Thursday, August 30, 2012


The film opens on soldiers from the Rwandan Civil War at a unity camp with both rival Hutu and Tutsi members present, as they confront the unspeakable atrocities they carried out years earlier. We then travel back to that time of genocide and horror, witnessing the stories of several individuals: A Muslim and Catholic cleric who go their own routes to protect the persecuted, a Tutsi woman in a relationship with a Hutu man, a group of both peacekeepers and soldiers, and finally a young boy who unwittingly gives up a sheltered stowaway in his parents home. The set-up for "Kinyarwanda" (a common language in Rwanda) sounds similar to the tired ones that have guided so many movies as of late, with the difference being the personal touch bestowed here and also the fact that each storyline is not intersected and wrapped up neatly for convenience stake. Director Alrick Brown tells a deeply felt story about a horrific event which was sadly glazed over and continues to the affect a wounded country and the many lives involved.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Anderson Tapes

When a safe-cracker, just sprung from prison after a ten year stint, borrows money from the mob to finance his latest operation, a burglary of every tenant in a posh Upper East Side flat, he finds himself being monitored from more angles than one, by a slew of government agencies looking to bring down his backers. "The Anderson Tapes" was adapted for the screen by Frank Pierson from Lawrence Sanders book, where it received a fairly inert treatment by master director Sidney Lumet in the film that reunited him with his "The Hill" star Sean Connery who is enjoyable in the lead role as the know nonsense and seemingly dimwitted ex-con. There are also some other notable performances here: Martin Balsam as a queen/fence, comedian Alan King playing a mob boss, and Christopher Walken in his film debut. The film itself though never seems to gel completely, and moves sluggishly until its fantastically clever closing scenes.

Studs Terkel: Listening to America

For over 60 years, whether it was on his radio or television programs, in book interviews, or just a casual encounter on the street, Studs Terkel listened to and documented people from all walks of life, both in his native Chicago and throughout the country, resulting in an amalgam of social histories depicting a national identity. Following in 2008, this documentary featuring much of his old footage plus recent interviews recorded only months before his death at the age of 96. "Studs Terkel: Listening to America" is a fair introduction to the man's work, and never less than compelling when you hear the folksy historian speak, but it is still a slight and somewhat amateurish record, leaving the viewer wanting to hear more of Studs and his insightful tails.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


In the early 1930s just before the end of Prohibition, the Bondurant brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke), finding themselves invincible after several close scrapes with death, run rampant in Franklin County, Virginia with their illegal bootlegging operation. When Chicago gangsters like Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and a sinister federal agent (Guy Pearce) try to move in, the brothers become involved in an increasingly lopsided and potentially deadly turf battle. "Lawless" is a gritty, violent, and yet romanticized film based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, grandson of one of the brothers. Directed by John Hillcoat, it fits in with the likewise bleak and violent vision and great on-location footage of his other films ("The Proposition", "The Road"), but it also contains that hollowed feeling that prevented those, as it does this film, from attaining a higher level of achievement. I enjoyed all the performances, even LaBeouf's surprisingly, who is perfectly cast. With Tom Hardy, though his character is engaging, I have the same complaint I have from the "The Dark Knight Rises" in that he never lets you in to understand what makes his character tick. It's a trend in his roles that began in "Bronson", which he used successfully in successive roles, but which is now becoming a frustrating trend. Guy Pearce is a particular standout as an effete and malevolent villain and Gary Oldman, though underused has some great scenes. I also really liked the work of Mia Wasikowska, who has some really sweet scenes with Shia, and Jessica Chastain, though her romantic story with Hardy is underdeveloped. With "Lawless" Hillcoat tells a dark, brutal, and often engaging story set in the beautiful Appalachian foothills, that never really soars due to its resonanting, cavernous feel left in its wake.
note: This is not meant to slight the cast, which I really did enjoy here, but when are we gonna get some American actors to play these quintessentially American parts. Of the 7 members of the principal cast, 2 were born in the U.S. in a story set in 1930s Virginia. If that doesn't sound sirens to the state of the (young) actors in our country, I don't know what does.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Newsroom

