Only God Forgives Review

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What an edgy poster!

Only God Forgives (2013) reunites Ryan Gosling with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. A movie poster like the one above highlights the “edgy” violence that peppers the film. The actual viewing experience might leave its audience feeling beat up. The striking visuals and moments of understated brilliance are weighed down by a slow pace, an anti-hero that may or may not be on Ambien in every scene, and an ending that will most likely leave you befuddled, or at least leave you on your own to decide what the meaning of it all is.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

The movie takes place in Thailand, where two expatriate brothers, one of which is Julian, played by Gosling, and the other of which is a pyschotic with an interest in under-aged girls. This combination results in the brother being found with  a dead underage prostitute in a hotel room. Rather than arresting him,  the police’s Lieutenant Chang, who, according to Wikipedia, acts as “The Angel of Vengeance,”  allows the father of the slain girl to do what he wants to Gosling’s brother in the hotel room. But the father takes things too far, and kills the brother. However, Chang does not care about Billy’s death; instead, Chang cuts off the father’s forearm for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute.

Although the film at this point is bathed in both red neon light and blood, we only see the aftermath of each attack. The visuals are gruesome yet beautiful. Bathing the film in red neon light is a bit on the nose, but it fit not only the subject matter but the seediness of the setting. You can feel the tawdriness of the city enveloping the main characters.

Gosling, who owns a Muy Thai boxing club (which we learn later is a front for a drug smuggling operation), soon learns about his brother’s murder, and seeks out the girl’s father. Just as you think this film will become a art-house Death Wish, we find Gosling actually listening to the explanation. I liked that we don’t actually hear that explanation; instead we see the father gesturing and talking, and we see Gosling’s reaction, if you can call it that. Gosling stares straight ahead, stoic and seemingly unmoved. He decides to do nothing to the father.

So as not to confuse Julian with someone of high moral ground, or “the good son,” or even someone who shuns violence,  we are shown various things that make us believe that Julian ultimately lacks moral convictions. He is not an anti-hero, he is a non-hero, a weak person who passively accepts things he can change. He is not above seeking out prostitutes himself: he pays a regular named Mai to put on a show for him while he remains at a distance, tied up to a chair. He seems to be almost asleep throughout the movie, with occasional explosions of rage or violence that only sometimes seem to have a reason behind them.  He can beat someone up at a club for no reason, drag him across the floor by his teeth. Yet when confronting Lt. Chang, who is ultimately responsible for his brother’s death, he is strangely impotent, and quite easily beaten in hand to hand combat.

Julian’s mother, Crystal, bursts onto the scene, and we get all that we need to know about why Julian and his brother’s mental and emotional problems by the way Crystal treats the receptionist at the front desk of the hotel. This scene is brilliant, but at times the role as written by Refn may have been a bit too much. Crystal is very willing to act where Julian has been passive, and she stirs up the pot by taking vengeance against her son’s killers. This moves the plot and action along, but perhaps too much of an incestuous vibe is played up for my taste. She compares the penis sizes of her sons when at a dinner with Julian, who is pretending that Mai is his girlfriend. She sees right through the ruse, delivering judgment upon Mai and Julian with scorn in a way that only a spiteful mother could. I’m not sure we need the incestuous overtones thrown in.

Regardless, up until this point, the look of the film, the performances, and the script measured up to the expectations I had for the film (I was not a huge fan of Drive, a film for the most part has erased itself from my memory). The way Refn used violence in the film was effective and even though graphic, understated. But there’s a scene where it started to go south a bit for me. Lt. Chang is nearly executed by gunmen in an outdoor restaurant. Chang tracks down the man who hired the gunmen, whose name is Byron, who himself was hired by Crystal to kill Chang. Lt. Chang drive skewers through Byron’s hands, legs, eye, and ear in a drawn out scene that would seem more at home in Reservoir Dogs than in this film. It seemed to want to shock the audience with how realistic it was. It felt very out of place in a film where we often feel like we are in a dream state, or like Julian, seemingly overdosing on Ambien.

Throughout the film, Julian has had visions of Chang, and it seems like we are destined for a great showdown when Chang and Julian finally confront each other in the boxing gym. But expectations and hopes are quickly dashed, as Chang easily defeats Julian in hand to hand combat, in the same way that a human swats away a fly. I thought the way this scene was handled was interesting and different, but it contributes to the unraveling of the film. I’m not sure what it really was supposed to mean or signify. Julian clearly is not a hero or a villain or even much of a presence or force in the film. That is clear. What isn’t clear is why this story was told in the first place. I don’t feel I was ever given a reason to care why Julian was such a non-entity. Perhaps if Chang had more of a personality himself, that might have provided some insight. But although a force to be reckoned, dealing out punishment to all those who come his way, Chang is too reserved and mysterious himself to be an effective counterpart to Julian. (Crystal is the most understandable and interesting character in the film, but the film isn’t really about her, except for the fact that that in a sense she created Julian’s personality by being such a forceful personality herself).

Although there are a great many things worthy to praise in this film, there wasn’t enough insight into Julian or Chang to feel one way or another about how it ended.  It really didn’t end in a traditional sense either, with another vision of Julian’s ending the film. Chang sings karaoke in a bar in front of other policemen as the credits roll. Although it seems unclear, I took this to mean he is the last man left standing, even though Julian’s last vision breaks from reality and the gritty setting of urban Thailand and ends in a field surrounded by trees.

Refn is extremely talented in an unconventional way. But he still has a long way to go before he can get me to care about what happens in his films as much as I can enjoy the technical skills on display. He knows how to write in a restrained way, by showing rather than telling. But he needs to show a bit more, give his characters some emotional weight, for his films to feel like they are more artsy exercises in pretentiousness.

 

Review: The Act of Killing (2012): Pure Torture

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Let me just cut straight to my opinion of this film: I hated it. I will make it my mission to see it destroyed, and all its critical acclaim go the way of The Birth of a Nation‘s.

