you're keenly aware that you are watching a movie during these moments.
Perhaps the movie's contained feeling (maybe an attempt to generate a claustrophobia) is where it suffers, because the theater setting of the movie reminds us that we are watching performances of performances, though Sorkin's script doesn't deserve that level of nuance...he's a pretty loud writer and he knows it.
Michael Fassbender inhabits the iconic role with as much grace and force as one could hope. He's a really great actor and he's opposed by Kate Winslet's Joanna Hoffman. I'm not saying Winslet is bad, but her accent ranges from American to British to Italian and I'm not sure what to make of it. The surprise performance of the movie is Seth Roger as Steve Wozniak who not only looks a great deal like his real-life counterpart, but manages to pull a lot of emotion from scenes that felt stiff and unnecessary.
The movie takes great pains to show Steve Jobs as a fractured protagonist. Someone who's got a lot going on in their life and it is never presumptuous enough to try to justify those things...until the last scene. If the movie could erase its ending ten minutes, it would be that much better off. A shaved ending would leave the audience with all the right markers to make their own decision about the man but it seems like Sorkin was scared (after having upset Mark Zuckerberg along with countless others) and had to end on a happy note, with Steve Jobs really quickly making amends and rising to success at the launch of iMac in 1998.
The performances here are good and the direction is fine but lacking Boyle's usual flair. You can see it in rare glimpses of a beauty that could have been a wildly entertaining movie when projections of words fill up the blank space of a page or a speech turns into images projected on a wall behind the characters. It's all theater in some fashion, but the digital manipulation is much missed and needed. This could be attributed to Anthony Dod Mantle's missing presence as Boyle's usual cinematographer. With his absence, the movie feels like that one weaker episode of a great TV show.
The scene that dazzles the most also shows the immature of both the script and the direction. Sculley (a likable Jeff Daniels) and Jobs are screaming at each other about publicity and the act of a martyr and suddenly multiple scenes get cut into one. Flashbacks randomly jump into dialogue as a four way conversation with past and present selves begin. It's flashy, fun, and a lot of the shouting gets lost in screams of heightened emotions. It's wonderfully entertaining and pointless. It's about generating that emotion, which for me, worked...but I'm an easily emotionally manipulated person so that's not saying a lot.
In the end, I think I enjoyed it because the references to SuperBowl commercials and computing systems named LISA were familiar to me. The movie's final scene is grossly unneeded and reaffirms Steve Jobs as a hero and not a man, which the whole movie was trying to contradict. Danny Boyle's influence is fun, wacky, and very, very Sorkin. It's a frightening fast-paced movie that does little to let its more potent moments sink in. Great acting, good execution, but lacking a maturity and an actual climax.
The movie seems more interested in paralleling its own production history, which passed from hands to hands and made some people upset than crafting a movie about Steve Jobs. With this in mind, Sorkin's script is less than original, though I certainly enjoyed him trying.










Score: ★★½

August Summary

Same song, different version:


Hot Girls Wanted
Lawrence of Arabia
Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation
Pinocchio
Rain Man

Hot Girls Wanted (2015) (Not Rated)


















Porn is inevitable in today’s society. It’s something you may seek out actively with or without remorse or just stumble across from time to time. Pornographic images sneak into movies and often cinema finds itself wondering whether something is porn or art and no, we usually can’t tell when we see it.
A movie like “Hot Girls Wanted” rarely takes in a measured look at what’s happening, but that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t blisteringly intense and often almost unwatchable. The documentary tracks the doings of many girls, one in particular named Tressa, as they navigate through the amateur porn world, chewed up and dumped out on the other side in less than a year unless certain blessed anomalies come their way.
The movie is shot in Miami, where condom regulations of pornography do not apply and most scenes are shot without protection. The girls assemble in a house run by one man who seems for all intents and purposes to be genuinely creepy. One moment in which he tries to be cute is when he places his baseball cap (which has the word “porn” written on it in huge letters) over a puppy and covers it completely. Then again, this images is exactly what the film is aiming for, innocence smothered in things it cannot comprehend.
The film makes the statement that the girls (for the film never addressed men in pornography for any substantial time) really don’t know that they’re doing. They are just under-sexed, under appreciated ticking time bombs. I have a little more faith in humanity than the film does, but it’s hard to argue with it while you’re watching it...these girls just fall apart in front of you.
There is never a moment that the film tries to argue the other side. The money is good, and some of the actresses tell the camera that during porn scenes are the only time they have sex because the ‘no strings attached’ benefits of porn don’t allow them to get emotionally involved and then hurt.
The film is jarring, particularly when showing some of the much censored scenes that the girls have to perform. One moment includes showing a “forced-blowjob”, the results of which are cringe-worthy. The film seeks to make you uncomfortable, because it is also stating that porn should not serve as a sexual education format because porn does not give the woman any consent.
The film does take time to address Belle Knox, the Duke pornstar who made headlines for her school and because she used the adult industry to pay for student loans. The directors of the film, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, seem to imply that Knox is fabricating a lot of her story, reshaping the narrative and putting herself as the hero. This is a stark contrast to their movie which views girls as the subject of naivete, preyed upon by a male-dominated industry of sleezy creatures.
“Hot Girls Wanted” is a Netflix documentary but the company doesn’t understand that irony of this, since the internet is on trial for the exposure of video pornography online. These sites amass thousands upon millions of hits every year and there is no end in site which is why girls are recruited on craigslist.com and then shipping down to Florida where—as one girl puts it—they are treated like meat.
There are lots of facets to the documentary—women, rape, consent, the internet. The issues are so complex that a movie like this could hardly do all of them justice, which is why its lens is focused on amateur porn. That doesn’t mean that even this small corner of it is exposed, because we’re only dealing with one house and one agent. The results of a more comprehensive documentary would be even more jarring, no doubt, and probably much more potent.
All that being said “Hot Girls Wanted” does exactly what it wants to: upset the viewer. It isn’t calling for a change or giving a petition to sign; but it does accomplish its goal.
The film is not for the faint of heart or stomach. It’s a necessary film for education, but not necessary for film’s sake.