Season 1
While hosting a Q&A session at Northwestern University Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), a contented cable news anchor, sees a fleeting vision and, in a momentarily lapse of judgement, lashes out at a student in a trade on American mediocrity. In his return to the air several weeks later, he is reteamed with his old producer and ex-flame (Emily Mortimer) who, alongside station chief (Sam Waterston) and her valiant crew, vows to bring an objective, insightful eye to current events, and restore dignity to our nightly news. "The Newsroom" is Aaron Sorkin's latest series which with the great benefit of 20/20 hindsight, allows him to sound off on the news events of the last year, from the BP oil spill to the killing of Osama bin Laden, to the tea parties, up until the media circus surrounding the Casey Anthony trial. As expected, the show is sharp and well-written, but it is not written well for its specific characters. Aside from Daniels who is adept in the leading role, many actors struggle with the hoops Sorkin has them attempt to jump through. Take Emily Mortimer, a lovely and talented actress in her own right, who often looks foolish and embarrassing attempting material that is clearly out of her comfort zone. Even an old pro like Waterston appears uncomfortable with lines he must have been shaking his head at during rehearsal. The young cast, while featuring several who are strong here (Olivia Munn and Thomas Sadoski especially), just isn't capable of delivering on their absurdly challenging roles (Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr.) or are not given much to work with (Dev Patel). Also, the relationship storylines are grating, poorly handled, command much screen time, and generate very little interest. The greatest asset to the show and the chief reason to watch (although it is a largely relegated role) is Jane Fonda, who is quite excellent as the domineering station owner and serves as a reminder of the force of nature she really is. "The Newsroom" is smartly written and occasionally engaging, but it is impossible to glaze over the fact that this is agenda based television whose chief goal, as attained by Monday morning quarterbacking, is to steer popular opinion in this all important election year
** 1/2

Sunday, August 26, 2012


"The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then... do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore."

So says Max (Jason Schwartzman), our hero at the outset of the film, and so he does, taking of the mantle as editor of the yearbook, editor in chief of the Yankee Review, President of the French club, stamp and coin club, calligraphy club, astronomy club,  beekeepers club, in addition to a member of the debate team, lacrosse team, fencing squad, track and field team, and the model U.N. as well as founder of the bombardment club, to name a few. Despite his unprecedented extracurricular participation, Max finds himself both unable and unwilling to pass his classes, and faces expulsion from the school, and matters grow even complicated when he befriends a wealthy benefactor (Bill Murray) and a beautiful kindergarten teacher (Olivia Williams) at his beloved academy. Wes Andseron's sophomore outing is a sublimely constructed and directed concoction that can at times, as his films often do, get carried away and run off the rails by their own sense of whimsy. Inconsistent is also how I would describe the performance of young Jason Schwartzman, who can be so funny and endearing in some scenes, and so off-putting and crass in others, which may have been the director's intention, but nonetheless leaves a bitter taste. Even Bill Murray's character, though often hilarious, is too dead at times. I did think Olivia Williams was lovely and brought weight to the film, as did Brian Cox as the school's headmaster. "Rushmore"  is enjoyable on so many levels (The scenes involving the Max Fleischer's players are a real treat) but it still bears the stamp of a filmmaker trying to gain his bearings and summon his incredibly talented abilities.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Innkeepers

Two employees, a spunky young female (Sara Paxton) and a nerdy bellboy (Pat Healy), of a creaky old New England hotel have long suspected their workplace to be haunted, and even see themselves as supernatural sleuths of sorts. As the hotel enters its final days of operation, which coincide with the residence of a cooky psychic (Kelly McGillis, unrecognizable), paranormal happenings finally start taking place, which may be more then the amateur ghost hunters initially bargained for. Of all the films I've seen, I'm not sure I've seen one that does so many things right, which gel so poorly and feel as clunky as this one. Ti West's film features drawn out suspense, limited blood and gore (an asset in scary movies), adept direction, and quirky, likable leads which, almost bafflingly, adds up to very little. The haunted house story is exceedingly scant, and even with the commendable things West attempts here, he can never bring it above the level of mediocrity.