The Act of Killing (2012)  is the fifth and final entry of my reviews of the 2013 Oscar Nominated Documentaries. Given all the rapturous acclaim for this film, I was expecting it to contend for my top pick up to this point: The SquareThe premise seemed insane and unbelievable, or as one IMDB reviewer put it, “it needs to be seen to be believed.” True, but that doesn’t make this a good film. The idea of allowing mass-murderers to re-enact their crimes seemed too surreal and interesting to fail, yet it does. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are producers for this film, and if either of them had tackled this subject matter, then it could have been the film I imagined it would be, or the film that critics think they saw. But Joshua Oppenheimer is a hack, offering the viewer nothing but indulgence and wallowing in other people’s depravity, and making us feel complicit in their crime. If that’s how the viewer should feel in watching this, then of course you have to question how Oppenheimer can sincerely believe “There’s no good guys, there’s no bad guys, there’s just people.” [1]

Bullshit!

Oppenheimer must not have even watched his own film, and must be blinded by his “contact with Anwar (the centerpiece of the film and one of the murderers), with whom he’s grown close” [1] Either that or he’s a hipster, trying to maintain an ironic distance from the horrific implications of his film.

I unfortunately have to review this film, develop an opinion of it, and decipher the filmmaker’s intentions by seeking sources outside the film, because we are given virtually no context for what we see in the film. The film begins with a quote from Voltaire: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”. We then see what seems to be a structure for an abandoned amusement park that is in the shape of a giant fish. Cut to a waterfall where Anwar, the “conscience” of the film, and Herman, the grotesque pig of a man that is dressed in garish drag, are motioning as if they are sirens luring ships to the shore. They are surrounded by ornately costumed dancers. But there is no music, just a director shouting directions. We will come back to this scene towards the end of the film, but when the director shouts “Cut” you see the young dancers stretching to get their coats- they are uncomfortable and cold. The fantasy quickly gives way to reality. We then are given the only historical context to the film: “In 1965, the Indonesian Government was overthrown by the military. Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese. In less than a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million ‘communists’ were murdered. The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings. These men have been in power, and persecuted their opponents- ever since.” The film then goes on to give their film its current context, which is where they claim to do things that the film won’t end up doing: “When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did. To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever way they wished. The film follows that process, and documents its consequences.”

Not really, Oppenheimer. If you were to truly have documented the consequences of their actions, you would have at least partially stuck with your original intentions for the film, as chronicled in The Australian: “When the filmmaker tried to explore the truth about what happened in 1965 through the experiences of survivors in the plantation belt outside Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, he found: ‘They were too scared to say what had happened to them because the killers were living all around them.’ Police threatened the filmmakers with arrest, while plantation bosses and civic leaders regularly found ways to interrupt shooting. Eventually, the survivors asked Oppenheimer: ‘Why don’t you film the killers?’ Suddenly, ‘all the doors flew open.’ Whereas his original subjects had feared reprisals, the men who’d helped bathe Indonesia in blood were eager to talk about their achievements.” 

And we are treated to their boasting for 2 hours, while the victims and their suffering become an abstraction, and even a source of amusement. Herman, the fat pig of a paramilitary leader, enlists locals to help recreate scenes of terror and kidnapping in the streets. It’s a spectacle to everyone involved, with laughter and joy taken in the recreating of their own country men’s misery. “They burned our house down!” Herman says, mocking and mimicking the families of victims, while people in the street laugh and laugh. They calmly recount how they strangled “communists” using wire. Anwar tap dances on the same roof where he supposedly killed thousands. We meet a newspaperman, who occupied the same building that they killed people in, who claims to be ignorant of what was happening under their shared roof. The Pancasila paramilitary group to which they belonged still thrives, and essentially rules the streets. We see their rallies, which seem stuck in a time warp, as they rail against communists, and claim that the origin of the word “gangster” is “free man” over and over again. In case you thought they were just violent, we are treated to their leader playing golf and making disgusting comments about the female caddie’s genitalia. So we learn they are sexist too. Anwar, Herman, and others begin recreating interrogation scenes quite convincingly, but in a very movie-like exaggerated manner.

Given very little context for what is happening, things become very confusing at times. When we are introduced to Anwar’s neighbor, who tells a story of how his relatives were killed, I didn’t know if that was part of the movie they were making or not. Some of the recreations have a nightmarish quality to them, that frankly felt like what a self-indulgent director would do given an unlimited budget. But we never get a sense of how the film they think they are making comes together, or how the “scenes” relate to the historical context we are not given.

We eventually also learn that the killings may have been a cover for the genocide of the Chinese population of Indonesia. When Herman runs for office, we learn that the populace can be bribed for their vote, and he who bribes the best will win the election. Herman loses, and we lose respect for the general populace of Indonesia for seemingly accepting and participating in the corruption that they are essentially victims of. We get to see the members of the paramilitary shake down business owners for protection money, so some sympathy may remain.

Everything I mentioned up to this point happens in the first half of the film. At the hour and 15 minute mark, we got antsy, wondering how much longer this indulgence in depravity could last. I have to admit that I stopped watching at that point, and watched the last 45 minutes just today, a week or so later. Despite several scenes highlighting the natural beauty of Indonesia, the whole country seems like a place to never visit. Oppenheimer treats the viewer to repeatedly observing the actions of people who are the opposite of self-aware at best, and the worst of humanity at worst, without challenging them in any way, shape, or form. I can imagine Herzog taking the same material, and giving it shape and form, and purpose. I can imagine the director of The Devil Came on Horseback or even The Square allowing these people to have their say, but placing their actions in the context of the misery and strife they create. With The Devil Came on Horseback, it was clear what the benefit of the film was. No one would have heard about the suffering in Darfur without it.

