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Room 237 (2012)
Like Being Bored? Then You'll LOVE This...
Imagine having a conversation with someone who's obsessed with a movie and all the secret messages hidden in it by its eccentric director. Imagine having that conversation while staring at images from films OTHER than the one being discussed. Now, multiply that times several people and more than 90 minutes. You have just imagined watching this slow, pointless, boring, embarrassing documentary.
The documentary focuses on the fixation some people have with "decoding" Kubrick's "The Shining," making such observations as the fact that when a straight object is near an actor at crotch level, it can look like an erect penis. No, really.
And it just drags on...and on.
Avoid this one. D.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (2011)
The Taste of Bitter Whine: Cancer vs. Capitalism
Only among the left-wing lunatics that make documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada could one find the kind of person who would complain that the experience of getting a deadly disease is made somehow less dignified because of its association with corporate giving. Author Barbara Ehrenreich, cancer survivor, complains about everything she can think of: that anti-cancer activists are annoyingly upbeat, that some of the products sold to support breast cancer research are cuddly or cute, that the grim, sad, angry sorts of cancer patients out there don't get enough airplay. This documentary remedies that with several wrenching interviews with weeping cancer patients suffering from end -stage cancer. See, audience? What do you think of those stupid little ribbons now, huh?
Samantha King even goes so far as to call an upbeat attitude in he face of the disease "tyranny." As in "tyranny of cheerfulness."
The Susan G. Komen Foundation ran afoul of feminists a few years back by daring not to support Planned Parenthood's abortion-on-demand factories. It seems Lea Pool and her backers at the National Film Board have fired a dark and angry salvo back at the "pink ribbon" industry that, if the film's subtext is anything to go by, is guilty mainly of making it more difficult to politicize the disease and make it the realm of angry feminists with anti- capitalist leanings.
Well-produced, but probably not a fair portrayal of mainstream and corporate anti-cancer efforts. Cynical and borderline juvenile in its contrarianism. C+.
Last night, I watched a show on the "History" Channel called "Decoded" about the supposed "mystery" surrounding the Georgia Guidestones, a bizarre monument erected by an anonymous millionaire near Atlanta in 1980. I feel stupid even using the word "mysterious" in relation to this collection of large granite slabs, because there are some people who know exactly who paid the half-million dollar price-tag, but were sworn to secrecy in order to secure the patron's business (and entice tourists).
The show starts with the sophomoric and hasty assumption that the builder was a Rosicrucian, based on the pseudonym of the monument's builder, "R.C. Christian" and the cross-like shape of the monument, and then runs with that assumption for the rest of the show, investigating no other possibilities, not even in passing. Keep in mind, this was aired on the History Channel. The channel calls itself that; that just blows my mind.
The show's host/narrator, Brad Meltzer, makes appearances from time to time to act as wooden as humanly possible and ask maddeningly stupid questions that add absolutely nothing to the investigation. And what an investigation! The fieldwork is handled by a gang of three other blithering morons who go off on unfocused tangents that make a nine-year-old boy drinking red Kool-Aid in a room full of video games and toy guns look laser-like by comparison.
Here's the "arc" the investigators follow during the course of this sub-moronic television show: Who made this monument?--Rosicrucians did itWho were the Rosicrucians?Rosicrucians are scary--Rosicrucian mind control techniquesUsing the brain to control artificial limbs(!) in a labRosicrucians are harmless old women into New Age crapSweaty old dude remembers meeting the guy who paid for monument in 1979NASA astronomer says solar flares no big dealInvestigators somehow come to the conclusion that solar flares could destroy human society because antennas and power girds won't work--Edgar Cayce's predictions about North AmericaEdgar Cayce wasn't a crank--2012 is scaryWe don't know who made this monumentThe End.
This is not an exaggeration. The show was this disjointed and melodramatic. And pointless. The cause of popular awareness of what historical research entails was set back by 3000 years watching this hunk of crap show.
And, America: whenever you meet someone who claims to be a doctor and he has large piercings in his ears and is carrying a map depicting what Edgar Cayce said would happen to America and earnestly relays to you that Edgar Cayce was "usually right," I would HOPE that you would demand to see/hear this person's credentials.
And "looking it up on the Internet" is NOT research, America. Jesus! I cannot remember ever feeling such rage at a television show, mostly because I knowcall me smug or superior, fineI KNOW that the audience is generally going to be too stupid to spot the slag-heap of logical and procedural flaws that make this show the piece of crap that it is.
The History Channel sucks. Take it from me, I'm a doctor. No. Really. Trust me.
Illegal Use of Joe Zopp (2008)
I recently moved to the area of the country where this was filmed and, a few minutes into watching, felt like I understood exactly what I was seeing.
This film, I would bet, was written over the course of several years by members of a high school clique with a deep interest in films and film-making. Maybe one or two of them went to film school? One of their hobbies would have been making/editing short videos, mostly "mook" comedy in sketch form? Once Dogme 95 became an artistically acceptable reality, it became okay to make a movie on videotape and this movie became "possible." I'd bet the movie has been seen by many in the area where it was filmed (and not by many anywhere else).