Friday, August 24, 2012

La Haine

Three juvenile delinquents, an Arab, black, and a Jew, roam aimlessly through the volatile streets of urban Paris. When one of their mates in severely beaten by police, the erratic Vinz (Vincent Cassel) happens across an officer's firearm that went missing in the skirmish, and vows vengeance on any cop he crosses if his friend were to perish. "Le Haine" is the explosive sophomore film from Mathieu Kassovitz that vividly portrays Parisian street life in crisp black and white, and seems typical of the highly kinetic independent films of the time (I thought most of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing"). It features a trio of fine performances from Hubert Kounde, Said Taghaoui, and especially Cassel, which wound up being a breakthrough for him. Although there is a lot more inspiration than perspiration here and the film seems to be mimicking rather than creating, Kassovitz's film is a stark often startling view of a side of Paris life that many of us hardly ever associate with it. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Premium Rush

A messenger bike boy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), aptly named Wiley, navigates the frenzied streets of Manhattan, risking his life daily to deliver urgent dispatches in favor of a sleek suit and a cozy office. One day he is sent to a local university to deliver a highly regarded item to an ominous location  and finds himself bombarded by a bike cop, a rival messenger, and an odious degenerate detective (Michael Shannon) who direly needs the contents in his backpack. For "Premium Rush", writer/director David Koepp has a fantastic, thrill promised set-up which he opts to almost totally nullify by presenting it in a cheapened and lightly removed fashion. Gordon-Levitt is an actor who can do no wrong wrong for many, but in this tough guy role, although he is physically capable in the role, I find him to be less than credible. Shannon is menacing and actually a lot of fun as the heavy, but his character is such an inept buffoon, the tension is once again drained form the picture, which is something it should have had in droves. "Premium Rush" does get better as it goes along (I thought I was in for something a lot worse after the first five minutes) but considering the great set-up and the considerable talent on hand, it is something of a letdown.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The French Lieutenant's Woman

As a young actor and actress (Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep) prepare on location for their latest film, a tragic tale of a tarnished woman who begins a torrid affair with an archaeologist Victorian, the two embark on their own doomed fling. Harold Pinter's adaptation of the groundbreaking novel by John Fowles is a likewise highly original work that views a 100 year old love affair through a modern prism. Although we are constantly aware that we are watching a film within a film, it never diminishes the effect of either story, least of all the tragic Victorian tale. In early role, Irons and particularly Streep are especially astounding, and bring the weight and depth to their characters as we have come to expect from them in years past. "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is a unique, difficult, and ultimately invigorating film that features fine performances from two of our best actors.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Court Jester

The King of England has been overthrown and the rightful infant heir to the crown lies with a band of merry revelers led by the rebel outlaw the Black Fox. Plotting to take back the castle and reinstate the proper successor, he leaves the babe in the charge of his calamitous but resourceful minstrel (Danny Kaye) and a beautiful fellow rebel (Glynis Johns). Soon though the plan becomes altered as they happen upon the castle bound court jester and, after his detention, the minstrel takes his place and attempts himself to infiltrate the palace. "The Court Jester" is a delightfully and lively Technicolor romp centering on a wonderful comic performance from Kaye, who in addition to his difficult role contributes several memorable songs to the picture. A wonderful cast also assists Kaye including the luminous Johns, Cecil Parker as the clueless pretender to the throne, Basil Rathbone as the malevolent brains behind the takeover, Angela Lansbury as a lusty princess, and John Carradine as the duped jester. The film contains many memorable sequences, including a boudoir scene between Kaye and Lansbury, in addition to a knight training one which features the famous pellet with the poison bit. "The Court Jester" is a disarming film, made at a time when comedies could actually contain thought, inspiration, life, and o yeah, actual laughs.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Toots Shor was a hulking, rough looking Jewish kid who came up as speakeasy bouncer in 1930s New York. However, due to his straightforward and congenial nature, he soon was operating the most swingin' saloon in the country, where common folk came to mingle with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Joe Dimaggio, Frank Gifford, Walter Cronkite, and even Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. Although the kind of establishment is unheard of today, Toots Shor's flourished for until the changing times (along with his bullheadedness)  left Toots bankrupt and broken. "Toots" is an affectionate tribute to the great and largely forgotten proprietor by his granddaughter Kristi Jacobsen, who tells his story with a bevy of stock footage and interviews with friends and family, all of whom remember him with fondness.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Princess of Montpensier