And to those who might say that I missed the point of this film, I would point them to Errol Morris’ own The Fog of War, which essentially is a long sustained interview with a “villain” who may have also been to some a mass murderer. The implications, context, and consequences of one man’s actions are clear, even if what we do about it is not. But we inherently as Americans should have wrestled with what we saw because we understood its context and significance. And for what it’s worth, we see a man genuinely wrestle with his conscience, in an understated but genuine way, quite the opposite of the showiness of Anwar’s coming to terms with his actions. So then what is the point of this film? What was the point of going on for 2 hours, letting these people take joy in recreating their own murderous crimes? What are we supposed to learn? What are we supposed to do?

I must quote the following from Jennifer Merin, who quotes her colleague, who also sums up my feelings about the film: “During a post-screening conversation I had with BBC Commissioning Editor Nick Fraser, he commented. ‘It’s as though a documentary filmmaker went down to Argentina, found some ex-Nazis and gave them some money to make a film about how much fun they’d had killing Jews during the Holocaust. Everyone would be horrified. But in this case, it’s about Indonesia. People don’t know as much about it, so they don’t take exception in the same way.’ Insightful and pithy, as always, Fraser’s take on the film and the general response to it just about sums up my own” (2).

But Oppenheimer has the nerve to say the message of his film is “there’s just people.” No, there are people who murder and get away with it, and boast and revel in it. But allowing them to revel in it, without ever really questioning them during the whole process, should leave Oppenheimer with a dirty feeling. Sorry, Oppenheimer, Anwar does not truly come to terms with his actions. A few minutes of hacking up phlegm, or wretching, or whatever he does, does not even begin to count as contrition. If Hitler had come to terms with his actions by getting a little sick, would that mean anything to anyone?

Even better than that, put Hitler in place of Anwar in the penultimate scene of the film. Remember the waterfall fantasy scene at the beginning of the movie? We return to that scene, this time to the tune of “Born Free” (there they go again with the whole “free man” thing) where Anwar is a god like figure, Herman is a grotesque drag queen, and beautiful dancers surround them. Insert two downtrodden dirty people who have wire around their neck, which should immediately for the viewer place these as two of Anwar’s victims. They remove the wire from their neck, and thank Anwar for “sending them to heaven.”

Grotesque. Indulgent. Complicit. Depraved.

Anyone watching this film should read the following, which calls into question the veracity of the claims of the participants in this film:

BFI Review

Also, read the few negative reviews I could find for other reasons to not praise this film:

About.com Review

Filmracket Review 

So that leaves us with the Oscar Documentary Challenge, that I should have finished a month ago. The good news is that 20 Feet From Stardom is now on streaming! So you can decide for yourself on how to rank all five documentaries nominated by the Academy. For me, the order from best to worst would be:

1. The Square

2. 20 Feet from Stardom

3. Dirty Wars

4. Cutie and the Boxer

5. The Act of Killing

Methinks that Blackfish could have been a nomination. I will have to watch that soon.

My IMDB Rating of The Act of Killing: 1 out of 10

My Netflix Rating: 1 out of 5

References:

1) APPLEBAUM, STEPHEN (13 April 2013) Indonesia’s killing fields revisited in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary. The Australian

2) MERIN, JENNIFER (2013) The Act of Killing- Movie Review- 2013. About.com

The Blair Witch Moon Project: Apollo 18 Review

(This is not a movie poster, it’s a picture of me watching the movie)

What if, while you just happened to be traveling through outer space, found footage of a secret Apollo Mission? What if you were dropped on your head as a baby yet still somehow became an astronaut? What if you were using hand held video recorders, but somehow had the skills and awareness of a director to know where to place the camera where only a third person could have shot it from that angle?

What if you were a director, who got an idea for a movie when he came across a tiny bit of moon rock trivia, and expanded that into a feature length film, but did so in such a lazy fashion that nothing really makes sense?

You would make one of the worst movies ever made, that’s what!

Apollo 18 (2011) tells the nonsensical story of a secret Apollo mission to the moon. It opens with a brief, written history of the Apollo mission- the landing on the moon in 1969, Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were canceled due to budgetary reasons, in 1972 Apollo 17 is the last mission to the moon. Then we learn “In 2011, Eighty-four hours of classified footage is uploaded to http://www.lunartruth.com. This film is edited from that footage.”

Ok, fair enough. We are treated to the standard “meet the astronaut” footage, where we learn that astronauts have no personality. They lament that they are going to the moon, but have to tell people lies about where they will be. One tells his family he is on a joint training mission with the Chinese. In 1974. OK, whatever. Before the astronauts leave for space, the director does an effective job in making it seem like this is truly found footage, with the clothes and background looking right, as well as the quality of the film and the colors as well.

But soon this top-secret mission, which somehow secretly rocketed the Apollo 18 into space, (well, they gave an excuse that they were launching a satellite. OK, whatever) reaches its target of the moon, and simultaneously loses all sense of reality. First of all, the premise makes no sense, no matter the lame explanation that comes from Control later, that they would shoot over 84 hours of a SECRET mission. But we wouldn’t have a film without that, so on they go into space. One astronaut remains in orbit while the other two land on the moon in the lunar module. These two somehow either develop a third arm or give birth to a camera man because after some boring chit-chat and “goofing around,” we are treated to some camera angles and quick cuts that are not possible, no matter how this footage was “edited.” I don’t know much about the Apollo missions and how they were taped, but the images from Apollo 11 that were sent to earth were not from multiple angles. They were pretty much point and shoot, no “technique” involved. In addition to cinematic camera angles sneaking their way into the found footage, the look of the “film” being used seems to slowly work its way towards looking like it was shot by a camera from 2004, not 1974. The quality of some of the pictures look too good, and also, when the shit starts to hit the fan, there are effects thrown in that really don’t make any sense. For example, one astronaut finds himself in pitch black, and hears a freaky sound all around him. In the vacuum of space. He uses some kind of flash on the camera to see whatever he can, and we somehow hear the sound of that as well. The “strobe light” effect he creates by taking pictures (I guess?) really wouldn’t have been possible back then, even if the rest of it made sense scientifically. And plus, there is always a flashlight to provide consistent lighting when you need it. Again, I assume these astronauts had mental problems, or they were overly concerned about making the footage they were shooting look neat for the people who would find it later.