Score: ★★★

Rain Man (1988) (R)














You’ve probably heard the name before and rightfully so, “Rain Man” remains in cinema’s canon remarkably well for a movie that was thought to bomb with critics and at the box office.
The opposite was true. “Rain Man” sustains a significant pop culture impact even if looking at it today, we can realize that it is long since outdated with better versions of the same story.
It’s actually not that sophisticated of a plot. Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a selfish car dealer...or something. We’re not really sure what his job is, but it certainly involves a lot of talking loudly onto the phone in a “Glengarry Glenn Ross” fashion. He seems like an uptight prick and it only takes us a few moment to see him interact with his girlfriend, Susanna (Valeria Golino) that we realize he really is an uptight prick.
Right off the bat, the “action” begins. Charlie’s overriding, never-shows-me-love, father dies and leaves him a car and some roses in the will. The rest of the inheritance, 3 million dollars worth of it, goes to an unnamed beneficiary. Not being outdone by his old man, Charlie decides that he is going to find out who this person is...but the consequences may be too much for him.
The film then introduced Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), a functioning autistic man who turns out to be Charlie’s secret brother. Surprise!
Then Charlie shows his true colors by deciding to essentially kidnap Raymond (for what purpose, we’re really not sure, but it doesn’t really matter either) and hold him for “ransom” from a man who could not help Charlie even if he wanted to. Okay, so then with an upcoming deal slowly falling apart, Charlie has to get back across the country in a short amount of time with Raymond in tow, trying to keep all his spinning plates upright.
It’s a road trip movie in its most simple form, and one that probably couldn’t survive today. The film is both too simple and too long. Barry Levinson includes needless edits and needless scenes that do little to showcase either Charlie or Raymond’s development. It’s important to note that the film’s most successful and praised scene—in which Raymond counts cards in Las Vegas—comes as somewhat of an afterthought. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the plot very well, then again, it does feel written as shooting occurred.
Interestingly enough, the film’s success lies with Tom Cruise, whose performance can sometimes feel a little bit Nicolas Cage-y. It’s because of Charlie that the film has its emotional center and then when the final frames come and go it’s hard not be left unmoved...because of Cruise.
“Rain Man” would go on to win several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and I think that it deserved it. For being at its written center, so clumsy, the actors are able to do a lot and the direction is always solid. The movie itself might come today as a bit insensitive or too politically incorrect; but who cares about that? Watch “Rain Man” at least once in your life if only to get the references every makes.

I’m an excellent driver.








Score: ★★★

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)













Perhaps the last, the greatest, and the most complex of all of the Hollywood epics, "Lawrence of Arabia" is David Lean's finest movie and also one of the best character studies available anywhere in cinematic history. It manages to make the desert look appealing, while glorifying the man who may not deserve the center stage. At its center is its titular figure who commands the screen, there is no scene that passes without his presence.
With this focused narrative, Lean's picture still manages to feel spectacular. There is no comparison of its contemporaries for how influential the movie was. "Lawrence of Arabia's" technological advancements seem less flashy in today's CGI obsessed culture, but the sight of a mirage appearing over the horizon as a figure materializes is just as impressive as anything Michael Bay can do. The film's wide scope, the large angles and panoramic views of nature make "Lawrence" breath takingly beautiful, if a little dated.
There's something about the Hollywood epics that make this genre well in the past. No one wants to sit through a four hour movie anymore only to have history rehashed in colorful ways about characters that they may not be familiar with. Then again, those who say that film was catered for the critics are wrong....it was always a popular medium. So what am I trying to say?
This: watch "Lawrence of Arabia" as you would with any movie but expect the old epic style, and expect to be dazzled by it.
For as long as the movie is, there is not a scene wasted, nor a moment that goes by that feels unnecessary. Its plot movies along steadily and it never outstays its welcome. It is a class act in film making and in screen writing.
The movie concerns Lawrence (Peter O'Toole in his breakout role), a young officer who is sent into the deserts of Arabia to simply observe and then report back to headquarters after three months. After just entering the desert, Lawrence falls in love with the landscape and the way of life. He finds himself some measure of peace which he then decides to shatter by invading a neighboring city.
For a character study, you'll find that this film is the most frustrating. If you can successfully write an essay about Lawrence himself that leaves all questions answered, I will be immensely impressed. This is a character that has a moral high-ground rooted in a sense of masochism that frightens him. He is terrified by what he may become and at the end of the movie, we have to ask ourselves if he really did turn into that.
If "Gone With the Wind" was one of the first commercially successful movies that had a antihero at the screaming center of the drama, "Lawrence of Arabia" is the one that defied such easily explainable character quirks. He is ethereal, educated, wily, and emotionally vulnerable.
As such a complicated character would demand, Peter O'Toole is nothing short of perfection. When we look back at Oscar history, it's always this movie that makes me wonder why O'Toole never won an acting Oscar...but I don't make the rules or give out the awards.
Lean's eye for the dramatic and epic do not go to waste here and it serves as a firm reminder that "Lawrence" will always have a place in Academy canon. There has never been a film like it, and it proves that the 60s gave way to amazing technological feats. What starts out in 1962 as a mirage on the edge of the horizon becomes a space opera in 1968 when "2001: A Space Odyssey" is released. The movies keep improving...
The story may be both too simple and too complex to put into words. "Lawrence of Arabia" follows the adventures of a man as he tries to bring freedom to a group of people while maneuvering considerable political red tape.
Is it perfect? Maybe as close as it could have been.
Is it timeless? I think so.
Beyond all of that, it is the perfect platform for one of film's best performances and a definition (now a redefinition) of the idea of "epic".