In 1562, at the onset of the Huguenot War, a young noble woman is in love with a dashing soldier but is betrothed to his temperamental friend, the Prince of Montpensier. Retreating together to his forested estate and called once again into battle, the prince leaves his new wife in the charge of his elder, battle weary right hand man to educate and train her as a lady for the court of Catherine de Medici. "The Princess of Montpensier" is a sumptuous and passionate film from French director Bertrand Tavernier, and one of the most visually potent works from recent years. Adapting the 1622 novel by Madame de Lafayette, Tavernier and his co-screenwriters Jean Cosmos and Francois-Olivier Rousseau open up the material and make it relevant and completely engaging. The actiors are wonderful here. I really enjoyed Melanie Theirry as the titular character and especially Lambert Wilson, as the tutor who gradually develops feelings for her. I think some people will hear the title of this film or read its plot description and immediately be turned off to it. "The Princess of Montpensier" is superior historical entertainment and a splendid feast for the eye that defies all preconceptions one may have before seeing it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Life, Above All

In a village outside of Johannesburg, a 12 year old girl takes charge of her family following the death of her infant sister, due to her wastrel father and infirmed mother. Soon, rumors that mother has been infected with the HIV virus begin to spread like wildfire, and her best friend has turned to prostitution out of financial desperation, making her a prime candidate for contracting the disease. Now, our heroine must further display her courage by quelling the gossip and rumors, and seeking help for her mother and friend. Based on the book Chandra's Secrets by Allan Stratton, "Life, Above All" is a powerful film from South African filmmaker Oliver Schmitz whose greatest asset is his young star Khomotso Manyaka, who is absolutely astounding as the brave, indomitable young woman. The rest of the cast is fine also, most notably Keaobaka Makanyane as the troubled friend and Harriet Lenabe as a stubborn but ultimately sympathetic neighbor. "Life, Above All" is an extremely personal story, told with simplicity, to genuinely powerful results.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Babe: Pig in the City

Following his glorious victory at the sheep herding competition, Babe returns home to the family farm where he is the pride of farmer Hoggett and his wife. Soon though, his master is injured in an unfortunate well accident and with Mrs. Hoggett unable to maintain the property, the farm soon faces foreclosure. Now their only hope lies in an offer for the marvelous young pig to display his considerable talents over seas, but once they reach the big city, Babe becomes separated from his owner and once again finds himself in a leadership position, this time of stray dogs and abandoned circus animals. "Babe: Pig in the City" is a dark and exceedingly strange follow-up to the delightful 1995 Oscar winning original that eliminates, largely, the two best elements of that tremendous success: James Cromwell and the voice of Christine Cavanaugh. Director George Miller, who produced the first film, opts to fashion a more surreal, dystopian tone and the results are particularly jarring, especially for anyone endeared by the magic of the original.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