The actions of the astronauts make no sense either. The astronauts soon find out that their supposed mission of putting tracking devices on the moon as part of a warning system against missile attacks from the USSR (first of all, what? to that idea anyways, even the “fake” mission makes no sense) is not why they are really there. They find a Soviet capsule that also must have been from a secret mission. But the cosmonaut is dead, the capsule thrashed, and worst of all, the cosmonaut’s shoes had worn out soles. So what do you do when you are having a private conversation about what the mission is really about? You tape it, of course. And of course you do that from a weird camera angle that could only have meant that you spent more time figuring out the best place to put your camera beforehand than you took having the conversation. Also, if the other astronaut has a bunch of spider creatures crawling inside of his suit and is screaming, is it your instinct to pick up a camera and film it? Or figure out a way to get the fuck off of the moon? If you are an astronaut in this film, it’s the former.

So obviously this film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either when thinking the script, or staying consistent with the concept that this film was culled from “found” footage, or staying consistent with what we know of science (astronauts apparently experience Earth’s gravity on the Moon because they run normally without bouncing at all). I could have been more forgiving of this film, and just considered it a bad film, rather than one of the worst ever, if they gave a plausible excuse for how this footage was “found.” It’s not the Blair Witch project, where someone walking through the woods might stumble across the footage. People who defend this film in forums have their excuses as to how this could be, but they don’t hold up, and frankly these people are very defensive because they know what a piece of shit this film is and they feel stupid for liking it. No, they would have not have launched another mission to recover film from a lunar module which must surely be hurtling through space (I am guessing that he collided with the lunar orbiter). No, this was not transmitted back to Earth because the camera they use uses film, and they said in the movie that most of the footage was found on film. How would they have recovered film among the debris of the crashed modules, even if that debris is orbiting the moon? No, ravenmaniac07 on the IMDB message boards, I am not an idiot for not coming up with a bunch of excuses for the director of this dingleberry of a movie for not convincing me that the found footage premise of this film made any sense. I wouldn’t have liked this movie if it were honest and admitted it was just another film with a third-person omniscient point of view. But the fact that it wanted to use the horribly played out found footage genre without doing even half of what was necessary to make it plausible, means it deserves my wrath, and not my excuses.

So basically, moon rocks are actually aliens. There. That’s the movie. Don’t watch it. Instead, read this portion of the Apollo 18 movie’s wikipedia entry. I’m sure this provided the idea to the director, but the real story of what happened to the moon rocks would make for a more interesting film. But then again most infomercials would make better movies than this.

“The film concludes with a statement that the Nixon Administration gave away hundreds of moon rocks to foreign dignitaries around the world, and that many of these moon rocks have been lost or stolen. This is factually true; both the Nixon and Ford Administrations gave away 135 Apollo 11 Moon Rocks and 135 Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rocks. The Moon Rock Project, a joint effort of over 1,000 graduate students started at the University of Phoenix in 2002, has helped track down, recover or locate many moon rocks and found that 160 are unaccounted for, lost or destroyed.[18] In 1998 a sting operation, called Operation Lunar Eclipse, made up of personnel from NASA‘s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs recovered the Honduras Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock, valued at $5 million. In October 2011, NASA agents raided a Denny’s restaurant and arrested a 74-year-old woman for attempting to sell a moon rock from Neil Armstrong for $1.7 million on the black market.[19]

My IMDB rating: 1 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 1 out of 5

Review of Act of Valor (2012), leaving Netflix April 3

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Act of Valor (2012) sold itself as “an unprecedented blend of real-life heroism and original filmmaking.” This blend comes from using real Navy SEALs to star as themselves, with some scenes featuring Hollywood actors portraying terrorists or CIA agents (the only actor I recognized was Roselyn Sanchez). This seems like a cool idea to pitch to movie producers eager to tap into underserved movie audiences. You are part of that audience if you are looking for flattering portrayals of American Military (aka “patriotic”), you believe we are the best country in the history of the world, and you like your film to have an uncomplicated (aka trite) message (aka propaganda) confirming that we are the best country in the world with the best military.

I won’t be able to say much original about this movie that you couldn’t read more or less on Rotten Tomatoes. First of all, although it may have been unprecedented to use Navy SEALs, it wasn’t necessarily wise. If you want an unprecedented look at our military at war, find yourself a copy of Restrepo (2010). The SEALs are quite capable of acting their way through the action scenes, yet they are given way too much exposition in this film. It is the worst acting in film history (ok, maybe not the worst), and really just made me think that a porno was going to break out at any second. I appreciate the commitment to the concept of using the real people, but at some point someone should have thrown in a real actor to carry some of the scenes that are full of wooden soldiers delivering wooden dialogue, woodenly.

As for the action scenes, many people have praised them as being the positive aspect of the film. The scene where they extract a CIA agent from a terrorist jungle outpost is well done, and exciting on some level. But it also seems to be inspired by video games like Call of Duty more than any other films. You will have traditional action scenes, which are well done and orchestrated, broken up by the camera switching to the viewpoint of a SEAL, much like a first person shooter. Also, you get an aerial view of the river boats that are part of the rescue operation that is directly above the action. It’s shot in a way that reminds me of Age of Empires or other real-time strategy games from the past. It makes sense that Act of Valor received a Movie: Action nomination for the Teen Choice awards. The first action scene also is the best. Unfortunately the last action scene, where the SEALs are deployed just south of the Mexican border to stop terrorists entering the country, is underwhelming, full of cliches (such as one man sacrificing himself to save the lives of his fellow soldiers), and for a film touting its realism, feels a bit false, as if it belongs to an ’80′s action flick.