Score: ★★★★

Pinocchio (1940)






















The chart-topping daddy of all animated movies, "Pinocchio" finds itself resting on top of "Best of" lists time and time again. Perhaps it's because the movie is so well-orchestrated, featuring some of Disney's finest animation in any film, or maybe the iconic stature of the move--seen in Jiminy Cricket's "When You Wish Upon a Star", now the theme song for Disney--was instantly established. Either way, the film proceeds as a glorious and technically flawless work that deserves a lot of respect for cheap story telling.
The movie is episodic in nature and draws a lot of inspiration from current though. We can see how the movie anticipates certain aspects of "Lord of the Flies" with its not-so subtle references to boys gone wild. "Pinocchio" begins with an elderly toy maker named Gepetto (Christian Rub) making a wooden puppet that he calls Pinocchio. After dancing with the toy a bit and showing it off to his two pets, the toymaker goes to bed and wishes upon a star that the puppet he just made be turned into a real boy.
All of this is witnessed by Jiminy Cricket who serves as our narrator and point of view for most of the movie. Well, right on cue, a fairy descends from heaven to give Pinocchio life and tells him that he must do right and be good and then he'll be a real boy; because now, he's just a wooden thing with chutzpah.
She appoints Jiminy Cricket to be his conscience and then flies out the window, like Shrek...um...never mind. Don't look that up, promise me.
Anyways, the episodes break down as such: first day of school, Stromboli's puppet, Pleasure Island, Monstro, fine.
There isn't a lot that makes linear sense in a narrative structure here because it seems like just happy accidents that occur in Pinocchio's life. That being sense, the loose sense of a return to home is necessary but the whole "oh, and your dad got swallowed by a whale" thing makes little to no sense and is, yes, cheap story telling...though it does give way to some spectacular sequences.
Pinocchio is bright and likable and not that annoying and Jiminy Cricket is a lovable narrator. The movie does have some moments that it probably isn't proud of and if you get the DVD you'll find an anti-smoking ad at the beginning that uses the imagery of "Pinocchio's" characters smoking to warn against cigarettes and cigars. That, and well, the anti-Italian sentiments.
There is something to be said about "Pinocchio's" imagery, because it is hellish. This is right up there with the most scarring of Disney's moments, like that thing that happens in "Bambi" or "Pink Elephant On Parade" from Dumbo. This is nightmarish and horrifying and to this day, the movie can evoke and unsettling feeling of doom and loss.
That's kind of much for a children's movie.
Here I begin another point: no one ever said "Pinocchio" was a children's movie. Animation didn't begin as a kid's genre though it has now become one. If you look at Disney's early feature films, a lot of them were experimental in nature, "Fantasia" being the most obvious example. Anyways, the movie deserves respect because of how well it has stood the test of time and how good it still looks after years and years of being the top-dog in animation. I think in terms of its visual style, the movie is golden; but it terms of the actual whimsical story its telling, it skips a few crucial moments.







Score: ★★★½

Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation (2015) (PG-13)
