As special operative Jason Bourne eludes capture (during the course of the first three films), the CIA decides to eradicate all the agents in their Operation Outcome program. While at an Alaskan outpost, operative Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) avoids termination by besting a heat seeking missile with only a high power rifle. Now on the run and in need of agency issued meds to maintain his performance level he rescues a doctor (Rachel Weisz), also a government target, and heads to Manila to viral himself off of the medication. For the second time in a month, we have a reboot of a major franchise, with a fresh faced cast in the lead and only five years after the prior installment, and again I found myself in the minority in thinking that the latest offering is better than anything the other films had to offer. Tony Gilroy's "The Bourne Legacy" is a filmization of Robert Ludlum's books that (for the most part) doesn't resort to the hand held queasiness that marked the first three films, and actually comtains a plot that isn't deliberately hazy. Renner is a dynamic action star, and brings a humor to the his role that Matt Damon was so sorely lacking in his ineffectual portrayals. The film is also elevated by the presence of Weisz, affecting as a traumatized MD, and Edward Norton as a ruthless head of operations. "The Bourne Legacy" is popcorn fun, that doesn't mind taking its time to tell its comprehensible (this was a major selling point for me) story, and pays off with its well constructed action sequences and humanized characters you could actually give a damn about.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fahrenheit 451

In a dystopian future, firemen no longer serve to protect the public from fiery blazes, but instead initiate them on anyone found to be housing books. Among their ranks is Montag who after making contact with a beautiful revolutionary woman, discovers a power and love of the written word and seeks to fight the oppression which he has practiced for so long. "Fahreneheit 451" is a reverential treatment of Ray Bradbury's masterful science fiction novel by Francois Truffaut, who omits much from the novel but still retains the book's spirit in what was his English language film debut. Oskar Werner delivers a marvelous, laconic performance as the hero though Julie Christie, as great an actress and beautiful as she is, throws the movie off somewhat playing dual, pivotal roles. Watching the film, I wanted more from the novel (Faber, the Hound, the great chase sequence, and other elements are altered or omitted entirely), but following the superb ending and Truffaut's clear admiration of the material, I found it hard to complain.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Up Series

Tony, a participant in "The Up Series", at various stages of his life
In 1964, a British documentary crew interviewed a group of seven year olds from various economic backgrounds and asked them about their hopes, fears, and lives in general. Every seven years since then, Michael Apted, a member of the original crew, has revisited each of these participants to catch up with them and discuss their lives. "The Up Series", as these programs have come to be collectively known, are an endlessly fascinating form of time lapse filmmaking, as we see each of the film's subjects age before our eyes, as Apted interweaves prior footage into each new film. Keeping things simple, each film is simply a sit down with each person and a catch up on their lives, as they discuss with candid honesty the turns their lives have taken. Apted resists the urge to jazz things up and is straightforward presentation only adds, rather then detracts, to overall impact of these powerful films. The stories that I enjoyed the most include Tony, a young boy who dreams of being a jockey and grows up to be a cab driver, still full of zeal; Suzy, an unhappy young woman who finds solace and happiness with her husband and children; Bruce, a boy with missionary aspiration who winds up teaching in the inner city; John, a boorish snob who remains a boorish snob but becomes involves in relief work in Eastern Europe; and then their is Neil, discontented young man who drops out of school and becomes a vagrant who well, I don't want to spoil that one. "The Up Series" is about as real and engaging a film can get and I eagerly await the next installment, due out soon, as these subjects approach the twilight of their lives.
Here is a very brief description of each installment:
Seven Up! (1964)
A collection of British seven year olds, both female and male, from different socioeconomic backgrounds are introduced and interviewed as they talk about subjects such as school, money, race, and their futures. After meeting them all individually, the children all attend a party and we see how they interact.
7 Plus Seven (1970)
We revisit the subjects at age 14, midway between childhood and adulthood.
21 (1977)
Now 21 years old, the group of people we met at 7 and 14 now have clearer ideas on life and what they want their lives to be.
28 Up (1985)
Maybe its because I am now of the same age as the subjects here, but it is this installment that the series begins to take on resonance, as its subjects have largely settled down with family and careers.
35 Up (1991)
As the subjects move closer towards middle age most are firmly rooted in their lives with a few exceptions as they begin to deal with divorce and death of their parents, and other issues while the most fascinating member of the group continues to fascinate us.
42 Up (1998)
As the subjects have now reached the midpoint of their lives, most are firmly rooted with the exception of a few extraordinary examples, one involving an incredible intersection of two of the subject's lives.
49 Up (2005)
As the hairs have grayed, the hairlines receded, and the waistlines expanded, the subjects approach 50 mostly with contentment as they embrace grandchildren, their partners, careers, and life turns.
56 Up (2012)
The participants return, mostly contented with their lots as they face retirement and brace themselves for old age.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Perfect Sense