The plot is fairly standard. The recovered CIA agent found information that helps the SEAL team track a group of Chechen-backed terrorists who are scheming to enter the United States and blow themselves up using vests with undetectable explosives. Actual actors help you keep interest in a storyline that at times ventures into being good enough to be the basis for a season of 24. But seeing that 24 alone had dealt with similar material to varying degrees of effectiveness for 9 seasons, I needed a bit more from the movie. For example, having identifiable characters with charisma would have been a start. Every single SEAL in this movie (with the exception of the token non-Caucasians) just seems like some guy you would see at an OC beach.

I prefer the realism of fictional movies, such as Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, Jar Head, even Saving Private Ryan, over this film. Using “real” people doesn’t make for a more realistic, visceral experience for the viewer. Especially when you have nothing new or interesting to say. Catch the movie if you are a fan of military action; otherwise, skip it. It will be leaving streaming tomorrow at any rate.

My IMDB rating: 5 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 2 out of 5

 

 

April Fool’s- Titles Leaving Netflix April 1

Well, I’ve already warned you about 24. I wanted my next post to be either a review (finally) of The Act of Killingor I was going to give my list of the top 50 or 100 movies available on Netflix. As far as the latter option goes, after searching around on the Interwebs, that list is getting a lot shorter come April 1st, when Netflix goes through its monthly purge of streaming titles, some which are quite good. I’ll highlight a few that might have made my top 100 list, plus other noteworthy titles. I’ll list whatever others I know about at the end of the post.

Tragedy has already fallen upon us, however. The great Gerard Butler’s immortal performance in Machine Gun Preacher is lost forever to the streaming universe, as soon will be the comedy classic A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (I hope your sarcasm detectors are working).

 

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Pi (1998) is still Darren Aronofsky’s best work. (I liked Requiem for a Dream a lot, but thinking about it now, I can only remember its lack of subtlety: the sight of Jared Leto’s heroin junkie sticking a needle in an infected track mark, or the double-sided dildo shot of Jennifer Connelly’s rock-bottom heroin junkie). Pi looks low budget, but it works for this film in which ideas are the special effects. It’s like a feverish dream, and in its own way a horror film. While it’s very cerebral, it’s not as hard to follow as your Algebra class was.

 

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Sunset Boulevard (1950) has always been a film that I felt was overrated. I adore Billy Wilder, but I’m sure that Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, Witness for the Prosecution and The Apartment would rank far above this movie in my top 100 list. Sunset Boulevard is regarded by many as Wilder’s best. It’s hard to argue against the film, but it’s been so often imitated that it’s hard for me to enjoy it as much as his others. But had Netflix allowed me more time, I was going to give this every chance to make the list, as I haven’t seen it in about 15 years.

 

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The African Queen is the only other John Huston film on streaming. It’s the obvious choice for a top 100 film, because hey, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the same film! But to me it’s not a great film, and may not even be in my top 10 John Huston films. The Dead (1987) is the other John Huston film. It was his last film, and it’s based on my favorite short story, which was written of course by James Joyce. So the source material is great, but if you know the story, it doesn’t seem enough to make a feature film. Making a great short story into a bad film is easy to do (see The Box, based on Richard Matheson’s excellent “Button, Button”). But Huston drew on his 40 years of experience to create a film that stayed true to the heart of Joyce’s tale, while expanding the universe Joyce created (much like Spike Jonze did with Where the Wild Things Are)The African Queen is not leaving the service, so be sure to check out The Dead while it still lives.

 

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Peter Weir is another director that is woefully underrepresented on Netflix streaming. The Truman Show (1998) really deserved an ad campaign that didn’t give away what would have been a really great surprise. I hope that there are some younger viewers out there who will give this a try before it leaves Netflix, and can experience the film without knowing what to expect prior to watching it. It still is an enjoyable film in any case.

 

OTHER FILMS OF NOTE

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From Alejandro González Iñárritu the master of interweaving storylines that come together somehow in the end to floor the viewer comes the most depressing Sean Penn movie ever (which is saying a lot), 21 Grams (2003).

 

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I was going to review Play it Again, Sam (1972) as part of a Woody Allen post, which would have also featured Woody Allen: A Documentary, Manhattan, and Antz. But then Woody became the focus of distasteful accusations, and I questioned the timing of such a post. I did get to watch this film however. Woody Allen’s film can be broken down into 3 categories: a handful of his films are classics or near classics; the large majority of his films are mediocre and frankly forgettable (most of his work in the last 20 years); and then slightly more than a handful are just awful. Play It Again, Sam fits into category 2, but it is actually only written by Allen. It was directed by Herbert Ross, of Steel Magnolias fame. The script follows the usual Allen arc- Allen plays a neurotic divorcee who is friends with a married couple. Will he fall in love and have an affair (of sorts) with the wife (played by Diane Keaton)? Of course he will. Humphrey Bogart appears either as an apparition, a ghost, or a figment of Allen’s imagination at odd times, and it is the only aspect of this film that is distinctive from other Allen films. Well, there is the unfunny rape jokes that really seem dated, but besides that, you will remember Bogart as this film’s defining characteristic. Unfortunately, Bogart appears at random and not too frequently, seeming more like an afterthought than a driving force for the film. The Bogart-Casablanca tie-in does provide the film with a nice ending however.

My IMDB rating: 6 out of 10                                          My Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5

 

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The Hunt for Red October (1990) unleashed a torrent of Clancy films for the next decade. Most of these were quite good for what they were, and a far better experience than trudging through the tedium of a Clancy novel. Alec Baldwin looks really young in this film. John McTiernan also directed other classic 80′s films, such as Die Hard and Predator.

 

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Kicking and Screaming (1995) would be easy to overlook. I did. It is a Noah Baumbach movie, who directed some excellent films. Seeing how this one predates his breakout film The Squid and the Whale by ten years, I wouldn’t count on this being a sure thing for Baumbach fans.

 

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Old Boy (2003) is sure to make Maury Povich viewers go “Damn! No he d’i’n’t!” Actually, it made me say that, so what does that say about me. Love it or hate it, you’ll probably say “Damnnnnnn!” yourself at the end.

