August Summary

Same song, different version:

Hot Girls Wanted
Lawrence of Arabia
Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation
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 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 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 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: ★★★