It starts with a fit of wild mania and inconsolable despondency followed by the loss of one of the senses, with the process repeating itself every several weeks or so until all five are eliminated. In the madness of this apocalyptic endemic, a chef (Ewan McGregor) and a troubled young woman (Eva Green) begin a relationship and try to find normality in the face of the ever evolving chaos that surrounds them. With a plot perhaps lifted out of a 50s sci-fi television program, director David Mackenzie gives this material a lofty and artistically sensitive treatment that is gorgeous to look at, but doesn't payoff quite in the way it should. Green is an actress who impressed me with some of her earlier work ("The Dreamers", "Casino Royale"), whom I have been less than bowled over with by her more recent attempts, and again fails to deliver a captivating performance. McGregor is a competent actor who more often than not manages to find himself in less than compelling roles and here, again, that is case. I appreciated what Mackenzie attempts to do here and it is worth repeating again just how beautiful the photography is. I feel bad panning a film after my many carps about unintelligent, artistically shallow films of this nature but "Perfect Sense" fails to encapsulate its subject.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Too Big to Fail

In August 2008, Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld seeks investors for his firm, which is in dire straits after attaining ill advised housing holdings. Not wanting to take part in another federal bailout, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson rallies the heads of the other Wall Street institutions  to work together and find a solution, which as we all know, was a massive federal bailout and a crippled economy that remains in the same state today. Director Curtis Hanson's "Too Big to Fail" is an inert drama depicting the global economic crisis that takes the approach of casting a slew of familiar faces (Paul Giamatti, James Woods, Ed Asner,  Billy Crudup, etc.) in the hopes it counteracts a dull, plodding screenplay. There are a few fleeting moments here, and William Hurt is excellent as the beset, ready to boil over Treasury head. This covers similar territory as "Margin Call", and is made in a similar vein, but fails to open up its material as that superior picture did and is comfortable with resting the burden of its lackluster material on its A-level cast.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Campaign

When the long serving congressman (Will Ferrell) of a quaint North Carolina district becomes entangled in a bizarre local scandal, two Koch-like brothers (John Lithgow, Dan Akyroyd) seek to run a puppet candidate in the once unopposed upcoming election who will then bring sweatshops stocked with Chienese laborers in a new form of "insourcing." Their man: an ineffectual, inept head of the local tourism board (Zach Galifianakis) who, after a makeover from a merciless campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), gives the incumbent a what for in a campaign that becomes an all-out, mud slinging, dog-eat-dog affair. "The Campaign" is a lazy and forced film from director Jay Roach, who hardly found success crafting the TV movies "Recount" and "Game Change", and finds even less in this comic rendition set again in political arena. The final product seems rushed, the sentiment is unearned, the satirical barbs aren't particularly sharp, and most importantly, the film just isn't all that funny as it again resorts to that expected brand of infantile humor. I've long defended Ferrell when people have criticized his worn act, but as of late and especially here he delivers the same tired routine an I can feel myself boarding that train that many hopped long ago. I did fine Jason Sudeikis particularly strong as Ferrell's campaign manager and the biggest surprise here is Galifianakis who transcends the material and actually delivers a poignant performance. Election years are tiresome enough as it is and it becomes all the more disconcerting when Hollywood bombards you with their hurried, opinionated and, in this instance, unfunny political satires.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hope Springs