 

Other films going bye-bye:

American Gigolo (1980)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Baby Boom (1987)
Bandits (2001)
Blue Hawaii (1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Catch-22 (1970)
Dark Blue (2003)
Dead Again (1991)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Farewell to the King (1989)
The Good Thief (2003)
The Impostors (1998)
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
Mommie Dearest (1981)
My Tutor (1983)
Nell (1994)
Racing with the Moon (1984)
Rare Exports (2010)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Staying Alive (1983)
The Thing Called Love (1993)
Who’s Minding the Store (1963)
X (2011)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock….Time Running Out for 24 and other titles leaving Netflix April 1

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It’s a race against the clock. Specifically, it’s a race against the top of the hour, because something dangerous/disastrous/dreadful/important/sinister/cliff-hangerish always happens at the top of the hour when you’re Jack Bauer. Luckily, even though a nuclear bomb blew up half the city, there is no traffic in Los Angeles, ever, so you can quickly get to wherever you need to go, so that that important event can happen right before the clock hits the hour.

You have a lot of questions but not a lot of time. What do you do? Stab the person with information in the knee? Shoot the person with the information in the knee? You don’t have much time! Do you hit them in the head until they are a bloody pulp? Do you take out the pliers? (you know what those are for!) Do you break out the blow torch? (yes, Jack did that!)

No, please don’t hurt me, Jack! I’ll give up the information that 24 is leaving Netflix on April 1, along with a lot of other titles (which will be a separate post coming soon). 24 will be finding a new home on Amazon Prime. Yet another Netflix fail. I understand that they also get new titles, but I would think the idea would be to keep titles you have and add more. But the writing’s on the wall- studios will want more control of their content when it comes to streaming, and/or want to use a service like Amazon where they can get more royalties, and pretty soon Netflix will be mostly original content. But until that time, I was taking for granted that 24 would stay on Netflix. Perhaps there was a mole at CTU, like there is every single season, errr, I mean, day. Jack really needs to figure out who the mole is so he can get back on Netflix. It’s not Chloe, Jack, or the person who seems to be most obvious at the beginning of the 24 hour work day you always seem to have. Just in case you’re wondering.

Here’s how Hitler took the news that Jack is leaving Netflix

I’ll post about the movies leaving Netflix April 1 today or tomorrow. In the meantime check out your queue

 

Review of Red Lights (2012)

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Last night was not a night for heavy fare. So we went for a film by Rodrigo Cortés, one of the many Spanish directors on Netflix streaming who seem vaguely familiar, but you can’t quite place what they’ve done. Well, Cortés might be known for directing the Ryan Reynolds pic Buried (which once upon a time was on Netflix streaming), but in the Netflix universe he wrote the just OK Apartment 143which at some point Netflix seemed to be begging us to watch every time we logged on.

I included the Spanish language poster for Red Lights (2012) because this is a Spanish production, shot mostly in Barcelona, with some shots in Toronto. It grossed over $4 million theatrically in Spain, and in the USA it managed to make….$52,644, or less than what many Americans make in a year. So this would make this pretty much a straight to video title, which begs the question, “Why is it straight to video?” or really, “What’s wrong with this movie?” The movie received mostly negative reviews, and many online reviewers don’t like it, but only knowing it from showing up on Netflix, I came to it with an open mind.

The tension between having an open mind and maintaining a healthy skepticism based in science drives the conflict in Red Lights. The beginning reminded me of such films as The Conjuringwith Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Matheson and the criminally underused Cillian Murphy as her assistant in research. They visit a home where there seems to be paranormal activity, which they quickly dismiss. Like The Conjuring, Weaver and Murphy investigate any phenomena reported to them. Unlike the couple in that movie, however, their research leads them to debunk so-called psychics, and expose them as frauds, when necessary. This is hardly groundbreaking material however, as I’m sure you could think of a couple of films without much effort that follow a similar format.

But even before the appearance of Robert DeNiro as a world-renowned psychic coming out of a long retirement to prove himself, there was something odd about this movie and the feeling it induced. I’m not sure whether this was a sign that indeed the movie was of the quality deserving such a limited release, or if there was something intentional about how the editing and timing of the opening scenes created an almost rushed atmosphere. There were some good lines throughout the movie, when most movies of this type seem content on cheap scares and expository dialogue. There is some of that to be sure, but the decent script, and the solid performances by Murphy and Weaver combine for a better than expected viewing experience. DeNiro isn’t as bad as he has been of late, while Toby Jones and Elizabeth Olson are fine, but the movie almost didn’t need them.

DeNiro’s psychic seems to be the real deal, and although we see the typical “struggle to still not believe” scenes from Weaver and Murphy, we actually bought into those scenes because all the characters felt like real people, or as much as they can in a film that isn’t a character study. We at least know them as well as we know Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, and at least no one has been telling me how great Weaver was in this film for the last three months.

But much to my delight, Red Lights is actually Murphy’s movie, and to say much else would be to act as a spoiler. Like many other films that depend so heavily on their ending, whether you like the film or not depends on whether or not you think the film earned the ending it put in place (or on how well you understand it). While we did have some questions about it, we were able to quickly look at a key scene, thanks to Netflix streaming’s excellent rewinding feature where you can see each frame. Doing so also revealed the possibility that we have to re-examine Dr. Matheson’s (Weaver’s) motives and nature as well. Whether or not you like the ending, or buy it, I can say that I don’t think it’s been done before in a movie of this type. I personally liked it, and made what otherwise might have been just a decent but cookie cutter film more memorable. Not a great film, but pretty damn good. All the haters should just relax and realize that this film didn’t cost them anything.

My Netflix rating: 4 out of 5 (3.5 if it were available)

My ImDB rating: 7 out of 10

2014 Razzie Winner Movie 43 Review, or When Bad Things Happen to Good People

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I still need to finish watching a handful of Oscar Nominated films before I can even make my Top 10 list for 2013 (I have yet to see 12 Years A Slavebut the Movie Gods showed me that I could watch the winner for the 2014 Razzie of the Year. The Movie Gods have it out for me.