I think I was a little concerned with the beginning of "Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation" when the largest, most hyped stunt was over within the first five minutes, before the main title sequence had even rolled by. This is the moment we've all seen in commercials, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) clinging to the outside of an airplane as it takes off. Tom Cruise, naturally, actually did this, but the film doesn't let the shock and awe sink in enough....I mean, I think ol' Tom deserves a bit more credit for actually hanging onto the outside of an airplane during takeoff; but anyway. That was the moment we were all waiting for and just like *that* it was gone, whisked by and suddenly we were left wondering if the film could ever top that moment.
Don't worry. It'll all be fine.
"Rouge Nation" plays a lot like a collection of other espionage franchise movies. There is nothing special here, it's got a dash of 'Bourne", throw in some "James Bond" and homages to the previous installments of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, and you've got yourself something far from original and riddled with cliches but undeniably and exhaustively entertaining.
There's a crisis in the government. The IMF program is currently under fire from the CIA, namely Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) who sees the program as unstable and reckless, only obtaining desirable results by happenstance rather than actual merit. It seems that the powers that be agree with him and M William Brant (Jeremy Renner) has no choice but to let the program slowly disintegrate while Ethan Hunt is still in danger.
Hunt doesn't make it very far before being captured by nefarious minions, blank faces with Russian ties who are supposedly dead...the film is quite cheeky about some of the names of these characters, but you kind of expect that sort of thing from the franchise by now. I will say this, nothing can compare to how dismal "Mission: Impossible II" was, so we don't have to worry about that debacle again, this is miles ahead of John Woo's fart of a film.
Anyways....Hunt begins to suspect that there is a team of cooperatives out there, a league of terrorists that are trying to bring around mass destruction because...well...just don't think about it. I mean, they're evil, do they really need a motive? This is where the movie has it biggest and most obvious fault: the villain. Of course, there's a Blofeld-like super villain (Sean Harris) and of course we never really understand what he's really about, but the trickery the movie pulls by non-stop action and quick one-liners never really leaves us wanting that crucial bit of information, though it would have been a much stronger movie if we had had that.
At the helm, taking over for Brad Bird's magnificent "Ghost Protocol" breath of fresh air is Christopher McQuarrie, who (if you don't know) is the Oscar winning screenwriter for "The Usual Suspects". This man knows how to craft a movie because he also wrote "Edge of Tomorrow" and that wasn't half bad. Still, "Rouge Nation" proves that his best work might be behind him, but he still knows how to put on a hell of a show.
Benji (Simon Pegg) has a much larger part in this movie and Pegg fans—or "Pegglets"? (I just made that up, feel free to use it)—will be happy to see his inclusion. He's funny, emotional, and demanding of a larger role and he doesn't disappoint.
Another character of intrigue is a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) whose intentions are never quite certain but she certainly catches Hunt's eye more than once.
Lastly there's the token black guy Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) who really serves absolutely no purpose in the film whatsoever, but his presence doesn't bog anything down.
Here we get to the movie's diversity problem. There's only one black character and one female character in the entire film. Sure, minor characters pop up, but the substantial amount of time that Rebecca Ferguson serves as the female eye candy and Ving Rhames serves as just the wise older black man is staggering. With this in mind, I'll cast my thoughts back to "Jurassic World" which had the exact same problem. I'm not saying every movie has to be inclusive of every minority, but when you include so little, it's a reminder to the audience of the state of the industry....that doesn't keep the movie from being entertaining, it's just food for thought.
Actually, when you put "Rouge Nation" in conversation with "Jurassic World" the clear winner on every count is the spy movie. There's even a "screw you" moment aimed (most likely) right at "Jurassic World" that involves running in high heels.
Okay, off my soapbox.
All this aside, Ferguson is one of the true delights of the movie because her presence is never forced nor stereotypical. She does have to fight cliches of the genre, but both she and her character manage to please the male-dominated world and keep their head high. It's kind of a relief to see this.
While the movie's plot does go too quickly at parts and needs more explanation (or less, either works), the action is really what you come for and what you stay for.
And can I just say that Tom Cruise is like 100 now and he has still got it. You may not like him, but he is a very credible leading action star.
The stunt work is phenomenal, the CGI is never too distracting and some of the more tense moments actually bring you to the edge of your seat.
Consider "Rouge Nation" as a survey of all successful espionage thrillers, taking what works best for each of those and compiling it into its own movie. How could it not be a success?
It's gaudy, shrieking to be seen, and a pleasure to watch. While it does, at times, play out like a commercial for BMW, what a fun commercial it is.
If there's another installment, count me in, "Mission: Impossible" is keeping ahead at full speed. Just go to the theater and see it, it's a perfect summer action flick: mindless, full of action, and entertaining.








Score: ★★★

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) (R)













Gay men aren't usually allowed to identify themselves in movies of the past few decades. We see it too often how they get marginalized into minor stereotypical characters and then when they do show up in the spotlight, it's rarely in a positive way. We look back at "Boys in the Band" and then "Cruising" and Friedkin's work dies away but we're left with the sense that homosexuals will always be evil, annoying, or sad creatures that revel in their misery and deserve something of this type. Well, then there's "Philadelphia" which allowed us to see a happy, gay relationship that ended when one of them died and then there's "Brokeback  Mountain" where the gay relationship ends and our old favorite trope is at it again. It's not comforting to think that throughout the years, not much has changed.
Yet these are just the outskirts of queer cinema. When you consider how movies bring queer characters to the foreground and have them speaking words of identity, you may not be able to ask the question "where are the happy gays?" but it will help you observe something quite curious and altogether still unprecedented in modern cinema.
"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" is one such example of a major work in political forwardness that does not hesitate to present incredibly gay, queer, and sometimes happy characters. It's frankly impressive with nothing else, but how does it compare as a movie? (what a broad, leading question)
The most famous image of the movie is Guy Pearce sitting atop Priscilla with a large silver dress flowing some hundreds of feet behind the automobile. It's this kind of unabashed queer-y-ness that leads Guy Pearce to say without blinking: "We dress up in women's clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people's songs." Flamboyant hardly does the movie justice. It's more like a slap in the face with a feathered boa or the chorus to "I Will Survive": it's incredibly catchy, dazzlingly chic, and also lined with more than a hint of self-inflated depression.
Meet Tick (Hugo Weaving), he's the best drag performer in Australia and he's living comfortably but not well. He performs regularly with the quintessential gay man Adam (Guy Pearce). Adam is loud and obnoxious and fairly rude; but it's all with a lisp and a flick of the wrist, so who can really fault him?
Tick is going on the road for a cabaret performance to his wife's establishment, a hotel in the desert. He decides that the queen posse needs to be assembled and they need to get on the road. The last installment is Bernadette (Terence Stamp) and here the movie reinvents something so ballsy it takes a while to get used to. There isn't a lot of trans visibility to movies, and certainly there is more MTF visibility than FTM; but it's bizarre and also exciting to see  a movie that grapples with the nitty gritty details of transition. It's not put on a pedestal it's not looked down it, it's simply taken for what it is: a part of life and I find that rather inspiring. But I'm a altruistic kind of person, so there you have it.
Tick doesn't let Bernadette or Adam know that he's got a wife because they would probably tease him mercilessly for it; but as they head out to the desert, Adam buys a bus and calls it Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
With this in mind, the movie can be seen as an adventure, road-trip movie that has our characters blundering from one funny situation into the next. What fun! This is the premise and it's tried and true; but this time we have two gay drag queens and a transgender woman having all the adventures.
As much as Guy Pearce tends to steal the show with his loud mouth and his body (sorry, had to be said), Hugo Weaving is fairly spectacular as a timid, yet tenacious drag queen who is facing down his fears in life. Yet neither compare with Terence Stamp, who inhabits the role of Bernadette so fully that it feels like Stamp is really her. It's kind of incredible.
The movie is gaudy and fairly immature; but the script is genuine and has laughs as well as tears. It's fun, it's wonderful, it's glossy.
It's a mostly undiscovered gem that deserves to be seen again and again.