A middle aged Omaha woman (Meryl Streep), starved for affection from her closed-off and cynical husband (Tommy Lee Jones), signs up for intensive couples counselling in Great Hope Springs, Maine with a progressive therapist (Steve Carell). After the arduous task of even convincing her husband to even attend the retreat, the loving couple must now face the even more difficult task of staring their marriage in the face and repairing many of the gaping holes that threaten to end it. "Hope Springs" is almost endlessly better than a plot description or a TV spot advertisement can make it seem thanks mostly to the presence of its two leads, who prove once again why they are two of the best at their craft, making a fun yet somehow touching picture from very tricky material. Carell also contributes nicely in a supporting role, which I think may be the kind best suited to his talents. Director David Frankel ("The Big Year", "The Devil Wears Prada") demonstrates a solid, relaxed hand here and has become reliable when it comes to these sort of lighter entertainments. "Hope Springs" was something I wasn't sure I wanted to watch, but was drawn to by the presence of its stars. I'm glad I was reeled in.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Marilyn Monroe: Still Life

50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe continues to tease and taunt men the world over. Yet she has grown to something greater than a sex icon, for both men and women, garnering both our sympathies for her understandable vulnerabilities and our emulations for her inexplicable, inimitable way. "Marilyn Monroe: Still Life" is a gathering mostly consisting of photographers, who discuss and offer their insight towards one of the most captured and photogenic people of the medium. The film is alluring for anyone looking for insights into Marilyn's life or just those curious at regarding some luminous photography of her. Also, for someone with virtually no knowledge of photography, I found this to be a fascinating introduction and suppose that one with more than a passing interest would find it equally intriguing. My only complaint here is Norman Mailer, who reads passages aloud from his biography, many of which are unflattering and out of place. Time passes causing even the finest of beauties to fade (how many people still lust after Greta Garbo?) but Marilyn still radiates, transcending her transcendent beauty with her incomparable style and grace.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Memories of Murder

In a small village outside Seoul, South Korea in 1986, a little girl is found raped and murdered in a drainpipe, with another one found in a field nearby soon thereafter. With the first apparent serial killing in the country's history, the local police staff seems ill-equipped to handle the investigation, with the two lead detectives (Song Kang-ho, Kim Rwe-ha) preferring brutal interrogation techniques over criminal profiling and thought. As a few more murders take place, a detective from the city joins the case and the three begrudgingly work together to try to solve the increasingly frustrating case. "Memories of Murder" is an excellent true crime story from director Joon ho-Bong that tells its difficult story with great style and flare. So many of the scenes are pitch perfect, such as one involving a  miscommunication during a stakeout in the rain, or the shocking finale, and the actors so greatly inhabit their complex roles. Real life crime stories are hard enough to tell, to begin with, and especially grisly ones like this would leave many storytellers steering for happy endings. "Memories of Murder" is a thriller that refuses to offer easy answers, and conducts itself with impeccable tone and style.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Education of Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal, who died this past week, as an American author, historian, critic, screenwriter, attempted politician, and irascible iconoclast who swum against the current at times when it was not popular to do so. Born into high society, the son of a business magnate and grandson of Oklahoma Senator Thomas Gore, Vidal was able to see the "inner workings of the Republic" which he used as ammunition for much of his own work and which helped contribute to the own denouncement of his own society. He wrote successful plays ("The Best Man"), novels (Myra Breckenridge), films ("Ben-Hur", "Suddenly Last Summmer"), and many historical novels (Burr, Lincoln,  Julian). In this American Masters installment, Gore Vidal takes us through his own life as he publishes The Golden Age, the final installment in his Narratives of Empire Series, and sees over a Broadway Revival of "The Best Man". The Education of Gore Vidal is an intriguing documentary of one of the great dissenting minds of the 20th Century, which gives a fair version of events the controversial stalwart's life. The film's commentator's also help bring insight into his life and work and several of his celebrity friends including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon. Gore Vidal lived a versatile and complete life, refused to accept things as they were, and in the process helped to spearhead the change in public perception and left behind an immensely impressive body of work.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ruby Sparks