The plot is difficult to follow, the acting amateurish and the cinematography non-existent. But, those who made the movie can say--and I have no doubt they do--that they made a movie. They started it and finished it. Not many can say that...
I don't know anyone involved in the making of this film, but it seems very familiar. There are lots of these "made by locals for locals" movies in the annals of film, and they all have that DIY feel that is almost impossible to overlook. "Terror in the Swamp/Nutria Man" was the movie made in my hometown by hometown boys, and it is about as bad as this one. If these "Legend of Boggy Creek" type movies teach us anything, it is that, as bad as Hollywood's movies are, they aren't as easy to make as we think. Because, when "we"--and by "we" I mean amateurs--try to make them, the results are often mediocre at best and laughable at worst.
If you aren't from Wisconsin's Chippewa Valley, 90% of this movie will fall flat for you. If you ARE from the Chippewa Valley, you'll probably be too distracted noticing that fact to notice what is going on.
Shot on video for pretty much no other reason than the filmmakers had no other choice.
GRADE: D for appearance and content, A for effort.
Black Swan (2010)
Intellectual Canary in the Coalmine
One thought occurred to me as this movie flailed and writhed out of control: the intellectual life of the United States is in deep, deep trouble. When this movie is the best that Hollywood has to offer anymore--and it IS head and shoulders above most movies coming out of Hollywood--then the world of (American) mainstream film is circling the drain in a very tight orbit, indeed.
This movie is the story of an anal-retentive dancer who has (under a lifetime of jealous pressure from her ex-dancer mother) become so obsessed with the idea of "perfection" that it has become intertwined with her quasi-lesbian sexuality. She displaces her resentment of her mother and her own flaws and repressed sexuality onto a lover/rival dancer and incorporates all of this psychological flotsam and jetsam into her upcoming role as the Black Swan in "Swan Lake." That all sounds very highbrow and interesting, I know, but I'm doing my very best to be diplomatic, here, and it really isn't.
The worst problem with this movie is the use of insultingly obvious special effects to explain to the dumb kids in the audience what is going on.
"Look! She's looking at HERSELF in another person!" "Look! Her legs are bending like a SWAN's! And she has WINGS!" "Look! Her rival is having sex with the Swan Prince!" And so on.
I'm of two very different minds on this movie. On the one hand, it's well-made. The lighting and scene composition are really exquisite. The special effects are spectacular. Some of the acting is even passable, though Natalie Portman lurches around like a mental patient on Thorazine.
The problem is that the plot is dreadful. It's hypersexual, unrealistically nasty and full of embarrassing clichés. The ballet director--and I'm not making this up--is an oversexed Frenchman who calls "his" girls things like "Little Princess." It really reminded me of "Showgirls" a lot. Ooh! Right! I got it! If you want a summary of this movie, here it is: Imagine "Showgirls." Now imagine that "Showgirls" has completed 30 hours of master's work in cinema and just drank a pot of coffee and was in the mood to talk. Except, instead of strippers, imagine ballet dancers. That's "Black Swan."
GRADE: C-. Things to look for: Winona Ryder chewing scenery, sudden lesbian sex, the director loses his mind.
Overpoweringly Ridiculous...Simply Dreadful Cinema
If you willingly go to see this, you are asking--nay, insisting--that your intelligence be insulted. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities to this film aside from its making itself available for mockery with its heavy-handed, unrelenting cheesiness and awful, awful dialogue. I swear, even the scenes in which people are speaking Russian sound stupid.
This is the story of a woman--a skeletally thin woman--who works for the CIA. Yes, it's been done to death. Anyway, she...You know what? I'm not going to even go over the plot. Just imagine "Tomb Raider," except with anachronism-addicted Soviets running around and a 90 pound woman knocking out men the size of Sonny Liston with one limp-wristed blow.
And the plot holes! Does she love the husband or did she just marry him for the cover? If the CIA "can't find back past" a certain point, do they REALLY let you become a higher-up in the organization?! Please, please trust me. This is not fit to be looked upon. Save your eyes. Save your brain! This film WILL make you dumber.
Grade: F. Things to look for: Angelina Jolie's bizarre running style, physics defied left and right, Angelina Jolie in a bizarre disguise that kind of makes her look like Terri Gibbs without the dark glasses.
Einayim Petukhoth (2009)
As Sad and Complex as Real Life
I just saw this at the Minneapolis-St. Paul film festival. A powerful, relentless film that seems to imply, if I can trust my instincts, that "falling in love" is a spiritual phenomenon devoid of gender considerations. Now, I may disagree with this personally, but the director makes such a powerful case for it that it is entertaining to watch.
Also implied is the message that repression produces the opposite effect in the long run...
In the film, a super-fundamentalist butcher in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood meets and falls for another man, despite the social and even physical danger. The scene in which the two meet is shot in such a way that even we heterosexuals in the audience can understand. The young apprentice enters from a pouring rain with a cherubic, earnest look on his face and, for just a second, what the director is trying to say echoes in everyone watching.