Movie 43 has 13 directors, and 28 writers. Netflix tries to sell it as a “homage” to movies such as Kentucky Fried Movie. If that is true, then I am going to make The Diary of Anne Frank into a musical comedy where Anne is living in an attic with Jack Tripper and Janet Wood, and they have a landlord played by Don Knotts that thinks Jack is gay, call it Three’s Concentration Camp! and consider it an homage to Anne Frank and all holocaust literature. But as a badge of honor, all movie critics must watch crap, so here we go.

The premise of the movie is that Dennis Quaid is a washed up producer pitching bad stories to Greg Kinnear’s studio.

Scene 1: “The Catch” The first story features Kate Winslet going out with Hugh Jackman, who is a billionaire bachelor. We see a cover of a magazine Kate’s friend shows her that asks “Why is this man still single?” It turns out that after he takes his scarf off at dinner, he has a ball sac on his throat. That’s right, he has a neck scrotum! That old tired joke. I am ashamed to admit I laughed a bit at this, partly because I couldn’t fathom how Winslet and Jackman could have been talked into doing this. But I suppose if the sight of a hair falling off of said neck scrotum and into Jackman’s soon-to-be-eaten soup sets off your funny bone, than this is your vignette!

Scene 2: “Homeschooled” A deeply unfunny bit starring Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts as parents who homeschool their kid, in every way, including hazing, being the humiliating teacher who gets their name wrong, and giving their son their first awkward kiss and sexual advance by a male friend experience. If child abuse were hilarious, then this would have been a feature film concept a long time ago.

Scene 3: “The Proposition” Chris Pratt is about to propose to Anna Farris, who also has a question to ask him. They both decide to ask their question at the same time, but Anna Farris manages to blurt out first “Will you poop on me?” Of course, JB Smoove is there to give advice at a barbecue the next day on what to make it just the right experience. He urges him to not be a “2 squeeze, thank you please” kind of guy. I’ve probably already given this segment more time than it deserves, but it was so gross and stupid, I again laughed at one point out of a “I’m so embarrassed for Anna Farris’ career” sentiment.

Keep in mind that between each “scene” Quaid disgusts Kinnear, and after this pitch, Kinnear calls security, but Quaid forces him to listen to the rest at gunpoint.

Scene 4: “Veronica” Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone have a lover’s quarrel at the front counter of the grocery store, which is broadcasted on the intercom. They say ludricrous things like “I want to give you a hickey on your V____.” Strange, not funny.

Scene 5: “IBabe” This is a “parody” of an Ipod or Iphone commercial where people dancing around to music with their headphones on, except they are connected to a naked woman instead of an Apple product. What’s the joke?

Scene 6: “Super Hero Speed Dating” Remember all those times you thought how funny it would be if superheroes had to speed date? Yeah, neither do I. Justin Long is Robin, Jason Sudeikis is Batman, Uma Thurman is Lois Lane, and Bobby Cannavale is Superman. Lois is speed dating Robin, Batman tells Superman, Superman warns Robin to keep his distance. Kirsten Bell as Supergirl gets the Cyrano de Bergerac treatment from Batman and Robin. They all say and do things that don’t make you laugh.

Scene 7: “Machine Kids” The idea is that there are actually kids inside vending machines, ATMs, and copiers. Haha.

Scene 5B: “IBabe” The joke is that the “vagiport” of the Ibabe is where the vent of the Ibabe is, and also where the fan is that cuts off the penises and fingers of the young men that have purchased the Ibabe. Aasif Mandvi has done such great work on The Daily Show, as has Jack McBrayer on 30 Rock. Richard Gere and Kate Bosworth round out the cast. The commercial returns after the segment, saying “Don’t Fuck It” HIGH-Larious!

Scene 8: “Middle School Date” This might have been the least funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I would sooner laugh at Rosemary’s Baby than this. I am so embarassed for Chloe Moretz, but how could Patrick Warburton, aka David Puddy, not see how horribly unfunny this was? He’s not a 13 year old girl, he should have known better. It is followed by a brief parody of a Tampax commercial. This was directed by Elizabeth Banks.

Common is Kinnear’s boss, who is meeting with Seth MacFarlane, who has a couple of funny lines when Quaid and Kinnear come in. Kinnear is forced to buy Quaid’s movie. It makes me wonder if this was how this movie got made.

Scene 9: “Happy Birthday” Johnny Knoxville tries to patch things up with his friend Sean William Scott by giving him a leprechaun, who turns out to be a foul-mouthed Irish midget. I think. I would trade a pot of gold right now for a laugh.

Will Sasso joins Common, Kinnear, and Quaid in embarrassing themselves.

Scene 10: “Truth or Dare” Stephen Merchant goes on a date with Halle Berry. A Truth or Dare game quickly escalates into Merchant being dared to grab a man’s behind, Berry blows out the candles on a blind kid’s birthday cake, etc. etc. I say etc, because it quickly devolves into a montage. The funniest dare would be Berry forcing Merchant to listen to Snooki read Moby Dick. But at this point, all you can muster is a chuckle.

Scene 11: “Victory’s Glory” A parody of inspirational sports/civil rights movies (like Terrence Howard’s own Pride and Glory Road). The only funny segment in the movie. Fast forward to 1hr 11 minutes in to watch it.

The film is “over” at 1hr 17 minutes, yet Netflix shows the movie is 1 hour 34 min. The movie has the nerve to show outtakes during the closing credits, but has even more nerve to make you think the f’ing movie is over!

Scene 12: “Beezel” I don’t think in the history of film, has any movie watcher been less ready to laugh. Beezel is an animated cat that tries to come in between Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Banks. Beezel is Duhamel’s cat, and Banks later catches Beezel masturbating to pictures of Duhamel. Beezel chases after Banks, and sprays her. I could go on, but I think I’ve devoted enough of this blog, and enough of my life to this movie.