At the age of 19, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) was once the toast of the literary community with his debut novel. Now, pushing 30, Calvin is an emotional, uninspired, anti-social wreck, who can barely muster the courage and energy to spend time with his brother (Chris Messina) or shrink (Elliot Gould), let alone make friends or meet a nice girl. One night, as part of a vision, Calvin dreams about the titular character and in a moment of great inspiration, begins to write a story about her. Then, the following morning and without explanation, Ruby (Zoe Kazan) appears in his kitchen as a real flesh and blood person. Following the expected shock response, Calvin realizes that, through the written word, he has complete control and domination over every aspect of his grandest creation. The husband and wife directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris follow up their immensely successful "Little Miss Sunshine" with "Ruby Sparks", another surprising, entertaining, and somewhat dark  film, this time a provocative interpretation of the Frankenstein story. Written by its star, Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of Elia) delves deep into the psychological implications of her story and takes it to places one would never suspect during the first act (there is a wildly dark and imaginative sequence towards the ends where Kazan acts as Dano's literal puppet) and crafts something that is somehow light and funny in parts and serious minded and heavy in others, tying them both together seemlessly. Dano's an actor I haven't always admired, but he does a tremendous job here in a pretty demanding role. Messina and Gould offer nice support as do Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas, playing Dano's mother and step-father. Its rare when a movie can succeed so well in just one tone, but here Dayton, Faris, and Kazan manage to blend several different ones, and do so in such a disarming and enjoyable fashion.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Total Recall

At the end of the 21st Century due to nuclear warfare, the only livable regions of the planet Earth have been reduced to the British Isles and Australia, which are being ruled over by the ruthless Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) who is fighting a resistance being led by the influential Matthias (Bill Nighy). Meanwhile a laconic factory worker (Colin Farrell) dreams of a more exciting life and may have found the answer to his wishes in the form of Rekal, a memory implant company. Soon, it appears that the man's life may be interminably more engaging than he ever suspected, and finds himself a key player in the resistance movement, hunted by Cohagen's forces and his own operative wife (Kate Beckinsale). "Total Recall" is a sleepy, surprisingly bloodless (with much of the action transplanted from Mars to Earth), and mostly unnecessary remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film. Director Len Wiseman and his writers again work from Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", which to my understanding is only a loose inspiration for the films, and my question is why wouldn't they try to take the material in a whole different direction with this new opportunity? The 1990 version depended on the audience not knowing exactly what was going on with the lead characters mind frame. Here that effect is almost entirely lost, and while some interest is held during the first hour, the second hour plays as a nonstop, wearisome, and uninspired shootout. I liked Colin Farrell's take on the character, and he is more believable as an everyman than Arnold was, but not so much when it comes to the superspy stuff. The roles played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside have been merged into the Beckinsale character, which plays like an irritating female Terminator, and the result is the loss of two compelling characters. Nighy is grossly underused and personally I don't feel Cranston has the chops to handle these malevolent roles he is routinely assigned. Jessica Biel is probably the most successful in the cast, playing the young woman who helps Farrell elude capture. There was much hubbub over the recent Spider-Man reboot after only a five year hiatus (btw wasn't "Batman Begins" rebooted after eight years?) but no one seems to mind much about these 80s movie remakes. "Total Recall" brings nothing new to the table and viewers may be recalling the more enjoyable memory of the superior original while watching this banal retread.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Born to Be Wild

Two women, over 5,000 miles apart, adopt orphan animals and prepare them for reentry into the wild. In Borneo, Dr. Birute Galdikas looks after young orangutans while in Kenya,  Daphne Sheldrake sees after abandoned elephants, in each case, one creature at a time and with great painstaking care. "Born to Be Wild" is a wonderful nature documentary that tells two simultaneously touching stories and is replete with beautiful photography of each environment. It is narrated by Morgan Freeman, whose powerful voice I have always felt detracts from similar types of films, who is also joined by the subjects who, in a nice touch, also help in telling their own story. "Born to Be Wild" separates itself from the recent string of Disney nature docs, which are also visually stunning, by not being ingratiating towards young children and crafting a film that can be enjoyed by parents and their young, alike. My only complaint here is that the feature is far too short (about 40 mins) and I would have gladly sat through over twice the duration of this impeccably crafted documentary.