The scenes between the butcher and his plain yet somehow beautiful and patient wife become more tense and more poignant, even as they become more and more muted.
Overall, this was an excellent film. I gave it four out of five on my ballot.
Things to watch for: Pool of Siloam, frank but not disgusting sex scenes. A-
Ride with the Devil (1999)
Complex and Accurate Historcity Coupled With Great Direction and Writing
It's the craziest thing: I am absolutely fascinated by the obscurities of the Civil War--river naval warfare, telegraph obfuscation, etc.--but had never even HEARD of this movie until I saw it on American Movie Classics. As I watched it, I was amazed at the simultaneous subtlety and depth of the film! The movie tells the story of the guerrilla warfare that took place between "Border Ruffians" in the frontier between Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War. Missouri was a border state that did not secede, but was politically dominated by pro-slavery forces. Kansas, on the other hand, was a hotbed of Unionist, anti-slavery forces. And if you think the politics of today are ugly, you should research the brutality of the bushwackers and jayhawkers. Imagine anti-abortion and pro-abortion people shooting, stabbing and scalping each other rather than just yelling at each other.
Anyway, this is an excellent film. And I am not being politically correct when I am forced to point out that Jeffrey Wright's spot-on performance as Daniel Holt, a slave caught somewhere between freedom, slavery and war was the best in the film. And, yes, that is exactly how some black men ended up fighting for the south.
Another surprise: Jewel Kilcher can ACT! What surprised me even more than this movie's existence (and Jewel's acting abilities) was its DIRECTOR. I HATED, HATED, HATED that "Crouching Tiger" movie that everybody went nuts for. HATED it. That this film was done by the same guy is absolutely amazing.
A highly recommended film. A-.
Things to watch for: William Quantrill and the absolutely historically accurate portrayal of the Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas; hiding out in a hillside "bombproof," guerrilla warfare, 19th-century style.
Public Enemies (2009)
Well-Made Cinematically, But Shallow
Who was John Dillinger? We all know he was a flamboyant criminal who robbed banks, but who WAS he? The question of who Dillinger WAS is far more interesting than the question of what Dillinger DID, but this film, sadly, chose only to concentrate seriously on the latter and gave up almost immediately on the former.
This film goes out of its way--with a poor grasp of history's time-line, by the way--to show us what Dillinger did and who he hung around with, but it does next to nothing to explore who Dillinger was as a person or even as a criminal. It hints that Dillinger might be a passionate lover and loyal friend, but shows us little evidence aside from a few thrown-together seduction scenes (which make his girlfriend/heroine look like a dim-witted pushover) and an awkward love scene.
Even Dillinger's foil, Melvin Purvis, is a mystery in Mann's hands. Did he care about justice at all, or was he just a fascist on a personal crusade? Was he competent in the least or was he just a bumbling idiot? Squinty-eyed stares can only convey so much, after all.
Michael Mann seems to be in a terrible hurry to tell this story, as he is stuck between the rock of having to relate a relatively complete "crime-ography" of a notorious American gangster and the hard place of keeping the movie shorter than 2 1/2 hours.
As a result, a beautifully shot and edited movie that had a lot of promise ends up little more than a dumb, shoot-'em-up action movie wearing the fedora of "historical romance." Good for a date, but not a serious film.
Grade: C+. Things to look for: Mann's ham-handed and laughably obvious political commentary on the use of torture about 2/3 of the way through the movie; psychotically trigger-happy Baby Face Nelson well-played by Stephen Graham; cool old products (Zenth radio); great fashion sense.
Facing the Giants (2006)
If There Is a God, He Walked Out on This Movie
There's a lot to say about this movie, which my mother foisted on me during a visit not long ago. I was embarrassed by and for this movie the entire time I watched, and it really was a frightening peek into the psyches of American evangelicals.
The movie centers around a football coach who ends up at a small Christian school. At least, I think it was a Christian school, because people here seemed to quote scripture for everything from pepping each other up to taking a leak. Anyway, the coach is really down on his luck; his car's no good, he can't get his wife pregnant, and he starts off with an 0 and 3 season. But, in one of the film's repeated and ENDLESS "prayer" scenes, the coach has a conversation with God and "turns it all over" to HIM with a capital "H." But don't get the idea that this is some wimpy, liberal God. The filmmakers are very careful about letting the viewer know that this is the Jesus kind of God. The football-game winnin' kind of God. And, after that, the film becomes dreadfully predictable, cheesy, schmaltzy, boring, formulaic and stupid.
If you are a thinking type of person, this film will do everything it can to insult your intelligence and treat you like the type of person who might voluntarily watch this movie.
Not to mention the dialogue, which sounds as if it were written by teenage boys who've read too many tracts and comic books. Or the acting; the actors look and perform as though they were recruited from the local Foursquare Baptist Church during an altar call. Or the plot, which plays out like every born again Christian's reality-spiting fantasy.
Things to watch for: The ENDLESS, badly-cut "Death crawl" scene; wife praying to have baby she can brainwash; opposing coach playing the "villain."