I hopefully have gone into enough detail to confirm for you that the Razzie is well-deserved. What’s astonishing is that after the Beezel segment, there are 8 minutes of actual credits.

I would wish ass cancer on everyone involved in this movie, but there are too many talented people in it to wish that. Maybe a bad case of diarrhea. Some of those involved would think that would be funny.

IMDB Rating: 1 out of 10 stars

Netflix Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

YOLO! You Only Live Once (1937)

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Fritz Lang obviously didn’t anticipate James Bond when naming this film. Inspired by Journeys in Classic Film, I decided to look for a much older film than what I’ve been watching. I used to watch TCM quite a lot, and if you can get past certain things, older films still have a lot to offer. Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) was already in my queue. Anticipating the YOLO youth culture motto/hashtag/annoying-phrase-to-say-after-doing something-idiotic by almost 75 years, Fritz Lang nonetheless is better known for directing the silent sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927) (a restored version is available on Netflix streaming). My personal favorite of his, however, is M (1931), a film that is still ahead of our time in how it deals with its subject matter. If I were to make my top 100 films list, it would be somewhere in the top half.

Although a pretty good film, You Only Live Once wouldn’t make it that list. The Netflix synopsis for this film calls it a “melodrama,” which in 1937 was also known as a “drama,” as this film was no more melodramatic than most films of that day. The film opens with a painfully dated scene, where the secretary (errr, executive assistant these days) to a public defender, Joan Graham (played by Sylvia Sidney), listens to an ethnic shopkeeper complain about how nothing is being done about the apples being taken from his fruitstand. Comedy is definitely not Lang’s strength, and we aren’t subjected to too much of this hilarity, as the melodrama gets going pretty quickly. Joan is in love with a three-time convict, Eddie Taylor (played by Henry Fonda), who is warned by the police chief that a fourth conviction will result in a life sentence. The D.A. has done Eddie (and Joan) a favor by landing him a job at Ajax Movers. Eddie faces discrimination and unfair treatment from the jerk of a boss, who treats him like dirt because of his past crimes. He ultimately fires Eddie over basically a minor incident. I’m glad to see that our society has changed, and that employers nowadays look beyond a person’s past…oh, wait, nevermind.

We wonder about Eddie’s next moves after losing his job, and we then see a bank robbery unfold before our eyes. This scene is the only one in the film that Lang definitely brought his own sensibilities to. The rest of the film could have been done by a lot of the directors of this time, but this bank robbery has an edge to it that creeps you out in the way that does. The menacing eyes, leering thru a tiny opening in the back of a car; hands grabbing gas masks; a crowd panicking as tear gas is thrown into the street. If you look up this film on Wikipedia, you will find that over 15 minutes were cut from the film due to its then “unprecedented realistic violence.” It’s a true shame that this happened, as you witness true greatness in the little that actually survived that cut here in the robbery scene. In some ways it reminded me of the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight, not necessarily for content, but in how it felt.

SPOILER ALERT: well, not quite yet, but coming soon. So of course Eddie somehow gets blamed for this bank robbery, and faces a life time conviction. Various things happen that if i describe them all, of course would defeat the purpose of viewing the movie. But I do have to mention how weird and dated the very end feels. Eddie and Joan are running from the law, and anticipating the corniness of Shining Throughare just inches from the Canadian border and safety. We know that Joan is already dead, and we gather from, as an IMDB reviewer says, the “syrupy” voice of the priest that Eddie shot during his escape speaking to Eddie from Heaven, that Eddie also dies. It’s not really an ending that works, but the theme of the film, that a justice system that is unfair, hostile, and corrupt is just a reflection of the society that created it, rings true.

Both Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney for the most part avoid the overacting and excessive emoting common to this era of film making, but I would expect none of that from a Fritz Lang film in any case. You’ll notice the weird camera angles that Lang is known for throughout the movie. Also look out for Margaret Hamilton, two years before her career defining role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

My IMDB rating for You Only Live Once: 7 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5

Arrested Development Season 4: Episodes 8-11

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I would guess that I’ve made the same face that Portia de Rossi makes above while watching these latest episodes. They’ve been all strange, but in a very entertaining way. While not always laugh out loud funny, there are plenty of great jokes, and the overlapping plot lines are beginning to pay off. While I may not have been laughing all the time, I enjoyed the writing that went into developing these episodes, with the humor coming from building the characters and the situations. I don’t have much to say about each episode, but since I’ve started grading the others, I’ll continue:

Episode 8: Red Hairing (Featured Character: Lindsay Bluth)

Solid episode. I enjoyed the Cinco de Cuatro finale, and hope that Lindsay does follow through with becoming a politician. Grade: B+

Episode 9: Smashed (Featured Character: Tobias)

This was one of the oddest episodes so far, where I wasn’t sure what I was watching at times, but it worked. It didn’t exactly feel like an Arrested Development episode. Maria Bamford as Debrie Bardeaux will either annoy you or draw you in. I think the other star’s interactions with her make this the best Tobias episode yet. Still, I would have wanted more Buster and Maybe and George Michael instead. But again, it’s good while being strange. The Fantastic Four: The Musical makes the comic book nerd in me laugh as well.Grade: B+

Episode 10: Queen B (Featured Character: Lucille Bluth)

The only episode to feature Lucille as the main character. The exchange between Lucille and Lucille 2 (Liza Minelli) is great. Some of the puns aren’t bad either. I’ll never get tired of Lucille screaming with delight when Gene Parmesan, the P.I., “surprises” her. Jessica Walter consistently delivered the funniest performances of the first three seasons. No exception here. Grade: A

Episode 11: A New Attitude (Featured Character: Gob)

Well, when you have Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) and Gob both pretending to be gay with each other, but finding that they are truly “the same,” what else do you need? Perhaps a trip to the Gothic Castle (or would that be Gothic Asshole?) Grade: A-