Score: ★★★½

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) (PG-13)













There's something astonishing about Christopher Nolan's ability behind the camera that leads him to make complex and challenging works while still maintaining his reputation as the premier voice of action film making, probably recently overtaken by George Miller's return to the genre. Nolan's style and sleek screenwriting have gained praise from both audiences and critics alike.
After the staggering box office success of "The Dark Knight", Nolan created his tour de force "Inception" and in the wake of a dream heist film, we were left panting for his next treat, which turned out to be the conclusion to his Batman reboot series.
What ensued was a rather curious commercial success—tainted by the now infamous and heartbreaking shooting in Aurora—and a critical/popular disagreement. The film got good reviews but most felt that in the aftermath of two masterpieces, "The Dark Knight Rises" failed to live up to its master's potential. On this, I disagree completely.
In order to complete his trilogy in a method of expected moodiness, action, and smarts, Nolan substitutes the complexities of science with the complexities of possibly too many characters, so said Roger Ebert. I don't agree, but that's possibly because I've seen the film a number of times and I find that I'm able to follow it quite easily now.
The movie opens eight years after "The Dark Knight" ended, leaving Bruce Wayne without his alter ego Batman. Trouble is brewing as mercenaries start to storm into Gotham in order to bring the depraved city to its reckoning. The villain of the movie is Bane (Tom Hardy) who speaks in a garbled language and is as massive as a mountain.
Bruce will have to don the cap and cowl once again in order to defeat Bane and bring justice to Gotham once again.
Sounds kind of simple, doesn't it?
Well, that's where you're wrong.
Nolan and brother Jonathan Nolan, write a story that juggles so many story lines at the same time, it can be difficult to keep up with it. There's the police commissioner, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) who is trying to relieve a sense of growing doom that his own guilt is adding to for committing to a lie. Then there's Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who is a pleasant new addition to the franchise, a girl who seems to be in too deep with the wrong people. A young detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is also searching for truth while Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is vying for Bruce Wayne's money to make the world clean.
It's no wonder that the movie takes almost three hours. Of course, we have to get a few things out of the way first. Despite its sometimes campy script and plot holes based on the observations and assumptions of people, the movie is a first-class masterwork and for two reasons: Wally Pfister and Hans Zimmer. Without its visual style and mesmerizing score, this movie would not work as sensationally well as it does.
You have to remember that first and foremost, it is an action movie and should be treated as such first. Then you can start to notice that it's more of thriller, that the practical effects make it look almost perfect, and that the cast fills out to a stunning conclusion. What Nolan manages to do in juggling these story lines is nothing short of miraculous.
If in any other time, by any other person, this could not have worked.
I don't get the criticism, I don't understand it. Because unlike "The Dark Knight" which was ruled by these odd ideas but never came to an answer about any of them, "The Dark Knight Rises" finds Nolan where he likes to be best: making answers to philosophical questions and if it's in between explosions and punches to the face, then so be it.
The threads of hope and despair, pain and chaos, lying and morality—the all tie together nicely in a present to the viewer. The movie is a pleasure to watch.
Nolan draws heavily from Dickens and his sleek style is almost too good to look at; but is that a bad thing? With its final moment, Nolan puts his mark of the cinematic history of superheroes, closing out one of the best trilogies ever made with such style and poise that it makes me green with envy.
Each iteration got bigger and bigger and it takes a special level of power to be able to control it all; Nolan is that man. I may have disliked his ventures into space, but his superhero franchise will always stand up.
It's magnificent.









Score: ★★★★

Eyes Without a Face (1960)
















This review contains SPOILERS!
"Eyes Without a Face" is one of France's most beloved horror movies, to the cinephile at least. There seems to be no more famous image than Juliette Mayniel sitting up in bed and screaming at the sight of an intruder. It can be seen influencing everything from "Repulsion" to "Silences of the Lambs" and most certainly "Seconds". Its eerie, not quite scary but intriguing way of filming makes it one of the most original of the genre, if not the most whole.
The movie begins essentially on the premise of plastic surgery . Docteur Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) has developed a way to use organs from one human and put them onto another without the second person's system rejecting it as an antibody. They accomplish this by submitting the organ in question to a large amount of X-ray radiation and thus, destroying the antibodies. 
So this could be medically amazing right? Right, but Génessier is not going to use the technology for the good of mankind, instead harboring it for himself so as to fix a conundrum.
His daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob) got into a horrific car accident that left her, as the title explains, with eyes but no face. From an aesthetic and social position, this is unacceptable for Génessier who demands nothing but perfection for his daughter.
Enlisting the help of a former patient, Louise (Alida Valli), Génessier starts to prey on young girls around Christiane's age to steal their flesh from them. The opening scene has Louise dumping a faceless body down by the river and retreating in her car with mysterious and sinister look upon her face as she does so.
The music is not that frightening which is one of the staples of the horror genre. In this way it reminds me of "The Third Man" because it has a fairly happy sounding soundtrack that would be replaced by shrieking strings some decades later.
When you stop and notice all the things that go on in horror soundtracks it's interesting to note (hah!) the different approaches. From "The Exorcist" to "Carrie" and back. "Eyes Without a Face" for the most part, has no music whatsoever, usually just the catchy tune emerges when Louise starts tightening in on a prey.
There is nothing spectacular here with social commentary. Women are still the victims, men are the perpetrators, and the innocence of the most vulnerable must be preserved, otherwise there would be no point in her being saved at the end.
Georges Franju makes sure that we notice a painting of Christiane that will later be mirrored in a nice, but completely unnecessary moment when the big-hearted decides she will free the slaves and thus bring an end to the tyrannical rule of her father.
It's all very melodramatic and rarely boring; but hardly chilling in today's more gore obsessed scene. I will say this, what they do show in terms of blood and guts is quite surprising. I can definitely see how this might have turned stomachs when it was released.










Score: ★★★

Tsotsi (2005) (R)
















If a man seeks retribution, let him repay.
That sounds like a proverb doesn't it, or some sort of pithy saying; but no, I just made that up. Quite pleased with it myself. I'm not sure it makes any sense and probably has nothing to do with "Tsotsi", but it seemed like the right thing to say in the wake of my emotions. I like to write as soon as the last frame has darkened on the screen, when my tears are still drying in my eyes and my hands don't quite know how to type what I am processing.
This is what "Tsotsi" does to me, and it is so beautifully tragic in the way it does this. This isn't to say that the movie is sad, because it's not, rather it's entirely hopeful and that delicate thought blooms into something so powerful that it takes over the rest of the story.
In Johannesburg in South Africa there's a small gang made of four boys who steal and perform crimes in the night for their own cheap thrills. They don't seem to be at a lack for money or under the thumb of a larger figure, instead, they just rob for the hell of it. They are lead by Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) who remains tight-lipped with his emotions. He's short, stocky, and built with a calculated fury. His eyes speak for him most of the time. The first scene we see him and his gang in action results in the death of a man on a subway. A knife to the chest, a twist of the iron, and the man will never breathe again.
They call it a mistake, a loose canon in a different setting.
Returning home and drinking their problems into a stupor, one of the boys decides that he should broach the idea of decency with Tsotsi. He oversteps his bounds and gets his head bloodied as a result.
Venting anger, Tsotsi runs out of the slums into the rich neighborhoods in the pouring ran. A lady in a nice car stops and runs in the rain because her key isn't opening the main gate.
Seizing the opportunity, Tsotsi steals the car and shoots the woman, making a dodgy getaway.
It's only after he's gone a few miles does he realize that there's a baby in the car with him.
"Tsotsi" doesn't try to make a hero of its titular character, but there is nothing else that we could really call him. He embodies a Christ figure of sorts, teaching lessons to himself more than anyone else. With a baby in tow, a burden that he doesn't really want, the language becomes universal.
How can a hardened criminal be moved by a baby's cry?
When the baby crying sounds like its chest is rattling with grief, who cannot be moved?
"Tsotsi" excels because of Chweneyagae, who stuns as the lead, filled with complexity and emotions not so simply spelled out for the viewer to understand. Emotionally the film is harder to gauge than most surrealist works are to understand and most of that is due to Chweneyagae's performance. He is stifled, moved, emotional, walking the tight-rope between surrogate father and criminal. All of these combine into a mixture so overwhelming in responsibility the only logical result might be a blank face.
Gavin Hoods, the writer and director is thrilling and nuanced.
"Tsotsi" is an emotional powerhouse about men and women, children and adults, and the sacrifice of self for retribution's sake.
It is essential.










Score: ★★★★

Amy (2015) (R)
















I have a crystallized image of Amy Winehouse in my head. She's posing in a bathtub, her head tilted to the left, shrouded in black. It's the cover of her incredibly famous album "Back to Black" which was crucial to me in a time of my life. Like many others, the album meant something to me so personal that the feelings each record evokes are so uniquely there own. It's a connection that few other albums have had with me.
This connection is actually what "Amy" lacks, this driving force that made those precious three or four minutes of each of her songs so beautifully tragic with a catchy rhythm and a knife in the lyrics. These darker notes, what Amy Winehouse is identified with, do not escape director Asif Kapadia, whose critical acclaim as the new voice of documentary film making seems at odds with itself here. The move revels in its own style, its own choices; and the ones that it does make shape the entire watching experience.
There are no talking head interviews, all is done in "radio style interview" as radio British film critic (and favorite of mine) Mark Kermode said; but I don't think that's really the whole story. Most of us fell in love with Amy Winehouse's voice first and thus this should be the medium of a story about a young woman whose fame transformed her into something else.
This is also how the film never criticizes Amy for her decisions and the narrative plays out (quite convincingly so) of a girl who is preyed upon by greedy men who control her because she is so trusting.
In the modus operandi of Winehouse herself, flagrant and cheeky, consider this an angry "fuck you" to the press as an entity. Kapadia makes no time, and frankly his source material suggests no other course of action, apologizing for how the paparazzi tore into Amy as she began each of her downward spirals.
And you should expect nothing else when you watch the movie, for it isn't a happy ending, and it is deeply sad. It's a tragedy that such a talented person had to live such a short, troubled life with turmoils beyond what many of us can compare to.
But the film makes a mistake that many people do too, it reveres Amy to a place of objectification. We are sad to see her go, why? Because of her talent. Because we'll never get to hear that next record and the film does sometimes devolve into this thinking. We see her as our singer of jazzy songs, our old soul in a new world and not as a person.
This is why I came out of the film really not knowing Amy any more than I did going into the film even though the staggering archive footage places the viewer at an uncomfortable closeness to her. There's still a disconnect between us and her because of the third person in the room: the storyteller.
The obviousness of Kapadia's narrative and the way it's chronologically framed only gives the viewer a sense of doom to cling onto, the sense that we are coming up to her untimely death. 
Yes, when we see Amy at the end of her rope, emaciated and balancing her drug and alcohol addiction problems with her eating disorder and her fame, we can't help but empathize with her as a person. No one should go through that.
The last minutes of the film are the best because Kapadia pulls back and lets us realize that this is indeed a person that we're talking about, not some honky-tonk piano that we can slide another quarter into. It's only insulting to think that; and it struck me very hard because I've been guilty of that myself.
"Amy" succeeds as a documentary because of the stunning amount of archival footage, yet it doesn't gel as well as something else like "How to Survive a Plague" or even "20 Feet From Stardom" did. Even "Blackfish" made you yearn for those moments of footage because they were the most powerful.
"Amy" is indeed a sad ballad for a lost star. It's an achingly and intimately crafted story; but it is that, a story and Kapadia manages to make menaces out of both Amy's father and the press itself.
But to what end? At the final frame, we can only say that it is such a shame that she is gone.
The emotions that are now weighing down on me are just the result of a long day, "Amy" does not have the staying power of the emotional weight it should. It is sad, but it should be devastating. This is a life that could have been saved, whose music will always serve as a bitter reminder of her beautiful, tragic life.
"Amy" sees the singer as a poet and I think that this is the best respect it could have paid and its smartest move.
Perhaps it's best said by Sylvia Plath:
The blood jet is poetry,
There is no stopping it.












Score: ★★★ 

The Decline of the American Empire (1986) (R)
















Perhaps it's the candid conversations about sex that make "The Decline of the American Empire" so entertaining. Or maybe it's the intricate way that Denys Arcand manages to not condemn his characters and their intertwining bedsheets. Still possible, it's the culmination of a lot of ideas thrown into a blender, coming out a delicious puree with only a few lumps.
The movie concerns men and women and their perspectives on sex and life. The women are away at a gym, exercising and gossiping about all the things they've done while the men are back at home making dinner for the women and bragging about their sexual conquests. It's this silence that both men and the women are supposed to partake in. Gossip to your friends, but don't reveal too much, and then you can get back to your normal life. There are so many skeletons in so many closets that we begin to understand a simple truth: no one is completely honest, even with the people that they love.
For the men, women are a simple number. They are pleasured and pleasurable. For the women, the mental game of making men squirm is sometimes more enjoyable than the act of love making itself.
At times, "The Decline of the American Empire" feels like watching a play of Libertines having a massive, intellectual orgy. Yet the idea remains a thread throughout: what constitutes personal happiness?
If the answer is sexual prowess than all the characters involved must have some form of personal happiness. Yet, like any "home drama with friends" movie like "The Celebration" or "The Big Chill" we know that the shit is going to hit the fan and when it does, it's not going to be easy to clean up.
Naturally, the movie's comedy gets replaced by drama as the movie drives toward its final conclusion with the question still hanging in the air: what is love (baby don't hurt me)?
Sorry I couldn't resist.
The movie's actors are all in top form here, never breaking from character; but the movie is so dependent on its themes built from its characters that I feel listing all of them and their complexities would not do either of them justice.
Let's just keep this one vague for a little while.
Arcand chooses to shoot in only a few locations with the fervor and tenacity of Woody Allen, as well as the ease. His humor rolls off the tongue easily. His situations are never too complex nor too heart-breaking nor too humorous for his audience.
He trusts the viewer with a story that is short of plot, heavy on character and ideals.
But by the end of it all, he doesn't reach into a hat and try to pull forth an answer to it all, that would be too cheap and he knows it. Instead, Arcand is slyly suggesting about the ways of a society built on ideas of "man" and "woman" may be flawed.
The occupants of "The Decline of the American Empire" are all obsessed with fitting a stereotype while masquerading as different. There is no uniqueness here except for the uniqueness of a filmmaker.
If none of that made sense: it's a great movie.










Score: ★★★½

The Conformist (1970) (R)
















If you ever wanted to know what style really looked like in a film, "The Conformist" is the movie to watch. It is so dedicated to its visual appeal and its fashion that many times the story falls second to the splendor that the eye can take in. The camera whirls and pushes, the sets dazzle, and often times the costumes match the lighting. The result of the combination of all these things is a ravishing feast for the eyes, an exquisite banquet. Unfortunately this means that the plot, which is supposed to be the one thing uniting the style, is a secondary aspect of the film.
Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is possibly the worst spy. He's a coward, weak-willed, and not firmly committed to Fascism. tsk tsk. "The Conformist" doesn't work in a linear method, often making loops and dream sequences part of the norm. To recount the linear plot wouldn't be fruitful because half the fun is understanding just what the hell is going on.
As Marcello comes closer and closer to his end goal: the assassination of a anti-Fascist sympathizer, he becomes intertwined with a few femme fatales. The first is his wife, an quasi-innocent, sex-driven girl named Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli). Their relationship is based in the secrets that they keep from each other. It's a sexy, almost derisive relationship that we can't really seem to understand.
The second woman is the wife of the target, Anna (Dominique Sandra), a smoldering blonde that reminds Marcello of a prostitute that he embraced but did not have sex with....yeah, things get a little weird here.
Torn between two sexy women, though preferences shifting drastically towards Anna, Marcello has the government to think about also. Perhaps it's Bertolucci's small way of poking fun at the idea of nationalistic pride, but when you consider that Marcello is more concerned about getting with someone instead of the fate of his country, the idea of patriotism is up for commentary.
"The Conformist" is steeped in lies, mostly about the closet. There is a deep underlying thread of homoerotica that manages to reflect a Fascistic mirror. In here, being gay is almost like being a Fascist; but don't worry, it doesn't come across as insulting as that.
As Marcelloa, Jean-Louis Trintignant isn't given enough time to show his acting abilities and his co-stars are rarely anything less than charming. The acting is easy in the film, an easy success that is, because it requires little to nothing more than a flip of the wrist and an upturned nose with a glass of champagne and a evening gown.
There is nothing more riveting than Sandrelli and Sandra in glorious dresses dancing with each other in front of an ogling crowd or the sight of Sandrelli in a striped gown seducing her fiance. It's the style, but I've said that before.
When you consider Bertolucci's other work like "Last Tango in Paris" which was just Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider having sex in a room for the entire movie or "The Last Emperor" which tried to condense thirty plus years into three hours, "The Conformist" sees Bertolucci at the height of his powers, biting off just the right amount to control.
"The Conformist" sometimes feels like "The Conversation", simply because of the predator/prey way in which it is shot; but by the end of the film, Bertolucci has abandoned all rational ideas of creating an espionage thriller and is primarily focused on the introspective horrors of Marcello's sexuality...or Fascism..or both.
Who knows? Either way, it's just so darn pretty to look at that the plot not holding up really doesn't matter.









Score: ★★★½

Inside Out (2015) (PG)
















"Inside Out" is a venture into the unknown recesses of your brain. The tagline once read: "say hello to the voices in your head" which, while taken out a context would be a great poster for a horror movie, is actually not entirely accurate. These aren't exactly voices, these are crystalized, anthropomorphized emotions that inhabit the heads of all of us. But don't get confused, because we're only just getting started.
In the beginning there was Joy (Amy Poehler) and she was happy in the head of a young girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Then there was Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and the two started making memories of conflicting emotions. Then three more: Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader) and then it was complete...or so Pixar's newest movie would have you believe.
"Inside Out" is first and foremost a hugely ambitious work that tries to be intellectually challenging and rigorously fun as well as emotionally powerful. It's this kind of conglomerations of all things beautiful that Pixar has mastered so well in the past and for certain "Inside Out" is miles ahead of anything that has been released by the studio in the last few years; but that doesn't make it perfect.
The first thing you should know about the movie is that it is relentlessly fun. The complexities of the human mind are mocked, flipped upside down, and puns are made from them. It's respectful, cheeky, and wildly colorful...which brings me to another point.
"Inside Out" owes a lot to "Wreck-It Ralph" for the visual imagery alone. The "islands of personality" are taken straight from the Disney movie's landscape, which in turn was ripping off "Monsters Inc." but hey, we got to stop somewhere, right?
If you watch "Inside Out" with the light-hearted abandon of a child, maybe nothing will stick out to you; but if you follow the rabbit trails down to their roots, the intellect begins to disappear. Things don't logically add up in the movie, like how Riley is a person separated from her emotions and yet unique and yet without them, she falls into a stasis of numb grayness. Then there's the issue of sentience and autonomy...how much power do these emotions really have?
Let's push those thoughts away for a second.
In Riley's head there is a control panel that all the emotions fight over to help Riley through the day. Naturally, it's Joy that we like seeing at the helm for the most of the time and the memories created are balls of yellow light.
It's kind of like "Minority Report" and "Wreck-It Ralph" had a baby and this baby was really hyper and really smart; but not complete. For that's what the movie is suggesting: a lack of wholeness. Riley is the sum of her parts, yet an individual at the same time...this is confusing.
Perhaps it's just better to stay for the ride, because the break-neck speed that "Inside Out" plows through its plot-line which is almost enough to give someone whiplash; but it's a whole lot of fun.
The newest Pixar movie is very, very entertaining and very colorful and filled with great voice acting.
I think it was missing a little maturity to pull the whole thing together. After all, for a movie about emotions that take over from one second to the next, it gives us little time to digest each moment properly before being triggered to laugh or cry.
But I did laugh and cry...so I guess that it worked rather well.











Score: ★★★½